Sunday, December 10, 2006

Director of Pompeii project pens history-based fiction "Pompeiian Lives"

Reetta Vairimaa:
Ancient Rome is now in vogue. The popular television series produced by the BBC and HBO has stirred interest in many of the viewers about how the Romans really lived. Public libraries receive numerous queries on the subject every day. Interest in the topic is in fact so wide that one librarian thought it best to contact Paavo Castr?n, a professor emeritus in classical philology, for advice.

Castr?n was just the man to help. He has headed the Expeditio Pompeiana Universitatis Helsingiensis (EPUH), the Pompeii Project of the University of Helsinki, for five years, leading the group?s investigative work on Pompeian excavations. This September, Castr?n also published his book Pompejilaisia kohtaloita, ?Pompeian Lives?, later probably to be published in English and Italian.

?Fictive films and books about ancient Rome are good for our cause, as they capture people?s interest and make them ask questions. The series should, however, be watched as entertainment, not as a historical documentary,? says Castr?n.

Despite the welcome attention, Castr?n is frustrated by the sensationalism in fiction about Rome. ?Many details could just as easily be correct, if only the makers could be bothered to check. It is as if our history today were one day to be written based on tabloid headlines alone,? he says.

Castr?n?s own book is ?90 per cent fact and 10 per cent fiction?. It tells the stories of a freedman?s daughter who becomes a famous actress and of a reckless youth growing into a responsible mayor, and describes the everyday life of Marcus Lucretius, a cavalry officer of the city and a priest of Mars. All the characters are real people who lived in Pompeii; the House of Marcus Lucretius is the very site that the EPUH group is investigating.

?I have written about things as they could have been,? Castr?n says. ?The marriages and deaths I describe are realistic but fiction in as much as there is no historical evidence of them. My aim was to give as truthful an image as possible of the lives of people living during the classical period without sensationalising it, to show that even this can be interesting.?

Excerpt: "

During the reign of the Emperor Nero, the Pompeians often had the pleasure of seeing performances by Paris, ?who was Nero?s favourite pantomimist. Admittedly, he was the best, and he was also very aware of his talent. A philosopher had once ventured to say to Paris that music was the single most important thing in the art of pantomime and that a performance without music could not exist. Paris is said to have responded by performing a scene portraying the adultery of Aphrodite and Ares, without music, with such conviction that it left little room for the imagination.

When Paris and his entourage and orchestra arrived in Pompeii, the whole town came out to see them. Those who organised the shows had made sure to put up advertisements along the streets and in neighbouring towns weeks earlier and many private individuals had scratched graffiti into walls in praise of the great artist. The most ardent supporters of Paris had formed an unofficial society, called the Paridiani. Paris performed both in the square and in the large theatre, where spectators had begun to assemble hours before the performance. He usually stayed at the house of the organising official, who was proud to be able to provide lodgings for such a notable guest and the Emperor?s favourite. In the meantime, the orchestra and their assistants carried instruments to the venue, while the choir practised in the smaller, covered theatre. When the show eventually began, it started off with performances by young, lesser-known artists, building suspense and excitement before Paris?s grand entrance.

Using my mother?s connections, I sometimes managed to see the rehearsals and even actual performances, and once I was fortunate enough to be allowed to watch Paris prepare for the show. He had numerous assistants in his dressing room, as well as a vast selection of women?s and men?s costumes, hanging on stands so that he could quickly and easily change into a new one during the performance. The clothes were luxurious, colourful and probably terribly expensive. Paris would sit by his dressing table, watching himself in the mirror as his assistants fitted wigs and masks on him. He seemed to get into his various roles by occasionally standing up and taking tentative dance steps, donning a flowing piece of costume while he did so. It was said that he went on concentrating like this for hours, and all the assistants had to be completely still the whole time ? unless a flautist had to rehearse the musical themes of the performance with the master."

Monday, November 20, 2006

Imperium: A Review by Mary Harrsch

By Mary Harrsch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The confrontations in the courtroom, the senate and the frenzied voting pens of the Campus Martius provide as much tension as a Roman battlefield and Harris does a masterful job of peopling these scenes with memorable characters. He does not shy away from presenting Cicero's "warts" either.

Cicero takes calculated risks to obtain his objectives but he is also a pragmatist and, like most politicians, must form and break alliances as opportunities present themselves. Although he prosecutes a corrupt governor early in his career to gain stature as Rome's preeminent advocate, Cicero later defends a corrupt governor to regain the favor of the moneyed classes as his year to run for consul approaches.

I was unaware of how deep-seated an enemy Crassus was to Cicero, at least as presented by Harris. In fact, Crassus was presented with a vicious edge, more dangerous than simply a wealthy wannabe.

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

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

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

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

Virgil rediscovered -A review by Thomas Cahill

Los Angeles Times : "A new edition of 'The Aeneid,' Virgil's imperial masterpiece, has arrived just as the whole world is witnessing the stress fractures in our own imperial enterprise. And I'm here to report that it is magnificent. When you are faced with something incredibly complex yet beautifully simple, you must bow your head before inexplicable greatness. That's the case with Robert Fagles' translation.

But to leave it at that is still a dishonor to his accomplishment. One must say more: This work, this miraculous beast of a text, is so enjoyable that you will hardly know you are reading an ancient masterpiece. Fagles gives us an 'Aeneid' so fresh, so of our moment, that even classicists may fail to recognize it, so long has the original languished in the hands of inadequate translators and academic windbags."

I've studied the Aeneid when I listened to a course from The Teaching Company taught by Professor Elizabeth VanDiver. Dr. VanDiver made the Aeneid come to life and I had planned to listen to an original translation that I purchased on but now I'm intrigued by this latest release and think I prefer to read it based on Mr. Cahill's exhilarating review.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Isle of Stone: A Novel of Ancient Sparta: Books: Nicholas Nicastro "It is a tale of two cities--the legendary duel between haughty, democratic Athens and brutal, unbeaten Sparta. After seven years of bloody conflict, a barren island in a remote corner of Greece becomes the stage for what promises to become a second Thermopylae. Four hundred Spartan soldiers are cut off by enemy ships on a narrow strip of land, starving, without supplies, yet sworn to uphold their indomitable heritage. Meanwhile, all around them, the powerful Athenian Navy masses for the inevitable assault.

As the war of nerves wears on, Spartan nobles and Athenian demagogues maneuver in the background--and two estranged Spartan brothers serve together for the first time. The eldest, Antalcidas, is a legendary warrior hobbled by a damaging secret. His brother Epitadas is envied, popular, and cruel. Together they must overcome a lifetime of hostility to survive the battle of their lives."

Friday, August 11, 2006

Barbarian Tides: The Migration Age And the Later Roman Empire (Middle Ages Series): Books: Walter Goffart"The Migration Age is still envisioned as an onrush of expansionary 'Germans' pouring unwanted into the Roman Empire and subjecting it to pressures so great that its western parts collapsed under the weight. Further developing the themes set forth in his classic Barbarians and Romans, Walter Goffart dismantles this grand narrative, shaking the barbarians of late antiquity out of this 'Germanic' setting and reimagining the role of foreigners in the Later Roman Empire.

