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Authors: Rosemary Rowe

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective

A Roman Ransom

BOOK: A Roman Ransom
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Rosemary Rowe



Copyright © 2006 Rosemary Aitken

The right of Rosemary Rowe to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing of the publishers or, in the case of reprographic production, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency.

First published as an Ebook by HEADLINE PUBLISHING GROUP in 2013

All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

eISBN: 978 1 4722 0512 4


An Hachette UK Company

338 Euston Road

London NW1 3BH

Table of Contents

Title Page


About the Author

Also By




Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine


About the Author

Rosemary Rowe is the maiden name of author Rosemary Aitken, who was born in Cornwall during the Second World War. She is a highly qualified academic, and has written more than a dozen bestselling textbooks on English language and communication. She has written fiction for many years under her married name. Rosemary has two children and also two grandchildren living in New Zealand, where she herself lived for twenty years. She now divides her time between Gloucestershire and Cornwall.

Also by Rosemary Rowe and available from Headline:

The Germanicus Mosaic

A Pattern of Blood

Murder in the Forum

The Chariots of Calyx

The Legatus Mystery

The Ghosts of Glevum

Enemies of the Empire

A Roman Ransom

A Coin for the Ferryman

Acclaim for Rosemary Rowe’s Libertus series:

‘The story is agreeably written, gets on briskly with its plot, and ends with a highly satisfactory double-take solution’ Gerald Kaufman,

‘The characters are vividly drawn, the plotting is intricate . . . a powerful page turner of a thriller’
Huddersfield Daily Examiner

‘Superb characterisation and evocation of Roman Britain. It transports you back to those times. An entirely compelling historical mystery’ Michael Jecks

‘Rowe has had the clever idea of making her detective-figure a mosaicist, and, therefore, an expert in puzzles and patterns. Into the bargain, he is a freed Celtic slave, and thus an outsider to the brutalities of the conquerors, and a character with whom the reader can sympathise’

‘The character of Libertus springs to life. A must for anyone interested in Roman Britain’ Paul Doherty

‘Cunningly drawn and the very devil to fathom until the final pages’
Coventry Evening Telegraph

‘The characters are believable, the action well paced and the twists and turns of the plot keep the reader on his/her toes’
Historical Novels Review

For Ingo


A Roman Ransom
is set in
188, at a time when a large part of Britain had been for almost two hundred years the most northerly outpost of the hugely successful Roman Empire: occupied by Roman legions, criss-crossed by Roman roads, subject to Roman laws, and administered by a single governorship answerable directly to Rome. The increasingly unbalanced Emperor Commodus still wore the imperial purple and had recently declared himself a god, while his continued excesses, lascivious lifestyle and capricious cruelties continued to be a legend throughout the Empire.

Of course, for most inhabitants of Britannia such political considerations were remote, and they were content to live their lives in the relative obscurity of provincial towns and villages. Celtic traditions, settlements and languages remained, especially in the countryside, but most townspeople had adopted Roman habits. Latin was the language of the educated, and Roman citizenship – with its legal, commercial and social benefits – the ambition of all. Citizenship was not at this time automatic, even for freemen, but a privilege to be earned – by those not fortunate enough to be born to it – by service to the army or the Emperor, though it was possible for a slave of an important man to be bequeathed the coveted status, together with his freedom, on his master’s death. (To impersonate a citizen, when one was not, was still a capital offence.)

For some, however, the rank was theirs at birth. Children of citizens were citizens themselves, and by this date any child born of free parents within the walls of a
– the prestigious Roman towns originally founded for retired veterans – was also a citizen by right (though doubtless older established families looked down a little on such parvenus). Even then the privilege of citizenship did not automatically extend to other family members who did not qualify: it seems they simply enjoyed a kind of reflected glory – enhanced social status without full legal rights – unless they could achieve the honour by some other means. (Glevum, modern Gloucester, was a
and one such family features in this tale.)

Nonetheless most ordinary people were not citizens at all. Some were freemen or freed men, scratching a precarious living from trade or farm: thousands more were slaves, mere chattels of their masters, with no more status than any other domestic animal. Some slaves led pitiful lives, though others were highly regarded by their owners and might be treated well. Indeed, a slave in a kindly household, certain of food and clothing in a comfortable home, might have a more enviable lot than many a poor freeman struggling to eke out an existence in a squalid hut.

