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Iron & rust
Sidebottom, Harry, author.
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Publication Information:
New York, NY : The Overlook Press, 2015.
Physical Description:
404 pages : maps ; 24 cm.
In spring AD 235, a surprise attack and the brutal murder of Emperor Alexander and his mother ends the Severan dynasty and shatters four decades of Roman certainty. Military hero Maximinus Thrax is the first Caesar risen from the barracks. A simple man of steel and violence, he will fight for Rome unconditionally. The Senators praise the new Emperor with elaborate oratory, but will any of them accept a Caesar who was once a shepherd boy? In the north, as the merciless war against the barbarians consumes men and treasure, rebellion and personal tragedy drive Maximinus to desperate extremes, bloody revenge, and the borders of sanity.
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Blending heart-pounding action and historical accuracy, Harry Sidebottom's bestselling Warrior of Rome series took readers from the shouts of the battlefield to the whisperings of the emperor's inner circle. Now, Sidebottom sets his sights on one of the bloodiest periods of Roman history--the Year of the Six Emperors.In spring AD 235, a surprise attack and the brutal murder of Emperor Alexander and his mother ends the Severan dynasty and shatters four decades of Roman certainty. Military hero Maximinus Thrax is the first Caesar risen from the barracks. A simple man of steel and violence, he will fight for Rome unconditionally. The Senators praise the new Emperor with elaborate oratory, but will any of them accept a Caesar who was once a shepherd boy? In the north, as the merciless war against the barbarians consumes men and treasure, rebellion and personal tragedy drive Maximinus to desperate extremes, bloody revenge, and the borders of sanity.Iron and Rust creates a world both sophisticated and brutal, yet firmly rooted in history. Game of Thrones-meets-300: Rise of an Empire, this is a world of intrigue, murder, passion, and war--a world where men will kill to sit on the Throne of the Caesars.

Author Notes

HARRY SIDEBOTTOM teaches classical history at Oxford, where he is a Fellow of St Benet's Hall and a lecturer at Lincoln College. He has an international reputation as a scholar, having published widely on ancient warfare, classical art, and the cultural history of the Roman Empire. Iron and Rust is the first book in a major new series, Throne of the Caesars, and follows his acclaimed and bestselling series, Warrior of Rome. He divides his time between Oxford and Newmarket in Suffolk.

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Booklist Review

Sidebottom, author of the Warrior of Rome series, turns his attention to another era in the annals of ancient Rome: AD 238, the Year of the Six Emperors. Setting the stage with the assassination of Alexander Severus, he paints a less-than-flattering portrait of an empire in turmoil. The end of the Severan dynasty provides an opportunity for new leadership, but the path to power is fraught with peril. When Maximinus Thrax, a military hero with a decidedly lower-class background, accedes to the throne, his right to rule is questioned by many, especially patricians, who suspect a man of his breeding and temperament is not fit for the task. Internal and external conflicts ensue as the struggle for control and domination turns cutthroat and bloody, both on and off the battlefield. Ancient Rome always intrigues, and Sidebottom, an Oxford don, has grounded the compelling chaos firmly into historical context.--Flanagan, Margaret Copyright 2014 Booklist



ALSO BY HARRY SIDEBOTTOM FICTION The Warrior of Rome Series Fire in the East King of Kings Lion of the Sun The Caspian Gates The Wolves of the North The Amber Road NON-FICTION Ancient Warfare Copyright Our history now descends from a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust. CASSIUS DIO LXXII.36.4 There have never been such earthquakes and plagues, or tyrants and kings with such unexpected careers, which were rarely if ever recorded before. HERODIAN I.I.4 CAST OF MAIN CHARACTERS (A COMPREHENSIVE LIST APPEARS AT THE END OF THE BOOK) IN THE NORTH Alexander Severus: The Emperor Mamaea: His mother Petronius Magnus: An imperial councillor Flavius Vopiscus: Senatorial governor of Pannonia Superior Honoratus: Senatorial commander of the troops detached from Moesia Inferior Catius Clemens: Senatorial commander of the 8th legion in Germania Superior Maximinus Thrax: An equestrian army officer Caecilia Paulina: His wife Maximus: Their son Anullinus: An equestrian army officer Volo: The commander of the frumentarii Domitius: The Prefect of the Camp Julius Capitolinus: Equestrian commander of 2nd legion Parthica Macedo: An equestrian army officer Timesitheus: Equestrian acting-governor of Germania Inferior Tranquillina: His wife Sabinus Modestus: His cousin IN ROME Pupienus: The Prefect of the City Pupienus Maximus: His elder son Pupienus Africanus: His younger son Gallicanus: A Senator of Cynic views Maecenas: His intimate friend Balbinus: A patrician of dissolute ways Iunia Fadilla: A young widow, descended from Marcus Aurelius Perpetua: Her friend, wife of Serenianus, governor of Cappadocia The die-cutter: A workman in the Mint Castricius: His young and disreputable neighbour Caenis: A prostitute visited by both IN AFRICA Gordian the Elder: Senatorial governor of Africa Proconsularis Gordian the Younger: His son and legate Menophilus: His Quaestor Arrian, Sabinianus, and Valerian: His other legates Capelianus: Governor of Numidia, and enemy of Gordian IN THE EAST Priscus: Equestrian governor of Mesopotamia Philip: His brother Serenianus: His friend, governor of Cappadocia Junius Balbus: Governor of Syria Coele, son-in-law of Gordian the Elder Otacilius Severianus: Governor of Syria Palestina, brother-in-law of Priscus and Philip Ardashir: Sassanid King of Kings OUR HISTORY NOW DESCENDS FROM A KINGDOM OF GOLD TO ONE OF IRON AND RUST. CHAPTER 1 The Northern Frontier A Camp outside Mogontiacum, Eight Days before the Ides of March, AD235 Hold me safe in your hands. The sun would be risen, well up by now, but little evidence filtered through to the inner sanctum of the great pavilion. All you gods, hold me safe in your hands. The young Emperor prayed silently, his mouth moving. Jupiter, Apollonius, Christ, Abraham, Orpheus: see me safe through the coming day. In the lamplight the eclectic range of deities regarded him impassively. Alexander, Augustus, Magna Mater: watch over your elect, watch over the throne of the Caesars. Noises, like the squeaking of disturbed bats, from beyond the little sanctuary of the domestic gods, beyond the heavy silk hangings, disrupted his prayers. From somewhere in the further recesses of the labyrinth of purple-shaded corridors and enclosures came the crash of something breaking. All the imperial attendants were fools - clumsy fools and cowards. The soldiers had mutinied before. Like those disturbances, this one would be resolved, and when that happened the members of the household who had deserted their duty or taken advantage of the uproar would suffer. If any of the slaves or freedmen were stealing, he would have the tendons in their hands cut. They could not steal then. It would serve as a lesson. The familia Caesaris needed constant discipline. The Emperor Alexander Severus pulled a fold of his cloak over his bowed head, placed his right palm on his chest, composed himself again into the attitude of prayer. The omens had been bad for months. On his last birthday the sacrificial animal had escaped. Its blood had splashed on his toga. As they marched out from Rome an ancient laurel tree of huge size suddenly fell at full length. Here