Slaves, damnati and freedmen in ancient Rome

In 161 BC, the Roman jurist Gaius wrote:
Slavery is a human invention and not found in nature. Indeed, it was that other human invention, war, which provided the bulk of slaves, but they were also the bounty of piracy … or the product of breeding.” (Institutiones)

A cold, yet trenchant statement. As in many early societies, slavery in ancient Rome was a mixture of debt-slavery, slavery as a punishment for crime, born slavery and by far the enslavement of prisoners of war especially during the Republican period.

Trajan accepting the surrender of the Dacians – many would go into slavery

An estimated 30 to 40% of the population of Italy were slaves in the 1st century BC, an estimated two to three million people. For the Empire as a whole, slaves numbered just under five million, representing 8-10% of the total population of a 50-60 million. Roman slavery was not based on race; slaves originated from all parts of Europe and the Mediterranean, including Gaul, Hispania, Germany, Britannia, the Balkans and Greece.

Legal status
The Twelve Tables, Rome’s oldest legal code, promulgated in 449 BC, makes brief references to slavery, indicating that the institution was of long standing. Slaves were considered property under Roman law and had no legal personhood. Unlike Roman citizens, they could be subjected to corporal punishment, sexual exploitation (prostitutes were often slaves), torture, and summary execution. The testimony of a slave could not be accepted in a court of law unless the slave was tortured – a practice based on the belief that slaves in a position to be privy to their masters’ affairs would be too virtuously loyal to reveal damaging evidence unless coerced. Over time, however, slaves gained increased legal protection.

Vernae were slaves born within a household (familia) or on a family farm. There was a stronger social obligation to care for vernae; many would have been the children of free males of the household. Often, but not always, they were freed on the master’s death.

Roman slaves could hold property which, although it technically belonged to their masters, they were allowed to use as if it was their own. Skilled or educated slaves were allowed to earn their own money, possibly saving enough to buy their freedom. Otherwise, slaves could be freed in their master’s will, or for services rendered. A notable example of a high-status slave was Cicero’s secretary, Tiro, who was freed before his master’s death. Tiro was successful enough to retire on his own country estate, where he died at the age of 99.

Evolution of status
Slaves were granted more rights as the empire grew; Claudius announced that if a slave was abandoned by his master, he became free. Nero granted slaves the right to complain against their masters in a court. And under Antoninus Pius, a master who killed a slave without just cause could be tried for homicide. It became common throughout the mid to late 2nd century AD to allow slaves to make complaints to officials about cruel or unfair treatment by their owners.

Work – not all slaves were equal
Slaves worked in roughly five categories: household/domestic, imperial/public, urban crafts and services, agriculture, and mining.

Household (familia): Epitaphs record at least fifty different jobs a household slave might perform including barber, butler, cook, hairdresser, handmaid (ancilla), wet nurse or nursery attendant, teacher, secretary, seamstress, accountant or physician. A large elite household might be supported by a staff of hundreds.

Although inferior to those of the free persons they served, the living conditions of slaves attached to an urban household were often superior to those of many free urban poor in Rome. Indoor household slaves likely enjoyed the highest standard of living among Roman slaves, next to publicly owned slaves.

Imperial slaves were  attached to the emperor’s household, the familia Caesaris. As in any Roman household, the senior male, the pater familias, held full rights over his slaves as over his family, and women slaves were frequently used for sexual services as a matter of course.

In urban workplaces, the occupations of slaves included fullers, engravers, shoemakers, bakers, seamstresses, mule drivers, and waitresses/prostitutes. Farm slaves (familia rustica) probably lived in a healthier environment, but their work was heavy and manual. The workforce of a farm would have been mostly slave, managed by a vilicus, often a slave himself.

Ploughman with a team of oxen, bronze 1st-3rdC Piercebridge, Durham (British Museum)

Tens of thousands of slaves condemned to work in the mines or quarries (damnati in metallum), worked in notoriously brutal conditions; they were convicts who as a consequence lost their freedom as citizens (libertas), forfeited their property (bona) to the state, and became servi poenae, slaves by legal sanction. Their legal status was different from that of other slaves; they could not buy their freedom, be sold, or be set free. They were expected to live and die in the mines.

