Tuesday, December 30, 2003

The Last King : Rome's Greatest Enemy

by Michael Curtis Ford

"To the Romans, the greatest enemy the Republic ever faced was not the Goths or Huns, nor even Hannibal, but rather a ferocious and brilliant king on the distant Black Sea: Mithridates Eupator VI of Pontus, known to history as Mithridates the Great.

At age eleven, Mithridates inherited a small mountain kingdom of wild tribesmen, which his wicked mother governed in his place. Sweeping to power at age twenty-one, he proved to be a military genius and quickly consolidated various fiefdoms under his command. Since Rome also had expansionist designs in this region, bloody conflict was inevitable.

Over forty years, Rome sent its greatest generals to contain Mithridates and gained tenuous control over his empire only after suffering a series of devastating defeats at the hands of this cunning and ruthless king. Each time Rome declared victory, Mithridates considered it merely a strategic retreat, and soon came roaring back with a more powerful army than before. "

Language Visible by David Sacks

In his new book on the history of the alphabet, David Sacks says, "Follow any letter back through time and you glimpse the extraordinary commerce of language across centuries."

"It is extraordinary how far and how clearly we can see back to the origins of our letters. English took its alphabet from Latin (as did many a language that the Romans never heard spoken, from Polish to Zulu to Indonesian). Latin itself was written with letters copied from the utterly dissimilar Etruscan language, a tongue still largely unintelligible to us. A few centuries before this happened, the Etruscans had appropriated the Greek alphabet, even though, again, the languages had little in common. And the Greeks had taken their letters, with minor adaptations, from the Phoenicians, though the two peoples' languages were "as different as Arabic and English".

"The Romans began using the Etruscan H when transliterating Greek words containing sounds without a Roman equivalent. So the Greek theta, representing a sound foreign to Latin, became TH. So too phi, khi and rho became PH, CH and RH, and originally represented breathy sounds that were distinct from F, K and R. Thus we have philosophy, chrome and rhetoric. A thousand years later the Normans used H to eradicate the non-Roman letters of Anglo-Saxon. The letter yogh, representing the breathy English 'g' or 'y' sound was to be GH. So, too, we got TH for the 'th' sound in 'then' and CH for the 'ch' in 'cheese'."

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Trajan & Plotina: A Review

Novel by David Corson
Review by Irene Hahn

Based on Julian Bennett's excellent imperial biography Trajan: Optimus Princeps, the novel is a fount of information about the reign of Trajan. However, it is curiously lifeless at times. This may be due to the characters of Trajan and Plotina, which do not lend themselves to much drama or tension, especially as Mr. Corson chose to ignore ancient gossip about Plotina and Hadrian, and accepts Plotina's quiescence to a sexually unfulfilled marriage. Had he not done this, the story might have had a bit more spark. Among the other characters, only Hadrian comes through as a more complex personality.

The author unfortunately passed away during the--apparently--final draft stage of the book, and the book was published by iUnverse, and thus lacked an attentive editor, who might have tightened the story somewhat.

Nonetheless, for those readers interested in Trajan and his times without wanting to plod their way through a learned biography, the book should be a good read.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

The Sacred Land

by H. N. Turteltaub

"In Over the Wine-Dark Sea and The Gryphon’s Skull, H. N. Turteltaub brought to life the teeming world of maritime Greece, in the unsettled years following the death of Alexander the Great. Now Menedemos and Sostratos, those dauntless capitalists of the third century B.C., have set sail again--this time to Phoenicia. There Menedemos will spend the summer trading, while his cousin Sostratos travels inland to the little-known country of Ioudaia, with its strange people and their even stranger religious obsessions.

In theory, Sostratos is going in search of cheap balsam, a perfume much in demand in the Mediterranean world. In truth, scholarly Sostratos just wants to get a good look at a part of the world unknown to most Hellenes. And the last thing he wants is to have to take along a bunch of sailors from the Aphrodite as his bodyguards."

Get Out or Die

By Jane Finnis

"Ill-fated legionnaires contend with a ruthless band of guerrillas seeking to rid their homeland of unwanted occupiers. Tensions run high as headless bodies begin appearing along the roadways of remote Brigantia, the adopted home of plucky Aurelia Marcella and her sister Albia, who are keepers of the Oak Tree Mansio, an inn catering to the elite of the empire's 'raw new province.' Crudely carved discs bearing the title's ominous words are hung on each new corpse, and the same menacing phrase mysteriously appears on Aurelia's barn shortly before a savage nighttime attack by the 'Shadow-men,' a rebel group believed to be led by a Roman turncoat."

Friday, December 05, 2003

"The Secundus Papyrus"

"Getorius, a physician, and Arcadia, his beautiful wife and medical apprentice, embark on a journey during a time shrouded in mystery.
Getorius and Arcadia are summoned to determine the monk's cause of death. Shortly after, the couple, along with several other colorful characters, are invited to the palace of Galla Placidia, a Gothic Empress and mother of Flavius Placidus, the Emperor of the Western Roman Empire.
While on an impromptu tour of the palace's new mausoleum, an ancient papyrus is found in a booby-trapped wall niche.
One by one those present at the discovery of the papyrus begin to die.
Getorius and Arcadia know the contents of the papyrus could have a huge and devastating effect on not only the empire, but on the future of mankind as well. Wondering when they themselves could fall victim to the killer, they try to answer seemingly endless questions. Was the papyrus forged? Who hid it in the booby-trapped mausoleum? Who knows about it, and what will they do with its contents? And what is the meaning of the symbol of a cockerel or rooster that keeps appearing in unexpected places?"

