In 140 AD, twenty years after the unexplained disappearance of the entire Ninth Legion in the mountains of Scotland, young centurion Marcus Aquila (Tatum) arrives from Rome to solve the mystery and restore the reputation of his father, the commander of the Ninth. Accompanied only by his British slave Esca (Bell), Marcus sets out across Hadrian's Wall into the uncharted highlands of Caledonia - to confront its savage tribes, make peace with his father's memory, and retrieve the lost legion's golden emblem, the Eagle of the Ninth.
Young Roman officer Marcus Aquila takes command of a remote outpost in Britannia. He specifically asked for the assignment as his father was killed somewhere north of Hadrian's wall some 20 years earlier, losing the Ninth Legion's Eagle as well. When a battle with locals seriously wounds Marcus, he is invalided out of the army. Unable to make his mark as a soldier, he sets off with his slave Esca, traveling north of the wall with intent to find out what happened to his father and, more importantly, recover the Ninth Legion's Eagle.
—garykmcd / edited by statmanjeff
In order to clear his father's name & to restore the honour to his missing Ninth Legion young & ambitious Marcus Aquila accompanied only by his faithful slave Esca sets on a quest for a golden eagle, the symbol of Rome, in a savage land beyond the Wall.
In Roman-ruled Britain, a young Roman soldier endeavors to honor his father's memory by finding his lost legion's golden emblem.
The synopsis below may give away important plot points.
- The Year is A.D. 140, and it has been 20 years since Rome's legendary Ninth Legion marched north into Caledonia (modern Scotland) to gain control over all of Britain. The Legion was completely defeated, to Rome's embarrassment, and the Legion's prized standard, a golden eagle, captured. Marcus Flavius Aquila (Channing Tatum) is the son of the Legion's General, and is determined to exonerate his father and the family name. Choosing Britain for his first active station, he must prove himself to his men when local Barbarian tribes, led by an angry Druid, attack the fort at night.
Marcus senses the attack and wakes his men in time. They fight the intruders and win the battle, but the next day the Druid returns with prisoners of war - an expedition Marcus had sent out to find a grain convoy. The leader of the expedition is beheaded before their eyes.
Unwilling to bear the guilt of his men's death, Marcus leads the best of his men out of the fort. Using their shields and proven Roman infantry battle tactics, they push back the Celts and defend the prisoners. They have started moving back to the fort when the Druid summons his chariots, which race forward with scythes on the wheels and hack down the retreating men. Marcus grabs a spear, steadies his aim, and launches it toward the Druid. The spear kills the driver, causing the chariot to topple onto Marcus.
With his leg badly injured, Marcus is sent to his Uncle (Donald Sutherland)'s house to recover. His captain informs him that Rome has learned of his actions: Marcus has been given an honourable mention for leading his men in a courageous fight to defend the fort, but due to his injury, he has been given an honourable discharge from the Army.
Marcus is distraught. He watches a gladiatorial contest with his Uncle, in which a young and practically defenceless slave (Jamie Bell) is pitted against a seasoned gladiator. The boy refuses to fight, throwing down his weapons and standing stoically in wait for death. Marcus is moved by his courage, and when the gladiator seeks his audience's approval for the boy's death, he rallies the crowd to save him. His Uncle buys the slave, whose name is Esca, for Marcus, to help him in his recovery.
Soon, a Senator arrives at his Uncle's villa, and conversation returns to the fate of the Ninth Legion; there have been rumours of sightings of the Eagle in the far north. Since Marcus has reasonably recovered from his wounds, he seeks permission to cross Hadrian's Wall into Caledonia and seek to retrieve the Eagle. At first his request is dismissed as the talk of a madman with a death wish, but he is eventually given his wish.
Marcus takes Esca with him on his quest, offering to grant him his freedom in return for his help as a guide and translator, and choosing to trust the pledge of service that Esca made in spite of his deep hatred for the Romans.
