Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Pride of Carthage : A Novel of Hannibal

Pride of Carthage : A Novel of Hannibal?Pride of Carthage is that rare and wonderful thing: an historical novel that?s not only deeply evocative of time and place, character and situation, but is also lyrically written, compellingly composed. I savored each page while ever more breathless as the story unfolded. Durham has broken the mold of historical fiction and created a masterpiece.?
?Jeffrey Lent, author of In the Fall and Lost Nation

?Durham leaps continents and centuries to tell the epic story of Hannibal and his march on Rome in this heady, richly textured novel. . . . The novel?s grand sweep is balanced by intimate portraits of Hannibal, his family, his allies and his enemies. . . . Durham weaves abundant psychological, military, and political detail into this vivid account of one of the most romanticized periods of history.?
?Publishers Weekly (starred review)

?Durham has reimagined this vanished world in stunningly precise detail, and his lucid explanations of the give-and-take of military decision-making help the reader through some dauntingly complicated material. Nor is this novel merely a pageant: the author vividly portrays both Hannibal?s driven resolve and Scipio?s ruthless efficiency, as well as the conflicted emotions that rule several powerfully realized secondary figures. . . . One of the best of the current crop of historical novels, and a career-making march forward for Durham.?
?Kirkus Reviews

Pride of Carthage is scheduled for release January 18, 2005.

The Talisman of Troy: A Novel : "A castaway tossed onto a deserted beach is the last survivor of a world that no longer exists. He has a terrible, fascinating story to tell - the true reason for which the Trojan War was fought...The protagonist of this tale is Diomedes, the last of the great ancient Greek Homeric heroes, who seeks to return to his beloved homeland after years of war against Troy. But destiny has other plans for him. Betrayed by his wife, who plots to murder him and persecuted by hostile gods, he has no choice but to turn his sails west, towards Hesperia, the mysterious mist-shrouded land that will one day be called Italy. He ventures boldly into this new world, for he carries with him the magic Talisman of Troy, a mysterious, powerful idol that can make the nation that possesses it invincible..."

Friday, December 17, 2004

Cleopatra: Scientist, Not Seductress?

Discovery Channel : "Medieval Arabic texts suggest that Egyptian queen Cleopatra VII was a brilliant early mathematician, chemist and philosopher who wrote science books and met weekly with a team of scientific experts, according to a forthcoming book.

The book, "Egyptology: The Missing Millennium, Ancient Egypt in Medieval Arabic Writings," will be published in January by the University College London Press. For the book, author Okasha El Daly, an Egyptologist at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology at University College London, found previously undiscovered medieval Arabic texts, translated them, and analyzed the texts based on his knowledge of early Egyptian history.

El Daly believes the Arab writers had access to first-hand accounts of Cleopatra, and perhaps even books authored by the famous queen herself."

Friday, November 19, 2004

Ancient world: The Enemies of Rome

Sunday Times
by Philip Matyszak Reviewed by Tom Holland

"No wonder that the cover of Philip Matyszak's The Enemies of Rome is splashed with gouts of blood. Like the ancient historian Plutarch, Matyszak has written a series of interlinked biographies, but while Plutarch confined himself to celebrating the lives of famous Greeks and Romans, Matyszak is more interested in leaders whom the Romans themselves dismissed as barbarians: men and, in certain exceptional circumstances, women who dared stand up to the most lethal military power in the ancient world. Many of their names have reverberated through the ages: Spartacus and Boudicca, of course, but also Hannibal, Cleopatra and Attila the Hun. Matyszak tells their stories stylishly and well, but it is when he turns his attention to leaders whose lives have not been endlessly dug over that his book comes into its own. "Vriathus the Lusitanian" or "Decebalus the Dacian" might sound like characters out of a Roman Blackadder, and yet, as Matyszak demonstrates, their careers were no less touched by heroism and brutality than those of Rome's more celebrated foes."

Thursday, November 04, 2004

"Virtues of War" available from

I was thrilled to see "Virtues of War" on the list of available unabridged audiobooks up at

Publisher's Summary:

Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) ascended to the throne of Macedon at the age of 20. He fought his greatest battles, including the conquest of the mighty Persian Empire, before he was 25, and died at the age of 33, still undefeated by any enemy. His reputation as a supreme warrior and leader of men is unsurpassed in the annals of history.

In the brilliantly imagined first-person voice of Alexander the Great, acclaimed novelist Steven Pressfield brings to life his epic battles, his unerring command of his forces, and the passions and ambitions that drove him. A full-blooded, multi-dimensional portrait, The Virtues of War captures Alexander's complex character. No one tells of battles as brilliantly as Pressfield, and here he vividly describes the seminal conflicts of Alexander's career, revealing the tactics behind them and capturing the blood, heat, and terror of the battlefield.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Battle of Salamis : The Naval Encounter That Saved Greece -- and Western Civilization

Abstract of Review by Franklin Crawford

"As the book's flyleaf states, the battle of Salamis "was the most important naval encounter of the ancient world. In the narrow strait between the island of Salamis and the Greek mainland, a heavily outnumbered Greek navy defeated the Persian armada ... The Greek triumph at Salamis stopped the advancing Persians and saved the first democracy in history. It made Athens the dominant city in Greece, gave birth to the Athenian empire, and set the stage for the Age of Pericles."

The story is populated with a star-studded cast of characters: "Themistocles, the Athenian commander who masterminded the victory (and tricked his fellow Greeks into fighting); Xerxes, the Persian king who understood land but not naval warfare; Aeschylus, the Greek playwright who took part at Salamis and later immortalized it in drama; and Artemisia, the half-Greek queen who was one of Xerxes' trusted commanders and who turned defeat into personal victory."

With all these elements, it's easy to see the appeal of Salamis as both historical set piece and heroic seafaring thriller. And Strauss didn't simply wish to pen another military history of the battle of Salamis; he wanted to bring entirely new scholarship into the court of memory, drawing on nautical science, archaeology, forensic anthropology and meteorology, among other specialties -- in short, all the latest advances in the field of classical history.

"What I've been doing as a scholar before writing this book was an exercise in reading between the lines," Strauss said. "By applying the knowledge of naval archaeology or meteorology, for example, we can reconstruct an ancient world that is much richer than the pictures we get from just literary sources. When we read Thucydides or Herodotus or any of the ancient sources without that knowledge, we think, 'gosh, those guys left a lot of gaps.' [But] when we have that stuff in mind, suddenly it begins to make sense and a lot of the gaps get filled in."

In addition to bolstering ancient sources with modern scholarship, Strauss crafted a visceral accounting as full of sun, sea, sweat and blood as necessary to spice the tale. Strauss also details the "Persian campaign in Greece and flesh[es] out a picture of society and warfare in the ancient world, illuminating such topics as Persian court protocol, the prayers of Corinthian temple prostitutes and the proper method of ramming an enemy trireme," according to Publisher's Weekly.

