Sunday, April 26, 2009

Review: Of Merchants and Heroes by Paul Waters

The young Roman protagonist of classicst Paul Waters' first novel, "Of Merchants and Heroes", seeks to find his own identity in a society in the midst of redefining itself, as the traditionally conservative Roman culture begins to embrace, albeit uncertainly, Greek Hellenism at the end of the second Punic War. Born of a landed but impoverished family on a farm in the centuries old city of Praeneste, young Marcus' life takes a dramatic turn when he and his father, along with other travelers, are captured by pirates, led by a ruthless but charismatic rogue named Dicaearchus (Dicearchus, or Diceärch - d.196 BC), an Aetolain rogue (and real historical figure) employed by Philip V of Macedon to raid the Cyclades and Rhodian ships after the second Punic War.

Marcus, alone, escapes and flees to the house of his uncle, a prosperous merchant who has capitalized on the war with Hannibal. Forced to become his uncle's adopted son, Marcus accompanies his uncle to Tarentum where his uncle has obtained a contract to oversee properties seized from Tarentines who supported Hannibal in the recent war. There, he saves the life of the father of Titus Quinctius Flamininus, a man who would play a prominant role in the future of Greco-Roman relationships and command the allied forces of Rome and Greece in the defining battle of Cynoscephalae in 197 BCE.

Titus, like many young elite Romans of the period, had selectively embraced a number of Greek customs while living in Tarentum, a city originally founded by a group of exiled Spartans in the 8th century BCE. Since its founding, Tarentum had become a thriving trading center and bustling seaport where many nations of the ancient Mediterranean co-mingled, sharing ideas and lifestyles. At one of Titus' dinner parties, Marcus encounters his first hetaira, a lady he grows to respect as they encounter each other a number of times throughout the story. Pacifae personifies the skilled courtesan described by Lucian in his Dialogues of the Courtesans:

"In the first place, she dresses attractively and looks neat; she's gay with all the men, without being so ready to cackle as you are, but smiles in a sweet bewitching way; later on, she's very clever when they're together, never cheats a visitor or an escort, and never throws herself at the men. If ever she takes a fee for going out to dinner, she doesn't drink too much--that's ridiculous, and men hate women who do--she doesn't gorge herself--that's ill-bred, my dear--but picks up the food with her finger-tips, eating quietly and not stuffing both cheeks full, and, when she drinks, she doesn't gulp, but sips slowly from time to time....Also, she doesn't talk too much or make fun of any of the company, and has eyes only for her customer. These are the things that make her popular with the men."

But love does not bloom for the young man until he visits the gymnasium and meets Menexanos, a young Athenian athlete. Bisexuality was accepted openly in the ancient world although in Roman society any Roman male engaging in such relationships was expected to take the dominant role. Waters does not examine that aspect of the relationship but rather presents the relationship as a communion of souls who strive to serve their respective homelands and infuse their lives with meaning while cultivating courage and lending support the each other in their quest for achievement and honor. This approach most closely resembles the treatment of bisexual relationships in Mary Renault’s classic “The Last of the Wine”.

Both young men end up as combatants in the famous battle of Cynoscephalae – Menexanos as an Athenian hoplite and Marcus as a Roman tribune – in the climax of the novel.

The thing that struck me as particularly unique about this novel was the development of the character of King Philip V of Macedon. He is usually mentioned only in passing in many books focusing on this period, presumably because Hannibal is such a charismatic figure he steals the show, so to speak. But King Philip V is presented by Waters as quite a dashing, if a bit roguish, commander of note in his own right who mounted a serious threat to Roman dominance in the Aegean. True to his ancestors, he was a master of subterfuge and seemed to have a formidable grasp of both siege and naval warfare. He was an intelligent and perceptive leader who could have easily turned the tables on the Romans if the confrontation at Cynoscephalae had occurred on ground more suited to phalanx tactics than to maneuvers of small Roman maniple units. As it is, the battlefield apparently was not specifically selected by Flamininus, just a fortunate coincidence although I’m sure Flamininus was aware of the phalanx’s maneuvering vulnerabilities. It seemed to be more of a case of Fortuna smiling on the Romans that day rather than a victory resulting from a carefully sprung trap.

I enjoyed this novel immensely and highly recommend it. I think it ranks as one of the best “first” novels I have read and I look forward with anticipation to Waters next effort.

Note: This novel was recently released in the U.S. under the title "The Republic of Vengeance."

Review: The Forgotten Legion by Ben Kane

James Rollins, author of “The Last Oracle” exclaims, “What Wilbur Smith did for Egypt, Kane does for Rome!”. I’ve only read two of Wilbur Smith’s novels, “The Seventh Scroll” and “River God” but the narrative style of these two novels is quite similar to the storytelling technique used by Ben Kane in this first of a projected series of novels featuring heroes developed in this work.

Kane introduces each character in their own unique context within the boundaries of the Late Roman Republic. We first meet Tarquinius, one of the last of the Etruscan haruspices (soothsayers), raised as a poor freedman on a large latifundia owned by a politically ambitious patron with ties to the richest man in Rome at the time, Marcus Licinius Crassus. Warned by his tutor to escape to the east where he will find his destiny, Tarquinius abandons his home and joins the forces of Lucullus fighting Mithradates in Asia Minor.

Next we meet Brennus, a towering Gallic warrior whose people are crushed by the legions of Julius Caesar. The only survivor of his village, he is taken in chains to Rome where he is sold to the largest gladiatorial school in the capital.

Then we meet the twin brother and sister slaves, Romulus and Fabiola, the spawn of Julius Caesar and a slave girl he ravaged on the streets of Rome when coming home from an evening of revelry with his friends. The twins’ cruel owner, a less-than-profitable merchant in debt to the greedy Crassus, sells the 14-year-old twins, sending Romulus to the gladiator school and Fabiola to the Lupanar – the most prestigious brothel in Rome.

Romulus has fortunately received some earlier training with a sword from his former owner’s steward and is taken under the wing of the brawny Brennus. Fabiola, of course irresistibly beautiful, is tutored by the madame and fellow prostitutes at the Lupanar and becomes the most sought after “companion” in the establishment as well as the regular lover of Caesar’s lieutenant Decimus Brutus.

Romulus swears one day to free his sister and take revenge on his former owner who sold their worn out mother to the salt mines, ensuring her death.

At this point I’m sure you’re thinking this is beginning to sound like a melodramatic made-for-television movie and I would probably agree with that assessment.