The Empire was not swamped by a migratory Germanic flood for the simple reason that there was no single ancient Germanic civilization to be transplanted onto ex-Roman soil. Since the sixteenth century, the belief that purposeful Germans existed in parallel with the Romans has been a fixed point in European history. Goffart uncovers the origins of this historical untruth and argues that any projection of a modern Germany out of an ancient one is illusory. Rather, the multiplicity of northern peoples once living on the edges of the Empire participated with the Romans in the larger stirrings of late antiquity. Most relevant among these was the long militarization that gripped late Roman society concurrently with its Christianization.

If the fragmented foreign peoples with which the Empire dealt gave Rome an advantage in maintaining its ascendancy, the readiness to admit military talents of any social origin to positions of leadership opened the door of imperial service to immigrants from beyond its frontiers. Many barbarians were settled in the provinces without dislodging the Roman residents or destabilizing landownership; some were even incorporated into the ruling families of the Empire. The outcome of this process, Goffart argues, was a society headed by elites of soldiers and Christian clergy--one we have come to call medieval."

In Search of a Homeland: The Story of the Aeneid: Books: Penelope Lively,Ian Andrew "The fall of Troy, the wanderings of Aeneas, the descent into the underworld ? these phrases from Virgil?s seminal story continue to resonate more than 2,000 years after he wrote it, and Penelope Lively retells this timeless tale with pitch-perfect pacing, poignancy, and drama. The story begins with Aeneas escaping from the sacked city of Troy with his son and father and an important task given by his mother, Venus: He must find a new home for his people. Readers accompany him on his adventure and danger awaits him around every corner. He battles monsters and giants, the elements, and makes a terrifying descent into the underworld where he is allowed a glimpse into the future. Ian Andrew?s illustrations evocatively interpret the mortals, gods and goddesses, and the epic backdrops of this classic tale. This accessible and enthralling introduction to The Aeneid takes its place alongside Rosemary Sutcliff?s classic retellings of Homer?s Iliad and Odyssey. Included are a Latin pronunciation guide and a map of Aeneas?s extraordinary quest. "

The Afghan Campaign: A novel: Books: Steven Pressfield "In words that might have been ripped from today?s combat dispatches, Steven Pressfield, the bestselling novelist of ancient warfare, returns with a riveting historical novel that re-creates Alexander the Great?s invasion of the Afghan kingdoms in 330 B.C., a campaign that eerily foreshadows the tactics, terrors, and frustrations of contemporary conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Narrated by Matthias, a young infantryman in Alexander?s army, The Afghan Campaign explores the challenges, both military and moral, that Alexander and his soldiers face as they embark on a new type of war and are forced to adapt to the methods of a ruthless foe that employs terror and insurgent tactics, conceals itself among the civilian populace, and recruits women and boys as combatants. Matthias joins Alexander?s army after it has conquered the Persian empire and is advancing east into Afghanistan on its way to the riches of India. Part of a unit that includes recruits his own age as well as veterans, Matthias chronicles his rapid coming-of-age as a soldier as he enacts Alexander?s scorch-and-burn strategies, experiences the joys and sorrows of a romance with an Afghan girl, and faces the barbarism of the Afghans, his fellow soldiers, and ultimately himself. As Matthias relates the brutal day-to-day encounters between the two sides, he exposes the human cost borne by a company of men whose code is humanist and secular when they seek to impose their will on a people of deep religiosity, insularity, unbending pride, and a passionate readiness to die for their cause.

An edge-of-your-seat adventure that brings to life the confrontation between an invading Western army and fierce Eastern warriors determined at all costs to defend their homeland, The Afghan Campaign once again demonstrates Steven Pressfield?s profound understanding of the hopes and desperation of men in battle and of the historical realities that continue to influence our world. "

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Clothed Body in the Ancient World edited by Liza Cleland, Mary Harlow and Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones

David Brown Book Company: "The recent renaissance of interest in the history of dress and its cultural importance is celebrated in this collection of interdisciplinary essays. The sixteen contributors present on-going research into the study of the clothed body in ancient Egypt and the Aegean, Classical Greece, Rome and Late Antiquity. Through literary and artistic evidence and film, they discuss how dress articulates and defines an individual within his or her given society, at the same time highlighting common themes in scholarship, methodological differences between disciplines and periods, as well as contrasting definitions of what constitutes the clothed body. Essays discussing Aegean Bronze Age fashions, costume design in filmed biblical epics, clothing in Aristophanic comedy, Greek and Roman female undergarments, the symbolism of the Roman toga, and the spectacle of images of Byzantine dress, are just some of the diverse subjects covered in this study. 192p, b/w illus (Oxbow Books 2005)"

Roman Working Lives and Urban Living edited by Ardle Mac Mahon and Jennifer Price

David Brown Book Company: "The ordinary people who made up the largest section of the population in the cities and towns in the Roman world were largely ignored by contemporary writers and have often been marginalised in traditional studies of Roman urbanism, but research into their patterns of work and social interaction had increased markedly in recent years. This book has come out of a conference on 'Roman Working Lives and Urban Living' held at the University of Durham in 2001. The conference was planned as a forum for people researching urban space and architecture, commercial and retail structures, organisation of craft activity and social theory. The twelve papers presented here have been organised into two categories: Urban living and the settings for working lives and People at work: Owners, and artisans, crafts and professions. The range of topics and variety of approaches in the papers emphasise the wealth of the material available, and it is hoped that this will stimulate further research into the lives of the 'silent voices' of Roman urban society. 232p, b/w illus, 2 maps (Oxbow Books 2005)"

Roman Military Equipment from the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome, second edition by M C Bishop & J C N Coulston

David Brown Book Company: "Rome's rise to empire is often said to have owed much to the efficiency and military skill of her armies and their technological superiority over barbarian enemies. But just how 'advanced' was Roman military equipment? What were its origins and how did it evolve? The authors of this book have gathered a wealth of evidence from all over the Roman Empire - excavated examples as well as pictorial and documentary sources - to present a picture of what range of equipment would be available at any given time, what it would look like and how it would function. They examine how certain pieces were adopted from Rome's enemies and adapted to particular conditions of warfare prevailing in different parts of the Empire. They also investigate in detail the technology of military equipment and the means by which it was produced, and discuss wider questions such as the status of the soldier in Roman society. Both the specially prepared illustrations and the text have been completely revised for the second edition of this detailed and authoritative handbook, bringing it up to date with the very latest research. It illustrates each element in the equipment of the Roman soldier, from his helmet to his boots, his insignia, his tools and his weapons. This book will appeal to archaeologists, ancient and military historians as well as the generally informed and inquisitive reader. (Oxbow Books 2006)"

