History and Fiction: Weaving both into a Tapestry of Storytelling 2

Fictional History: Two Novels set during the birth of the Roman Republic.

Redemption and Honor in Rome.

The story opens in the year 511 BC. Saphina Ramuth and her father Pharon live in the city of Caere. Pharon and Tefarie Velianas, Caere’s ruler, have arranged for Saphina’s betrothal and marriage to the young nobleman Avle Venthi.  Although not in love with Avle, Saphina seems content. She is also worried about Pharon’s increasingly violent bouts of madness, wherein he addresses Avle by the name Drubal, and he seems not to know Saphina. He rants about revenge. Finally, on the day before her wedding Pharon in a fit of madness kills Avle and then himself. Devastated, Saphina needs answers, but most importantly wants to purify Pharon’s memory from his terrible deed. His friend King Velianas is oddly unhelpful. The priests at the Healing Sanctuary tell Saphina she must travel to Sardinia, but that she will be changed by what she learns there and after. Astarte’s Priestess particularly tells her that Honor alone will save. Saphina dismisses both the cryptic and the warning words. During her voyage she meets a man named Gaius Sergius, a simple merchant, who offers to accompany her after they arrive. They travel together to the Carthaginian fortress of Monte Sirai in southern Sardinia, where Pharon had been a mercenary.

What Saphina learns there sends her next to the city of Rome. Gaius immediately offers to accompany her further. She agrees as she has grown fond of and attracted to him. When they arrive in Rome, its King Tarquinius has been exiled. Nonetheless Saphina visits with Poplicola Valerius, one of the new consuls, and befriends his daughter Valeria and another girl named Cloelia.  Over time Saphina senses that Gaius is not in fact what he has claimed to be; he has been disappearing without a word to Saphina except she has seen him meet with strangers in secret. She confides in her friends that she feels torn between her fierce love for Gaius, and distrust of his motives. The three women, joined by Cloelia’s friend Mucius Cordus, are determined to learn more about Pharon’s past.

But Rome is about to be invaded and as Rome’s consuls and senate flounder in response, the city falls to Lars Porsenna.  Saphina brokenheartedly is convinced that she cannot trust Gaius and she sends him away. She, Valeria, and Cloelia, along with some other daughters and sons of Rome’s nobility, become hostages to the conqueror. Saphina already felt changed, as the priests had warned. Now she had to decide what was honorable and what was not. She couldn’t sleep. Thoughts of her father’s actions haunted her. Thoughts of her own confusion over Gaius kept her awake. She spent long hours talking with Valeria late into the night, whispering together with no answers forthcoming.

Saphina and Valeria learn that the consuls and Senate have a dishonorable plan to get rid of Porsenna-but Mucius Cordus, the instrument of Rome’s decision, chooses to instead follow his conscience. Saphina sees Gaius in the Etruscan camp and thinking him a traitor she is shocked that she would consider killing him. To her surprise he manages to embolden the hostages to attempt an escape back to Rome.

Will they escape? How will that benefit Rome? Can Saphina find her happiness with Gaius? What is true honor? What is its cost?

Novel Two:

Valeria’s Choice

The novel opens toward the end of the year 510 BC. Valeria Publicola was born in Rome. Her father Poplicola Valerius had been a friend to Rome’s previous King Servius Tullius. When the king’s son-in-law Lucius Tarquinius overthrew him and beat him up in the street, Popolicola had kept his silence, as did Tarquinius’ cousins Lucius Brutus and Lucius Collatinus. They kept silent as Tarquinius threatened senators, confiscated properties, and used his war booty to beautify and strengthen Rome. It never occurred to Valeria to question why her otherwise righteous father could express his sadness and regret in the privacy of their home. She decided he must feel too old to make any difference. But Poplicola and the others were simply biding their time, waiting for an opportunity, and when it came, they evicted Tarquinius and his sons, and Rome felt safer and happier.

All was not so well however. Rome’s new rulers could not seem to agree on many things. Poplicola’s humble behavior was viewed with distrust, and mutterings grew that he wanted to be a king himself. Then again rumors spread that Lucius Brutus wanted the same power for himself. When Brutus arranged to exile Collatinus, the rumors grew louder. Valeria had no reason to heed any of that. She had her friends Cloelia, Gegania, and a new friend named Saphina who had come to Rome from the faraway island of Sardinia.  Saphina needed help uncovering a mystery about her father, and Valeria was very good at discovering secrets.  She also had a very strong self-confidence, something she decided Saphina lacked. So Valeria and Cloelia took Saphina under their wing and close into their circle.

When news came that an army marched on Rome set to invade, Valeria never expected Rome to be conquered. She never expected that the invader would remain, and also demand hostages. When Rome’s army was victorious, she simply plundered the conquered city, perhaps executed a handful of leading men there, then returned home. Valeria was absolutely shocked when Poplicola sadly informed her that he, Brutus, and the Senators had agreed to turn over their own children, including Cloelia, Valeria, and even Saphina, who had become like a sister to Valeria, to the invader as those hostages.

If their fathers had agreed to this, did that mean Valeria, Cloelia, and Saphina had to endure captivity? Was captivity dishonorable, for the loser of battle? Was the pledge Rome made more honorable or less than their captivity? If they escaped, would that dishonor their pledge to Porsenna? Honor aside, if they escaped, would Porsenna take revenge on Rome and plunder it or even raze it to the ground?