on the Rhine, there had been the Druid woman. Go. Neither hope for victory, nor trust your soldiers. The words of the prophecy ran in his memory. Vadas. Nec victoriam speres, nec te militi tuo credas . It was suspicious she had spoken in Latin. Yet torture had not revealed any malign worldly influences. Whatever her language, the gods needed propitiating. To Jupiter an ox. To Apollonius an ox. To Jesus Christ an ox. To Achilles, Virgil and Cicero, to all you heroes ... As he made every vow, Alexander blew each statuette a kiss. It was not enough. He got down on his knees, then, somewhat encumbered by his elaborate armour, stretched full length in adoration before the lararium . Close to his face, he noticed the gold thread in the white carpet. The fabric smelt slightly musty. None of this was his fault. None of it. The year before last in the East he had been ill. Half the troops with him had been sick. If he had not ordered the retreat to Antioch, the Persians would have destroyed them all; not just the southern force which was left behind, but the main Roman field army as well. Here in the North the frontier had been breached in numerous places. Opening negotiations with some of the barbarians was not weakness. There was no profit in fighting them all at once. Judicious promises and gifts could induce some to stand aside, maybe even join in the destruction of their brethren. It did not mean their punishment was waived, merely deferred. Barbarians had no concept of good faith, so promises to barbarians could not be considered binding. Such things could not be stated in public, but why did the soldiers not see these obvious truths? Of course, the northern soldiery, recruited from the camps, were little better than barbarians themselves. Their comprehension was equally limited. That was why they could not understand about the money. Since Caracalla, the Emperor who may have been his father, had doubled the pay of the troops, the exchequer had been drained. Veturius, the treasurer appointed by his mother, had taken Alexander to the fiscus . There had been nothing to see except rank after rank of empty coffers. As Alexander had tried to explain more than once on various parade grounds, donatives to the army would have to be extracted by force from innocent civilians, from the soldiers' own families. A rush of light as a hanging was pulled back. Felicianus, the senior of the two Praetorian Prefects, marched in. No one announced him and no one closed the curtain. Through the opening, past the Prefect, flew innumerable tiny birds. They darted everywhere around the chamber, flashing bright yellow, red and green as they passed through the band of light. How many times had Alexander told their keepers about the trouble and expense in collecting them? At every dinner when they were released to hop and flutter about entertainingly one or two were lost or died. How many would be left after this? Felicianus swiped with futile aggression at those that veered and banked near his head as he walked towards the pale gleam of the twin ivory thrones. The Emperor's mother was seated there in the gloom. Granianus, an old tutor of Alexander's, now promoted into the imperial chancery, stood by Mamaea, whispering. The secretary of studies was always to be found by the side of the Empress, always whispering. Alexander returned to his devotions. What you do not wish that a man should do to you, do not do to him . He had had the phrase inscribed over his lararium . He had heard it in the East from some old Jew or Christian. An unwelcome thought struck him. He raised himself on to his elbows. He looked for the court glutton. Alexander had seen him eat birds, feathers and all. It was all right. The omnivore was in a corner beyond Alexander's musical instruments. He was huddled with one of the dwarves. Neither was paying any attention to the ornamental birds. They were staring blankly into space. The mutiny seemed to have drained all their vitality. 'Alexander, get up, and come here.' His mother's voice was peremptory. Slowly, not to appear too craven, the Emperor got to his feet. The air was thick with incense, although the sacred fire burnt low on its portable altar. Alexander wondered if he should tell someone to get some fuel. It would be terrible if it went out. 'Alexander.' The Emperor turned to his mother. 'The situation is not irretrievable. The peasant that the recruits have clad in the purple has not arrived yet. His acclamation will attract few supporters among the senior officers.' Mamaea was always good in a crisis. Alexander thought of the night of his accession, the night his cousin-brother died, and shuddered. 'Praetorian Prefect Cornelianus has gone to fetch the Cohort of Emesenes. They are our people. Their commander Iotapianus is a kinsman. They will be loyal. The other eastern archers also. He will bring the Armenians and Osrhoenes.' Alexander had never liked Iotapianus. 'Felicianus has volunteered to go back out to the Campus Martius. It is brave. The act of a man.' Mamaea lightly ran her fingers over the sculpted muscles of the Prefect's cuirass. Alexander hoped the rumours were untrue. He had never trusted Felicianus. 'The greed of the troops is insatiable.' Mamaea addressed her son. 'Felicianus will offer them money, a huge donative. The subsidies to the Germans will end. The diplomatic funds will be promised to the soldiers. And they will want those they believe their enemies.' She dropped her voice. 'They will demand Veturius' head. The treasurer must be sacrificed. Apart from the four of us, Felicianus can surrender anyone to them.' Alexander looked over at the glutton. Among all the court grotesques, the polyfagus was Alexander's favourite. It was unlikely the mutineers would demand the death of the imperial omnivore. 'Alexander.' His mother's voice brought him back. 'The soldiers will want to see their Emperor. When Felicianus returns, you will go out with him. From the tribunal you will tell them you share their desire for revenge for their families. You will promise to march at their head against the barbarians who killed their loved ones. Together you will free the enslaved and exact awful vengeance on those who inflicted such terrible sufferings. Give the soldiers the proper address of an imperator : fire and sword, burning villages, heaps of plunder, mountains of enemy corpses. Make a better speech than you did this morning.' 'Yes, Mother.' Felicianus saluted, and left the tent. It was monstrously unfair. He had done his best. In the grey light of pre-dawn he had gone to the Campus Martius. Clad in his ornamental armour, he had ascended the raised platform, stood and waited with the troops who had renewed their oaths to him the night before. When the mutinous recruits had emerged out of the near-darkness, he had filled his lungs to address them. It was never going to be easy. Latin was not his first language. It had made no difference. They had given him no chance to speak. Coward! Weakling! Mean little girl tied to his mother's apron strings! Their shouts had pre-empted anything he could have said. On his side of the parade ground, first one or two then whole ranks had put down their arms. He had turned and run. Pursued by taunts and jeers, he had stumbled back to the imperial quarters. With the Prefect Felicianus gone, Mamaea sat as immobile as a statue. Granianus tried to whisper. She waved him to silence. The small birds fluttered here and there. Alexander stood, irresolute. An Emperor should not be irresolute. ' Polyfagus .' The fat man lumbered up and waddled after Alexander to where the food was set out. 'Amuse me, eat.' Alexander pointed to a mountain of lettuces in a basket. The glutton started to eat, his jaw chewing steadily, his throat bobbing. He ate with little enthusiasm. 