In the Late Republic, around half the gladiators who fought in Roman arenas were slaves, the remainder free volunteers. Successful slave gladiators were occasionally rewarded with freedom. However, trained gladiators with access to weapons were potentially the most dangerous slaves as demonstrated by Spartacus, who led the great slave rebellion of 73-71 BC.

A servus publicus was a slave owned not by a private individual, but by the Roman people and worked in temples and other public buildings as servants to the College of Pontiffs, magistrates, and other officials. Some well-qualified public slaves carried out skilled office work such as accounting and secretarial services and were permitted to earn money for their personal use. During the Republic, a public slave could be freed by a magistrate’s declaration, with the prior authorisation of the senate; in the Imperial era, manumission would be granted by the emperor.

Runaways and rebellion
Romans were preoccupied, if not paranoid, by the thought of slave revolt which had more than once seriously threatened the republic; in 135-132 BCE (the First Servile War), in 104-100 BCE (the Second Servile War), and in 73-71 BCE (the Third Servile War).

Rome forbade harbouring fugitive slaves; professional slave-catchers were hired to hunt down runaways. Owners or hired slave-catchers would post advertisements with precise descriptions of escaped slaves, and offered rewards. If caught, fugitives could be whipped, burnt with iron, or killed. Those who lived were branded on the forehead with the letters FUG, for fugitivus and sometimes had a metal collar with the owner’s name riveted around the neck.

“I have run away; hold me. When you shall have returned me to my master, Zoninus, you will receive a gold coin.”

Masters could manumit, or free, slaves and in many cases such freedmen went on to rise to positions of power and accumulate great wealth. Manumissio, which literally means “sending out from the hand”, could be a public ceremony, performed before a public official, usually a judge. The owner touched the slave on the head with a staff and he was free to go. Simpler methods were sometimes used, with the owner proclaiming a slave’s freedom in front of friends and family, or just a simple invitation to recline with the family at dinner, a sign of possessing free citizen status.

Slaves were freed for a variety of reasons; for a particularly good deed toward the slave’s owner, or out of friendship or respect. Sometimes, a slave had earned and saved enough money could buy his freedom and the freedom of a fellow slave, frequently a spouse. Slaves could also freed by a provision in an owner’s will at his death. Augustus restricted such manumissions to a maximum of a hundred slaves, and proportionately fewer in a small household. Educated and skilled slaves were regularly freed and the practice became so common that Augustus decreed that no Roman slave could be freed under the age of 30.

Rome differed from Greek city-states in allowing freed slaves to become Roman citizens. After manumission, a former slave enjoyed political and public freedom (libertas), including the right to vote, though he could not hold elected public office, state priesthoods, nor attain senatorial rank. A freed slave who had acquired libertas became a libertus (feminine liberta) in relation to his former master, who then became his patron (patronus).

Marble cinerary urn provided by Vitalis, a former slave of the Emperor and Scribe of the Bedchamber, for his wife Vernasia Cyclas,. On the last line, AUG.L denotes he was a former imperial slave (British Museum).

Children born to former slaves enjoyed the full privileges of Roman citizenship, for example, the Latin poet Horace was the son of a freedman, and served as an officer in the army of Marcus Junius Brutus.

Freedmen of the Imperial families often filled key positions in the Roman government bureaucracy. Some rose to positions of great influence, such as Narcissus, a former slave of the Emperor Claudius.

Other freedmen became wealthy. The brothers who owned House of the Vettii, one of the biggest and most magnificent houses in Pompeii, are thought to have been freedmen. A freedman is recorded with having designed the amphitheatre in Pompeii. But a freedman who became rich and influential might still be looked down on by the traditional aristocracy as a vulgar nouveau riche as shown by Trimalchio, a caricature of such a freedman in the Satyricon.

