Many of you have been hearing me (reading me?) going on and on about my work in progress having started out as a historical novel and now (due to a bit of laziness on my part, I’ll admit) being turned into a fantasy novel set in my world of Osteria.
But what bit of history inspired this tome and why did I think it might make an interesting story? That’s what this (hopefully not too boring post) is all about.
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Okay, onto a quick overview of fiction inspiration.
It Always Starts Like This
As with my original spark of an idea for The Trials of Hercules, my first encounter with the story of Julia Domna came from watching a PBS documentary. The show covered a dig that had been done in York, England, where a mass grave had been found. The bodies all showed signs of having been killed in a battle and evidence pointed to the battle having taken place sometime around the rule of the Roman Emperor Caracalla.
There was plenty of speculation about what ignited this fight, especially since York is pretty damn far from Rome. More evidence, more interviews, more research, blah blah blah, and eventually they decided these must have been the supporters of Caracalla’s brother and co-emperor Geta.
Little was known of Geta because after he was killed, his name had been cursed in the Roman tradition of damnatio memoriae, which basically meant all images of you and mentions of your name were to be destroyed. You gotta really piss someone off to get that level of the cold shoulder treatment.
This got my creative mind thinking. What had happened between these two brothers to take sibling rivalry to such an extreme? Historians make Caracalla out to be the bad guy, but what if Geta had done something to deserve the damnatio memoriae?
Cue the Research!
Looking into Caracalla’s history quickly led me to his mother Julia Domna who was the wife of the much older Emperor Septimius Severus. As with many women in ancient history, there’s not a gob of information on her, but what I found intrigued me. And had hunting down statues of her and Septimius on my last trip to Italy.
Julia was one of the rare wives of Roman emperors who actually played a role in Septimius’s rule and even joined him on campaign. She encouraged learning and philosophy, and had a hand in the building of many public works (especially important since Septimius’s predecessor, Commodus had made a mess of things with his misrule).
Bah, Too Boring
There’s little but praise for Julia in most historical accounts. For women’s history, that’s great! For fiction, that’s just too boring. Where’s the strife? Where’s the hardship? And most importantly, how can I torment this person? (Sorry, we writers can be an evil bunch.)
I first started thinking of the age gap between her and her husband. I’d also learned they were betrothed while Septimius was married to his first wife and they only married upon her death. Well, that’s interesting. I decided to turn this betrothal into a forced marriage, and, well….Part One of the serialized novel will show you why this was such awful news for Julia.
Then there’s the kids. Why was there this sibling rivalry? Why did Caracalla attack Geta? Could he have been defending his mother? If so, what led them to the point that Geta might attack his own mother? I don’t want to give too much away, but I decided Geta should not be Julia’s own child, that he should be Septimius’s bastard she was forced to raise (I came up with this WAY before Game of Thrones was ever a thing, so no Jon Snow comparisons, please).
Besides tons of political scheming in the story, the situation of the arranged marriage I’d created lent itself to plenty of problems within the household. Even though Julia does her best to be loyal to Septimius, she has a past that she can’t escape, ends up the victim of some horrible rumors, and finds herself in a pretty complicated and very dangerous love triangle.
But Wait, There’s Centaurs!
As I mentioned a while ago, there were some troublesome aspects of the research I couldn’t sort out and left me banging my head against a wall trying to write this as a historical novel. However, with the amount of Roman culture I already had in the manuscript, I realized I could fudge a little and set the novel in Osteria (my Greek-and-Roman-inspired world).
This has proved to be a challenge, but also provided a great deal of license with and inspiration for the story as a whole. Besides working all the settings into the locations across Osteria, I’ve changed most of the historical names, given Julia (now Sofia) a new divine lineage, built in new story lines, and, yes, thrown in some centaurs to the mix.