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Authors: Rosemary Rowe

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Contemporary, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Historical, #Contemporary Fiction

Enemies of the Empire

BOOK: Enemies of the Empire
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Rosemary Rowe



Copyright © 2005 Rosemary Aitken

The right of Rosemary Rowe to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing of the publishers or, in the case of reprographic production, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency.

First published as an Ebook by HEADLINE PUBLISHING GROUP in 2013

All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Cataloguing in Publication Data is available from the British Library

eISBN: 978 1 4722 0511 7


An Hachette UK Company

338 Euston Road

London NW1 3BH

Table of Contents

Title Page


About the Author

Also By



Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

About the Author

Rosemary Rowe is the maiden name of author Rosemary Aitken, who was born in Cornwall during the Second World War. She is a highly qualified academic, and has written more than a dozen bestselling textbooks on English language and communication. She has written fiction for many years under her married name. Rosemary has two children and also two grandchildren living in New Zealand, where she herself lived for twenty years. She now divides her time between Gloucestershire and Cornwall.

Also by Rosemary Rowe and available from Headline:

The Germanicus Mosaic

A Pattern of Blood

Murder in the Forum

The Chariots of Calyx

The Legatus Mystery

The Ghosts of Glevum

Enemies of the Empire

A Roman Ransom

A Coin for the Ferryman

To John and Linda – with much love.


Enemies of the Empire
is set in the early weeks of
188, at a time when most of Britain was a Roman province, administered by a single governorship answerable directly to Rome, where the increasingly unbalanced Emperor Commodus still wore the imperial purple and ruled the Empire with an autocratic and capricious hand.

Interestingly, at this period the outgoing governor, Pertinax, had recently been promoted to the more prestigious North African provinces, from where he would shortly rise to become Prefect of Rome (second only in importance to Commodus himself) and ultimately – and briefly – Emperor. Since there is no reliable evidence to show the precise date of his departure from Britannia or, strangely, the name of his successor, this novel, like its predecessor, postulates that Pertinax continued to maintain nominal control over both provinces at once, using local appointees until a new governor could be installed. (This is entirely speculative, of course, and probably unlikely, but such an arrangement is not impossible and there are historical precedents elsewhere.)

The province over which he ruled was the northernmost outpost of the Roman Empire, occupied by Roman legions, criss-crossed by Roman roads, and subject to Roman laws and taxes. Most of the quarrelsome local tribes had settled into an uneasy peace, but there were still sporadic clashes in the border areas to the north and – as in this narrative – the west, where there was a long history of opposition to Roman rule.

It had been the policy, when an area was first colonised, for Rome to seek alliances with tribal chiefs, who were then often installed as local ‘kings’ or given high posts and honours in the new administration. It was an effective practice, and was successfully followed in Britannia, as elsewhere. Tribes which persisted in revolt, or continued to resist the new regime even after they had been offered terms, were summarily dealt with – as massacres such as that at Maiden Castle testify.

But there were those who continued to rebel. The best-known revolt, by an alliance of tribes in the south-east led by the Icenian Queen Boudicca, had some success at first – killing large numbers of the occupying troops and burning half of the new Roman capital (Londinium) – but was afterwards ruthlessly suppressed.

Some fifteen years before Boudicca, and far off to the west, the so-called ‘king’ Caractacus, supported by the red-haired Silurian tribe and the wild and warlike Ordovices slightly to the north, held out against the might of Rome for almost two years before he was captured and led in chains to Rome. The spirit of rebellion did not die with him and throughout the second century the western borders were a byword for unrest.

There is no evidence of trouble during the period covered by the novel, but there is mention only a few years earlier of continued skirmishing and ambushes on military supply trains in the area. Indeed, it was so troublesome that the Romans made special arrangements to deal with it. Apart from the permanent garrisons along the fortified frontier (‘Offa’s Dyke’ is almost certainly built on a Roman wall) they brought in the system of so-called ‘marching-camps’, where legionary and auxiliary forces were maintained in tented camps, ready to move quickly in support in case of insurrection or disturbance. Many of these camps were disbanded after the Iceni revolt and the troops were moved to serve elsewhere, but a few remained throughout our period, and one is mentioned in the narrative – though there probably was no camp so near to Venta (Caerwent) at this time.

Caerwent is now a smallish settlement, but in
188 it was a thriving town, straddling the main road from Glevum (modern Gloucester) to the border garrison at Isca (Caerleon). It was the tribal capital, or ‘civitas’, of the Silurians and the centre for local administration of the area. Many of the ruined buildings have been disinterred and are visible today, and it is clear that the town was Roman in design, with a forum, basilica, mansio, and bath-house roughly in the positions suggested in the text. There is also what may have been a fuller-dyer’s shop, and perhaps a butcher’s too, but I have taken liberties with the locations of these. (There is no indication of a lupinarium, although most large towns had at least one licensed brothel somewhere within the walls.)

