I have just finished reading Rosemary Sutcliff’s classic children’s (and adult) historical novel The Eagle of the Ninth and absolutely loved it. One of the things that stood out to me in the book were the early religions that were worshipped in Britain in 117 A.D.
It seems there were many different gods worshipped by tribes and Romans. The lead character Marcus, a Roman centurion, worships the god Mythras of the Mythraic religion. Esca, his companion and a native Briton, prays to a god named Lugh. Both religions are now regarded as forms of paganism and both of these gods are described by Rosemary Sucliff as sun gods.
I’ve started to research both of these gods and their religions and would be interested in any information available.
I have discovered so far that Lugh is an ancient deity from Irish Celtic Paganism. He is the god of the harvest and is depicted as a great warrior from the distant past. He is also known as Lamfhada or ‘of the long arm’ in Gaelic because of his magic spear and sling. He is also known as Lugas in Pan celtic mythology in other parts of europe and as Lleu Llaw Gyffes in Welsh. It is interesting that Rosemary Sutcliff chose Lugh as the deity worshiped by Esca, a Briton. It suggests that she believed celtic paganism was practiced throughout Britain and travelled from Ireland, which was known as Hibernia in Roman times.
Marcus the centurion’s god is Mythras, of the Mythraic histories. I visited an ancient Mythraic temple underneath the church of St Clamente in Rome, back in September.
Mythraic temples were always secret places and usually underground, beneath other buildings. Mythras was commonly worshipped by the Roman Military in the first to the fourth centuries, so Rosemary Sutcliff was absolutely accurate in choosing Mythras as the deity worshipped by Marcus. Not much is known about the Mythraic mysteries as it was a secret religion, however it is believed that it was first formed in Rome.
I woud love to know more on both of these ancient religions and their possible similarities, so please post any links and information you have on the subject.
Here are some links to information on the Mythraic Mysteries and of the celtic god lugh.
3 thoughts on “The Gods of Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth”
Sorry, the link to further info on Barbara Talcroft’s book “Death of the Corn King” somehow didn’t make it into my previous post.
Here it is:
thanks so much!
In her novels RS frequently evokes the Celtic Sun God (sun/male/light) and and the Great Mother (moon/female/darkness) in their various incarnations. Lugh, for example, is an incarnation of the sun god The religions of these male/female principles sometimes come into conflict in her stories, as seen in “Sun Horse Moon Horse” and “Mark of the Horse Lord”.
There’s a useful list of the Gods of Roman Britain at the Roman-Britain website:
For anyone interested in the use of myth and religion in Rosemary Sutcliff’s work, Barbara Talcroft’s non-fiction study makes an invaluable read.
In the article I wrote for the Historical Novels Info website about Rosemary Sutcliff, I have made mention of her use of mythic imagery in her novels. I found Talcroft’s book very useful for opening my eyes to this aspect of RS’s work.