Brennus and Romulus sneak out of the gladiator school for an evening’s entertainment and are implicated in the death of a Roman nobleman who just happens to be the hated former patron of Tarquinius. To escape crucifixion, the two flee south where they hear Crassus is assembling an army to invade Parthia. In Brundisium, they meet Tarquinius and our ensemble cast is finally ready to get into some serious trouble in the deserts of Syria where Crassus will meet his inevitable fate at the battle of Carrhae, the climax of this first installment.

Kane obviously knows the rudimentary history of the late Roman Republic and its key players and his characters have some depth. I like the way he interjects the occasional Latin term into the narrative in a context that clearly reveals its meaning without delivering a specific definition. This is the natural way that people learn another language and his use of the technique is appreciated.

However, some background details of Roman culture and some of the scenarios developed in his narrative were grating to me because of my previous studies. As an admirer of Julius Caesar and someone who has read a number of biographies about him, I could not swallow the premise that Caesar would demean himself in public by raping a passing slave girl. First of all, Caesar was abstemious in his dining and drinking habits and meticulous about his personal hygiene so was not the type to participate in public drunken revelries – even as a young man. Second, Caesar prided himself on being a sought after lover. His sexual appetites were well satisfied by his numerous paramours with other men’s wives, whether his own wife was ill or not.

Then Romulus narrowly escapes being run over by an ox cart in the streets of Rome in the middle of the day. I had previously read that wagons and carts were forbidden by law to enter Rome until after dark. I mentioned this to my friend Pat Hunter, author of “Immortal Caesar,” and she told me that she thought the legislation was passed after Caesar returned from Gaul so this criticism may be unjustified.

Later, Romulus defeats an experienced and successful gladiator in a “duel” at the gladiator school. It is hard for me to believe that a 14-year-old boy with occasional training with a sword could defeat a veteran gladiator in single combat on his first outing. Gladiators were burly, barley-fed brutes (how’s that for alliteration!) whose body mass alone would have nearly guaranteed victory in such an encounter. Perhaps Kane was trying to appeal to a younger demographic with that one.

Then, I seriously doubt that a Roman noble, irregardless of how besotted he was with a beautiful prostitute, would have taken her to a formal Roman dinner party. I realize Rome had become Hellenized to some extent since the second Punic War but prostitutes from a brothel were not treated as Greek heitera in Roman social circles. He also would not have taken her to Roman gladiatorial contests or at least not sat with her and discussed combat tactics. Women were relegated to the uppermost seats, totally segregated from the men at Roman games, or at least they were less than a century later when the Flavian amphitheater (Colosseum) was built.

Kane also explained that only the most blood-thirsty Romans stayed for the gladiator bouts late in the afternoon, after watching the beast hunts and executions. This was laughable, as the gladiator contests were viewed as the climax of the entire experience. If anyone left, it was to grab a bite to eat at lunch during the criminal executions.

But, despite these perceived historical missteps, Kane spun a good yarn. I would agree with Rollins that the story was engaging, although “visceral”, no, not after reading one of Bernard Cornwell’s battle sequences in which his protagonist slashes wildly with a battle ax, wiping the spray of blood from a severed artery out of his eyes and flicking a fragment of bone and brain from his cheek – I was listening to Bernard Cornwell’s “Agincourt” during my morning workout at the same time I was reading the hard copy of “The Forgotten Legion” in the evening. Now that is my idea of visceral!

Review: Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell

Peering from his hiding place in a corpse-strewn alley of 15th century Soissons, young Nicholas Hook watched in horror as his fellow English archers, surrendered by a treacherous nobleman for a pouch of coins then disarmed, are set upon by their French captors. First, their bow fingers are sliced off, something Hook had heard stories about in the short time he had spent with his company. But then they were grabbed by the hair, their heads wrenched back, and their eyes gouged from their sockets. Still the Frenchmen’s bloodlust was not sated. Drawing their daggers, the French men-at-arms castrated the screaming, blinded men and left them to bleed to death, writhing on the cobblestones of the square in front of the little church where they had sought refuge.

This scene (I have condensed it) reflects the sheer brutality of warfare during the Hundred Years War. I have read many books in which conquering armies sack cities but I have never experienced the savagery as explicitly as I did reading Cornwell’s description of the fall of Soissons in 1415.

There, men not only hacked each other to pieces with poleax, mace, and sword, but the victors used their own bodies to violate and rend dazed women and hollow-eyed children. Even priests and nuns were raped or disemboweled. The shockwaves of this massacre of mostly French citizens by French soldiers rocked all of Christendom. In fact, this transgression was pointed to as the reason the French were so resoundingly defeated at Agincourt a year later, October 25, 1415, on the feast day of St. Crispin and St. Crispian, the patron saints of the town of Soissons.

Nicholas Hook escapes the carnage, along with a young novice, Melisande, the bastard daughter of a wealthy French nobleman. The couple flee to Calais where Nicholas relates all he has seen to the English commander there. As one of the few survivors of the butchery at Soissons, Nicholas is then summoned to London to repeat his story to King Henry V. Afterwards, the king assigns him to the company of Sir John Cornewaille (sometimes spelled Cornwall).

Sir John Cornewaille was born in 1364 to a noble family. His father, also Sir John Cornewaille, had been in service to the Duke of Brittany. His mother was, purportedly, the niece of the Duke. Sir John (the younger) served Richard II in Scotland. Then, he fought for the Duke of Lancaster in Brittany and, later, King Henry IV. Sir John was made a Knight of The Garter in 1410 for his numerous acts of courage on the battlefield. King Henry IV even gave him Elizabeth Plantagenet, the Duchess of Exeter, daughter of the third surviving son of King Edward III , in marriage.

But, although he was a celebrated tournament champion as well as decorated soldier, Sir John was not the romanticized warrior that people often think of when the subject of knights and chivalry arise. His training speech, as related by Cornwell, would make a U.S. Marine drill sergeant proud:

“ …you rip their bellies open, shove blades in their eyes, slice their throats, cut off their bollocks, drive swords up their arses, tear out their gullets, gouge their livers, skewer their kidneys, I don’t care how you do it, so long as you kill them!”

Now English archers were lethal and Nicholas Hook was an exceptional archer. Hook could punch a fletched shaft through the throat of a crossbowman at a distance considered out-of-range by the average archer. But Sir John taught him to kill with poleax and dagger as well. As it turned out he would need all of these skills to survive the killing fields of Agincourt.

