JULIA PRIMA – Two excerpts

From the Prologue  – Siro, a tribesman from across the Danube border speaks…

Crossing the river at night Credit: Photosampler

The tips of the oars paddle the water softly at each stroke. Rain obscures our passage as we cross the fast-flowing river. In the dark night, the only things I see are the steersman’s eyes in his blurred face. He’s swinging his head round, wary for any shouts of discovery. The two rowers hunch against the rain. But it’s often like this whenever I take trade goods across. Anything to avoid paying taxes to those Roman bastards.

At last, a light shows on the far bank and our small boat struggles against the current to head for it. On the narrow stony shore, I hoist my pack onto my shoulder and jump out, then hand over a leather purse with the balance of the passage money. The steersman nods, then grunts and slips the purse into his belt pouch. He’ll discover it’s copper, not the silver I promised. But I’ll be gone by then, never to return. He turns and heads back to the water. I scramble up the bank through trees so similar to those surrounding my old village. And the rain falls as heavy as it did that night when the Romans came.

I won’t ever forget it. I was twelve. A warm day fading into evening, the smell of blood and already decaying horseflesh, cries of wounded and dying warriors, carrion crows circling in the dark clouds above the battlefield. Above all, the implacable faces of those Roman bastards – metal creatures who stood unmoving in straight lines waiting for their commander.

My grandfather stood, his feet in mud, his shoulders drooping. His son, my uncle Ittu, twenty-one summers and the only one of his male children left alive, his eyes gleaming dark, wrapped his arm round his father’s shoulders. My mother, my grandfather’s eldest child, grasped her father’s hand, and stared down the line of Romans as their commander approached, not in fear but in defiance. Her shoulders were rigid. The breeze caught her hair, shades of burnt brown. She ignored me then as she always had for the whole of my twelve-year boyhood.

Two hands came to rest on my shoulders, old hands, wrinkled. I smelt her before she whispered, ‘Not a word, Siro. Whatever happens. Just know you will always be in my heart.’

I shrugged off her hands.

‘As you say, Great-Aunt.’

She always believed in me – too gullible for her own good. Even when I’d strangled her best-laying hens just for the fun of hearing them croak as they died. I’d sworn all innocent-faced that another boy had done it. He’d got a right good beating. I’d hidden behind his house and laughed until I was nearly sick.

The Roman commander, a tall man with red hair tied back, had stridden up to my grandfather and demanded surrender. I didn’t know any Latin then, but it was obvious what he was saying. I shivered. Great-Aunt had told me they would take us all away to the slave market to be separated and sold. Men would do unspeakable things to us. She pressed a hand into my shoulder bone, but I wriggled out of her grip. I didn’t need her, the old fool.

 

From Chapter 1 – Julia is simply dressed for supervising the household making the inventory, and has hurried down to the town market. She sees a new arrival…

The new Roman officer. A tall man, he must have been several years older than me, possibly in his late twenties. His face tight with anger above his red neck scarf and scale armour shirt. His boots were dusty as were his breeches. He walked a little wide as if chafed from being on his horse all day. He stopped, set one hand on his belt, the other on the pommel of his short sword. He glanced at the Gaul, then turned his gaze on me. Brown eyes, reflecting the pale light. Something twisted inside me, immobilised my breath, then settled in my core. Perhaps a meeting of something familiar, a recognition. He didn’t move, just stared at me. I returned the stare. I couldn’t find a word to say. Heat crept up my neck and into my face. Venus Suleviae. He must have thought I was half-witted.

Eventually, he moved, pointing at the Gaul.

‘Is this man cheating you?’

‘What business is it of yours?’ It was out before I could think.

‘None,’ he said, frowning. He looked at me again, then turned away.

Oh, gods, I had behaved like a true barbarian and was ashamed. And he was walking away from me. I had to stop him.

‘Wait, Roman.’

He walked on, ignoring me.

Please, Great Mother, make him stop.

‘I said wait!’ I cried after him.

He walked on. I knew I’d been rude, but he could at least stop and let me apologise. He didn’t need to be so uncivil, even for a soldier. I hastened after him, determined to make him hear me. Nobody turns his back and walks away from me.

When I caught up with him, I seized his arm. He instantly grabbed his sword pommel. The gladius was halfway out of the scabbard by the time he saw it was me. He released it, then looked at my hand on his forearm as if it were a viper about to bite.

‘How dare you touch me!’ He looked at me as if I were the meanest drudge. ‘Remove your hand or I’ll have you whipped.’

‘You can’t,’ I retorted. ‘You have no right.’