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Mother of the Gods, Athens, and the Tyranny of Asia : A Study of Sovereignty in Ancient Religion: Books: Mark Munn

The Mother of the Gods, Athens, and the Tyranny of Asia : A Study of Sovereignty in Ancient Religion by Mark Munn: "Among maternal deities of the Greek pantheon, the Mother of the Gods was a paradox. She is variously described as a devoted mother, a chaste wife, an impassioned lover, and a virgin daughter; she is said to be both foreign and familiar to the Greeks. In this erudite and absorbing study, Mark Munn examines how the cult of Mother of the Gods came from Phrygia and Lydia, where she was the mother of tyrants, to Athens, where she protected the laws of the Athenian democracy. Analyzing the divergence of Greek and Asiatic culture at the beginning of the classical era, Munn describes how Kybebe, the Lydian goddess who signified fertility and sovereignty, assumed a different aspect to the Greeks when Lydia became part of the Persian empire. Conflict and resolution were played out symbolically, he shows, and the goddess of Lydian tyranny was eventually accepted by the Athenians as the Mother of the Gods, and as a symbol of their own sovereignty.
This book elegantly illustrates how ancient divinities were not static types, but rather expressions of cultural systems that responded to historical change. Presenting a new perspective on the context in which the Homeric and Hesiodic epics were composed, Munn traces the transformation of the Asiatic deity who was the goddess of Sacred Marriage among the Assyrians and Babylonians, equivalent to Ishtar. Among the Lydians, she was the bride to tyrants and the mother of tyrants. To the Greeks, she was Aphrodite. An original and compelling consideration of the relations between the Greeks and the dominant powers of western Asia, The Mother of the Gods, Athens, and the Tyranny of Asia is the first thorough examination of the way that religious cult practice and thought influenced political activities during and after the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. "

The Rise And Fall Of A Noble Roman Family: The Domitii Ahenobarbi 196 BC-AD 68 (University of Southern Denmark Studies in History and Soci By Jesper Carlsen

No further information available.

Alexander's Tomb: The Two-thousand Year Obsession to Find the Lost Conquerer: Books: Nicholas Saunders "Combining cinematic drama and a sprawling historical narrative, this gripping history is the first book to follow the search for the tomb of Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great is a towering figure in world history-his military genius and flamboyant personality have perhaps never been surpassed. But despite our long-held fascination with him, we have no idea where he is buried. The search for Alexander's tomb began soon after his untimely death in 323 b.c. and continues even today. The epic pursuit of the tomb spans continents and centuries, and involves some of history's most iconic figures.

This is the story not of a brief and spectacular life, but of a momentous and unexplained death, multiple burials, and the seemingly never-ending quest for a man-god's final resting place. The journey ties together marvelous, seemingly disparate moments in history, from the Muslim invasion of Alexandria in 641 to Napoleon's great defeat in the Battle of the Nile. Nicholas Saunders gives us intriguing and fresh portraits of familiar figures like Napoleon, Julius Caesar, and Howard Carter. Bringing together thousands of years of speculation, as well as new questions about the ramifications of actually solving the puzzle, Alexander's Tomb is a fascinating look at one of archaeology's greatest mysteries. "

Caesar : Politician and Statesman: Books: Mattias Gelzer,Peter Needham "In 1912 a young scholar published a slim volume investigating the social structure of the late Roman Republic, which was in due course to transform the study of Roman history. The author, Professor Gelzer, went on to hold the Chair of Ancient History at Frankfurt and to become the greatest German-speaking historian of the Roman Republic since Mommsen. In 1921 he published his Caesar, which has by now gone through six editions in Germany and is still the standard account, in any language, of Caesar and his age. It amply fulfills the author's intent 'to give the educated public a lively picture of the complete political career of one of the great statesmen of the past.' Based on a conscientious evaluation of the abundant source materials--primarily the writings of Caesar and his contemporaries--Professor Gelzer's portrait renders Caesar in heroic proportions, destined and determined from the beginning to overthrow a corrupt aristocracy. The sixth edition (1960), brought up to date and provided with full annotations by the author, is the basis of this translation, which for the first time makes the work available in English. With Professor Gelzer's approval, some minor errors have been corrected, both in the text and in the chronological table and the map at the end of the book, and an analytical index of names has been added. "

Sailing from Byzantium : How a Lost Empire Shaped the World

By Colin Wells

"A gripping intellectual adventure story, Sailing from Byzantium sweeps you from the deserts of Arabia to the dark forests of northern Russia, from the colorful towns of Renaissance Italy to the final moments of a millennial city under siege?.

Byzantium: the successor of Greece and Rome, this magnificent empire bridged the ancient and modern worlds for more than a thousand years. Without Byzantium, the works of Homer and Herodotus, Plato and Aristotle, Sophocles and Aeschylus, would never have survived. Yet very few of us have any idea of the enormous debt we owe them.

The story of Byzantium is a real-life adventure of electrifying ideas, high drama, colorful characters, and inspiring feats of daring. In Sailing from Byzantium, Colin Wells tells of the missionaries, mystics, philosophers, and artists who against great odds and often at peril of their own lives spread Greek ideas to the Italians, the Arabs, and the Slavs.

Their heroic efforts inspired the Renaissance, the golden age of Islamic learning, and Russian Orthodox Christianity, which came complete with a new alphabet, architecture, and one of the world?s greatest artistic traditions.

The story?s central reference point is an arcane squabble called the Hesychast controversy that pitted humanist scholars led by the brilliant, acerbic intellectual Barlaam against the powerful monks of Mount Athos led by the stern Gregory Palamas, who denounced ?pagan? rationalism in favor of Christian mysticism.

Within a few decades, the light of Byzantium would be extinguished forever by the invading Turks, but not before the humanists found a safe haven for Greek literature. The controversy of rationalism versus faith would continue to be argued by some of history?s greatest minds.

Fast-paced, compulsively readable, and filled with fascinating insights, Sailing from Byzantium is one of the great historical dramas?the gripping story of how the flame of civilization was saved and passed on. "

Thursday, June 01, 2006

"Roma" completed and Paperback edition of "A Gladiator Dies Only Once" Released

Dear Friend of Gordianus,

Just a note to let you know that the paperback edition of the latest
book, A GLADIATOR DIES ONLY ONCE, is just out. It's a collection of
short stories, all featuring Gordianus. There are images and details
at my web site...

or at

Meanwhile, I recently finished my next book. ROMA: THE NOVEL OF
ANCIENT ROME is a saga in the Michener/Rutherfurd vein. The epic
story follows descendants of a single bloodline through the first
1000 years of Roman history, from the first Bronze Age settlement on
the Tiber and the founding of the city by Romulus and Remus all the
way to the assassination of Caesar and the end of the Republic. It's
by far my longest and most ambitious book. ROMA will be published in
March, 2007.