But first, Hook had to endure the withering siege of Harfleur, a small port on the coast of Normandy. There, Henry V’s army not only faced a defiant French garrison supported by determined townsfolk, but, as the siege dragged on and on, devastating disease and dysentery.

Again Cornwell’s gritty narrative engulfs you in the grinding depravations of the victims of the besieged town as well as the squalid existence of the archers and men-at-arms clamoring outside the crumbling walls.

Cornwell also introduces us to a quintessential villain, not a menacing Frenchman, but a stringy-haired English priest who uses his office to force himself on women and now casts a lecherous eye on Melisande. Each time this priest appeared, I would picture the balding priest with bulging, lascivious eyes who is groping a cackling, bulbous-breasted prostitute in the History Channel series, “The History of Sex”. This character was so well drawn, like all of Cornwell’s characters, that he actually made my skin crawl.

Of course the climax of the novel is the battle of Agincourt. The battle itself lasted for about three hours and Cornwell’s account of the slaughter that occurred in those three hours left me as emotionally drained as those unarmored archers who, after exhausting their supply of bodkins, struggled in the knee deep mud of that sodden wheat field to fight off French knights wielding shortened lances and spiked maces.

I had always heard that the English won the battle of Agincourt because of their archers with their famous long bows. But, actually, the archers depleted their arrow supply on the first French battle charge. The second wave was repulsed in hand to hand fighting along the entire English line, with archers discarding their bows and resorting to secondary weapons like poleaxes and mallets.

I must confess, now, although I have seen probably all of the Sharpe’s Rifles television series and have over a dozen of Bernard Cornwell’s books in my “to be read” stack, Agincourt: A Novel
is the first book by Cornwell that I have actually read. I have read hundreds of other novels featuring accounts of many of the ancient world’s most famous battles - some, like Cannae, with much higher death tolls than Agincourt. But I have never read a fictionalized account of battle more immersive than the struggle described by Cornwell in this novel.

For interesting videos about the story behind the book, check out my earlier post.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George

I just finished reading Margaret George's "Autobiography of Henry VIII" and I found it gave me a lot of insight into the King's character. I have much more sympathy for him now than I did when all I had ever heard about him was that he had six wives and executed two of them.

As the second son of Henry VII, Henry was never groomed to be king. His older brother Arthur was the heir apparent so Henry grew up relatively ignored by his parents and other members of his father's court. Since he was not to be king, he was actually educated to be a churchman. Therefore his knowledge of scripture was quite extensive and he was a formidable scholar with a passion for astronomy, music, and poetry. I didn't realize until I read George's book that Henry VIII wrote the song I memorized as a young piano student - Greensleeves.

When the sickly Arthur died just months after his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, Henry was suddenly thrust into the role of heir although he realized he would never supplant his brother in his parents' affections. He tried diligently to learn the art of Kingship from his now ailing father and ascended the throne at the relatively tender age of seventeen. Soon after, he married his brother's widow, Katherine of Aragon.

According to George, the couple loved each other and it was not until they had endured the birth of seven dead offspring, the last being a malformed "monster" along with the unwillingness of the French monarch to betroth one of his offspring to Henry's only surviving child, Mary, did Henry begin proceedings to end the marriage. The French were the first to claim that Mary was cursed as a daughter born of an incestuous marriage, citing Leviticus' warning about a man marrying a brother's widow. As a learned churchman, Henry, faced with the mounting evidence of what he perceived as God's disfavor, sought the means to rectify what he probably truly perceived as a mistake on his part.

Of course, this action was complicated by the fact that Katherine, already quite a bit older than Henry, bore the physical deterioration of someone who has endured eight pregnancies in relatively short order. She suffered from arthritic hips and could not share in her young vibrant husband's passion for riding and dancing. As was common during the period, Henry had taken mistresses to expend his physical appetites. However, when Anne Boleyn caught his eye, he soon found himself in a relationship where she ( or actually, her father, the ambitious Earl Thomas Boleyn) dictated the terms rather than the King.

The Boleyns capitalized on the King's "Great Matter" and, through the relationship with Anne, pressured the King to do whatever it would take to make it possible to make her Queen. That would eventually include separating the church in England from the control of the Pope in Rome. This was ironic since, at one point, Henry had been named defender of the faith when he wrote a rebuttal to the charges against the Catholic church posed by Martin Luther. Even after Henry became head of the church in England, he viewed himself as Catholic and a member of the true faith, not an adherent to Protestantism. Despite this, however, his appointed ministers, Thomas Cromwell chief among them, moved to dissolve the remaining monasteries in England and eliminate any allegiance to the Pope.

"Cromwell was the most prominent of those who suggested to Henry VIII that the king make himself head of the English Church, and saw the Act of Supremacy of 1534 through Parliament. In 1535 Henry appointed Cromwell as his last Vicegerent in Spirituals. This gave him the power as supreme judge in ecclesiastical cases and the office provided a single unifying institution over the two provinces of the English Church (Canterbury and York). As Henry's vicar-general, he presided over the Dissolution of the Monasteries, which began with his visitation of the monasteries and abbeys, announced in 1535 and begun in the winter of 1536. As a reward, he was created Earl of Essex on 18 April, 1540. He is also the architect of the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542, which united England and Wales .Although the Dissolution of the Monasteries often has been portrayed as a cynical money-grabbing initiative, Cromwell and his supporters had genuine theological reservations about the idea of monastic life, specifically on the nature of intercessory prayers for the dead." - Wikipedia

George points out numerous indescretions by Anne Boleyn who loved to be doted upon by swarms of courtiers. Although the question of her incestuous relationship with her own brother George may have been a case of overzealous prosecutors, you are left with little doubt that she deserved her fate. There is even a suggestion that she was engaged in a poison plot against Katherine of Aragon. Apparently when Katherine died, an autopsy revealed nothing pointing to a cause of death except a black growth or section on her heart. The physicians told Henry it was evidence of poison although it could have been simply heart muscle damaged by a clot. Anyway, the end result, his ordering Anne's execution, was hardly capricious or due simply to the fact that the only son she bore him was stillborn.

His marriage to Jane Seymour was apparently a love match. Although she too had ambitious family members, her affection for Henry and his for her appeared to be genuine. He mourned her loss for the rest of his life.