'Faster.' Using both hands, the omnivore stuffed the green leaves into his mouth. Soon there were none left. 'The basket.' It was made of wicker. The polyfagus broke it, and began. Although piece by piece it disappeared into his mouth, he was not attacking it with anything like his customary relish. Alexander wished he could be free of his mother. But there was no one else. No one else he could trust. He had trusted the first wife they had given him. Yes, he had trusted Memmia Sulpicia with all his heart. But then her father Sulpicius Macrinus had plotted against him. The evidence produced by the imperial spies had left no doubt. The frumentarii of Volo, the Spymaster, had been thorough. Even before Sulpicius was tortured, there had been no doubt. His mother had wanted Memmia Sulpicia executed as well. Alexander had been firm. They had not let him see his wife, but he had commuted her sentence to exile. As far as he knew, she was still alive somewhere in Africa. The omnivore spluttered, and reached for a pitcher. Much the same had happened with his second wife, Barbia Orbiana. He had not been fortunate with his fathers-in-law. The polyfagus took a huge draught of wine. It might have been very different if his father had lived. But he had died before Alexander was really old enough to remember him. Then, when he was nine, they had told him Gessius Marcianus, the half-recalled equestrian officer from Arca in Syria, had not been his father at all. Instead he was the natural son of the Emperor Caracalla. But by then Caracalla too had been dead for a year or more. This unexpected turn in Alexander's paternity had revealed that the newly reigning Emperor Elagabalus was not only his first cousin but his half-brother as well. It had been given out that their mothers, the sisters Soaemis and Mamaea, had committed adultery with Caracalla. And then Elagabalus had been prevailed upon to adopt Alexander. Not many a boy had three fathers publicly acknowledged before he turned thirteen, with two of them worshipped as gods, and the last just five years his senior. Five years his senior, and perverse beyond measure. Mamaea had tried to shield Alexander from Elagabalus and his courtiers, both from their malice and their influence. Alexander's food and drink was tasted before it was brought to the table. The servants around him were individually chosen by his mother, not drawn from the common pool in the palace. It was the same with the guards. Droves of experts in Greek and Latin literature and oratory had been hired at vast expense, along with men skilled in music, wrestling, geometry and every other activity considered suitable to aid the cultural and moral development of a princeps . None had been selected for his light-heartedness. After his accession, many of the intellectuals had remained at court, like Granianus moving to positions in the imperial secretariat. Their augmented status had not instilled any increase in levity. While his cousin-brother reigned, Mamaea had kept Alexander safe. Yet despite all her efforts, dark stories of depravity and vice seeped from the intimates of Elagabalus. Alexander remembered how, all at once, these whispered stories had appalled and excited him. Elagabalus had cast off any decency, cast off the restraint of his mother. A life of dinners, women, roses and boys, of futile pleasure on more pleasure; a hedonistic Pelion heaped upon Ossa; a life which put the imaginations of Epicureans and Cyrenaeans to shame. Think of the freedom, the power. Like a diligent warder, Mamaea had shielded Alexander from the chance to experience such temptations. But she had not shielded him from the end of it all. A dark night, torchlight reflected in the puddles. Two days before the ides of March. Alexander was thirteen, standing in the Forum with his mother. Shadows shifting on the tall columns of the temple of Concordiae Augustae. The Praetorians handed their victims over to the mob. Both were naked, much bloodied. Elagabalus, they dragged with a hook. It entered his stomach, curled up into his chest. Soaemis, they hauled by her ankles, legs obscenely apart. Her head banged on the roadway. Most likely they were already dead. Mamaea watched the final progress of her sister, a journey she had in part orchestrated. Alexander had wanted to go back up to the palace and hide. No, at a signal from his mother the Praetorians had hailed him Emperor, and formed around him to take him to their camp. Alexander cast around to get rid of the image. All types of cold food were presented to his gaze: watermelons, sardines, bread, biscuits. There was a mound of snowy-white imperial napkins. Alexander tossed one across. 'Eat this.' The polyfagus caught it, but did not begin to eat. 'Eat!' The man did not move. Alexander drew his sword. 'Eat!' Mouth hanging open, the polyfagus was panting. Alexander flourished the blade at his face. 'Eat!' A change in the light. A waft of air in the perfumed stillness. Alexander swung round. A barbarian warrior stood in the opening. He was young, clad in leather and fur, lank long hair to his shoulders. His sudden appearance defied all explanation. In his hand he carried a naked blade. Alexander became aware of the sword in his own hand. Then he remembered. He had long known this would happen. The astrologer Thrasybulus had told him. Somehow he found the courage to raise his blade. He knew it was hopeless. No one can fight what is ordained. When his eyes adjusted, the barbarian was visibly surprised. Somehow it was evident he had expected the chamber to be empty. He hesitated, then turned and left. Alexander laughed, the sound high and grating to his ears. He laughed and laughed. Thrasybulus was wrong. He was a fool. He had misread the stars. Alexander was not fated to die at the hands of a barbarian. Not now, not ever. Thrasybulus was no more than a charlatan. If he had been anything else, he would have seen his own fate, would have known what the next day now held for him. The stake and the faggots; let him burn slowly or suffocate in the smoke. This would all end well. The Emperor knew it. Alexander had faced death, and he had not been found wanting. He was no coward, no mean little girl. Their words could no longer hurt him. He was a man. Along with the barbarian, the last of the servants seemed to have vanished. Even the dwarf was gone. The pavilion was empty except for his mother on her throne, Granianus beside her, and Alexander himself with the polyfagus . Alexander did not care. Elated, he rounded again on the latter. 'Eat!' There was a sheen of sweat on the man's face. He did not eat, merely pointed. Three Roman officers now stood in the doorway, helmeted, cuirassed. The leading one was holding something in one hand. Like the barbarian, they waited until they could see in the gloom. 'Felicianus has returned.' The speaker threw the thing he carried. It landed heavily, half rolled. Alexander did not have to look to know it was the head of the senior Prefect. The officers drew their weapons as they moved into the tent. 'You too, Anullinus?' Mamaea's voice was controlled. 'Me too,' Anullinus said. 'You can have money, the Prefecture of the Guard.' 'It is over,' Anullinus said. 'Alexander will adopt you, make you Caesar, make you his heir.' 'It is over.' Alexander moved to his mother's side. The sword was still in his hand. He was no coward. There were only three of them. He had been trained by the best swordsmen in the empire. The officers stopped a few paces from the thrones. They looked around, as if taking in the enormity of the actions they were about to commit. The raking sunlight glanced off the swords they carried. The steel seemed to shimmer and hum with menace. Alexander went to heft his own weapon. His palm was slick with sweat. He knew then his purchase on courage had been temporary. He let go of the hilt. The sword clattered to the ground. One of the officers snorted in derision. Sobbing, Alexander crumpled to his knees. He took hold of his mother's skirts. 