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Roman Honor: The Fire in the Bones

by Carlin A. Barton "Though thoroughly grounded in the ancient writings-especially the work of Seneca, Cicero, and Livy-this book also draws from contemporary theories of the self and social theory to deepen our understanding of ancient Rome. Barton explores the relation between inner desires and social behavior through an evocative analysis of the operation, in Roman society, of contests and ordeals, acts of supplication and confession, and the sense of shame. As she fleshes out Roman physical and psychological life, she particularly sheds new light on the consequential transition from republic to empire as a watershed of Roman social relations. "

The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People's History of Ancient Rome

By Michael Parenti

"Why did a group of Roman senators gather near Pompey's theater on March 15, 44 B.C., to kill Julius Caesar? Was it their fear of Caesar's tyrannical power? Or were these aristocratic senators worried that Caesar's land reforms and leanings toward democracy would upset their own control over the Roman Republic? Parenti (History as Mystery, etc.) narrates a provocative history of the late republic in Rome (100-33 B.C.) to demonstrate that Caesar's death was the culmination of growing class conflict, economic disparity and political corruption. He reconstructs the history of these crucial years from the perspective of the Roman people, the masses of slaves, plebs and poor farmers who possessed no political power. "

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Sailing The Wine Dark Sea

By Thomas Cahill
Review by Joy Connolly

Thomas Cahill's ''Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea'' is the fourth book in a best-selling series that treats Western history as a long chain of gift-giving to the world, where the gifts are art, literature, political and moral values, science and philosophy. He is a talented writer, and his tour of Greek culture is a triumph of popularization: extraordinarily knowledgeable, informal in tone, amusing, wide-ranging, smartly paced. We learn much from him about Greek achievements, from Homer's epic vision to the importance of free speech, from the development of the disciplined war machine the Greeks called the phalanx to Plato's love of reason. Cahill has produced an updated version of Edith Hamilton's beloved ''Greek Way'' of 75 years ago, one that is much more sensitive to the Greeks' oppression of women and uncritical endorsement of slavery, their tinges of xenophobia and the fearsome nature of their war making. But -- and this is a significant exception -- to point out that good and important things were achieved in the past doesn't show why they matter now.

This may seem an ungenerous reaction to a book that does great service to classical culture and those who teach it. But right here, right now in American history, the promise of his subtitle, ''Why the Greeks Matter,'' carries a heavier burden than Cahill is willing to acknowledge.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Biological Weapons Date To Classic Age

"In the celebrated epic poem, the Iliad, about noble heroes fighting honorable battles, both sides actually used arrows dipped in snake venom,' said Adrienne Mayor, author of 'Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World' (published this month by Overlook Press). "

"This dense but highly informative volume narrates the long pretechnological history of the use of poisons and fire in warfare. Mayor, who has published in Military History Quarterly, begins with the first legend of poisoned arrows: Hercules and his quiver of missiles tipped with the hydra's venom (probably snake venom). He and his wife also figure in an early use of an externally applied poison-the "poisoned" garments that killed them both with an inextinguishable flame may have been impregnated with saltpeter. Using their powers of observation and a sound if rule-of-thumb grasp of cause and effect, our not-so-primitive ancestors went on to set fires, throw fires and project fires (Greek fire reached its apex when flung from a ship-mounted flame thrower)."

Friday, September 19, 2003

Michael Dirdra Finds "The Road to Delphi" Brilliant

"'Can we know the future? Mostly not, it seems. And often it takes us entirely by surprise. But we do regularly make two quite contradictory assumptions about it: that it is unknowable, and that once it's here we saw it coming.'
That tone -- conversational, humane -- pervades the chapters of Michael Woods latest book, The Road to Delphi: The Life and Afterlife of Oracles , and there is nothing remotely academic in Wood's soft-lit brilliance. And yet one is hard pressed to say precisely what The Road to Delphi is about. Yes, it does examine all kinds of oracular institutions and instances; it offers insightful interpretations of very different works of art; and it's replete with appealing observations. "

In Search of a Homeland : The Story of the Aeneid

For ages 9 and up:

"Inspired by the ancient masterpiece The Aeneid, by Roman poet Virgil, modern-day author Penelope Lively has penned a poignant retelling of the arduous journeys of Trojan warrior Aeneas. Doubtful young readers will be amazed at how readable and downright gripping these old tales really are, from the devastating ruse the Greeks wreak on the city of Troy, to the tempestuous seas the escaping Trojans cross and recross, to the violent battles they fight, all in the name of finding their true homeland."

Amazon recommends this book as a companion book to Rosemary Sutcliff's "Black Ships Before Troy".

Monday, September 15, 2003


By George Green

"The court of King Conor throngs with Heroes, but it is the boy Cuchullain, an outsider about whom there is an aura of mystery and prophecy, who will grow to be Ireland's greatest warrior. As he grows to be a man so his exploits become legendary - extraordinary feats of courage, cunning, strength and arms by a man only too aware of his dark destiny. Soon, only he will stand before the gathering armies of the vengeful Queen Maeve, but he is Cuchullain, the Hound of Ulster. This is the tale of one man's journey from the heart of the Roman Empire to a distant, rough-hewn land where warriors delight equally in the sound of the sword and the song of the poet - a world where honour is more important than life itself.

Silverberg's Roma Eterna Falls Flat

by Robert Silverberg

"This series of well-made short stories brings us into a different future via the early death of Islam (Mohammed is murdered by a canny spy before he can begin his work), a bureaucratic rule of terror (Robespierre and the Spanish inquisition echoing through the administrative precision of a bean-counting consul) and the gunning down of the final imperial family (the Romanovs, writ Roman). This deliberate recasting of events from our timeline into Silverberg's fictitious one demonstrates that history doesn't simply repeat, but is doomed to enact very specific scenarios - a curious conceit. This narrative strategy provides a sound base for some interesting tourism, but the distancing effect of written history causes the drama to fall unfortunately flat."

Actually, I'm not surprised at this assessment. Several years ago I read "A Hero of the Empire" by Robert Silverberg and I never found it compelling enough to want to read another of his novels. In fact it sort of broke off rather than ended and left me wondering what was the purpose of the work.

