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Authors: Rosemary Rowe

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Requiem for a Slave

BOOK: Requiem for a Slave
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Previous Titles in this series by Rosemary Rowe
available from Severn House
A Libertus Mystery of Roman Britain
Rosemary Rowe
This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
This first world edition published 2010
in Great Britain and in the USA by
9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
Copyright © 2010 by Rosemary Aitken.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Rowe, Rosemary, 1942–
Requiem for a Slave. – (A Libertus mystery of Roman Britain)
1. Libertus (Fictitious character: Rowe) – Fiction.
2. Romans – Great Britain – Fiction. 3. Slaves – Fiction.
4. Great Britain – History – Roman period, 55 B.C.–449
A.D. – Fiction. 5. Detective and mystery stories.
I. Title II. Series
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-041-8   (ePub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-6877-0   (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-217-8   (trade paper)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
For Bryndis


Author’s Foreword




























Author’s Foreword
The story is set in
190, at a time when a large part of Britain had been for almost two hundred years the most northerly outpost of the hugely successful Roman Empire: occupied by Roman legions, criss-crossed by Roman roads, subject to Roman laws and, in theory at least, administered by a provincial governor answerable directly to Rome.
However, the identity of the governor at this period is a matter of debate. Helvius Pertinax, the previous holder of the post (and the supposed friend and patron of the fictional Marcus Severus in the book) had recently been promoted, first to the African Provinces and later to the exceedingly important consular post of Prefect of Rome, making him one of the most powerful men in the Empire. The name of his immediate successor is not known. One theory is that several candidates were selected and then unselected by the Emperor, leaving power temporarily in the hands of important local magistrates and military commanders: several previous books in this series are based on this premise. However, it is possible that, by the time of this story, Clodius Albinus had been appointed, if not actually installed. (The date of his induction is not known, but he was certainly provincial governor by the end of 192 and had clearly been in post for some time by then.) This book, therefore, postulates the presence of a governor again, although the name of the new incumbent is not specified.
There is no such doubt about the identity of the Emperor. The increasingly unbalanced Commodus still wore the imperial purple, despite his lascivious lifestyle, capricious cruelties and erratic acts. (He had renamed all the months, for instance, with names derived from the honorific titles that he had given to himself, declared himself the reincarnation of the god Hercules – and therefore a living deity – and announced that Rome itself was henceforth to be retitled ‘Commodiana’.) Stories about him barbecuing dwarves and having a bald man pecked to death by sticking birdseed to his head are probably exaggerated, but the existence of such rumours gives some indication of the man. He was widely loathed and dreaded, but he clung tenaciously to power. Fearing (justifiably) that there were plots against his life, he maintained a network of spies throughout the Empire, including the notorious ‘speculatores’, who, although originally mere imperial scouts (as the name suggests) had become effectively a private execution force, ready to strike against suspected enemies.
Apart from personal enemies, there were historic foes. In Britannia, most of the quarrelsome local tribes had long since settled into peace (the Iceni revolt, for instance, had been put down over a century ago), but there were still sporadic clashes to the north and west. Among the red-haired Silurians and the warlike Ordivices, in particular, the spirit of their defeated leader, Caractacus, and his heroic two-year resistance to Roman rule, lived on – if only, at this date – among a few marauding bands. The army had taken steps to suppress this discontent, creating special ‘marching camps’, where legionary and auxiliary forces were kept in tented camps ready to move quickly against insurgent groups, and, as the text suggests, most of the inhabitants had bowed to Roman rule. But then, as now, there were small groups of dissidents who refused to yield and, from forest hideouts, mounted occasional assaults (against military supply trains, in particular) though certainly none as far east as Glevum. There is no evidence of actual rebel activity at the time this tale is set, but records speak of recent ambushes, and the western border remained a byword for unrest until the end of the century.