Another interesting point George makes in her book is that Henry, although physically repulsed by Anne of Cleves, calling her the "Flemish Mare", actually learned to love her wit and intelligence. The scene of their wedding night is portrayed as both comical and tragic. Henry attempts to caress her but finds her body sagging and less than maiden-like. When he leaps up partially exposing himself, Anne points and roars with laughter at his apparent impotence.

Although Anne feared for her life, knowing the fate of Henry's other Ann, Henry, because of his affection for her, adopted her as his sister when their marriage was annulled because Henry was incapable of consumating it. This allowed her to retain court status and a comfortable stipend. It even gave her a certain degree of independence she would have never had if she had returned to the duchy of Cleves. She subsequently enjoyed visits to court as an honored guest and even participated in family gatherings during the holiday season.

Henry's next marriage to Catherine Howard was again, one engineered by ambitious relatives, with Henry blinded by his lifelong need to feel loved by someone. Catherine herself was far from innocent and apparently had a long history of licentious behavior. Her involvment in a plot to eliminate the aging king was certainly justification for her execution. I got the impression that although Henry realized that she had to be eliminated, he hesitated to order it, not unlike the Roman Emperor Claudius when faced with the treachery of his beloved Messalina. It was this execution that seemed to haunt him for the rest of his life. George portrays Henry tormented by visions of a headless Catherine running through the hallways of his palace and sitting at his dinner table.

His last Queen Catherine was portrayed as a kind and sensitive woman. I was saddened to read that as Henry's health deteriorated with symptoms that sound very much like kidney failure (severe bloating, headaches, etc.) he would have episodes of insanity where he would order the imprisonment of those closest to him. Catherine suffered one such imprisonment. However, when Henry's symptoms eased he would regain control of himself and release the unfortunate targets of his previous paranoid episodes.

Henry actually had a son by Katherine of Aragon that appeared healthy but died after just a few weeks of life. I sometimes wonder how much different history would have been if the boy had lived and the "Great Matter" had never arisen to split the faithful in England away from the Catholic Church and thereby reinforce the Protestant Reformation.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Rome's Gothic Wars provides new slant on late Roman history

I was recently asked by Cambridge University Press to review "Rome's Gothic Wars: From the Third Century to Alaric (Key Conflicts of Classical Antiquity) by Michael Kulikowski. I finally got a chance to begin reading it and find it clearly written and thankfully devoid of the stilted academic jargon that pervades many history texts. As most
of my studies have focused on the Roman Republic, I am learning all kinds of fascinating things about this later period.

For example, I did not realize that there were reports of cannibalism
inside the city of Rome during Alaric's siege. Kulikowski also
postulates that one of the stimuli for the beginning of Gothic
invasions of the Empire was in response to Caracalla's granting of
citizenship to all free residents of the empire. He felt that this
action opened up the possibilities for anyone - not just provincial
elites who had gained senatorial rank - to gain the throne.

Evidently, Mr. Kulikowski has another problem with Caracalla. He says in his opinion, much of the civil unrest in Rome itself resulting from the long string of
assassinated emperors was triggered unwittingly by Caracalla when he defeated the last Parthian king. This left a power vacuum in the east that was filled by the much more problematic (for the Romans)Sassanids who were not content to control the former Parthian Empire but launched numerous incursions into Roman territory. Less successful responses to these incursions would often result in deposition of the
current emperor. Likewise, success would bring a new challenger to the imperial throne.

He also went on to describe the problems created by Roman interference
in Barbarian tribal control with Roman subsidy of particular tribal
leaders. Although this may have brought temporary loyalty, ultimately
it garnered a larger core of support around these subsidized
chieftains who would then be in a position to challenge the authority
of Rome itself along the frontiers. He pointed out that Decablus was
just such an example. The Romans initially subsidized his power base
in Dacia.

I found an article that described how this came about:

"In 60 BC, King Burebista of Dacia began a series of expansionistic
moves to relieve pressure from nomadic incursions, which eventually
threatened Roman Danubian and Black Sea territories. Julius Caesar
began to lay plans for a campaign in Dacia and Partha, which came to
naught when both Caesear and Burebista were assassinated in 44 BC.
Later, during the reign of Nero (54-68 AD), Dacian raids into Roman
Moesia became so serious that the Romans engaged the Roxolani to help
defend their frontier, thus placing Dacia's sometime Sarmatian allies
on their enemies list.

In 85 AD, King Decebalus assumed the Dacian throne, adopting a hostile
Roman policy that posed a serious challenge to the Emperor Domitian
(81-96 AD). A Dacian army raided across the Danube into the Roman
province of Moesia, killing the Roman governor and looting the
countryside. This prompted an retaliatory expedition under command of
praetorian prefect Cornelius Fuscus that was wiped out in eastern
Dacia (including the loss of Legio V Alaudae) . A second Roman
expedition was severely defeated in 87 AD.

Finally, a Roman army under Tettius Julianus defeated the Dacians at
Tapae in 88 or 89 A.D. King Decabalus of Dacia was forced to pay
tribute and allow Roman armies passage through Dacian territory.
Domitian, however, was distracted by Saturninus' Revolt on the Rhine
Frontier and uprisings by the Sarmatian Iazyges, Marcomanni and Quaid
tribes on Rome's Pannonian frontier. He sought the favor of Decabalus
to avoid a Dacian-Sarmatian alliance, offering skilled artisans and
hostages to ensure Dacian neutrality while he contended with his other
headaches." - DBA Resource

I couldn't help but think that we certainly didn't learn much from
these Roman experiences in political interference since we so recently
repeated their mistakes!

Kulikowski, also pointed out something that is important to know if you are
reading original historical sources from the period. He says that,
even though the Goths contemporaries referred to them as Goths,
historical scholars of the day used the formal designation "Scythians"
because the Goths had originated north of the Black Sea in the same
region once occupied by the true Scythians recorded by Herodotus.

I also found little controversies pointed out by Michael Kulikowski quite interesting.
He appears to be very skeptical of Jordanes narrative of the origin
and migration of the Goths from Scandanavia to the Black Sea region
("Getica"). Supposedly, Jordanes sixth century account was based on
the lost barbarian histories by Cassiodorus. But Kulikowski maintains
that Jordanes work was prepared while attached to the court of
Theodoric so he feels it was meant to provide a glorious history of
descent for that monarch and can't be solely relied upon when no other
sources are available - much like the skepticism that always surrounds
the narratives by Suetonius.

