Exile stories bag a great review from the HNS!


Our group of authors contributing to Historical Stories of Exile was delighted to receive this warm review from the Historical Novel Society.

I have to admit that I was particularly chuffed to see a special mention for my story ‘My Sister’ which features Marcellus Virus and his nightmare of a sister, Flavola, two characters who appear in my new book EXSILIUM out later this month.

“My Sister” by Alison Morton is a vivacious tale of sisterly troublemaking and high-stakes politics in ancient Rome. The Roman details and long-suffering narrator make this tale thoroughly enjoyable.”

Ooo!

Here’s an excerpt from My Sister

Rome AD 395.  Marcellus Varus (narrating) is attending a dinner party with his  sister, Flavola. He’s chatting with friends Lucius Apulius and Gaius Mitelus before eating.

‘How’s your sister taking it?’ Gaius asked me, nodding to the group of women where Flavola stood with a sullen expression.

‘Ah. Well, I…’

‘What?’

‘I haven’t exactly told her yet.’

Lucius looked at me in disbelief. Gaius collapsed laughing. The group of women turned and stared at the outburst of noise. Even the dozen or so other men at the back of the atrium sent puzzled looks at us. After a heartbeat, they returned to their talking. Maelia looked across the room and frowned at us. Lucius took my arm and hustled me into a side room. Gaius followed, still chuckling.

Lucius pushed me down onto a stool.

‘Are you seriously saying that you haven’t told Flavola you’re uprooting her from Rome, from all she knows, and going into voluntary exile?’

‘Look,’ I said, ‘it was hard enough to get her here tonight. She doesn’t get on with Maelia.’

‘You’re wrong, Marcellus,’ Gaius said. ‘She doesn’t get on with anybody.’

‘Don’t poke at my sister, Gaius. You’re not the easiest piece in the pack.’

So that’s all going to go well…

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The full list of contributing authors: : Annie Whitehead, J.G. Harlond, Helen Hollick, Anna Belfrage, Elizabeth Chadwick, Loretta Livingstone, Elizabeth St.John, Charlene Newcomb, Marian L Thorpe, Amy Maroney, Cathie Dunn and Cryssa Bazos. Deborah Swift gave us a brilliant introduction.

You can buy Historical Stories of Exile here: https://mybook.to/StoriesOfExile

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My novel about the Romans and what drove them to their exile, EXSILIUM, is out on 27 February, but you can pre-order the ebook now:
Amazon: https://mybook.to/EXSILIUM
Other retailers: https://books2read.com/EXSILIUM

Exile – Living death to a Roman

AD 395. In a Christian Roman Empire, the penalty for holding true to the traditional gods is execution.

Maelia Mitela, her dead husband condemned as a pagan traitor, leaving her on the brink of ruin, grieves for her son lost to the Christians and is fearful of committing to another man.

Lucius Apulius, ex-military tribune, faithful to the old gods and fixed on his memories of his wife Julia’s homeland of Noricum, will risk everything to protect his children’s future.

Galla Apulia, loyal to her father and only too aware of not being the desired son, is desperate to escape Rome after the humiliation of betrayal by her feckless husband

For all of them, the only way to survive is exile.

EXSILIUM is the sequel to JULIA PRIMA and the two books make up the Foundation strand in the Roma Nova series.

Happy reading!

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, will be out on 27 February 2024.

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.

Crossing cultures and 12 things to make it easier

Photo courtesy of Jessica Bell (http://www.jessicabellauthor.com)

Disruptive didn’t begin to describe it. I would have a family there, I’d be comfortable materially, and I would be able to keep my father’s legacy. But every tiny thing would be different.

I’d been forced, sobbing, from my East Coast home after Dad died, and dumped in the Midwest when I was twelve and survived. I’d escaped that bleakness and settled in New York, and adapted. Hell, given the choice between twenty years shut up in a miserable penitentiary and another move, I knew which I needed to pick. I could do this.

Thus Karen/Carina  in INCEPTIO, faced with the prospect of having to make a rapid decision about fleeing to Roma Nova.

She’d been through abrupt life changes before; both parents dead, her place in the world uncertain, a contrast in the physical landscape, dutiful but loveless carers and the resulting mental and emotional upheaval. But even as she thinks about the seemingly outlandish option of moving to Roma Nova, she acknowledges her ability to survive and adapt.

Most of us don’t have to make such abrupt decisions, but what should we consider if our careers or life changes mean we leave the culture we know to live in another?

Karen instinctively uses coping techniques innate in human beings since they first lived in communities. We learn from very early childhood how to distinguish ourselves from others and how to interact with to different types of people, starting with our parents and first friends. At school, we learn, sometime brutally in the playground, how to maintain our own identity and fend off those who would exert power over us. Or we adapt and accept a subordinate place. It’s a jungle environment and lessons can be harsh. But school is also where we accumulate knowledge and possibly insight about the world outside our own bubble works. And where we learn how to learn.

So perhaps we are more equipped that we think we are, some people more than others.