For an excellent historical fiction around household slaves in the first century AD you can do no better than Lindsey Davis’s Enemies at Home; a mystery but an impeccably researched one which is clever and poignant at the same time.

And in Roma Nova?
When Apulius led the Twelve Families out of Rome in AD 395, he asked for volunteers only. Most of his household accompanied him as freed men and women, the remainder, he manumitted before he left. In practical terms, Rome at the end of the fourth century was inherently unstable and being freed urban poor was a life-endangering status so most went with Apulius.

From its earliest days, slavery did not exist  in Roma Nova, although the structure of household and family units was to endure. Everybody worked, regardless of status; Roma Nova started as a subsistence society in harsh times.The aim at that time was to stay alive.


The Roma Nova thriller series

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, is available for download now.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, for FREE when you sign up to Alison’s free monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Women as heroines - speculation?

Diana, goddess of the hunt, Capitoline Museum

All fictional characters are, er, fictional. We borrow, mine, or lift characteristics from Real Life, but unless we want to get sued, the finally moulded form is a construct. We can gender mirror (I love using that expression – also made up), we can speculate, we can imagine.

Ditto the setting. Even if your thriller story is set in a gritty suburb, a private tropical island, a galaxy far, far away, or grounded by finding a parking space at Waitrose, your book world is fictional.

If you draw on fairy tales, legends or myths, the whole world is a  piece of an individual’s or a collective people’s imagination.

And time… Are you in Ancient Rome, today’s London or 30,000 years in the future? It’s not real time; it’s fictional time that often passes differently to our own perception of time.

Opening any book opens you to a new world and releases you from the confines of your place and time, whether as reader or writer. And this is a perfect way into speculating about the “what if”, especially for women. In Real Life, women see fewer aspirational patterns and models than men do. Perhaps this is why there are significantly more women writers and women readers than men; women are seeking an alternative..

Sian Phillips as Livia in I, Claudius (BBC)

Sian Phillips as Livia in I, Claudius (BBC)

In many works, especially Roman fiction, male heroes are outspoken, forthright, taking leadership, leading the action, making decisions; women are secondary – the wife, girlfriend, assistant, the rape victim, the soft contrast to the hero. If they do take a leading role, they are uncomfortable, unhappy or unfulfilled as women or, stereotypically, the “evil one” even in childhood reading such as the Narnia series. And as for Livia as portrayed in I, Claudius – don’t get me started!

Women with power and agency, i.e. who can and do act, seem to be seen as a threat, so they are slotted in as angels or demons, nurses or harlots. What a shame.

Enter science fiction, fantasy and its subgenres, including alternative history.  SFF (for short) has long served as a platform for social criticism and commentary. George Orwell, Ursula Le Guin and Margaret Attwood are obvious examples. But it too has been crammed chock full of reduced or neglected female figures. We’ve been a long time waiting for Wonder Woman to go mainstream.

But an ever increasing number of authors in speculative genres are using their stories to question the central issue of gender roles. Readers travel to places far removed from their current social reality where the givens are not only questioned but tipped upside down. All constraints are down and the result may be welcome or reflect real fears. And once an idea has entered somebody’s head, it can rarely be dislodged. The synapses are firing…

Resolution, loyalty, serving the state are not exclusively male qualities. Caring, empathy, supporting are not exclusively female ones. All genders can express love, hurt, self-doubt but also happiness, acceptance and friendship. Mix all that together and bake in different tins until well done.

My Roma Nova novels aim to do just that. It took a feminist mother, a Roman nut father, voracious reading of the weird and wonderful, six years in the military and a bad film to trigger this for me, but I remembered everything and once sparked, the Roma Nova world with its courageous and complex heroines has never left my mind.

Engaging with concepts, worlds and characters that seem impossible or unrealistic lets us play with a hidden, secret or yearned for adventure we couldn’t take in real life, not least due to our gender. Science fiction and fantasy novelists can show readers a radically different worldview and cultures through stories of astounding adventures in alternative realms.