Ancient Greeks Meet The Future in Simmons "Ilium"

by Dan Simmons

"This book is not so serious nor so horrific as Hyperion although it has its share of terrors, most notably those belonging to reanimated present-day classics professor Thomas Hockenberry, who is hauled into the Trojan war to verify that it does indeed follow exactly as the Iliad promises. He knows who dies, how and when, and he has time to get to know the actors before they have to meet their fate. Then Aphrodite pressgangs him into helping her get rid of Athena, at which point action and adventure take over from the thoughtful opening scenes and it's hell-for-dazzling-leather until the end of the book. Unfortunately by this point there are more loose ends and unsatisfactory lacunae than in the Turin shroud (which also features, once as TV and once as toilet paper - don't ask). "

Friday, September 12, 2003

MacAire's Alexander a Winner but Lamb's Alexander Unrecognizable

I finished the two books by Jennifer MacAire - "Time for Alexander" and "Heroes In The Dust". She does a great job of characterization although her tales are so erotic I would feel obligated to give them a "parental discretion" warning in a review. :-) (At one point, the heroine, Ashley, engages in threesome with Alexander and Hephaistion. I usually don't read romance novels so perhaps this is normal in the romance genre). However, I must admit I enjoyed them immensely! Her history was significantly different than that related by Mary Renault, though.

Key differences:

Alexander killed Hephaistion's brother - ??? (MacAire)

Hephaistion was an Athenian (MacAire) - Hephaistion was the son of a Macedonian noble Amyntas (Renault, et al).

Alexander had "parti-colored eyes" (one brown and one blue) (MacAire) - Alexander had blue eyes (Renault, et al)

Greek soldiers ran around mostly nude (MacAire) - Greek soldiers wore chitons, breastplates, greaves and helmets (Renault, et al)

Parmenion was like a father to Alexander. When his son Philotas failed to warn Alexander of an assassination plot three different times, Philotas was arrested and eventually executed. Alexander himself executed Parmenion at Parmenion's request because of the humiliation of his son's treachery to his king. (MacAire) - Parmenion was one of Philip's old generals that, when given a letter forged by Alexander and purporting to be from Philotas saying Alexander was to be assassinated, smiled - indicating his complicity with the plot - and was subsequently killed by Alexander's officer (Renault).

Barsine bore a son to Alexander then died sometime afterwards from complications of the birth. (MacAire) - Barsine was
executed by Cassander, son of Antipater, sometime after the death of Alexander, when there was an effort to restore Heracles (Barsine's son by Alexander) to the throne. (see reference)

Seleucas was a freed slave who worked his way up the ranks in Alexander's army (MacAire) - Seleucas was a 23-year-old Macedonian officer that accompanied Alexander on the Persian campaign gaining particular fame in the battles in India. (see reference)

Alexander was a childhood acquaintance of Darius (MacAire) ???

Olympias was Philip's concubine (MacAire) - Olympias, the Princess of Epirus, was Philip's first wife (Renault et al)

I can find no evidence that Olympias or Aristotle ever visited Alexander in Persia (Literary license? - it made for an interesting story point though)

I was also confused by MacAire's references to Nearchus (Alexander's admiral) having a personal obsession with Alexander. Alexander and Hephaistion's relationship was parmount throughout their lives (Renault et al).

However, I researched MacAire's reference to the god Marduk that demanded human sacrifice and found that this god did exist in Babylon (I found an interesting link about it at a site detailing the history behind the series Stargate)

Anyway, I decided to read another biography of Alexander to get a different perspective from Renault's. I had bought Harold Lamb's "Alexander of Macedon" on Ebay so I got it out and started reading it. Talk about a total flip-flop. Harold Lamb makes Alexander sound like a frightened kid that just seemed to do things right by accident. His cavalry charge at Chaeronea was portrayed as just a result of Alexander being so anxious he spurred his horse because he couldn't take the tension any more. According to Lamb, Alexander really didn't want to complete his father's dream of conquering Persia. He just wanted to be a bookworm. I'm going to stick to it and finish it but I much prefer Mary Renault's (and Jennifer's!!!) version based on the account by Arrianus. Lamb may have relied much more on Curtius Rufus who was educated at Plato's academy in Athens after it was financially dominated by Cassander, the son of the Macedonian regent Antipater, who was suspected of possibly poisoning Alexander, and who was responsible for the murder of Alexander's wife Roxanne and their son as well as Alexander's mother, Olympias and possibly even the execution of Alexander's first wife Barsine and her son. I would be much more suspicious of Rufus' account for this reason.

Monday, September 08, 2003


by Allan Massie (November 2003 Release)

"In this historical novel the author takes on the infamous, incestuous, insane and blood-stained Roman emperor who made his horse a consul. He peels away the mask of the monster of popular myth to expose the real man and explore the reality of his brief but tempestuous reign. "

The Empire of Darkness (Queen of Freedom)

By Christian Jacq (October 2003 Release)

"Set in C17th B.C., Volume One in the stunning new QUEEN OF FREEDOM trilogy, from the bestselling author of RAMSES. Egypt is a shadow of its former self. An army of barbarians, mounted on horse-drawn chariots, has swept through the Empire, destroying everything in its path. Known as the Hyksos, the 'leaders from foreign lands', they have reduced the land of the pharaohs to slavery. Only one city resists: Thebes, where the widow of the last pharaoh, Teti the Small, still reigns. But Teti knows it's only a matter of time before her men succumb to the barbarities of the cruel Hyksos. She has an 18-year-old daughter, however: Ahotep. Fierce, beautiful and courageous, Ahotep will never accept defeat. And so she decides to re-ignite the flame of Egyptian resistance. All by herself. "

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Rubicon by Tom Holland

Reviewed by Harry Eyres

"In September 1939 Ronald Syme brought out The Roman Revolution, his great account of how the feuding and excessive lust for power of Rome's leading clans, long before the emergence of Augustus, betrayed the Republic, that supposed template of virtuous self-government, and ruined the Roman people. It was a sombre warning to a world that had just plunged into war of how a power-crazed oligarchy, blindly caught up in its own jostling, could lead inexorably to civil (indeed world) war and dictatorship, and the suppression of political freedoms for centuries.
Tom Holland's engrossing new retelling of the Republic's last gory century, though very different in tone and intended audience (Syme's book was aimed at a narrow elite of academics, opinion-formers and politicians, Holland writes for a general readership) is also meant partly as a warning, with at least half an eye on the present era of American global domination."