'This is all your fault! Your fault!' 'Silence!' she snapped. 'An Emperor should die on his feet. At least die like a man.' Alexander buried his head in the folds of material. How could she say such things? It was all her fault. He had never wanted to be Emperor; thirteen years of self-negation, boredom and fear. He had never wanted to harm anyone. What you do not wish that a man should do to you ... The officers were moving forward. 'Anullinus, if you do this, you break the oath you took before the standards.' At his mother's voice they stopped again. Alexander peeped out. 'In the sacramentum did you not swear to put the safety of the Emperor above everything? Did you not swear the same for his family?' His mother looked magnificent. Eyes flashing, face set, hair like a ridged helmet, she resembled an icon of an implacable deity, the sort that punished breakers of oaths. The officers stood, seeming uncertain. Could she stop them? Somewhere Alexander had read of the like. 'Murderers are paid in just measure by the sorrows the gods will upon their houses.' Alexander felt a surge of hope. It was Marius in Plutarch; the fire in his eyes driving back the assassins. 'It is over.' Anullinus said. 'Go! Depart!' The spell was broken, the thing now irrevocable. Yet they did nothing precipitous. It was as if they were waiting for her last words, knowing they would receive no benediction, instead nothing but harm. 'Zeus, protector of oaths, witness this abomination. Shame! Shame! Anullinus, Prefect of the Armenians, I curse you. And you, Quintus Valerius, Tribune of the Numeri Brittonum. And you, Ammonius of the Cataphracts. Dark Hades release the Erinyes, the terrible daughters of night, the furies who blind the reason of men and turn their future to ashes and suffering.' As her words ended, they moved. She stilled them with an imperious gesture. 'And I curse the peasant you will place upon the throne, and I curse those who will follow him. Let not one of them know happiness, prosperity or ease. Let all of them sit in the shadow of the sword. Let them not gaze long upon the sun and earth. The throne of the Caesars is polluted. Those who ascend it will discover for themselves that they cannot evade punishment.' Anullinus raised his sword. 'Go! Depart!' Mamaea did not flinch. ' Exi! Recede! ' he repeated. Anullinus stepped forward. The blade fell. Mamaea moved then. She could not help raise her hand. But it was too late. Alexander looked at the severed stumps of her fingers, the unnatural suddenness of the wide red gash at his mother's throat, the jetting blood. Someone was screaming, high and gasping, like a child. Anullinus was standing over him. ' Exi! Recede! ' CHAPTER 2 The Northern Frontier A Camp outside Mogontiacum, Eight Days before the Ides of March, AD235 A blustery spring day, as was to be expected in Germania Superior eight days before the ides of March. It had still been dark, spitting with rain, when they rode out of Mogontiacum. It was mid-morning and the sun was out when they reached the camp near the village of Sicilia. Soldiers moved through the lines with no pretence of discipline. Some saluted, some did not. Most were drunk, a number to the point of insensibility. The cavalcade dismounted. Maximinus Thrax stretched his large frame and handed his reins to a trooper. The Rhine rolled past, wide and glittering in the sun. The outer walls of the great complex of purple pavilions shifted and snapped in the wind. 'This way.' Maximinus followed the Senators Flavius Vopiscus and Honoratus. There were naked corpses in the corridors. They were grey-white, waxy, with a sheen as if rubbed in oil. 'Not all the familia Caesaris fled in time,' Honoratus said. 'Servants and some of the secretaries, easy to replace,' Vopiscus said. 'The Praetorian Prefects were the only men of any account to die.' A rack of bodies blocked their path. The heads of the dead lay close together in some final conclave. Maximinus thought of the squalor of blood and death. It did not upset him. He had seen many massacres. He had let none trouble him since the first. They stepped carefully over the splayed limbs. Maximinus knew his face would be set in what Paulina called his half-barbarian scowl. He thought of his wife and smiled. There could still be beauty, trust and love, even in a debased age. It was gloomy in the throne chamber. The atmosphere was close, smelling of incense and blood, of urine and fear. Anullinus and the other two equestrian officers were waiting. 'The mean little girl is dead.' Anullinus held the head by its short hair. Maximinus took the severed head in both hands. As was always the case, it was surprisingly heavy. He brought it close, scrutinized the long face, the long nose, the weak and petulant mouth and chin. Was it true that this weakling had been Caracalla's son? The mother had claimed so; the grandmother too. Both had boasted of the adultery. Morality had yielded to political advantage, as could be anticipated with easterners. Maximinus carried the object back to the opening. In the better light, he turned it this way and that. Of course, he had seen Alexander many times before, but now he could really study him. He needed to be sure. The nose was not dissimilar. The hair and beard were cut in the same style. But, although he had begun to go bald, there had been more curl in Caracalla's hair. Certainly his beard had been fuller than this wispy affair. Maximinus was no physiognomist, but the shape of the head was wrong. Caracalla's had been squarer, like a bull's or a block of stone. And his face had been strong, even harsh. Nothing like this delicate, inadequate youth. Maximinus felt in some measure reassured. Little could have been worse than being party to the killing of the son of his old commander, the grandson of his great patron. Maximinus acknowledged he owed everything to Caracalla's father, Septimius Severus. That Emperor had picked him out of backwoods obscurity, placed his trust in him. In return, Maximinus had given his devotion. Without thought, Maximinus put a hand to his throat and touched the gold torque his Emperor had awarded him. 'Bury it,' Maximinus said, 'with the rest of him.' Anullinus took the repulsive thing. He turned towards the opening. The other two bloodstained equestrians moved deeper into the dark chamber, presumably to collect the cadaver. They all stopped at a sign from Vopiscus. 'Emperor, your magnanimity to your enemy does you credit, but it might be better to exhibit the head to the army, let the soldiery be sure that he is dead.' Maximinus considered the Senator's words. Except in battle, it was not his habit to act on the spur of the moment. At length, he addressed Anullinus. 'Do as the Senator Vopiscus suggests, then bury it.' Before anyone moved, Honoratus spoke. 'Emperor, possibly it would be good to send the head to Rome afterwards, have it burnt in the Forum or cast in the sewers. Such is usually the way with a usurper.' For an instant Maximinus thought the usurper referred to was himself. His anger flared, then he realized. He could still be astounded at the creative ways in which Senators and the rest of the traditional elite habitually rewrote history, both their own and that of the Res Publica . Soon it would be almost as if they had never hailed Alexander Emperor, never sworn oaths for his safety or held office under him. Thirteen years of rule would be reduced to a fleeting revolt, a momentary aberration when Rome was dominated by an ineffectual Syrian boy and his scheming, avaricious mother. Their own part in that ephemeral regime would be buried in deepest obscurity. Perhaps they had spent the time quietly, out of public affairs, on their estates. An expensive education could smooth away the rough edges of inconvenient truths. 