He boldly enters into the heads of the major players on the field of battle, speculating on their states of mind. In choosing a novelistic approach to the narrative, he followed the leads of military historians like John Keegan and Stephen Ambrose, who err on the side of creative verisimilitude."

The Talisman of Troy

"A castaway tossed onto a deserted beach is the last survivor of a world that no longer exists. He has a terrible, fascinating story to tell - the true reason for which the Trojan War was fought...

The protagonist of this tale is Diomedes, the last of the great ancient Greek Homeric heroes, who seeks to return to his beloved homeland after years of war against Troy. But destiny has other plans for him.

Betrayed by his wife, who plots to murder him and persecuted by hostile gods, he has no choice but to turn his sails west, towards Hesperia, the mysterious mist-shrouded land that will one day be called Italy.

He ventures boldly into this new world, for he carries with him the magic Talisman of Troy, a mysterious, powerful idol that can make the nation that possesses it invincible.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Empire Of Ashes

by Nicholas Nicastro

"The great Alexander is dead. Machon-the late emperor's renowned friend and ally-is being scapegoated for his downfall. An outsider on trial for his life, Machon will tell his Greek accusers the stunning, tragic truth behind the meteoric rise and fall of a peerless military leader who proclaimed himself a god-and lost his humanity."

Due to be released December, 2004. (Hmmm...I wonder why?)

Owls to Athens

by Harry Turteltaub
Owls to Athens (Hellenistic Seafaring Adventure): "Cousins Menedemos and Sostratos are preparing for a trading expedition to Athens. While philosophy-minded Sostratos is thrilled to return to Athens, Menedemos is both reluctant to leave his father's wife Baukis, with whom he has fallen in love, and relieved to be removed from temptation. They stock up on luxury goods and rush to Athens so Sostratos can make it there in time for Greater Dionysia, a parade and dramatic festival in honor of Dionysus.

In Athens, the cousins watch political history being made as Athens trades their sovereign ruler for an invader who announces plans to institute a newfangled 'democracy.' Meanwhile, Sostratos visits the Lykeion, the site of his unfinished education, but his fears of being mocked turn into triumph when he gets a good price for his wares. Menedemos, in typical fashion, starts an affair with a married woman, this time having the audicity to get their host's wife pregnant. In love as in trade, Menedemos's and Sostratos's quick wits have usually been enough to get them out of their self-created messes, but this may be pushing it...

Like a Patrick O'Brian novel set in the third century B.C., Owls to Athens is an entertaining tapestry of cameraderie and adventure amidst the world of classical antiquity in all its living, breathing, earthy reality."

The Eagle and the Wolves

By Simon Scarrow

"It's AD44, and as Vespasian and the Second Legion forge ahead in their campaign to seize the south-west, Macro and newly-appointed centurion Cato are ordered by Vespasian to provide Verica, aged ruler of the Atrebatans, with an army. They must train his tribal levies into a force that can protect him, enforce his rule and take on the increasingly ambitious raids that the enemy is launching. But despite the Atrebatans'official allegiance to Rome, open revolt is brewing, for many are wary of the legions and want to resist the Roman invaders. Macro and Cato must first win the loyalty of the disgruntled levies, before tackling the enemy without. But can they succeed whilst surviving a deadly plot to destroy both them and their comrades serving with the eagles? In the midst of this highly volatile situation, Macro and Cato face the greatest test of their army careers as only they stand between the destiny of Rome and bloody defeat..."

Now availabe in the U.K. Set for November release in the U.S.

Anabasis of Alexander the Great by Flavius Arrianus

I just finished listening to Arrian's anabasis of Alexander the Great. It seemed as though after Alexander's men refused to go any farther in India, Alexander seemed to have developed a death wish. Even before he was critically wounded by the Mallians, Arrian reports how he exposed himself recklessly to enemy fire several times, standing alone on the top of a wall or high point, very obvious in his glittering armor. Arrian also mentioned that in one of his major engagements on his trip south to the Indian Ocean he charged into combat without waiting for his infantry to catch up with his cavalry, like he usually did. Even Arrian makes the comment that Alexander never would have been satisfied to simply govern. He loved the challenge that conquest always presented and overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Arrian also pointed out that neither of his sources, Ptolemy or Aristabulous, mentioned that Alexander said anything about his successor. Arrian surmises that the story of Alexander saying his kingdom would go "to the best man" was probably just made up by later writers. One of the Alexander biographies I read speculated that he started to indicate Krateros, whose name is very similar to the Greek words for "the best" or "the strongest" but I noticed that Arrian said Krateros was getting quite old at the time Alexander sent him back to Macedon. In fact, Alexander even sent another officer to take charge if Krateros did not survive the trip so this would seem to indicate Alexander would not have considered Krateros as capable of ruling the entire empire.

Arrian also seemed to discount the later stories about animosity between Alexander and Antipater. Alexander's main concern about Antipater was trying to keep Antipater and Olympias from each other's throats. Arrian also mentioned nothing about a physical relationship with Hephaistion. So is this another case of people reading things into references to their friendship like they do with Achilles and Patroklas? I was surprised when I listened to the complete unabridged Iliad and found nothing definitive there either about the much talked about relationship between Achilles and Patroklas.

I always thought Arrian is considered the most reliable account because he bases his narrative on the eyewitness accounts of Ptolemy son of Lagos and Aristabulous. I had always heard that the account given by Curtius Rufus was more akin to the likes of Suetonius' gossipy passages. However, maybe I should read Rufus as well to get additional perspective. (I have already read Mary Renault's trilogy and biography of Alexander and Howard Lamb's biography. I purchased Manfredi's and plan to start it soon).

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

When the Eagle Hunts

When the Eagle Hunts: "Britain 43 AD: after a series of bloody battles, Camulodunum (modern-day Colchester) has fallen to the invading Roman army. The Emperor has returned to Rome, leaving the fearless Centurion Macro and his young Optio, Cato, to rest and regroup, along with the rest of the Second Legion. But trouble is not far ahead and as their noble leader General Plautius plans the next phase of their campaign, word arrives that the ship carrying his family to join him was wrecked in a storm off the south coast. His wife and children have fallen into the hands of a dark sect of Druids, who now demand the return of those of their brotherhood taken prisoner by the Romans. Unless their demands are met within one month, Plautius's family will be burned alive. Will Cato and Macro discover where the Druids are hiding their hostages? Can they find some way to rescue them before time runs out?"

Friday, August 13, 2004

Steven Pressfield Tackles Alexander the Great

As someone who practically fell in love with Alexander the Great after reading Mary Renault's trilogy and her biography of him, I was excited to see that Steven Pressfield's new book will be about Alexander. His viewpoint of Alexander is, perhaps, a bit more realistic but at least not the severly brutal image put forward by Paul Cartledge in his recent treatise.