‘We’ll see about that.’ He went to raise his hand – to summon some of his men, I supposed – then he let his hand drop. His eyes gleamed and he looked down his Roman nose. I caught my breath and tipped my chin up at him. I knew my face was flushed – I could feel the heat – but I was going to teach him a lesson. When he found out who he’d insulted he’d be broken and sent back to Rome in disgrace. I opened my mouth to tell him exactly what his fate was going to be, but as he prised my fingers off his arm they tingled. The rough skin on his hand chafed my softer one. My fingers were jammed together but I hardly noticed. Before I could protest, he grabbed my wrist and pulled me to him. Gods, he was strong. His arm slid round the back of my waist, and he crushed me against his body. Solid, unyielding. He smelt of horse, a day’s sweat and pine resin. His eyes narrowed then gleamed again. His breath shortened.

I should have struggled, but I didn’t want to. His other hand gripped my buttock. I stared into his eyes. I was lost.

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Discover more about JULIA PRIMA and where to buy the book…

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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, a new Roma Nova story set in the late 4th century, will be out on 23 August.

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.

Virunum – Julia's home town

Julia Bacausa’s home city of Virunum, or more formally, Municipium Claudium Virunum, was founded under Emperor Claudius (AD 41–54) as the capital of the province of Noricum which covered more or less today’s Austria and northern Slovenia. It’s gone, but there are some fascinating ruins you can visit today.
(I almost did, but Covid-19 hit 🙁 )

Virunum lay in the valley below the Magdalensberg, widely believed to have been the earlier royal capital city of the pre-Roman Celtic kingdom of Noricum. The Roman new town was built on the main route from the Adriatic to the Danube, with a branch of that route running through south-eastern Carinthia connecting Virunum with the Amber Road (hence the amber traders in Chapter 1 of JULIA PRIMA).

Aerial view of the Magdalensberg from the southwest, with a laser scan marked with early buildings (1. summit fortification 2. main wall 3.curtain wall 4. early Roman town) and street map*

The city enjoyed Latin Rights, a series of privileges roughly equivalent to those of the citizens of Rome itself, and was the seat of the provincial governor (procurator Augusti provinciae Norici) until the middle of the second century. After the Marcomannic Wars (AD 166 until 180), the centre of civil government for Noricum moved north to Ovilava, but the administration of the province’s finances remained in Virunum. When Emperor Diocletian later split Noricum in two, Virunum became the capital of the southern province of Noricum Mediterraneum.

A note about a legendary capital

The kingdom of Noricum was formed, albeit it loosely with many sub-chiefs, hundreds of years before, around 400 BC, complete with royal residence in a city called Noreia which, unfortunately, nobody has been able to locate conclusively.

Many (rather romantic) theories float about even today concerning its location. As a result of excavations in the 1920s at Sankt-Margarethen am (or bei) Silberberg (west of Graz in Austria), much excitement and campaigning led to the village’s name being changed to Noreia. After further examination, the ruins and finds proved to be those of a medieval settlement. But the name of Noreia stuck. You can even find it today on online digital maps.

According to Julius Caesar, Noreia was known to have been the capital of the Celtic kingdom of Noricum, but it was already referred to as a lost city by Pliny the Elder (AD 23–79). We’ll leave it in the romantic legend category for now…

 

Street map of Virunum

Later Virunum

From AD 343 at least, the city is known to have been a bishop’s see (hence the character of Bishop Eligius). Virunum (Virunensis) is still a titular see of the Roman Catholic Church today. Little is known about the decline of the city. However, being unfortified and lying in an open, flat valley and unable to be defended, Virunum was probably partially or probably completely evacuated by its inhabitants during the Migration Period of the fifth to seventh centuries. They would have left for more secure walled settlements on the surrounding hills such as Ulrichsberg or Grazerkogel. Perhaps some might even have gone back up to the safety of their ancestors’ Magdalensberg.

A rather lovely travel video of the Magdalensberg and Virunum today… https://youtu.be/si8mxRq9GkM from myvideomedia.de

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References:
Wirtschaftsbauten in der antiken Stadt, Ulrich Fellmeth, Jürgen Krüger, Karlfriedrich Ohr, Jürgen J. Rasch, Karlsruhe, 2012
Town plan of Virunum: https://alchetron.com/Virunum
Noricum, Géza Alfödy, 1974, (Routledge, 2014)

 

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, a new Roma Nova story set in the late 4th century, will be out on 23 August.

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.

Colchester Roman Festival 2022 - The first one ever!

Yes, it was Roman festival time again, this time Colchester, or Camulodonum on 30 and 31 July, organised by Food and Drink Festivals UK.

Authors Simon Turney (S J A Turney), Ruth Downie, Alex Gough, Harry Sidebottom, L J Trafford, Mary Jarratt, Robin Price and I met some wonderful readers, talked Romans and signed books. And much banter and news was exchanged…

We also ran a prize draw for visitors to the author tent and the winner scooped one of each of our books!