But I don't get to take the summer off. My publisher is making me
start work on the next Gordianus novel! - Steven Saylor

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Vipsania by Jasper Burns

"In 12 BC, the Roman Emperor Augustus ordered his stepson Tiberius to divorce his wife Vipsania - the love of his life. Tiberius obeyed - for duty, for love of country, for love of power.

Six years later, Tiberius defied Augustus, abandoned his powers, and followed Vipsania
half way across the Roman world.

He renounced love for power, and then he renounced power for the dream of love.

"Was Tiberius an ancient Edward VIII, trading his throne for a woman? No, because his destiny would carry him forward, to unimagined highs and lows.

He was an exile, despised and abused.

And then, against all odds, he became the most powerful man in the world.

And what of Vipsania, remarried to an ambitious senator, the mother of ten children, one of them abandoned by her husband to the mercies of the gods? And through it all, still in love with Tiberius."

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Chronicle of Zenobia: The Rebel Queen by Judith Weingarten "Zenobia, who from her desert stronghold in Palmyra challenged and held out against the might of the Roman empire, is one of the great queens of history. Yet the fact that she was on the side of 'East' rather than 'West', that she was female, that her 'country' no longer exists (Palmyra is in the far east of modern Syria) means she's not received the attention she deserved.

It was Antonia Fraser in The Warrior Queens who first brought her to attention of English-speaking readers, but surprisingly little has been written on her since then. A search of Amazon reveals no more than half a dozen significant factual and fictional treatments. So, having visited Palmyra and soaked up its glorious atmosphere, I was delighted to sit down with Judith Weingarten's The Rebel Queen, billed as Volume One of 'The Chronicle of Zenobia'.

The author is a veteran archaeologist, with many professional publications to her credit, and the depth of her knowledge is clear from the early pages of the book, as we meet its central character, Simon, a Jewish boy who will grow up to serve the young king Odenathus, who married the young Zenobia in the multicultural city. Odenathus was bred to rule in the caravan city that is part of the Roman empire, but not subject to it, bred to be a warrior in an unstable border region facing the threat of the Persians."

Alexander's Lovers by Andrew Chugg

"Did you know that Alexander got the idea of adopting Persian dress from a book he read in his youth? Had you realised that Alexander?s pursuit of divine honours was merely an aspect of his emulation of Achilles? Would you be interested to discover that Bagoas the Eunuch undertook a diplomatic mission in Bactria or that Hephaistion?s diplomacy kept Athens from joining the Spartan rebellion of King Agis? Are you aware that Aetion?s famous painting of Alexander?s marriage depicted Hephaistion and Bagoas as well as Roxane and that it was really a depiction of the King?s various passions? Had you heard that Alexander first met his mistress Barsine when they were both children in Macedon and that she was the great-granddaughter of a Great King? Can you name the girl betrothed to Alexander?s son? Would it surprise you to learn that Alexander?s mourning and funeral arrangements for Hephaistion were conducted according to precepts dictated by Homer and Euripides? If you are intrigued by any of these questions and would like to get to know Alexander on a more personal level than is feasible from the conventional histories, then you need to read Alexander?s Lovers."

An excerpt:

"The tragic history of Barsine and her son Heracles poses some intriguing
questions, which merit some further deliberation.

Why did Alexander fail to marry Barsine, when he subsequently insisted upon
marrying Roxane? In the first place, Barsine had already been married twice to
Alexander?s enemies and had children from those previous marriages. An heir
would have been the younger half-brother of those children, which would have
been a potentially uncomfortable situation, especially vis-à-vis the succession.
Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, what indications we have (excepting
the unreliable Justin) suggest that the relationship with Barsine was more a
matter of convenience for Alexander than an affair of the heart. The king will
have been under some political pressure to beget an heir, especially in view of a
conspicuous lack of any sexual liaisons with women prior to the battle of Issus.
This was not at all a question of morality, but a matter of political stability and
state security. If a king should die without an heir, there was a very real threat of
a chaotic and bloody power struggle over the succession, which would have
been in the interests of few. Furthermore, a king with no apparent heir was
arguably more exposed to assassination attempts, since the rebels might believe
that their objectives were more easily achievable with a lesser risk of retribution.
In fact, we have the direct testimony of Aristobulus, a reputable primary source,
that Alexander took Barsine as his first mistress at Parmenion?s instigation,
which confirms both the existence of the pressure and the dispassionate nature
of the decision. This is underlined by indications that Alexander packed Barsine
off to Pergamon without compunction, when he found a princess whom he
actually wished to make his bride. In fact, the particular choice of Barsine was
probably due to her knowledge of Greek and of Greek culture and sensibilities,
her reputed beauty and possibly also because Alexander had known her in
childhood. Amorous feelings were subordinate to pragmatic considerations."

Monday, May 22, 2006

Caesar by Adrian Goldsworthy

Independent Online Edition Review by Christopher Hart (excerpt): "Julius Caesar was great, if not good, acknowledges Goldsworthy in this definitive and entertaining new biography. Our definition of what constitutes 'good' nowadays being utterly different to that of the Romans anyway, and morality being rather more time-tied than we like to admit, arguments about any historical figure's goodness or badness tend to be fairly worthless. About Caesar's greatness, though, there can be no argument: charismatic, daring, brilliant, charming, a supreme political operator, a brilliant military tactician and improviser, a writer of admirable simplicity in an age of tiresome floridity. Oh, and if this counts as a sign of greatness too, a highly successful bedder of other men's wives.

His conquest of Gaul certainly resulted in the deaths of tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands, but brought along with it a 500-year Pax Romana with all its associated benefits of roads, bridges, baths, etc (see Monty Python's Life of Brian for further details). He was also famed for his mercifulness to his conquered enemies; responded to his own troops' rude songs about his bedroom antics with a cheerful and tolerant laugh; and you can't help warming to a man so upset about his receding hairline that he wore his laurel wreath on all possible occasions to hide it.

Goldsworthy is renowned as a military historian, but his coverage here of messy late Republican politics is also authoritative and crystal clear. He gives us a colourful sense of the wider world and Roman society at this time, and above all, the commanding, unmistakable presence of the timelessly fascinating man himself: a character of limitless energy and ambition, unscrupulousness and opportunism, combined with the saving graces of magnanimity, stoicism and humour."

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Tracing the Path of Looted Treasures

NPR :: " Author Peter Watson talks about his new book The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities, from Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums, and the network behind the trade.

A 1995 raid on suspected tomb raider Giacomo Medici's warehouse in Geneva showed that Medici had been storing thousands of ancient vases, frescos, and other antiquities -- some in fragments or in various stages of restoration, some encrusted with dirt -- out of reach of the Italian government, in the Swiss Freeport. The Italian Carabinieri Art Squad gained access to the warehouse in 1997, as part of their investigation into Medici's ties to a global ring of looters, dealers, curators and collectors who worked to smuggle antiquities out of Italy. The documentation they found in Medici's warehouse proved to be as damning as the objects themselves."

