Thurs. 31st March: The Eagle

So, after months and months of waiting, I finally got to see The Eagle (of the Ninth) last night. And, I’m glad to say, it was worth the wait. Of course it was strewn with inaccuracies (a short list of the worst offenders includes bracers on the forearms, leather lorica segmentatas, scythed chariots – in Britain? – and worst of all, the ludicrous Seal People). However, in its favour, there are terrific military scenes, especially in the first half an hour. The battle scene when Marcus’ fort is attacked by Britons is excellent and includes a thrilling charge and the use of a testudo. The cinematography is intelligent and makes full use of the claustrophobic close up for fight scenes, and the panoramic sweeping shot for the majesty of Hadrian’s Wall and in particular the stunning scenery of Scotland.


I thought I’d mind the Romans all having American accents, and the British their own, but it worked very well, making clear the distances between the two races. Tatum was good as Marcus, but Jamie Bell as Esca stole the show as a sullen but proud Briton. Everything was going swimmingly until the pair crossed Hadrian’s Wall. Then real inconsistencies crept in. Instead of pretending to be a Greek ophthalmic physician, Marcus, whose role at this stage was unclear, sulked in silence while Esca simply asked the locals where the Ninth had gone. As if!

The worst part of the film came when the Seal People turned up. Looking like a cross between something out of Mad Max and a tribe who’d had a bad visit to their local hairdresser, they spoke Irish (I suppose I can let that one slide, even though Irish wasn’t spoken in Scotland until after the Irish had invaded it in the 4-500s AD). I know that they were supposed to be the big baddies, but that could have easily been achieved by having them all with lime in their hair, and so on.

I didn’t like the handful of veterans of the Ninth turning up either – not because it was different from the book, but because they barely looked capable of holding up a scutum, let alone defeating five times their number of screaming young Seal warriors! The ending, when Marcus and Esca bring the eagle back to the legate, I actually preferred to the book – why bury the blinking thing under the floorboards when it can be restored to Rome? But I didn’t like the final few seconds. They took away from the rest of the film.

Still, it was very enjoyable, and I’ll be going back to see it in the cinema a second time.

Rating: 3.75, possibly scrapes into a 4 star out of 5.

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  1. Fabitaromunass
    Posted 31 March 2011 at 20:38 | Permalink

    I guess being an author of HF clouds such outings!

    I wasn’t sure about the tetsudo charge, I liked it in the film but I thought it was a defensive formation. Any examples of it used offensively?

  2. benkane
    Posted 31 March 2011 at 21:05 | Permalink

    @fabitaromunass: it does, unfortunately! In some ways, I’m very glad that I saw Gladiator before I knew as much as I do now. Otherwise, I would have enjoyed it far less.

    You’re correct that the testudo was a defensive formation (although it was used during offensives, to defend the men undermining a wall, for example). I’m not aware of any proof that it was used offensively. Therefore, as you have pointed out, but which I didn’t bother to (in case people thought I was being way too pedantic!) it was probably incorrect to show it in the film as such. Still, it looked good, didn’t it?!

  3. Fabitaromunass
    Posted 31 March 2011 at 23:15 | Permalink

    Yeah it looked great. I’m probably gonna make a few enemies by saying this too but I quite liked the seal people! Not so much when they started speaking but the look was quite striking. It’s not a documentary is it?

    So there were no scythed chariots in Britain? Roman Britain isn’t a strong area of mine so that’s quite a popular myth busted!

  4. benkane
    Posted 1 April 2011 at 04:10 | Permalink

    @Fabitaromunass: No, it’s not a documentary, and yes, they looked striking. I couldn’t help but think of mad bikers when looking at them, though!

    Nope, no evidence of scythed chariots here at all, yet it remains a popular myth – a bit like the legend of the Ninth disappearing…

  5. Posted 1 April 2011 at 08:04 | Permalink

    I knew you would hate the seal people…grrr

  6. John Salter
    Posted 1 April 2011 at 08:08 | Permalink

    Ben, I’m glad you enjoyed the film. I must admit that after some of the reviews from the US, I expected a lot of cringes but overall it was good and in places very good. Somebody one day will get the Britons right and we’ll see limed/woad covered warriors taking on the Romans.

    The chariots (aside from the scythes) in reality, were used by the hundred(s) quite literally and there’s lot’s of evidence of them being used very successfully against Caesar’s forays and later in and after AD43.

