Thursday, July 28, 2011

Just Finished "The Lost Legion" (spoilers)

Just finished The Lost Legion by H. Warner Munn.  I found the book in the Georgia PINES network in McDonough and read about a quarter to a third of it before I changed jobs.  I found it again in the Atlanta-Fulton library system and it was one of the first books I requested when I got my Atlanta-Fulton library card a few months after I got here.

(I was busy with work, Battle for the Wastelands, and other such things.)

It's a really interesting book.  Basically Emperor Caligula sends the 13th Legion and its commander, who is descended from Julius Caesar, on a suicidal mission into Inner Asia to find the descendants of Roman prisoners taken at Carrhae.  The 13th Legion, in TVTropes terms, is a whole army of Gumps--their actions set in motion significant future events.

*An Armenian prince finds a broken sword abandoned by a cowardly legionary, uses it to fend off attackers, and decides to make it his dynasty's emblem.

*The son of the legionary's commander rescues St. Paul from some bandits.

*The daughter of a Roman merchant who follows her useless boyfriend who's been press-ganged into the legion marries a Hun after her now-husband is killed.  Her son, fathered by her first husband and born after his death, is named Eitel after his stepfather--a name that sounds an awful lot like Attilla.  It's strongly implied a distant descendant will be Attilla the Hun.

*The legion's exile ultimately triggers the coup against Calilgula.

There's a sequence in the text where the author describes the long-term historical effects of the Thirteenth's passage through Asia, so I think there's more than just this.

As far as the ending goes, a Roman scouting party finds a ruined Roman-style town and when they are themselves all but wiped out by a group of Mongols, the lone survivor is taken in by Chinese who remark that he looks a lot like their grandfathers and bears weapons like their own.  The legionary eagle is taken to a temple and placed beside another legionary eagle, one taken at Carrhae.

Although the story is fictional, there is a theory in the archaeological world that Roman soldiers did end up in China.  Here're some links:

Of course, however cool this theory is, it's very hard to prove.  There are people indigenous to the area who look white and that could explain the genetic links to Europeans.  Plus the Tocharians, an Indo-European people, did migrate into Western China in ancient times.

One of the comments in the above article mentions Buddhist art signed "Titus" being found in Asia, citing Foreign Devils on Silk Road.  One of the survivors of the Legion, an artist, is depicted as having been sold into slavery and making his way to India where he paints a mural of Buddha that features some of his companions from the journey in the painting as well.  Another "Gump" moment.

And one more fun thing.  Although The Lost Legion does not have its own TVTropes page (even though it needs one, since I can think of a few tropes off the top of my head), there's a trope called Lost Roman Legion and the novel is mentioned, complete with spoiler tags.  And there are plenty of other books about the men captured at Carrhae and what became of them.

I'll probably check some of them out.  My Gates of Vasharia novels, should I ever finish them, will someday go on this page, as they're based on the conceit that the Ninth Legion, thought lost in Britain, traveled to another world via a random hole in space-time and set up a new empire there.

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