And who knows? Perhaps speculative stories, with their heroic women and their derring-do have the potential to provoke change in the real world.



Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIAINSURRECTIO and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, is available for download now. Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, for FREE when you sign up to Alison’s free monthly email newsletter

Our friends(?) the Praetorians

Inventing a military unit like the 21st century Praetorian Guard Special Forces in my Roma Nova books was an interesting challenge!

I chose to use the old Roman name because, although later corrupt and power broking, they were the courageous, battle-hardened elite who guarded the Ancient Roman emperor’s life with theirs. And service to the imperatrix and the state is today the core value of the Roma Novan Praetorians.

Who were the original Praetorians?
The cohortes praetoriae were first mentioned around 275 BC during the Roman Republic as a guard for the command HQ – the praetorium – and served on an ad hoc basis as a small escort force for high-ranking officials such as army generals or provincial governors. Usually war leaders wore a distinguishing garment or headdress; perfect for showing your own troops who they should rally round, but also tending to act as a big fat target sign to the enemy. For this reason, during the Siege of Numantia, Scipio Aemilianus formed a troop of 500 men for his personal protection.

The Praetorian Relief, from a triumphal arch. Creative Commons, Louvre-Lens Museum


As Roman generals occupied their positions for longer periods of time the name cohors prætoria emerged. (Cohors means one armed unit, cohortes more than one. Strangely enough, cohors means attendants, retinue, staff as you might expect, but also enclosure/yard/pen or farmyard!)

By the end of 40 BC, Octavian (Julius Caesar’s great-nephew, adopted son and heir, and future Roman emperor Augustus) and his rival Mark Antony both operated Praetorian units during their civil wars. Mark Antony commanded three cohorts in the East and even issued coins in honour of his Praetorians in 32 BC. Octavian is said to have commanded five cohorts at the Battle of Actium. Following this victory, Octavian merged his forces with those of the defeated Mark Antony in a symbolic reunification of the former army of Julius Caesar. And the Praetorians melded into his personal security detail.

Hand-picked veterans, the accompanied the emperor on active campaign, serving as the last reserve in battle. In more peaceful times, they functioned as secret police and enforcers protecting the civic administration and rule of law as defined by (sometimes) the Senate and (ultimately and more often) the emperor.

Service in the Praetorian Guard
As Praetorians represented the elite soldiers from the legions a man had to be in excellent physical condition, of good moral character, and come from a respectable family if he wished to be be admitted to the Guard. In addition, he had to obtain letters of recommendations from higher status members of society; this is where good connections counted! Once past the recruitment procedure, he was designated as probatus, and assigned as a miles (soldier) to one of the centuries of a cohort. After two years, he could be considered for the post of immunis (roughly equivalent to a corporal), perhaps as a commis (junior chief) at general headquarters or as a technician. This first promotion exempted him from daily basic tasks (hence our word immune). After another two years, he could be promoted to principalis, with salary doubled, and in charge of delivering messages (tesserarius), as an assistant centurion (optio) or standard bearer (signifer) at the corps of the century. If literate and numerate, he could join the administrative staff of the prefect.

A Praetorian soldier from the 2nd century AD – retrieved in Pozzuoli (1800). Pergamon Museum, Berlin

Praetorians’ mandatory service was shorter in duration than for soldiers in the legions; twelve years instead of sixteen starting in year 13 BC, then from AD5 sixteen instead of twenty years. Under Nero, the pay of a Praetorian was three and a half times that of a legionary, augmented by donativum, a ‘donation’ a.k.a. bribe) granted by each new emperor. This additional pay was often repeated at significant events including birthdays, births and marriages of the imperial family.

In order not to alienate the population of Rome, while conserving Republican civilian traditions, the Praetorians did not wear their armour while in the heart of the city. Instead they often dressed in a formal toga, which distinguished them from civilians but remained the mark of a Roman citizen. Augustus, conscious of the risk of maintaining a military force in an obvious way within the city, imposed this dress code.

