An 'Extra' piece of Roma Nova...

Delighted to announce that the ebook of ROMA NOVA EXTRA is now available for pre-order on Amazon, B&N Nook and Kobo.

The official publication date is 19 October 2018 when the paperback edition will be available from online stores (Amazon, The Book Depository, etc.) and through bookshops.

Eight stories – four historical and four present day and a little beyond – but they’re all about the people of Roma Nova…

Apulius, a young tribune sent to a backwater in 370 AD for having the wrong religion, encounters the fiery Julia.

What does his lonely descendant, Silvia, labouring in the 1980s to rebuild her country, make of the Italian architect supervising the reconstruction?

Can imperial councillor Galla stop the Norman invasion of England in 1066?

And will Allegra, her 21st century Praetorian descendant fighting her emotions, find her way to her own happy ending?

The Girl from the Market AD 370
Victory Speaks AD 395
A Roman Intervenes 1066
Silvia’s story  1983
Games  (Set just after the end of INCEPTIO)
Conrad and Carina’s Roman Holiday  (Set between PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO)
Saturnalia surprise  (Set after a few years after SUCCESSIO)
Allegra and Macrinus  (Set several years after SUCCESSIO)

Readers of INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO, AURELIA, INSURRECTIO, RETALIO and CARINA will be familiar with many of the characters in these short stories. But if you are new to Roma Nova, enjoy these eight ‘behind the scenes’ glimpses into Roma Nova for themselves and perhaps feel curious enough afterwards to find out more about the Roma Novans in the longer novels…

Find out more about ROMA NOVA EXTRA


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

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s 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.

Ostia Antica and its importance in Roman sea trading

The Romans were organised, truly organised in complex ways not seen again until at least the 18th and 19th centuries. Trade was vital to Ancient Rome. The empire cost a vast sum of money to run and trade brought in much of that money. The population of the city of Rome grew to over one million and demand for more and different goods and services to build and maintain a high status lifestyle fuelled trade from further and further afield.

Roman Trade Routes (Source ORBIS, Stanford University)

Roman Trade Routes AD 180 (Source ORBIS, Stanford University)

In addition to the 80,000 kilometres of first class roads (as at c. AD 200) built primarily for the movement of military forces, used by the imperial courier service, for government administration and lastly for trade, sea routes crossed the Empire through the Mediterranean from Spain, France and North Africa to Syria, north to Britannia and east to the Black Sea.  They supported trade between a network of coastal cities – Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, Carthage. These cities were serviced by a road network permitting trade within their respective hinterlands. River transport was not so widespread as the major pan-European rivers, the Rhine and the Danube, were military frontiers, not the core of the Empire.

The Romans built lighthouses, harbour complexes, docks and warehouses to further sea trade and make it secure . The Roman navy (classis) tried with varying success to keep the Mediterranean Sea safe from pirates. Although the navy was instrumental in the Roman conquest of the Mediterranean basin, it never enjoyed the prestige of the Roman legions. Romans were a primarily land-based people, and relied partially on other nationalities such as Greeks, Phoenicians and the Egyptians, to build and man their ships. Partly because of this, the navy was never wholly embraced by the Roman state, and deemed somewhat “un-Roman”. Unlike modern naval forces, the Roman navy even at its height never existed as an autonomous service, but operated as an adjunct to the Roman army.

Trade was facilitated by a single official currency and no complicating customs dues. Trade developed in complexity and reach  as peace became more established and with more trade, prosperity increased. When the Empire disintegrated in the late AD 400s, overseas markets disappeared, supply and distribution routes became unsafe and trade collapsed. The Mediterranean Sea became a dangerous place for merchants as there were no powers to control the activities of pirates who marauded as far north as the English Channel.

What was acquired from where?

The Romans imported a whole variety of materials: beef, corn, glassware, iron, lead, leather, marble, olive oil, perfumes, purple dye, silk, silver, spices, timber, tin and wine. The main trading partners were in Spain, France, the Middle East and North Africa. Britain exported lead, woollen products and tin. In return, it imported from Rome wine, olive oil, pottery and papyrus.

