The year is 745 AUC (from the Foundation of Rome) or 9 BCE.
Drusus Germanicus and his brother Tiberius have been sent north to clean up the still recent conquests of Caesar. The Germans have formed a confederation which needs sorting out. The Romans do this with equal parts violence and political scheming.
Drusus offers the Cherusci an alliance with Rome. As part of their deal they take hostages. Among which is a young man called Ermanamer.
The name might be familiar to students of Tacitus.
He slowly forms a friendship with a proud Roman youth called Marcus Valerius Falco. They are trained together for the Roman army and become blood brothers.
The Eagles of Rome is an action packed book full of violence and sex.
The series was created by the Swiss Italian artist Enrico Marini. The first volume was published in 2007. The frames are drawn in a clean line. The colors are shaded with a very controlled palette that sets the scene.
The visual details are breathtaking. Rome is first presented with its ‘classical’ face, the Roman forum, the temples painted in bright colors dominated by a colossal statue of Augustus. Later in the first book, when the heroes return to Rome at night and they experience the other side of the city, the demi-monde. Here we see the Forum from the alleyways that project off it. Instead of marble, the buildings are made of brick. Braziers and torches cast lurid light on a scene straight from Hogarth.
This type of geographic twinning is also seen in the contrast between Marcus’ home in the bucolic Alban Hills with a sociopathic father and Ermanamer’s more peripatetic childhood with his father.
The two heroes are proud of their heritage and backgrounds, but over the course of the first book they become closer. Their identities seemingly fade and merge into a new identity: as the privileged citizens of a global Roman Empire
This identity is expressed through fashion and hairstyles, and religion. Ermanamer keeps his plaits and flowing blonde hair. Neither lead character is particularly religious. Ermanamer mentions Valhalla and Wodan. Marcus’ mother dies at the Fountain of Isis. His sister offers her hair to the domestic gods. But it is a godless world.
This is a Rome of blood, slavery and exploitation.
It takes some themes from the sword and sandals. Popular in Italy, where they are called Pepla, these films take classical themes and create epic romantic stories. Many cartoonists have taken inspiration from these films, such as Peplum by Blutch.
Eagles of Rome is a little more x-rated, with extended scenes set in a brothel, images of torture and animal murder.
This is an amoral worldview. Perhaps the author wants to shock us into an understanding that things were done differently then, yet it feels slightly gratuitous. It is also Rome from a white male point of view. The slaves are often people of colour. They can be killed or consumed as required. For me, Three which tells the story of a group of helots fleeing a Spartan posse is much more effective in creating an entirely alien society without falling for it.
The series is perhaps best compared to I, Claudius. Although for me it lacks that novel’s memorial characters it shares the same way that sex and violence drive the plot and character development in clever ways.
A visceral comic that mesmerizes and horrifies in equal measure. It is still untranslated into English.
(Images used under Fair Use as part of review).