Some handy explanations – A Glossary


 Barygaza – modern Broach, or Bharuch in Gujarat in India, north of present-day Mumbai

Batavia – What would today incorporate today’s Netherlands, along with chunks of Germany and Belgium.

Berenice – present-day Berenike, Egypt. In the time of the story, a major port of entry for luxury goods from India and Arabia, and Roman trade goods going the other way, mainly wine and textiles. In a manner of speaking the end of the Roman Empire, since it was very remote and hard to get to. Today, just north of the Roman Berenice, where the University of Chicago held some celebrated digs in the mid-90s, there’s a luxurious spa town.

Burdigala – modern Bordeaux

The Caelian Hill – one of the seven hills of Rome located within the Servian walls, running roughly northeast to southwest of the Flavian Amphitheatre, which we now know as the Colloseum. In Imperial Rome, a definite high-rent district, packed with expensive real estate, a good many of them with gardens of their own.

Deva – modern Chester, UK

Eboracum – modern York, UK

Gades – the ancient port town known today as Cadiz, in Spain

Horrea Classis – “Navy Granary” – the enormous camp set up in modern-day Carpow, just outside Edinburgh.

Isca – modern Caerleon, in Wales, home to the II Augusta legion

Lugdunum – modern Lyons, in France

Luguvallium – modern Carlisle

Mauritania – another fringe province in the Roman Empire, and not, incidentally, where today’s Mauretania is located. Morocco is what you’re looking for, the ancient towns of Tingis and Volubilis in particular.

Monapia – today’s Isle of Man in the Irish Sea.

Muziris – A likely candidate is present-day Pattanam in Kerala in southwestern India, where some experimental and exploratory digs have found an amazing variety of Roman artifacts, including the rim and handle of a distinctly Roman amphora. The location of Muziris has been eluding Indian archaeologists for decades, until an enterprising geologist found out that the course of the river upon it was located has shifted dramatically over the past 2000 years. In Gaius Arrius’ and Lucius Sabius’ day, Muziris would have been a small, but highly cosmopolitan port town housing not just Indians, but also Arab, Greek, Alexandrian and Roman merchants, and very likely Indonesian and Malay merchants as well.

Puteoli – modern Pozzuoli, just northwest of Naples. Main Roman port for all eastbound trade and the Alexandrian trade. Ostia, just outside Rome, handled westbound trade.

Servian Walls – the ancient city walls built around the fourth century BCE Rome, named after the sixth Roman king Servius Tullius. Several sections of the wall are still visible today, one of them even incorporated into a McDonald’s at the Stazione Termini, the main train station in Rome.

Syracuse – One of the ancient jewels of Sicily, today known as Siracusa.

Trimontium – modern Newstead, near the Scottish border. A highly important Roman camp during the Severan campaigns in 208-210 CE, and certainly for the XX Valeria Victrix.



Roman terms:


Military terms:

Castrus praefectorum – what we might call…“garrison superintendent”. Technically, the third in command, and in charge of the day-to-day running of a legion.

Frumentarius – the legion intelligence officer. Not much is known about them or how they worked, so I surmised…

Legatus – “legate”. The commanding officer of a legion, always a senator.

Praetorium – the legion HQ

Primipilus – “First spear” – the senior centurion of the entire legion – very highly experienced officer, and a very, very important one.

Tribunus angusticlavus – “narrow-striped tribune”, or…“junior tribune”. A tribune from the class of equites, or knights, and there were six in each legion. Unlike the senior tribune, these guys were all career military, quite often with long experience. My character M. Tillius Rufus, for instance, is about to advance from primipilus (see below) to junior tribune, which, in fact, he actually did, although at an earlier point than in my story. Rufus is one of the several real-life characters in the book.

Tribunus laticlavus – “broad-striped tribune”, or…“senior tribune”. The senatorial tribune assigned to a Roman legion, usually a green Roman aristocrat with not too much military experience.

Vexillation – auxiliary troops from other legions or cohorts

XX Valeria Victrix – The Twentieth Legion, Valiant and Victorious. One of the three legions permanently stationed in Britain at the time, headquartered in Chester. The others were the II and the VI Augusta, stationed in Caerleon and York, respectively.


Other terms:

Attic – It was never enough to speak Greek, the lingua franca of the eastern Roman Empire, for the raging Roman Graecophiles. If you really wanted to wow ‘em in Alexandria, or anywhere else Greek was spoken, Attic, the dialect of the province of Attica and Athens, was “the” accent to have.

Augur – a priest who specialized in taking omens, usually “read” in the entrails of sacrificed animals, particularly livers.

Cacat! – the exact Latin equivalent of that time-honored English term of opprobrium – “Shit!”

Cunnus – pl. cunni – “cunt”.  At least as offensive 1800 years ago as it is today.

Cursus Honorum – “The Course of Honor” – the ladder of political advancement in ancient Rome. A tricky issue in Imperial times, when political office was sometimes appointed by the Emperor. The lowest rung was quaestor. Because of his deeds on the Caledonian campaigns, Gaius Arrius is a good bet for one of the “quaestores Augusti”, which would make him a Definite Man to Watch in Roman politics.