Roman bireme (Source: Wikipedia)

Roman bireme (Source: Wikipedia)

The most important sea port was Ostia situated at the mouth of the River Tiber and only 15 miles from Rome. According to an inscription the original castrum (military camp) of Ostia was established in the 7th century BC. However, the oldest archaeological remains so far discovered date back to only the 4th century BC when Rome fought several naval actions. The traditional birth date of the Roman navy is set at ca. 311 BC, when, after the conquest of Campania, two new officials, the duumviri navales classis ornandae reficiendaeque causa, were tasked with the maintenance of a fleet. The most ancient buildings currently visible in Ostia are from the 3rd century BC, notably the castrum. From this point on, Ostia starts to play an important role as a military harbour. When Rome installed a new naval magistracy in 267 BC, one of the officials was permanently based in Ostia. Traders and artisans settled in Ostia to make a living in and around the harbour.

Goods could be quickly moved to Rome in barges up the River Tiber after slaves had unloaded and transferred cargo from merchant ships. The Romans built the world’s first dual carriageway, via Portuensis, between Rome and Ostia. In 68 BC, the town was sacked by pirates. During the sack, the port was set on fire, the consular war fleet was destroyed, and two prominent senators kidnapped. This attack caused such panic in Rome that Pompey the Great arranged for the tribune Aulus Gabinius to propose a law, the Lex Gabinia, to allow Pompey to raise an army and destroy the pirates. Within a year, the pirates had been defeated.


Ostia was further developed during the first century AD under the influence of Tiberius, who ordered the building of the town’s first Forum. Temples, bathhouses, a theatre, shops, warehouses, construction yards, workshops, guilds became an integral part of the town.

Ostia Antica forum (Author photo)

Ostia Antica forum (Author photo)

With the expansion of the physical city and the demands of the population of Rome, traffic on the river became ever more congested. Manoeuvring became impossible on the 100 m. wide river and silting exacerbated the problem. To guarantee a consistent supply of corn for Rome, the emperor Claudius started to build a new harbour (portus) in 42 AD two miles north of Ostia on the northern mouths of the Tiber.

Ostia, hexagonal basis (Source; University of Southampton)

Hexagonal basin (Source: University of Southampton)

Two curving moles were built out into the sea. Between the moles, on an island formed by sinking a large merchantman, a four-storied lighthouse was built. This harbour became silted up and around about 110 AD the emperor Trajan enlarged the new harbour with a huge land-locked inner hexagonal basin still visible today. Its form was hexagonal in order to reduce the erosive forces of the waves. The harbours were connected with the Tiber by canals.

Portus Ostia (Source

The new Trajanic harbour was described as ‘Portus Ostiensis’ and the council and magistrates of Ostia also controlled the daily life of Portus. The harbours of Ostia continued their function as a major port as can be seen by the many corn warehouses. This development took business away from Ostia itself which acted principally at that time as a river port only and began its commercial decline. One can only imagine the wrangling between the established guilds, merchants and city councillors in old Ostia and the up and coming traders of the modern, specifically designed new Portus.

Ostia and Portus grew to 50,000 inhabitants in the 2nd century, reaching a peak of some 100,000 inhabitants in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Portus was critically important for supplying the ever-growing city of imperial Rome with foodstuffs and materials from across the Mediterranean.  It also acted as both a point of export for supplies and products from the Tiber Valley to the north of Rome, and a major hub for the redistribution of goods from ports across the Mediterranean. It must also have acted as a major conduit for people visiting Rome from around the Mediterranean.

Roman port scene (Lithograph from Seewesen by Walter Muller 1893)

Roman port scene (Lithograph from Seewesen by Walter Muller 1893)

Ostia was to play a major part in the downfall of Rome when Alaric the Goth captured it in AD 409 knowing that this would starve Rome of much needed food. The port began to enter a period of slow decline from the late 5th century AD onwards, although it was the scene of a major struggle between Byzantine and Ostrogothic troops during the Gothic wars (AD 535-553).

Ostia Antica: Chandler's floor (Author photo)

Ostia Antica: Chandler’s floor (Author photo)

Today Ostia Antica in an outstanding site for tourists and students alike and noted for the excellent preservation of its ancient buildings, magnificent frescoes and impressive mosaics ( Portus is the centre of an exciting project led by the University of Southampton ( Only recently, a new canal and town wall at Ostia have been discovered ( Perhaps we will finally discover just how complex life and sea-borne trade were in ancient Rome!

Originally written as a guest post on Antoine Banner’s Dawlish Chronicles


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

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s 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.