'No,' Maximinus said. 'Whatever pleases you, Emperor,' answered Honoratus. 'He was no Nero. The plebs did not love him. There will be no false Alexanders. No runaway slave will gather a following, masquerading as him miraculously saved and come again; not in Rome, not even in the East. As for the Senate ...' Maximinus paused, scowling as he sought the right words. '... the Senate are men of culture. They do not need the thing flourished in their faces to believe. There is no need to paint them a picture.' ' Quantum libet, Imperator ,' Honoratus repeated. 'Anullinus, when you have shown the head to the troops, bury him. All of him. Come back for the rest.' The officer shifted his loathsome burden into his left hand and saluted. 'We will do what is ordered, and at every command we will be ready.' The other two equestrians followed him out. 'To deny a man Hades is to deny your own humanitas .' Maximinus spoke out loud, yet to no one but himself. He moved deeper into the chamber. Something turned under his boot. It was a finger, cleanly severed, the nail perfect. The place was a slaughterhouse. There was blood everywhere, livid across the white carpets, darker on the purple hangings. The remains of the young Emperor lay, mutilated and decapitated, by his throne. His mother, also naked and hacked about, next to hers. There was blood on the ivory thrones. How had it come to this? Maximinus had not wanted it. He had known Alexander was unpopular. Everyone in the army had known that. Perhaps in his cups he had voiced unguarded criticisms. But he had no idea the recruits he was training would mutiny. Once they had thrown a purple cloak over his shoulders in Mogontiacum, there had been no way back. If he had tried to step down, either the recruits would have killed him there and then or Mamaea would have done so later. Almost certainly the revolt would have been crushed, and crushed swiftly - Maximinus' head would have been on a pike by the end of the day - if Vopiscus and Honoratus had not ridden into the camp of the recruits. Vopiscus was governor of Pannonia Superior. He commanded the legionary detachments to the field army from both his own province and that of neighbouring Pannonia Inferior. Honoratus was legate of 11th Legion Claudia Pia Fidelis. He had led the detachments from the two provinces of Moesia up the Ister. Between them they had pledged the swords of some eight thousand legionaries, the majority veterans. Even so, it had been up in the air until Iotapianus had brought them the head of the Praetorian Prefect Cornelianus. Iotapianus was a kinsman of Alexander and Mamaea. The archers he commanded were from their hometown of Emesa. With their desertion, there had been no hope for the Emperor and his mother. Once you have taken a wolf by the ears, you can never let go. No, Maximinus had not desired the throne, but now there was no going back. At least his son would revel in their new station. Which might be far from a good thing. Maximus was eighteen, more than pampered and spoilt enough already. And Paulina, what would she think? She had always wanted her husband to better himself, to rise in society. But to the highest eminence of mankind? From her senatorial background, she knew all too well how others despised his low origins. The red gashes on Mamaea's body were painful to look at. Something about the old woman reminded Maximinus of the day long ago when he had walked into a hut and for the first time been confronted with the remains of a family who had been put to the sword: the old woman, the old man, the children. He turned away. There was a table spread with food, a vast, fat man dead at its foot. Inexplicably, tiny birds hopped through the plates. The food was cold anyway. Maximinus had never cared for cold food. In the corner of the tent, a dog sat with a human head between its paws, contentedly gnawing. ' Imperator .' Vopiscus and Honoratus were at Maximinus' elbow. 'It is time to address the troops, Emperor.' Maximinus drew a deep breath. He was just a soldier. Either of the two Senators would make a better speech. Either of them would make a better Emperor. But once you have taken a wolf by the ears ... Maximinus was just a soldier. The men out there were just soldiers. They demanded nothing elaborate. He would speak to them as their fellow-soldier, as one comilitio to another. It would take only simple words. He would march with them, share their rations, fight alongside them, share their danger. Together they must conquer the Germans as far as the Ocean. It was that or Rome would die. He would quote the last words of his old commander Septimius Severus: ' Enrich the soldiers, ignore everyone else .' CHAPTER 3 Rome The Senate House, Four Days after the Ides of March, AD235 It was still dark when Pupienus walked down from his house on the Caelian Hill. Not a star showed, not even the Kite or the Lycaonian Bear. The torches of his link-boys sawed in the gusting breeze. The pavements were dry, but the air smelt of rain. Pupienus was in the habit of leaving his home at this hour. Normally, unless it was the day of some festival and piety demanded leisure, he would bear off to the right towards the Temple of Peace and the well-appointed offices of his high magistracy. Today was far from a normal day. He walked under the Arch of Augustus and out into the Roman Forum. Off to the right, above the great façade of the Basilica Aemilia, the sky was beginning to lighten. Tattered black clouds could be distinguished, pressing down from the north. To most they would bring no more cheer than had the news from that direction the previous afternoon. Down in the gloom, torches guttered across the Forum, each followed by an indistinct figure in shimmering white. All were converging on one point, like moths to a flame or ghosts to blood. The Senators of Rome were meeting in extraordinary session. Pupienus was one of their number. Even after all this time, nearly thirty years now, it both thrilled him and seemed somehow unlikely. He had attained membership of the same order that had included Cato the Censor, Marius and Cicero. And he was not just anyone, not just a foot-soldier. Marcus Clodius Pupienus Maximus, Vir Clarissimus , twice Consul, was Prefect of the City of Rome, responsible for law and order in the eternal city, and up to one hundred miles beyond. To enforce his will, he commanded the six thousand men of the Urban Cohorts. He had come a long way since his youth in Tibur, let alone his childhood in Volaterrae. Pupienus stamped down the unwelcome thought of Volaterrae. The gods knew all too soon he would have to make another clandestine trip there and face the past he had taken so much trouble to hide. The Curia stood four-square in the corner of the Forum, as if it had always stood there and always would. Postumus knew this building was not the original, but in some way that made no difference to the impression of permanence. He climbed the steps and passed under the portico. Pausing, he touched the statue of Libertas on the toe for luck, then went in through the bronze doors. He walked the length of the floor. He looked neither left nor right, not at friend or foe, not even at the presiding Consuls. He walked slowly, hands decorously hidden in his toga, eyes fixed upon the statue and altar of Victory. Dignitas was everything to a Senator. Without that potent mixture of gravity, propriety and nobility he would be no better than anyone else. Pupienus ascended the tribunal. He made a libation of wine and offered a pinch of incense at the altar. The fumes curled up intoxicatingly from the little fire. The gilded face of Victory gazed down without emotion. He placed his right hand flat on his chest, bowed his head and prayed to the traditional gods. His prayers were for the health of the Res Publica , the safety of the imperium and the good fortune of his own family. They were all heartfelt. His obligations to the divine met, Pupienus turned to the mundane. He greeted the Consuls and went down to his accustomed seat on the front bench. His two sons, Maximus and Africanus, were there. He let them wait, first hailing his wife's brother Sextius Cethegillus, Maximus' father-in-law Tineius Sacerdos and his own long-term ally and confidant Cuspidius Flamininus. Age and rank should come before familial affection. Finally, he embraced his sons. 