He went on to say that the connection between the Goths and
Scandanavia has been disproved archaeologically but did not elaborate
on how. He feels the Goths arose as a result of barbarian
relationships with the Roman army along the frontiers in the third
century and that they did not exist as a recognizable cultural group
before that time.

Kulikowski, also observed that Constantine apparently deliberately shifted from the former emperors' claims to be descended from Hercules to claim a descent from Claudius Gothicus. The author seemed to think this was a way to demonstrate a rejection of pagan philosophies. Richard D. Weigel of Western Kentucky University seems to support the observation that any connection with Claudius Gothicus was a fiction:

"M. Aurelius Claudius, known to history as Claudius Gothicus or Claudius II, was born in either Dalmatia or Illyria on May 10, probably in A.D. 213 or 214.[[1]] Although the most substantive source on Claudius is the biography in the Scriptores Historiae Augustae (SHA), this account is riddled with fabrications and slanted with fawning praise for this particular emperor, who in the fourth century was viewed as an ancestor of Constantine's father and thus of the ruling imperial family. This biography, attributed to one Trebellius Pollio, must be read with extreme caution and supplemented with information from other sources, including Aurelius Victor, the Epitome de Caesaribus, Eutropius, Orosius, Zonaras, and Zosimus, as well as coins and inscriptions." - De Imperatorabus Romanis

Although his reign was short, Claudius Gothicus did appear to be an emperor worth emulating:

"The Gothic challenge in 269 proved to be the greatest that Claudius II would face. The Goths assembled a large invading force, reportedly amounting to 320,000 men transported on a fleet of at least 2,000 ships, and first attacked coastal cities along the Black Sea in Moesia. After passing into the Aegean the Goths besieged Thessalonica. At this point, in 269, Claudius left Rome to stop the invasion. The Goths then sent the larger segment of their troops on land toward the Danube, while the fleet took the remaining group to continue the naval attack on Aegean coastal cities. Claudius sent Aurelian's cavalry to Macedonia to protect Illyria from attack, while he commanded the forces blocking the route to the Danube. In the area of Doberus and Pelagonia, the Goths lost 3,000 men to Aurelian's cavalry. At Naissus in Moesia, Claudius' force succeeded in killing some 50,000 Goths. There were follow-up operations on both land and sea, but the Gothic War had essentially been won.[[34]] Staving off the attacks of the Goths was a major contribution to the survival of the Roman Empire. It was a significant step leading to the subsequent success of Aurelian and the resurrection of the Empire under Diocletian and Constantine. When the Goths eventually succeeded in taking parts of the western Empire in the fifth century, their disruption to the course of civilization was likely much less violent than it would have been had they succeeded in the third century.

In addition to bad weather, a lack of supplies, and hunger, plague was a major factor in the defeat of the Goths. Many of the Gothic prisoners were either impressed into Roman military service or settled on farms as coloni. [[35]]Claudius received the title Gothicus in recognition of his triumph over the Goths. At some point he had also been given the title Parthicus, but the unlikelihood of any conflict with the Parthians in his short reign makes this difficult to explain. Perhaps Damerau was correct in his suggestion that a Parthian unit may have been involved in one of the battles with the Palmyrenes, although on this front there were few achievements to claim.[[36]] In any case, Claudius' victory over the Goths was short-lived. The emperor himself caught the plague and died at Sirmium early in 270. He was 56 years old.[[37]] Claudius' brother, Quintillus, became emperor briefly before losing out to Aurelian. Claudius also had another brother, Crispus, and the SHA traces the link to Constantius through Crispus' daughter Claudia.[[38]]

The Roman Senate showed its respect for Claudius Gothicus by setting up a gold portrait-shield in the Curia and by approving his deification. He was also honored with a golden statue in front of the great temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus and a silver statue set on a column on the Rostra.[[39]]"

All of these issues prompted me to seek out other academic opinions and more information.

Judith Weingarten, who studied classical archaeology at Oxford and is a member of the British School of Athens, disagreed with Kulikowski's suggestion that Caracalla's granting of citizenship to all free residents was a crucial trigger to the Gothic migrations:

"Caracalla's father, the Emperor Septimius Severus, had already started the rot: as the first of the Soldier Emperors, he came to power over the bodies of three emperors (all murdered in a single year!) and fought two bloody civil wars against rival generals to boot. He was, however, the last emperor, for a very long time, to die in bed. For the next 60 years, emperor after emperor - and there were many - fell to the assassin’s knife - and that is only to speak of the so-called legitimate emperors, who managed to fight off and kill their rivals - the losers then being called ‘usurpers’ or ‘pretenders’. [An old English jingle makes the point: Treason doth never prosper/ what’s the reason?/ For if it prosper/ none dare call it treason.] Caracalla’s murder, in turn,, did usher in a new age of instability. Legitimacy gave way to force and absolute depotism, in which the losers, their friends and supporters, were slaughtered and their property confiscated.

In my opinion, the true reason for Caracalla granting citizenship to all free men in the Empire, was his need to raise revenue: in return for citizenship, he taxed them. When even that was insufficient, he debased the currency...."

Another historian, Volker Carlton Bach of Denmark, took issue with the speculation that Constantine's rejection of the emperor's traditional descent from Hercules was a demonstration of rejection of pagan philosophy.

" I think this is based on a misunderstanding. The descent of the Herculian
Emperors (not the Jovian ones) from Hercules was purely a notional, cultic
(for want of a better word) concept. The closest we have today, I think, is
the link between the popes and St Peter - not an arogation of genetic
descent, but a claim of spiritual successorship and close association. The
Romans knew that Maximian and his successors were not the
great-great-great-repeat ad nauseam-grandsons of the heros Hercules. After
all, they had real mothers and fathers, and in some cases even knew both with
a degree of certainty. The descent claim from Claudius Gothicus, on the other
hand, *is* a 'real' paternity claim, similar to the adoption of Antonine
nomenclature by third-century emperors. So Constantine doesn't really
replace one claim with another. The Herculian designation was unnecessary
simply because with Constantine's victories, as it had been used to
distinguish junior colleagues from senior (Jovian) ones. Constantine was
*the* emperor, so that was that. Claudius Gothicus, on the other hand, was a
very attractive ancestor to claim, a successful and legendary warrior and,
unlike Aurelian or Diocletian, without anti-Christian baggage."

Any book that can generate this type of quality discussion is a worthy addition to any history enthusiast's collection. I notice it is one of a series of introductory-level texts exploring the key conflicts of classical antiquity. I look forward to reading others in this series.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

"Imperium" by Robert Harris.