From pirate to emperor

Pirates have fascinated people for several centuries, but the fictional world of pirates, represented in novels and movies, is somewhat different to the reality, but where does fact end and fiction begin?

Helen Hollick has written a series of nautical voyages based around her fictional pirate, Captain Jesamiah Acorne and his ship, Sea Witch, but her latest UK release in paperback is a non-fiction book – ‘Pirates: Truth and Tales‘ published by Amberley Press. It explores our fascination with the real pirates and those who are favourites in fiction. Today, Helen drops anchor for another interesting addition to her on-line two-week Voyage around the blogs with a pirate or two for company…

Hello! Alison has kindly invited me on to her blog as a guest during my book tour… thank you Alison… I write about pirates: mainly the ones associated with the ‘Golden Age’ of the early eighteenth century, the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’ Piracy, however, is nothing new. Where there was sea-trade there were pirates. All you needed was a good ship, an equally good crew, a good knowledge of the shipping lanes, what was shipped and, most important, what was worth plundering.

The Romans, that mighty empire that we tend to think was highly organised and even more highly efficient, had as much trouble with these seafaring knaves as did the British government, the Spanish, French and Dutch (among others) in the 1700s. Come to that, as we still do. Researching for this article, I came across a most interesting chap…

Marcus Aurelius Mausaeus Valerius Carausius (Those Romans certainly had grand names – explained here!) was a military commander of the Roman Empire in the third century. He came from Belgic Gaul and as a former nautical pilot, he made a name for himself in 286 AD while fighting against tribal rebels. He was promoted to command a fleet, the Classis Britannica, which patrolled the English Channel: his orders – to eliminate raiding Saxon pirates. He adapted these orders, however, and suspicion grew that he was permitting these pirates to carry out their raids in return for a portion of the loot for himself and his men. Emperor Maximian took a dim view of this and demanded that Carausius was to be arrested and executed. Equally, our guy took a similar dim view of such an insult when he heard about it. He retaliated by declaring himself emperor in Northern Gaul and Britannia, the territories known as Imperium Britanniarum.

Full size replica of a liburna, small galley used for raiding and patrols, particularly by the Roman navy, in Millingen aan de Rijn, Netherlands

Backing him were his entire northern fleet, the three legions who were in Britain, a legion from Gaul, some foreign auxiliary units, some Gaulish merchant ships and various other experienced mercenaries. There has been speculation as to how Carausius managed to gain such wide support, but to my mind the answer is quite simple. As with all pirates, of any era or location, the lure of prospective treasure and a ‘get-rich-quick’ promise, was enough to attract anyone. Or he had amassed enough treasure to pay them all well. He was a pirate. A successful one, he could afford it.

The retaliatory invasion Emperor Maximian had hoped to launch in 288 or 289 AD failed and Carausius claimed this as a military victory. Was there a sea-battle perhaps, a successful blockade in the Channel? History later repeated itself: it is possible that King Harold II, who without doubt had an experienced English navy, may have initially defeated Duke William of Normandy at sea in the summer of 1066, and then there is the English defeat of the Spanish Armada in the reign of Elizabeth I. Whatever the truth of it is for our chap, peace was negotiated and Carausius began to lead his little corner of the empire as a true emperor, even minting his own coinage which he used to advantage for propaganda.

His coins were of good quality silver – which had not been used for many years – and indicated a prospect of ‘better times’. They were also marked with slogans such as Restitutor Britanniae, ‘Restorer of Britain’ and Expectate veni, ‘Come long-awaited one’. It may have been this sort of appeal which endeared Carausius to the native population who were becoming dissatisfied with Rome rule: the Romano British equivalent of Br*xit?

It is thought that Carausius may have been responsible for ordering the building of the Saxon Shore forts, a line of strategic defences along the east and south coast of what is now England, in order to deter the Anglo-Saxon sea raiders.

In 293 AD, Constantine I (Chlorus) reclaimed Gaul and Carausius found himself in difficulty, although not especially threatened as to invade Britain Constantine needed a fleet – most of which was under Carausius’s control. Alas, betrayal intervened. A traitor called Allectus, who was in charge of the British treasury, decided he wanted a higher position of authority, so he murdered Carausius and took power for himself. His reign lasted only a few short years as he in turn was killed.