    Primarily they were used as fast additions to the foot warriors to drop others off at the battle front and to take on cavalry as Roman historians have related.

    Testudo’s were offensive and defensive. The legions often used them to get into an attacking position, defensive initially and then became offensive. They were even said to have used a doubled up testudo to scale walls at sieges, where legionaries literally stood on other shields their own tesudo at the top remarkably.

    A testudo was also often used to get into position relatively safely and then the men would break out into battle formations. It was also used to cover incoming arrows and javelins as is commonly known.

    The Eagle shows I think that film makers are slowly getting closer to the truth of what went on 2000 years ago which can only be a good thing!

  7. benkane
    Posted 1 April 2011 at 08:31 | Permalink

    @John: can you remember where you read about testudos being used offensively? I’ve had a quick look in Goldsworthy’s The Complete Roman Army, and he states that it was generally used to protect those undermining a wall, “far more than in open battle”. Connolly in Greece and Rome at War only mentions it with regard to the siege of Jerusalem, when Josephus says it was used to get legionaries close to the walls.

  8. John Salter
    Posted 1 April 2011 at 10:00 | Permalink

    Ben, I’ve got it a home but I’m at work at the moment, so I’ll dig it out for you. It’s mentioned in one of either the two Osprey – Roman Battle Tactics 390-110BC by Nic Fields or Roman Battle Tactics 109BC -AD313 by Ross Cowan. I’ve also read it from Tacitus and Dio but where specifically I can’t recall.

    I suppose it’s an interpretation on words because some will say a testudo was used defensively because it was used in some circumstances to get into an offensive position. I think originally the Greeks used it but obviously with different shields, large and spherical. I think the Romans realised how good it was for protection and made it their own.

    I’ve also seen pictures ‘sculptures’ of a testudo used in the far east offensively. Oddly your book The Forgotten Legion is similar. These however, were in what is now China. Where the local inhabitants celebrate their Roman ancestors even today!

  9. John Salter
    Posted 1 April 2011 at 10:37 | Permalink

    PS! Good debate for a forum! ‘The Testudo!’ 🙂

  10. benkane
    Posted 1 April 2011 at 11:29 | Permalink

    @ John: Ha! You speak (write) first then…

  11. benkane
    Posted 1 April 2011 at 11:35 | Permalink

    @John: whether the ‘fish scale’ term used in the Chinese manuscript even means ‘fish scale’ is open to debate, never mind whether it refers to a testudo! For those who don’t know, the term dates to 36 BC, when a Chinese general was besieging a Hun fort, about 500 miles east of Margiana, where the Forgotten Legion (survivors of the battle of Carrhae in 53 BC) had been sent. It’s also known that many of Crassus’ soldiers in 53 BC were veterans of Lucullus’ campaign in Asia Minor in the 60s BC, which makes it highly unlikely that the soldiers in 36 BC (if they were even in a testudo formation) could have been legionaries. Unless of course they were like the old blokes who turn up at the end of The Eagle, haha! Maybe, just maybe, they could have been men trained by legionaries, but there’s absolutely no proof of it. Furthermore, the locals in the area can only be genetically linked to Europeans, not Romans. It’s all a big show to get tourists in, in my opinion.

    Plus…it makes a damn good story! 😉

  12. John Salter
    Posted 1 April 2011 at 15:59 | Permalink

    Ben – Yeah good point. I can’t remember where I’ve seen the sculpture but it was from that region and the thinking was that they had either been trained by Romans or were the survivors of a ‘Forgotten Legion.’

    Off to watch the film again at the weekend or Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday because I’m off for a couple of days. Yeehaa have an excellent weekend all!

  13. benkane
    Posted 1 April 2011 at 16:23 | Permalink

    @John: have a good mini-break!

  14. Posted 2 April 2011 at 10:08 | Permalink

    Just diving in to say…love the new back and forth on this topic…new baby stopping me joining in too much…but image it on a forum…LOL.

    I remember reading about this and then a few months later hearing about your first book…its was very coincidental that they both came along together….there was also a adventure action book that used the premise…and “shudder” a manfredi…boy i wish he would get a better translator.

    back to nappies….

  15. benkane
    Posted 3 April 2011 at 18:23 | Permalink

    @Parmenion – a forum?! Yes, I know, but I think that for the moment, I’m going to stick with these comments, and a “Q & A” page (already up). I’ll revisit the forum idea soon.

