Roma Nova - romantic?

“I hate romantic fiction – I wouldn’t let my wife read it!” This was how one over-excited male member(!) of a writing group greeted my first pages of INCEPTIO where the heroine meets the hero.

A real gladius point through my neck, but I toughed up like a true Roman and politely pointed out that almost every novel had an emotional relationship in it – what a poor piece it would be without it.

“Rubbish!” he expostulated (Sorry, too tempting, but he did spit in a minor way.) and started to grab books off his shelf of popular thrillers. His face fell as he read the blurbs. Even the grittiest Karin Slaughter or toughest of Ian Rankin’s Rebus betrayed him. He was left chagrined and furious. I smiled in the most condescending way I could muster and was comforted by the faces of the rest of the group members ‘shocked and stunned’ by the attack.

Carina in PGSF mode

Carina in PGSF mode

You know by now I write thrillers featuring tough Praetorian special forces heroines; there are fights, chases, conspiracies and harsh decisions all mixed up with Roman values and a strong sense of survival. But INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO are bound together by the epic love story of Carina and Conrad. Over fifteen years we see attraction, lust, love, betrayal, joy, reconciliation, misunderstanding, broken hearts, envy, jealousy, enduring love, anguish, reconciliation – heart-stopping emotion all the way.

We may like to consider ourselves sentient, logical beings, but who’s kidding whom? Emotion rules us, especially rude men who know stuff all about writing. Our prime reaction when meeting people is emotional; that’s what the famous ‘gut feeling’ is. Then we sit back and allow our logical brain in.

We value friendship, family love, emotional love and enduring love very highly – that’s what makes us people rather than a walking mass of cells containing 47% water. At this time of the year we become soppy and pink, true, but behind the commercial tinsel lies a fundamental human requirement and expression of life.

As in the real world, human relationships are at the heart of the books’ characters’ actions; they drive the plot. Carina and Conrad’s sparky but rocky path in INCEPTIO, her dilemma in PERFIDITAS and Conrad’s in SUCCESSIO wouldn’t be anywhere near as gripping for readers if there was no fundamental emotional connection.

And if they don’t care about each other, why should we care about them?


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIO and AURELIA

Find out Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways by signing up for her free monthly email newsletter.

Obiter dicta, or something to say in Latin

Professor at work

Homo sapiens consulting a vademecum

Latin isn’t dead; it’s everywhere, perhaps more than we realise – alibi, agenda, consensus, versus, homo sapiens, veto, alias, via, affidavit, vademecum, an item carried around, especially a handbook, and those indispensables i.e. (id est) ‘that is’, and etc. (et cetera) ‘and the rest’.

Maths lovers and problem solvers like putting Q.E.D. (quod erat demonstrandum) ‘that which is to be demonstrated’ after their proof or to clinch their argument. Some common phrases include non sequitur, ‘something that doesn’t follow’, bona fide ‘in good faith’, alter ego ‘the other self’, persona non grata (sometimes abbreviated as PNG) ‘unwelcome person’, vice versa ‘position reversed’, quid pro quo ‘this for that’ or more colloquially, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.

Per se means ‘in itself’ or ‘as such’. It’s become fashionable and sadly, I’ve seen it written persay. *cringes*
Cui bono? is a question you should ask if you doubt something. It means ‘for whose benefit?’
Carpe diem is well known; ‘seize the day’ or as my mother would have said, ‘Just get on with it!’

Roma Novan custodes?

Roma Novan custodes?


Quis custodiet custodes ipsos? ‘Who guards the guardians themselves?’ Juvenal famously asked in his Satires (Satire VI, lines 347–8) and refers to the problem of controlling the actions of people in positions of power, an issue discussed by Plato in The Republic. Still a question very relevant today…

Mutatis mutandis ‘once the necessary changes have been made’ sounds high flown. Found in law, economics, mathematics and philosophy, it acknowledges that a comparison being made requires certain obvious alterations, which are left unstated. Not to be confused with the similar ceteris paribus, ‘all things being equal’ which excludes any changes other than those explicitly mentioned.


Hannibal (allegedly), bust originally found at Capua, Italy


In ancient Roman history, res publica was used pertaining to the state or public, while Hannibal ad portas meant that Hannibal was at the gates of Rome, an expression used to frighten naughty children.

Vae victis! ‘Woe to the conquered!’ is attributed by Livy to Brennus, the chief of the Gauls, while he demanded more gold from the citizens of the recently sacked Rome in 390 BC.

Damnatio memoriae ‘damnation of memory’ was an ancient Roman custom where all records and likenesses of somebody were eliminated, honours revoked and everybody pretended the person had never existed. Pretty drastic and sometimes visited on Roman emperors by their successors, if they weren’t made gods, on notable public enemies and famously Mark Anthony after his defeat by Octavian and death.