It is interesting that in similar circumstances, although not so grand, a few of the seventeen and eighteenth century pirates set themselves up as leaders. One was Jean le Vasseur, an engineer by trade, who at around 1640 was sent by the governor of Saint Christopher Island (now St. Kitts) to oversee the island and harbour of Tortuga in the Caribbean. Le Vasseur built a stone fortress on the relatively flat top of thirty-feet of steep rock. Defended by formidable guns and supplied by water from a natural spring it was almost impenetrable. Le Vasseur reigned as if he were an emperor, and took a percentage of all the plunder brought into harbour by various pirates. He taxed everything else that was brought in or taken out and amassed a substantial fortune for himself. Tortuga flourished as a safe haven for pirates, but le Vasseur’s prestige was fading. Excessive power all too often corrupts. He began to rule like a tyrant and his men started to turn against him. He was murdered in 1653 by his lieutenant in retaliation for raping the man’s wife.

I can’t say I feel sorry for le Vasseur. For Carausius though? I think I would have backed him as a pirate emperor. He sounds an interesting character.

Alison adds:
The legend: (That not terribly reliable but only source of the time) Geoffrey of Monmouth relates a legend about Carausius. In Geoffrey’s account History of the Kings of Britain (1136 AD), Carausius is a Briton of humble birth, who by his courage persuades the Roman Senate to give him command of a fleet to defend Britain from barbarian attack. Once given the fleet, however, he sails around Britain stirring up unrest and raises an army against, the historical Caracalla, here a king of Britain. Carausius defeats Bassianus by persuading Bassianus’ Pictish allies to desert him in exchange for grants of land in Scotland and sets himself up as king. Hearing of Carausius’s treachery, the Romans send Allectus to Britain with three legions. Allectus defeats Carausius, kills him, and sets himself up as king in his place.

The historical record: The historical Caracalla’s full name was Lucius Septimius Bassianus and he and his brother, Geta, ended the campaign in Caledonia when their father Septimius Severus died in York in 211 AD. They concluded a peace with the Caledonians that returned the border of Roman Britain to the line demarcated by Hadrian’s Wall.


Pirates: Truth And Tales 

The historian R. H. Tawney famously wrote, ‘The sixteenth century lives in terror of the tramp.’ The eighteenth century lived in terror of the tramps of the seas – pirates. Pirates have fascinated people ever since.

It was a harsh life for those who went ‘on the account’, constantly overshadowed by the threat of death – through violence, illness, shipwreck, or the hangman’s noose. The lure of gold, the excitement of the chase and the freedom that life aboard a pirate ship offered were judged by some to be worth the risk. Helen Hollick explores both the fiction and fact of the Golden Age of piracy, and there are some surprises in store for those who think they know their Barbary Corsair from their boucanier. Everyone has heard of Captain Morgan, but who recognises the name of the aristocratic Frenchman Daniel Montbars? He killed so many Spaniards he was known as ‘The Exterminator’.

The fictional world of pirates, represented in novels and movies, is different from reality. What draws readers and viewers to these notorious hyenas of the high seas? What are the facts behind the fantasy?

Published in paperback in the UK July 2018 and in the US November 2018  (Now available for pre-order).

Find Helen:
Helen’s Amazon Author Page is at
Subscribe to Helen’s newsletter:
Vist her website: and her main blog:
She’s on Facebook: and Twitter: @HelenHollick and runs the well-regarded historical fiction site: Discovering Diamonds

Follow Helen’s Tour:
These links will take you to the Home Page of each blog host – Helen says thank you for their interest and enthusiasm! For the exact URL links to each article, go to Helen’s website:  which will be updated every day of the tour.

30thJuly: Cryssa Bazos Dropping Anchor to Talk About Pirates
31stJuly: Anna Belfrage Ships That Pass…
1stAugust: Carolyn Hughes Pirates of the Middle Ages
2ndAugust: Alison Morton Pirate to Emperor
3rdAugust: Annie Whitehead The Vikings: Raiders or Pirates?
4thAugust: Tony Riches An Interview With Helen Hollick (and maybe a couple of pirates thrown in for good measure?)
5thAugust: Lucienne Boyce Anne and Mary. Pirates.
6thAugust: Laura Pilli Why Pirates?
7thAugust: Mary Tod That Essential Element… For A Pirate.
8thAugust: Pauline Barclay Writing Non-Fiction. How Hard Can It Be?
9thAugust: Nicola Smith Pirates: The Tales Mixed With The Truth
10thAugust: Christoph Fischer In The Shadow Of The Gallows
11thAugust: Debdatta What Is It About Pirates?
12thAugust: Discovering Diamonds  It’s Been An Interesting Voyage…
13thAugust: Sarah Greenwood Pirates: The Truth and the Tales
14thAugust: Antoine Vanner The Man Who Knew About Pirates