What was there? Re-enactors, archaeological trust staff and volunteers running mosaic and amulet making and tables of Roman games, stalls with ceramics, furs, swords, oysters plus fabulous displays of gladiatorial skills.

I was delighted to participate in author panels.  One compared the Roman Army then with the British Army now, with the Garrison Sergeant Major from Colchester, Ruth, Alex, Simon and Harry. I was a sort of bridge: my own six years in the the British forces was some time ago in the 1980s and of course, I was wearing the indoor uniform of the Praetorian Guard Special Forces of Roma Nova…

My second panel was discussing when Roman fact became Roman fiction, with L J, Harry and Alex. We rocketed through dilemma about sources, historical accuracy vs. and c.f. authenticity, characters, plausibility and (of course) how to approach alternative versions  of history. 😉

I managed to grab a few moments to eat oysters(!), chat to various Romans and visit the ceramics stall featured in the above photo and bought this delightful replica of a Roman face pot. Face pots, while never common, were widely used in Roman Britain and are among the most attractive and least documented products of the Romano-British pottery industries.

With their crude, comic-looking features stuck incongruously on a well-made Roman jar, they are quite unlike any other type of Roman pottery, where free-hand figurative decoration is practically unknown. So weird, but infinitely attractive!

Looking forward to returning there next year (if invited!)

About Roman Colchester

Camulodunum was an important city in Roman Britain, and the first capital of the province. It became known/was marketed in the 1960s as the ‘oldest recorded town in Britain’. (I wonder if they have competition for that title now.) Originally the site of the Brythonic-Celtic oppidum of Camulodunon (meaning ‘stronghold of Camulos’), capital of the Trinovantes and later the Catuvellauni tribes, it was first mentioned by name on coinage minted by the chieftain Tasciovanus some time between 20 and 10 BC.

Following Claudius’s invasion of the enigmatic, foggy and slightly strange northern island in AD43, a Roman legionary base was built in the AD 40s on the site of the Brythonic-Celtic fortress. A Roman legionary castrum (fortress) established in the confines of Camulodunon became the first permanent one in Britain and home to the Twentieth Legion. The legion withdrew around AD 49, the legionary defences were dismantled and the fortress converted into a town, with many of the barrack blocks converted into housing. A large number of Roman army veterans settled there with land grants and an unspoken mission to show the native population the advantage of the Roman way. Hm…

The town was not only the the capital of the Roman province of Britannia, but also its temple (the only classical-style temple in Britain) was the centre of the Imperial cult in the province and initially home to the provincial procurator of Britannia. It also had few soldiers (around 200-strong procurator’s guard) and no walls, so was a juicy target for Boudicca when she raised the tribes to revolt in AD60/61 and burned the whole place down, along with Londinium and Verulamium, and slaughtered every living soul.

But the Romans were a persistent lot and rebuilt the town, although the capital of Britannia moved to Londonium. Unsurprisingly, new walls and a large defensive ditch were built around the rebuilt colonia – the first town walls in Britain, predating other such walls in the province by at least 150 years.

Balkerne Gate, 2nd century AD. Largest surviving gateway in Roman Britain

Camulodunum (official name Colonia Claudia Victricensis) reached its zenith in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD and was home to a large classical temple, two theatres (including Britain’s largest), several Romano-British temples, Britain’s only known chariot circus, Britain’s first town walls, several large cemeteries and may have reached a population of 30,000 at its height.

The colonia became a large industrial centre, including brick making and was the largest, and for a short time the only, place in the province of Britannia where samian ware was produced, along with glasswork and metalwork and a coin mint. Apparently they also grew grapes and made wine in the area!  Dozens of mosaics and tessellated pavements have been found, along with hypocausts, sophisticated waterpipes and drains which would indicate townhouses belonging to prosperous owners.

But as with many Roman cities in Late Antiquity, the town diminished with the lessening of trade, literacy and skills in the late fourth century and the formal collapse of Roman administration in 409/411 AD, although much everyday life probably continued much the same for most people. Enter the Saxons and other eastern tribes when the area was subject to invasion, then settlement of new populations. Colchester first re-enters the written historical record again in the AngloSaxon Chronicle for 917, the year it was retaken from the Danes by a Saxon army led by Kindg Edward the Elder, who ‘restored’ the borough to English rule.The Temple of Claudius was a standing ruin until the Normans cleared the superstructure to incorporate the podium into Colchester Castle in the 11th Century.

I visited the castle museum and was lucky enough to join a tour of the Roman foundations of the Temple of Claudius where there was enough Roman concrete to satisfy the most avid fan!

Oyster shell embedded in Roman foundation arch, Colchester Castle

Roman foundations Colchester Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, a new Roma Nova story set in the late 4th century, will be out on 23 August.

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.