Who governs Roma Nova?

You may have gathered from the nine Roma Nova books that the small state has various bodies of government: head of state (imperatrix), upper house (senate), people’s assembly, local government (curia) offices, a legal system, a foreign ministry and other ministries, a strong diplomatic service, a central bank, army and police force (vigiles, later reformed as custodes).

Norman Davies in Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe reminds us that:

“…in order to survive, newborn states need to possess a set of viable internal organs, including a functioning executive, a defence force, a revenue system and a diplomatic force. If they possess none of these things, they lack the means to sustain an autonomous existence and they perish before they can breathe and flourish.” 

But Roma Nova has some unique bodies like the imperial council and the Twelve Families. How does it all fit together?

This won’t be a treatise on systems of government (Thank the gods, I hear you say!), but a run through of the basics. The Roma Nova stories are about people, their relationships and their challenges and adventures, both personal and professional, but they are the products of, and contributors to, their environment.  

This is an easy one! In Carina’s time, a constitutional monarch, a descendant of the original Apulius who lead the exodus from Rome in AD 395. Silvia Apulia is his sixty-fifth descendant. Her mother, Severina, was weak and let in the brutal Caius for a traumatic 18 months despite the best efforts of Aurelia Mitela and the Twelve Families (See INSURRECTIO). But her mother, Justina, was the standard tough Apulian and scared even the equally tough Aurelia in her younger days (AURELIA).

The imperatrix of earlier periods ruled more absolutely when strong personal leadership was the norm, but always supported by the Twelve Families.  

Twelve Families
Mitela, Livia, Vara, Sella, Tella, Volusenia, Cornelia, Quirinia, Aquilia, Branca, Calavia, Aemelia

These were the twelve families that accompanied Apulius on his original trek north. They formed a group of ‘comes’, ‘companions’ or close councillors to Apulius almost, but not quite, his equal.They were given specific responsibilities in the earliest days; some were functional, e.g. comes officiorum  who ran the imperial administration, others were military, responsible for defending a region. We see Galla Mitela in the eleventh century as Countess (comes, pronounced co-mays) of the South. (ROMA NOVA EXTRA). Gradually, as government evolved so did the title which came to signify the head of one of the Twelve Families.

Over time, this group of ‘amici princeps’ evolved formally into the Twelve Families and formed the self-governing patrician class. However, higher standards are expected of them and if they break the law, then they receive harsher punishment.

As the elder Calavia said to Imperatrix Severina in INSURRECTIO:
“You cannot rule without us and we must be ruled by you. This cuts both ways. You have a duty to respect the responsibilities that belong to the Families and to keep above the disputes and governance between them. Aurelia had no choice but to withdraw [support] when you interfered at Constantia’s funeral. Look at it from a practical point of view. Do you really want to become mixed up in hundreds of petty squabbles and grievances, the endless charity committees, children’s affairs, organising contracted marriages, negotiating financial settlements between them, the land swaps, and hours of policy committees? The reason the government burden is so light is because of the work the Twelve carry out.” 

CGI of the Curia Julia by Lasha Tskhondia

CGI of the Curia Julia by Lasha Tskhondia

Functions as an upper legislative house. In the early days, its structure was very similar to the Ancient Roman form, i.e. patricians  and those with a certain income. In the 21st century, it’s half elected and half appointed. Heads of the Twelve Families and (optionally) their immediate heirs over 25 are members. Those with income below a certain level are now paid by the state.

People’s Assembly
Initially, a discussion assembly, then sidelined until the reforms of the 1700s when it regained some of its power via tribunes of the people which it elected to represent them in the senate. Functions today (i.e. in the Carina novels) as a directly representative body, elected every five years on a geographical/population basis. 

Legislation can be initiated by them, the senate or the imperatrix, but all three must agree.

Imperial Council
An eighteenth century introduction to bring in wider representation and a forum for all ministers and interested parties including one or two from the Twelve Families to advise the imperatrix collectively – equivalent to a cabinet

Curia offices 
Local government offices, handling bins, elections, street lamps and potholes. Also point of contact for local population to access central government services, to provide administrative and social support and run schools.

