Soldier of Rome: Empire of the North
The Artorian Dynasty Book 1
by James Mace
Genre: Historical Fiction
Battle for the Highlands
It’s been forty years since the Roman conquest of southern Britannia. The hostile western regions are at last subdued and twenty years have passed since the cataclysmic Iceni Rebellion in the east. With tribal kingdoms assimilating into Roman culture and the province at relative peace, Imperial Governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola turns his attention north. The once-allied, now hostile Kingdom of Brigantes is divided between factions loyal to Rome and those of the usurper king, Venutius. Following a series of raids, and compelled to flee from imperial retribution, Venutius seeks the aid of a Caledonian chieftain named Calgacus. Calgacus hopes to use a conflict with the Empire to seal his claim as high king of the northern highlands.
In the southern coastal city of Portus Adurni, Gaius Artorius Armiger’s term as governor-mayor is coming to an end. Ten years have passed since Gaius’ last campaign during the Siege of Jerusalem. Ever the soldier, a summons to Londinium leaves him with an intriguing proposition. Knowing his reputation as a military leader, Governor Agricola offers Gaius a return to active service with command of the legendary cavalry regiment Indus’ Horse. Despite trepidation about leaving his wife and children and the lingering effects of old battle injuries, Gaius Artorius dons his armour once more as a soldier of Rome.
James Mace is a life-long historian and the author of twenty-seven books, including ten Ancient History best-sellers, and five South African History best-sellers. He penned the initial draft of his first novel, “Soldier of Rome: The Legionary”, as a cathartic means of escapism while serving in Iraq from 2004 to 2005. His works span numerous eras, from Ancient Rome to the British Empire.
What inspired you to write this book?
I took a hiatus from Ancient Rome following my works on the Great Jewish Revolt to focus on the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. Upon completion, I decided to return to the Roman Empire with a new series. My intent is to follow multiple generations of the same family as before, the Artorians. Honestly, had I been better at forward thinking, I would have made all my Roman works into one series, instead of splitting it up amongst multiple.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in Soldier of Rome: Empire of the North?
The main protagonist, Gaius Artorius Armiger, was originally in my two series, The Great Jewish Revolt and Year of the Four Emperors. He is the grandson of the original Artorius from my early works, who we first meet when he’s in his early twenties.
The events in Empire of the North take place from 81 to 83 A.D., when Gaius is around forty. More than a decade has passed since we last saw him at the end of The Fall of Jerusalem. He is now married with two daughters and a son. As a member of Rome’s lesser-noble social class, the equites, he’s spent the interim years in civil, rather than military postings, mostly in Britannia. Though still in his late thirties at the start of the story, he has no desire to return to active service, haunted as he is by nightmares from many horrific experiences. There are also lingering effects of nerve damage to his right arm, following a fearful injury during the civil war between Vespasian and Vitellius in 69 A.D.
When we join him in Empire of the North, Gaius is the mayor of Portus Adurni, modern-day Portsmouth Harbour. It is with great surprise that he receives his appointment to command the renowned cavalry regiment, Indus’ Horse. He accepts, albeit with great reluctance, out of a sense of duty. To Gaius, it is the obligation of all Artorians to serve as soldiers of Rome; however, his son, Tiberius, is only a boy of eleven. Little does Gaius know; he is destined to continue wearing the ‘armour of the Caesars’ far longer than the standard three to four-year term of an auxilia regimental commander. But that is for another story…
Who designed your book covers?
Since 2016, Rado Javor has designed my book covers. He is a Slovakian artist who works for the British video game company, Creative Assembly. If you’ve played any of their popular Total War real-time strategy series, you’ve seen his artwork. I first discovered him while trying to find an artist for the final book of my Great Jewish Revolt series, Soldier of Rome: The Fall of Jerusalem. I discovered a fantastic painting depicting a Roman siege in a Middle Eastern setting, which Rado had created for the Rome: Total War series. We’ve since become good friends.
Whenever I have an upcoming project, I’ll reach out to him, usually over something we can converse in real-time like Facebook Messenger. I’ll give him my initial ideas, along with any images that might assist. He’ll send me some sketch ideas, which we’ll then discuss before he moves forward. Because he does his painting digitally, he can make edits as he sends me drafts. There are occasions when he’ll come up with an idea that never crossed my mind. Unless there is a detail that is historically inaccurate, I tend to trust his judgement and artistic vision. Rado has been a pleasure to work with, and I cannot wait to start the next project with him.
How did you come up with name of this book?
Aside from the periodic stand-alone novella, all the main books in my Roman series’ begin with ‘Soldier of Rome: ______’. Sort of like how all the Harry Potter books begin with, ‘Harry Potter and the________’. This story takes place during the Roman invasion of what is now Scotland; an area we often referred to as Caledonia, though they were but one tribal kingdom among many in the highlands. King Calgacus formed the Caledonian Confederation, with the sole purpose of battling the Romans. Britannia also marked the northernmost limits of the Roman Empire, and they attempted to conquer all the way to Caithness and Sutherland, I thought Empire of the North had a nice ring to it. It is often said that the Romans never conquered Scotland. While technically true, Empire of the North tells the far more complex story. I’ll give a hint: It wasn’t force of arms which kept Rome from laying claim to the highlands.
Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
Both. The Roman governor, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, was a real person, as was his Caledonian adversary, Calgacus. We know quite a bit about Agricola, whose son-in-law was the famous Roman historian, Tacitus. Unfortunately, we do not have detailed biographies of most people from that time period who weren’t related to a renowned scholar. Sometimes we only have their names, and I have to invent their entire back-history and personality. Though Calgacus is still celebrated in Scotland for having stood against the might of the Roman Empire, very little is known about him personally. Tacitus gives a rather lengthy speech attributed to Calgacus just prior to the Battle of Mons Graupius in 83 A.D. However, this is likely a complete fabrication. The imperial soldiers across the valley would be hard-pressed to hear any of his words, while few, if any, could speak the Caledonian language.
Gaius Artorius is a fictional character, as are most of the Roman soldiers and indigenous tribesmen. When writing novels about events from almost 2,000 years ago, one must create most of the protagonists from scratch. I’ve spent decades studying the ancient world, the various cultures, and likely character traits based on social class. There has to be a lot of room for individualism, so as not to make all characters carbon copies of each other. However, one fatal flaw in so many historical novels is inserting present-day morality into a time period where it simply did not exist. The key, I have found, is striking a balance between creating characters the reader can relate to, or at least show empathy, while not plucking them straight out of 21st century society.