Interview with Peter Milligan and EXCLUSIVE Preview: Britannia: Lost Eagles of Rome #2 (of 4)
All-Comic.com: The circumstances of the setting recall an actual event. During the reign of Augustus in A.D 9, three legions of Roman soldiers were slaughtered and their eagles commandeered during the Battle of Teutoburg Forest, also known as the Varian Disaster. Will we be seeing some of the historical figures of that battle, such as Arminius or Varus? Does the aftermath of that battle play into your story?
PETER MILLIGAN: You’re right. The key event in THE LOST EAGLES OF ROME is indeed based on the Teutoburg disaster. (At least, it was a disaster for the Romans. For the Germans into whose lands the Romans were expanding into, it was bloody fantastic!)
However, we won’t be examining the real historical events of that battle. That battle took place during the reign of Augustus, whereas Britannia is set some years later in the time of Nero. But it was the descriptions I read of how much Emperor Augustus and Rome were affected by the loss of the eagles at Teutoburg that led eventually to this story, and to a fictitious battle based on the battle of Teutoburg. It was the image of the distraught emperor Augustus wailing for his lost eagles, and it was also the idea that these eagles, these standards, were so important, that they represented so much of what Rome was, that stuck with me and inspired me.
All-Comic.com: It was teased that the power of belief plays an important role in the story. Is this where the element of magic comes into play? Will the concept of nationalism be part of the story? Both the Romans and the Germans displayed nationalistic behavior either as part of or as a result of this historic battle. The eagle represented Rome’s power, prosperity and its “health”, something that all its citizens recognized, while the Germanic tribes gained a temporary consolidation of power through Arminius’ betrayal of the Romans. Later in history, Arminius, aka Hermann, gave rise to his own myth as Germany upheld him as a symbol of nationalism, the man who united tribes and birthed a nation, despite the historical inaccuracy of this notion. Your earlier series reflected on current issues, and the rise of nationalism is garnering attention in the media. Battle standards seem like an opportunity to explore nationalistic belief systems.
PM: This is all very interesting and true enough but again it’s not exactly where this particular story leads. For sure, the idea of how vital these eagles were to how ancient Romans thought about themselves is central, and this story does touch upon nationalism and imperialism – which always feels like a contemporary theme – but not in the way nor even in the country that you might expect, for Antonius’ investigations take him far from the dark forests of Germany to the more eastern edge of the empire. A place much older than Rome, a place of magic and curses. I’m intrigued by how wide Rome’s empire was, how it embraced so many different peoples, and this latest storyline explores some of that.
All-Comic.com: The detectioner Antonius Axia has been at the heart of each of the Britannia series. Axia is a bit of an anomaly within his society. He’s rooted in an archaic time yet his attitude in regards to women is modern. We frequently see him recognizing them as intellectual or battle equals. Rubria and Achillia are examples of this. Your stories seem to explore the other side of Roman patriarchy, where women have a power of their own despite the inequality, such as that of the Vestal Virgins. Is this a theme you’ve consciously introduced or a happy coincidence? It adds more dimension to the stories and has made them more appealing to female readers.
PM: Antonius is different from many of his peers, but not only in his attitude toward women. His take on the gods, whom he doesn’t believe in anymore, for example. When looking at causes and effects, he’s searching for evidence-based or psychological reasons, whereas his contemporaries might presume that some god has been offended. All of this sets Antonius apart.
Rome was a deeply patriarchal society, which is why the Vestal Virgins are so interesting and unique. They had a power and a respect that few other women in Roman society had. Yes, they had to pay for this by staying unmarried and chaste and they were only taken from noble families but even so, they were still a pretty remarkable institution. When I was researching this series and read about the Vestals I knew I wanted to make them a recurring feature, which is why the Chief Vestal Virgin Rubria is so important to the story and to Antonius’ life.
And for the record, none of this is “happy coincidence.” It’s all planned, all mapped out, and all intended.
All-Comic.com: How has Rome changed in light of the events of “We Who Are About to Die”? Are women still “rebelling”? Is Achillia still a symbol to the women of Rome or viewed as a threat by the men?
PM: This current story – THE LOST EAGLES – moves away from Rome so we don’t especially see what legacy Achillia has left behind, but I’m sure the legend of Achillia and what she represented continues to inspire some women. That would make an interesting storyline. The idea of women rebelling against the patriarchy is an old one: Aristophanes’ famous tale about Lysistrata and the women’s sex strike is one good example.
All-Comic.com: Part of the danger that occurs within the Britannia series stems from living under the rule of Nero. The depravity of the general practices of the day – i.e., slavery, gladiators – plays a part as well. Rome itself is a character, and the machinations of its inhabitants make for excellent drama. Though this story takes Axia into Germanic lands, can we expect to see what unfolds in Rome itself?
PM: Wherever Antonius goes he is always in the Roman Empire and therefore he – and his family – are always at the mercy and whims of the sadistic and mad emperor. A lot of the tension from the story comes from how Antonius must constantly use his intelligence – and his relationship with the Vestal Virgin Rubria – to stay alive in this febrile and dangerous environment. Anyone living in a dictatorship where an unaccountable leader is free to do as he pleases – whether that’s a despot in the ancient world, or a Stalin or Kim Jong-un in modern times –must walk this dangerous line.
All-Comic.com: What do you envision the legacy of Antonius Axia to be?
PM: In terms of within the story, his intelligence and practical way of looking at the world will surely influence people around him, including his son. In terms of this comic, I’d like to think Antonius is an example of how you can tell a story about a man living many hundreds of years ago which is still relevant to the events of today.
Exclusive Preview: BRITANNIA: LOST EAGLES OF ROME #2 (of 4)
Written by PETER MILLIGAN
Art by ROBERT GILL
Cover A by CARY NORD
Cover B by SIJA HONG
Variant Cover by KANO
Three Roman legions lay slaughtered, and, with them, a cache of Rome’s most prized possessions has disappeared…
The mystery of the Roman Empire’s missing relics deepens into a deadly new case for Antonius Axia, history’s first detective and the ancient world’s sole possessor of the secrets of deduction and psychology. Now, Axia is on the hunt to recover the empire’s treasure by any means…and the trail is about to lead him directly into the mystical kingdom of Egypt!