Steven Pressfield - Official Website: "Within the era that Alexander lived, undying glory meant military conquest. For Alexander, that meant the demonstrating of innate preeminence, like a lion or an eagle, by challenging and overcoming every other champion on the field. But it wasn't enough for him, in my view, just to conquer, just to roll over his enemies by superior might or generalship. His conception of virtue was heroic. Alexander sought great and glorious struggles against great and glorious foes. That's how I see Alexander's intention.

Now, beyond that, beyond Alexander's aims or ambitions, real-world reality enters. Now it gets interesting. Because a conquering warrior, however heroic his aspirations, must confront the grimy reality of success, of conquest, of rule; the reality of motivating an army; of keeping an enterprise going once you've started it; of altering it as necessity causes it to evolve; of maintaining a vision for it; of containing the jealousies and hatreds of enemies and friends. A dream achieved is never what it was when it was only a dream.

And a conqueror on the scale of Alexander must confront even more primal questions: What is the point of victory? Of endless expansion? What status can the conquered peoples claim? What is my obligation to them? What are the ends of war? When does heroic virtue become plain slaughter and madness? "

Wisdom's Daughter : A Novel of Solomon and Sheba

By Lindsay Clarke

Wisdom's Daughter : A Novel of Solomon and Sheba: "This is the tale of Bilqis, the Queen of Sheba, who rules the spice lands and bows before the will of the Goddess.

This is the tale of Solomon, the King of Israel and Judea, who built the golden temple to Yahweh in Jerusalem. Once he prayed that he might rule wisely.

This is the tale of Solomon's wives, of his concubines ... and of his daughter Baalit, more beloved than any son. Here are their voices, their mysteries, and their deepest secrets. Here they sing their songs and weave their tapestries.

As the queen's search for a true heir to her throne takes her to the court of the wisest man in the world, both she and the king learn how to value truth, love, and duty...and the king's daughter learns that not all the world is ruled by men.

Wisdom's Daughter is a vivid and richly textured rendition of the biblical tale of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Told in a tapestry of voices that ring with authenticity, Wisdom's Daughter profoundly reveals the deep ties among women in a patriarchal world."

Naguib Mahfouz

I noticed that long-lived prolific author, Naguib Mahfouz is releasing yet another novel. When I searched on Amazon for his other titles I was amazed at the breadth of his work. I found this very interesting article about him produced by the Egyptian government Ministry of Culture:Naguib Mahfouz: "With dozens of novels to his name, collections of short stories, fully-fledged studies of his work in book form, an increasing number of doctoral theses, and an enormous number of articles in literary and academic periodicals (in English and other languages), Naguib Mahfouz can rightfully claim the title of the best-known and most studied Arab novelist in the Anglophone world.

Naguib, who was born to a middle-class family in one of the oldest quarters in Cairo, was to give expression in powerful metaphors, over a period of half a century, to the hopes and frustrations of his nation.

Readers have so often identified themselves with his work, a great deal of which has been adapted for the cinema, theater and television, that many of his characters become household names in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world.

On the other hand, his work, though deeply steeped in local reality, appeals to that which is universal and permanent in human nature, as shown by the relatively good reception his fiction has met in other cultures."

The works he produced in the first phase of his career, focusing on ancient Egypt, naturally looked particularly interesting to me.

"Admittedly written under the influence of Sir Walter Scott's historical romances, the last of the three, "The Struggle of Thebes", is particularly interesting for the way in which the novelist brought history to bear on the political scene at the time.
The novel draws on the heroic struggle of the Egyptians and their patriotic Pharaohs to expel the Hyksos, as foreign ruling invaders, from their country. "

Voices from the Other World: Ancient Egyptian Tales

"A seductive dancer is invited by the forces of law and order to disturb a district's too-perfect peace at the dawn of Egyptian civilization. A wise and popular pharaoh is betrayed by his own son, and by his dearest friends - then makes a most peculiar decision. A mummy returns to life after 3000 years, to confront the arrogant new race that now rules the land. A favoured prince flees to a faraway country when the king dies suddenly, leaving his true love behind - only to come back to question her about their lost 40 years. A famous young writer, composer of a legendary epic of Pharaoh's greatest battle with the Hittites, is carried off without warning by a mysterious disease - then speaks to us in this life from beyond the veil of death."

Khufu's Wisdom

"Pharaoh Khufu is battling the Fates. At stake is the inheritance of Egypt's throne, the proud but tender heart of Khufu's beautiful daughter Princess Meresankh and Khufu's legacy as a sage, not savage ruler. As the tale begins, Khufu is bored in his great palace at Memphis. To entertain him, his architect Mirabu expounds on the mighty masterwork he has so far spend ten years building, with little yet showing above ground - what will become the Great Pyramid of Giza. Mirabu and the clever vizier Hemiunu try other amusements as well - but to no avail. Then one of the king's sons fetches a magician with the power to predict the future. The sorcerer says that Khufu's own offspring will not inherit Egypt's throne after him, but that it will fall instead to a son born that very morning to the High Priest of Ra. Furious, Khufu and his crown prince, the ruthless Khafra, set out to change the decree of the Fates - which fight back in the form of Djedefra, the boy at the centre of the prophecy, and his heart's desire, Princess Meresankh. Yet will the unsuspecting Khufu survive the intrigue around him - not only to finish his long-awaited book of wisdom, but to become truly wise?"

Rhadopis of Nubia

"Against the background of the high politics of Sixth Dynasty-Egypt, a powerful love grows between Rhadopis, a courtesan of low birth whose ravishing beauty is unmatched in time or place, and youthful, headstrong Pharoah Merenra, worshipped by his people as a divine presence on earth. Despite the attention of an endless stream of suitors, entertained by Rhadopis' dancing, singing and stimulating conversation in her white palace on an island in the Nile, her heart remains cold and loveless - until events conspire in the strangest of ways to bring her to the attention of Pharaoh himself. From there the two of them embark on a journey of intense passion that is totally absorbing and ultimately tragic. As their obsession for one another burns wildly, they become caught up in the violent turbulence of the politics of the day - Merenra through his desire to sequester the properties of the priesthood and Rhadopis by her efforts to control the march of destiny and avoid their untimely but inevitable fate. But for Rhadopis, who has played with men's minds and danced on the scattered shards of their broken hearts, and Pharaoh, who has sought to flaunt ancient tradition for his own ends, can the power of love ultimately offer protection?"