About Helen:
Helen moved from London in 2013 and now lives with her family in North Devon, in an 18th century farmhouse. First published in 1994, her passion now is her pirate character, Captain Jesamiah Acorne of the nautical adventure series, The Sea Witch Voyages. Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (UK title A Hollow Crown), the story of Saxon queen, Emma of Normandy. Her novel Harold the King (US title I Am The Chosen King), explores the events that led to the 1066 Battle of Hastings. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, set in the 5th century, is widely praised as a more down-to-earth historical version of the Arthurian legend. She has written three non-fiction books, Pirates: Truth and Tales, Smugglers in Fact and Fiction (to be published 2019) and as a supporter of indie writers, co-wrote Discovering the Diamond with her editor, Jo Field, a short advice guide for new writers. She runs the Discovering Diamonds review blog for historical fiction assisted by a team of enthusiastic reviewers. Her books are published in several languages.

Alison adds: I was delighted to contribute a story ‘A Roman Intervenes’, in the 1066 Turned Upside Down collection of short stories masterminded by Helen, which in the 950th year since the Norman invasion explored what might have happened if events had taken a different turn…


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

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s 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.

Swedes and Romans

Anna  at the ABBA museum, Stockholm

Visiting Sweden on holiday recently was personally enormous fun, especially as my hostess was the ABBA singing historical fiction writer Anna Belfrage. But in a way it was spooky.

Something was missing – big time.

Sweden brims over with history and its impact on my home country can’t be underestimated; half of Britain has its DNA. I was impressed by beautiful buildings, hundreds of years of tradition, the rise of the Vasa dynasty, the Iron Age town of Uppåkra, the huge influence of the Hanseatic League and of course, the impressive conserved Vasa warship from 1628 (Sweden’s Mary Rose) .

The Vasa


But no Romans. This was what was troubling me.

We know that the northern lands of Britannia and Germania, and to an extent Batavia, were bothersome (and cold) so perhaps successive Roman senates and rulers didn’t want to chance their arm. But what about any non-conquest contact?

It’s all a bit sketchy. There are two sources from the 1st century AD that refer to the Suiones. The first one is Pliny the Elder who said that the Romans had rounded the Cimbric peninsula (Jutland) where there was the Codanian Gulf (possibly the Kattegat). (Let’s not talk about the Cimbric War (113–101 BC) – the Roman state nearly foundered before it had really got going.)

Anyway, in this Codanian Gulf there were several large islands among which the most famous was Scatinavia (Scandinavia). He said that the size of the island was unknown but in a part of it dwelt a tribe named the Hillevionum gens, in 500 villages, and they considered their country to be a world of its own.

Tacitus (Modern statue outside the Austrian Parliament)

Commentators find it striking that this large tribe is unknown to posterity, unless it was a simple misspelling or misreading of illa Svionum gente. (Typos happen to the best of us.) This would make sense, since a large Scandinavian tribe named the Suiones was known to the Romans.

Tacitus wrote in AD 98 in Germania (44, 45) that the Suiones were a powerful tribe distinguished not merely for their arms and men, but for their powerful fleets with ships that had a prow in both ends. He further mentions that they were much impressed by wealth, and the king was absolute. Further, he says the Suiones did not bear arms everyday, and that weapons were guarded by a slave.

After Tacitus’ mention of the Suiones, the sources are silent about them until the 6th century as Scandinavia was still in pre-historic times.

Europe 125 AD


The ‘Roman Iron Age’  is the name given to the period 1–400 AD in Scandinavia, reflecting the hold that the Roman Empire had begun to exert on the Germanic tribes of Northern Europe. Coins (more than 7,000) and vessels, bronze images, glass beakers, enameled buckles, weapons, etc. markedly Roman have been found in Scandinavia from that period. The main items of exports appear to have been slaves, furs and amber via Roman merchants. Through the 5th and 6th centuries, gold and silver become more and more common possibly not unconnected with the ransack of the Roman Empire by Germanic tribes, from which many Scandinavians returned with gold and silver.