'Health and great joy,' they repeated to each other. 'Health and great joy.' The house was very crowded, all the seats taken. Senators of less account stood packed together at the back. This would be a day to tell your grandchildren about. A new reign was beginning, the first for thirteen years. Anyone might seize the throne, but only the Senate could make him legitimate, vote him the powers necessary to rule. Without the Senate a new Emperor was no more than a usurper. Pupienus let his eyes wander over the ranks on the other side of the Curia. The smooth, open face of Flavius Latronianus smiled at him. Pupienus smiled back. Some of the others he acknowledged more formally; none was his particular friend but, like Latronianus, all were Consulars, and all were men who had done the Res Publica good service and whose opinion carried weight. They returned his gesture. The sight of those on the front bench immediately opposite gave him far less pleasure. Caelius Balbinus had the heavy jowls and florid face of the hardened drinker. He raised a hand to Pupienus with an ironic courtliness. As rich as Croesus, and as decadent as any oriental ruler, the aged Balbinus claimed descent from, among many other families and individuals of antique fame, the great clan of the Coelli. He revelled in the kinship this gave him with the deified Emperors Trajan and Hadrian. Balbinus sat surrounded by other patricians cut from much the same cloth. Caesonius Rufinianus, Acilius Aviola and the grossly obese Valerii brothers, Priscillianus and Messala - all professed at least one ancestor who had sat in the very first meeting of the free Senate more than half a millennium ago. In recent times Emperors might have granted patrician status to the families of certain favourites, but Balbinus and his ilk looked down on the recipients. For them, no man was a true patrician unless his ancestor had been in the Curia on that day of liberty after Brutus had driven out Tarquinius Superbus and ended the rule of the legendary kings. Some, of course, boasted much more. According to Aviola, his line went back all the way to Aeneas himself and thus to the gods. Neither divine descent nor centuries of privilege tended to breed humility. The young relatives of these patricians were still worse. Aviola's cousin Acilius Glabrio and Valerius Priscillianus' son Poplicola were two of the three-man board of junior magistrates who ran the mint. They were not even Senators yet. But they stood on the floor of the house, hair artfully curled, drenched in perfume, as if it was their entitlement. They knew as well as anyone that their birth, the smoke-blackened busts of their ancestors displayed in their palatial homes, would bring them office and advancement, irrespective of effort or merit, as it had for generations of their families. Pupienus considered that he had nothing against the patriciate or the wider circle of the inherited nobility in general. The men on either side of him, Cethegillus and Sacerdos, came from the ranks of the latter. They each had several Consuls in their lineage, but remained men of sound mind and hard toil. They were men who could put public duty before their own self-regard and pleasures. Pupienus himself had ennobled his family when he had held his first Consulship. Cuspidius had done the same, as had his other closest friends. Rutilius Crispinus and Serenianus were absent in the East, governing the provinces of Syria Phoenice and Cappadocia respectively. Part of Pupienus wished they were here now. He would have valued their advice and support. Across the way, Balbinus was telling a joke, laughing at his own wit, his face porcine. Pupienus detested him. The higher Pupienus and his friends had climbed the cursus honorum , the ladder of offices, the more the likes of Balbinus had sneered at their origins. Their families were immigrants. Rome no more to them than a stepmother. Not one of their ancestors had been worthy of admittance to the Senate. What did that say of their heredity? What could a new man know of the age-old traditions of Rome? The snide comments infuriated Pupienus. A novus homo had the harder path. He had to rise by his own services to the Res Publica , by his own virtue, not by the deeds of his distant ancestors. There was no comparison between the two. True nobility was to be found in the soul, not in a pedigree. Balbinus finished his joke with a flourish. The patricians laughed, the corpulent Valerius Messala immoderately. Perhaps he was nervous. Perhaps it had penetrated even his obtuse understanding that in this changed landscape his splendid marriage to the sister of the murdered Emperor Alexander might leave him in a dangerous eminence. One of the Consuls, Claudius Severus, rose to his feet. 'Let all who are not Conscript Fathers depart. Let no one remain except the Senators.' Some moments after the ritual sanction, the young patricians Acilius Glabrio and Poplicola sauntered towards the rear of the house. They did pass the tribunal, but stopped before the doors, still well inside the Curia itself. Pupienus was not alone in eyeing them balefully. There was always a majority of new men in the Senate. The other Consul, the polyonymous Lucius Tiberius Claudius Aurelius Quintianus Pompeianus stood. 'Let good auspices and joyful fortune attend the people of Rome.' As he recited the injunction which always proceeded a proposal there was something of a disturbance behind him in the crowd of onlookers wedged in one of the rear doors. 'We present to you, Conscript Fathers--' Acilius Glabrio and Poplicola turned. Abruptly, the two arrogant young patricians were thrust aside, Poplicola so hard that he stumbled. A pair of Senators pushed past and got on to the tribunal to make their offerings. The Consul exhibited the admirable self-control to be expected of a descendant of the divine Marcus Aurelius, and continued speaking. Having paid their respects to the deities, the two latecomers descended and walked to the floor of the house. They stood there, glaring about them defiantly. Pupienus regarded them with what he hoped was well-hidden disfavour. Domitius Gallicanus and Maecenas were inseparable. The former was the elder and the instigator. He was an ugly man with a shock of brown hair and a straggly beard. His toga was conspicuously home-spun. Everything about his un groomed appearance chimed with his self-proclaimed love of antique virtue and old-style Republican freedom. He was in his mid-forties. He had been Praetor some years before, but his ostentatious free speech and continual truculence towards the imperial authorities had stalled his career and so far prevented him becoming Consul. Pupienus had never had much time for Gallicanus - a noble spirit should seek the reward of virtue in his consciousness of it, rather than in the vulgar opinion of others; he had even less since last night. 'And that it be lawful for him to veto the act of any magistrate.' The Consul had no need of the notes in his hand. 