Major monetary distributions or food subsidies rewarded/bought the fidelity of the Praetorians following each failed plot (such as that of Messalina against Claudius in AD 48 or Piso against Nero in AD 65).

Patrick Stewart as Sejanus, Patricia Quinn as Livilla in the BBC adaptation of I, Claudius (Robert Graves)

Bad apples
Efficient and generally feared as they were, becoming their leader (praefectus) was a springboard to immense power. One of the most infamous prefects was Sejanus (acted by a younger Patrick Stewart in the television series I, Claudius). Lucius Aelius Seianus rose to power under Tiberius and was one of the first prefects to exploit his position in order to pursue his own ambitions. He concentrated all the Praetorians under his personal command and made himself indispensable to the new emperor Tiberius, who tried in vain to persuade the Senate to share the responsibility of governing the Empire. Tiberius became an absentee emperor, a recluse on Capri, and left everything to his energetic prefect.

However, Sejanus alienated Drusus, Tiberius’s son, and when Germanicus, the heir to the throne, died in AD 19, Sejanus feared that Drusus would become the next emperor. So he poisoned Drusus with the help of the latter’s wife, Livilla, and immediately launched a ruthless elimination programme against all potential competitors. He even persuaded Tiberius to make him his heir apparent.

Sejanus nearly succeeded in grabbing power, but his plot was discovered in AD 31. Using the vigiles and the cohortes urbanae (together effectively Rome’s civilian police), Tiberius manoeuvred Sejanus into a position of weakness from which he fell from power and was executed.

Decline and fall
Later, the Guard intrigued and interfered in Roman politics to the point of overthrowing emperors and proclaiming their successors even before they were ratified by the Senate and the legions stationed in the provinces. After AD 238, literary and epigraphic sources dry up, and information on the Praetorian Guard becomes scarce during the following fifty years, a period in which the Roman Empire nearly collapsed under the combined pressures of invasion, civil war, plague, and economic depression, known as the Crisis of the Third Century

In AD 284, Diocletian reduced their status; they were no longer to be part of palace life. After all, Diocletian lived in Nicomedia, modern Turkey, 60 miles from Byzantium. Two new corps, the Ioviani and Herculiani (named after the gods Jupiter and Hercules), replaced the Praetorians as the personal protectors of the emperors, a practice that remained intact with the Tetrarchy. By the time Diocletian retired in May AD 305, their Castra Praetoria seems to have housed only a minor garrison in Rome.

The Battle of the Milvian Bridge by (Giulio Romano,1524, Vatican Museum)

During the early 4th century, Caesar Flavius Valerius Severus attempted to disband the Praetorian Guard. In response, the Praetorians turned to Maxentius, the son of the retired emperor Maximian, and proclaimed him their emperor in October AD 306. By AD 312, however, Constantine the Great marched on Rome with an army in order to eliminate Maxentius and gain control of the Western Roman Empire, resulting in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. Ultimately, Constantine’s army achieved a decisive victory against the Praetorians, whose emperor, Maxentius, was killed during the fighting. Constantine definitively disbanded the remnants of the Praetorian Guard, sending remaining soldiers out to various corners of the empire. The Castra Praetoria was dismantled in a grand gesture inaugurating a new age in Roman history, ending that of the original Praetorians.

Why haven’t the Roma Novan Praetorians ‘gone bad’?
Firstly, they have the shining example of the ancients; overstep the mark and you will be abolished.
Secondly, the Twelve Families, the imperatrix‘s council of advisers drawn from the original families settling Roma Nova, are closer to the ruler than any Praetorian would be and thus form a buffer.
Thirdly, although the Praetorians’ function is to protect the ruler, act as her intelligence service and special forces, they are employed soldiers like others in the Roma Novan military and like other citizens are subject to the law. That’s the theory…

Women Praetorians?
As Ancient Rome was a patriarchal society, Praetorians were, like all military, uniquely male.

Photo courtesy of Britannia

The original guard had been finally disbanded nearly a hundred years before the small group of senatorial families were to trek north and found the Roma Nova in my books in AD 395. Perhaps the ‘new Romans’ felt the negative connotations about Praetorians had faded or perhaps they were desperate to hang on to their deepest traditions ­– Romans were proud of their history and traditional cultural values – but when a bodyguard was formed for the first ruler, Apulius, they called it the cohors praetoria or Praetorian Guard.

Women became members of the fighting units defending Roma Nova alongside their brothers and fathers. They had no choice; the new settlers were numerically so few that they didn’t have enough male fighters. As the units evolved into legions over the years, women were eligible to transfer from the regular forces into the Praetorian units along with their male colleagues. The requirements for every Praetorian down the ages were (and still are) strength, a very high level of physical fitness, intelligence and skills levels, irrespective of gender.

The ancients were permitted to bear arms inside the city of Rome, so my modern Praetorians are allowed to carry side arms inside the Golden Palace, the home of Roma Nova’s imperatrix.

The Praetorian Guard in my Roma Nova books protect the imperatrix (ruler) and also form an elite tactical military force as they did in ancient Rome. This is how Aurelia and Carina Mitela have ended up serving in the Praetorian Guard Special Forces – an ‘odd job’ for women in history, especially when until recently in the real world, too, such a role would normally have been associated exclusively with men.



The Roma Nova thriller series

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, is available for download now.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, for FREE when you sign up to Alison’s free monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

The world of CARINA

CARINA launched two weeks ago amid lovely comments, tweets and posts and reviews are starting to accumulate (Exciting!).

Carina visits a number of places when she is sent to North America to carry out an important mission and I thought you might like to find out the ‘North America’ of the alternative Roman world.

Roma Nova itself is based on the foundation of small fiefdoms and city states established at the time the Roman Empire was fragmenting. My heroines’ ancestors, who worshipped the traditional Roman deities, left Rome in AD 395 to protect themselves from Christian persecution. You can read the full story here. Their presence as a tough little country robustly dealing with all-comers changed the face of Europe and later the rest of the world. The effect can be compared to ripples after a stone is thrown in a pond or the famous ‘butterfly of doom’

Roma Nova lies ‘somewhere in central Europe’ but has borders with the Italian Confederation (Confederatio Italiano) and New Austria (Neuösterreich). As members of the European Economic Area based in Berlin, Roma Nova enjoys friendly relations with Bavaria and Prussia in the German Federation and ‘most favoured nation’ terms with the United Kingdom to the north.

Speaking of which, in the Roma Novan world, the last British Governor-General didn’t leave North America until 1867 and in Carina’s time, Britons still own considerable stretches of land and business interests. The British and Dutch co-ruled Manhattan and the surrounding area, from the 1600s, with Britain the junior partner. But in 1813, due to economic and political problems at home, the last Dutch Governor-General sailed out of New York in 1813, leaving the British to rule for another fifty years.

Dutch sailing ship circa 1813

The last Dutch Governor-General sails away

The other colonies on the American continent? The rebellion in the 1770s was a ramshackle affair and the leaders squabbled too much to form a united movement. Wisely, the British granted parliamentary representation, full trading and civic rights equal to those in the mother country. The colonies known as the Eastern United States (EUS) were permitted to expand west to the Mississippi River and north to the Great Lakes with Georgetown (later Washington) as their capital. The territories beyond the original colonies were supposed to be called the Western United States, but the name faded away as the Easterners become dominant.

Map of North America 1748

North America 1748 in our timeline, but it shows the French territory and the English colonies clearly.


New York became an autonomous city, although staying within the EUS. Further west lie the Indigenous Nations Territories and the Spanish Empire lands. Louisiane gained autonomy from France under Napoleon V after the Great War of 1925-35.

After many tussles with its identity and protests and negotiation with the home country, Quebec finally became the fully separate République Québecoise shortly before the time of INCEPTIO. It does retain trading and cultural ties to Imperial France.

