The heroines we’ve met in the first three books, Carina and Aurelia Mitela, are ‘tough gals’; dedicated, strong-willed, physically and mentally resilient and tied into their sense of history and duty. Underlying all this, their driving force is their self-belief. Carina, despite her disrupted childhood and separation from Roma Nova until she was twenty-four, has embraced the Roma Nova values and system wholeheartedly, although, of course, there are gaps that trip her up. Aurelia is a ‘blood-and-bone’ Roma Novan, so completely immersed in the society from birth, but has her own weaknesses.
Neither of these women denies their femininity or personal and sexual needs; they are as emotionally wired as any other person. They fail, fear, experience inadequacy and guilt (and have tempers), but they don’t let any of this diminish them, their motivation or their innate sense of doing the right thing. Aurelia from the outset, and Carina as she becomes more immersed into Roma Nova, are not judged on their gender, nor do they allow themselves to even think that is a criterion for judgement. In Roma Nova, a society that has survived by vigilance and robust resistance to those who would destroy or absorb it, no quarter is given or allowance made for gender, only for behaving or performing as the person you are.
As Carina and Aurelia say, you’re only as good as your last job.
So, that brings us on to the Roma Novan men – Conrad, Apollodorus, Lurio, for instance. All different characters but tough and masculine. I’d like to see anybody talk to Lurio and call him a softie. I’ll hold your coat while you try. Conrad would be more polite – he has better manners, but Apollodrus would have you removed and, er, disposed of if you dared to make that suggestion.
However, the crucial note of this alternative society is that there is no right of men’s automatic superiority. As they were steadfast pagans, worshipping the traditional Roman goddesses and gods, there was no incursion of paternalistic monotheistic religions. In the early history of the Colonia Apuliensis Roma Nova, women had to fight alongside men to protect the colonia in the fraught period of the late fourth and early fifth centuries. And of course, founder Apulius had four strong daughters born and bred by a Celt from Noricum where women managed property, took decisions in the political process and when necessary hefted a blade.
Back to the men… In Roma Nova, there is little of the gender pressure on male children and youngsters as they grow up such as the ‘big boys don’t cry’ and the ‘man up’ culture. Naturally enough, there is sibling and peer rivalry; testosterone flows in Roma Nova as anywhere else. However, men are expected to act and live as any other Roma Novan, as selfish or achieving as anybody else. But there is no pressure to behave in line with a constructed gender pattern. This frees up men from the pressure of conditioned norms expected in many societies.
Conrad is tough, clever, resourceful and a bit cocky, to be honest. Serving in the Praetorian Guard Special Forces is ideal for him as it provides structure and a place to demonstrate his decisiveness and moral strength. He expects the soldiers under his command to obey not based on any gender considerations but on his authority in the military context. Ditto Lurio, but in a more relaxed, if brash, way. Apollodorus commands through fear, but has a weakness as far as Carina is concerned, as we find out in PERFIDITAS.
Naturally enough, this ‘egalitarian–plus’ type of society can lead to conflict, both inside and outside Roma Nova, which is a gift for any novelist. History, especially that of a male-driven society such as ancient Rome, doesn’t stay silent as Aurelia, the lead in the fourth book of the series set in the late 1960s, finds out in this and the following two books in the series.
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