Thebes At War

"After 200 years of occupation, the Hyksos leader in his capital in northern Egypt tells Pharaoh in the south that the roaring of the sacred hippopotami at Thebes is keeping him awake at night and demands that they be killed, galvanizing Egypt into hurling its armies into a struggle to drive the barbarians from its sacred soil forever. In battle scenes that pit chariot against chariot and doughty swordsman against doughty swordsman, and through his sensitive portrait of Ahmose, the young pharaoh whose genius brings this epic to its climax, Mahfouz dramatically depicts the Egyptian people's undying loyalty to their land and religion and their refusal to bow to outside domination. This is not just a tale of ancient, clashing armies. When Mafouz was writing this novel in 1939, other outsiders, British and Turkish, held sway over the land of Egypt, and its inhabitants were engaged in a struggle against a foreign usurpation of their sovereignty that mirrored that of their ancestors. Nor is the novel simply a tale of men and arms, for as Ahmose discovers, while the Nile flows majestically on forever, the violent currents of politics may pull hearts asunder and in gaining a kingdom, a man may lose what his soul most."

Ancestors of Avalon

By Diana L. Paxon

Ancestors of Avalon"Paxson, who completed Bradley's Priestess of Avalon (2001) after the widely revered novelist died in 1999, fashions an entirely new entry in the Avalon saga, one that telescopes the evocative notion that the otherworldly forces supporting Arthur were remnants of Atlantis. The curtain opens on an Atlantean island just prior to its destruction; most of the novel, however, is set among refugees of the doomed kingdom who make landfall in pre-Christianity Britain."

Monday, July 26, 2004

Greeks in Ancient Pakistan

Review by Safdar Mehdi

Greeks in Ancient Pakistan: "The invasion of Alexander the Great of the territories which now constitute Pakistan, was an event of great significance, not only because of the extraordinary nature of the military expenditure undertaken by one of the world's greatest conquerors, but also because it was the first time that direct contacts were established between Europe & South Asia. Alexander's invasion opened up a new era of mutually beneficial trade and cultural exchanges between the two regions, more than 4000 kilometers apart.

The fairly intense interaction between ancient South Asia and Greece commenced with the invasion of Alexander in fourth century BC and continued for almost seven centuries till the middle of 5th century AD. After Alexander, it was the Seleucid and Bactrian Greeks settled in West and Central Asia who continued to interact from across the borders before the Bactrian/Indus Greeks conquered Gandhara and Punjab in the begining of 1st century BC. The Indus Greeks were succeeded by the philhellenic Scythian, Parthians, and Kushans,who continued to rule ancient Pakistan, until the middle of 5th century AD."

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

New Cookbook of Ancient Recipes

"'The Philosopher's Kitchen: Recipes From Ancient Greece and Rome for the Modern Cook' by Francine Segan (Random House, scheduled for publication early August, $35).

Among the pleasing insider details revealed in this book are that it was the ancient Egyptians who taught the Greeks how to knead bread with their feet.

We learn that Archestratus, 4th-century B.C. bon vivant and early grill maven, declared that steak is best right 'off the spit while it is still a bit on the rare side,' and Alexander the Great was so convinced of the health benefits of apples that he ate them at every meal. It seems that the ancient Greeks used a disarming phrase, 'salt and bean friends,' to identify very close pals with whom you were happy to share the most simple food.

Among the recipes that have been updated is Pythagoras' refreshing dish of cucumbers with raisin-coriander vinaigrette; an herbed olive puree from Cato, Roman orator and statesman; and Roman cookbook writer Apicius' veal chops with quince and leeks."

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Hypatia of Alexandria

by Maria Dzielska

Hypatia of Alexandria: "Like many figures from antiquity, biographical details about Hypatia are tainted by partisan legend and speculation. In Hypatia of Alexandria, Maria Dzielska attempts to unravel layers of propaganda to reveal a core of verified or plausible truths.

Biographical evidence about Hypatia of Alexandria is sparse. Most important is her contemporary, Socrates Scholasticus (c. 379-450) who devoted a chapter to her biography. Less reliable are a few sentences by another contempoary, the Arian Philostorgius of Cappadocia (born c. 368). Later, John Malatas (491-578) wrote two important sentences; Hesychius of Miletus (6th C.) wrote a biography, and chronicler John of Nikiu wrote unfavorably in the seventh century. The next major source is the tenth century Byzantine Suda.

These sources alone are inadequate for a thorough account of Hypatia's life. Fortunately, she had literate disciples, one of whom, Synesius of Cyrene, maintained correspondence with Hypatia throughout his life.

Among the more significant corrections Dzielska makes to the Hypatia legend is the idea that Hypatia was not "a body of Aphrodite" when she was killed. She was no longer a tantalyzing beauty when the Parabolans (not monks, but a sort of military arm of the Alexandrian patriarch whom Dzielsjka says spread lies about the philosopher's sorcery) slew her. Instead, Hypatia was about sixty years old.

A second imporant point Dzielska makes is that Hypatia did not so much stand for paganism at odds with a new Christian tyranny, but as a supporter of one Christian political faction against another. The local prefect, Orestes, whom Hypatia supported, resisted incursions into his civil sphere by the new (religious) patriarch, Cyril. Dzielska goes further to say that Hypatia barely stood up for the pagan religion. Instead, unconcerned with the religious aspect, she offered her support to various Christian students. "

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Scandal takes a Holiday

"The Rome of Vespasian and Titus comes to life in Davis's entertaining 16th entry in her popular ancient historical series (after 2003's The Accuser) featuring "finder" Marcus Didius Falco. The staff of the official government newspaper retains Falco when Diocles, the paper's gossip columnist, disappears while on a visit to Ostia. At the seaport, a cesspool of corruption, Falco follows up on rumors that pirates, supposedly put out of business by Pompey the Great decades earlier, are engaged in smuggling and a kidnapping racket. Utilizing his street smarts and well-earned cynical view of humanity, Falco moves in and out of dives and places of worship on. the trail of a mysterious figure who acts as the middleman between the kidnappers and the victims' families. Disturbingly, some of the clues point to one of the detective's disreputable relatives."

An interest in the Emperor Vespasian was the primary reason Lindsey Davis turned to ancient Rome as the setting for her historical novels, reports Caroline Foulkes.

"The story of the Roman Emperor Vespasian and his mistress Antonia Caenis fascinated Lindsey, and, given the lack of information about Antonia, she decided to turn it into a novel. The Roman setting made publishers reluctant to take it on, and it took ten years before it was finally published. Yet writing The Course of Honour inspired Lindsey to begin the Falco novels, the first of which, The Silver Pigs, was published in 1989.

'The research I did for The Course of Honour got me interested in the Roman period, and gave me the idea of setting a detective novel in the big, dangerous city that Rome was at that time. Having written romance, I wanted to do something that involved other emotions. But I will always be a romantic writer in a way, because I'm interested in human relationships.'"

