Recent Historical Novels,
An Update
Introduction: Definitions; Questions for Audience
History versus Fiction: Quotes from novelists
Tour of WebSite, with overview & Search
Recent Fiction: Series Authors
Conn Iggulden’s Emperor Series, pluses &
• Fred’s Favorites - capsule comments
• Questions from Audience
How would you define a historical novel?
For the purposes of my database, a Roman historical novel
must be set
in Roman times
(pre-monarchy to late empire --Justinian +),
in Roman lands (Britain to Near East, Germany to
And with at least a few Roman characters.
Note also that I include only novels available in English.
For other languages, see Stefan Cramme’s website
Historical Rome (in German)
Why do people read Historical Fiction?
Do they choose it over non-historical fiction or history?
What are their expectations of a historical novel?
Why do novelists choose to write historical fiction?
What do they conceive of as their responsibilities in so choosing?
What do we mean by history and how much
do historical accounts differ among themselves?
What element of historical events is least often recorded
or least often able to be verified?
How much and in what ways does the depiction of a
particular complex historical character (such as Caesar)
change with the times and political/moral/economic
situation of the author? (Consider, e.g., 1800’s vs. WWII
or now.)
History versus Fiction
Sharon Kay Penman comments about the storm scene in Simon de Montfort's last battle
in her novel Falls the Shadow.
"The wild thunderstorm that broke over Evesham field during the battle was not
a novelist's indulgence. So violent a storm was it that men invested it with
a superstitious significance out of all proportion to an act of nature; one chronicler
even compared it to the tempest that raged over Calvary as Jesus Christ was crucified.
And Simon's son Bran did arrive at the battlefield in time to see his father's head
upon a pike."
CAAS spring 2000 Princeton
The term "historical novel" consists of two parts, "historical" and "novel", elements which,
by definition, are almost incompatible with each other, since the former claims the world
of veracity while the latter abides in the world of imagination. But where does the emphasis
fall? The term is "historical novel" and not "novelistic history" and one could reasonably
argue that it is the noun that carries the major attribute rather than the epithet. A good
historical novel, therefore, must be, above all, a good novel, a good piece of literature.
But since the particular kind of novel of which we speak is "historical", certain of the author's
liberties are restrained: the basic facts of real, known events, for instance, cannot be distorted.
Since the plot takes place in the past and often uses for its characters real historical figures, the
author must abide by what we know about these characters and the events that surround them.
But the past is not wholly known to us. The remoter the period described, the more substantial
are the gaps in our knowledge. For example, many of the details regarding daily life, customs,
celebrations, and interpersonal relationships in the classical world still elude us. There are
many historical events of paramount importance about which we know either little or nothing
at all beyond their bare outlines. Yet, unlike the historian, who must frequently make sense of
the past from fragmentary evidence, the reader of a historical novel expects to be presented
with a complete and satisfying set of causes and effects which will lead to some convincing
resolution or shed light on the motivation of the characters. A historical novelist must have an
understanding of the period in which he sets his novel. And he must also, by using known
information, come up with some kind of moral verdict towards his protagonists. The novelist
has the right to bring in imaginary episodes. But the made-up action must be compatible with
the traits of the character which are established on the basis of known facts.
"I try to be absolutely true to known facts. When writers consciously introduce
impossibilities into historical fiction for their own convenience, it drives me crazy.
(E.g., all the inaccuracies Thornton Wilder concedes in his introductory note to
The Ides of March, such as using people in his story who would actually have been
long dead
...). This is not to say that many events do not lend themselves to interpretation
& revisionism -- like events in our own lifetime....But I do make a great effort to be
accurate about dates, sequence of events, where characters actually were at a given time
etc. ... I love finding little details about an obscure person or place and realizing
I can work them into my story.” (Steven Saylor, in a letter to me)
Joan O'Hagan, author of A Roman Death (Doubleday, 1989) says (letter to me),
"I think that to catch the spirit of the times is the important thing,
even at the sacrifice of strict historical fidelity. On the highest level I
suppose a writer could produce historical nonsense that is at the same time
a work of art. Or he can (as Evelyn Waugh did in 'Helena') write a book that is
soundly based in what actually happened on the broad historical plane &
create in Constantine's mother Helena a character who brings tears of joy
to your eyes. And behind his satire, Waugh seemed really to get into the minds
of Constantine & the others. You felt they might very well have thought just
like that."