Valeria became unable to sleep, talking with Saphina long into the night. Even after they arrived as hostages into the camp of Lars Porsenna, Valeria’s thoughts churned. She felt as if she stood on the edge of something-but terrible or wonderful she could not yet tell.

Will the hostages escape? If they do, how will that benefit Rome? If they remain, what would be their fate? Should it matter that Valeria felt drawn to one of Porsenna’s own officers? What would she choose, when Saphina says there is a way to escape if they can take it.

Tefarie Velianas, Tarquinius Superbus, Poplicola Valerius, Valeria, Cloelia, Mucius Cordus, and Lars Porsenna, are all historical figures in the accounts of the Roman Livy, and the Greeks Dionysius Halikarnassus and Plutarch (and additional references by the Roman Tacitus.) The treaty between Rome’s consuls and Carthage is reported by Polybius. Livy does report that Lars Porsenna marches on Rome and hold it for a while. He does demand and receive hostages. Mucius Cordus tries to assassinate Lars Porsenna. Cloelia and Valeria spur the other hostages to attempt an escape. Porsenna frees them and marches away, leaving Rome free. All that is history.

It must be said that Valeria does not appear in Livy’s account of Porsenna and the hostages. Of course, nearly all the hostages are left unnamed and undescribed. Does that make any of them or Valeria herself less historical or simply somewhat overlooked?

Saphina, Pharon, and Gaius are fictional characters. They embody people that may have, could have, lived and acted similarly as depicted in the novel. Recent scholars have speculated that both Velianas and perhaps even Tarquinius received some outside assistance to win their thrones. There is also some speculation, spurred on by a brief account by Greek Sicilian historian Diodorus Siculus, that Rome or one of its Latin allies attempted a colony in eastern Sardinia in the year 378 BC, about 150 years after Tarquinius was overthrown and Lars Porsenna camped before the walls of Rome. Perhaps Rome knew more about Sardinia than the “histories” record.

History itself is only, after all, a story of events played out by people.

History and Fiction: Weaving both into a Tapestry of Storytelling

Part ONE

The year is 537 BC.  In Rome, Lucius Tarquinius has overthrown his father-in-law King Servius Tullius and taken the throne.  The city of Carthage has taken control of the island of Sardinia from the Phoenicians. Greeks from Asia Minor live on Corsica.  The Etruscan city of Caere, 30 miles from Rome, has a new ruler named Tefarie Velianas.

For at least a century, the indigenous Sardinian cities and Carthage had enjoyed a friendly trading relationship with Caere and many other Etruscan cities along Italy’s western coast.

The Phocaean Greeks were not so fortunate. Instead of allies, they were seen by both the Etruscans and Carthage as rivals for control of trade in the Mediterranean.

In 535 BC that rivalry will end.

Three fleets of warships meet in battle in the seas between Sardinia, and the Italian peninsula. On one side are the allied fleets of Carthage and Caere. On the other side are the ships of Phocaean Greeks from Corsica.

While ships are lost to all three combatants, the Greeks leave Corsica for a new colony on the Italian peninsula. Greek prisoners are taken to Caere, but not to be enslaved. Instead they are stoned to death on the beach.  When plague breaks out soon thereafter, the Delphi Oracle tells Caere it must hold games and make sacrifices to the dead, to cleanse and purify the city and its people.

Thus far these events are history, recorded by the Greek historian Herodotus and the Roman historian Livy.

Tefarie Velianas may have become ruler in Caere, Fiction can claim, with help from Carthage, no doubt eager to expand its presence in the peninsula as well as Sardinia. Sixteen years later, in 509 BC, Velianas built and dedicated a temple to Carthage’s gods at the port of Pyrgi in Caere. This much is known through archaeology.

Fiction also claims that mercenaries from Sardinia and other Etruscan cities may have also helped Lucius Tarquinius take the throne in Rome.

That same year of 509 BC, emissaries from Carthage journeyed to Rome to discuss a trade treaty with Tarquinius Superbus. In the 18 years since the Battle of Alalia in the Sardinian Sea, Carthage had successfully signed such treaties with many Etruscan cities like Caere. What they arrived in Rome however, they were met with chaos.

As the Carthaginians sat quietly and watched, relatives of King Tarquinius found an excuse to overthrow him, sending him into exile rather than kill him. Claiming proudly only that they had ended the monarchy, they called their new two-man rule a consulship. Eager for validation of their new government, the consuls then signed the trade treaty with the Carthaginian emissaries. This treaty is recorded in history, not however by the historian Livy, but by another Greek historian named Polybius.

Tarquinius meanwhile fled to Caere and sent out calls for aid to other cities. Livy records that aid was given by Lars Porsenna, King in the Etruscan city of Clusium, who marched his army to Rome. The consuls-bickering over the organization of their government-were unprepared to meet an invader.  Porsenna did not return Tarquinius to the Roman throne. Instead he ruled over Rome as its conqueror, even demanding sons and daughters of the consuls and other leading nobles as hostages to demonstrate his authority and control.

The Roman historian Tacitus described Porsenna as a conqueror. Livy only recorded that Rome fought against him. Livy and the Greek historical biographer Plutarch both agree however that Porsenna’s conquest is ended only when the hostages and other brave young Romans take matters into their own hands.


Fictional History: Two Novels set during the birth of the Roman Republic.