    I hope that all’s well with the baba? How does it feel to be a grandparent? 😉

  16. Posted 4 April 2011 at 10:33 | Permalink

    Ah well…it is a lot of work for a forum…one day. The comments works well anyway.
    Baby …well if i remember you know its hard work…well the baby isnt…the no sleep is…and we are both working full time still doing flexi working from home…so no let up.
    tired but loving it (BTW: for various reasons, baby lives with us…not parents)
    ….back to books…ploughing through odins wolves now…enjoying it!

  17. benkane
    Posted 4 April 2011 at 11:08 | Permalink

    @Parmenion: fair play to you, that sounds like an incredible workload!

  18. Gladiator
    Posted 7 April 2011 at 21:19 | Permalink

    Ahhhh I really wanted to see that film! I dont think im old enough though (only 14):P I thought it looked really good though, but after reading your book the forgotten legion i also didnt enjoy the film gladiator as much 😛 🙂

  19. benkane
    Posted 7 April 2011 at 21:25 | Permalink

    @Gladiator: Welcome to my site! What cert is The Eagle, then – 15? (If your parents are OK about you watching Gladiator, then I doubt that they’d mind you seeing The Eagle. It’s far less violent!)

    Why didn’t you enjoy Gladiator as much after reading The Forgotten Legion?

  20. Gladiator
    Posted 8 April 2011 at 20:30 | Permalink

    Thanks i loved the forgotten legion so much i kind of read it twice 🙂 . Yeah i think it’s a 15 but im not sure.Well i did’nt enjoy Gladiator as much after reading your book as it had some historical inacuracie’s, i know loads about Romans for my age but its definatly nothing compared to what you know, i learnt a lot from your book and one of the things it showed in gladiator was he had won a ‘fight’ and then shouted somthing like, “Are you not entertained?!” and throws his sword at the audience but if he had really done that he would have been executed on the spot as with the Bestiarius in your book and i swear i saw one of the guards wearing a wrist watch :)it was still a great film though

  21. benkane
    Posted 9 April 2011 at 10:06 | Permalink

    @Gladiator: gosh, thanks! There’s more gladiator stuff in the third book too.

    If you’re big into Gladiator stuff, you’ll possibly like my version of Spartacus, which is coming out next summer (2012). This summer, it’s one about Hannibal – well, he’s in it, but the main heroes are a 16 year old Roman and a 15 year old Carthaginian.

    Re historical inaccuracies, I put the ‘thumbs down’ thing in The Forgotten Legion, which is not accurate. I wish I hadn’t, but there you go. In fact, we don’t know what they did, but it’s quite likely that they jabbed a thumb at the throat, which is where the sword was then thrust. I’ll do a post about it soon. And yes, there is NO way that Russell Crowe would have got away with flinging his weapon into the crowd!

  22. Gladiator
    Posted 9 April 2011 at 12:48 | Permalink

    haha, I really liked the Forgotten legion and iv’e almost read it twice now, im gonna move on to the silver eagle soon though. Your new book sounds awesome im defo going to get it. i love history loads, especially the Romans and im eager to learn as much as possible. I think the thumbs down thing worked well in your book though because a lot of people do that in films and its recognised. i think your book was the first book ive been really interested in and read it instead of doing my usual routine 🙂

  23. benkane
    Posted 9 April 2011 at 13:58 | Permalink

    @Gladiator: ah yes, but IMO it’s also good if people learn the real way things may have been done, instead of living with the mistaken belief for example about the ‘thumbs down’ (invented by a French artist in the 19th Century). It’s great that you love history so much, and I’m delighted that you were interested by my book. Spread the word!

  24. Gladiator
    Posted 9 April 2011 at 15:16 | Permalink

    Yeah, i agree that people should learn the way it was really done. And ive read the authors note in the back of the forgotten legion and it says about Crassus’ death. There are many reports of Crassus being killed when he tried to reason with the Parthans or he was taken prisoner and had molten gold poured down his throat, which story do you belive? Your book taught me to never to think of the victors of battle as the ones who were in the right like with Brennus and his tribe 🙂

  25. benkane
    Posted 10 April 2011 at 09:53 | Permalink

    @Gladiator: the most likely account is the one that he was killed at the battle, beheaded, and his head brought to the Parthian capital, where it was tossed onto the stage during a play that the king was attending. One of the actors is reported to have picked it up and made an impromptu speech to it. Yuk!

  26. Gladiator
    Posted 10 April 2011 at 10:44 | Permalink


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