Many of the people in my books are referred to in ancient sources and therefore “really” existed: however it is very unlikely that they were anything like the characters in the novels. I have always followed what was best for the story, though I haven’t trampled on known history – well, not too much. In the ancient world, the sources give the novelist the luxury of a wide variety of interpretations: it is hugely frustrating for the historian. I cannot even give you years of birth and death for many of the characters below, but instead rely on what is generally accepted. In other words, if there is a question mark before a date, it is a sensible guess, and no more.
For a list of characters in The Emperor’s Servant, click here
The Famous People
Gaius Julius Caesar (100 – 44 BCE) was a brilliant politician and general. Born into a family of impeccable lineage, he combined intelligence, charm and ambition. He showed everyone how to sidestep the more cumbersome expectations of tradition. and when the system could not deliver what he wanted, he was able to take the unthinkable step and provoke a Civil War when he crossed the River Rubicon in 49 BCE. He took the office of Dictator and abused its limits, thus scaring a group of committed Republicans into assassinating him in 44 BCE.
Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE) was the boy from respectable obscurity whose talent pushed him to the top. Cicero was not an all-rounder: he had one outstanding skill, in oratory. As lawyer and politician he became a leading light in the Roman Senate for two decades, though he also suffered discrimination from those who looked down on his background – after all, he did not even come from Rome itself, but a town called Arpinum, about 70 miles to the south… As a writer of hundreds of works which have survived to the current day, he is the Roman we can really get to know as a human being: talented, boastful, and insecure. One has to feel sorry for his son, Marcus Tullius Cicero Junior (born in 65 BCE) who was never going to be able to live up to his father. For an excellent (fictional) account of Cicero’s political life, see Robert Harris’ Imperium trilogy.
Gaius Sallustius Crispus ( 87/86 – goodness knows BCE) was a Roman Senator and politician who turned to writing history when life did not turn out as he would have wished. He did govern North Africa and was severely criticised for it upon his return, but Caesar rescued him. The money he extorted went towards laying out a famous set of Gardens on the Quirinal Hill. There is a legend that he married Cicero’s ex-wife, Terentia. If only that were true… My favourite portrayal of Sallust is in the SPQR series of books by John Maddox Roberts.
Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus were in the position of having been pardoned by Caesar at the beginning of the novel. Not everyone finds clemency easy to swallow and in addition, Caesar as Dictator acted in a way which disturbed a great many people. If you believed in the traditional Roman Republic, then what Caesar was doing was destroying it. Both Brutus and Cassius are interesting characters and resist a simple analysis: Brutus in particular merits some reading up and I enjoyed the fascinating and repulsive version of him in Colleen McCullough’s series Masters of Rome.
The Sestius Family
Publius Sestius Quirinalis was a friend – well, mostly – of the orator and politician Marcus Tullius Cicero. He married twice: firstly Albinia (probably in the mid-70s), then Cornelia. We know that he had daughter and a son by Albinia. During the seventies he must have made his name in Rome for he was elected quaestor and played a part in suppressing the Catilinarian affair of 63/62. He then supported Cicero when the latter was sent into exile in 58. When Publius Sestius was charged with in 56 Cicero successfully defended him, and it is in the speech for the defence that we find out about Lucius Sestius’ existence.
Albinia Sestia – Publius’ eldest child, born before Lucius. I have married her off to a little-known Senator called Apuleius. She may well have written poetry in real life, but I can’t say that I have discovered any evidence for this: I just liked the idea of writing about a cultured, intelligent woman. I also thought that she would be good for Lucius.
Lucius Sestius Quirinalis (?68- some time after about 20 BCE) is first described in Cicero’s speech defending his father in 56 BCE. Lucius is next found in about 43 BCE minting coins in the East for Marcus Brutus the assassin of Caesar, as Brutus collects troops and resources to defend himself from those who seek to avenge Caesar. And yet, in 23 BCE, Lucius becomes consul of Rome under Augustus. We next find him setting up three altars to Augustus in the far-flung wilds of the new Spanish provinces, and then he disappears.