SPQR drain cover

Drain cover in modern day Rome


SPQR (Senatus populusque Romanus) literally means the ‘Roman senate and people’, but popularly called the ‘Senate and people of Rome’. It referred to the government of the ancient Roman Republic, and is even now used as an official emblem of the modern-day municipality of Rome. Many European cities have hijacked the SPQ bit and added their own city initial, even Liverpool – SPQL!



Roma Nova vexilloidRoma Nova uses SPQRN, of course – Senatus populusque Romanus novus.

And obiter dicta? This can refer to remarks by a judge which are not necessary to reaching a decision, but are made as comments, illustrations or thoughts. Sometimes a way of saying ‘Here are a few casual comments…” by a senior person in a profession or academic institution. A warning: you should listen to those, because they may well be the most important thing that person has to say…

Do you have any favourite Latin-based sayings?


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIO and AURELIA

Find out Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways by signing up for her free monthly email newsletter.

America in the world of Roma Nova

Library of CongressIn summer 2015, I visited the USA and part of Canada. It was seven weeks of hectic fun. In Washington, one of the highlights was a visit to the Library of Congress, specifically the Jefferson Building. It was ‘all kinds of awesome’: the magnificent colourful entrance hall and sumptuous steps, Jefferson’s book collection, an original Gutenberg Bible, the incredible reading room which reminded me of my days using the British Library although the two buildings couldn’t be more different.

Library of Congress reading room





But one thing that always attracts me in such places is the map collection. Perhaps having a geography teacher mother influenced me, but I LOVE maps – they reveal so much not only about the place they represent, but also what people thought important, a place/nations’s history and development,  the attitude, knowledge and aspirations of the mapmakers and their paymasters.

Change fascinates me. The transit of a country from one stage of development to the next always sparks questions in my head – why, who, how, what if? In the hallowed hall of the Library of Congress, I searched for the ‘birth of a nation’ map of the US and found the EUS of my Roma Nova world.


Inset in the map “The United States according to the definitive treaty of peace signed at Paris Sept. 3d. 1783. William McMurray, Robert Scot”

Let me explain. In the alternate time line where Roma Nova exists, the ‘Eastern United States’ – the EUS – is only one nation in the North American continent: it was co-ruled by British and Dutch governors up to 1813 then solely by the British until 1867. We have Louisiane (never purchased and much larger than today’s state) and Québec (most of north east Canada) which belong to a France ruled by a constitutional monarch descended from Napoléon Bonaparte, then the Spanish imperial territories in the southwest which include our timeline’s Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, and the Indigenous Nations’ Western Territories in between. The boundaries are not fixed and they only form the background, in particular to INCEPTIO, but I had fun working it out.

Imagine the pleasure when I looked at McMurray’s map in the Library of Congress and found an inset with the territories more or less divided in the way they are in Roma Nova! Obviously, things have moved on since 1783, but it could still be like this today, but for chance factors like the odd revolution in our timeline.

You can find the full map with inset here:

Are you a map geek? Please tell me I am not alone in the world…


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIO and AURELIA. The Roma Nova box set is available until 31 January 2016.

Find out Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways by signing up for her free monthly email newsletter.

AURELIA - Shortlisted for the 2016 Historical Novel Society Indie Award

AURELIA BRAG MedallionOh yes! 2016 has begun in a spectacular way and I’m not talking about fireworks. AURELIA, the fourth Roma Nova thriller, first in a new cycle of adventures featuring Praetorian and imperial councillor Aurelia Mitela, has been shortlisted for the 2016 HNS Indie Award.

*Jumps up and down with silly grin on face.*

When AURELIA was selected as an indie Editor’s Choice in the August 2015 Historical Novel Society’s reviews, I was delighted. This was the second Roma Nova book to be so honoured; SUCCESSIO was an Editor’s Choice in 2014. But now it gets serious.

The 2016 longlist derives from all the Editor’s Choices in the previous year; in 2015, there were 38 and all terrific reads. The shortlist of nine is the second ‘sift’ announced today and a final list of four will be chosen to be considered at the HNS Conference in Oxford in September 2016 when the award will be presented.

HNSIndieShortlisted2016The organisers, and judges are all volunteers, but happily give their time and precious reading hours in the mission of driving historical fiction indie writing quality upwards.

Even if AURELIA doesn’t go further (but I rather hope she will), this is a huge honour. Being shortlisted for one of the most prestigious indie prizes around will make anybody reach for the champagne. It may have been New Year’s Eve yesterday, but the bubbly will be flowing again today!

What’s AURELIA about?
Late 1960s Roma Nova, the last Roman colony that has survived into the 20th century. Aurelia Mitela is alone – her partner gone, her child sickly and her mother dead – and forced to give up her beloved career as a Praetorian officer.

But her country needs her unique skills. Somebody is smuggling silver – Roma Nova’s lifeblood – on an industrial scale. Sent to Berlin to investigate, she encounters the mysterious and attractive Miklós, a known smuggler who knows too much, and Caius Tellus, a Roma Novan she has despised and feared since childhood.