English-speaking Canada is more or less where it is in our timeline. Phew!

INCEPTIO starts the Roma Nova series off in New York and from the first sentence you know you are in a different place:

The boy lay in the dirt in the centre of New York’s Kew Park, blood flowing out of both his nostrils, his fine blond hair thrown out in little strands around his head.

Kew Park, not Central Park

Beyond the trees behind it, the windows in the red-brick Dutch highthouses along Verhulst Street threw the full sun back.  

There is no Verhulst Street alongside Central Park.
(In 1625, the real Willem Verhulst oversaw the decision to locate a main fortress and town, New Amsterdam, on the tip of Manhattan Island in the colony of New Netherland. It was the first permanent European settlement, later the city of New York.)

‘If you want to be a real tourist, you could take a trip around the harbour,’ I said. ‘You know, Fort Amsterdam, Hudson statue, Franklin Island. Or a comedy club or a show. Maybe Jonas Bronck’s zoo or a walk around the old Dutch Quarter in Manhattan, or the Georgian lanes.’

None of which exists in our reality, but all of which are credible in the Roma Nova timeline.

Row houses (terraces houses) on the Plateau in Montreal

Row houses (terraces houses) on the Plateau in Montreal

In CARINA, nearly half of the action takes place in North America. Our heroine lands in Montreal in the République Québecoise. I drew on my own visit there and to Quebec to flesh out the location detail. It’s not entirely inconceivable that this French-speaking part of Canada could have become autonomous by Carina’s time, although it was still a French imperial territory in the 1980s when Aurelia led the action in INSURRECTIO.

We’d brought a supply of Napoleonic louis as well as the livre québecois they’d recently introduced; both were used at present. We had enough for our visit, but on the way back from the supermarché on the Avenue du Mont-Royal we checked out the nearest bank in case we needed more.

This is another essential part of world building. Time has to pass; countries, treaties, governments as well as people should change.

Only about 10% of research should appear in any finished novel; a historical note and links to an author’s website can provide more. Like the Ruritania created by Anthony Hope, or the 1960s Germania of Robert Harris’s Fatherland, I don’t go into too much detail, just enough to set the tone and paint a sketch for readers to fill in.

Has this given you a taste of the world of Roma Nova? Now read on…


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIOPERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIAINSURRECTIO and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, is available for download now.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, for FREE when you sign up to Alison’s free monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Why is CARINA (just) a novella?

Good question! I’ll try and explain…

We’re still in Roma Nova, the remnant of the Roman Empire that has toughed it out into the modern age. It’s an alternative 21st century with many aspects exactly the same as in our own timeline, but some  are very very different; Praetorian Guards for one. They guard the imperatrix of Roma Nova and act as an intelligence and special forces service.

INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO tell of  episodes in Roma Novan Carina Mitela’s life at ages 24/25, 32 and 39/40. I chose to skip other years as her life wasn’t at a special crisis point until the time of each of the stories in those three books. This reflects our own lives with brief highs in a continuous flow. I would think, though, that Carina’s life is generally more exciting than our own, even in the more mundane periods.

At the end of INCEPTIO, we leave Carina as a newly minted Praetorian officer off on a mission in the borderlands of Roma Nova. (Sorry if that’s a spoiler, but it’s a series; she has to survive the first book.) When we meet her at the beginning of PERFIDITAS, she’s a captain, heading her own branch and part of the command group, albeit as a junior member. She’s confident and competent with a record of success. A bridge across those six years seemed a good idea.

In PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO, I make allusions to past incidents when Carina skated near the edge or crossed the line, such as the climbing race with Daniel when she was punished for disobeying standing orders. Not only did she catch seven days in the cells, but also missed her daughter’s fourth birthday. In CARINA, we see how this happened and the consequences…

Readers have asked me what happened to various characters in INCEPTIO. It’s been a real pleasure seeing some of them again from the perspective of six books later. I re-read INCEPTIO and PERFIDITAS in an almost studious way to check some of the references and loved meeting these characters again. Readers will also find in CARINA brief touches of foreshadowing for characters in PERFIDITAS. Interweaving the stories behind the stories in alternative history gives the characters their own backstory and history.

