In August, author Douglas Jackson replied to a post by the Trust on Facebook about Caroline Lawrence’s new book, The Roman quests: death in the arena, some of which is set in Roman Colchester and even in the Roman circus… Douglas Jackson writes historical novels for adults which are set in the Roman period. The latest book in his series, Glory of Rome, was published on the 10th August, the day before our post! Mr Jackson was kind enough to say on Facebook that the Trust’s popular book City of Victory: the story of Colchester, Britain’s first Roman town ‘is a fantastic insight into Roman Britain’. The first book in his series – Hero of Rome – also features Roman Colchester and Mr Jackson describes it as the book’s centrepiece. He told us that he used City of Victory and also made research visits to Colchester in order to write Glory of Rome, the eighth book in his series.
The Trust has now bought copies of Mr Jackson’s two books, Hero of Rome (Gaius Valerius Verrens 1, published 2011) * and Glory of Rome (Gaius Valerius Verrens 8, published 2017) ** . Mr Jackson has kindly included a reference in the ‘Acknowledgements’ at the end of Glory of Rome to Trust director Philip and to City of Victory. City of Victory was published in 1997 and it was largely based on the remarkable archaeological evidence produced by the Trust during our excavation of sites in and around Colchester up to that date. These sites included several in the town centre in the 1970s and 1980s: our Culver Street site (now the Culver Square shopping precinct); our Balkerne Lane site (now the roadway and multi-storey car-park); our Lion Walk site (now the Lion Walk shopping precinct); and the Gilberd School site on North Hill (now the Sixth Form College).
Hero of Rome is about the Boudican revolt in AD 61 and the Roman army’s crushing of the native British tribes. It includes details of the colonia at Colchester, ie the triumphal arch, the temple and precinct, a north bridge, and the main street and shops. Colchester was destroyed by fire during the Boudican revolt. In chapters 25 to 30, the Glory of Rome takes the reader into Roman Colchester after AD 61, when it had been rebuilt. The first visible element of the town – ‘Colonia’ – is the new defensive town wall and the double-arched western gateway. The returning Valerius is able to compare the new town with its previous incarnation. The new town is described in some detail, and it is all based on the archaeological evidence. The new town is laid out in a grid pattern, and the main street is lined with houses and shops. Side streets still have gaps where buildings have not been rebuilt. The basilica and the grand Temple of Claudius feature in the story, as does the river, before Valerius leaves for Londinium, Viroconium and then the west.
Hero of Rome and Glory of Rome are interesting and exciting historical action novels. It is very interesting for archaeologists to read two works of fiction in which the reader gets to experience Roman Colchester – based on the archaeological evidence, but not in the form of an archaeological report or non-fiction!
We are very pleased that Mr Jackson found City of Victory useful in his research and that he has written Roman Colchester into two of his historical novels. All our fieldwork reports are published online at http://cat.essex.ac.uk/ .
The images show the Trust’s copies of the two books and our plan of Roman Colchester (from Colchester Archaeological Report 6).
* Blurb for the Hero of Rome: ‘The Roman grip on Britain is weakening. Emperor Nero has turned his face away from this far-flung outpost. The Druids are on the rise, spreading seeds of rebellion among the British tribes. Roman cruelty and exploitation has angered their British subjects. The warrior queen Boudicca will lead the tribes to war.
Standing against the rising tide of Boudicca’s rebellion is Roman Tribune, Gaius Valerius Verrens, Commander of the veteran legions at Colonia. Valerius leads the veterans in a last stand against the unstoppable horde of Boudicca’s rebel army. Step by step, the bloodied survivors are forced back into the Temple of Claudius. It is here that Valerius wins lifelong fame and the accolade Hero of Rome…
Hero of Rome is the first novel in a major new Roman historical action series …’ – at www.amazon.co.uk/Hero-Rome-Gaius-Valerius-Verrens/dp/0552161330/ .
** Blurb for the Glory of Rome: ’77AD. Gaius Valerius Verrens is an honoured member of Emperor Vespasian’s inner circle, but the enmity between him and Vespasian’s son Domitian means that, even in Rome, danger is never far away. Meanwhile, in the outer reaches of the Empire, in Britannia, trouble is brewing.
The governor, Gnaeus Julius Agricola is preparing to march his legions north and Valerius is Agricola’s chief legal adviser and deputy governor. It’s the opportunity he seeks to move his wife and son out of reach of Domitian’s wrath. But Britannia is where Valerius cut his military teeth and whetted his sword – and he will soon discover that the ghosts of his past are never far away and are more dangerous perhaps than Domitian.
The massacre of a Roman garrison and suspicious death of the legate of the Ninth Legion throw Agricola’s preparations into confusion. Now his eyes turn west to Mona, the Druids Isle, where the Celtic priesthood still harbours hopes of ridding Britannia of Roman rule. But to deal with the druids and their savage Ordovice protectors Agricola needs a soldier he can trust at the head of the ‘unlucky’ Ninth. Only one man in the province has the experience and the ability . . .
So a reluctant Valerius must put aside his scrolls and pick up his sword once more and march beside the eagle of the Ninth. It’s only as he stands on the shoreline opposite Mona that he understands any glory his new legion wins is likely to be fleeting and tainted – and that he has placed his family in deadly peril …’ – at www.amazon.co.uk/Glory-Rome-Gaius-Valerius-Verrens/dp/059307615X .