Roma Nova law court

Roma Nova law court

Legal system 
Following ancient Roman practice, based on the Twelve Tablets of basic law (leges duodecim tabularum or duodecim tabulae), but developed over the centuries with codes and jurisprudence which all became known as the ‘histories”, a body of law containing rules and precedents. 

Fines and notices (plus costs) are awarded for small offences in small, summary courts run by a single junior magistrate.  For more serious crimes, accused persons are tried in a formal court with three justices. There is no jury system. Defendants may be detained for up to 28 days during investigation. Sentences may be appealed before another three judges. Any citizen may appeal to the imperatrix, although in practice, this is rare. 

Foreign ministry and other ministries 
Over the centuries, the imperial secretariat developed departments which by the end of the seventeenth century were  discrete ministries. Today, they are similar to standard European government ministries. The External Affairs Secretary (e.g. Tertullius Plico) directed intelligence operations in pre Great Rebellion times; now under a joint intelligence committee overseen by the senate.

Diplomatic service 
Representation abroad is key to Roma Nova’s influence in the world. Emissaries and envois were present early at European courts from the early medieval period onwards, including at he Eastern Roman (Byzantine) one. Permanent representatives. i.e. functioning as ambassadors (nuncia/nuncio) were posted from the fifteenth century onwards. Today, Roma Nova has legations in every continent although not every country. It belongs to the European Economic Area and the League of Nations.

Juno Moneta, guardian of funds. Denarius c. 46BC

Economic system/banking
Roma Novans are expected to contribute to their society through work, service or business. Training, upskilling and education are strongly promoted. Salaries and wages are high in comparison to the rest of the world as is productivity. Social and welfare departments are proactive to promote integration into society as well as provide care for the vulnerable, disabled and sick.

Business of all kinds is actively encouraged especially engineering, IT, and financial services.

Roma Nova has extracted, processed and exploited considerable silver deposits which has kept them economically afloat throughout their history, along with their hi tech and engineering expertise. Silver is controlled by the Trade Ministry and Argentaria Prima. The latter developed from the imperial treasury into a national central bank then became a private organisation but with certain responsibilities to the state as seen in AURELIA. Juno Moneta was the protectress of funds in Ancient Rome; money had been minted in her temple. Today in Roma Nova, she remains the patron of banks and banking. 

Uniformed services
Legions – Founded on Roman lines, but today resemble any standard Western army. Ranks of optio and centurion are retained for non-commissioned ranks with standard Western ranks for commissioned officers. The head of a legion is appointed as its legate as she or he holds their delegated authority (imperium) from the imperatrix, not the government.

Praetorians – The personal guard of the imperatrix, her palace and of the state. The Praetorian Guard Special Forces PGSF) existed from the 1950s as an elite military unit but developed as the Great Rebelllion was flaring up in the early 1980s to take on an intelligence, counter-intelligence and diplomatic protection remit.

Air Force – Small, mostly helicopters, training planes and jet fighters;, one base east of the city at Brancadorum.

Navy – Part of the legions with a small marine detachment. Responsible for patrolling the river to prevent smuggling and supervising observation of  traffic flow.

Custodes - present day Roma Novan police

Custodes – present day Roma Novan police

Vigiles/custodes – Developed from the Ancient Roman night-time firewatchers, the vigiles were the original law enforcers in Roma Nova along with the Urban Cohorts a more military unit.

However, they had a chequered history and were corrupted during the Great Rebellion after which they were disbanded. Today, the custodes (pronounced cust-oh-days) are a modern police force, better paid and trained; tough but trusted, as personified by Lurio, Carina’s friend, colleague, irritation and one-time lover (Oops! Slight spoiler).


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. JULIA PRIMA,  Roma Nova story set in the late 4th century, starts the Foundation stories. The sequel, EXSILIUM, is now out.

Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email update. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

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