"I try to be accurate, as far as I can. I would
rather face the challenge of using events/
information I believe to be true, than bend
them to assist the narrative. 'Artistic license'
is too often an excuse for laziness.”
(Lindsey Davis, in a letter to me.)
"In all of history, the society that most resembles ours is Rome
in the late Republic. To me, it is the modern world reflected
in a fun house mirror. Some things are so familiar to us that
the Romans seem like ourselves. Then they do something might
well be done by Martians. The October Horse festival for one thing
[which figures into his 2nd novel, SPQR II]”
(John Maddox Roberts, in a letter explaining why he chose a Roman
setting for his series of novels about Decius)
John Hersey - letter of 11 Oct 1992:
on fidelity/creativity: "I suppose a writer of fiction is more interested
in trying to arrive at 'truths' about human nature than in trying to convey
historical 'truths' (whatever they may be, as you suggest). But I am guided
by an observation of Garcia Marquez to the effect that if a novelist gets
a widely accepted 'fact' wrong, he risks losing the reader's faith in the work
as a whole, while by including some things that are historically 'true',
he reinforces that faith...I come down frankly on the side of invention
in a work of fiction, a requirement, indeed, that the novelist move freely
toward the goal of human 'truth' he wants to reach, using historical details
to support that motion but not representing what he writes as 'the way things
really were.'
on the particular format of The Conspiracy [Nero & his secret police, presided
over by Tigellinus]: "I chose the form because I wanted to satirize the
’imperial Presidency' of Richard Nixon, with its 'enemies list,' mostly of writers,
& its paranoia, its constant suspicion of conspiracy, which caused the
Watergate break-in (after I wrote the book)."
Robert Graves, Author's Note to Claudius the God, 1935:
"Some reviewers of I, Claudius...suggested that in writing it
I had merely consulted Tacitus' Annals & Suetonius' Twelve Caesars,
run them together, & expanded the result with my own 'vigorous
fancy.' This was not so; nor is it the case here. Among the Classical
writers who have been borrowed from in the composition of
Claudius the God are Tacitus, Dio Cassius, Suetonius, Pliny, Varro,
Valerius Maximus, Orosius, Frontinus, Strabo, Caesar, Columella,
Plutarch, Josephus, Diodorus Siculus, Photius, Xiphilinus, Zonaras,
Seneca, Petronius, Juvenal, Philo, Celsus, the authors of the
Acts of the Apostles & the pseudo-gospels of Nicodemus & St. James,
& Claudius himself in his surviving letters & speeches.
Few incidents here given are wholly unsupported by historical authority
of some sort or other & I hope none are historically incredible.
No character is invented."
Thornton Wilder: Ides of March (preface)
Historical reconstruction is not among the primary aims of
this work. It may be called a fantasia on certain events and
persons of the last days of the Roman republic.
The principal liberty taken is that of transferring an event which took place
in 62 B.C. – the profanation of the Mysteries of the Bona Dea by Clodia Pulcher
and her brother – to the celebration of the same rites seventeen years later on
December 11, 1945.
By 45 many of my characters would have long been dead: Clodius, murdered
by bullies on a country road; Catullus, though we have only St. Jerome’s word
for it that he died at the age of thirty; the younger Cato, a few months earlier in this
very year, in Africa, resisting Caesar’s absolute power; Caesar’s aunt, widow of the
great Marius, had died even before 62. Moreover by 45, Caesar’s second wife
Pompeia had long been replaced by his third wife Calpurnia.
A number of the elements in this work which may most seem to have been of
my contriving are in deed historical: Cleopatra arrived in Rome in 46, was installed
by Caesar in his villa across the river; she remained there until his assassination
when she fled back to her own country. The possibility that Junius Marcus Brutus
was Caesar’s son is weighed and generally rejected by almost every historian who
has given extended consideration to Caesar’s private life.
Caesar’s gift to Servilia of a pearl of unprecedented value is historical. The conspiratorial
chain-letters directed against Caesar were suggested by the events of our own times. They
were circulated in Italy against the Fascist regime by Lauro de Bosis, reportedly on the advice
of Bernard Shaw.