Realising what you don’t know

In INCEPTIO, Karen, now reverting to her birth name of Carina,  stays in the Roma Nova legation at first and realises what she doesn’t know – she unconsciously triggers her ‘survive and adapt’ strategy by identifying her needs:

I figured out Plica, Editio, Promere for File, Edit, View and Mittere for Send, but had to give up after that. I jabbed at the screen to log out. It was ridiculous; I couldn’t do the simplest thing without the language.

She starts language lessons:

“At the end of the third hour, I had mastered the declensions and simple verbs. I was relieved that I remembered some of it from Latin class as a kid.”

Importantly, she bolsters her confidence by recognising she already has some knowledge to fit her to her new environment.

Building upon the basics

Later in the legation after a few weeks…

I was getting there with my new culture – I guessed it was being surrounded by it all day, every day. […]When Conrad was on duty, and I didn’t have a class, I often retreated to the mess bar and talked to Dexia or some of the others. They were tough-talking but natural. When I tried out my Latin on them, they laughed sometimes, but weren’t too rude about my mistakes. But I couldn’t always follow the flow of the conversation, the inferences or the profanities. I needed to get beyond Grattius’s formal teaching.

So she finds that invaluable resource, a teenager:

‘Very well, Aelia, I’m trying to learn Latin – I was born here in America. I need a friend who’ll teach me everyday Latin words, normal life words. If you want, I can talk to you about America, teach you some English.’
At first, she hesitated. Maybe she thought I was joking, or mocking her. She had to know exactly who I was. 
‘Of course, you have to teach me the b ad words as well.’
She grinned. ‘Oh, I know a lot of those.’

Why is social integration important?

You simply can’t live in another country and not be social. You are the outsider, you need to fit in, not only to make practical life easier, but for your own mental and emotional well-being. Studying and working provide valuable opportunities for integration; often the most important lessons learned are outside the formal framework, for instance, from the opportunities for socializing. Ditto if you have an interest or hobby that crosses frontiers.

‘Marrying into’ the new culture means you have to deal with everyday matters, the nitty-gritty of life like running a house, dealing with the local council, the neighbours, the school if you have children, doctors’ surgery, registering a new car or a small business, banking, food shopping, holidays, etc. etc.

Sometimes, even after years, something reminds you of being an outsider. When Karen now Carina, the successful career woman and imperial councillor, flounders about a formal process in SUCCESSIO, her daughter Allegra knows the routine better than her mother does – she’s a born and bred Roma Novan, unlike Carina.

Language and culture are two main factors. In a country where you speak a different language, integration can be hard without at least some basics. Where values are dissimilar, it can take an enormous effort over years to fully understand the psyche of a new country, society and culture.

So how to succeed in settling into a new culture?

Initial stage

  • Learn the language – do this before you move and make it a priority when you arrive.
  • Eat locally – much better to learn how eat local food in a restaurant than in more personal surroundings when invited for dinner at somebody’s home.
  • Become involved in the community – join a history, computer, sport, gardening or book club; if religious, a congregation
  • Show interest in other people’s lives, work and hobbies at every opportunitiy
  • Offer to help with things you know
  • Ask for help for yourself – people are usually generous if you are genuinely struggling

Middle stage

  • Accept that the new life is going to be different in both big and small ways.
  • Understand that shifting your norms of behaviour, of instinct, takes time and practice.
  • Observe closely subtle understandings and interactions learnt from childhood between native-born people.
  • Accept you are going to feel awkward, possibly uncomfortable and make mistakes. Make sure you forgive yourself when this happens – it’s perfectly normal.
  • Finding a ‘cultural mentor’ who knows both your and the new culture’s ways will ease the way considerably.
    In INCEPTIO, Aurelia, being a clever woman, has worked this out and assigns a younger member of the Mitela clan, Helena, to take Carina under her wing. Not that Helena is very happy about this, but she does her duty…
  • Talk to somebody about the disparity and how uncomfortable you feel about certain aspects of your cultural crossing. If you are staying, as Carina is, you have to accept you will have to break out of your comfort zone to some degree.
  • But, make sure you still retain who you are, your inner core, your personal values.

Final stage

One day you wake up and find you are actually more at ease in your adopted country that you were in your original one. You made it!

Troops marching hard – column of Marcus Aurelius (Creative Commons licence)

The ultimate secret to success?

The key is making an effort.

Show others you’re enthusiastic about learning their cultural rules, even though you might not have mastered them, and that you care about and respect their traditions. Yes, it is hard work at first, but if you persist you will build cultural capital that will make your life richer and more comfortable, and, if you move again, capital you can cash in in any foreign setting.

 

Updated February 2024: 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, will be out on 27 February 2024.

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.

Exile - what does it actually mean?

I expect we can all name a number of famous exiles without too much bother – Napoleon Bonaparte, Leon Trotsky, Benazir Bhutto, Roman poet Ovid, Marlene Dietrich, Aristotle, the von Trapp family, Albert Einstein, to name but a few.