Friday, August 15, 2003

Ancient Marriage Rituals Examined

This post started innocently enough when I read an interesting tidbit about the use of honey in ancient Persian marriage rituals. Apparently, newlyweds in ancient Persia were expected to drink honey mead every day for one "honey month" to get in the right "frame of mind" for a happy marriage, according to the Royal Society of Chemistry. I searched for additional information about ancient marriage customs and found this interesting piece detailing the findings of Lance Rancier, author of The Sex Chronicles: Strange-But-True Tales From Around The World (General Publishing Group), a look at courtship rituals in more than 300 ancient cultures.

Ancient Persians who died as virgins were married before burial. The corpse's spouse received a fee.

In central Europe, a Teutonic woman prided herself on standing by her man, even on the battlefield. According to superstition, she proved she was marriage-worthy by killing one of her beloved's enemies.

In ancient Britain, women married in their finest dresses, but the groom wed "skyclad" — in the nude. This practice might explain the tradition of June weddings. (Maybe they were part Betazoid?)

The book also answers such eternal questions as "Why did Tibetans splash newlyweds with yak grease?"

I also came across another site describing the history and symbolism of an ancient Persian wedding: http://jorge.paulodesigns.com/wedding/ceremony.html

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Gods and Legions

I like historical novels that develop the individual characters rather than focus on just a series of events. I am presently close to finishing “Gods and Legions” by Michael Curtis Ford and appreciated his very personal portrayal of the Roman Emperor Julian. I do wish his narrative character, Caesarius, a Christian physician and longtime friend of Julian, had been more understanding of the followers of the ancient religions rather than behave as the typically intolerant believer of the period but I guess that personification was more historically accurate.

I felt much more sympathy for the local priest of 5th century Noviodonum, depicted in John Gorman’s “The King of the Romans”, who compassionately helped the aged local priestess remember the steps of her rituals when her mind would wander.

Overall, however, I have found this to be an excellent novel and would agree wholeheartedly with reviewer Paolo Villasenor, who writes: "...the second novel by Michael Curtis Ford, has an uncanny ability to draw in modern readers with its vivid imagery, fascinating characters, and well written dialogue that would appeal to even those who lack any prior background to the era. Although the story of Emperor Julian is well chronicled in history, it is not necessarily well known. The tale of the unlikely heir, banished to await his execution, and rising unexpectedly to the throne would be fascinating enough. Yet the story that Ford tells progresses towards even more surprising and compelling twists beyond the ascension of the young Emperor. Ford exhibits a fantastic ability to paint a picture of ancient warfare, and adeptly contrasts different armies' strategies, techniques, and dispositions, creating a graphic description of ancient times. Just as easily, Ford shifts gears to provide wonderful dialogue between the protagonists, influenced by classical authors and philosophers. The complex character that is Julian will confuse and dumbfound readers as his bizarre behavior leads to his demise. What motivates his actions? That is left for the reader to interpret. Although it would be easy to summarize the plot, the true art is found in Ford's writing. Overall, Ford's second book is a must read for those who enjoy a well-told story lush with action, imagery, and intellect. One need not be a classical scholar to enjoy this fine tale."

Ford himself attributes his realistic depictions of ancient warfare to two books by Victor Davis Hanson, The Soul of Battle & Carnage and Culture. Hanson is Professor of Classics and Coordinator of the Classical Studies Program at Fresno State.

Ford is working on his third book entitled The Last King of Greece. "It takes us back to the 1st century B.C. & recounts the life of Mithridates, again a man little known in our times, but who was a brilliant barbarian king & general whom Rome considered its most fearsome enemy ever -- even greater than Hannibal, " says Ford.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

The Silent Fort

By Fay Sampson

"The Roman army is invading Dumnon, Devon. In hill forts and sacred groves, druids and warriors quarrel over the fate of their tribe. Should they collaborate or resist? Impatient with their caution, the chief's son, Aidan the Red Fox, takes matters into his own hands. Cairenn is on the brink of marriage to Aidan. Her brother, Melwas, demands the weapons of a warrior, though he is still too young. What if the chief refuses to let him fight? As they bring the White Colt out for the sacrifice, Carienn is torn between fear for her lover, her brother and her people. As male and female druids compete for the soul of the tribe and the Roman legion marches relentlessly closer, brother and sister plunge into danger. "

Coming in August 2003

Book Review: Immortal Caesar

Patricia Hunter’s “Immortal Caesar” is well researched and provides a “human side” to one of the most famous figures in world history. Caesar is portrayed as an intellectually and physically mesmerizing man whose charisma attracted both men and women to his political causes and produced support for his personal ambitions. I also appreciated Hunter’s view of Caesar as an ardent lover but one who refrained from salubrious expressions of affection to the women in his life.

Of course I enjoyed Colleen McCullough’s latest novel about Caesar’s final years, “The October Horse”, but found her dialogue between Caesar and Cleopatra repeatedly sprinkled with “darling” somewhat a bit out of place in the mental image of an astute and articulate Caesar I had formed over the years reading her entire “Masters of Rome” series of novels as well as a number of the ancient sources.

My primary regret was that Hunter’s novel was short. I would have appreciated much more detail about Alesia and Caesar’s personal interaction with the Gauls (men and women – McCullough hinted at a relationship with a Gallic woman that resulted in a son), Caesar’s thoughts and actions during the battle of Miletus, his first major military engagement, and his personal interaction with Octavian.

McCullough portrayed the relationship between Caesar and Octavian so sympathetically that I actually developed a more positive viewpoint towards Caesar’s heir, at least until he allowed Lucius Caesar to be proscribed. So I would have been interested in another perspective.

Hunter also shares my speculation that Caesar’s seizures were caused by a head wound sustained at Munda rather than lifelong epilepsy, although McCullough’s suggestion of a condition resembling hypoglycemia was certainly plausible as well. The ancient sources do not mention this condition until later in his life.