Imperium by Robert HarrisOnce more, Harris delves into the inner workings of the Roman Empire only this time, he retreats back to the Republican era and creates a fictional biography of Marcus Tullius Cicero as seen through the eyes of his slave secreatary, Tiro.

Since I was originally seduced into my passion for learning about the Roman Empire by Colleen McCullough and her "Masters of Rome" series of novels, I naturally began this investigation of the life of Cicero with misgivings since Cicero is less than heroic in McCullough's books that tend to present Julius Caesar as the more admirable character.

Harris does not really change that perception of Cicero so much as provide the context for his opposition to Caesar and his fated alliance with the optimates, the group of aristocrats who formed the core of the faction that opposed Caesar in the senate and eventually, the civil war.

However, despite the fact that Cicero was not a sympathetic protagonist, I came to admire his tenacity in the face of social discrimination. His efforts to joust legally and politically within a system heavily weighted in favor of the wealthy and powerful were equally commendable.

As a "new man" Cicero could not rely on a long established patrician heritage to ease his climb up the coursus honorum to the seat of consul, the ultimate imperium, or symbol of authority, in the empire. He was also not militarily inclined so he did not seek the traditional path to political power through conquest either. Instead, he chooses to rely on his keen perception of political strategy and oratory skill to fight his way to the top through the law courts and Roman courts were as rife with personal danger, both literally and politically, as they were with bribery. The obstacles Cicero faced extended to his personal life as well.

Married to an aristocratic wife, Terentia Varrones, Cicero often walked a thin line with his efforts to thwart the designs of rich governors who plundered provinces or attempted to bribe their way into office or out of trouble. She often berated him for alienating her own social class.

Terentia maintained control of a huge dowry that was probably the primary reason Cicero married her. But, Cicero had to request a loan from her through her business manager as if she was just another moneylender in the forum. At one point, he had to present his entire legal defense to her to convince her she would get her money's worth. In fact, Cicero's wife was so hard-nosed and autocratic, I was surprised when half way through the book she has a thirtieth birthday. I thought from her forceful behavior she must have been much older.

The confrontations in the courtroom, the senate and the frenzied voting pens of the Campus Martius provide as much tension as a Roman battlefield and Harris does a masterful job of peopling these scenes with memorable characters. He does not shy away from presenting Cicero's "warts" either.Cicero takes calculated risks to obtain his objectives but he is also a pragmatist and, like most politicians, must form and break alliances as opportunities present themselves. Although he prosecutes a corrupt governor early in his career to gain stature as Rome's preeminent advocate, Cicero later defends a corrupt governor to regain the favor of the moneyed classes as his year to run for consul approaches.
I was unaware of how deep-seated an enemy Crassus was to Cicero, at least as presented by Harris. In fact, Crassus was presented with a vicious edge, more dangerous than simply a wealthy wannabe.

I also found it ironic that Pompey had little affection for Cicero either even though both were "new" men. Cicero aspired to become consul, but he seemed satisfied with the overall structure of the Roman Republic. He was appalled when Pompey pressured him to support Pompey's own attempt at wresting control of the empire from the aristocrats of the senate (years before the civil war with Caesar) with his campaign for the award of sweeping powers to eliminate an upsurge in pirate activity. It must have seemed hipocritical to Cicero later when Pompey and the optimates opposed Julius Caesar on the grounds that he was attempting to take sole control of the empire, although the book ended with Cicero's election to consul.

Another surprise was the villainous portrayal of Catalina as a violent, brute of a man who had openly murdered people who stood in his way. I had kind of come to admire Catalina as the misunderstood sometimes-rascal presented in Steven Saylor's Gordianus the Finder mystery, "Catalina's Riddle". Now I'm going to have to do more research of original sources to come to my own conclusion about this historical enigma.

I had also always assumed that the aristocrats opposition to Caesar's proposed land reforms was based on greed. In "Imperium" however, Harris makes a plausible case for the aristocrats' fear of absolute power that Caesar would gain through the patron-client relationships that would result from land redistribution.

Harris presents an absorbing study of politics and the culture of power in the late Roman Republic and I find "Imperium" to be a worthy successor to Harris' "Pompeii".

Monday, November 21, 2005

Sands of the Arena by Jim Duffy

I had the pleasure of meeting author Jim Duffy last Spring at the first North American conference of the Historical Novel Society in Salt Lake City, Utah. Jim was working on the final edits of his book "Sand of the Arena" that will usher in a new series of novels, "Gladiators of the Empire". Jim was kind enough to send me a pre-release galley of his new book and I have enjoyed reading it. Jim has conducted extensive research in the life and training of gladiators and it shows in the depth of detail he has woven into his novel. His action scenes are very well paced and draw the reader quickly forward, rewarding him with a believable and gratifying conclusion to each encounter.

I found the protagonist's Ethiopian friend Lindani's almost miraculous feats of prowess in the beast hunts particularly fascinating and the shipwreck scene graphically realistic and immersive (no pun intended). Duffy's experience in writing for television has given him insight into the entertainment aspect of historical fiction and his tightly written prose provides a literary adrenaline rush that is seldom experienced in a first novel.

I do think as the series progresses, however, he will need to balance the glorification of victory and the rush of audience acclaim with the bittersweet aspects of belonging to a social class that is considered the lowest of the low, and the obstacles that this creates in the pursuit of other objectives.

Book description:

"In 63 AD the long arm of the Roman Empire stretches across the European continent and the gladiatorial games are awash in blood and glory. For Quintus Honorius Romanus, son of one of the richest men in Rome, everything is as it should be--as long as he can sneak off to the amphitheater for a little entertainment. Things go drastically wrong, however, when Quintus loses his family, his social standing, and his name to an imposter. Faced with a life of menial slavery, Quintus joins a gladiatorial school instead and begins a game of unimaginably high stakes, as he vows to bring down the usurper who stole his life. But first he must survive his training. Together with the deadly African hunter Lindani and the lethal gladiatrix Amazonia, Quintus learns the hard way what it means to live--and die--in the arena.

Rough-and-tumble, fast-paced, and unrelenting, Sand of the Arena brings the Roman Empire to life and sheds light on its most controversial form of entertainment. Quintus, Lindani, and Amazonia face the ultimate test of courage and skill inside the arena--and out. For the Gladiators of the Empire, the goal is simply to survive!"

