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Eagle in the Snow

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  • Eagle in the Snow

    I just finished reading "Eagle in the Snow" by Wallace Breem. This is actually one of the "classics" of military fiction and was written in 1970. Surprisingly, I had never heard of it until I saw it on the discount rack at B&N for $5.

    The novel covers the career of Roman general Maximus and his close friend Quintus as they first defend Hadrian's wall and then attempt to defend the Rhine from an impending Germanic invasion. The novel is set in the late 300s and early 400s. It begins with Maximus dutifully manning Hadrian's wall until General Stilicho (who is basically the military advisor to the Emperor) asks Maximus to return to the mainland and to eventually take over defense of Germania. Maximus finds himself with a single legion of about 2,000 soldiers and several thousand more auxiliaries gaurding the Rhine river against a growing horde of barbarians. Maximus is forced to do a job that in years past was done by 8 full strength legions. The book culiminates with the barbarian crossing of the frozen Rhine in 406 AD -- a real life event that led to the invasion of Gaul.

    I really enjoyed this book because it is very character-oriented. Maximus is a throw-back to the generals of old, dutifully performing his duty in an increasingly corrupt world, and oftentimes, resisting the call to become Emperor himself. He has a loving relationship with the Rhine which becomes his number one ally in keeping the barbarian horde at bay. Best of all, Maximus is flawed. He makes mistakes both militarily and personally but always strives to do his best. If you are looking for graphic battle scenes of barbarian combat, this isn't the book for you but if you are looking for a taut historical fiction novel with depth and some lasting meaning, this is a great book.

    Having read the book, I have no doubt that Maximus from gladiator was in some part inspired by Maximus from this book.

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