On the island of Öland off Sweden’s south-eastern coast, two rings and a coin (below) were found in 2017, which confirmed a theory that the island was in close contact with the Roman Empire. Close by,  the team found pieces of Roman glass in an area which was once an important house. The coin was made in honour of Western Roman Emperor Valentinian III, who ruled between 425 and 455 AD. The emperor is depicted on one side of the coin, with his foot resting on the head of a barbarian – a common motif in coinage from the period. A similar coin commemorating Valentinian III was found three years ago.

In the 6th century Jordanes, 6th-century Eastern Roman bureaucrat turned historian of Gothic extraction, named two tribes he calls the Suehans and the Suetidi who lived in Scandza. They were famous for their fine horses. The Suehans were the suppliers of black fox skins for the Roman market. Then Jordanes names a tribe named Suetidi a name that is considered to refer to the Suiones as well and to be the Latin form of Sweþiuð. ‘The Suetidi are said to be the tallest of men together with the Dani who were of the same stock.’ (Tell that to the Swedes!)

University of Lund

The University of Lund, one of Sweden’s most prestigious, offers a short part-time course ‘Barbarians and Romans’:

This course studies the relationship between the Roman Empire and other cultures, especially Germanic and Celtic tribes, outside the realm of the Empire during the period 100 B.C to 400 A.D. We discuss the how the meeting between Romans and their neighbours took place materially and culturally and problematize central concepts like imperialism, civilization, ethnicity, social identity, Romanization and hybridity. Parts of the teaching will take place at the Historical Museum in Lund and at the National Museum and Glyptoteket in Copenhagen.

Looks like it’s on again next year as well…

But here’s a connection to the Romans, carved on the prow of the Vasa. Like the Turks, the Romans were universally acknowledged as tough and fearsome warriors and often used as symbols to frighten away enemies. This figure would have been holding a sword in his raised right hand. The lion and dog at his feet symbolise the clemency of the strong towards the weak.

Teasing out differences and connections between the Roman and Scandinavian worlds will fascinate forever and doubtless be fertile ground for historical novelists for some time to come. 😉


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

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s 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.

A tale of another Aurelia – the mother of Julius Caesar

(Possibly) Aurelia Cotta, unattributed

Many of you will be familiar with Aurelia Mitela, the elder stateswoman of INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO and the heroine in her own trilogy set in her younger days –  AURELIA, INSURRECTIO and RETALIO. Although an honourable name in Roma Nova, it was one with a long history in the Roman past.

One of the most famous was Aurelia Cotta, the mother of Julius Caesar. Born in 120 BC, she came from a top drawer family with consuls, senators and generals in every generation in her distinguished family tree. Her father was consul in 119 BC and her paternal grandfather in 144 BC. Ditto three of her bothers: Gaius Aurelius Cotta in 75 BC, Marcus Aurelius Cotta in 74 BC and Lucius Aurelius Cotta in 65 BC.

Aurelia married Gaius Julius Caesar (not that one, his father) and had three children:
– Julia Major (102 – 68 BC), wife of Pinarius and grandmother of Lucius Pinarius;
– Julia Minor (101 – 51 BC), wife of Marcus Atius and grandmother of emperor Augustus;
– Gaius Julius Caesar (100 – 44 BC), the dictator.

Caesar senior’s progress through the cursus honorum, the Roman career path, is recorded although the specific dates are a bit wobbly. According to two elogia erected in Rome long after his death, Caesar senior was at some time commissioner in the colony at Cercina, military tribune, quaestor, praetor and proconsul of Asia. He died suddenly in 85 BC, in Rome, while putting on his shoes one morning. (Dangerous things, shoes). His father, who had had him educated by Marcus Antonius Gnipho, one of the best orators in Rome, left Caesar senior the bulk of his estate, but after Marius’s faction had been defeated in the civil war of the 80s BC, this inheritance was confiscated by the dictator Sulla. This is probably why young Julius Caesar was always strapped for cash.

That’s the official stuff, but what was Aurelia like?
The historian Tacitus considered her an ideal Roman matron and thought highly of her (Dialogus de oratoribus, section xxviii).

“Thus it was, as tradition says, that the mothers of the Gracchi, of Cæsar, of Augustus, Cornelia, Aurelia, Atia, directed their children’s education and reared the greatest of sons. The strictness of the discipline tended to form in each case a pure and virtuous nature which no vices could warp, and which would at once with the whole heart seize on every noble lesson.” 