I also liked Hunter’s casting of the relationship between Caesar and Calpurnia, much more so than the soap opera overtones of “I can’t live with you as husband and wife” that marked the end of the romance in the recent “Julius Caesar” miniseries on TNT Network. The affair with Cleopatra was just one of many over his lifetime and Calpurnia was well aware of Caesar’s notoriety with other women when she agreed to marry him. I think she would have accepted the situation as a matter of course, just as Hunter envisioned it.

“Immortal Caesar” is interesting, factual, and fast paced -- a good effort for a first novel.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Book Review: The Twelfth Vulture of Romulus by Boris Raymond

Boris Raymond’s first novel, “The Twelfth Vulture of Romulus”, is a commendable effort. A former professor of history and sociology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, Raymond weaves his knowledge of the history and political processes of the late Roman Empire into a tale of intrigue and struggle for power between traditional Roman oligarchs and the increasing number of barbarian cultures who permeated Roman society both as slaves from the conquered lands and as members of Rome’s auxiliaries, legions, and officer corps.

The narrative swirls around the experiences of Orestes, a one-time secretary to Attila the Hun, who joins the ranks of the legions and, with his “qualifications of courage, industry, and experience, advanced with rapid steps in the military profession”1. In the process, he gains the notice of such prominent Roman aristocrats as Senator Aurelius Cassiodorus , chief of the Imperial Secret Service and ambassador to Attila during the reign of Emperor Valentinian III. His ultimate struggle for control of the Western Empire eventually pits Orestes against Odovacar, the son of Attila’s lieutenant, Edecon.

Raymond’s portrayal of the culture of the Huns and the personage of Attila recall the observations of the Greek writer Priscus.

“A luxurious meal, served on silver plate, had been made ready for us and the barbarian guests, but Attila ate nothing but meat on a wooden trencher. In everything else, too, he showed himself temperate; his cup was of wood, while to the guests were given goblets of gold and silver. His dress, too, was quite simple, affecting only to be clean. The sword he carried at his side, the latchets of his Scythian shoes, the bridle of his horse were not adorned, like those of the other Scythians, with gold or gems or anything costly.” – Priscus, fr. 8 in Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum.

Raymond peoples his novel with many actual historical figures as well as fictional characters to shed insight into the politics and social life in the late Empire. I knew little about this period of Roman history before reading this book except the events portrayed in USA Network’s miniseries, “Attila”. So, I found the number of characters and their interconnections a bit overwhelming.

I think I would have excluded some of the plot entanglements to provide a more easily understood core message for less experienced readers. For example, the subplot of the events leading up to the settlement of the holy man, Severinus, in Noricum could probably have been better served in a novel of its own.

I also think Odovacar’s experiences should have paralleled Orestes’ throughout the novel to add more tension to the ultimate confrontation between the two men. Odovacar pretty much disappears about one-third of the way through the novel and does not resurface until the last few chapters. The reader is provided with a brief summary of his intervening experiences. But, since he will represent the fatal clash between the traditionalists and the Romanized barbarians that will inherit the Western Empire, I think his importance in the novel should have equaled that of Orestes to provide an antagonist of equal stature.

However, the work reveals much about a period of history seldom explored in detail and it has served to stimulate my interest in a number of the individuals who took the world stage in this tumultuous time. I hope Dr. Raymond will continue to share his understanding of past cultures with a public audience in this way. I have always felt that reading works that combine history and creative writing is the most memorable way to gain a knowledge and appreciation of other societies.

1 Gibbon, Edward. 1788. History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire - Volume III

Friday, July 11, 2003

King of the Romans

By John Gorman

I just finished "King of the Romans" by John Gorman and thoroughly enjoyed it. The novel has elements of history, a touch of mythology, and wonderful characterizations of people from the period of the late Roman Empire. I particularly found it realistic in describing the decayed state of the Roman provinces when Rome could no longer protect them or maintain their roads, structures, etc. Gorman created an admirable Syagrius who embodied the ancient Roman values and struggled against the corruption of tribal war lords and unscrupulous members of the court of Constantinople.

"Gorman has put a human face on a period of history which is usually covered in a few short paragraphs. Syagrius (is) true to the values that built the Empire; he simply lives in a world that has discarded them." —Mike Huck reviewer for Inscriptions

The Real King Arthur: A History of Post-Roman Britannia A.D. 410-A.D. 593 (2 Vol.Set)

By P.F.J. Turner

A reviewer in Menlo Park writes: "This account, far beyond being simply "readable," is exciting and engrossing, progressing much as a mystery novel or detective story, where more and more clues are presented to the reader as the story progresses. And what's really astonishing is that, all the while, the book remains scholarly, very carefully citing its sources, discussing divergent theories, and providing evidence for its assertions, all of which allows the reader to participate in the action, rather than just sitting passively by. "

Wednesday, June 25, 2003


By Valerio Massimo Manfredi

An epic story of passion, courage and adventure in ancient Sparta, by the author of the 'Alexander' trilogy. This is the saga of a Spartan family, torn apart by a cruel law that forces them to abandon one of their two sons - born lame - to the elements. The elder son, Brithos, is raised in the castle of the warriors, while the other, Talos, is spared a cruel death and is raised by a Helot shepherd among the peasants. They live out their story in a world dominated by the clash between the Persian empire and the city-states of Greece - a ferocious, relentless conflict - until the voice of their blood and of human solidarity unites them in a thrilling singular enterprise.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

The Battle That Stopped Rome: Emperor Augustus, Arminius, and the Slaughter of the Legions in the Teutoburg Forest

By Peter S. Wells

Peter Wells, professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota, follows up his text "Beyond Celts, Germans and Scythians: Archaeology and Identity in Iron Age Europe" with a study of the disastrous battle between the Romans and the Germanic tribes that occurred near modern day Kalkriese in 9 A.D. This authoritative work is scheduled for release in October 2003.

See also: http://www.geocities.com/Paris/Salon/2385/background.html

Sunday, June 15, 2003

The Druid King

By Norman Spinrad

By 60 BC the Romans had conquered much of the known world, for few dared to oppose the relentless expansion of the Republic, and those who did . failed. And now Julius Caesar has turned his attention to the invasion of Gaul. Victory there will give him the power he craves. But one man stands against him: Vercingetorix. Vercingetorix knows that the people of Gaul must fight, or else face the destruction of their culture and enslavement to another. Yet few at first believe that Vercingetorix can unite the divided tribes of Gaul, fewer still that he can lead them on to victory. But as the legions battle for survival Caesar soon realises that this time Rome may be fighting a war it cannot win .

