An extract from Galba’s Men

As discussed Straton is surprisingly popular for a sadistic rapist. So here for all those Straton fans here is an extract from the forthcoming Galba’s Men when the fellow is being once again selflessly heroic.

Mina was convinced that this was a very bad idea. Ignorant of what Straton’s mission encompassed, she knew it wasn’t good from the overseer’s grim demeanour. Insistent that she had to follow him now, quickly, she padded behind him in bare feet and her nightgown, whip clasped in her hand.

“Straton,” she hissed. “Straton.”

He gestured for her to keep moving.

“Where are we going?”


Which told her diddly-squat. He did not look right to her either. Straton always moved with surprising grace but tonight he was heavy footed, stopping to lean on walls, rubbing his forehead with desperate motions. It was hard to miss the enormous lump that had formed on the back of his head, Mina assuming the two things were connected. He was determined, though, a sack on his back containing a stack of lethal looking weapons which she hoped would compensate for his wobbliness.

Outside their destination Straton stopped and pulled out a vicious looking nail-studded cudgel. Mina’s eyes opened very wide, Straton telling her gruffly, “Could get nasty.” He handed her a lighter version.

“Whack,” he demonstrated a slap using both hands, taking a wide swing. Too wide, since he lost his footing and had to prop himself against the wall until the dizziness passed.

“Can we not do this tomorrow? You don’t look very well. You’re sort of green.”

Straton went to shake his head, but realised in time that this was not a great idea given the way the floor was rocking for him. “Needed now,” he said and then, “Help me. Please.”

He’d never used that word before, had never needed to. It fell oddly from his tongue. Mina could see he was desperate, truly desperate, and recalling the time he had rescued her from Juba, she nodded. Because that’s what friends did, wasn’t it? They helped each other out.

Fabulous review from UNRV

A rather wonderful review from a reviewer who has spent time contemplating the characters and themes of Palatine.

It is interesting to see Philo described as innocent.
It is a topic that crops up in the books and i am not sure it holds up.

Despite his apparent naivety, working for Epaphroditus Philo is complicit in the assassinations and interrogations of probably innocent people.
In Palatine he is given the task of sourcing a good assassin to depose of Galba.
At no time does he even question this order or ask what Galba has done to deserve this fate.

It is this tendency to blindly follow orders that leads Philo into grave peril in Galba’s Men.

A scene that hasn’t made the cut for Otho’s Regret

I really love this scene. But during my third edit of Otho’s Regret I’ve had to face up to the fact that it has to go.
The third edit is the most brutal edit. It is the point where if a scene doesn’t push the plot along it goes.
This scene has plenty of good characterisation but we need to get to the very important banquet scene quicker, so it has to go. Sob.


Philo had just sat down and flipped open his note tablet ready for a morning’s work when Verenia appeared.

“Pompeia and Teretia have gone out,” he replied automatically.
“I know I waited until I saw them leave,” was Verenia’s suspicious reply. “I need to ask you something.”
She sat down opposite him.
Recalling the last time he’d be in her company alone Philo told her, “Epaphroditus has a wife.”
A response that fluxommed her and rather unfortunately left a gap that Philo filled with, “And when he chooses a mistress he always opts for a slave girl. Sorry, Verenia.”
“Why would I want to know Epaphroditus’ marital status? I met the man once, quite by chance. I came by to ask about Lysander,” stressed Verenia.”I was of the opinion that you might be the person to talk to.”
Her tone suggested that she was rapidly changing her mind on that score.
“Oh,” said Philo feeling a hot flush heading up his neck. “Sorry. What did you want to know about Lysander?”
Verenia rested her elbows on the table. “He has invited me to this dinner at the palace.”
“Oh yes he told me, it’s an engagement party for Otho and Statilia Messalina. It should be a nice evening.” He smiled at her. She did not smile back.
“The emperor will be there,” stressed Philo.
“I don’t know anything about him.”
“He is a very nice man, very friendly and chatty and always willing to help you out whatever.”
Verenia narrowed her eyes. “You’re talking about the emperor aren’t you?”
“Oh, well Lysander’s very nice as well,” said Philo rather unconvincingly.
Adjusting her stola she said, “There is a reason why I waited for Teretia to leave. I love my cousin, of course I do but she always sees the best in everyone.” Meeting Philo’s eyes. “I’m not criticising. I envy it. I wish I could. But I’ve been taken in before. I’ll not let it happen again. You and I, we’re different. You may look like you’ve just fallen off the latest boat but I’ll wager Doris that you’re not as naively dim as you appear.”