Barely escaping a trap set by a gang boss intent on terminating her, she discovers that her old enemy is at the heart of all her troubles and pursues him back home to Roma Nova…

Watch the trailer…
AURELIA thumbnail
Available now as an ebook from AmazoniBooksKoboB&N Nook and as a paperback, author signed paperback and from other retailers


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIO and AURELIA. The Roma Nova box set is available until 31 January 2016.

Find out Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways by signing up for her free monthly email newsletter.

Cursing the Roman way

The Roman curse tablets from Bath Britain's earliest prayers. These tablets are inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World register of significant documentary heritage. They are the only documents from Roman Britain on that list. Complaint about theft of Vilbia - probably a woman. This curse includes a list of names of possible culprits. Perhaps Vilbia was a slave.

Roman curse tablet from Bath (Photo by  Mike Peel (

The wish to curse a rival, a rip-off merchant, or somebody who cuts us up on the motorway or pushes in front of us in the queue for the first life-saving coffee of the day, is an age old instinct. Nowadays, when we ‘go postal’, we give  a ‘load of verbal’, then calm down when something else distracts us.

Nothing so short term for the Romans. Swearing was one thing; cursing was an altogether different pot of garum.  They ‘went physical’ by using curse tablets, some of which have survived for 2,000 years.

Curse tablets (tabella defixionis) were used throughout the Graeco-Roman world. Originators would ask the gods, local spirits, or the deceased to bring down a specific disaster on on a person, group or object. For all their pragmatism the Romans were a superstitious bunch and believed the gods and spirits did control nature either directly or via oracles, soothsayers and those practising magic or religion.

Sometimes the writer would change the direction in which words or letters were written, or alternate lines, or write them  in mirror-image form, all to give an added magical effect. Some tablets seem to have been written in an arcane or secret language; did a tablet  written in a ‘sacred’ language carry more mystique and power with the gods it was addressed to? Tablets with blanks where the names should go have been found which suggests they were prepared in advance; perhaps professional curse writers kept handy stocks ready for the customer in need.

If a victim of a robbery by persons unknown was writing a curse, the target would be described as ‘whether man or woman, boy or girl, slave or free’, or ‘whether pagan or Christian’.

Lead Scroll Web

Lead scroll, measuring c. 6 cm long found at the East Farleigh (Photo Maidstone Area Archaeological Group)

Typically, the originator scratched his/her message in tiny letters on thin sheets of lead – physically and symbolically a dark, cold and heavy material –  usually under 10cm square, then often rolled, folded, or pierced it with nails. These bound tablets, were then usually placed beneath the ground: either buried in graves or tombs, thrown into wells or pools, underground sanctuaries, or nailed to the walls of temples.

Some texts don’t invoke any divine beings but merely listed the targets of the curse, their ‘crimes’ and the intended evil fate to befall them. Examples include cursing the opposing litigant by asking that he botch his performance in court, calling for an evil fate for tricksters who didn’t pay their debts, or wishes that thieves should go blind and mad, while cheaters become as ‘liquid as the water’. One particularly gory curse about a stolen ring said: “…so long as someone, whether slave or free, keeps silent or knows anything about it, he may be accursed in (his) blood, and eyes and every limb and even have all (his) intestines quite eaten away if he has stolen the ring”. A wonderful one found in London reads,”I curse Tretia Maria and her life and mind and memory and liver and lungs mixed up together, and her words, thoughts and memory; thus may she be unable to speak what things are concealed, nor be able.” (translation: British Museum)

Roman Bath

Roman Bath

The curse tablets found at Bath are considered to be the most important record of Romano-British religion yet published. They are especially useful as evidence of everyday speech (Vulgar Latin) used in Roman Britain. And the inscriptions illustrate popular attitudes to crime and the system of justice which don’t seem to have changed much over the centuries!

And the significance of the curse tablets today? In 2014, 130 Bath curse tablets were added to the UNESCO Memory of the World register of outstanding documentary heritage – the only documents from Roman Britain on that list. I wonder what the average Romano-Briton would have thought of that?

And, yes, curse tablets are still used in modern Roma Nova. When Aurelia first gets to know Plico the spymaster, he annoys her so much she thinks about “writing a curse tablet and sticking it in the boot of his car.’ (AURELIA p.153)


Sources and further reading:
Curse tablets from Roman Britain
Ancient Origins
Bath curse tablets
Lead Scroll found at East Farleigh Roman Villa


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO. The fourth book, AURELIA,  and the Roma Nova box set are now out.

Find out Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways by signing up for her free monthly email newsletter.

Io Saturnalia!

Now on eighth day of Saturnalia. The poet Catullus called it “the best of days.” In ancient Rome, private festivities of Saturnalia had expanded to seven days by the late Republic, but during the Imperial period it varied from three to five days. Caligula extended official observances to five.
We do ten days in Roma Nova. 😉
For those who celebrate Christmas, have a good one and I send you the traditional greeting: