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Alfred [Leo] Duggan (1903 - 1964)

Winter Quarters
Coward-McCann, 1956


plot: Camul, a Gallic cavalryman, recalls his service in the armies of Caesar and Crassus Camul can speak but not read or write Latin. During the winter, he dictates his adventures to another survivor of Carrhae, Marcus Sempronius. Sempronius is willing to write Camul's story to help pass the winter. The title also refers to events that take place during the winter quarters before the battle of Carrhae. Camul and his friend Acco, a Gallic nobleman who has offended Pyrene, a local goddess, decide to join Caesar's army to seek travel and excitement and to avoid the curse of the goddess. They fight against some German tribes, travel to Rome, Athens, Antioch, and Jerusalem, but Acco can not escape the vengeance of the goddess. Camul and Acco join the Roman army as Gallic cavalrymen. Their first battle is Caesar's campaign against the Usipetes and Tencteri. After the massacre of these German tribes, Acco complains about the savagery of the Romans and the dishonor of such battles. Camul reminds him that the Germans had been the aggressors and had previously killed many Gauls. This concern of Acco for the honorable action remains his strongest trait during the novel. Camul is more practical and down-to-earth, more concerned with survival than points of honor. During a cavalry skirmish, Acco and Camul save the life of Publius Crassus, son of Marcus Licinius Crassus, the richest man in Rome. Publius Crassus, who is in charge of the Gallic cavalry, rewards the two Gauls with jobs as "local experts" in charge of purchasing good horses for the army--and as interpreters. The young Crassus has charisma and natural good manners and relates well to his subordinates (like Caesar). Acco is so impressed with the Roman that he swears an oath of allegiance to the death. Several weeks later, Publius Crassus asks them to join his father's expedition against the Parthians. Acco and Camul accompany Publius Crassus to Rome and become part of his retinue of clients. The reader learns about the daily life of a client: appearing early in the morning, receiving food or money, and following the patron around Rome until midday. Their appearance in the young Crassus' retinue is to impress on the Roman people that Caesar is not the only fighter in Gaul. Publius Clodius invites them to dinner, where guests mention the affair of the Bona Dea. They attend gladiatorial combats, go to the baths, and visit temples. The reader learns about the political situation. Although the author does not used the word triumvirate, he explains that each of the 3 men thinks he is Rome's best general. The expedition against Parthia is to enable Crassus to win equal glory with Pompey and Caesar. Both Publius and his father believe that their army will easily triumph and they will obtain fabulous riches. Acco, who had been studying to become a Druid when he committed his offense against Pyrene, foresees the deaths of Crassus and himself in Parthia but does not desert, as this would be dishonorable. The two Gauls are not impressed with the elder Crassus but follow his son as they had promised. The young men travel with Crassus' army to Greece, where an understanding Publius Crassus allows them to go to Athens, ostensibly to arrange for supplies. Nicanor, the son of a leather merchant from Antioch , becomes their friend, shows them around Athens, and explains the tenets of the leading philosophies to them. He invites them to the house of his father Aristobulus in Antioch. When the army reaches the Euphrates, Publius Crassus grants them a leave and they go to Antioch. Acco meets Berenice, the 13-year-old daughter of Aristobulus, who becomes his friend and later his fiancee. The goddess exacts a cruel revenge on Acco through Berenice. The theme of winter quarters enters again , this time referring to Crassus' army in the winter before Carrhae. The easy living during this winter--plentiful food and little drilling-- weakens Crassus' soldiers.The author explores other reasons for the disaster at Carrhae: the type of recruits (men who were unacceptable to Pompey or Caesar's armies), the lax discipline, the uninspiring leadership of Crassus senior, and the Romans' arrogant underestimating of the Parthians (e.g. thinking they'd use up their arrows and then leave). The author goes into some detail regarding the final days preceding the battle of Carrhae. Acco dies fighting at the side of Publius Crassus, thus fulfilling his oath. When Camul tries to defend Marcus Crassus, the Parthian general Surenas respects his bravery and spares his life. Camul is sent to the eastern frontier of Parthia to guard against raiders from the "Sea of Grass." After he and Sempronius hear a passing merchant talk of Caesar's murder, they realize there is no hope of release for them. However, they hope for the rescue of their sons, as "Rome never forgets." At some future date, their sons can have the option of claiming Roman citizenship, if they know of their inheritance. One of the reasons I enjoyed this book was that it gave a different slant on Roman customs and character. Although Camul and Acco are "barbarians," they have definite ideas about what constitutes good behavior, courage, and honor. When Camul joins Caesar's army, he reflects that "The Romans are easy people to get on with, being downright, blunt and uncomplicated.....But their manners are amazingly uncouth." "Romans are just in their dealing with free men, though merciless to criminals and very callous in their treatment of slaves." "The Romans are a discourteous race who can not master the rules of ceremonious behavior." "Romans enjoy a riot; they like the killing and don't mind...if they get killed themselves." All is not negative,however; Camul appreciates the Romans' skills in building, waging war and preparing food. This different perspective also applies to the Roman army. The two Gauls appreciate Roman discipline, the fairness of the pay and quantity of the food. Even here, they notice "They are rude to one another as they were to us. Once we had become used to their lack of courtesy they seldom made us angry. It was galling to obey orders shouted with unnecessary fierceness...rudeness was the rule for all, and even the highest had to put up with it." "They were brave warriors, in an ignoble way." "It seemed to me that legionaries led very dull lives....it was hard to remember that men so bullied by their commander were free warriors ..." (Upon seeing legionaries on the march) "they looked more like porters than warriors." Yet another perspective was the importance of trade. The economic benefits of the Roman peace are valued highly by the merchants and traders that Acco and Camul meet. Because of their loyalty to young Crassus, the Gauls refuse bribes and do their best to find good horses. Most novels about the army concentrate on the infantry; it is interesting to see the army from the viewpoint of a horseman. Camul and Acco take their duties to the horses seriously; they constantly inspect their mounts and arrange for water and fodder for the animals. They compare Gallic and Roman cavalry tactics. This book is fairly safe for high school students. There is mention of prostitutes, pimps, and one young man tries to win Acco's favor, but the author handles these situations with reserve and dignity. The young Gauls do not sleep with women as they are on a campaign. This novel was most likely written for a British audience, British phrases and words such as "whither" creep in. A few quibbles: in the copy which I read, there were spelling errors, as well as instances of several words run together. The mob threw "shoes" during a riot. The soldiers waited on the east bank of the Euphrates to cross to the eastern bank. In summary, an interesting perspective on Rome, her army, and the loss of 7 legions at Carrhae. -Rosalind Harper 8/99

- Rosalind Harper, 8/1/1999

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