Plutarch described her as a “strict and respectable” woman (Plutarch’s Lives: Caesar). Highly intelligent, independent and renowned for her beauty and common sense, Aurelia was held in high regard throughout Rome.

Guillaume Rouille (1518?-1589), ‘Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum’

Caesar senior was often away so the task of raising their son fell mostly on Aurelia and her influential family’s shoulders. They lived in the Subura, a working class district in Rome, unusual for a patrician family. When the young Julius Caesar was about eighteen, he was ordered by the then dictator of Rome, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, to divorce his young wife Cornelia Cinna, Cinna’s daughter. Young Caesar firmly refused and put himself at risk of execution by Sulla who was not exactly unknown for knocking off anybody who displeased or opposed him. Aurelia headed a petition to Sulla that succeeded in saving her son’s life.

After Cornelia Cinna’s death in childbirth, Aurelia raised her young granddaughter Julia in her stead and presided over her son’s household. Young Caesar subsequently married Pompeia Sulla. During the Bona Dea festival held at young Julius Caesar’s house, Aurelia’s maid discovered Publius Clodius disguised as a woman, ostensibly in order to start or continue an affair with her second daughter-in-law Pompeia. Although young Julius Caesar himself admitted Pompeia’s possible innocence, he divorced her shortly afterwards stating that his wife must be above suspicion.

Not much more is known about Aurelia. She must have had a rather conventional though formidable personality. In her Masters of Rome series, Colleen McCullough breathes life into her as a young landlady of a large insula, as one who has to become mother and father of her children during her husband’s long absences, and later on through a rather murky but basically platonic relationship with Sulla.

Did Aurelia have the first C-Section?
Speculation that young Julius Caesar was born by Caesarian section doesn’t seem to be true.

Although Caesarean sections were performed in Roman times, no classical source records a mother surviving such a delivery. The term has may have derived from the verb caedere, to cut, with children delivered this way referred to as caesones. Pliny the Elder refers to a certain Julius Caesar (an ancestor of the our Julius Caesar) as ab utero caeso, ‘cut from the womb’, giving this as an explanation for the cognomen ‘Caesar’ which was then carried by his descendants.

However, linking Caesarean section to Julius Caesar has been widely believed down the ages. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary defines Caesarean birth as “the delivery of a child by cutting through the walls of the abdomen when delivery cannot take place in the natural way, as was done in the case of Julius Caesar”. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition) states a little more hesitantly, ‘from the legendary association of such a delivery with the Roman cognomen Caesar.’

Can you imagine it, with no anaesthetic or antibiotics? I think we’ll leave it in the realm of folklore.

As for Aurelia Cotta, she died around 54 BC at the respectable age of 65, so I think we can safely say she wasn’t the mother of the C-section.


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 now.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s 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.

Serious stuff - GDPR and your data

You’ve probably been getting a load of ‘We’re changing our privacy setting/terms of service‘ type emails recently as today, 25 May 2018, is the deadline for the new EU General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) coming into force. Some organisations ask you to re-subscribe, some ask for confirmation, some advise you of the new regulations and their updated privacy policies. There’s a fair amount of confusion out there, but I conclude that what you have to do as somebody who holds data on other people depends on how you collected the email addresses in the first place.

Now, I approve of these new regulations. I’ve had a privacy policy on my business websites since I started my translation business in 1994. For too long, and especially in today’s universal digital universe, our data have been thrown around willy-nilly, monetised and merchandised by any website we’ve signed up to. Of course, it’s on us to be careful about what we post on social media and what we sign up to, but tightening up regulation was needed.

But it affects the little people like me as well as giants like Facebook, hence this post.

Anybody joining the Roma Nova newsletter/email list ( or subscribing to my two blogsites ( and has always been asked to confirm by email that they really, really want to subscribe – the ‘double opt-in’ which now has a link to my privacy policy. An ‘Unsubscribe’ link is at the bottom of each blogpost notification email.

If you want to continue following the blogs, you don’t need to do anything, but I want to draw your attention to my revised privacy policy which outlines how I collect your name and email address, how I store it and how I use it.

I know it only applies to subscribers in the EU, but it’s really good business practice to be transparent with your clients, readers, colleagues and anybody you have a business or professional relationship with.

Right, that’s out the way. Let’s get back to Roma Nova!

If you have any questions, email me at

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 now.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s 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.