Nov 11, 2016 12:00 pm | email@example.com (Michelle Miller)
Living in early first-century Rome, you'd have been classified from the moment of your birth. If either of your parents was a slave (as an estimated 1/3 of the city's population were), you were a slave too. With luck, you'd grow up to be a rich man's well-educated scribe or physician if you were a boy, or maybe a lady's maid if you were a girl. Without luck, you might be destined to labor on a farm, on a construction gang, or in a brothel.
However, if your parents were free, so were you. Unless you earned or inherited a lot of money, you might live your life as an artisan or work in someone else's business. You were a commoner, one of the many low-class plebs.
If you had a net worth of at least 100,000 denarii—nearly half a million dollars—you'd qualify for the equestrian class. (The name equites came from Rome's citizen-army days, when men like these had to be wealthy enough to buy a horse.)
Equites were typically business owners, controlling companies that shipped luxuries and commodities throughout the Empire, manufactured everything from pottery lamps to soldiers' swords, and mined tin, copper, lead, and gold. Sons would be trained to grow the family's wealth, and both sons and daughters would eventually marry someone from another powerful equestrian family. Mergers and acquisitions, Roman style!
One last group was even higher in status: the Senatorial class. With a net worth of 250,000 denarii, about $1 million, you were eligible to be appointed to the Senate and to hold the highest posts in military and civil government. You would raise your sons to bring the family more honor and prestige, and you would build alliances by marrying your children into families of comparable (or greater) influence and distinction.
This is the class that Marcus Carinna, the lead character in my debut historical, Roma Amor: A Novel of Caligula's Rome, was born into. After his older brother's suicide for a reason that still embitters him, he escaped the treacherous politics of Rome to serve as an army officer on the rugged Danube frontier.
Now Caligula Caesar has come to power, and Marcus's father, an ambitious Senator, orders him to return. Accompanying him back to Rome is a hostage captured in a battle: a sullen Germanic priestess named Aurima. Relaxing in his family home, Marcus contrasts its amenities with the primitive life of barbarians:
Light from the three-tongued floor lamp glowed on the frescoes, the polished desktop, the statue in the corner. I thought briefly of my promise that Aurima would be well quartered. To a girl accustomed to a hut of sticks and thatch, a patrician house like this would be luxury beyond imagining.
Like all well-to-do families, the Carinnas own a number of slaves, most of whom were born in the household or raised from childhood. A slave with special skills might be bought as required. For example, when Marcus's older brother grew up, he was given slaves to meet all his needs:
. . . they were all gone: my brother's body slave, his secretary, scribe, accountant, dresser, bed girl, clothes-mender, and guards.
Since Marcus is now the only son, it's important that he marry well and have children who will carry on the family name and enhance its prestige. When he returns, that's one of the first things his sister teases him about:
"Now the question that has all of Rome abuzz," Nina announced. "What lucky female will marry Marcus Carinna?"
I made a face. The best sort of wife, to my mind, was someone else's.
Mother took a date from the server's dish. "Spare us the grimaces, Marcus. It has been shamefully long since your betrothal was annulled."
"No loss," I muttered. My sponsa's father had decided not to marry his daughter into the family of a man charged with treason.
"Scores of noble papas have been hinting to Father about their little girls," Nina added with relish.
Will this bad-boy aristocrat follow the rules and let himself be affianced to some Senator's dutiful daughter? Gods forbid he should be drawn to coppery-haired Aurima, whose mystical powers hide a ruthless desire for revenge on Rome. After all, she's a sacred hostage, a virgin, and a barbarian: three reasons why he should have nothing to do with her.
And he can forget trying to prove his courage by leading legions against Rome's enemies. Now that his brother is dead, Marcus's father expects him to carry on the family tradition of public service. Although obedience to one's paterfamilias is ingrained in Roman children, Marcus is violently opposed to taking his brother's place:
He would have me in service as an acolyte, pimp, and bribe-bearer for some power-hungry praetor or Senator, who would teach me to fawn on the mighty, betray my allies, and trample my enemies.
It was Publius whom he had bred to climb the rungs of public life, eventually to join our forebears who had been overseers of taxes, roads, and waterworks, Treasury officials, givers of games, builders of public edifices, magistrates, lawmakers, governors, and generals. I, the second son, had been permitted to eavesdrop on my brother's education until resentment and jealousy got the better of me. Oh, I understood rebellion.
It's especially galling that his father commands him to protect and serve the man who was his brother's closest friend. Because Marcus can't forget how his brother died—or that the friend who didn't try to save him was Caligula Caesar, now master of Rome.
When his struggles to befriend and steady the temperamental Caligula are disturbed by his brother's restless spirit, Marcus finds he cannot escape the past. Caught in a web of deceit, conspiracy, and betrayal, he will uncover a secret that threatens his family, the woman he desires, even his life... and may bring chaos to the young Roman Empire.
Michelle, thanks very much for this opportunity to review "growing up Roman" with your True Book Addict followers, and to share some examples of how this might play out in a Senatorial family.
Readers, Roma Amor: A Novel of Caligula's Rome, is now $2.99 as an ebook. Or you can enter below for a chance to win one of two paperback copies of Roma Amor that I'm giving away. I thank you for your time, and look forward to your comments!
Roma Amor: A Novel of Caligula's Rome by Sherry Christie Publication Date: April 15, 2016 Bexley House Books Paperback; 496 Pages
Marcus Carinna hears a voice whisper, "Your turn," as he rides past his family tomb. An unseen presence also startles the Germanic priestess Aurima, whom he is bringing to Rome. But hardheaded Romans scoff at ghosts, and Marcus can't believe it's a warning from his brother, who killed himself three years earlier.
37 AD: To great acclaim, 25-year-old Caligula Caesar has become Rome's new master. No one is more pleased than Senator Titus Carinna, who helped him succeed to the throne. It's a shame the Senator's older son–Caligula's closest friend–committed suicide after being charged with treason. But that still leaves Marcus, his second son.
Headstrong and hot-tempered, Marcus would rather prove his courage by leading legions against Rome's enemies than take his brother's place. Yet when his father orders him to befriend Caligula, he has no choice.
Caught in a web of deceit, conspiracy, and betrayal, he will uncover a secret that threatens his family, the woman he desires, even his life… and may bring chaos to the young Roman Empire.
"The first installment in a page-turning saga that revisits the heroes and villains of the grandest city of the ancient world…. Comes alive with the long gone characters who were its lifeblood" -Kirkus Reviews
''Combines current political concerns, the wide lens of the serious historical novel, and emotional maturity and realism with an utterly splendid grasp of what it must have been like to live in Rome under Caligula's reign." -Sarah Smith, Agatha Award winner and New York Times Notable author
After earning a Phi Beta Kappa creative award in college for an early draft about a nobly born charioteer, Sherry Christie spent many years of research and revision developing ROMA AMOR into the story about fathers and sons that it wanted to be. It's a joy to immerse myself in the lives of first-century Romans–and a distinct change from my day job as a . In addition to writing, Sherry is a professional copywriter. She lives on the coast of Maine with a native-born Viking and two cats.
For more information, please visit Sherry Christie's website. You can also connect with her on Twitter, and Goodreads.
To win a paperback copy of Roma Amor: A Novel of Caligula's Rome by Sherry Christie, please enter via the Gleam form below. 2 copies are up for grabs!
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