As someone who has visited Pompeii and was disturbed by the deteriorating condition of what little art remains in situ there I found the following excerpt from the book very upsetting:


What the images revealed was a dismaying sequence -- " a real horror,? as he wrote in his report -- in which the first pictures showed three walls of what any expert could recognize as a Vesuvian/Pompeian villa. They could make this identification because the three walls were frescoed in what is called the Campanian II style. The decoration on Roman villas went through what art historians and archaeologists recognize as four styles, between the second century bc and ad 79. Campanian II comes second in this chronology, and decorations in that style differ from what came before and after in consisting of more panoramic landscapes, mythological scenes, and certain architectural features.

The photographs showed nine walls in all, but three were of particular interest. Two of them were in red, pale blue, and gray. These walls showed two female figures in the foreground with, below them, miniaturized masks and smaller figures. On the right wall was shown an architectural drawing of a two-story building, with a similar symmetric design opposite, on the left wall. In other words, in this first sequence of photographs, the room -- or one end of it -- is intact. " The frescoes are in an excellent state of conservation, both pictorially and structurally.? However, besides the walls of the room, the photographs also showed a mass of earth mixed with lapillae covering the floor and filling the space to a depth of a few feet; lapillae also encrust the ceiling area. Lapillae are a telltale sign to any Italian archaeologist. They are small balls of volcanic ash, formed after the eruption of Vesuvius in ad 79, which buried so much of the surrounding countryside south of Naples. This was further confirmation, in addition to the subject matter and pictorial style of the frescoes, that this room had been part of a villa that was one of those overwhelmed by the eruption of the famous volcano, but not one known to the official archaeologists. The first sequence of photographs therefore confirmed that this had been a very important discovery, made in a clandestine " excavation? by some tombaroli. It was the next set of photographs, however, that constituted the " horror.?

This second set showed the image of the central wall -- the one with the two female figures and the figurines -- but laid out like a giant jigsaw. The images had been cut from the original wall, in a number of highly irregular pieces, each in size about as big as a laptop, and then put back together again on panels that were framed -- edged -- in wood. The fresco had been taken off the villa wall, detached from its right and left companions, and cut up into chunks. That it was the same image was quite clear to Pellegrini, even though there were gaps between the separate pieces: The two females were clearly visible and recognizable. In his report, Pellegrini commented that this operation, normally highly technical (when done by archaeologists), was here done crudely and in a hurry, without any regard for the integrity or sanctity of the images but simply so that the fresco could be quickly and more easily smuggled abroad?"

Friday, May 05, 2006

Memnon by Scott Oden

Scott Oden: "Born in the shadow of giants, Memnon of Rhodes (375-333 BCE) rose from humble origins to command the whole of western Asia in a time of chaos and bloodshed. To his own people, he was a traitor, to his rivals, a mercenary. But, to the King of Kings, his majesty Darius III of Persia, Memnon was the one man who could check the rising ambitions of Macedonia's young monarch, the conqueror history would remember as Alexander the Great.)."

Memnon is scheduled for release in August 2006.

Scott shares some of the historical background he collected while writing this new novel on his personal blog.

Spartacus: The Myth and the Man

By M.J. Trow "Today, the Western world's knowledge of the gladiator-slave Spartacus comes from the Kirk Douglas epic released in 1960. But did Spartacus really come close to changing the structure of the Roman world? Why and how did he come to be claimed as a proletariat hero by Marxists? Who was the real Spartacus? This vivid and exciting book traces the story of Spartacus through his slave hood in Rome and training as a gladiator, to the breakout which began when gladiators hacked at their guards with choppers and took to the hills. Initially the affair was regarded as a minor breakout but by the time the Roman praetor found them, Spartacus's rising had grown into an army of 3,000 men. With nothing to lose but their freedom, they slaughtered several of the Roman forces sent to capture them. It was not until the Senate sent Pompey, the 'young butcher' that Spartacus and his army were defeated, the survivors either crucified or returned to slavery. Pompey celebrated with days of festivities in Rome. And Spartacus? He has inspired films and a ballet, has been claimed as a political freedom fighter, and revolutionary hero, and has become a gay icon."

Monday, April 17, 2006

Augustus : Godfather of Europe: By Richard Holland "This is the dramatic story of the provincial outsider who came to found Europe. Richard Holland brings out to the full the extraordinary, complex nature of the young and inexperienced tyro who has remained elusive."

The Sons of Caesar: Imperial Rome's First Dynasty: By Philip Matyszak "The story of one of the most colorful dynasties in history, from Caesar's rise to power in the first century BC to Nero's death in AD 68.

This engaging new study reviews the long history of the Julian and Claudian families in the Roman Republic and the social and political background of Rome. At the heart of the account are the lives of six men?Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero?men who mastered Rome and then changed it from a democracy to a personal possession. It was no easy task: Caesar and Caligula were assassinated, Nero committed suicide, and Claudius was poisoned. Only Augustus and Tiberius died natural deaths?and even that is uncertain.

The Julio-Claudian saga has a host of other intriguing characters, from Cicero, the last great statesman of the Republic, to Livia, matriarch of the Empire; the passionate Mark Antony and the scheming Sejanus; and Agrippina, mother of Nero and sister of Caligula, who probably murdered her husband and was in turn killed by her son. Set against a background of foreign wars and domestic intrigue, the story of Rome's greatest dynasty is also the story of the birth of an imperial system that shaped the Europe of today. 80 illustrations. "

Persian Fire : The First World Empire and the Battle for the West: By Tom Holland "In 480 B.C., Xerxes, the King of Persia, led an invasion of mainland Greece. Its success should have been a formality. For seventy years, victory?rapid, spectacular victory?had seemed the birthright of the Persian Empire. In the space of a single generation, they had swept across the Near East, shattering ancient kingdoms, storming famous cities, putting together an empire which stretched from India to the shores of the Aegean. As a result of those conquests, Xerxes ruled as the most powerful man on the planet. Yet somehow, astonishingly, against the largest expeditionary force ever assembled, the Greeks of the mainland managed to hold out. The Persians were turned back. Greece remained free. Had the Greeks been defeated in the epochal naval battle at Salamis, not only would the West have lost its first struggle for independence and survival, but it is unlikely that there would ever have been such an entity as the West at all.
Tom Holland?s brilliant new book describes the very first ?clash of Empires? between East and West. As he did in the critically praised Rubicon, he has found extraordinary parallels between the ancient world and our own. There is no other popular history that takes in the entire sweep of the Persian Wars, and no other classical historian, academic or popular, who combines scholarly rigor with novelistic depth with a worldly irony in quite the fashion that Tom Holland does."

