Arrius Volume 1: Sacramentum (Oath)

Written by Preston Holtry
Review by Valerie Adolph

Arrius is a Roman soldier who, throughout his distinguished career, has been dedicated to the aims and ideals of the Roman Empire. Until his brief meeting with a Jewish woman during the rebellion of 134-135 CE, he has not questioned his total allegiance to Rome and its army. The woman’s words plant a seed of doubt, and he starts to consider the possibility of other, greater allegiances. After a desperate battle in which he distinguishes himself, he is offered a promotion to a prestigious position as Commander of the Praetorian Guard in Rome itself. He refuses and takes instead the position of camp commandant in a remote corner of the province of Britannia.

It’s a long, wet journey to his new posting at Hadrian’s Wall. Some of his new troops are undisciplined, and a few are downright dishonest, yet slowly he catches glimpses of what a greater allegiance might be. His contact with the native woman Ilya and her son helps to re-affirm his quest.

What sets this book apart from others in its genre is the detailed picture of Roman military life. Clearly, Preston Holtry has undertaken an immense amount of research—the resources at the end of the book testify to this. The author’s own military background helps to supply the day-to-day interactions between the men, their beefs, their loyalties, their hopes and their petty quarrels.

The book contains tremendous detail about the Roman armies and their strategies to try to subdue Judaea. This detail is a strength but also a weakness, as it slows the story. However, Arrius Volume 1: Sacramentum (Oath) is the first book in a trilogy about a soldier’s quest for meaning in life. Possibly the next two books will be free to focus on story rather than on military detail.