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

The Iron Hand of Mars by Lindsey Davis

I have begun listening to an unabridged version of Lindsey Davis' "Iron Hand of Mars". This tale of intrigue is set in Germania where Falco, Vespasian's agent, must complete a series of imperial requests amidst a backdrop of rebellion led by the Batavian leader Civilis. Since most of my study of Rome has concentrated on the late Republican period, I was not familiar with this major complication arising during the reign of Vespasian. So, I did a little research and found this interesting overview:

"Gaius Julius Civilis was the leader of the Batavian rebellion against the Romans in 69 AD. By his name, it can be told that he (or one of his male ancestors) was made a Roman citizen (and thus, the tribe a Roman vassal) by either Augustus Caesar or (Roman Emperor who succeeded Tiberius and whose uncontrolled passions resulted in manifest insanity; noted for his cruelty and tyranny; was assassinated (12-41)) Caligula.

He was twice imprisoned on a charge of rebellion, and narrowly escaped execution. During the disturbances that followed the death of (Roman Emperor notorious for his monstrous vice and fantastic luxury (was said to have started a fire that destroyed much of Rome in 64) but the Empire remained prosperous during his rule (37-68)) Nero, he took up arms under pretence of siding with (Emperor of Rome and founder of the Flavian dynasty who consolidated Roman rule in Germany and Britain and reformed the army and brought prosperity to the empire; began the construction of the Colosseum (9-79)) Vespasian and induced the inhabitants of his native country to rebel. The Batavians, who had rendered valuable aid under the early emperors, had been well treated in order to attach them to the cause of Rome. They were exempt from tribute, but were obliged to supply a large number of men for the army, and the burden of conscription and the oppressions of provincial governors were important incentives to revolt. The Batavians were immediately joined by several neighbouring German tribes, the most important of whom were the (A West Germanic language spoken in Friesland in the northwestern Netherlands; a near relative of English) Frisians.

The Roman garrisons near the Rhine were driven out, and twenty-four ships captured. Two legions under Mummius Lupercus were defeated at Castra Vetera (near the modern Xanten) and surrounded. Eight cohorts of Batavian veterans joined their countrymen, and the troops sent by Vespasian to the relief of Vetera threw in their lot with them.

The result of these accessions to the forces of Civilis was a rising in (A Celt of ancient Gaul) Gaul. Hordeonius Flaccus was murdered by his troops ( (The cardinal number that is the product of ten and seven) 70), and the whole of the Roman forces were induced by two commanders of the Gallic auxiliaries--Julius Classicus and Julius Tutor--to revolt from Rome and join Civilis. The whole of Gaul thus practically declared itself independent, and the foundation of a new kingdom of Gaul was contemplated. The prophetess Veleda predicted the complete success of Civilis and the fall of the (An empire established by Augustus in 27 BC and divided in AD 395 into the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern or Byzantine Empire; at its peak lands in Europe and Africa and Asia were ruled by ancient Rome) Roman Empire. But disputes broke out amongst the different tribes and rendered co-operation impossible; Vespasian, having successfully ended the civil war, called upon Civilis to lay down his arms, and on his refusal resolved to take strong measures for the suppression of the revolt.

The arrival of Potillius Cerealis with a strong force awed the Gauls and mutinous troops into submission; Civilis was defeated at Augusta Treverorum (Trier, Trèves) and Vetera, and forced to withdraw to the island of the Batavians. He finally came to an agreement with Cerialis whereby his countrymen obtained certain advantages, and resumed amicable relations with Rome. From this time Civilis disappears from history.

The chief authority for the history of the insurrection is Tacitus, Histories, iv., v., whose account breaks off at the beginning of Civilis's speech to Cerialis; see also (Jewish general who led the revolt of the Jews against the Romans and then wrote a history of those events (37-100)) Josephus, Bellum Judaicum, vii. 4. There is a monograph by E. Meyer, Der Freiheitskrieg der Bataver unter Civilis (1856); see also Merivale, Hist. of the Romans under the Empire, ch. 58; H. Schiller, Geschichte der romischen Kaiserzeit, bk. ii. ch. 2,,f 54 (1883)."

I was also intrigued by the reference to the prophetess Valeda. So I looked her up too:

Veleda was a (A person who has never had sex) virginal holy woman of the Germanic tribe of the Bructeri who achieved some prominence during the Batavian rebellion of 69 - 70 CE that was headed by the Romanized Batavian chieftain Civilis, when she correctly predicted the initial successes of the rebels against Roman legions. When the Batavian leader Civilis captured the legionary base at Castra Vetera (near modern Xanten in Niederrhein, Germany), the commander of the Roman garrison, Munius Lupercus, was being sent to Veleda when he was killed en route. When the pretorian trireme was captured, it was rowed upriver as a gift to Veleda.

The name may actually be a generic title for a prophetess. Tacitus (in Germania books iv and v) mentioned a previous seeress, whose name he translated as Aurinia. Veleda enjoyed wide influence over the tribe of the Bructeri and beyond, for the inhabitants of the Roman settlement at (A commercial center and river port in western Germany on the Rhine River; flourished during the 15th century as a member of the Hanseatic League) Cologne accepted her arbitration in a conflict with the Tencteri, an unfederated tribe in Germany. Later the Romans took her, perhaps as hostage, and perhaps kept her at Ardea, south of Rome, for a Greek epigram found there satirizes her prophetic powers."

Friday, January 7, 2005

Alexander faces the problems of "globalizaation" in Pressfield's "Virtues of War"

Right now I am listening to Steven Pressfield's "Virtues of War" and he mentioned something in yesterday's session that I had not considered. I had read in a number of sources that the Macedonians bitterly resented the incorporation of Persian units into Alexander's expeditionary force but Pressfield points out that the most politically damaging policy Alexander adopted was the appointment of Persian commanders' sons to his corps of personal pages. The number of pages was apparently fixed and the appointment of Persian youths meant that existing pages from Macedonian royalty had to be dismissed. This was seen as an afront to a number of Macedonian noble familes back home as well as by the youth's relatives already serving in the corps. Furthermore, the Macedonian pages aligned themselves with older officers and commanders who acted as mentors and champions (and possibly lovers). However, these officers would have nothing to do with the Persian boys which resulted in a deficit in their training.