The attention of the reader is called to the form in which the material is presented:
Within each of the four books the documents are given in approximately chronological order.
Those in Book One cover September and October. Book three, mainly occupied with religion
begins earlier still and runs through the autumn, concluding with the ceremonies of
the good Goddess in December. Book Four, resuming all the aspect of Caesar’s inquiry,
particularly those dealing with himself as possibly filling a role as an instrument
of “destiny,” begins with the earliest document in the volume and concludes with
his assassination.
All the documents in this work are from the author’s imagination with the exception
of the poems of Catullus and the closing entry which is from Suetonius’s Lives of the Caesars
Source material dealing with Cicero is copious; with Cleopatra, meager;
with Caesar, rich but often enigmatic and distorted by political bias.
This is a suppositional reconstruction provoked by the inequalities in those records.
Now lets try to go online and look at the website
Sample Data Obtainable -
# mystery = 121
# Pagan = 667
# Julius Caesar =
46? (S Julius Caesar) =90? (S Caesar & p)
# Jesus = 263?
Caesar & Jesus depend on how Subject field is worded
#Britain = 237
# published 1940-1969 = 537
# published since 1990 = 313
# published since 2000 = 127
Here are the 11 authors I will be talking about for the rest of
the time. All are currently writing (or have recently finished)
a Roman series, 7 of them a mystery series Rosemary Rowe
Colleen McCullough
Mary Reed & Eric Mayer
Steven Saylor
Lindsey Davis
Caroline Lawrence
John Maddox Roberts
Simon Scarrow
David Wishart
Conn Iggulden
Marilyn Todd
Series of novels spanning the life of Julius Caesar,
from his youth under his uncle Marius to his assassination
in 44 BC (third person narrator)
The First Man in Rome
The Grass Crown
Fortune’s Favorites
Caesar’s Women
Caesar: Let the Dice Fly
The October Horse
Marcus Didius Falco, private eye (the empire’s Philip Marlow
Silver Pigs
Shadows in Bronze
Venus in Copper
The Iron Hand of Mars
Poseidon’s Gold
Last Act in Palmyra
A Dying Light in Corduba
The Course of Honour
Three Hands in the Fountain
A Time to Depart
Two for the Lions
One Virgin Too Many
Ode to a Banker
The Jupiter Myth
A Body in the Bath House
The Accusers
Scandal Takes a Holiday
See Delphi and Die
Decius Caecilius Metellus - adventurous young senator, investigates
private and public crimes, mainly murder.(first person/mystery) t/o Caesar
SPQR I: The King’s Gambit
SPQR II: The Catiline Conspiracy
SPQR III: The Sacrilege
SPQR IV: The Temple of the Muses
SPQR V: Saturnalia
SPQR VI: Nobody Loves a Centurion
Hannibal’s Children
(alt hist)
SPQR VII: Tribune’s Curse
SPQR VIII: The River God’s Vengeance
SPQR IX: The Princess and the Pirates
The Seven Hills (alt hist)
SPQR X: A Point of Law
*non-series - Carthage won the war against Rome
2002 *
2005 *
Gordianus the Finder, not-young private eye, the Republic’s
Sam Spade, married to his ex-slave, Bethesda, aided or troubled
by his 2 sons and 1 daughter. (first person/mystery) t/o Caesar
Roman Blood
Arms of Nemesis
Catilina’s Riddle
The Venus Throw
A Murder on the Appian Way
House of the Vestals
Last Seen in Massilia
A Mist of Prophecies
The Judgment of Caesar
A Gladiator Only Dies Once
Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus- adventurous young senator.
Investigates murders, public, most affecting imperial security.