The Gates of Hell

By Paul Doherty

It is 334 BC and Alexander and his troops march towards Halicarnassus. A series of brutal killings begins proving that the Persians have infiltrated Alexanders court. With his lord facing the fight of his life, Alexanders old friend Telamon must go through "the Gates of Hell" to find the traitors.

The Legatus Mystery

By Rosemary Rowe

Preparations for the religious celebrations for the Emperors birthday are brought to an abrupt halt when the murdered body of a visiting ambassador from Rome is discovered in the temple of the Imperial cult and once again Libertus is called upon to investigate. Events take a bizarre turn when the body disappears, and then unearthly wails are heard coming from the temple and mysterious bloodstains start to appear from nowhere. A mood of superstitious terror grips the townspeople and Libertus soon finds himself in grave danger when he becomes the target of an angry mob, accusing him of incurring the anger of the gods and demanding his death to appease them.

Hades Daughter

By Sara Douglass

Ancient Greece is a place where mortals are the play things of the gods. But at the core of their city-state is a Labyrinth, where mortals can shape the heavens to their own design. When Theseus comes away from the Labyrinth with the prize and his beloved, the Mistress of the Labyrinth, his future seems assured. But she bears him only a daughter and when he casts her aside for this, the world changes. From that day forward, the Labyrinths decay, and power fades from the city-states. A hundred years pass, Troy falls, the Trojans scatter. Then Brutus, the warrior-king of Troy, receives a vision of distant shores where he can rebuild the ancient kingdom. He will move heaven and earth to reach his destiny, but in the mists is a woman of power who has her own reasons for luring Brutus to these green shores. If Brutus makes this journey successfully it will be the next step in the Game of the Labyrinth, and the start of a complicated contest of wills to span the centuries.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

The Lock

by Benita Kane Jaro

When the aristocrat-turned-plebian known as Clodius the Beautiful (Pulcher) claimed he had been out of Rome and therefore could not have defiled the Vestals (and Pontifex Maximus Caesars) home during the sacred Bona Dea festival, Cicero knew better. He couldnt keep silent. Ciceros evidence should have been enough to convict, but corruption had already seeped into all layers of Roman society. Clodius Pulcher didnt shrug off Ciceros words--ever. His faction pursued and threatened Cicero for fifteen years. Not even Ciceros oldest friend Pompey could help.

In The Lock, the principal figures of the age: Julius Caesar, Cicero, Pompey the Great make their appearance and play out their fateful struggle. The novel has a deep rethinking of the character of Marcus Tullius Cicero and a reassessment of his life and work. His warmth and wit, his intelligence, his integrity and his courage make him a hero for our time as well as his own.

Built around the letters and speeches of Cicero, many of which appear in the novel in new and lively translations by the author, The Lock is historically accurate and carefully researched. It may be read independently as a single novel, or as the second volume of the trilogy The Key, The Lock, and The Door in the Wall. It features maps of Rome and the Empire, specially drawn for the novel, and includes a reader-friendly list of Principal Characters and a Chronology of Events in the novel. No other novel so deeply examines Cicero and his times.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

The Tribune

By Patrick Larkin

Lucius Aurelius Valens is a young Roman officer with a strong sense of duty and a commitment to justice. Those ideals earn him only a thankless posting to restless and impoverished Galilee. There the massacre of a detachment of Praetorian Guards and the man they were protecting--a member of the Roman Senate and an ally of the emperor Tiberius himself--plunges Valens straight into a deadly web of murder and intrigue, with far more at stake than just his own life and honor.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

The Shattered Horse

By S.P. Somtow (Somtow Sucharitkul)
Winner of the 1986 Daedalus Award for Fantasy

"An age of bronze and heroes had ended; the day of iron and armies was yet unborn. The conquerors were gone, the wooden horse lay rotting; and the son of Hector came down from the mountains to reclaim the throne of ravaged, fallen Troy. But there was no way for young Astyanax to rekindle his lands glory, or wreak vengeance against his enemies until the gods spoke and gave Astyanax a destiny. Alone, nameless, the king began an odyssey across a tragic empire; the world of mad Andromache; cursed Orestes; dying Circe. The nomads path led to a predestined goal - for to save his land Astyanax had to relive the past. Kidnap the demi--goddess Helen. And start the Trojan War. Again!"
Tor Books - 1987

Monday, May 26, 2003

Women and Monarchy in Macedonia

by Elizabeth Donnelly Carney

The American Historical Review writes, "Elizabeth Donnelly Carneys book presents an exhaustive account of the careers and identities of the royal women of ancient Macedonia from the beginnings of the Argead dynasty in the sixth century B.C.E. to the defeat of the last Antigonid king by the Romans in the second century B.C.E., discussing in total some forty-two women from the relatively well known to the completely obscure. In her first seven chapters, Carney alternates between a main narrative, with a chronological, institutional emphasis, and individual biographical essays or inserts that consider motivation and personal perspective. The inserts actually comprise the majority of the text of these chapters (in the twenty-five pages of chapter six, for example, there are roughly eighteen pages of insert on seven different women). The dual approach also extends to the book as a whole; the biographical approach dominates the first part of the book, while the final two chapters abandon the biographical approach for analytical narrative.

Ashes of Britannia

By Haley Elizabeth Garwood

Another of Garwoods Warrior Queen series, this novel focuses on Boadicea (Boudicca), Queen of the Iceni, a powerful tribe of Roman Britain, takes vengeance on the Roman legions after her property is seized and her daughters raped following her husbands death. Reviewer Kimberly Gelderman writes " (its) a story of a woman who struggles to understand the Romans and tries to live with them in peace with her husband, King Prasutagus. When he dies, the Romans do not recognize her as the Iceni leader and begin a war that they wish they had never started. Seutonius, Roman army commander and eventually governor in Britain, is another historical figure in awe of the Celtic queen, and also wants peace. However, his Roman military subordinates make unspeakable trouble against Queen Boadicea and her daughters, Sydelle and Neila. Queen Boadicea sets Britain on fire and both races cause massive bloodshed between the two peoples. A fantastic story that weaves all of the elements of early Celtic life and struggles together with poetic flair that elevates the historical detail."