Scheduled for release May 2006

Caesar's Legacy : Civil War and the Emergence of the Roman Empire: "Caesar's Legacy recounts the rise to power of Rome's first emperor, Augustus, by focusing on how the bloody civil wars which he and his soldiers fought transformed the lives of men and women throughout the Mediterranean world and beyond. The volume demonstrates how, during this violent period, Romans came to accept a new form of government and found ways to celebrate it in their towns and cities. It also reveals how they mourned, in literary masterpieces and stories passed onto their children, the terrible losses that accompanied the long years of fighting. "

The Religion of the Etruscans: "Devotion to religion was the distinguishing characteristic of the Etruscan people, the most powerful civilization of Italy in the Archaic period. From a very early date, Etruscan religion spread its influence into Roman society, especially with the practice of divination. The Etruscan priest Spurinna, to give a well-known example, warned Caesar to beware the Ides of March. Yet despite the importance of religion in Etruscan life, there are relatively few modern comprehensive studies of Etruscan religion, and none in English. This volume seeks to fill that deficiency by bringing together essays by leading scholars that collectively provide a state-of-the-art overview of Etruscan religion. The eight essays in this book cover all of the most important topics in Etruscan religion, including the Etruscan pantheon and the roles of the gods, the roles of priests and divinatory practices, votive rituals, liturgical literature, sacred spaces and temples, and burial and the afterlife. In addition to the essays, the book contains valuable supporting materials, including the first English translation of an Etruscan Brontoscopic Calendar (which guided priests in making divinations), Greek and Latin sources about Etruscan religion (in the original language and English translation), a concordance to Etruscan inscriptions, and a glossary. Nearly 150 black and white photographs and drawings illustrate surviving Etruscan artifacts and inscriptions, as well as temple floor plans and reconstructions.

Devotion to religion was the distinguishing characteristic of the Etruscan people, the most powerful civilization of Italy in the Archaic period. From a very early date, Etruscan religion spread its influence into Roman society, especially with the practice of divination. The Etruscan priest Spurinna, to give a well-known example, warned Caesa"

The Oracle : The Lost Secrets and Hidden Messages of Ancient Delphi: Books: William J. Broad "A renegade team of scientists discovers the truth behind the Oracle of Delphi's mythical powers of second sight.

Of all the stories of life in ancient Greece, few capture the imagination as much as the Oracle of Delphi. Human mistress of the great god Apollo, the Oracle had the power to enter into ecstatic union with him and bring back his prophecies and counsel for all who came seeking answers. Residing in her temple on the sacred slopes of Mount Parnassos in central Greece, she was consulted on matters large and small. Though the air of magic that surrounds her might cast her as a legend, the Oracle did really exist-and her visions caused her to become the single most influential figure in all of ancient Greece.

Eyewitness accounts from Plutarch and others describe temple practices in astonishing detail, claiming that the Oracle, in preparing to commune with Apollo, breathed in vapors rising from the temple floor. Modern scholars have had rigorous debates about the reliability of the material, and in 1892 French archaeologists unearthed the buried temple itself. Their guide was the ancient literature, which proved to be remarkably accurate, with one glaring, baffling exception-the excavators could find no hint of a chasm beneath the temple, no evidence that the rocky ground had brought vapors of any kind. There followed nearly a century of scholarly denouncement. Critics dismissed not only reports of intoxicating fumes but the Oracle herself, claiming the evidence suggested that she and her minions were nothing but pious frauds. Then a Wesleyan geologist named Joelle deBoer and a young archaeologist, John Hale, decided to take up the question once more.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and bestselling author William J. Broad tells a modern-day detective story that blends histo"

Rome, Inc.: The Rise and Fall of the First Multinational Corporation

A family business prospers through a productive series of brutal consolidations and rational growth. Then the rise of an executive class that pits one egotistical senior manager against another in senseless internal conflicts eventually leads to a long line of demented CEOs, excessive expansion, and foolish diversification?and a high cost in shattered lives. In the end, a series of reverse takeovers leave the once-proud but now overextended and corrupt parent company at the mercy of the mom-and-pop operations that previously cringed at the grandeur of the corporate brand.

Enron? WorldCom? Try Rome, whose rise and fall carry a moral that lingers to this day for the managers, employees, and students of any global enterprise. Stanley Bing?whose satirical business books are as savagely funny as they are insightful?mingles business parable and cautionary tale into an ingenious, often hilarious new telling of the story of the Roman Empire.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Empire of Dragons by Valerio Manfredi

Southern Anatolia, 260 AD. The town of Edessa, a Roman outpost, is on its last legs, besieged by the Persian troops of Shapur I. Roman Emperor Licinius Valerianus agrees to meet his adversary to draw up a peace treaty, but it is only a trap and the Emperor and his twelve guards are chained and dragged away to work as prisoners in a solitary Persian turquoise mine. After months of forced labour the Emperor dies, but his guards make a daring escape lead by the heroic and enigmatic chief, Marcus Metellus Aquila. They meet a mysterious, exiled Chinese Prince, Dan Qing, and agree to safeguard his journey home to reconquest his throne from his mortal enemy, a eunuch named Wei. Thus begins the adventures of the Romans and the Prince as they journey to China. There they will discover that they aren't the first of their kind to arrive in China: they were preceded centuries before by the survivors of the 'lost legion'.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Greener Shore : A Novel of the Druids of Hibernia by Morgan Llywelyn

"After Julius Caesar triumphs over Gaul, the druid Ainvar and his three wives sail west, steering clear of Roman-occupied Albion, to the brilliant green island of Hibernia (so-called because a Roman expedition mistakenly assumed 'winter lasted all year' there). Soon after landing, Ainvar encounters the T?atha D?Danann, the diminutive original folk of Eriu (the island's Gaelic name). The T?atha D?Danann, who usually are invisible to people, ask only to be remembered. Ainvar is distraught when they no longer appear, but is comforted to learn from a bewildered warrior that the T?atha D?Danann once unexpectedly revealed themselves to him. Later, Ainvar briefly inhabits a wolf's body and hears the piercing scream of the death-predicting banshee."

Scheduled for release: May 2006

The Tree of Life (Mysteries of Osiris: No. 1) by Christian Jacq

"In the temple of Abydos, an acacia tree is dying. And its death threatens all of Egypt. For this is no ordinary tree: it sprang forth from the tomb of the god Osiris, the first ruler of Egypt, as proof of his triumph over death. The great pharaoh Sesostris III immediately joins battle against the invisible enemy who wishes to lead Egypt to her doom. But unknown to Sesostris, within his closest circle hides a traitor, a man who dreams of power and glory, a man who will sell himself to the powers of darkness in order to achieve his aim. A young apprentice scribe, Iker, becomes an unwilling player in this mystery. Kidnapped by sailors who refer darkly to a 'state secret', Iker does not know who is trying to kill him, nor indeed who is trying to protect him. Haunted by a vision of a beautiful young priestess, Iker senses that someone is guiding or manipulating him, and that he has set out on a road whose end he does not know. Will the two of them, Iker and Sesostris, the weak young boy and the great man of power, succeed in preventing Osiris from dying for the last time, thereby saving Egypt?"