There is no evidence at all that the town was divided into opposing factions, as suggested in the narrative, although a letter from first-century Judaea hints at the kind of ‘protection racket’ mentioned in the tale, proving that it was not unknown within the Empire. Certainly key members of local families who had historically supported Rome were likely to be Roman citizens by now, with all the legal privileges that implied, and have positions of civic responsibility; other freeborn men were not so fortunate and no doubt harboured grudges and ambitions of their own, even if they had acquired wealth as many traders did.

Of course, not all freemen were wealthy. Many were simple shopkeepers and craftsmen in the town, or farmers in the local area. Some might be peasants scratching a bare living from unforgiving land, or working long hours in stinking fuller’s shops and other industries. Some were known to sell themselves into slavery to survive. For of course, as in the rest of the Roman Empire, the real economy of Venta depended on the slaves, who had no rights of any kind and were the mere ‘living tools’ of their owners. Many had harsh masters and wretched lives but there are instances of genuine affection, such as Libertus exhibits towards his Junio.

Although Venta was on the outskirts of the Roman world, inscriptions and records suggest that most people probably spoke Latin, for trade and administration purposes at least, even if Celtic dialects survived at home. The presence of a Roman temple suggests that the Roman deities were worshipped, while a Celtic temple just outside the walls implies that older gods were not ignored. (The Romans were generally tolerant of local deities, and often subsumed them under Roman ones – Mars, for instance, was equated with a good many native gods.) Christianity was not at this time a forbidden religion, although the refusal of its adherents to sacrifice to the imperial gods could lead to persecution if the culprit was denounced. Only Druidism was a capital offence, perhaps because it was equated with human sacrifice and the cult of severed heads: there are several terrifying descriptions of the sacred groves.

The Romano-British background to this book is derived from exhibitions, excavations, interviews with experts and a wide variety of (sometimes contradictory) written and pictorial sources. This is, however, a work of fiction and although I have done my best to create an accurate picture, there is no claim to total academic authenticity.

Relata refero. Ne lupiter quidem omnibus placet
. (I only tell you what I heard. Jove himself can’t please everybody.)

Chapter One

‘A civic banquet in your honour, Excellence? Here in Venta? Tonight?’ I stared at my wealthy patron in dismay.

I had never wanted to come to this remote tribal civitas in the first place. Two days of jogging and jolting in a heavy carriage along military roads is a punishing experience for ageing bones (and at fifty my bones are already far more aged than most) even when every hoofbeat does not take you nearer to the wild, forested outskirts of the Empire, where not only are there the usual hazards of brigands, wolves and bears, but there is always the entertaining possibility of a rebel ambush and a disaffected Silurian sword through your vitals.

Besides, I had left a wife and slaves at home, to say nothing of a new and lucrative commission for a memorial pavement for a fountain at the baths, bequeathed in his own honour under the will of a recently departed wealthy local citizen and councillor. But when His Excellence Marcus Aurelius Septimus – personal representative of the absent governor and my personal patron and protector – invites you to attend him on an official visit to the border legion at Isca, on the western frontier of the province, to say ‘I’m sorry, I’d prefer to stay at home’ is really not a possibility.

So here I was, draped in a wilting toga, travel-stained and sore. And we had not reached our destination yet, only a
– a military inn and staging post – at Venta Silurum, the local capital, with the prospect of another day’s travelling in view. ‘Tonight?’ I said again.

The last thing I wanted now was a wretched civic feast, where I would be expected to eat too much rich Roman food, drink too much Roman wine and endure not only eulogies about my host, but endless tributes to my patron too. And there would be tributes. Marcus is rumoured to be related to the Emperor and, until the new imperial governor arrives, is ruling this part of Britannia by depute. No dinner host would dare omit some appropriately fulsome homage as part of the after-dinner entertainment. It could go on for hours.

Marcus misinterpreted my anxiety. ‘I’m sorry, Libertus, my old friend, but I’m afraid the invitation was for me alone. I’ve been asked to accompany the chief magistrate and open the local assizes in the morning, too. It’s a bore, but it is an honour, naturally – lictors and processions, and all that sort of thing. Still, I’m not really expected to preside at any trials. There are no serious cases to be heard – nothing the local
authorities can’t handle perfectly. We should be able to set off again by noon. Till then, I’ll have to leave you at the mansio – no doubt our friend the
here will take care of you.’

He nodded towards the youthful officer who was currently commanding this establishment: newly promoted by the look of him. His armour was so burnished it half dazzled you, and his dark hair was so severely cropped it looked like stubble corn. He was bristling with self-importance and eagerness to impress and was so overawed by my patron’s presence here that he had come in person to bring us the dinner invitation from the messenger, and was now waiting by the door for some reply, his round face screwed into an earnest frown.

BOOK: Enemies of the Empire
3.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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