Roma Nova trip = cancelled

View from the Magdelensberg

At last! I was going to Roma Nova for my holiday in June; from 8-23 June to be precise.

Okay, I confess, not exactly Roma Nova – after all, we all know it’s not real, don’t we? However, I planned a three-week trip to Slovenia and Austria, the geographical patterns for Roma Nova.

But Covid-19 intervened. I live in France and although lockdown eases on 11 May (Hooray!), we cannot travel further than 100kms from home, i.e. to the airport in Paris, or across the French border until at least 15 June. Also, until we can all get vaccinated, it would be running an avoidable risk to me, my family and to everybody I would meet.

So why did I want to go?

Virunum, one time capital of Roman Noricum was the home of Julia Bacausa, one of the founders of the dynasty which would go on to found Roma Nova.
Virunum was where the Roman tribune Apulius was posted in AD 370 after he refused to become Christian and thus turned his back on a glittering career. Virunum was where he met the fiery Julia.
Virunum was where the refugees from Rome first sheltered when they left Rome in 395 AD, pursued as pagans.
Virunum 1980’s archaeological dig sheltered one of Aurelia’s clandestine listening posts in RETALIO.

Virunum today (Photo: Wikipedia)

Virunum today (Photo: Wikipedia)

A visit there was essential. I had even arranged a private guided tour of the Virunum amphitheatre, not usually open to the general public.

Plus, there’s an archaeological park open to the public on the Magdelensburg, the hill above the site of Roman Virunum. This oppidum was widely believed to have been the administrative centre and residence of the pre-Roman Celtic royal family in Noricum, and as such provided a natural focus for Roman merchants from around 100 BC.

So you can imagine how hard it has been to cancel all this.

About the real Virunum and Noricum…

For a long time before Roman Virunum was founded, the Noricans had enjoyed independence under princes of their own and carried on commerce with the Romans since around 170 BC; Celtic Magdelensburg was an important centre of that trade. In 48 BC, the Noricans took the side of Julius Caesar in the civil war against Pompey. (Sound choice – always back the winner.) In 16 BC, having joined with the Pannonians in invading Histria, they were defeated by Publius Silius Nerva, proconsul of Illyricum. (Not such a good choice – the Romans always bit back.)

After that, Noricum was called a province, although it was not organised as such; it remained a kingdom with the title of regnum Noricum, yet under the control of an imperial procurator. In the reign of Emperor Claudius (AD 41–54) the Norican kingdom was incorporated into the Roman Empire, apparently without offering resistance. It was not until the reign of Antoninus Pius (AD 138-161) that the Second Legion, Pia (later renamed Italica), was stationed in Noricum and the commander of the legion became the governor of the province.

Photo:Johann Jaritz, Road to Toeltschach amidst rye fields at Virunum on Zollfeld (GNU Free Documentation License

Municipium Claudium Virunum was founded under Emperor Claudius as the capital of the province of Noricum succeeding the town upon the hilltop of Magdalensberg, perhaps also taking its name from that settlement. The new Roman foundation was situated on the main route from the Adriatic to the Danube, with a branch through south eastern Carinthia connecting Virunum with the Amber Road. Established on a flood-proof terrace on the edge of modern day Zollfeld, parts of the city stretched as far as Töltschach Hill in the east. The Roman colony developed on a south-facing terrace below the oppidum. The whole area  became prosperous due to the famous Noricum steel made there.

Slovenia – the geographical model for Roma Nova

Further south, Emona, modern Ljubljana, or Colonia Iulia Aemona to be exact, was a Roman castrum, located in the area where the navigable Ljubljanica river came closest to Castle Hill. Part of Italia at first, later designated as in the province of Venetia et Histria, Emona served the trade between the city’s settlers – colonists from the northern part of Roman Italy – and the rest of the empire.

A bit like Rome itself, archaeology has been found every time somebody wants to start a construction project in the middle of modern Ljubljana. Numerous remains have been excavated, including parts of the Roman wall, residential houses, statues, tombstones, several mosaics, and parts of the early Christian baptistery, all of which I had wanted to visit.

Vienna – much featured in the Roma Nova thrillers

Vienna, Roman Vindobona, is a glorious city. But apart from royal palaces, pleasure parks, waltzing and chocolate cake, it has a great Roman museum and of course, Carnutum to the east, also on the target list. The Romans created a military camp (occupied by Legio X Gemina) during the 1st century on the site of the city centre of present-day Vienna. The settlement was raised to the status of a municipium in AD 212. The Romans stayed until the 5th century but the Great Migrations reduced the town to an insignificant settlement for some time. However, the streets of the First District show where the encampment placed its walls and moats, so something to see after all!

A dream journey?

In many ways, yes. Of course, I intended to visit the chocolate museum in Vienna – research purposes, naturally – and enjoy the beauties of Lake Bled and devour the famous Slovenian vanilla cake. But truthfully, aside from relishing the real, verifiable history of Noricum, I had to see the mountainous terrain and alpine valleys of the areas that had inspired the Roma Nova of my books. I wanted to breath the same air as the characters I had created which I reckoned I would find in Slovenia and Austria.

Thank you, Covid19. I’m not at all upset or bitter.

But on the good side, I know where I’m planning to go for my holiday next year. And I don’t have to do any research for the trip.

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, 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.

Bored little Romans at home?

I haven’t written anything here on the Roma Nova blog about the current havoc wreaked across the world by Covid-19, the coronavirus. You can read a few of my thoughts here and here on my writing blog.

But as you probably know, Rome had its fair share of rampant disease not least the Antonine Plagues of the second century AD.