Friday, June 25, 2004

The War of the Crowns: A Novel of Ancient Egypt

The War of the Crowns: A Novel of Ancient Egypt (Magnificent Queen of Freedom Trilogy): "Jacq continues his excellent Queen Liberty trilogy with this second installment chronicling the reign of Queen Ahotep in the seventeenth century B.C.E. After the brutish Hyksos have overrun most of Egypt, Ahotep stands virtually alone. Secretly training a cadre of crack soldiers, she single-handedly fosters a revolution. Despite the fact that she loses both her husband and her son, she continues the valiant fight for Egyptian freedom, resolving to prepare her younger son to become pharaoh and unmask the treacherous Hyksos spy who continues to plague her."

Gilded Chamber: A Novel of Queen Esther

Gilded Chamber: A Novel of Queen Esther: "Xerxes banishes his wife Vashti and sets about finding a new wife by claiming all the young virgins in the kingdom of Persia for his perusal and delectation. Esther, born Hadassah, is a young Jewish orphan, remanded to the custody of her cousin Mordechai, to whom she is betrothed. Mordechai attends to the King at the Palace, but no one knows that he is a Jew. He warns Hadassah to take the name Esther when she is swept up by the King's edict, and not to reveal her heritage.
After a year of being pampered by court slaves, Esther is presented to the King. He is instantly smitten and makes her his Queen. sther longs for Mordechai but succumbs to the blandishments of the King to save herself from being sent to the soldiers--a horrible fate. In the course of Palace intrigue, Haman, a truly evil man who is viewed as a trusted servant of the King, plots to kill Mordechai, who will not bow to him, and ultimately to kill all the Jews in the Kingdom."

The Ptolemies

The Ptolemies: "Sprott chronicles the calamitous, ill-fated reign of the first Greek pharaoh of Egypt in his fascinating but overstuffed third novel, a historical reconstruction that traces the rise and fall of Ptolemy, the alleged son of King Philip of Macedonia. The initial chapters chart Ptolemy's ascension from soldier to leader in Egypt, where he becomes a satrap, keeping the body of the late Alexander the Great around as a good luck charm. After consolidating his power, Ptolemy agonizes over the decision to declare himself pharaoh while facing military challenges from a parade of enemies; he also must overcome emotional fallout from his exhausting relationship with his two wives, Berenike and Eurydice. "

The First Heroes: New Tales of the Bronze Age

The First Heroes: New Tales of the Bronze Age: "Here are 14 intelligent tales set in the Bronze Age, in which, the editors point out, the foundations of civilization were laid with the beginnings of agriculture, metalworking, and literature (such as the Gilgamesh and Homeric epics). The editors contribute personally to the overall quality, Turtledove with 'The Horse of Bronze,' in which humans perfect metalworking, and Doyle with 'Ankhtifi the Brave Is Dying,' extrapolated from the inscription on the tomb of an Egyptian warrior. "

Monday, June 21, 2004

The Amazon and the Warrior

The Amazon and the Warrior: "For eight years, the besieged city of Troy has withstood the relentless might of the Greek invaders. Now the dread Achilles, mightiest of the Greek warriors, seeks to conquer the fabled realm of the Amazons as well. But one woman stands between him and his ruthless ambition to conquer her homeland.

Penthesilea, Warrior Queen of the Amazons, watched her mother die upon Achilles' sword. A fiery, red-haired tigress of tremendous passion and courage, Pentha vows to take revenge on the legendary Greek champion, even if it means leading an army in defense of imperiled Troy."

Friday, June 18, 2004

Love, Sex and Tragedy: How the Ancient World Shapes Our Lives

Review by Harry Eyres

"What you can get from the Classics (though I doubt this holds for Troy or Alexander) is a uniquely illuminating perspective on the world and on yourself - a marvellously valuable way of seeing the wood for the trees. The degree of illumination, for westerners, is different from that gained by studying a completely alien culture because the Classical world or worlds are the western world in embryo.

That is the message of a racy new book by Cambridge professor of Greek, Simon Goldhill (Love, Sex and Tragedy: How the Ancient World Shapes Our Lives). He begins by quoting the Greek actress and culture minister, Melina Mercouri, at a conference: "I must first say few words [sic] of Greek: democracy. Politics. Mathematics. Theatre." She might have added poetry, tragedy, physics, philosophy. The fact is that most of our big words are Greek.

The pleasure and excitement of Classics for me is that of going back to the source - a mental equivalent of the 19th-century search for the sources of the Nile. Closer to the source everything seems clearer, fresher, less polluted, more dramatic (another Greek word). For example, what it is to be a human being, a citizen, a theatre-lover. Perhaps because the Greeks invented so many of the central disciplines and practices of western culture and society, they used them as if they mattered."

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The Tragic End of the Bronze Age: A Virus Makes History by Tom Slattery

Was a smallpox pandemic responsible for the Dark Age of Greece?: Years ago when Tom Slattery came across a picture of the mummy of Ramses V and noted the smallpox scars, he began to ponder the possibility that a smallpox pandemic may have been the cause of the classical Dark Age that overtook the civilizations of the Mediterranean in the 12th century B.C.E. His research into this possibility is detailed in his book, The Tragic End of the Bronze Age: A Virus Makes History.

Although ancient sources about this period are scarce, Slattery attempts to ascertain the dates of key migrations and defeats using possible references to solar eclipses within the Bible and even Homer that may be pointing to this disease.

"The disease called tsara'at in Hebrew has been translated as 'leprosy.' No one now knows exactly what tsara'at was. The meaning of the word has been lost. But it is clearly a disease that, unlike leprosy, takes very little time to produce death. Tsara'at is described as a disease of 'swelling' (se'et) as used for local inflamations, boils, or mole-like appearances, and 'breaking out' (saphahat) as used for rashes."

Ancient Medicine by Vivien Nutton

Ancient sense of humours:
Review by Peter Jones

"In this brilliant book (part of Routledge's excellent 'Sciences of Antiquity' series), Vivian Nutton, Professor of the History of Medicine at University College, London, surveys clearly and in gripping detail the story of ancient medicine from early Greece (8th century BC) to Late Antiquity (7th century AD). There are two figures that dominate: Hippocrates from the island of Cos (5th century BC), who was so important that treatises written hundreds of years after his death were ascribed to him (including the 'four-humour' theory), and Galen, a Greek from Pergamum and follower of Hippocrates, who made his name in Rome (2nd century AD) and left us his frequently dogmatic and pugnacious but deeply influential thoughts on medicine and many other topics, running to nearly three million words."