This is the background of civil discontent against which the action of the book takes place. Glevum (modern Gloucester) was an important town: its historic status as a ‘colonia’ for retired legionaries gave it special privileges, and all freemen born within its walls were citizens by right. This was more than just a form of words. Citizenship at this time was very highly prized. Celtic languages, traditions and settlements remained (as suggested in the story), but Latin was the language of the educated, people were adopting Roman dress and habits, and citizenship was the aspiration of all. Apart from its social and commercial status, it conferred upon its owner precious legal rights such as protection against the harshest punishments and the right to trial by a senior magistrate, with final appeal to the Emperor himself.
Most inhabitants of Glevum, of course, were not citizens at all. Many were freemen
born within the walls (and the interpretation of that law was very strict: birth within the ‘sub-urbs’ did not qualify). Such men did not enjoy the social and legal rights of town-born men, but were drawn by the commercial opportunity: the turnip-seller, stallholders and tanner in the book are examples of this stratum of society, each scratching a more or less precarious living from his trade. Even so, they were the lucky ones, as hundreds more were slaves – what Aristotle once described as ‘vocal tools’ – mere chattels of their masters, to be bought and sold, with no more rights or status than any other domestic animal.
Some slaves led pitiable lives, but others were highly regarded by their owners and might be treated well. Not all slaves were the possessions of the rich. Tradesmen (like the tanner) frequently kept slaves, sometimes in surprising numbers, to labour in their workshops. The work was often hard and dangerous (the description of the tannery is based on contemporary sources and is quite typical) but the owner had a vested interest in his labourers, who were generally certain of at least a modicum of food and clothes and somewhere dry to sleep. A slave in a kindly household, in a comfortable home, might have a more enviable lot than many a poor freeman struggling to eke out an existence in a squalid hut.
Over this mixture, the town council ruled. As a colonia, Glevum had a high degree of responsibility for its own affairs (local tiles of the period describe it as a ‘republic’), and local councillors were therefore men of considerable power. They were also, by definition, men of wealth, like Quintus in this tale. Candidates for office were obliged by law to own a property of a certain value within the city walls, and, as the text suggests, they required a private fortune in support. Any councillor or magistrate (and many men were both) was also expected to contribute to the town by personally financing games, fountains, statues, and even drains – while at election time enormous sums were spent, though the donor might expect to gain a little in return, in service or in kind, from the contractors and tradesmen to whom they gave the work.
Power, of course, was vested almost entirely in men. Although individual women might inherit large estates and many wielded considerable influence within the house (like the tanner’s wife and Gwellia in this narrative), daughters were not much valued, except as potential wives and mothers, although sons (as in the story) were the source of pride. Females were excluded from public office, and a woman of any age was deemed a child in law.
The Romano-British background to this book has been derived from a variety of (sometimes contradictory) pictorial and written sources, as well as artefacts. However, although I have done my best to create an accurate picture, this remains a work of fiction, and there is no claim to total academic authenticity. Commodus and Pertinax are historically attested, as is the existence and basic geography of Glevum. The rest is the product of my imagination.
Relata refero. Ne Iupiter quidem omnibus placet.
I only tell you what I heard. Jove himself can’t please everybody.
I was hurrying back to my mosaic workshop in the town, my mind on the important customer I had arranged to meet, when I stopped short on the street. I had caught sight of something which should not have been there. A street-vendor’s tray! It was leaning against a pile of sorted stones outside my door. I heaved a heavy sigh. Not only was it likely to mark my precious stock – it was not so much a tray as a greasy piece of wood with an even greasier leather strap to hold it round the neck – but I was uncomfortably aware of what its presence meant. Lucius the pie-seller was at my shop again.
It was the fourth time in as many days, and no amount of hinting seemed to warn him off. My own fault, of course. I’d been too soft with him the first time he called, when I not only purchased one of his appalling pies but gave him a worn-out tunic out of pity for his plight.
I should have known better, especially about the pie. I had tasted Lucius’s wares before, but I persuaded myself that they could not be as bad as I recalled. This ‘example’ was worse, if anything, clearly fashioned, as usual, from whatever ingredients he could rustle up for a few
when the market stalls closed down: the questionable leavings from the butchers’ blocks, a few squashed turnip leaves and the final sweepings from the miller’s stones, more grit than flour – and those were only the things I could identify. The result was horrible. Even the dogs I fed it to when he had gone refused to finish it.
BOOK: Requiem for a Slave
12.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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