Tia (62BCE – ) is the youngest in the Sestius family, and the only one not attested in a source somewhere. According to tradition she would actually have been Sestia Minor – Sestia the Younger, and Albinia would have been Sestia Major. Girls took the feminine form of their fathers’ middle names, which must have been confusing in families with lots of girls. Sources indicate that a third girl could be known by the nickname “Tertia” (“The Third One”) – just imagine the Bennet family in Pride and Prejudice! Jane would have been Bennetia, but then Lizzie, Mary, Kitty and Lydia would have been Secunda, Tertia, Quarta and Quinta… I made the arbitrary decision that any sensible Roman family would make up their own nicknames for multiple girls.
Decius is the only member of the Sestius household staff who is attested – in a single reference in a Cicero letter which implies that he is a secretary for the family.
Paulus, Melissa, Phoebe and Mico are slaves in the Sestius household. Any household of a well-off upper-class family would have had more than this of course, but I have chosen to keep the invisible hordes well and truly in the background, if only to avoid confusing myself. The relations between family and trusted slaves are based on the way in which many Roman families chose to treat their slaves. And, yes, some people were horribly cruel and inhuman to their slaves. But freeing a slave was absolutely normal, and gave many of them something to work towards, a lot of slaves received small sums of money and gifts as a matter of course, and it makes little sense for a normal person to spend a large sum of money on something which they then mistreat.
Cornelius Rufus, age unknown, is the freelance snoop from the Subura who turns out to be solid gold. He is a Roman citizen, but, living in the Subura, has a completely different point of view from his well-heeled lawyer clients. All manner of people would have lived in the Subura, a low-lying area north of the Roman Forum, filled with blocks of flats. It would be tempting to brand all Subura residents as just gutter-rats, as Lucius does at first. But Cornelius Rufus is more interesting than a poverty-stricken stereotype. As I grew to respect him, I gave him a stalwart girlfriend, the cloth-merchant Rubria. She would have seen the qualities in Cornelius Rufus.
Quintus Caecilius, around Lucius’ age, is the son of a respectable and wealthy family from the Bay of Naples area. I freely admit that once I decided that Publius Sestius met the Caecilius family in that area, I could not resist calling them after the family in the Cambridge Latin Course which I studied in school. Engaged to Tia, Caecilius is a lot more cheerful and outgoing than Lucius, and one of those people who gets on with everyone.
Titus Fadius Gallus, (?93 BCE – unknown) who is from Publius Sestius’ generation, was discovered in another Cicero letter. He was quaestor in 63 BCE the year of Catiline’s conspiracy and was also involved in the fight to get Cicero recalled in 57 BCE. Later exiled – why, we don’t know – he receives a letter of commiseration from Cicero which I can’t see cheering him up, and later he clearly complains about how little Cicero has helped him.
At this time, Africa was going through some administrative upheaval, following some fierce fighting in 46 BCE: the older province was known as Africa Vetus and the brand new one Africa Nova.
Gaius Calvisius Sabinus really did serve as governor of Africa Vetus at this time, so would have been about the same age as someone like Sallust, or Publius Sestius. In fact, for a time he would have been governing as Sallust was governing Africa Nova next door. He can’t possibly have been as horrible as described here, and became consul in 39 BCE.
Horatius, Venuleius and Latinus are the three young tribunes, junior officers serving in the province to get some useful experience under their belts. They really did exist, but we know nothing more than their names.
Plinius and Sulpicius also served in this role but in the Africa Nova province – and at a time when as far as we know there was no governor actually in situ. Plinius was real: Sulpicius is the fictional son of a real father.
Publius Sittius Nucerinus is one of those names which skip fleetingly through a few sources and never enough to explain exactly what is going on. He appears in Sallust’s account of the Catilinarian affair, as a supporter of Catiline who has an army in Mauretania. No other details are given though we would love to known what a Roman was doing with an army in Mauretania at that time! This would not have been an official Roman force and maybe Sittius was a mercenary. He next appears in the description of Caesar’s campaigns in Africa in 46 BCE, where he is described as though he is an independent mercenary who has decided to support Caesar by attacking and distracting King Juba. He was granted land around the town of Cirta as his reward. He died in Africa some time after the death of Julius Caesar.