People haven’t changed much.
The highs and lows of human behavior have been around since before stories began.
The stories—about treachery, passion, courage, pride, love, deceit, honor and crime—have been around awhile, too.
Whether they’re called the Iliad or Hamlet or The Long Goodbye, they’re going to be with us for as long as we’re human. On this page you’ll find out a few things about the inhabitants and habitués of Britannia in 83 AD. You’ll meet Romans, natives and the members of the Arcturus household. You’re in the world of Roman noir. But that doesn’t mean the face won’t look familiar …
Rome was more than a city, more than an Empire. It was a cultural and political force that anyone— from anywhere— could potentially join.
Claudius was the first Emperor not born on Italian soil. Only a century before, Julius Caesar had warred against the Gauls in the land of Claudius’ birth.
From Bithynia to Baetica, from Numidia to Narbonensis, you, too, could be a Roman—if you played it right.
You could join the auxiliary. Buy your citizenship. Get lucky and be born in a province or live in a colony or town that had citizenship granted to it. Or, if a slave, you could try to earn your freedom—freedmen were citizens.
But you didn’t even need citizenship, though the rights it granted were significant. You could still adopt Roman ways: learn Latin. Take a bath. Pay your taxes. Worship the gods.
The Romans in Britannia were men and women from all over the Empire. Some were citizens, some weren’t. Many were in the Legions, others in the Auxiliaries, hoping to gain their citizenship before falling in battle. Merchants, traders, investors, bankers, craftsmen, artists—they came from everywhere, drawn to the opportunity of a wide-open province with not much central control.
The slaves didn’t have a choice as to where they went. If they were educated or talented, they stood a better chance of getting freed. There was a good amount of social mobility on all levels. And they came, like the others, from everywhere.
If you were on the social whirl, you could dine with a Roman legate from Hispania and chat with a woman from Mauretania on the next couch. Your patron could be from Gaul and your client from Sicilia.
Britannia, like any other part of the Empire, was a very cosmopolitan place.
Just mind what you say about Domitian.
The Celts were in Britannia for a long time, probably since the 8th century BC. Whether they arrived with trade goods or iron axes, they settled in to a wide swathe of Europe, including the green island to the north.
By the time Caesar was interested, the Celts of what is now France and Britain—also known as Gauls—were a sophisticated people. They had money, a strong aristocracy, liked gold jewelry, loved poetry, music and oratory, and though patriarchal, women enjoyed positions of power—witness Boudicca. (Ammianus Marcellinus, a 4th century AD historian, claims the Gaulish women were stronger than the men … one can only surmise how he knew this.)
They liked to eat (who doesn’t?), drink (who doesn’t), sometimes fought without a lot of clothes on (they didn’t fight in the winter), raised pigs, goats, sheep and cattle, and possibly painted themselves blue before battle. The jury’s out on the use of woad—it may have been tattooing, not face-painting, despite Braveheart.
They probably did practice a form of human sacrifice that involved burning criminals in wicker baskets. Caesar brings this up, and also claims they were polygamous and incestuous (these were the days before Claudius married his niece).
Like much that Caesar wrote, this was exaggeration. It was in Julius’ best interest to exaggerate the ferocity and barbarism of the people he conquered for Rome. The long hair and mustaches he described—on the men, that is—were probably accurate.
There were many, many tribes in Britannia, some which had been allies to Rome and others less cooperative. Some of the most dominant ones in the Southeast were the Iceni (see Boudicca), the Catuvellauni, the Trinovantes (Arcturus’ mother was a member), the Atrebates, and very notably the Belgae (who are said to have been the first to use currency, and were the most advanced in the area—the Trinovantes and Catuvellauni were Belgic as well).
In the Southwest, the Durotriges ruled what became Dorset and Somerset. The Dumnonii occupied Cornwall. To the North, the Brigantes were the most powerful of the tribes the Romans actually talked to.
A final note about the Druids: they were real, but they had nothing to do with Stonehenge. Pay no attention to the funny men in white hats you see on the BBC during Solstice. The Druids were the priests and judges at the top of the class system, above even warriors. They settled disputes, enforced the laws, and oversaw sacrifices. Their worship included a belief in the immortality of souls.
The Romans tried to destroy them because they were a major threat to Roman authority. Agricola fought what was to be the last, great battle of Druid culture at the island of Mona (Angelsey). Paulinus had battled there in 60 AD when he was governor, and subsequently missed the first round of Boudicca’s attacks. Eighteen years later, when Agricola was governor, he completed the battle … thoroughly. Arcturus disagreed with the governor. Vehemently. And he still gets the nightmares.
Agricola figured he’d destroyed the last of the Druids. As far as Rome was concerned, they don’t exist anymore.
Arcturus knows better.
Arcturus (Ardur; Julius Alpinus Classicianus Favonianus)
Paterfamilias; adopted son of the former procurator of Britannia under Nero.
Mother was Cairenn, a Trinovantian woman; father was the centurion Marcus Favonius Facilis. Classicianus was promoted to the senatorial class, a status inherited by Arcturus.
Educated in Rome, Greece, Egypt and Britannia. Private medicus to Agricola, the governor of Britannia.
Trinovantian but Romanized (at least on the outside); educated, but not as much as she’d like to be. Became embroiled in Arcturus’ life in NOX DORMIENDA. Blonde, fierce, and as beautiful as a goddess.
Gwyna’s young brother. Very much like his proud father, who was a proud native chieftain and warrior.
Former slave of Arcturus, now freedman. Chief assistant in all undertakings, medical or non-medical. Best friend. Ten years older. Mixed ancestry, father from Hispania, mother from Gaul.
Former slave in Lupo’s Place, one of Londinium’s foulest whorehouses. An thin, dark, elegant woman, loyal and highly courageous. How she became involved with Bilicho—much to his eternal astonishment—is detailed in NOX DORMIENDA.
A relatively recent addition, Draco is a former slave and bodyguard, a gift from Agricola. As of THE CURSE-MAKER, he’s also a freedman. From Germania.
Slave and animal caretaker. Grew up in Britannia, but remembers living in a warmer place.
Slave and chef. Middle-aged, cryptic. From Gaul. You can find out how Arcturus acquired him by reading “Convivium.”
A very recently purchased slave and medical assistant in NOX DORMIENDA. Prior to Gwyna, she used to warm Arcturus’ bed. A native, and at the time of THE CURSE-MAKER, the woman who made Draco bitter.