Power, needless to say, was vested almost entirely in men. Though individual women might wield considerable influence, and even own and manage large estates, females were excluded from civic office, and a woman – of whatever age – remained a child in law, under the tutelage first of her father, and then of any husband she might have. Marriage officially required her consent (indeed she was entitled to leave a marriage if it displeased her, and take her dowry with her), but in practice many girls became pawns in a kind of property game. There were few other occupations open to a wealthy woman, and daughters were often married off to men they scarcely knew, for the sake of political or financial expedience.

Poorer women worked beside their men, often in dreadful conditions. For a woman alone, the range of possible occupations was far more limited, unless she sold herself to slavery, as many did. Some widows learned the secrets of herbal remedies, and acted as midwives attending local births. Since it was unfashionable at this period for Roman matrons to suckle their own children, there was also a call for wet nurses to serve in wealthy homes. Lucky women managed to fulfil both roles at different times.

Many wet nurses were slaves, bought for the purpose, and living in their owner’s household: but there is evidence of both free-born women and freed women too working in this capacity. They often cared for their charges in their homes – sometimes looking after more than one at once – and were generally respected by the community. It was considered important for a wet nurse to be ‘of good character’, since it was assumed that virtue or vice could be ingested with the milk, and a good wet nurse could command a higher wage than most other women of her rank. Children were commonly suckled till they were two or three years old, sometimes even more, and the nurse was often kept on in the household afterwards as a continuing attendant for the child.

After a Roman baby was born, a number of rituals had to be performed. First the father had to ‘pick it up’ – literally to raise it from the floor – as a sign that he accepted paternity, and received the child as his. The legal power of ‘life and death’ which had been vested in the
in ancient Rome had lapsed by now in everything but name, and a father could kill his children with impunity only if he could show sufficient cause in law – a daughter caught in adultery, for instance, or a son suspected of a plot against his life. However, until a child was ‘lifted up’, it had no existence under law at all, and the
could still decide to throw it to the dogs, or sell it as a slave. It could even be buried in the house – as many courtyard infant burials attest.

Once the acceptance had been made, there was still another ritual to perform. At the age of nine days for a boy (eight for a girl) a naming ceremony was held at which the child was ‘purified’ and showered with tiny metal gifts (which seem to have been threaded on cords round arms and feet, perhaps like little rattles), and a lucky charm or
was hung round its neck. This potent token was regarded as a most important symbol, representing protection for the child’s soul, and to lose it was a dreadful tragedy. A boy would wear his till he came of age, traditionally at fourteen years, a girl would usually keep hers till she wed – which might be longer by a year or two; in both cases it would then be ritually removed, in a ceremony where childish toys and clothes were placed upon the household altar and solemnly sacrificed.

Roman children were still swaddled in the early weeks – wrapped in tight bandages to restrict movement – since it was generally believed the limbs were weak and in need of support. This does not seem to have been a custom with the Celts, and there was already a school of thought which held that babies should be allowed to move their arms and legs, and that fresh air was beneficial to the health. As soon as they were old enough to crawl, they were generally dressed much as their parents were, though there is evidence of knitted bonnets and ‘leg-coverings’, which I have interpreted in the story as a sort of elongated sock.

Such fashions, both in child-rearing and in general health, were not uncommon in the ancient world. There was a long tradition of discussion on such things, and the medical diet of Celsus, mentioned in the text, was only one of a dozen theories about patient care, painstakingly copied on to scrolls and circulated through the Empire.

The medical profession was an established one, although (with the exception of midwifery and other specifically ‘female concerns’) the practice was generally confined to men. Greeks were the most highly respected doctors at the time – well trained, sometimes at considerable expense, and generally well educated and well paid. The Greek physician Galen had served at the court of Marcus Aurelius, and his fame had spread throughout the Empire. After that every seriously wealthy household aspired to have a private physician of its own, preferably a Greek one – though not every
was a Greek, by any means. (The army, for instance, had produced its doctors too, experts in surgery and herbs for treating wounds, some of whom worked in private households after their military service was complete.) Some of these physicians were slaves, but many more were not. Some were even Roman citizens, but were retained by the household for a monthly fee. There were, however, also doctors licensed by the state or by the local council, which generally provided them with premises and a small remuneration for their work. Their patients usually came to them, and didn’t pay a fee, so public doctors were much more poorly paid – and often poorly trained.

Of course, treatments were largely herbal, although – as mentioned earlier – diet and exercise did play a part. The ‘rocking therapy’ and ‘cabbage diets’ mentioned in the text were both popular techniques, and there was also a belief in bloodletting and cupping as a cure for many things. Other cures depended on the use of amulets and charms. Superstition still played a major part in Roman life: every Roman householder began his day with proper oblations to the household gods, and any serious problem would require a sacrifice, as in the story.

BOOK: A Roman Ransom
4.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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