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Emperors Don't Die In Bed

Review by Thomas Jones The third century ad was a bad time for the Roman Empire. It was under threat from enemies on all sides, and in a terrible state economically. Disgruntled legions were able to murder incumbent emperors and appoint new ones as the whim took them. Between 235 and 284 there were 21 'official' emperors, and countless ephemeral others, of whom all but one died of unnatural causes. The lucky odd man out was Claudius Gothicus, 214-70 (not all that lucky, actually: he was emperor for less than two years, and died of plague in Sirmium, in what is now Kosovo, while preparing for a major assault on the Goths). Fik Meijer's Emperors Don't Die in Bed (Routledge, £14.99, translated from Dutch by S.J. Leinbach) is a brief history of the empire structured around the deaths of its rulers, from Julius Caesar to Romulus Augustulus.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Talking About Fakes

I thought Kenneth Lapatin, author of "Snake Goddesses, Fake Godesses" expressed a very interesting view of the importance of forgeries in this recent interview in Archaeology Magazine:

"When a modern object is taken to be a historical artifact, the past is misrepresented, and hence it is likely to be misunderstood. And because successful forgeries are successful to the degree that they appeal to our modern ideas and ideals about the past, forgeries can contribute significantly to our tendency to re-create the past in the manner most attractive to our modern needs and desires. For that reason I think that when forgeries are recognized and exposed it is important and valuable not to bury--or worse, to destroy--them simply because they are fake and potentially embarrassing, but rather to study and display them so as to employ them as examples of how we are constantly refashioning the past as part of the historical enterprise. They are also useful for the training of students."

Lapatin's book on the subject, Mysteries of the Snake Goddess: Art, Desire, and the Forging of History (2002), has now appeared in paperback form (Da Capo Press, $16.95)

Comic Book Series Tackles the Trojan War

"I first got the idea for Age of Bronze in February 1991. I listen to books on tape alot while I'm working, and I was listening to the March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, by Barbara Tuchman, and there's a chapter in there on Troy, and it just sort of, listening to that opened this whole world of possibilities. I just thought, boy, that would be a great story to tell as a comic. But at the time I thought, 'oh, what a huge, huge project. I just don't have time for that.' But the idea kept coming back in various ways, and I finally realized I'll just give in and do this thing. So I was doing a lot of research for several years, gathering information on both the story and the archaeology of the time, and then I had to sort of shop the idea around the publishers. I started actually drawing in 1997, and I finally found a publisher and the series began publication in 1998, in November.

I do consult archaeologists whenever I can, and in fact there have been some archaeologists who have been quite enthusiastic about the project, and have pushed their help on me, almost, like Shelley Wachsmann, who's at Texas A&M University. I'm on an email list called AegeanNet, and when I first wrote to it saying I was working on this project, and was anyone interested in seeing anything, he immediately wrote to me and said, "This is my book, you have to get it." So I did, and he was right, I needed it. Some other archaeologists who've been helpful have been Bernice Jones, who's done a lot of research into costumes of the time. Eric Cline, who's been really enthusiastic about the comic book series. When I first found out that there were ongoing excavations at Troy, I immediately called up the University of Cincinnati and spoke to Getzel Cohen, he's at the Institute of Mediterranean Studies there, and he seemed really enthusiastic about it. I originally called him up because I wanted to find out how I could get copies of their excavation reports, which are published in Studia Troica.

One of the earliest questions I got when I began announcing that I was going to be publishing Age of Bronze was, how am I going to handle Achilles and Patroclus? So I knew that people were going to be watching. When I sit down at my drawing table and decide what's going to happen in a my version of the story--[a story that has] developed over so many centuries--I want to be as inclusive as possible, to tell as many of the episodes, to use as many of the characters, and to tell every aspect. It wasn't really a question of whether I was going to show the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, it was just how I was going to do that, and how much of the erotic aspect I was going to show of that.

See also: Age of Bronze

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

"The Death of Alexander the Great: What or Who Really Killed the Young Conqueror of the Known World?

By Paul Doherty

"In May 323 BC Alexander of Macedonia fell ill in Babylon. Within ten days he was dead. A military genius who raged through the Persian empire, Alexander believed he was the son of God, with a desire for everlasting glory and an urge to march and conquer the world. The Death of Alexander the Great critically analyzes this extraordinary conqueror who achieved so much before he died at the early age of 33. Alexander was a man who wanted to be a God, a Greek who wanted to be a Persian, a defender of liberties who spent most of his life taking away the liberties of others, and a king who could be compassionate to the lowliest yet ruthlessly wipe out an ancient city like Tyre and crucify 3,000 of its defenders. Doherty scrutinizes the circumstances surrounding Alexander's death as he lay sweating beside a swimming pool in the summer palace of the Persian kings. Did Alexander die of alcoholism, a hideous bout of malaria, or were other factors involved? Alexander had been warned not to enter Babylon, so he surrounded himself with outstanding captains of war. This book is a dramatic reassessment of the leader's mysterious final days. "

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

A World Full of Gods: The Strange Triumph of Christianity

This week the classical world lost a profound scholar with the death of Professor Keith Hopkins. Although his most recognized scholarly works were Conquerors and Slaves (1978) and Death and Renewal (1983), his most controverial and possibly most perceptive work was a sociological analysis of the development of Christianity. "A World Full of Gods: The Strange Triumph of Christianity by Keith Hopkins is a rollicking work of revisionist history about Christianity's ascent as the dominant religion of the West. In its tour of Roman paganism, Judaism, Christianity, and Gnosticism, A World Full of Gods employs a range of techniques of description, analysis, and historical reportage. The first chapter is a report from two time-travelers visiting Pompeii just before the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius; soon after comes a description of the ascetic Jewish sect at Qumran that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls--in the form of a TV drama. Hopkins, a professor of ancient history at King's College, Cambridge, justifies his experimental style by asserting that 'to reexperience the thoughts, feelings, practices, and images of religious life in the Roman empire, in which orthodox Christianity emerged in all its vibrant variety, we have to combine ancient perceptions, however partial, with modern understandings, however misleading.' "

Professor Hopkins will be missed.

Friday, March 05, 2004

The Gilded Chamber

by Gaby Wenig

"Author Rebbeca Kohn tells the story of Esther's pauper-to-princess journey in way that evokes Anita Diamant's 'The Red Tent' in style and Arthur Golden's 'Memoirs of a Geisha' in setting. Much of the narrative in 'The Gilded Chamber' is devoted to life in the harem, a setting that develops intrigues of its own between the girls themselves. There are many lush descriptions of the girls trading secrets and gossiping while reclining on couches and being fed and tended to by eunuchs. The eunuchs also instruct the girls how to pleasure the king, and the book is full of flowery and euphemistic sex prose, like, 'My body opened to him like a rose in bloom, each soft petal unfolding until the final burst of color and fragrance.'

The story of Purim is the backdrop of the 'The Gilded Chamber,' but the book is not a retelling of the megillah. Mordechai's role, for example, is greatly reduced. He is Esther's unrequited love interest and, taking great liberties with the source text, he emerges in 'The Gilded Chamber' as a man largely estranged from traditional Judaism. Esther pines for him, all the while trying to figure out how she can protect herself from becoming doped and sick from the drugged wine that the eunuchs feed the virgins, and how she can keep herself in the king's favor to eventually save her people. According to the book's press materials, Kohn supplemented her imagination with meticulous historical research, and so while there are no surprises about how the story ends, it still manages to look different from the story we know."