The Year of the Cobra by Paul Doherty

"At the end of 'The Season Of The Hyaena', the previous book in this trilogy, Mahu had just been recalled to court because the young Pharaoh, Tutankhamun, was suffering from a serious mental illness. 'The Year Of The Cobra' now resumes Mahu's tale: Tutankhamun is unwell, but there is no heir apparent. Egypt's enemies, the Hittites, are advancing through Canaan, and Ay - First Minister of Akenhaten, father of Nefertiti, brother of Queen Tiye - still plots, like the spider he is. The web is woven, the traps set..."

Scheduled for release: April, 2006

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Ursula's Maiden Army by Philip Griffin

Ursula's Maiden Army: "Britannic Princess Ursula hatches a bold scheme when the men of her country go to defend the crumbling Roman Empire?that an army of women can defend their island home! She and her friends Pinnosa, Brittola, Cordula, Martha and Saula, create an all-female force who successfully defend their homeland from the Picts, Hibernians and Saxons.

When the Britannic men don?t return from the Continent because they are embroiled in the disaster that becomes the fall of Rome, Ursula comes up with an even more audacious plan?the army of women shall go to Germania for a Grand Wedding of the Forces. Alas, her objective quickly goes awry when weather, politics and war keep the armies apart?and thrust Ursula and her 11,000 maiden army directly into battle with the Huns! Ursula?s Maiden Army will enthrall readers with it?s tale of adventure, bravery and the determination of its heroine.

Ursula?s Maiden Army is based on the legend (and scant truth) of Saint Ursula, the fifth century martyr of Cologne, Germany."

Available April 2006.

The Anvil Stone: Book 3 of the Macsen's Treasure Series by Kathleen Cunningham Guler

The Anvil Stone: Book 3 of the Macsen's Treasure Series: "In fifth-century Britain, only a few souls believed Merlin the Enchanter's prophecy, that the 'once and future king' called Arthur would one day rescue them from fierce and deadly Saxons. In a world where 'king' simply meant 'warlord,' many wondered: would there even be a Britain left for Arthur to rule once he was born and old enough to wield a sword of his own?

One man refused to let that dream fade into nightmarish despair...

Freedom is all that matters.? So says spy and master of disguise Marcus ap Iorwerth of his greatest dream. For years, he has courageously struggled to unite Britain?s feuding internal factions and derail the ever-encroaching Saxon threat that has made his homeland a deadly place.

So when a mysterious stranger delivers a gruesome, bloodstained effigy fashioned to look like him, Marcus immediately knows it?s both a warning and a challenge. He and his wife Claerwen?whose gift of second sight makes her a target as well?run headlong into the daunting fray. Rival factions are instigating war both among themselves and with the Saxons, and while Marcus sets out to quash their treachery, Claerwen discovers another crisis. Those same factions have mounted a desperate search for one of Britain?s most cherished symbols?a magnificent sword of the ancient high kings that has been lost for decades. She knows the sword must be found; it is part of Britain?s future and will pass to a great king called Arthur who has been prophesied to come. With battle about to erupt all around, Marcus learns the stranger, an assassin bent on killing him, may be one of the last sources that could lead him and Claerwen to the sacred sword.

The Anvil Stone brings the volatile tribal nature of Dark Age Britain to life and deftly interweaves it with its mystical Celtic roots and the promise of hope found in the Arthurian legend. A stunning display of the storyteller?s craft, this book is the third in the spectacular four-part Macsen?s Treasure series that began with Into the Path of Gods and In the Shadow of Dragons."

Brad Geagley, Day of the False King

The Best Reviews: Brad Geagley, Day of the False King Review by Harriet Klausner: "In 1150 BCE, the wife of Pharaoh Ramses III arranges to have him killed and her son placed on the throne. Ramses III dies from injuries he incurred from the assassination attempt and his ailing son Ramses IV sits on the throne but fears that if he dies, a regent, probably selected by his enemies will take charge as his heir is too young. He fears that they plan to kill him just like they did his father.

The pharaoh asks his friend Semerket, the Clerk of Investigations and Secrets, to journey to Babylon to ask the ruler to lend him the sacred statue of Bel-Marduk which is said to have healing powers. Semerket eagerly obeys his Pharaoh's wishes because this will allow him to see his beloved ex-wife who was exiled to Babylon because of her second husband's part in the conspiracy. He arrives in a Babylon conquered by the Elamites with King Kutir sitting on the throne. He will let Egypt have the statue if Semerket can find out what happened to his sister who along with Semerket's ex-wife was on an estate when a massacre occurred but neither body was found. His search is hampered by rebels who want the invaders thrown out and Semerket is their prime target.

The hero is a detective in the tradition of Marlowe but his one vulnerability is his love for his ex-wife who divorced him to marry a man who could sire a child on her. He is tough, blunt, and in your face but he risks his life to obtain the information that will lead him to his wife's whereabouts if she is still alive. Brad Geagley brings to life ancient Babylon, where intrigue, rebellion, and murder are every day occurrence. This is a fascinating and exciting historical mystery"

Friday, January 20, 2006

A Roman Ransom by Rosemary Rowe

Libertus wakes in his home in Glevum weak, disoriented, and in the throes of a serious illness. By his bedside is his patron, Marcus Septimus. Despite warnings from the medicus that Libertus is too ill to speak to anyone, Marcus has come to beg Libertus for his help with a very serious matter: Marcus? wife Julia, and their son, Marcellinus, have gone missing. Everyone has been questioned, yet no one has answers. It?s as if Julia and Marcellinus have vanished into thin air?Then Marcus receives a ransom note wrapped in the hem of Julia?s stola. The message is short and direct: release Lallius Tiberius or Marcus will never see his family again. But who is Tiberius, and why is someone going to such trouble to free him? Libertus must help Marcus with his dilemma: give in to the kidnappers and sacrifice his reputation of being fair and unmoved by bribery, or stand firm and provoke unimaginable consequences?

"For those who like their crime clad in a toga, this cunningly drawn series set in 2nd-century Roman Britain will satisfy indeed. Rich in intriguing and authentic historical detail, and featuring the investigative exploits of Libertus?former slave and amateur sleuth?this is ancient history with a murderous twist."

Scheduled for release April 2006.

