Lindsey Davis



`It's the City that creates luxury. And out of luxury, inevitably, comes greed, out o f greed bursts forth violence, out o f violence proliferate all the various kinds o f crime and iniquity.'



Vespasian an Emperor (no one comes higher)

Titus Caesar next in line (top substitute)

Caenis the Emperor's mistress (discreetly important)

T. Claudius Laeta top clerk (even more discreet)

Anacrites chief spy (indiscreet even to list him)

A Very Important (unnamed on legal advice) Patrician

D. Camillus Verus a senator and friend of the Emperor

Julia Justa his noble and put-upon wife

Helena Justina

Camillus Aelianus their noble and dutiful children

Camillus Justinus

Some Honest Citizens

Balbinus Pius a big rissole leaving town

Flaccida his wife, a hard woman in difficult circumstances

Milvia their daughter, a soft-hearted girl leading the easy life

Florius her husband, a worm on the verge of turning

Nonnius Albius a poorly court witness

Alexander his pessimistic doctor (private sector)

The Miller amp; Little strong men, interested in education


Lalage refined proprietress of the Bower of Venus

Macra a young lady at that elite finishing school

Gaius amp; Phlosis two extremely helpful boatmen

Low Society (Fountain Court)

Lenia a blushing bride

Smaractus her bashful groom

Cassius a baker whose oven may get too hot

Ennianus a basket-weaver who may be tangling with


Castus a newcomer, dealing in old junk An old bag woman

Nux a homeless dog looking for a soft touch

Falco her target (not as tough as he thinks)

A baby abandoned, also looking for a nice home

with kindly folk

Law and Order (all under suspicion)

Marcus Rubella tribune of the scrupulous Fourth Cohort of vigiles

L. Petronius enquiry chief in the XIII region


Arria Silvia his often furious wife

Their cat (a cohort joke)

Martinus A deputy (not for long, he hopes)

Fusculus an expert on rackets

Linus on detached duty on the Aphrodite

Rufina the reason Linus has detached himself

Sergius a happy punishment officer

Porcius a young recruit (unhappy)

Scythax an optimistic doctor (public sector)

Tibullinus a centurion of the dubious Sixth Cohort

Arica his sidekick (certainly needs kicking)


I STILL CAN'T believe I've put the bastard away for good!' Petronius muttered.

`He's not on the boat yet,' Fusculus corrected him. Clearly the Watch's optimist.

There were five us waiting on a quayside. Mid-October. An hour before dawn. A wakening breeze chilled our tense faces as we huddled in cloaks. The day was making itself ready for action somewhere on the other side- of Italy, but here in Portus, Rome's new harbour, it was still fully dark. We could see the huge beacon on the lighthouse flaunting itself, with glimpses of tiny figures tending the fire; pale sheets of flame sometimes lit the statue of Neptune presiding over the entrance. The sea god's illuminated torso stood out strangely in our surroundings. Only the scents of old, hardened rope and rotting fish scales told us we were standing on the grand harbour bowl.

We were five honest, respectable citizens who had been waiting all night for a sixth. He had never been honest, though like most criminals he had no difficulty passing himself off as respectable. Roman society had always been readily bamboozled by brazen acts. But now, thanks to Petronius Longus, the man and his crimes had been publicly exposed-.

We had been waiting too long. Although nobody said it, we were starting to dread that the big rissole would not show.

The lowlife was called Balbinus.

I had been hearing his name as long as I could remember. It had certainly been notorious when Petronius and I had come home from the army six years before. At that time my old tentmate Petro, being a dutiful type who fancied a good salary, had put himself forward as a public officer; I set up in business alone. He was chasing cabbage thieves through the markets while I was picking through clerks' divorces and tracing stolen art. On the face of it we lived in different worlds, yet we stumbled across the same tragedies and heard the same worrying stories on the streets.

Balbinus was renowned throughout our district as one of the dirtiest underworld organisers ever to gild imperial Rome. The area he terrorised included brothels, wharfside warehouses, the back-doubles on the Aventine slopes, the dark colonnades around the Circus Maximus. He ran jostlers and confidence tricksters; prostitutes and cutpurses; cat burglars and marauding gangs of street beggars with fake blind eyes who could soon spot trouble

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