But here we are, ‘confined to barracks’. Imagine how Carina would like that! But she would comply. Perhaps she entertained her own little Romans at home with making these excellent models from Usborne books. I’ve made all three and they were great fun. I even made the amphitheatre as a prop for my book display at a conference a few years ago. (Just in view at the left and that’s NOT my Roman play helmet.)

You can order them direct from Usborne or Amazon. All you really need extra is a tube of paper glue….

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, 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.

Who were the Roman cops?

Modern Roman cops

Modern Roman cops – Carabiniere (Author photo)

Thinking about police, gendarmes and emergency services in the past few days brought me to the law enforcers of Ancient Rome. Faced with terrorist attack (or riot, revolt and rebellion), they would have been robust in their attitude and actions. So who policed Rome?

Vigiles as a public service were founded by Augustus as a new firefighting force to replace the private, often haphazard, groups. In AD 6, he levied a 4% tax on the sale of slaves to finance the service. They were commanded by the praefectus vigilum, who was of equestrian rank, and organised into seven cohorts of 500, later 1,000 men, each commanded by a tribune. A cohort would patrol two of the city’s fourteen administrative districts (regiones) from sub-stations throughout the city, plus detachments were stationed at Rome’s ports of Ostia and Portus.

Vigiles were dual role: they also acted as a night watch, keeping an eye out for burglars, cut-throats and low-life, and hunting down runaway slaves. Sometimes, they were used to maintain order in the streets. As well as the power to break into houses if they suspected an out-of-control fire inside, and demolish property to create firebreaks, vigiles could also check if householders had firefighting equipment and a ready reserve of water. If not, householders could be punished for negligence. So there was an element of preventative work as well as powers of investigation and enforcement…

Portable Roman fire engine nozzle, Madrid Museum (Creative Commons)

Portable Roman fire engine nozzle, Madrid Museum (Creative Commons)

 

In their firefighting role, the vigiles had a variety of specialist troops such as sifonarii, who worked the pumps, uncinarii, men who used grappling hooks, aquarii who identified and supervised the supply of water. As with true military forces, the vigiles enjoyed the benefit of their own medical support with four doctors (medici) attached to each cohort. The ordinary firefighters were called milites (soldiers).

For firefighting, the vigiles used quilts or mats, (most likely soaked in water and used to smother flames), ladders, axes, fire buckets made of rope treated with pitch, poles and hooks to push and pull  over fire damaged walls. The height of sophistication was a sipho, a fire engine, pulled by horses and consisting of a large double-action pump that was partially submerged in a reservoir of water and fitted with a directional nozzle.

The Silver PigsRecruited from the lower levels of Roman society, often ex-slaves, vigiles were not as highly regarded as their other policing colleagues. But their job wasn’t easy…

I heartily recommend reading Lindsey Davis’ Falco series which features Petro (Lucius Petronius Longus), a vigiles watch captain in charge of a disparate lot and who helps main hero Falco investigate dastardly deeds in Ancient Rome.

Cohortes urbanae, also created by the ever busy Augustus, were formed to counterbalance the enormous power of the Praetorian Guard. The cohorts’primary role was to police Rome and to counteract the roaming mobs and gangs that so often haunted its streets during the Republic. These urban cohorts thus acted as a heavy duty police force, capable of riot control duties, while their contemporaries, the vigiles, had the day-to-day role of policing the streets and protecting against fires.

Augustus

Augustus

Originally, the cohortes urbanae were divided into three cohorts of around 500 men, each commanded by a tribune and six centurions. In the time of the Flavians (Vespasian, Titus and Domitian), this increased to four cohorts. Only free citizens, mainly of Italian origin, were eligible to serve in their ranks.

The man in charge of all the cohortes urbanae was the urban prefect (praefectus urbanus or praefectus urbi), a magistrate tasked with maintaining order in the city and within a hundred mile circumference.

He was also tasked with administering the emperor’s laws, superintending guilds and corporations (collegia), overseeing officials responsible for the drainage of the Tiber and the maintenance of the city’s sewers and water supply system, as well as its monuments.

Most importantly, he was ultimately responsible for the city’s provision with grain from overseas for the city’s large population; if the prefect failed to secure adequate supplies, riots usually broke out.

Urban cohorts were later created in both the Roman North African city of Carthage and the city of Lugdunum in Roman Gaul (modern Lyon).

Symmachus

Symmachus

In Late Antiquity, when the imperial court moved from Rome itself, the office of urban prefect became more powerful, as it was no longer under the emperor’s direct supervision or even his eye. Interestingly, from the Roma Nova angle, the office was usually held by leading members of Italy’s still largely pagan senatorial aristocracy. In such a capacity, Symmachus played a prominent role in the controversy over the Altar of Victory in the late 4th century.

So there are some parallels and overlaps with modern day services. In the UK, police (regionally based), military, fire brigades and ambulance/paramedic services are separate. Here in France, there are two police services – municipal (local) and gendarmerie (paramilitary). Ambulances are organised privately and publicly, but it’s a firefighter who is likely to arrive first at an accident and carry out paramedic services.

Lurio

And in Roma Nova?
When Aurelia was younger in the late sixties in AURELIA, and later in INSURRECTIO and RETALIO (early eighties), the police were still called vigiles and wore a maroon uniform, but after Roma Nova was liberated from Caius Tellus’s regime, a new force was formed called custodes; they wear a standard blue uniform we associate with most police forces today. Those of you who have read Carina’s adventures in INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO will know the most fascinating custos is Inspector, later Commander, Aulus Cornelius Lurio with whom Carina has history…

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, 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.