Sunday, May 25, 2003

Pagan Holiday: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists

"Augustus Caesar and his citizens were the very first leisure travelers", points out Tony Perrottet, the author of Pagan Holiday: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists "During the Pax Romana, from about 30 B.C. to 200 A.D., sightseers set off in droves to visit the wonders of their world, lounging in sumptuous seaside resorts and admiring attractions such as the Pyramids and the Parthenon."

The Romans loved to cluster by the beach, especially the Bay of Naples with its extravagant villas and legendary bacchanalian banquets. "But, why must I look at drunks staggering along the shore or noisy boating parties?'' the philosopher Seneca asked.

At pagan temples visitors forked over hefty donations to huckster priests to see a Gorgons skin, a Cyclops skull or the relics of Homeric heroes. Roman sightseers battled freelance tour guides called mystagogi (''those who explain the sacred places to foreigners''), whose aggressive harangues were no less exasperating than those of today. At every ancient site, souvenir vendors pressed forward with engraved glass vials, knockoff silver statues or lucky charms, as did fast-food vendors selling nuts, figs and cut-rate sausages of dubious quality.

Monday, May 12, 2003

"Render Unto Caesar" to debut in August

By Gillian Bradshaw

Hermogenes is a young Greek from 1st century Alexandria, heir to a noble and vibrant society, but he yearns to be a citizen of Rome, the present rulers of the world. When Hermogenes father is granted Roman citizenship, it appears as if his family has found favor from the gods--except then a business deal goes sour and Hermogenes father dies at sea. It is left to Hermogenes to reclaim all monies owed to the family--including a debt from a very well connected Roman consul who has reneged on his obligations and refuses to deal with "Greek trash."

Hermogenes travels to Rome to reclaim what he is owed and finds it is no simple matter. Along the way, he will encounter base desire and power struggles, plots within plots, and a beautiful woman gladiator who is more than she seems. His life is in danger, and ultimately Hermogenes is left with the question:

Can the conferring of a title make one truly Roman? And if not, how far will a man go to satisfy honor?

Latest Falco mystery, "The Accusers", set for July release

by Lindsey Davis

Having returned from his trip to Londinium, Falco takes up employment with Paccius Africanus and Silius Italicus, two lawyers at the top of their trade. For the trial of a senator they need Falco to make an affidavit confirming repayment of a loan. Having been out of the country and starved of Forum gossip for some time, Falco has little interest in this trial, so he makes his deposition and then leaves. The prosecution are successful and a large financial judgement is made, but one month later the senator is dead, apparently by suicide. The heirs are now in a situation of not having to pay up, and the prosecutor Silius Italicus suddenly decides to seek out Falco. With a little coercion, Falco joins the prosecution in seeking to persuade a magistrate to instigate a new trial against Metellus son. Blinded by the vision of rich pickings to be gained by the prosecution, Falco temporarily forgets that, if they fail, the financial penalties levelled against the informers who brought the case are potentially enormous.

"The Love-Artist" to be released in the U.K. in June

By Jane Alison

Alison reimagines Ovids sojourn on the east coast of the Black Sea, where Emperor Augustus, in the middle of a campaign to restore morality to his new empire, has banished the poet, displeased by the success of his Loves and The Art of Love. Here Ovid meets Xenia, a wild-eyed young woman who lives in isolation. The only literate person in her community, Xenia acts as town mystic, casting spells, healing the sick and telling futures. Ovid, who admits he believes in Amazons, with "their strong sweating thighs clutching galloping horses, wild howls coming from their parched, cracked mouths," is eager to be stunned by the "fishy, monstrous, unreal." He imagines the jealous, stormy Xenia to be his Galatea and sweeps her back to Rome, where she unwittingly becomes the muse for the lost Medea, his darkest work.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Imperial Governor rereleased

Sent to Wales to capture the gold mines, Roman General Suetonius Paulinus faces the fury of Queen Boudiccas tribes, all united against Neros corrupt officials.

Reviewer Iain S. Palin writes "This is an account of life in the Roman army, how it worked (and conquered almost all its foes in the process), and of the mind set of its commanders is absolutely gripping. The author takes you back to a totally different time, a different society, a different way of thinking, and immerses you. Suetonius is the consummate professional soldier and he succeeds because of his professionalism and his refusal to panic when all seems lost. But he has no respect for the people he has been sent from distant Rome to govern, and as events proceed this develops into a blind hatred for the rebels. This brings him into dispute with his political masters in Rome, who want a quick "reconstruction", and causes his downfall."

"A Mist of Prophecies" is now available in paperback.

Its 48 B.C. and the Empire is wracked by civil war and civic unrest. In Rome, the beautiful and enigmatic seeress, Cassandra, has everyone from Forum "chin-waggers" to high-society matrons entranced by her convulsionlike attacks of prophecy. But, a whisper of "She's poisoned me!" to Gordianus the Finder just before dying in his arms brings Gordianus out of retirement and into the hunt for her killer. Seven of Romes most influential women including Caesars wife, Calpurnia attend the seeress humble funeral. All have something to do with Cassandras fate, just as she, in secret ways, has something to do with the fate of Rome itself.

Steven Saylors ninth entry in the Gordianus the Finder series of historical fiction novels, "A Mist of Prophecies" is now available in paperback. Steven says hes hard at work on the next novel, which takes Gordianus to Egypt to meet Cleopatra. It should be published about this time next year.

Monday, April 28, 2003

Heroes In The Dust

by Jennifer MacAire

In Book 2 of McAires "Iskander" series, a time-traveling journalist continues her adventure with Alexander the Great in the exotic province of Bactria.

