Why The Tortoise?

Tortoise in Asia front coverThe book is based on a legend I heard while travelling in China’s far North West. There is a village in the Gobi desert where the people have European features mixed with Chinese. They believe they are the descendants of Roman legionaries who came along the Silk Road after a big battle two thousand years ago. Testing has confirmed that 56% of their DNA is European.

A Chinese historian writes about an encounter east of the Caspian Sea where observers recorded soldiers in a fish-scale formation. This could only have referred to the Roman practice of holding shields up over their heads to fend off arrows. It was called a “tortoise” or testudo in Latin. Hence the name of the book

In 53 BCE, forty thousand Roman troops invaded Parthia (now Iran) and lost, with half taken prisoner and marched to the eastern frontier in what is now Turkmenistan. Some could have escaped and walked along the Silk Road to China.

The opening of the book speaks of the lead up to the Battle of Carrhae where the Roman generals argue over strategy and engage Marcus, a young upwardly mobile centurion, for advice. The story moves through the battle to adventures along the Silk Road, which test Marcus to the core.

Essentially it is an allegory, on one level an adventure story, on others an evolution of Marcus’s character and an exploration of connections between East and West facilitated by the Silk Road, the communicator between cultures that have never met.