(first person/mystery) t/o Tiberius
I, Vergil
1995 *
The Lydian Baker
Horse Coin
Old Bones
Last Rites
White Murder
A Vote for Murder
Parthian Shot
Food for the Fishes
2000 (Brit) *
Claudia Seferis, a beautiful but fairly unscrupulous 24-year old
courtesan and an ambitious aristocrat, Marcus Cornelius Orbilio,
work with much interpersonal friction to investigate murders
(generally affecting Claudia, or her inherited wine business, personally)
In the Augustan Age, around 13 BC. (third person, mystery)
I, Claudia
Virgin Territory
Man Eater
Wolf Whistle
Jail Bait
Dream Boat
Black Salamander
Second Act
Widow’s Pique
Stone Cold
Sour Grapes
Scorpion Rising
Dark Horse
Libertus, amateur sleuth, Celt, mosaic-maker,
and former slave, in Britain around 186 AD
(first person/mystery)
Germanicus Mosaic
Pattern of Blood
Murder in the Forum
The Chariots of Calyx
The Legatus Mystery
The Ghosts of Glevum
Enemies of the Empire
A Roman Ransom
John the Eunuch, Lord Chamberlain to Justinian,
solves murders of political importance, while avoiding
the enmity of empress Theodora. (third person, mystery)
around 542 AD in Constantinople
One for Sorrow
Two for Joy
Three for a Letter
Four for a Boy
Five for Silver
Six for Gold
Seven for a Secret
in process
L Cornelius Macro, battle-scarred Centurion
in the Second Legion, teams with his new optio,
Q Licinius Cato, formerly an imperial slave,
in Britain, around 42 BC, to undertake delicate
missions against local tribes.
Under the Eagle
The Eagle’s Conquest
When the Eagle Hunts
The Eagle and the Wolves
The Eagle’s Prey
The Eagle’s Prophecy
The Eagle in the Sand
Flavia Gemina, daughter of a sea-captain, Nubia,
her former slave, Lupus, a rescued street urchin,
and neighbor Jonathan, a Jewish Christian, 3 young teens and a pre-teen - solve mysteries/riddles
(not murders, but often important) in various cities
and countries (third person, juvenile/young adult) 79-80 AD
The Thieves of Ostia
The Secrets of Vesuvius
The Pirates of Pompeii
The Assassins of Rome
The Dolphins of Laurentum
The Twelve Tasks of Flavia Gemina
The Enemies of Jupiter
The Gladiators from Capua
The Colossus of Rhodes
The Fugitive from Corinth
The Sirens of Surrentum
The Charioteer of Delphi
Series of novels spanning the life of Julius Caesar,
from his youth under his uncle Marius to his assassination
in 44 BC (third person narrator)
Emperor 1:
Emperor 2:
Emperor 3:
Emperor 4:
The Gates of Rome
The Death of Kings
The Field of Swords
The Gods of War
The Iggulden Emperor Series
All 4 books are well-written, vivid, clear, with interesting characters and hardly any
graphic sex, so they could be used in high schools without problem, I think. There are
many battle scenes, but most of them are not gory in detail, though lots of soldiers get killed.
The landscape is historical and many of the characters are historical, but many of them do
things in the books that they never did (or could do) in the historical account or real life
in Roman times.
Iggulden has substantial author’s notes at the end of each of the 4 volumes, in which
he corrects the historical record and, some of the time, explains why he has changed it.
Normally, it is to simplify a complex story line (such as the fighting between Marius and
Sulla); some of the time it is to allow him to bring out a character at a time of his own
choosing (Clodius, dead long before the Bona Dea episode, as Iggulden presents it) because
it develops his plot. Some of the time it is hard to understand why Iggulden has distorted
or misattributed events and characters from the historical record or the norms of Roman
practice, and the feeling one gets in many of those instances is that he simply didn’t know
any different - he was just mistaken.
The change that is most at the heart of the story as Iggulden tells it involves making Brutus
about 17 years older than he actually was (and about the same span for Octavian), allowing
them both to serve with him.
Emperor I: The Gates of Rome (2003)
Opens with 2 9-year-old boys, Marcus & Gaius (about the commonest Roman praenomina) in trouble.
x47 “patrician” seems to mean here “nobiles”
?50 A Roman named Enzo?
x70 “Roman law said a consul could only be elected once BY THE SENATE and must step down from that position.”
Wrong electorate. Should be Centurial Asssembly.
?74 28 legions in 90 BC? That is precisely the number under Augustus & should have been less in 90.
