18 May 2016

My Characters Live In Roma Nova - an alternative place to live

What if Harold had won the Battle of Hastings in 1066? Or Julius Caesar had taken notice of the warning that assassins wanted to murder him on the Ides of March? Or the Spanish Armada had defeated and conquered England in 1588? Suppose Christianity had remained a minor Middle Eastern cult?

“Alternate history” stories give us the opportunity to explore such ‘what if’s. Sometimes they’re infused with every last detail of their world but have a simple plot, other times the alternative world is used as a setting for an adventure or complex thriller. Some stories rework important events of history, others focus on ordinary or imagined people. Whichever type they are, three things shape these stories: identification of the point of divergence when the alternate timeline split from our timeline; how that world looks and works since that divergence; and the historical consequences of the diversion.

In my Roma Nova series, the premise is that a tiny remnant of the Roman Empire has survived into the modern era, but with a twist – a big twist.

How did Roma Nova come into being?

In our real timeline, the Western Roman Empire didn’t ‘fall’ in a cataclysmic event as often portrayed in film and television; it localised and eventually dissolved like chain mail fragmenting into separate links, giving way to rump states, local city states and petty kingdoms all facing the dynamic rise of the new peoples of Europe particularly the Franks, Visigoths, Burgundians and Alamans. The Eastern Roman Empire survived, albeit as the diminished city state of Byzantium until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottoman Empire.

Some scholars think that Christianity fatally weakened the traditional Roman way of life; certainly, Emperor Constantine’s personal conversion to Christianity in AD 313 was a turning point for the new religion. By AD 395, his several times successor, Theodosius, banned all traditional Roman religious practice, closed and destroyed temples and dismissed all priests. The sacred flame that had burned for over a thousand years in the College of Vestals was extinguished and the Vestal Virgins expelled. The Altar of Victory, said to guard the fortune of Rome, was hauled away from the Senate building and disappeared from history.

All the above really happened, but AD 395 is the point of divergence in when Roma Nova originated. Three months after Theodosius’s last decree banning all pagan religions, over four hundred Romans loyal to the old gods, and so in danger of execution, trekked north out of Italy to a semi-mountainous area in the middle of Europe. Led by Apulius at the head of twelve senatorial families, they established a colony based initially on land owned by Apulius’s Celtic father-in-law. By purchase, alliance and conquest, this grew into the mini state of Roma Nova. 

Roma Nova rises

Twenty years before Apulius and the twelve families founded Roma Nova, he’d met Julia Bacausa, the tough daughter of a Celtic princeling, when he was serving as a young officer in Noricum (roughly present day Austria).  After Apulius had been ordered back to Rome in AD 375, Julia had taken to her horse and with a few retainers followed Apulius to Rome and married him on the day of her arrival.

She came from a society in which, although Romanised for several generations, women made decisions, fought in battles and managed inheritance and property. Their four daughters were amongst the first Roma Nova pioneers so had to act more decisively than they would have done in a traditional urban Roman setting.  While men concentrated on defending the new colony, women worked the fields, traded, ran the families and, in the absence of fathers and brothers on the front line, made decisions in the governing council.

Given the unstable, dangerous times in Roma Nova’s first few hundred years – this was the time of the Great European Migrations – eventually the daughters as well as sons had to put on armour and wield swords. Fighting danger side-by-side with brothers and fathers transformed women’s status and roles. Moreover, Roma Novans remained loyal to the traditional gods and never allowed the incursion of monotheistic paternalistic religions.

Photo courtesy of Britannia,
In today’s Roma Nova women, especially senior and more experienced ones, hold social and economic life together. The Senate, People’s Assembly, and above all the Twelve Families council support a (female) constitutional ruler, the imperatrix. Although women head families and descent of name and property is through the female line, men are not disadvantaged in this ‘egalitarian-lite’ society. Men are numerically stronger in the military and police services, women more in politics, law and commerce. That’s a generalisation, of course. Nothing is ever that simple…

Service to the state is supposed to be valued higher than personal advantage, echoing Roman Republican virtues; it drove Roma Nova’s survival through the centuries. However, as we see in PERFIDITAS, not everybody subscribes to this.

Roma Nova’s continued existence has been favoured by three factors: the discovery and exploitation of high-grade silver in their mountains, their efficient technology, and their robust response to any threat. Today, although tiny, perhaps the size of Luxembourg, Roma Nova has become one of the highest per capita income states in the world.

So has Roma Nova’s existence changed the rest of the world?

Remembering their Byzantine cousins’ defeat in the Fall of Constantinople, Roma Novan troops assisted the western nations at the Battle of Vienna in 1683 to halt the Ottoman advance into Europe. Nearly two hundred years later, they used their diplomatic skills to help forge an alliance to push Napoleon IV back across the Rhine as he attempted to expand his grandfather’s empire.

Prioritising survival, Roma Nova remained neutral in the Great War of the 20th century that lasted from 1925 to 1935. The Greater German Empire, stretching from Jutland in the north, Alsace in the west, Tyrol in the south and Bulgaria in the east, was broken up afterwards into its former small kingdoms, duchies and counties. Some became republics. There was no sign of an Austrian-born corporal with a short, square moustache.

And the New World that features in the first few chapters of INCEPTIO? New York, where we find Karen living and working, is an Autonomous City in the Eastern United States (EUS) that the Dutch only left in 1813 and the British in 1865. The New World French states of Louisiane and Québec are ruled by Gouverneurs-Généraux on behalf of Napoléon VI. California and Texas belong to the Spanish Empire and the Western Territories are a protected area for the Indigenous Peoples.

If this has glimpse has intrigued you, you can find out much more at The Roma Nova Story [http://alison-morton.com/roma-nova/roma-nova-history/] or read gossipy travel writer Claudia Dixit’s quick Visitor Guide to Roma Nova [http://alison-morton.com/roma-nova/claudia-dixits-tourist-guide-to-roma-nova/]


Alison Morton is the author of the acclaimed Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO and AURELIA (finalist in the 2016 Historical Novel Society Indie Award). Her fifth book in the series, INSURRECTIO, was launched at the London Book Fair on 12 April 2016. 

Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: http://alison-morton.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison-morton

Read about INSURRECTIO, Alison’s latest book, here: http://alison-morton.com/books-2/insurrectio/

INSURRECTIO book trailer