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Henry Venmore-Rowland on the House of Caesar
by Elizabeth on Jun 21, 2012 at 2:39 pm
Categories: Historical Fiction

To celebrate the hardback publication of The Last Caesar, author Henry Vemore-Rowland has written an exclusive for What Shall I Read?

For more information, click here to view Henry’s blog or follow Henry on twitter @henryvenmore.

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Henry Venmore-Rowland on the House of Caesar

What happens when the House of Caesar comes to an abrupt end? Does Rome become a Republic once again, a golden Republic of laws, not of men? Or does it fall into the grotesque chaos of civil war? Almost 2000 years after the events of The Last Caesar , we know that the title Caesar long outlasted  the Julio-Claudian dynasty. But in AD 68 when the heirless Nero committed suicide, no-one could possibly have predicted what was to come.

AD 68 was a year of conspiracies, civil revolts and rebellious legions. While Nero toyed with Rome, in the relative safety of the western provinces a few ambitious men schemed their way to bringing Caesar’s dynasty crashing down, setting the dangerous precedent that plagued Rome until her fall that any popular general was a potential candidate for the purple. But the name Caesar would remain.

Strictly speaking, the Year of the Four Emperors is AD 69, but The Last Caesar covers the plots that led to Nero’s fall and finishes in the winter of 68, with the kingmaker Caecina Severus having reached a fork in the road, and the fate of Rome hangs in the balance.

I must admit that when settling down to write a novel set in Ancient Rome, the Year of the Four Emperors was nothing more than a phrase to me. Over the course of my degree I studied Roman History from the First Punic War to the Third, from Julius Caesar to Claudius and then a big jump to the beginning of the end for the Western Empire, fittingly when an Emperor named Valens lost the Battle of Adrianople against the Goths in AD 378.

But I was looking for a good story that hadn’t yet been done. The likes of Robert Harris, Ben Kane and Conn Iggulden had thoroughly covered the periods of Rome’s history that I knew well, and I am slightly ashamed to say it, but five minutes on Wikipedia gave me the starting point for my story. Without wishing to give too much away, Aulus Caecina Alienus (who for most of my two books is known to the reader as Caecina Severus) is at the epicentre of events from the first rumblings against Nero right until the triumphal arrival of the future Emperor Vespasian.

The historians such as Tacitus and Suetonius make Caecina out to be an opportunist, a man of boundless ambition, and most likely they were right. However, the Caecina of 68 could not have known the man he would become in 69. That is the journey that I wanted to explore: how a man could help in the downfall of the tyrant Nero, a noble cause indeed, only to be buffeted by the whims of Fate, and to watch how he justifies his actions as they appear more and more selfish.

My Caecina does not see himself as a hero. But nor is he a villain. He is a young Senator of Rome who wants to make his career, nothing more. Yet by finding himself in the right place and at the right time, he is given chance after chance to take his destiny into his own hands. And when the greater good of Rome goes hand in hand with the greater good of your own career, it would be a remarkably unambitious man who would have shunned the countless opportunities that Caecina is presented with for his own advancement. I did not set out to have a theme when starting this book, but I have found one, or rather it has found me. Ambition can be both a vice and a virtue. But when does one become the other? I don’t pretend to know the answer but if you follow Caecina’s story from beginning to end, you might reach your own conclusion.


Henry Venmore-Rowland

21st June 2012

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