?133 A magistrate with a lictor could order death on the spot if someone’s horse bumped him in Rome?
x180 “The people elect the Senate to make & enforce the laws”. No one elects the senate.
x195 Sounds like Iggulden is saying the rostrum is on the senate house.
x197 Iggulden suggests that leading a legion against Mithridates was less desired by Sulla or Marius than staying in Rome.
Not when there was money to be made fighting Mithridates
x199 Pompey at 30 at time of Mithridatic war start? Sounds a bit old. Pompey was born 106. Start of Mithridatic war was 89.
246 Iggulden omits Sulla’s march on Rome before Mithridates (& Marius’ counter-blow) - perhaps to simplify,
perhaps to avoid the picture of Marius’ slaughtering fellow Romans.
x283 “Rome had never been attacked in her history.” Gauls sacked Rome in 390 BC
x290 Marius is ambushed on the walls of Rome by Sulla’s inside man while Sulla stands outside with his legions.
Not the way it happened.
354 You find out on the last page that Gaius ‘ young friend Marcus is Marcus Brutus. You might have guessed this earlier,
but it would have been problematic, since Brutus needs to be enough younger than Caesar for it to be believable that he could be
Caesar’s son by Servilia. This is the major switch Iggulden makes, and it gets him some plot twists & turns that he wants.
Emperor II: The Death of Kings (2004)
Opens with the taking of the fort at Mytilene (where Gaius earns the honor wreath/oak crown), and that’s an exciting
sequence of action.
x22 Cornelia’s father Cinna is still around, (He was actually killed in 84; Caesar is at Mytilene in 80, so Cinna should be 4
years dead by now.)
x25 The centurion burns the enemy dead but takes his own for burial at sea. Surely no Roman would pass up cremation
for his men.
x58 Caesar is captured by pirates, not on his way to study in Rhodes but in a sea battle while trying to clear the area
of pirate ships. (ca 80 rather than the historical 75).
x69 Tobruk poisons Sulla to keep him from Cornelia, but it’s too soon. Sulla should have retired from his dictatorship befo
his death -- & that by slow wasting away.
80 No suggestion in sources that Caesar was injured in being taken by pirates - & thus a different explanation of the
circumstances are set up & a different explanation for his fits (a blow to head)
x 162 Enter Atia & soon her 9-yr-old son “Thurinus” -- aka Octavian, though he should not be called that so early.
He should be Octavius until Caesar adopts him in his will. If Octavian is 9, the year should be 63 BC, much later than t
he time here (if this is 80) - but that allows Octavian to become a general under Caesar.
x 166 Cato “had been close to Sulla”. Historically no, but Iggulden’s Cato has little to do with any historical character at all.
x190 Struck what? A match? (old mistake)
?248 “Iron finger ring that marked a slave.” Didn’t senators wear iron rings. Why would slaves wear one?
270 Bibilus -- clearly = Bibulus (confirmed at p. 189 of vol III)
?269 What is this Master of Debate in the Senate? Princeps senatus? (see also p. 362)
x280 “I called her Julia after you”. But all daughters of the Julian clan would officially be named Julia.
?295 “a tribune (Caesar) could levy troops” Could tribuni militum levy on their own?
?333 Did one bow in prayer? Or lift one’s head?
361 Pompey was actually in Spain at the time of the Spartacus revolt, coming back only to mop up.
x372 She unbuttoned her stola to ease Brutus in. What kind of a garment is this supposed to be?
No buttons or button-holes in ancient Rome.
434 Iggulden’s notion of how the 10th legion came into being & got its name (from decimation) & closeness to Caesar.
Maybe not impossible, but highly unlikely. Still it makes a good story.
Emperor 3: Field of Swords
Four years after end of vol 2 - in Spain with Legio X
Historically this should be 69, Caesar is shown as quaestor in Spain, but he was there only 1 year (or less),
not 4-6 years as the novel has it. But that might not allow time for Servilia to come & open a brothel.
34-37 Interesting discussion of forging steel blades
x 38 Pompey & Crassus consuls. (Should be 70 BC) and Cornelia should have died later
?40 Crassus bets a measly 2 sesterces on a chariot race while Pompey bets “100 gold”?
47-48 The Alexander the Great episode handled differently here.
? 64 Cabera would be paid 12 HS/month to doctor at a brothel (on call). Doesn’t seem like much (about 3x daily wage
of a laborer at end of century, which would be 1 denarius =4 HS)
?65 Would Caesar have invited Servilia to a senior staff meeting?