'And that it be lawful for him to convene the Senate, to report business, and to propose decrees, just as it was lawful for the divine Augustus, and for the divine Claudius ...' Claudius Aurelius was proposing Maximinus be voted the powers of a tribune of the plebs, which gave an Emperor legal authority in the civil sphere. Distracted by the theatrical entry of Gallicanus and Maecenas, Pupienus must have missed the other of the twin bases of an Emperor's rule: the clauses about the Emperor's overriding military command. Events had moved fast since noon the previous day when Senator Honoratus and his escort had arrived from the North, pushing their foundering horses down the rain-swept Via Aurelia and into Rome. It had been three days after the ides of March. It was the day of the Liberalia , when boys are awarded the toga virilis of manhood. Attending family ceremonies, the Senators had been scattered throughout Rome and beyond. It had been late in the afternoon before enough had been gathered in the Curia. Honoratus was another novus homo . His hometown was Cuicul in Africa. Pupienus did not hold that against him. Honoratus had worked his way up the cursus honorum . After he had held a Praetorship, he had been given command of the 11th Legion up in Moesia Inferior, and from there appointed to a special command with the field army in Germania. Honoratus knew the ways of the Senate House as well as the camp. There had always been much to admire about him. Now there was something to fear as well. Still in his mud-splattered travelling clothes, Honoratus had told the tale simply, without affectation. The Emperor Alexander had been murdered in a spontaneous and unsuspected uprising of the troops. The senior officers and the army had proclaimed Gaius Iulius Verus Maximinus Emperor. With mutiny in the ranks and a barbarian war on hand, there had been no leisure to consult the Conscript Fathers. Maximinus hoped the Senate would understand the need for alacrity. The new Emperor intended to take advice from the Conscript Fathers, and to continue the senatorial policies of his predecessor. Maximinus was a man of proven courage and experience. He had governed Mauretania Tingitana, and Egypt, and held high command on both the eastern and the northern expeditions. Honoratus commended him to the house. It was a fine speech, Honoratus' slight African accent - where the occasional 's' was lisped into 'sh' - notwithstanding. The Senate would have voted Maximinus the imperial powers immediately - some had even begun to chant acclamations - had it not been for Gallicanus. Like a hirsute revenant from the old Republic, Gallicanus had risen up and thundered against the vitiation of senatorial procedure. It was well past the tenth hour of the day. After the tenth hour no new proposal could be put to the house. It was almost dark. Were the Conscript Fathers ashamed of their deeds? Did they seek to hide in obscurity like foul conspirators, or depraved Christians? Had they forgotten that a decree passed after sunset had no legality? The Consuls had been left with no choice but to end the session and call for the Senate to reconvene the following morning at dawn. Custom demanded the Senators escort home the presiding magistrates. Pupienus was one of those who accompanied Claudius Severus through the rain to his house. At least it had not been at all out of the way. The Consul was his neighbour on the Caelian Hill. Returned to his own home, Pupienus had time only for a quick bath and to put on dry clothes before his secretary, Curius Fortunatianus, had announced the presence at the door of none other than Gallicanus. For once, his shadow, Maecenas, had not been with the arbiter of traditional senatorial mores. Indeed, Gallicanus had made a request to speak to the Prefect of the City in complete privacy. The circumspect Fortunatianus had suggested Pupienus receive his visitor in the garden dining room. The hidden back door would allow the secretary, and for certainty perhaps another trustworthy witness, to listen unobserved. Although tempted, as it would ensure his own safety, Pupienus dismissed the idea as unworthy. Gallicanus might be unsavoury, a seeker of notoriety, and his conversation might move towards the treasonous - under the circumstances, Pupienus would have been amazed if it did not - but Senators should not inform against each other, and most certainly they should not set underhand traps. Fortunatianus had shown Gallicanus into the small room where Pupienus had dressed and then left them alone. Gallicanus had never been known for subtlety. Peering into every corner, only just stopping himself from tapping the panelling, he had demanded Pupienus swear that no one could overhear them and that nothing said would be repeated. The oaths taken, Gallicanus had launched directly into business. This new Emperor was but an equestrian. Only one man from the second order in society had ever taken the throne. Pupienus would recall the weakness and brevity of the reign of Moorish bureaucrat Macrinus. This Maximinus was worse still. At best, he was a peasant from the remote hills of Thrace. Some said one of his parents was from beyond the frontiers, a Goth or one of the Alani. Others said both had been barbarians. He was a man of no education, no culture. Pupienus knew the law of treason was ill-defined, but its malleability tended towards inclusion and condemnation. Gallicanus had already said more than enough to lose his estates and find himself heading towards either an exile-island or the executioner. Still, Pupienus had given his word. 'What would you do about it?' he asked. Gallicanus had not answered directly. The principate of Alexander had been good for the Senate. Gallicanus' tone was earnest. Both the Emperor and his mother had shown respect to the Curia. They had given the Senators the chance to regain their dignitas . More than that, with the creation of the permanent council of sixteen Senators always in attendance on the Emperor, they could be thought to have admitted the Senate into a real sharing of power. You might call it a dyarchy. Although he had done very well under the regime, a dyarchy would have been far from what Pupienus would have called almost a decade and a half of ineffective and corrupt rule by a weak youth and an avaricious woman who had attached various ambitious and often venal Senators to themselves in an unavailing attempt to gain a reputation for statesmanship. He said nothing in response. The Senate had been reawakened, Gallicanus had ploughed on. Not since the first Augustus had cloaked his autocracy in fine-sounding words and smothered the last of true freedom - maybe not since long before that - had the Senate been stronger. This Thracian barbarian had not yet squatted securely on the throne. Maximinus had few backers. Most of the Senators with the army would welcome his fall. Maximinus had no legal authority. The Emperor had never been weaker. It was time to bring back libertas . It was time to restore the free Republic. It had been a measure of Pupienus' many years of public service that he neither snorted in derision nor laughed out loud. Apart from the court fools and a man in Africa who had been driven out of his wits by the sun, he had never heard anyone say anything more insane. Gallicanus must have taken the continued silence of his interlocutor as a sign of something else. 'The Urban Cohorts under your command number six thousand men. Almost all the Praetorians are with the field army on the northern frontier. There are no more than a thousand left in Rome. Many of your men are quartered in their camp. It would be easy to win them over or crush them.' 