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Antony and Cleopatra

Well, once again more than a month has passed since the last entry. During that time I have gone to Helsinki for the release of the Finnish edition of How Rome Fell/Fall of the West. A big thank you to everyone there for their hositality and enthusiasm - apart from the Finnair baggage handlers who decided to keep my luggage at the airport until I checked in for the return flight! However, the biggest news for me is that I handed in the manuscript of Antony and Cleopatra last Thursday. It's a big relief to have finished this as the last couple of years have been very busy indeed. It has been a lot of fun to write, and I think presents a very different view of both of them, but finishing off the book has not left much time for anything else. The book will be published in the UK by Weidenfeld and Nicolson in July 2010, and then in the USA by Yale University Press sometime in September or October. Those are the only dates I have so far, but there will be a Spanish edition in due course and hopefully it will appear in other languages in due course.

The book complete, I am hoping to relax a little, but also aim to do a better job of updating this blog in future. There are quite a few books I would like to mention, and I also have some thoughts on the marble head dredged up from the Rhône at Arles, which some people have identified as Julius Caesar. Now that I have actually seen the piece rather than a photograph, I am a lot less certain that it is not Caesar than I was before. So, I am aiming to discuss that and put up some pictures soon. However, for the moment, I plan to enjoy Christmas. So best wishes of the Season and a Happy New Year to all those who read this, and especially everyone who has taken the trouble to write in to the website during the year.

Remembrance Sunday

In the Uk and Commonwealth today is Remembrance Sunday, the closest Sunday to the 11th November, when at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, an armistice finally brought an end to the First World War. I doubt I can add anything new of profound to the many thoughts expressed about this, but that does not mean that it is not a good thing to join in. As a student, I served in the RA Troop of the OUOTC, and on Remembrance Sunday we would take the 105mm Light Guns into the University Parks and fire off blank charges to mark the beginning and end of the two minutes of silence. There were usually a few former gunners there to watch us, often wearing medals from the Second World War and Korea. They had been much the age we were when they had seen active service, and lost friends and comrades. That sacrifice allowed us to go to University and grow up in a free country.

There are far better words and verses of remembrance than any I could make up, so as usual I shall turn to the Romans. At Adamklissi in Romania, there is a memorial erected by the Legions of Moesia Inferior at the beginning of the second century AD. It is badly corroded, but originally it listed the names of some 3,800 soldiers who had died in the wars on the Danube, chiefly against the Dacians. Some of the names were members of one of the first regiments of Britons raised by the Roman army. The reconstructed inscription read as follows - in memoriam fortissimorum vivorum qui pro re publica morte occuberunt - roughly, 'In memory of the very bravest of men who laid down their lives for their country.'

Lectures in Mississippi and Kansas
Once again it has been far too long since my last posting, and this one will also be brief. Next week I shall be lecturing on the theme of How Rome Fell at Mississippi State University on Wednesday 14th October, and then at Kansas City Library on Thursday 15th October. Here is a link to further information for the Kansas City Library talk.
Supersizers eat ... Ancient Roman
For those in the UK, the episode of the Supersizers about the Romans is on BBC2 at 9pm this Monday (27th July). I have not seen it, so will be interested to take a look. It is all pretty light hearted - and I take no responsibility for the pastry in the final course of the feast.
A couple of novels

Again something a little different, as I am currently a few chapters in to Harry Sidebottom's novel King of Kings, the second in his Warrior of Rome Series set in the AD 250s. I enjoyed the first one, and am finding this just as good.

It seems to be something of a month for historical fiction, because not long ago I finished Christian Cameron's Tyrant set in the fourth century BC, and recounting the adventures of Kineas, an exiled Athenian aristocrat who fights first under Alexander the Great, but then ends up as a mercenary fighting against the Macedonians by the Black Sea.

I am a tough audience for novels set in the ancient world, although I really do like good ones. However, I find that little things can jump out at me and ruin my enjoyment - somehow it breaks the spell and makes it hard to believe what is going on. Sometimes it is because characters act or speak in a way that just does seem real for the ancient world - perhaps too modern, or just false. Military details often cause me to struggle, especially if someone is writing about the Roman army, so that I get bothered by things that wouldn't and shouldn't matter to just about anyone else. It is sometimes easier to read a story set in a period I don't know. I can recommend these two books - both part of a series - because I reckon they get the feel spot-on, as well as being just good yarns. You can always argue about details. After all a novelist does not have the luxury of a historian and can't say, 'well it may have happened this way, or maybe it was like this ... '. In the same way in fiction you can't just leave an episode blank and say no one really knows what happened. So if you enjoy adventures set in the ancient world with a strong military flavour, I think you might enjoy these. For more information on each series see the authors' websites.

Harry Sidebottom's website
Christian Cameron's website

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