94 Caesar as praetor. Didn’t happen until 62 (after Spain -61), so a big jump.
x95 tribunal immunity - Caesar couldn’t be a tribunus plebis, being a patrician
x97 Servilia wearing diamonds. They didn’t come in until 1st cent AD
x103 Crassus had appointed Caesar aedile? Not in his gift.
?129 Legio X is waiting, swords in hand -- & then throw spears? How can they do that? (Referring to different lines??)
x142 Executions would not have been public.
?158 Would there ever be a “torchlight session” for a sword tourney? How well would people see? The description
of the tourney itself is interesting & vivid, without being too gory.
x 220 M Antony was commander for 4 years of the legion in Gaul before Caesar came? No way.
?243 King of the Helvetii ? Caesar says in BG II.1 that when Orgetorix tried to make an arrangement whereby he would
become king, he was tried by a national court & escaped death by flight.
246 Idea to send Helvetii back home as buffer against Germans comes here from Antony, not Caesar
x 257 Would any Roman be surprised at watering wine at a meal?
? 267 Clodius & Milo as merchants who have become senators?
x 273 Caesar should have known what was going on back in Rome while he was away. Surely he had letter writers
sending him messages.
?282 “Clodius born in the gutters of the city” Unlikely. And does Iggulden consider there to have been only 2 tribuni plebis?
(rather than 10)
? 319 Any evidence that Caesar did invite settlers from Rome to Gaul with promise of free land?
?320 Pompey sponsors Clodius for chief magistrate & they had chosen candidates for consular elections?
What then is “chief magistrate”?
368 ff Iggulden gives a vivid view of lawlessness in Rome while Clodius & Milo are fighting it out & Pompey is powerless.
x 370 Milo’s men are responsible for the death of Clodius, but it’s in a melee in the forum, not on the Via Appia.
438 Iggulden describes in more detail than I have seen the use of horns for complicated battle signals. How correct?
Sources? Vegetius?
? 452 Senate had left Caesar the rank of tribune? (militum? certainly not plebis)
x 454 legionaries had recovered the bodies of Crassus & his son from Parthia? No. They would have had a hard time
finding the head of Crassus after it was used in a Parthian play.
466 “If I have changed history in the book, I hope it has been deliberate rather than simple error. I have certainly
tried to be as accurate as I could be.” Limited success, judged by historical, rather than literary, standards.
Overall--Well written, interesting, vivid novel -- not sure whether that’s a good or bad thing given the misinformation.
Emperor 4: The Gods of War
Octavian didn’t exactly take the name Gauis Julius Caesar to honor Caesar. He did what any adopted son did
(& he already was Gaius) -- and added his old nomen, Octavius, as a cognomen, Octavianus.
x Iggulden doesn’t give a date at the start of the novel, but the dust jacket says Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 53 BC
(it was 49)
23-24 Force of personality (& clever psychology) well portrayed when Caesar deals with Ahenobarbus & his troops
at Corfinium.
x 25 Pompey sails from Ostia (rather than Brundisium) p 95 Caesar also departs for Greece from Ostia.
? 96 a map as tall & wide as man hangs on the wall -- would be pretty narrow.
104 Iggulden moves Bona Dea affair to after Rubicon. Clodius has been killed in the novel earlier, so he names
the intruder Publius, echoing the real Publius Clodius Pulcher Not clear, in Iggulden’s account, how the intruder
was discovered at Bona Dea. Why would Pompeia raise the alarm?
126 Iggulden simplifies Caesar’s crossing to Greece, with all his troops going at once
? 134 Cicero says “my daughters”. Did he have more than the one Tullia?
x 258 Iggulden makes Cleopatra beautiful - good for the story, but not historical
x 353 Vercingetorix was executed, but not publicly
Iggulden gives very little time to Caesar after his return from Alexandria. Perhaps because this is the time Caesar
seems most arrogant? But even at p. 370 Caesar wants things better for the average Roman
Iggulden ends by saying he may need to write later a novel about the aftermath of Caesar’s death. Maybe a good idea,
maybe not, considering Mary Renault’s excellent Fire from Heaven with the less excellent sequel, Persian Boy, & then
the confused concluding Funeral Games.
