Steven Saylor

A murder on the Appian way

Men were eager to win office and even employed bribery and assassination to do so, but such was the state of affairs in the city that elections could not be held. With no one in charge, murders occurred practically every day.

Dio Cassius, Roman History, xl, 48

The Appian Way, which was made by Appius Claudius Caecus and honours his name, extends from Rome to Capua, a journey of five days. Its breadth is such that two wagons going in opposite directions can easily pass one another. This road is one of the noteworthy sights of the world, for the stones are so finely cut, levelled and fitted together, without mortar of any sort, that the unbroken surface appears to be not a work of man, but a wondrous phenomenon of nature.

Procopius, Gothic Wars, v, 14

'Stop quoting laws to us. We carry swords.'

Plutarch, Life of Pompey, x,

A Note on Names

and the Hours of the Roman Day

For the names of certain historical figures in these pages, I have used familiar literary forms rather than the more authentic Latin. While their contemporaries never referred to Marcus Antonius as 'Marc Antony,' or to Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus as 'Pompey the Great,' these traditional versions carry such a magic that it seemed pedantic to resist them.

The ancient Romans did not number their hours as we do, in twelve-hour segments before and after midday, but rather beginning at daybreak, so that when a Roman spoke of the first hour of the day, he meant, quite literally, the first hour of daylight; and the first hour of the night was the first hour of darkness. The following table roughly approximates the equivalent hours of the day, as drawn from the historical sources and used in Murder on the Appian Way:

7 a.m. the first hour of the day

8 a.m. the second hour of the day

9 a.m. the third hour of the day

10 a.m. the fourth hour of the day

11 a.m. the fifth hour of the day

noon the sixth hour of the day

1 p.m. the seventh hour of the day

2 p.m. the eighth hour of the day

3 p.m. the ninth hour of the day

4 p.m. the tenth hour of the day

5 p.m. the eleventh hour of the day

6 p.m. the twelfth hour of the day

7 p.m. the first hour of the night

8 p.m. the second hour of the night

9 p.m. the third hour of the night

10 p.m. the fourth hour of the night

11 p.m. the fifth hour of the night

midnightthe sixth hour of the night

1 a.m. the seventh hour of the night

2 a.m. the eighth hour of the night

3 a.m. the ninth hour of the night

4 a.m. the tenth hour of the night

5 a.m. the eleventh hour of the night

6 a.m. the twelfth hour of the night

Part One



'Papa! Wake up!'

A hand gripped my shoulder and shook me gently. I pulled away and felt cold air on the back of my neck as the blanket slid away. I snatched it back and snuggled against it, burrowing for warmth. I reached for Bethesda, but found only a warm vacancy where she should have been.

'Really, Papa, you'd better wake up.' Eco shook me again, not quite so gently.

'Yes, husband,' said Bethesda. 'Get up!'

What sleep is as deep as the sleep of a cold Januarius night, when the sky is a blanket of lowering clouds and the earth shivers below? Even with my son and wife yammering at me, I slipped back into the arms of Morpheus as easily as a boy slipping into a bottomless, downy bed of goose feathers. It seemed to me that two magpies were chattering absurdly in a tree nearby, calling me 'Papa' and 'Husband'. They swooped down, fluttered their wings, pecked me with their beaks. I groaned and waved my arms to fend them off. After a brief battle they retreated into the frosty clouds, leaving me to dream in peace.

The frosty clouds burst open. Cold water splashed my face.

I sat upright, sputtering and blinking. With a satisfied nod, Bethesda placed an empty cup beside a flickering lamp on a little table against the wall. Eco stood at the foot of the bed, gathering up the blanket he had just pulled off me. I shivered in my sleeping gown and hugged myself.

'Blanket thief!' I mumbled grimly. At that moment it seemed the foulest crime imaginable. 'Stealing an old man's rest!'

Eco remained impassive. Bethesda crossed her arms and arched

an eyebrow. By the dim lamplight the two of them still looked suspiciously like magpies.

I closed my eyes. 'Have pity!' I sighed, thinking an appeal to mercy might gain me just one more blissful moment of sleep.

But before my head reached the pillow, Eco gripped my shoulder and pulled me upright again. 'No, Papa! It's serious.'

'What's serious?' I made a desultory attempt to shake him off 'Is the house on fire?' I was irretrievably awake now, and grumpy — until I realized who was absent from the conspiracy to wake me. I looked around the room, blinking, and felt a sudden thrill of panic. 'Diana! Where is Diana?'

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