Dignitas – not at all like the modern dignity, even if it’s the same word. If you could roll up the terms esteem, honor, clout, influence AND dignity, you might approximate it. Dignitas was of vast importance to a Roman. Ask any Cosa Nostra member, and you might discover it still is today …;)

Dormice – yes, dormice. Mice. Honey-roasted, of course. The Romans were notorious for eating anything that moved and a great many things that didn’t.

Fannian paper – this was a 1st-century BCE invention by the Roman paper-making family of Fannius &Sons, who had perfected a process of making papyrus paper very smooth and therefore good for writing. I don’t know if any of you have tried writing on papyrus with a reed pen and oak gall ink, but it’s nowhere so easy as it looks, because of the paper’s nubby texture. Properly prepared parchment is a dream in comparison. Fannian paper was therefore very highly regarded. The highest grade of paper, according to Pliny the Elder, was Augustan grade.

Lararium – one of the sacred spaces in any Roman house. Sometimes a niche, sometimes virtually a room in itself, where the Lares – the resident gods of the household – were worshipped, and where the wax death masks of illustrious forebears would be kept, if you had them. In the event of a funeral, actors would be hired to wear them in the funeral procession.

Legionary – you sometimes find the term translated as “legionnaire”, which is emphatically wrong, since that applies only to members of France’s Foreign Legion. The standard overworked and underpaid foot soldier of the Roman Empire, whose labour in a good many cases actually built it.

Licker fish – a famous local Roman delicacy, often caught not far from the mouths of the Tiber sewers, but notoriously hard to catch and therefore to a Roman mind worth eating. A kind of overgrown carp.

Malabathrum – a perfume ointment – or sometimes an oil – made from cinnamon leaves. Has a scent reminiscent of cinnamon, galbanum, and bergamot, with a hint of sandalwood.

Mansio – the origin of the word “mansion”, although nothing quite so fancy. An inn or a wayhouse, where travelers could stay

Mulsum – the Roman equivalent of our modern morning coffee. A heated wine with honey, sometimes with spices added, if you could afford them.

Oresteia – at this time, the tetrology of plays by Aeschylus concerning the fate of the House of Atreus, Agamemnon’s murder by Clytaimnestra for the sacrifice of Iphigeneia, and his son Orestes’ revenge and later redemption. Today, only three of the plays remain.

Spikenard – another very costly perfume oil from India, with a very heady, earthy scent.

Tata – the Latin equivalent, and used in the exact same way, of “Daddy”.

“Thracian” contrary to what Hollywood and Kirk Douglas would have had you believe, not someone from Thrace, but a particular fighting style in gladiatorial combat, that also denoted the gladiator.


Irish terms:

Alba – present-day Scotland, more or less.

Bruidean – I’ve probably mis-spelt it, but the unique Irish institution of the bruidean was not translatable. It was, in effect, an inn or a hostel – which is how it’s frequently translated to English – for travelers, absolutely free of charge, open to all and sundry, at any hour of the day or night. The hosteller was required by law to keep at least three different kinds of meat on the ready for any guests, at any time. There were several different kinds of hostel, some small, some quite large – as in, for instance, “a hostel of less than a hundred beds”. There is a magnificent tale called “The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel” and if you haven’t read it – try sometime! CELT Online has an English translation…riveting stuff on an epic scale!

Connacht – present Connaught. Possibly not quite comme il faut to use at this time, but it will have to do. “Connachta” – “of Connaught”.

Cruithni – “The Painted Peoples” – later called the Picts. Again, not strictly accurate, since they were not called Picts until the fourth century CE, but what are you going to do?

Drui – the correct and proper term for a Druid. Females were sometimes distinguished by “ban-drui” – “woman druid”, but otherwise….a combination healer, physician, priest, magician and councilor to a king, large or small. Even a King had to shut up when a drui spoke. I’ve made the distinction here between “Drui” and “bard” . While both belong to the “Aes Dana” – “people of skill”, and the social class called the “filidh”, bards handled …tribal lore, teaching, genealogy, history, poetry, music and entertainment. Bards, however, had access to sacred knowledge, too – for instance, it was said that a true bard worth his table salt could slay with words alone. Sounds like several women I used to know.

Erin – present-day Eire and Northern Ireland. Known to the Romans as “Hibernia”

Erinnach – “Irish”.

Ford of the Hurdles – the exact translation – and location – of Dublin’s Gaelic name, Ath na Cliath. Dublin – Dubh Linn – came much later, in the Viking era, and means “Black Pool”.

Laighin – the present-day province of Leinster. Similarly, “Laighean” – “of Leinster”.

Midhe – now known as Meath

Moma – present Munster. Likewise, “Mumhain” – “of Munster”

Slighe Cualann – the great South-eastern road from Tara, through Leinster.

Ulaidh – present Ulster.