The Legions are marching!
A Dragon among the Eagles – A Novel of the Roman Empire, the prequel book in the Eagles and Dragons series is now out.
To celebrate the release of this action-packed novel, I’m posting a five-part blog series entitled The World of A Dragon among the Eagles.
In this short blog series, I’m going to look at the world in which A Dragon among the Eagles takes place, the Empire itself, the state of the army, Rome’s primary enemies, and the many places of the Middle East where most of the action takes place.
In Part I, we’re setting the scene with a look at the state of the Roman Empire in the year A.D. 197 when this story begins…
The Roman Empire had reached a critical time in its history at the end of the second century A.D., but, despite this, it is a period for which we have very few primary sources.
It is also a period that is often glossed over in fiction and non-fiction today.
That is one of the things that drew me to write the Eagles and Dragons series, that there was/is so little about this supremely fascinating period in the history of the Roman Empire, its people, its geography, and the workings of the great machine that kept it all going, part of which was the army.
A Dragon among the Eagles is the prequel novel to Children of Apollo. It is concerned mainly with the early days of Lucius Metellus Anguis’ enlistment in the imperial legions and his march east in one of the largest invasion forces Rome has ever assembled.
As we know, politics in ancient Rome governed all, and so before we set out on the march, we need to develop a picture of what the Empire looked like in A.D. 197.
Septimius Severus is emperor in the year 197, but he actually came to power in A.D. 193. What he established was a huge military dictatorship, but this in fact provided some much-needed stability after the chaos of Commodus’ reign, and the subsequent murder of his successor, Pertinax, by the corrupt Praetorian Guard, after only three months. The Praetorians then auctioned off the imperial throne to the highest bidder, the rich senator Didius Julianus. The latter ruled for just about sixty-six days.
It was at this time, upon the murder of Pertinax in A.D. 193, that Septimius Severus’ troops proclaimed him emperor. He marched on Rome with his legions and promptly discharged the corrupt Praetorian Guard, banishing them from Rome, on pain of death.
Severus then re-appointed his own, fiercely loyal men of the Danubian legions to the Praetorian Guard. He was quick to consolidate power, but things were not yet meant to go smoothly.
Like any good bit of Roman history, civil war ensued.
Two other claimants to the imperial throne came forward with the support of their troops: Clodius Albinus, Governor of Britannia, and Pescenius Niger whose legions were in Syria.
After a few years of bloody fighting on two fronts, Septimius Severus became the sole emperor of the Roman Empire with his victory over Clodius Albinus at the Battle of Lugdunum in Gaul, early in 197.
Marching Legions (Wikimedia Commons)
After many years of turmoil around the imperial throne, the Empire finally had a strong ruler. But this was now an age for the military, and Severus knew how to treat his troops, granting them pay raises, the right to marry, and much more that made him popular.
However, he was not so popular with the Senate because of his use of the military to seize power. Severus was not to be cowed. He held a series of proscriptions to eliminate those senators who had supported his rivals in the civil war, replacing them with men loyal to him.
Severus was now firmly, and safely, on the imperial throne, set to be the most stable emperor since Marcus Aurelius.
This is also an interesting period in history for the role of women, thanks to Severus’ empress, Julia Domna.
Empress Julia Domna was the first of the ‘Syrian Women’ of the Severan dynasty, and the sources, such as Cassius Dio, seem to suggest that she had an almost equal share in power and decision-making alongside her husband. They were the ultimate power couple.
Empress Julia Domna
Julia Domna was said to be highly intelligent, and politically astute. She had a circle of intellectuals from around the world, including philosophers, scientists, and priests who came to talk with her and exchange ideas. It was a sort of ancient Roman salon of great thinkers.
Like all Roman military leaders, Septimius Severus needed a campaign to solidify his claims and busy his troops. Another war against fellow Romans would not do.
So, in A.D. 197, the campaign against Rome’s long-time enemy, Parthia, was set to begin.
We’ll discuss the Parthians in a separate post.
It is important to note however, that in the past many Romans had taken on Parthia and failed. Could Septimius Severus be the one to finally bring the Parthians to their knees?
This is the world in which A Dragon among the Eagles takes place.
A strong emperor is finally in power again. He has numerous loyal legions, and has consolidated his power. He has the love of the Roman people and the troops, if not that of the Senate. And he and his men are itching for a titanic fight.
In the next post on The World of A Dragon among the Eagles, we will be looking at the composition of the imperial Roman legion at this time in history, so stay tuned.
Thank you for reading!