Patricia Anne Hunter, in an email
"Emperor: The Gates of Rome", the first in a series about Caesar by Conn Iggulden.
Quite a good read if it were merely a novel about fictitious people, but I
soon realized that the author hadn't done much research. Firstly, he makes
a dominant and martially inclined Marcus Brutus the same age as Caesar they're seven when the story opens. Brutus, reputedly the son of a whore,
has been raised by Caesar's father on his country estate. Why we're not
told, but the two lads are inseparable companions until Brutus goes off to
join a legion. Then we learn that Marius was the brother of Caesar's Dad,
and his wife was called Metella. Not only that, Caesar is an only child and since his birth his mother has been half-mad and prone to frequent
epileptic fits, so she plays no part in raising him.
I think I've listed enough clangers to prove what an inaccurate book this is.
No picture for
Son of Fortune
My favorites - sort of in order
Thornton Wilder: Ides of March - just fun in every way & marvelously written
(despite his transforming of time). A must read.
Steven Saylor: Roman Blood - shows what you can do by reading a Ciceronian defense
speech the other way round. All of his novels are good, but the ones that use a murder
speech as the basis are best. Catilina’s Riddle is a bit weaker. Saylor’s novels are not
light fare, and rather darker than Davis’. Gordianus the Finder develops a lot over the
series, and does some things that you wouldn’t have predicted (or he) from the early
volumes -- but they all come naturally.
Lindsey Davis: Silver Pigs -(despite the gaffe that is central to it, the ink on the dress
around the wound above Helena’s sister’s heart. ) All of Davis’ novels are fun to read,
for the adventure, romance and wit. They are reasonably light fare, but quite accurate.
(Her second novel, Shadows in Bronze, is one of her weaker ones.) A large part of the
enjoyment is watching Falco get himself out of scrapes, many of which involve membe
his family. Lots of good daily life detail.
Robert Graves: I, Claudius & Claudius the God - because they are well-written,
eventful, and give the most stunning blackening of Livia’s character on record.
Heavy reading, with lots of sex and violence.
Mary Reed & Eric Mayer: The John the Eunuch novels (all with numbers
in the title) are excellent character studies of major & minor characters alike
and give an opening into a time and world (6th century Constantinople) not
as much written about as republican or early imperial Rome -- and no battles.
Caroline Lawrence: The Thieves of Ostia and all the subsequent volumes (and
the many yet to come). These are written for British middle-schoolers or younger- but there is no dumbing down of vocabulary or plot (the messages
may be just a little more clearly spelled out than in an adult book). The writing
is excellent and adults should enjoy the series as much as young children do -though high-schoolers would probably consider them beneath them (their loss).
Little to no sex, so that’s not a problem for younger readers. There is violence,
but not graphic. Her command of historical detail is good, and readers would
get a good sense of Roman small towns at the time of the Vesuvius eruption.
As the series progresses, stories get a bit darker (with some characters we like
dying off), but generally upbeat.
Colleen McCullough:Master of Rome series. Intricate plots, long, long books,
much detail, some find excessive, but corking good stories, well-told. Like
Dorothy Sayers before her (with Lord Peter Wimsey), McCullough has fallen in love
with her hero, and Caesar can do no wrong until the very end of her series. Not a
quick read or a light one, and some mistakes, despite her extensive author’s notes
and glossary in the back, but she does give a good sense of the social and political world
of the last half-century of the Roman republic.
Simon Scarrow: Under the Eagle (& the Eagle series). If you like lots of adventure,
pitched battles and ambushes and raids, this is your series. The 2 main characters,
the tough centurion and his very young, no-military-background second, show nice
(but predictable) development. A number of characters are deceitful and selfpromoting, but it’s pleasant to see the later emperor Vespasian when he is still a
fairly young man (under Claudius). Fast paced, quick reading.
