I have a confession: I’m a bit of a history junkie especially when it comes to a few of my “darling” time periods, one of which is Ancient Rome.
For those of you out there who HATED history in school, I know the very notion of enjoying anything historical is akin to enjoying noshing on a bucketful of slugs, but I can’t get enough of history’s political, familial, and emotional intrigue. I mean, really, history is simply a factual version of Game of Thrones (which, I’m sorry to tell all you history haters out there, is loosely based on England’s War of the Roses).
And, as you know from how much I’ve gone on and on about my serialized historical fantasy novel, Domna, history can be incredibly inspiring for writers.
So this week, I thought I’d share with you a small portion of the history that went into the creation of Domna.
I will warn you that this does give away a few plot points, but none of the twists and turns it takes to get my characters through this gauntlet of plot points. And, of course, I’ve included none of the changes I made to turn this history into fantasy…okay, well, I do mention the centaurs because who doesn’t love centaurs? Well, except for this guy…
Domna’s Ties to Roman History
(Warning: There are some spoilers in here!)
As I’ve mentioned over and over, the character of Sofia Domna is based on the Roman empress Julia Domna, wife to the emperor Septimius Severus (ruled 193 to 211 C.E.) and mother to the emperor Caracalla (ruled 198 to 217 C.E.). I originally wrote Domna as a purely historical novel, but got tripped up on several details of research. This frustration caused me to leave the manuscript in a closet drawer for many years with the assumption I’d never find the missing facts I needed.
I won’t go into every detail of the history (if I could, that damn manuscript wouldn’t have dawdled in the drawer so long), but here’s a quick overview of the history that inspired the events in this story. Don’t worry, I’ll try not to give too much away.
As in the novel, Julia Domna was indeed much younger than Severus and the marriage was arranged while Severus was still married. Severus had plenty of ups and downs in his career, rising to the rank of senator during Marcus Aurelius’s reign and dropping to almost nothing by the time he was 25. At the time of his betrothal to Julia, Severus was a proconsul, and the emperor Commodus (son of Marcus Aurelius) was in power.
How did Severus, a North African Roman of middle class status, find Julia, a Syrian girl with a royal bloodline who was daughter to the high priest of the sun god Elagabal? The part in Domna, Part One about the Seeing isn’t that far off from the truth. Severus had received a horoscope that told him Julia Domna was destined to marry a king.
Ambitious for advancement, Severus quickly secured her betrothal and waited for his (sickly) wife to die. Although not the most romantic of beginnings, Julia’s and Severus’s marriage was supposedly a happy one and Julia gave birth to two sons, Lucius and Geta, in quick succession.
Commodus (portrayed by Candus in the novel) was an irresponsible emperor who let his realm be taken over by whoever was up to the task of ruling, whether that person was a secretary, slave, or member of the Praetorian Guard.
The story of the many assassination attempts on Candus (inspired by those on Commodus) aren’t too far from the truth, and his death (by botched poisoning and then strangulation in the baths) kicked off what would be known as the Year of Five Emperors (193 C.E.). After Commodus’s assassination, the commander and senator Pertinax became Emperor #1.
Although a strong and capable leader who initiated many public works projects, Pertinax was too stern for some and was murdered only months into his reign.
As in the book, the emperorship was then sold off to Didius Julianus (emperor #2), who was soon condemned to death by the Senate. The Senate and several Roman legions then opted for Severus to become emperor (#3), but not all the legions agreed and some named Pescennius Niger as their emperor (#4) and others opted for Clodius Albinus (#5). Severus had no choice but to fight these two rivals if he wanted to become sole emperor.
Once his rule was secured, Severus spent little time in Rome and instead went on campaign after campaign, built monuments, and fought all across the eastern portion of the empire.
Rare among upper class women, Julia often went on campaign with her husband and their two boys. Julia was also known for having a strong influence over Severus and oversaw many building projects that date from his reign.
Although a popular leader, Severus was reputed to persecute Christians and condemned the conversion to Christianity and Judaism (a theme that plays a strong part in Part Four: The Regent’s Edict).
In 208 C.E., Severus went to Britain to try to settle disputes with the northern tribes of Caledonia (today’s Scotland). Whereas most historians praise Julia Domna, Julia was not popular with the Caledonian women due to her harsh criticisms of what she called their lax morals.
After two years of fighting and heavy losses on both sides, the Caledonians asked for a peace settlement. A few months later, Severus fell ill and died in Eboracum (modern day York, England).
At the time of his death, Severus was sharing his role of emperor with both his sons, but soon after their father’s death the two young men two fell out with one another. In a fight whose cause is still debated, Lucius killed Geta then damned his memory. Known as the emperor Caracalla, Lucius struggled to gain favor throughout his short reign.
Despite his many efforts to win the Romans’ approval by building a massive public bath in Rome, by improving the value of the currency, and by granting all freed people in the empire full Roman citizenship, he never succeeded and Caracalla is still considered a tyrant in the history books.
The death of Julia is a matter of debate. She outlived her sons and some say she committed suicide soon after Lucius died. Others say she succumbed to breast cancer. Still others say she chose to commit suicide to avoid the ravages of breast cancer after learning her diagnosis. Her remains are now kept in Rome’s Mausoleum of Hadrian.
Thanks for reading!!! I hope this has piqued your interest both in history and in Domna!
As a realm teeters on the verge of rebellion anything is possible, except one woman’s freedom to choose her fate.
When your destiny has been stolen, it’s up to you to make a new one. But first you have to survive the marriage you’ve been forced into.
In a world mired in chaos one wrong word could mean death, but one promise could mean greatness.
A fight for power. A battle for loyalty. A plot that will cause it all to crumble.
When the Solon ignores an imminent threat to his rule and his life, one woman will go to any extreme to save him, protect her son, and ensure the stability of her realm.
A life of love or a life of power. A promise to the gods or following your heart’s desire. The choice must be made.
Note: If you’re interested in paperback versions, simply follow the above links, then click/tap on the icon for Kindle (Amazon) where you’ll find both the ebook and paperback on the same page.