I'm delighted to welcome Ben Kane, author of The Forgotten Legion and The Silver Eagle. The Forgotten Legion was a 2009 Book of the Year selection at the UK-based retailer Waterstones and was recently released in paperback here in the US. Set amongst the splendor and chaos of the Roman Republic in first century BCE, the novel introduces us to four very different people struggling to survive. Ben offers us a detailed look at the underbelly of the oft-romanticized republican life through the eyes of two gladiators, a soothsayer, and a prostitute, as well as the horrors of the slave trade and of war at this time in history. There's intrigue, violence, passion, and drama in abundance, making this a thrilling read; it also sets the stage for the exciting sequel, The Silver Eagle, which is due out on March 16 here in the US.
Please join me in welcoming Ben Kane to Historical Boys!
How The Forgotten Legion was Born
Just over ten years ago, I was fortunate enough to visit some of the countries in Central Asia. In the ruins of Merv, an ancient city situated in modern day Turkmenistan, I was absolutely intrigued to discover that Roman legionaries had been there more than two thousand years previously. This was half a world from Italy, and more than two thousand miles from the easternmost Roman provinces of Syria and Judaea. Upon my return home, I did some research, finding that the unfortunate soldiers had been captured after the battle of Carrhae, in 53 BC. Their leader had been Marcus Licinius Crassus, a member of the triumvirate which ruled Rome at the time. Unhappy at the shining military credentials of his co-rulers, Julius Caesar and Pompey Magnus, Crassus determined to annex the desert kingdom of Parthia. His stunning victory would earn him the Roman people’s respect, which he so badly craved.
His plan came badly unstuck for a number of reasons. First among these was his lack of cavalry. At the time, Roman armies retained no horsemen of their own, relying instead on mercenaries – Spanish, Gaulish and German tribesmen. Alongside more than 30,000 infantry, Crassus had only 2,000 cavalry. Ariamnes, a local tribal leader, had brought approximately 6,000 horsemen to augment these forces, but, as so often in such cases, they were of questionable loyalty, and duly deserted before the battle. A second reason for Crassus’ defeat was the military expertise of his opponent, the Parthian general Surenas. Along with his 1,000 cataphracts, or armoured heavy cavalry, Surenas brought to the field approximately 9,000 horse archers. These warriors, trained to use their compound bows from childhood, were capable of loosing clouds of arrows while guiding their horses with only their knees. To the rear, a caravan of more than 1,000 camels carried tens of thousands of arrows, ensuring that the Parthians would not run out of ammunition.
Once Crassus’ cavalry had been dispersed or killed, he and his infantry were completely at their enemies’ mercy. One can only imagine how terrible the ensuing massacre was. By the day’s end, more than 20,000 legionaries lay dead, and a further 10,000 had been taken prisoner. A mere 5,000 escaped to the River Euphrates and safety. No one knows what happened to the Roman captives – apart from the fact that they were marched to Antiochia (later called Merv) in Margiana (modern day Turkmenistan). There, at the outer limits of the Parthian empire, they served as border guards, and were lost to history forever.
Struck by the unfinished nature of their tale, I eventually decided to write the legionaries’ story. The Forgotten Legion seemed a natural title for the book. The backdrop was perfect too, set as it was during the last days of a once mighty Republic, with the ensuing tumult of the civil war and Caesar’s rise to power. Armed with a quartet of interesting characters, three of whom would march with Crassus, and one who would stay in Rome, I sat down and began to type. Eighteen months later, I had a finished novel, and soon after, a book deal.
Thank you, Ben. Best of luck! I'm looking forward to the next book and to Ben's new trilogy on the Second Punic War. To find out more about Ben and his work, please visit him at his website.