I think that one of the commonest excesses of the more conscientious authors of historical
novel however is a tendency to pedantry. One is often tempted to suspect that these
writers are hypersensitive about not being professional historians and are
determined to convince us of their knowledge of their subject by bombarding
us with tedious information. An example of such an author is Colleen
McCullough, a prolific and successful writer of many kinds of novel, among
them the "Masters of Rome" series, which consists of First Man in Rome, Grass
Crown, Fortune's Favorites, Caesar's Women, and Caesar. These volumes
comprise a saga which opens in about 120 B.C. and ends with Caesar's second
expedition to Britain, his conquest of the Gauls, and the battle of Pharsalus
in 48 B.C. Perhaps many of you know her works and like them, as do many other
readers, who have made her novels international bestsellers. Colleen
McCullough, it must be conceded, has chosen the complicated world of Roman
politics and some effort might legitimately be expected on the mise-en-scene.
But I contend that a skillful author can accomplish this almost actively
within the text and in an oblique way. Details which cannot be integrated in
this manner are probably superfluous. As if the bombardment of data within
her novel The First Man in Rome is not sufficient however, Ms. McCullough
provides a 94-page glossary, a 15-page pronunciation guide to Roman masculine
names, an author's note, maps, portraits of Romans, and so forth. One gets
the impression that the author is setting out to create some kind of a
textbook for a class on Roman politics. Clearly for her the emphasis falls
not upon the word "novel" but the word "historical.”
Ippokratis Kantzios, in his talk HISTORICAL RESEARCH AND THE NOVEL:
John Maddox Roberts (in his SPQR series) and David Wishart (in his Corvinus series)
both have an engaging young senator who keeps winding up investigating murders
and government problems. These are fairly breezy but fun to read and pretty accurate,
Roberts for the time of Caesar and Wishart for a generation (or 2) later. Their sleuths
are not confined to Rome but wander fairly widely. Both authors write a number of
other novels, some Roman, others not. Roberts writes sci-fi and alternate history
(2 novels posit that Carthage won the war with Rome), and Wishart writes Roman novel
outside the time of Corvinus.
Marilyn Todd: If you like witty repartee and a sleuthess with attitude, meet Claudia
Seferis, who starts out as a courtesan, but becomes a different kind of business woman
when she inherits an winery, Her sometime love interest, sometime nemesis is an FBI
type who saves her from time to time and who looks at times as if he might arrest her
on behalf of Augustus. Her historical detail is good and the story lines are clear and
reasonably short.
Rosemary Rowe is the author I know least well, but her command of detail is excellent,
she plots a good story with many twists and occasional ironic touches, and her setting,
Britain at the end of the 2nd century AD, opens new vistas for the genre (2 other
examples in the DB aside from her own). Murder in the Forum well rewards your reading,
not too heavy but not light and airy either. You will know from the first page who deserves
to be murdered - and be glad when it happens, though it starts up all kinds of problems
for Libertus and his patron.
Conn Iggulden: All of his emperor series are well-written, well-plotted, and peopled
with interesting characters. He, like McCullough, seems to have fallen a bit in love with
Caesar (as do most authors who have him as a central, as opposed to peripheral,
character), but he has so many intentional distortions of historical fact and time and
so many questionable or outright wrong errors in detail, that I have mixed emotions
about him. If he were a less good writer, he would be less read & remembered, but I fear
many of his readers will be unable to sort out the right from the wrong in his stories and
that they will come away with reams of misinformation and misperceptions. It’s very
good reading, but very poor Roman history. I accepted that in Thornton Wilder’s
Ides of March. I’m less willing to accept it in Iggulden’s 4 books.
Valete, omnes.
Audivistis bene
gratias vobis do.
Cavete foras;
viae sunt plenae
And, as a footnote, if you’d like to read a stirring book about Caesar
in Gaul, with lots of incident and a touch of magic, try Morgan
Llywellen’s novel, Druids. The difference is that you see Caesar & the
Romans from the standpoint of the Gauls, especially Vercingetorix and
the narrator, Ainvar, who becomes chief druid. Do not confuse this
with the movie of the same name that has the same setting and some
of the same characters, but it has noting to do with the book and is only
so-so as a movie.
Further footnote: They are not novels, but anyone interested
in Julius Caesar has to read 2 plays, Shakespeare’s
Julius Caesar and George Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and
Cleopatra. Both excellent, with contradictory views of Caesar,
and Shaw’s wonderfully Irish view of Britons.
And That’s Really All, Folks