Thursday, March 04, 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.

Friday, February 13, 2004

The Judgement of Caesar coming in June

by Steven Saylor

The next novel in the Roma Sub Rosa series follows Gordianus the Finder to Egypt, at the same time that Julius Caesar arrives for his fabled first encounter with Queen Cleopatra. Against the backdrop of the teeming city of Alexandria - home of the great Library, the Pharos lighthouse, and the tomb of Alexander the Great - many of the plot-threads in the recent novels (Bethesda's illness, Gordianus's estrangement from his son Meto, the chaos of the civil war) come to a stunning resolution.

Last night I finished Steven Saylor's Arms of Nemesis and found it a wonderfully taut and well-researched thriller. It is my first experience with Steven's books and I am looking forward to the rest of his books with eagerness. (I started another of his books, The Venus Throw, this morning on my commute) I can now be counted among the avid fans of Gordianus the Finder and have been wracking my brain to think of a suitable actor if we should be fortunate enough to have one or more of these books made into a film. The actor that keeps coming to mind is Elliot Gould, although he's getting a little old for the part now. He possesses the quick intelligence of Gordianus but a certain earthiness, too, that would be required for the part.

In one of his lesser known movies, Capricorn One, he played such a character, as an investigative journalist seeking to find out the truth about a space mission to Mars. The government has publicized a space mission to Mars and even televised the astronauts in space and on the planet but Gould's character finds out that it is all a hoax filmed on an old movie set. A big problem arises when the returning (empty) space capsule burns up on reentry and the government needs to dispose of the (still living) astronauts before the world finds out about the deception.

I thoroughly enjoyed the characters depicted in Arms of Nemesis and quickly became as anxious for Gordianus to save the slaves, including beautiful Apollonius and mischievous Meto, as gruff but sensitive Marcus Mummius. There were only a couple of historical details that gave me pause and Steven cleared up one of them in the epilogue. Marcus Mummius was bearded as were several other people described at the funeral games. After our discussion on beards and fashion in the late Republic, I thought this might be a slip, but Mummius arrives clean shaven in the end and mentions that he was urged to shave his beard so he would be perceived as more fashionable when he launches into politics to become praetor urbanus in Rome. The other issue I am still unsure about is the presence of slaves on the "Fury". I had read a critical review of Ben Hur and one of the most pointed criticisms was that slaves were not used in Roman military galleys. Now, the "Fury" was not exactly a military galley. It apparently was used as a merchant ship as well. So, perhaps, slaves were used on merchant galleys.

I particularly enjoyed Steven's characterization of Metrovius – a much more cynical older man than the innocent boy actor and paramour of Sulla in Colleen McCullough's The Grass Crown. My interest was also peaked by the discussion of the slave revolt in Sicily led by the wizard Eunus. I found the details described by Diodorus Siculus even more fascinating ( It makes me wonder why A&E plans to remake "Spartacus" when they could produce a fresh screenplay about the Sicilian slave revolt and even include the wizadry of Eunus to appeal to the much-sought-after young male viewers market.

The Mammoth Book of Roman Whodunits

Edited by Michael Ashley:

"A host of totally new stories written by some of the most popular writers of historical mysteries brings to life the glorious and nefarious world that for nearly a thousand years—from the founding of the Republic in 510 B.C. to the deposing of the last emperor, Romulus, in 476 A.D.—was ancient Rome. Events from the turbulent reigns of Julius Caesar, Augustus, Caligula, and Nero provide the colorful background to tales ingeniously contrived by contributors like Paul Doherty, Gillian Bradshaw, and Richard Butler. While John Maddox Roberts offers a new SPQR story, Steven Saylor, Marilyn Todd, Rosemary Rowe, Darrell Schweitzer, and Michael Kurland challenge their sleuths Gordianus the Finder, Claudia, Libertus, Pliny the Younger, and Quintilian with baffling new cases. Mary Reed and Eric Mayer conjure new intrigue for John the Eunuch, and Peter Tremayne sends his Fidelma on the trail of a Roman legion lost in Ireland. In addition to the original stories specially commissioned for this volume, this book also includes such rare reprints as a Slave Detective story by Wallace Nichols and one of the earliest historical mysteries to be set in Rome, 'De Crimine' by Miriam Allen de Ford. which features Cicero as the investigator. "

When the Eagle Hunts

Review by Margaret Flanagan

"The Roman conquest of Britain continues as seasoned Centurion Lucius Cornelius Macro and young Optio Quintus Licinius Cato, an educated former slave, embark upon their most dangerous mission yet. During the harsh winter of 44 CE, the wife and young children of General Plautius are held hostage by a tribe of primitive Druids. In addition to the enemy, the Romans must battle against the brutal weather conditions demoralizing their troops. Threatening to burn their prisoners alive if their own captured comrades are not released, the Druids of the Dark Moon give the Romans 30 days to make the exchange. Unwilling to let the Druids dictate terms to Rome, Plautius prepares the Second Legion to advance on the Britons. Racing against time, Macro and Cato scramble to find Lady Pomponia and her children before they are offered as human sacrifices to the Druid gods. "

Hadrian's Wall: A Novel

"Tribune Marcus Flavius has secured command at Hadrian's Wall not through battles fought or wars won, but through his arranged marriage to Valeria, a senator's daughter. He replaces a brutal veteran, Galba Brassidias, an ambitious soldier whose skill in battle is rivaled only by his Machiavellian brilliance. But Galba will do anything it takes to regain his position and dominate the young woman who fascinates and infuriates him.

The intrigue on the Roman side of the Wall is matched by the plotting of Celtic warriors determined to rid their land of the invaders. They are led by the dynamic and mysterious barbarian chieftain Arden Caratacus, a man who seems to know as much about hated Rome as he does of his own people, and who is determined to win the young woman for himself."