Behind Verenia’s rather insulting rhetoric there was a truth. Though Philo maintained an expression of benign mystification during every single conversation Verenia had struggled through with him, he had worked for Nero and it had been a rare month when he hadn’t been asked to source a good assassin.

“I know,” she continued, “that you will tell me the truth. Unadulterated.”
Mainly because Philo lacked imagination and was therefore a lousy liar.
Philo flipped his note tablet shut. “What do you want to know?”
“Start with his father.”

Which was one of the odd things about life on the outside, the obsession with who your father, mother, uncle, grandfather was. Not something that discussed at the palace where a large contingent of the slaves had no idea of their parentage. Philo though he’d had a mother lacked for every other category of relative. Verenia was in luck though because Lysander was a vernae, that is a palace born slave, and thus Philo was able to tell her with confidence.
“He was a singer.”
“Yes he was_,” Philo trailed off.
“Was?” repeated Verenia.
“He died.”
“Yes he was died?” Her scepticism at Philo misusing a verb was well placed and the freedman shuffled awkwardly on the bench. “What happened to him?”
“Well he was, he was. Well he was executed.” Then to Verenia’s rather shocked expression, “But it wasn’t really his fault.”
“What did he do to have such a fate?”
“He was a very good singer.”
“I’m sure he was, but you’re avoiding my question. Why did he get executed?”
“Because he was a very good singer,” repeated Philo. “And Nero was a singer and he wasn’t as good.” He shrugged. “That’s all there was to it really.”
Compared to some of the executions Philo had done the paperwork for the death of Lysander’s father counted as a more legitimate reason than most he’d signed off.
“His mother was pretty keen that Lysander not become a singer after that.”
“His mother? She is?” asked Verenia rather shakily.
“Oh she’s alive,” brightened Philo. “She was a very high ranking attendant to Empress Agrippina. She is currently married to Gaius Baebinus, they have a very nice house on the Caelian Hill. He is a most successful and well respected businessman,” he supplied more happily.
“Currently married?” asked Verenia. “What does that mean? Is she contemplating divorce?”
“Lysandria would never divorce Gaius Baebinus.”
She had a much cleaner method of disposing of husbands.
Verenia, with clear difficultly, let this pass saying, “You’ve known Lysander for many years.”
She fiddled with her shawl again before asking. “He is a good man?”

From her tone Philo could tell this was very important to her, crucial therefore he deduced, she’d be wanting a cracking answer.
“Err,” began Philo inwardly weighing up the relevant criteria to measure Lysander against deciding on several factors in his list before his thought processes were interrupted by Verenia.
“Oh for Juno’s sake,” she swore. “Is he emotionally cold?”
Philo blinked. “No.”
“Is he cruel?”
Another blink. “No.”
“Is he violent?”
“Gosh no.”
“That’ll do,” she told him standing. “Thank you for your help.”
Philo was midway through saying “It was no trouble” when he realised she was most likely being sarcastic and stopped himself.

Very Nice Palatine Review

I always like to hear which character readers liked best, in this case its Philo. I have a particular soft spot for Philo as he is the character that I probably know best. This was by necessity since in Galba’s Men he gives a potted history of his life so I had to fix certain facts. Whereby the background of characters such as Epaphroditus remains somewhat sketchy and gets filled in book by book I know who Philo is, how he will respond in any given situation and the very particular way in which he speaks.

But I wouldn’t like to write a book solely from Philo’s point of view. I think it would be far too depressing. To get inside Philo’s head is to enter a pretty dark place. There is a whole slice of his life that he keeps shut off and doesn’t address which limits him, as Lysander puts it, to ‘reading and tidying things.’
Philo himself mentions in Palatine that feeding a flamingo a piece of cake rates as one of the few times he considered himself happy.
Philo’s world is a bleak one.
At least until he meets a certain young girl…..

Things to expect from Otho’s Regret

1) The usual crew are in attendance, including Epaphroditus, Aphrodite, Philo, Teretia, Lysander, Otho, Mina, Sporus.