Six For Gold (John the Eunuch Mysteries)

[The husband and wife team], "Mary Reed and Eric Mayer, are the most reliable hit-producing machine since The Everly Brothers. Their latest John caper, Six For Gold, is as aureate as its title. In this outing, our hero is sent to the always mysteriously dangerous land of Egypt, ostensibly to probe at imperial orders reported cases of suicidal sheep - an inspired touch, this. While John, with wife and servant, encounter sundry bizarre local personalities and customs, back in Constantinople his friends and enemies are kept busy with intrigues and murders, creating an effective double narrative. Though their scenes are few, we feel the sinister presence of Justinian and Theodora looming over every move. The dungeon encounter between John and the malevolent empress is one of the most genuinely blood-curdling chapters I have read in years. As always, there are many rib-ticking jokes (I may have to sue the authors for permanent damage to said body parts), and the mastery of Byzantine 'Realia' is as impressive as ever." - Barry Baldwin, Emeritus Professor of Classics, University of Calgary

Year of the Hyenas : A Novel of Murder in Ancient Egypt

by Brad Geagley

"Year of the Hyenas is a brilliant, original, and unique murder mystery, set in ancient Egypt at the height of that kingdom's glory and power. It is at once a strikingly insightful portrait of a mysterious, complex, and sophisticated society, reminiscent of Norman Mailer's Ancient Evenings in its wonderful detail and feel for the past, and a fast-paced detective story that reads like the best of twenty-first-century thrillers. From the oldest known court transcripts in history, Egyptologists have long known about the mysterious death of Ramses III, involving intrigue, ambition, greed, and crimes of passion on a huge, though hidden, scale. In Year of the Hyenas, Brad Geagley takes this event -- a struggle that nearly brought ancient Egypt to its knees -- as the backdrop for a story that is every bit as captivating as the distant civilization it resurrects. At the heart of the novel is Semerket, the so-called Clerk of Investigations and Secrets, a detective half-paralyzed by problems of his own, with a reputation for heavy drinking and tactless behavior toward the great, the powerful, and the holy, a kind of Sam Spade of the ancient world, deeply (and dangerously) addicted to the truth. Hard-bitten, deeply flawed, he is retained by the authorities to investigate what is considered an insignificant murder of an elderly, insignificant Theban priestess. They fail to inform him, however, that they don't expect him to solve the case. In fact, they don't want him to. But Semerket is not so easily fooled, and this is hardly an ""insignificant"" murder. As he delves deeper for the elusive truth, he uncovers a web of corruption so vast that it threatens the life of the last great Pharaoh, Ramses III, and the stability of the kingdom. Even worse, uncovering the conspiracy means more than just putting his own life on the line -- for, unbeknownst to Semerket, his adored ex-wife Naia has fallen afoul of those who would bring down the reign of Ramses, and he soon finds himself having to choose between saving her and saving Egypt.... Merging historical fact and speculation with a nail-biting crime story that could be taking place in the present, Year of the Hyenas is a riveting and remarkable achievement. "

I found the first few paragraphs so well written and vividly descriptive that I was hooked already! Excerpt from Chapter 1: "Hetephras limped from her pallet to the door of her house like an old arthritic monkey. She pulled aside the linen curtain and squinted to the east. Scents of the unfurling day met her nostrils. Sour emmer wheat from the temple fields. The subtler aroma of new-cut barley. Distant Nile water, brown-rich and brackish. And even at this early hour, someone fried onions for the Osiris Feast.

The old priestess's eyes were almost entirely opaque now. Though a physician had offered to restore her sight with his needle treatment, Hetephras was content to view the world through the tawny clouds with which the gods had afflicted her; in exchange they had endowed her other senses with greater clarity. Out of timeworn habit she raised her head again to the east, and for a moment imagined that she saw the beacon fires burning in Amun's Great Temple far across the river. But the curtains fell across her sight again, as they always did, and the flames burnt themselves out.

She pitied herself for a moment, because as priestess in the Place of Truth she could no longer clearly view the treasures wrought in her village -- decorations for the tombs of pharaohs, queens, and nobles that were the sole industry of her village of artists; pieces that lived for a smattering of days in the light of the sun, then were borne to the Great Place, brought into the tomb, and sealed beneath the sand and rock in darkness forever.

Hetephras unbent her thin, bony spine, firmly banishing self-pity. She was priestess and had to perform the inauguration rites for the Feast of Osiris that morning. At Osiris Time, the hour for speaking with the gods was at the very moment when the sun rose, for it was then that the membrane separating this life and the next was at its most fragile, when the dead left their vaults to gaze upon the distant living city of Thebes, girded for festival.

Though she had been a priestess for over twenty years, Hetephras had never seen any shape or spirit among the dead, as others said they had. She was an unsubtle woman who took her joy from the simple verities of ritual, tradition, and work. She believed with all her heart the stories of the gods, and put it down to a fault in herself that never once had they revealed themselves to her. Her husband, Djutmose, had been the spiritual one in the family, having been the tomb-makers' priest when he married her. When he died in the eleventh year of Pharaoh's reign, the villagers chose Hetephras to continue his duties; they had seen no reason to search elsewhere.

Hetephras sighed. That was many years ago. Soon her own Day of Pain would come, as it must to all living things, and she would be taken to lie beside Djutmose and their son in their own small tomb. Perhaps it was only the morning breezes that made her shiver."

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Close-up of life in the legions


Close-up of life in the legions: "Ironically, Eagle, a historical fiction series by Simon Scarrow, gives the reader a far better glimpse of what the Roman soldier was like.

The series, now into it?s fifth book, revolves around fictional Centurions Cato and Macro, and the real-life Legate (legion commander) Vespasian (who later became emperor).

The fifth title, The Eagle?s Prey, sees Cato, Macro and Vespasian coming under a cloud of failure, thanks to the incompetence of one centurion. The only way for the 2nd Legion to redeem itself is to capture the British King Caratatcus, who leads the resistance against Rome.

Of course this is no easy feat, as Caratacus has eluded the Romans for two years, since the invasion began. Besides, he still has his army. All of this promises the reader plenty of adventure and excitement, as well as an accurate portrayal of life in the Roman legions. "

In the Name of Rome by Adrian Goldsworthy

"Most people are familiar with Julius Caesar. But many of the other generals are just as noteworthy, among them Scipio Africanus. Most people know of Hannibal because he crossed the Alps with his army and waged war against Rome. Ironically, Africanus, who defeated Hannibal and ended the war, remains largely forgotten.

Africanus?s story is remarkable in that he started the Second Punic War (218-201BCE) as a 17-year-old junior officer in the Roman army and ended it as the 34-year-old commanding general who bought about victory. Despite his achievements, he was eventually undone by his political enemies, who trumped up a corruption charge against him. That resulted in Africanus living his last few years in exile from Rome. He succumbed to sickness at the age of 51.

The theme in this book is that of generals being undone, politically. That?s not surprising because during the Republican era, members of the Roman Senate had to serve in the military. Generals were selected from their ranks, and a successful military career paved the path to political success.

During the reign of the emperors, generals were still picked from the senatorial class, but they no longer had any say in the ruling of Rome. However, a successful general could always overthrow the emperor with his army. Indeed, a too-successful general could end up being viewed as a threat by the reigning emperor.

This is a good book, though I could quibble with the fact that some generals such as Sulla and Vespasian have not been given the space they deserve. Also, the reader hardly gets to know what the common soldiers in the Roman army were like: they, as much as the generals, did much to win Rome an empire. Perhaps the lack of existing accounts by Roman soldiers is partly to blame for this. "