Original photo used for the cover cityscape

About half of CARINA is set in ‘North America’; even the cityscape on the cover reflects this. (Leave a comment if you recognise this 😉 ) Here, the République Québecoise has just won its autonomy from France, although Napoleon VI’s face stares out from the old currency notes still in circulation. The Eastern United States with its federated system and autonomous city states still remains a danger for Carina, so it was very tempting to bring that potential disaster into the story. On a personal note, I’ve loved weaving the experience of my 2015 seven week trip to the US and Canada into this story.

So why a shorter book?
I wanted to write a standalone adventure for Carina – she deserved it – but not one with the same complexity and depth of disaster for Roma Nova. When I read, I can’t bear ‘padding’ or dragging out for artificial reasons. I wrote the story as it came out of my mind and its length reflects the action within it. I did set a target word count between 30,000 words and 40,000 as I wanted to see if I could do it and that’s exactly what happened!

Readers seem to like short, sharp reads and I hope I’ve given them this and also added to the Roma Nova canon. Over to you!

Available on Amazon  Kobo  iBooks  B&N NOOK 


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIAINSURRECTIO and RETALIO.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, for FREE when you sign up to Alison’s free monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Maps and Rome

The old clichéd saying that ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ is true, but so was its ‘decline and fall’ equally slow. Going from its traditionally accepted date of foundation the Roman Empire in the West of 753 BC, it lasted 1229 years in the West until the abdication of Romulus Augustulus in 476 AD.

Maps can show us the passing of that time from the period when Rome was a scruffy village, then under Etruscan influence, then starting to break out in Italy by 400 BC. But it was still not a power in any sense; its neighbours were bigger and better established.

[CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Maps also show the complexity of the Roman Empire. Rome eventually grew to a city with a population of over 1 million, something not seen again until the 19th century when the Victorians ‘invented’ (read re-discovered) many aspects of life similar to that of the Ancient Romans, whether taps, cement or legal process. Anyway, back to Rome… The sheer number and complexity of public buildings is impressive as shown by this plan of Imperial Rome drawn up by Samual Platner in his 1904 study (Places and buildings in red date from the Republic):

Samuel Ball Platner’s The Topography and Monuments of Ancient Rome (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1904)

Wherever Rome went, they built roads. We know that good infrastructure facilitates movement of people and goods, often resulting in increased trade, prosperity and life chances, but the Romans built them to move the military around quickly; everything else was a bonus. In an offshore island full of stroppy Britons, fast transport of troops was a strategic and tactical necessity.

Roman Roads in Britain around 150 AD/CE. (Public domain)

Trajan (b. 53 AD, reigned 98 – 117 AD) was the soldier-emperor who presided over the greatest military expansion in Roman history; the empire reached its maximum territorial extent by the time of his death. He was also known for his philanthropic rule, extensive public building programs and implementing social welfare policies, which earned him a reputation as the second of the ‘Five Good Emperors’. The Romans had ‘never had it so good’, to misquote 1950s British prime minister Harold Macmillan.

The Roman Empire at its greatest extent in the time of Trajan (Public domain)

By the time the imaginary Roma Novans left the city of Rome, the Empire had split, re-formed, was on the point of definitively splitting into east and west, and was Christianised.

Historical Atlas, William R Shepherd, 1923

Over eighty years later, a year after the last western emperor abdicated, only rump states remained in the west.

Europe in 477 AD. Highlighted areas are Roman lands that survived the deposition of Romulus Augustulus. (Thomas Lessman CC BY-SA 3.0)


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA and INSURRECTIO. The sixth, RETALIO, came out in April  2017. Audiobooks now available for the first four of the series

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, for FREE when you sign up to Alison’s free monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.