In today's session, Pressfield has Alexander explaining his exasperation with the guerilla warfare he was forced to contend with in what is now Afghanistan. He explains that he broke up the corps into smaller independent fighting units that essentially were sent out on "search and destroy" missions. He found this type of warfare not only demoralizing but devastating to the army's overall unity. The smaller fighting units began thinking of themselves as men of their individual unit commander rather than as part of the overall expeditionary force with loyalty to Alexander. This sounds very much like the problems that developed in the late Roman Republic after Marius' reforms when legions looked to their commanders instead of the senate and people of Rome as the focus of their loyalty and career advancement.

Thursday, March 4, 2004

The Venus Throw by Steven Saylor

by Steven Saylor
Review by Mary Harrsch

I finished listening to the sensational conclusion of Steven Saylor's "The Venus Throw" and I certainly see why Roman trials were considered as entertaining as the Circus Maximus. Cicero did a consummate job of character assassination of Claudia. I didn't realize until I listened to the author's notes that the incidents he portrayed (with the exception of the acts by Gordianus) actually occurred. Even Cicero's defense of March Caelius was just as it was portrayed in the novel – including the "confusion" of Claudia's brother as her husband:

"And, indeed, I would do so still more vigorously, if I had not a quarrel with that woman's husband--brother, I meant to say; I am always making this mistake. At present I will proceed with moderation, and go no further than my own duty to my client and the nature of the cause which I am pleading compels me. For I have never thought it my duty to engage in quarrels with any woman, especially with one whom all men have always considered everybody's friend rather than any one's enemy.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero, In Defence Of Marcus Caelius.

He really did invoke Claudia's own ancestors to humiliate her for her "notorious" behavior:

"Let, then, some one of her own family rise up, and above all others that great blind Claudius of old time. For he will feel the least grief, inasmuch as he will not see her. And, in truth, if he can come forth from the dead, he will deal thus with her; he will say,--"Woman, what have you to do with Caelius? What have you to do with a very young man? What have you to do with one who does not belong to you? Why have you been so intimate with him as to lend him gold, or so much an enemy of his as to fear his poison? Had you never seen that your father, had you never heard that your uncle, your grand-father, your great-grandfather, your great-great-grand-father, were all consuls? [34] Did you not know, moreover, that you were bound in wedlock to Quintus Metellus, a most illustrious and gallant man, and most devoted to his country? who from the [p. 262] first moment that he put his foot over his threshold, showed himself superior to almost all citizens in virtue, and glory, and dignity. When you had become his wife, and, being previously of a most illustrious race yourself, had married into a most renowned family, why was Caelius so intimate with you? Was he a relation? a connection? Was he a friend of your husband? Nothing of the sort. What then was the reason, except it was some folly or lust?
* * * Even if the images of us, the men of your family, had no influence over you, did not even my own daughter, that celebrated Quinta Claudia, admonish you to emulate the praise belonging to our house from the glory of its women? Did not that vestal virgin Claudia recur to your mind, who embraced her father while celebrating his triumph, and prevented his being dragged from his chariot by a hostile tribune of the people? Why had the vices of your brother more weight with you than the virtues of your father, of your grandfather, and others in regular descent ever since my own time; virtues exemplified not only in the men, but also in the women? Was it for this that I broke the treaty which was concluded with Pyrrhus, that you should every day make new treaties of most disgraceful love? Was it for this that I brought water into the city, that you should use it for your impious purposes? Was it for this that I made the Appian road, that you should travel along it escorted by other men besides your husband?" Marcus Tullius Cicero, In Defence Of Marcus Caelius.

And he really did call Claudia a prostitute in front of the entire court:

"I am not saying anything now against that woman: but if there were a woman totally unlike her, who made herself common to everybody; who had always some one or other openly avowed as her lover; to whose gardens, to whose house, to whose baths the lusts of every one had free access as of their own right; a woman who even kept young men, and [p. 265] made up for the parsimony of their fathers by her liberality; if she lived, being a widow, with freedom, being a lascivious woman, with wantonness, being a rich woman, extravagantly, and being a lustful woman, after the fashion of prostitutes; am I to think any one an adulterer who might happen to salute her with a little too much freedom?"

"If any woman, not being married, has opened her house to the passions of everybody, and has openly established herself in the way of life of a harlot, and has been accustomed to frequent the banquets of men with whom she has no relationship; if she does so in the city in country houses and in that most frequented place, Baiae, if in short she behaves in such a manner, not only by her gait, but by her style of dress, and by the people who are seen attending her, and not only by the eager glances of her eyes and the freedom of her conversation, but also by embracing men, by kissing them at water parties and sailing parties and banquets so as not only to seem a harlot, but a very wanton and lascivious harlot, I ask you, O Lucius Herennius, if a young man should happen to have been with her, is he to be called an adulterer or a lover? - Marcus Tullius Cicero, In Defence Of Marcus Caelius."

Cicero even referred to the "strong box" of Claudia's Venus statue mentioned in the book:

"Did you dare to take gold out of your strong-box? Did you dare to strip that statue of yours of Venus the Plunderer of men of her ornaments? But when you knew for what an enormous crime this gold was required,--for the murder of an ambassador,--for the staining of Lucius Lucceius, a most pious and upright man, with the blot of everlasting impiety--then your well-educated mind ought not to have been privy to so horrible an atrocity; your house, so open to all people, ought not to have been made an instrument in it. Above all, that most hospitable Venus of yours ought not to have been an assistant in it." - Marcus Tullius Cicero, In Defence Of Marcus Caelius.

And the hilarious chase at the bath house apparently really did take place:

"They lay in ambush in the baths. Splendid witnesses, indeed! Then they sprung out precipitately. O men entirely devoted to their dignity! For this is the story that they make up: that when Licinius had arrived, and was holding the box of poison in his hand, and was endeavouring to deliver it to them, but had not yet delivered it, then all on a sudden those splendid nameless witnesses sprung out; and that Licinius, when he had already put out his hand to give them over the box of poison, drew it back again, and, alarmed at that an expected onset of men, took to his heels. O how great is the power of truth! which of its own power can easily defend itself against all the ingenuity, and cunning, and wisdom of men, and against the treacherous plots of all the world." - Marcus Tullius Cicero, In Defence Of Marcus Caelius.

If you are interested check out the entire defence.

Steven's quality of research is obviously apparent if you check out the sources he names for this work of "fiction". Now I have started "Murder On The Appian Way" that fictionalizes the events surrounding the murder of Claudius four years later. I find Steven's books totally absorbing and of the highest quality, both in structure and plot, as well as historical accuracy.