2) There are some new characters and some built up from bit parts in Palatine and Galba’s Men.

3) There will be a battle scene (gulp). So far I’ve avoided writing on the Roman army aware that an awful lot of people are very clued up about the subject. However history demands that the battle of Cremona happens, so no avoiding it now.

Characters – Philo

Philo is one of the few non-historical characters and was born from my own imagination and from a necessity to have someone to serve Tigellinus and Epaphroditus drinks in the opening scene of Palatine.

I had no thoughts beyond that. But then at the end of the scene we find out Philo is newly freed, with Epaphroditus giving him a little speech about his new role. He ends that kindly meant speech with a warning ‘that some practises are unacceptable now you are a freedman’

Which instantly made me think ‘oooo what’s he been up to?’. Philo then evolved to allow me to explore certain themes. Firstly he’s the guy in the middle. I already had Epaphroditus at the top and the likes of Alex at the bottom, so Philo is neatly the guy in the middle. He also allowed me to explore the world of the newly freed, of a slave who has known nothing of the Palace thrust out into the world and having to cope with the strangeness of it all.

His abuse at the hands of Straton was a chance to explore the darkness of slavery which I felt had to be done. You really can’t write about slavery without discussing the sexual exploitation of slaves. Without Philo my examples of slavery are the wildly successful Epaphroditus and the likes of Sporus and Mina who are happily working their way up the Palace career ladder.

Philo gives a fairly comprehensive account of his rather sad life at the end of Galba’s Men so there is no need to repeat it here. He is 30 at the start of Palatine, newly freed and living on the Viminal Hill. He is continually described as the Indian boy despite his assertion that he is not Indian. In later books we discover he is from Tarpobane (modern day Sri Lanka). He seems to have combined a form of Hinduism with Roman religion. His favourite God is stated as Hanuman, the monkey God and he doesn’t eat beef on religious grounds.

He is extremely good at his job, Epaphroditus has been taking the credit for his work for many years.. Lysander describes Philo’s hobbies as reading and tidying things. He lacks any sense of humour and takes most things literally.

Tiberius Claudius Epaphroditus Part Two

The Fictional Epaphroditus

In Palatine it is stated that he is 47 years old in 68 AD. He is working as Nero’s Private Secretary, mention is made of a previous role in the petitions office and a role working for Sabinus’ grandfather Callistus, as well as assistant to Claudius’ freedman Narcissus.

Epaphroditus is extremely wealthy, owning an enormous villa on the Esquiline and commands an impressive salary. It is hinted that he’s not averse to taking bribes. It is also hinted that this villa was payment for a role in the demise of Emperor Claudius.

Married to Claudia Aphrodite, a fellow ex-Imperial slave, they have between them seven children living, 5 girls and 2 boys. Who are: Silvia, Faustina, Pollus, Perella, Claudia, Julia and Rufus. Another boy, Iugarthus, born when both Epaphroditus and Aphrodite were slaves drowned in a Palace bathroom when aged only 15.

Despite this happy marriage he is a known philanderer. In Palatine his chosen mistress is Artemina (Mina) who is described as bearing an uncanny resemblance to Aphrodite (though considerably younger than her). A past dalliance with Nymphidia Sabina is also mentioned.

It has to be said that Epaphroditus is incredibly self serving. When Sabinus takes over the Palace he gives no thought whatsoever to the plight of Mina or any of the other slaves. His loyalty is to himself, then the Emperor, and then his family. In Galba’s Men he shamelessly uses Philo for information without worrying about the ramifications for his assistant.

In Palatine he ponders over the friendship between Alex and Sporus, finding such relationships perplexing. Actually it turns out he does have at least one friend in Marcus Salvius Otho. Though even this friendship was originally founded to enable Epaphroditus to ingratiate himself with the young Emperor Nero.

Sabinus claims that Epaphroditus and Phaon are relatives, though this is never confirmed and most probably it is a tactic to get Alex on board with his plot. Similarly Alex assumes Epaphroditus to be vernae (a Palace born slave), though again this is never confirmed.

In The Wine Boy, we learn that Epaphroditus’ past is not as illustrious as he would like to pretend.

Physically he is of medium height (Aphrodite is actually taller than him), with neat dark hair and arresting green eyes.