A.D. 62: Pompeii

Review By Mary Harrsch

I finished Rebecca East’s novel “A.D. 62: Pompeii” and I, too, have added Marcus Tullius to my pantheon of Roman heroes. Since he did actually exist, I can hope that he was as noble, sensitive, astute, and talented as Rebecca’s portrayal. Since most of the novel occurred in the Tullius villa and focused on the daily lives of its residents, the novel provided a revealing window on the world of a Roman equestrian family - the operation of their household, their family, their social lives, and the gender and cultural roles each member played in the overall fabric of Roman society. I especially appreciated the fact that Rebecca respected and preserved each characters’ values and did not introduce some startling transformation as a result of the heroine sharing her “liberated” viewpoint of the 21st century.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

SPQR VIII: The River God's Vengeance

"Decius Caecilius Metellus has just become an aedile, a city manager responsible for overseeing urban infrastructure, when he's summoned to a fatal building collapse that claims more than 200 lives. While the evidence of shoddy workmanship is consistent with the pervasive but tolerated corruption in the construction trade, Decius's trained investigative eye notes anomalies on several of the corpses; he risks his political future and his life to follow the clues. His powerful family's efforts to navigate the treacherous shifting alliances that preceded Julius Caesar's return from the Gallic Wars add to the pressures the aedile faces. "

Friday, January 30, 2004

Roman Britain scene of new sci-fi tale

George Poole isn’t sure whether his life has reached a turning point or a dead end. At forty-five, he is divorced and childless, with a career that is going nowhere fast. Then, when his father dies suddenly, George stumbles onto a family secret: a sister he never knew existed. A twin named Rosa, raised in Rome by an enigmatic cult. Hoping to find the answers to the missing pieces of his life, George sets out for the ancient city.

Once in Rome, he learns from Rosa the enthralling story of their distant ancestor, Regina, an iron-willed genius determined to preserve her family as the empire disintegrates around her. It was Regina who founded the cult, which has mysteriously survived and prospered below the streets of Rome for almost two millennia. The Order, says Rosa, is her real family– and, even if he doesn’t realize it yet, it is George’s family, too. When she takes him into the vast underground city that is the Order’s secret home, he feels a strong sense of belonging, yet there is something oddly disturbing about the women he meets. They are all so young and so very much alike.
Stephen Baxter possesses one of the most brilliant minds in modern science fiction. His vivid storytelling skills have earned him comparison to the giants of the past: Clarke, Asimov, Stapledon. Like his great predecessors, Baxter thinks on a cosmic scale, spinning cutting-edge scientific speculation into pure, page-turning gold. Now Baxter is back with a breathtaking adventure that begins during the catastrophic collapse of Roman Britain and stretches forward into an unimaginably distant, war-torn future, where the fate of humanity lies waiting at the center of the galaxy. . . .

Thursday, January 29, 2004

The Spartan

By Valerio Massimo Manfredi

A few days ago I finished reading "Spartan" by Valerio Manfredi. This is my first exposure to his work as I have but have not yet read his best-selling Alexander trilogy. I'm afraid I was not overly impressed, although the story was definitely readable. Most of the characters, with the exception of Talos, were not well developed, which in turn served to diminish the impact of some of the climactic moments in the book. The battle of Thermopylae was passed over so quickly, it did not create sufficient pathos when the two young Spartan warriors, ordered by Leonidas to deliver a message to the ephors, are ostracized by the Spartan community and labeled with the scornful title of "he who trembles". Likewise, the battle of Plataea was not portrayed in enough detail to grant the sacrifice of Brithos the emotional impact it should have had on Talos or the reader.

Afterward, as Talos traipsed around after Pausanias as a mercenary, the plot seemed to wander almost aimlessly for a time before Talos finally returned to Sparta and took up the mantle of his destiny.

The "love" scenes (if you can call them that) were right out of the fifties. Antinea steps out of her tunic and the scene changes and it’s the next morning. They seemed especially vacant after having just read Jennifer Macaire’s colorful Alexander time-travel novel, Children In The Morning.

However, The Spartan was far more interesting to me than Thornton Wilder’s Ides of March (I know that’s probably sacrilegious but that book just dragged for me) and stimulated my interest in further study of the helot conflict with the Spartans. I found one of Paul Cartledge’s definitive books on Sparta, The Spartans: The World of the Warrior-Heroes of Ancient Greece, from Utopia to Crisis and Collapse, at a bargain price on so I ordered it to continue my exploration of this culture.

Thursday, January 22, 2004


By Robert Harris

I’m definitely in a “Pompeii” mood! Last night on the way home I listened to the thrilling climax of Robert Harris' "Pompeii". I have read several of his other books ("Fatherland" and "Archangel") but this one is by far the best. His characters were wonderfully genuine. Now I will have a detailed mental image of Pliny the Elder each time I read something about him and I have added Attilius to my pantheon of great fictional Roman heroes. The descriptions of Vesuvius' "manifestations" were so vivid. They made me recall the images I saw on television of people in Portland, Oregon when Mt. St. Helens erupted – slogging along the streets through drifts of ash and the sky so dark and swirling with debris that the cars had to have their lights on in the middle of the day.

Anyway, a great read – I highly recommend it!

Pirates Of Pompeii

by Caroline Lawrence (Young adult fiction)

"AD 79, following the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii. Among the thousands of people huddled in refugee camps along the bay of Naples are Flavia Gemina and her friends Jonathan the Jewish boy, Nubia the African slave-girl, and Lupus the mute beggar boy. Their discovery that children are being kidnapped from the camps- among them the daughter of the powerful Publius Pollius Felix- leads them to solve the mystery of the pirates of Pompeii. A terrifically exciting and dramatic story and a brilliant picture of the aftermath of a great disaster."

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Children in the Morning by Jennifer Macaire

I treated myself to a copy of Children in the Morning for a Christmas present and was not disappointed. Like Jennifer's two previous novels in the series, I found the characters believable and their relationships well developed. Alexander is a passionate hero with human failings just as I had always envisioned him and I enjoy the depiction of this unusual "family" group that has grown up around him during his efforts to explore the edges of the known world. Although battles are described, the emphasis is on the developing human relationships that I find as important to history (even alternate history) as events.

In this installment, Alexander and Ashley are in India and they experience the culture's exotic combination of beauty, courage, and treachery as they struggle through the monsoons, confront the formidable war elephants of Porus, and outwit brutal Brahmin rebels. Ashley must also face the reality of Alexander's looming death and consider the possibilities and consequences of cheating fate.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

The Lost Army of Cambyses by Paul Sussman

Review by Maureen Carlyle

"Cambyses, a Persian emperor who conquered Egypt, sent his army across the desert in 523 BC to attack the remote oasis of Siwa, site of the Oracle of Ammon, later immortalised by Alexander the Great. They never arrived. No-one knows to this day what became of them, but the most likely theory is that they were overcome and buried by a violent sandstorm. What if traces of the lost army were actually found, and details of the discovery were never reported to the correct authorities in the Antiquities Department? And what if a charismatic fundamentalist got to hear about it, and decided to use it for his own ends? "

"The plot is well carried through, with some excellent twists towards the end. It is sometimes far-fetched – for instance, Khalifa sets off into the Western Desert in a borrowed land-cruiser without any previous experience of desert driving, and only gets stuck in the sand once. There are other instances I can’t mention without revealing the plot. But this is Harrison Ford country, so who cares."

"Paul Sussman’s knowledge of Egypt – past and present – is really impressive."