'Herennius Modestinus?' Pupienus had said, speaking at last. Gallicanus had smiled like a not over-bright student asked a question he had been expecting. The Prefect of the Watch was an equestrian of the traditional type, imbued with a respect for the Senate. Anyway, if he proved contumacious, the vigiles he commanded were just seven thousand armed firemen. There were almost as many in the Urban Cohorts, and they were real soldiers. Modestinus himself was only a jurist, while Pupienus had commanded troops in the field. 'The detachments from the fleets of Ravenna and Misenum?' At this question Gallicanus had shrugged with a certain irritation. 'A few sailors in Rome to put up the awnings at the spectacles.' It was evident they had not previously crossed his mind. 'One thousand from each fleet, all trained and under military discipline.' Pupienus had always tried to know such details: the numbers of troops, their billeting and mood, the disposition of their officers, the family connections of the latter. He had always talked to all sorts of people. Since his rise, especially since he had become Prefect of the City, he had also paid good money to know such things. Gallicanus had waved the sailors away as of no consequence. There was something vaguely simian in the motion. 'If I threw my lot in with you--' Pupienus spoke slowly and carefully; even in the security of his own house he felt a vertiginous fear at saying these things '--and if I gathered under one standard all the armed forces in Rome, I would command some sixteen thousand. Of which, as you say, almost half are merely firemen. The imperial field army numbers some forty thousand, before reckoning what further forces could join it from the armies on the Rhine and Danube.' Gripping him by the arm, Gallicanus thrust his ill-favoured face close to that of Pupienus. 'My dear friend.' Gallicanus squeezed the arm. His gaze and voice were fervent in their sincerity. 'My dear Pupienus, no one doubts your commitment to libertas , your devotion to the Senate, or your courage. But in a free Republic it will not be for us to assign ourselves commands. As it was when Rome grew great, the Senate will vote who leads its armies.' Gallicanus released Pupienus' arm and began to pace the room. He was babbling about electing a board of twenty from the Senate, all ex-Consuls, to defend Italy. Others would be sent to win over the troops and the provincials. In his eagerness he was bobbing about the confined space and swinging his arms like an agitated primate in a cage. Pupienus was seldom flabbergasted, and he had not been so angry for a long time. What sort of fool was Gallicanus? He had come into Pupienus' home and endangered everyone in it with his talk of treason. And he had done so not to offer Pupienus the throne, not even to offer him a leading role in a new regime. Instead the ape had wanted Pupienus to seize the city for his insane cause, and then, rather than reap the rewards, simply give up his legitimate authority and step down to the level of a private citizen. 'This must stop.' Pupienus had recovered quickly. Gallicanus had rounded on him, suspicion and anger in his eyes. Pupienus had smiled. He had hoped it looked reassuring. 'All we Senators wish we had lived in the free Republic. But you know as well as me that the principate is a harsh necessity. The imperium was tearing itself apart in civil wars until Augustus took the throne.' Gallicanus had shaken his head. 'We can learn from history.' 'No--' Pupienus had been adamant '--the same would happen again. The leading men would fight for power until one of them won or the empire fell. You have read your Tacitus. Now we must pray for good Emperors, but serve the ones we get.' 'Tacitus served under the tyrant Domitian. He was nothing but a quietist, a time-server. He was a man of no courage, a coward.' Gallicanus had shouted the last words. 'You and I, we both held office under Caracalla.' Pupienus had pitched his voice at its most reasonable. 'Give up this scheme before you bring disaster on your family and your friends.' Gallicanus stood wringing his hands and pressing them together as if he could physically crush this opposition. 'I thought you were a man of honour.' You ape, Pupienus thought, you stupid, arrogant Stoic ape. 'I hope you will think so again, because I will never mention this conversation to anyone.' Gallicanus had left. The mellifluous tones of the Consul brought Pupienus back to the Senate House: '... And that whatsoever he shall deem to be according to the custom of the Res Publica and the greatness of divine and human, public and private matters, there be right and power for him to undertake and to do, just as there was for the divine Augustus ...' The Consul had reached clauses that were surely otiose. As Maximinus had already had been vested with the tribunician power, which brought the ability to make and unmake all laws, of course he could do whatsoever he should deem according to the custom of the Res Publica , and any other thing as well. Pupienus was only half listening. He was still watching Gallicanus posturing in his near-rags on the floor of the Senate House. The previous evening he had forgotten that Gallicanus had moved from following the doctrines of the Stoa to those of Diogenes. Not a Stoic ape then. A Cynic dog instead. It made little difference. The ragged Senator was still a dangerous fool, made all the more dangerous by a conviction that profoundest philosophy underpinned all his beliefs and actions. Gallicanus had not been the only visitor to the house on the Caelian that night. Pupienus and his wife were starting their belated dinner when Fortunatianus had announced another caller. This time the secretary had suggested no ingenious espionage. He was plainly terrified. Honoratus was outside. The street was full of soldiers. Pupienus had dreaded such a moment since first he acquired wealth and position. The knock on the door in the night. The imperial official standing in the torchlight, the armed men at his back. The muted terror sliding through the corridors of the house. In the reign of Caracalla, it had happened to several men close to Pupienus. Neither those vicarious experiences nor the years of expectation had made the sudden reality any easier. Surely there had been no time for Gallicanus to have approached someone else. Even that hairy fool must have realized that he could never seize Rome without the Urban Cohorts. Pupienus had felt a hollow deep in his stomach. Could he have so misread Gallicanus? Was all that conspicuous virtue no more than a mask? Was all his talk of the Res Publica no more than a trap? The new arrival could be unconnected. But still lethal. A new regime often began with a purge. But it could be nothing. With all the courage and dignitas he could muster, Pupienus had told Fortunatianus to bring Honoratus to him. While waiting, he had managed not to touch the ring on his right middle finger which contained the poison. Instead, he had put his hand on that of his wife, squeezed, and forced himself to smile into her eyes. Honoratus was still wearing the same clothes muddied from the road in which he had addressed the Senate. He entered alone. Pupienus fought down a surge of hope. If it was premature, it would be all the more devastating. 'Forgive the intrusion, Prefect.' Honoratus had spread his arms wide, showing his empty palms. 'I should have sent a messenger ahead. I have been somewhat occupied.' 'Think nothing of it, Senator.' Honoratus had bowed to Sextia. 'My Lady, I need the advice of your husband.' Like a true Roman matron, she had spoken some graceful words and withdrawn. Only the slightest catch in her voice betrayed the relief that her husband would be neither hauled off to the torturers in the palace cellars nor butchered in front of her. 'Have you eaten?' 'No.' 'Please, do.' Excerpted from Iron and Rust: Throne of Ceasars by Harry Sidebottom All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.