"A faint smell of smoke was in the air, but the streets were deserted. As we rode into the village, heads poked out of doorways. A couple skinny dogs barked. Then children appeared. Always the most curious, they slipped past their parents, standing uncertainly in the doorways, and ran to greet us. Shouting and clapping their hands, they gathered around the horses, touching them and us, patting our legs, asking the hundreds of questions children always asked. Our horses, used to war and confusion, didnt mind when the children grabbed at their tails and rich trappings. Alexander had gold tassels on his horses blanket, and braided into Bucephales tail were red and white silk ribbons. These fluttered in the breeze, making each of the horses movements a celebration."

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Roman Legionaries From 58 BC to 69 AD new Osprey title in June

The period 31 BC-AD 43 saw the greatest expansion of the Roman Empire. In 31 BC Octavian defeated Antony at the battle of Actium and remodelled the semi-professional Roman army into a permanent force of 28 legions. Octavian became the first emperor (Augustus) and under his leadership the legions conquered northern Spain, all Europe south of the Danube line and Germany west of the Elbe. The legionaries exemplified the heroic culture of the Roman world and this title takes a behind-the-scenes look at their lives, training, weaponry and tactics, including the bloody massacre of the Teutoberg forest.

Roman Siege Machinery featured in June Osprey Title

Siege machinery first appeared in the West during the Carthaginian invasion of Sicily in the late-5th century BC, in the form of siege towers and battering rams. After a 50-year hiatus these weapons of war re-appeared in the Macedonian armies of Philip II and Alexander the Great, a period that saw the height of their development in the Ancient World. The experience of warfare with both the Carthaginians during the later-3rd century BC, and Philip V of Macedon during the early-2nd century BC, finally prompted the introduction of the siege tower and the battering ram to the Roman arsenal. This title traces the development and use of these weapons across the whole of this period.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

The Wine of Agammenon

Archaeologists spent four months excavating the remains of a Mycenean palace on the island of Ithaca, only to bury it again. Was this odd decision linked to the clay tablets they found, inscribed in Linear B?

Within this framework of an archaeological dig, The Wine of Agamemnon is Odysseus own story of the Trojan War and his long journey home--the real Odyssey as he dictates it to a scribe just before his death.

Friday, April 18, 2003

A Song for Nero

by Thomas Holt

What if the body rebel troops found and dishonoured was not that of the deposed emperor Nero, but that of his official double, Callistus? A decade later, he and Callistus mouthy younger brother Galen are still wandering the provinces of the empire, living hand to mouth and scam to scam--in some ways, a more inventive punishment for a tyrant than any court could imagine.

The Dreaming Stones

In second century AD, Claudia leaves Rome for the far northern province of Britain where her new husband, Publius, is commander of a frontier garrison. But for their love, she is isolated in a strange land.

In the late twentieth century, Miranda Tattersall nicknamed "Rags" becomes the third wife of her great love, Lord Frederick Stratton, so beginning a love affair with the Strattons great house, Ladycross, near Northumbrias great Wall. When her husband dies, Rags must decide between honouring the past and embracing the future.

Roberta Govan, long divorced after a brief and disastrous marriage, finally buys a place her own, away from all past attachments and associations. Or so she thinks.

Claudia, Rags Bobby: their stories are linked by a wild and beautiful place; the events that brought them to it, and the powerful loves that made it home.

Monday, April 07, 2003

The Dolphins of Laurentum

The month is October, the year AD 79. The arrival of a ragged man at the Geminus household sets in motion a a series of events which take the children to an opulent marine villa at Laurentum, a few miles south of Ostia. Just off the coast is a sunken wreck full of treasure which could be the answer to all their problems. But someone else is after the treasure, too. As Flavia Gemina and her three friends try to recover it, they solve the terrible mystery of Lupus past. Reading level Ages 8 and up.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

The Twelfth Vulture of Romulus


The story begins in A.D. 448, at the onset of the century of the Twelfth Vulture when, according to an ancient prophesy made to its founder Romulus, his city would fall. It ends in A.D. 476 when the last emperor of Rome, a thirteen year old boy, coincidentally also named Romulus, is dethroned by a barbarian king:

In A.D. 448, Attila and his Huns capture the Roman town of Sirmium. The fall of the city sends waves of terror among the rulers of the empire. Dowager Empress Galla Placidia Augusta tells her chief of the Imperial Secret Service, Cassiodorus, to devise a way of liquidating the Hunnish threat.

Senator Cassiodorus arrives at Attilas tent city in Pannonia as Roman ambassador and attempts to recruit Orestes, the Hun's Latin secretary, to the Roman cause.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

The Athenian Murders by Jose Carlos Somoza

Heracles Pontor, Decipherer of Enigmas, is called upon to solve the grisly killings of young men at Platos Academy of Philosophy. Athenian tutor Diagoras, a sort of Watson to Pontors Holmes, comes to ask the sages help after the corpse of a handsome ephebe (adolescent) is discovered. It is thought at first that he was attacked by wolves, but neither of the ancient sleuths accepts this explanation, and their investigations lead to interviews with family members, mistresses and schoolmates of a mounting number of victims. Insidiously, the translator himself becomes a murder target in the unfolding plot. As he looks for secret messages in the story (left in accordance with a Greek literary technique called eidesis), he begins to notice inexplicable allusions to himself in the text: Someone is reading the scroll right now, deciphering our thoughts and actions. Such references become more threatening near the suspenseful buildup to the final chapter, especially when he identifies a statue of himself in the studio of a rapacious sculptor rumored to be part of a sacrificial cult terrifying the city.

Monday, March 24, 2003

Vesuvius A.D.79: the End of Pompeii & Herculaneum

This is an account of the seismic and volcanic activity leading up to the eruption of Vesuvius, as well as a detailed description of the event itself and its aftermath. The authors rely on a wide range of scientific, artistic and literary sources, including the gripping eyewitness account of Pliny the Younger, whose eminent uncle died from exposure to toxic gases while trying to help victims evacuate. The authors close with stories and legends of this ancient catastrophe, which continues to fascinate scholars and non-experts to this day. (Scheduled for May 2003 release)