Exile is essentially a separation from your homeland and can be temporary or permanent. Sometimes it can be enforced such as by deportation, or voluntary, when you become fed up with that homeland or you see the writing on the wall and leave before you are prosecuted, persecuted or worse. Sometimes, a country is relieved when a tyrant is deposed and sent into permanent exile, or saddened when it’s invaded by the bad guys and they must ensure said bad guys do not capture symbolic people such as the Norwegian and Dutch monarchs in the Second World War.

‘Diaspora’ describes group exile, both voluntary and forced. ‘Government in exile’ signifies a government of a country that has relocated to a safer one and argues its legitimacy from outside that country.

Romans and exile – a complicated business

Ancient Roman law actually adopted the penalty of exile in an effort to avoid excessive capital punishment. (Interesting, in light of the studied brutality of the many games in the amphitheatre…) In addition, while the death penalty offered no flexbility, the idea of different degrees of exile allowed the state, or ruler, to impose a punishment that matched the severity of a particular crime.

Polybius, the Roman historian, says, “Men who are on trial for their lives at Rome, while sentence is in process of being voted – if even only one of the tribes whose votes are needed to ratify the sentence has not voted – have the privilege at Rome of openly departing and condemning themselves to a voluntary exile. Such men are safe at Naples or Praeneste or at Tibur, and at other towns with which this arrangement has been duly ratified on oath.” (Histories 6.14)

According to Cicero, exsilium was a voluntary act through which a citizen could avoid legal penalty by leaving the community, i.e. choosing to avoid imprisonment, death, or dishonour. In essence, that citizen could take refuge in exile and still retain their legal citizenship. (Cicero, In Defence of Caecina)

But it’s not that straightforward

We often use banishment and exile interchangeably, but the two words do have distinctive meanings, the first is imposed, the second voluntary. Flight, or fuga, was considered the more voluntary option of exile, whatever the motivation, pressures or threats triggering it. In contrast, banishment is exile by forced removal.

Furthermore, banishment can be broken down into three levels of severity; relegatio,  aquae et ignis interdictio, and deportatio. The severity of the punishment is measured by the duration, location, and rights associated with each of the three tiers.

Relegatio

The mildest form of banishment is called the relegatio. The relegatio is removal of citizens or foreigners from Rome or a Roman province by magisterial decree for a specified amount of time or for life. A person subject to relegatio is ordered to leave Rome by a certain date; however they are not sent to a designated location or do not lose any of their civil rights.

Aquae et Ignis Interdictio 

Literally meaning ‘debarred from fire and water”, i.e. they are deprived of the chief necessaries of life. This was mainly used as a sanction during the Republican period. This second tier was similar to the first in the sense that the exiled person had no permanent place of residency. However, aquae et ignis interdictio differed in terms of duration and rights. The victim lost the civil rights that came with Roman citizenship and their property was confiscated. Aquae et ignis interdictio was occasionally was applied to unique cases of voluntary exile, or self-banishment. Despite voluntary departure, the person was still stripped of rights and property.

Deportatio

Deportatio was the hardest level of banishment. It required forcible removal to a fixed place, most commonly an island in the Mediterranean, usually until death, whether that came sooner or later.  Many deportees were dumped on an island with few resources of food and water and so starved to death. The English word ‘deportation’ means to expel a foreigner from a country, typically on the grounds of illegal status or for having committed a crime.

Location, location, location

The place of exile was usually related to the prescribed duration, whether it was temporary or for life. If only banished for a fixed period of time, the extent of the exile’s desire to remain involved in political or social life became of great importance in relation to where he spent his time away from Rome. These factors contributed heavily to determining the destination for exile. It could be only as far as Naples. Sometimes, the exiled person could choose, as long as he or she remained a given number of miles away from Rome.

Ovid in Exile, Ion Theodorescu-Sion, 1915.

In AD 8, Ovid was banished to Tomis, on the Black Sea, by the exclusive intervention of the Emperor Augustus without any participation of the Senate or of any Roman judge. Ovid wrote that the reason for his exile was carmen et error – a poem and a mistake, claiming that his crime was worse than murder, more harmful than poetry. To this day, scholars and everybody interested in Roman history are dying to know exactly what Ovid had done!

Is exile all bad?

Separation from Rome, its politics, the family and above all the intrigue and gossip, could be a very harsh punishment, but there were some plus sides (not if you were starving on a rock in the middle of the sea, though). It was a kinder penalty than execution. It could offer hope of a return. And in some cases, it led to unexpected outcomes.

Rome itself is said to owe its rise to exiles. Aeneas, a major figure in the Roman foundation myth, was driven from his Trojan home and led his followers to Italy where his descendants would one day found Rome. Moreover, Romulus populated his newly established city with riff-raff of every kind – prisoners of war, slaves, criminals and exiles. And Ovid? Some of his greatest work including the Tristia and the Epistulae ex Ponto owe their creation to the poet’s banishment.

The characters in EXSILIUM are more Cicero’s type of voluntary exiles. The three desires of fleeing persecution, a wish to guarantee safety for their children and the freedom to practise their traditional religion were very strong motivations!

 

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, will be out on 27 February 2024.

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.