Marcus and Esca cross the Wall to hunt for the Eagle. As they continue north, Esca politely asks anyone they meet if they might have happened to see 5000 Roman soldiers walking by 20 years ago.
They get attacked at intervals by small groups of warriors, but are able to defend themselves quite well.
A little later, Marcus thinks Esca is not asking the right questions. He threatens a villager, who tells him about a man who can help them. They soon find the man - a deserter, a Roman legionnaire who had run when the fighting was fiercest and has been living among the Celtic tribes, now married with children. He shows them the place where the Ninth Legion fell and points them on their way to the Seal People in the far north, but refuses to go with them.
This fresh reminder of the bloody history between their people makes it difficult for Marcus and Esca to see past their differences, and their partnership is about to disintegrate into violence when they find themselves confronted with a group of Seal warriors. Esca takes control and tells the Chief's son that Marcus is his Roman slave. They are taken to the Seal village on the northern tip of Scotland, and Esca (as the Brigante Chief's son) is accepted as one of them.
That night, the young Seal warriors prepare for a rite of passage and all the men get drunk. The Chief dons the tribal outfit and brings The Eagle out from a cave. As if in a trance, Marcus walks straight to it and is knocked unconscious.
With all the men heavily asleep and worse for wear, Esca shakes Marcus awake, and together they enter the cave to retrieve the Eagle. Marcus is pleased to have his friend back. Inside they are startled by the Chief and his bodyguards, but they prove no match for Marcus and Esca. Before he dies, the Chief tells Marcus that he saw the Roman Commander-in-Chief beg for mercy like a coward before he killed him. Esca doesn't translate what was said.
They pack their horses, but the Chief's youngest son, a mere child, catches them, asking to go with them. Esca convinces him with a gift to stay behind and keep quiet, and the two are off.
In the morning the Chief's eldest son sees the gift Esca left behind with the young boy, and soon the cat is out the bag. A war party is summoned, and they race after the Roman and his slave.
The Seal People are tough, and with better knowledge of the terrain are gaining on Marcus and Esca. Soon their horses give in, and Marcus's leg is giving him gip. Marcus stays behind with the eagle near a submerged stream, hidden by rocks, while Esca goes for help.
Esca returns with the legionnaires who deserted the army 20 years ago; he is just in time, as the Seal People have found their location. The Chief's Eldest kills the young boy in front of the Romans, which proves to be the wrong move, as this makes little Esca mad.
A final battle begins. The Romans are doing well, but the Chief's Eldest is a formidable fighting machine and dispatches the old legionnaires with ease. But soon he meets Marcus, and the experienced Roman gets the better of his enemy. Without their captain, the remaining members of the Seal war party give up and retreat. Somewhere in all this, Marcus learns that his father died a hero - the deserters had stayed with the ranks until the very end, but were ashamed to admit it before.
Marcus, Esca, and the remaining few soldiers burn the bodies on a funeral pyre.
Marcus and Esca say their goodbyes, return to Roman Britain and present the Eagle to the Senator. Esca is now a free man and Marcus knows that his family name has been vindicated.
While burning the body of the Legionnaire, Marcus also sticks the Eagle onto the pyre in homage to all those, on both sides, that lost their lives.
The movie ends with the two friends walking back towards the Wall.
The Eagle of the Ninth Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
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The Eagle of the Ninth is both a mystery and the story of a young man whose growth to adulthood forces him to acknowledge painful truths about his background and his career. Marcus, a young centurion, begins his service in the Roman army of the second century with dreams of glorious military success and a triumphant return to the Etruscan farm that his family has owned for generations. Instead, he soon confronts feelings of alienation when his mother marries again and he is assigned to far-off Britain. Isolated from his family and country, Marcus must establish his own place and accept the realities of a sometimes harsh world.
The world of first-century Britain is depicted in vivid detail. The contrast between the peace and order of the Roman way of life and that of the Celts, who lived in more direct harmony with nature, is one of the major themes of the novel.
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