Saturday, 28 January 2017

Milo and Clodius

Recent political doings made me think this might be relevant.

In the fractious latter days of republican Rome, the democratic aspect of the city’s politics was on the wane. The prolonged period of republic had enabled dynasties to establish deep-rooted power bases, and army reforms meant that soldiers often felt more loyal to generals than the state.

A few decades earlier Marius and Sulla, erstwhile colleagues in the Jugurthine War, had tussled over supremacy in Rome. This ended up being a warm-up act for the Caesar/Pompey clash that was destined to determine the destruction of the Republic.

Soldiers were not generally allowed in the City of Rome, for the rather obvious reason that having thousands of armed men might just upset the balance of power, and move the governance of Rome from the Senate to whomever commanded the legions.

At the same time, gladiator games (which were used by politicians and aspiring politicians to improve or cement their popularity) were increasingly common and occurring on an ever larger scale. It didn’t take long for the men plotting supremacy to realise that having hundreds of professional killers as bodyguards or hired thugs could be useful for both protection and aggression.

Milo was a supporter of Caesar, and Clodius of Pompey. The two men were political enemies and frequently travelled with gangs of armed men, including gladiators. They encountered one another, Clodius attacking Milo (according to some accounts, others say they met by chance and a fight started by their followers). Clodius, however, was the man who ended up dead.

Cicero defended Milo, but despite that, Milo was found guilty and sentenced to exile. The trial was notable for the mob drowning out Milo’s lawyers and intimidating Cicero. The mob also meant Pompey’s cohorts turned up to ‘ensure order’, but as Clodius was his ally this also helped the jury to give a result that would have pleased Pompey.

Democratic or mixed constitutions rarely slip into tyranny or political violence overnight. The arms race of protection and aggression in latter day republican Rome added to the powder keg of politics in the city at the time, caused by the erosion of institutions and the rising power of particular individuals.

When political violence becomes widely endorsed, accepted or commonplace, power shifts away from the people, or even the political class, and towards those willing and able to commit acts of violence to acquire and maintain power.

Rome never solved this problem when the Republic became the Empire. At times, transition was orderly (notably during the Golden Age, until Marcus Aurelius buggered it up). But the fundamental problem of the lawful nature of who the emperor was remained unresolved. It, ultimately, always came down to the same answer, an answer that resulted in increasingly common civil war, and the Empire devouring its own strength in petty power struggles.

Might was right.


Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Two Thaddeus White books on sale!

By weird coincidence (really, this wasn’t planned) my novel Kingdom Asunder is just 99c from today (the feast of Saint Francis, patron saint of writing) until the 27th, and the Journeys anthology (which features a story entitled Black Sails by me, as well as contributions from the likes of Adrian Tchaikovsky, Julia Knight, John Gwynne and many more) is on pre-order sale for 99c until its release on 15 February.
Kingdom Asunder is the first part of The Bloody Crown Trilogy, which sees the kingdom torn apart by rival families battling over the throne. It’s a story of fast-paced plotting, scheming traitors, and medieval warfare, as ruthless she-wolves, bloodthirsty warriors, and the men who would be king stop at nothing to bring down their enemies.

Journeys, naturally, has a variety of fantasy stories with a focus on, er, the journey involved. Black Sails is the tale of Henryk, Gryzelda and Sonja, passengers aboard a vessel that finds itself sailing straight into a fleet of pirates. Can Henryk warn his city before it’s consumed by fire and steel?

So, there you are, two delicious Thaddeus White books for less than the price of a cup of coffee. The perfect remedy for the January blues.


Friday, 13 January 2017

Review: Rome and Italy, by Titus Livy

This is the third book by Livy I’ve read (the others being The War With Hannibal, and The Early History of Rome). The edition I read was published by Penguin, translated by Betty Radice.

Rome and Italy follows immediately on from the Early History, and covers the aftermath of the city’s recovery from the Gauls. After some minor wars, the meat of the book is concerned with the prolonged and challenging Samnite Wars (which occurred just before the Pyrrhic and Punic conflicts).

I knew practically nothing about this period of Roman history. Livy’s style, as ever, is engaging and easy to read, although it’s worth recalling he isn’t Captain Objective. The edition I read made good use of footnotes to explain certain points or remind the reader of minor inconsistencies in the history.

There’s a fascinating contrast between the ruthless pragmatism of the Romans, and their superstitious nature (repeatedly appointing dictators specifically to hammer in a nail to propitiate the gods). Likewise, asking chickens their opinion before deciding whether to engage in battle or not.

There are some broad themes that are actually quite in tune with the modern world, particularly the conflict (sometimes almost warfare) between the wealthy, privileged, aristocratic patricians, and the numerous but poorer plebeians. On an individual level, there’s heroism and sacrifice, bickering and selfishness, and some intriguing characters (Titus Manlius Torquatus, Marcus Valerius Corvus, Lucius Papirius Cursor and the first Quintus Fabius Maximus, to name a few).

The only real downside was that I found the maps rather iffy. Detail was swallowed by the spine and they weren’t particularly clear (cluttered, and the fonts are too small).

If you liked Livy’s other writing, you’ll enjoy this (NB if you haven’t read anything by Livy I’d advocate starting with The War With Hannibal, as it’s about arguably the most interesting war in history).


Friday, 6 January 2017

And the preferred cover is...

Thanks to all those who voted either here, on Twitter or getting in touch another way for which of the two covers were preferred. It’s a pretty clear victory for B, with 75% preferring that to the A cover (I’ll probably slap a smaller version of the dragon onto the back of the book).

Not sure if I’ll stick with Lulu or use CreateSpace (there is a KDP [used for Amazon e-books] option for a print version but apparently that’s still working out the kinks). Things are a bit tricky at the moment so I can’t give much guidance as to an expected timetable.

In the meantime, if you enjoy bloody, grim, treacherous fantasy, do give Kingdom Asunder a look. If there’s a better story with a lesbian princess protagonist who has a pet man-eating lynx, I’d like to see it.