SPQRFAQs!

Modern symbol of City of Rome

What does "SPQR" stand for?

Senatus Populusque Romanus—best translated as the Senate and the People of Rome—was used much like USA or UK and was the official name of the cities and provinces that comprised what we now just call Rome. Once the Republic eroded and vanished, and a single powerful man and his cabal determined the direction of Rome's governance, the concept of SPQR became a bit irrelevant, even though it was still emblazoned on monuments, coins, and legionary banners. The symbol pictured at left is the modern coat of arms of the city of Rome.

You might also see SPQR written out as Senatus Populusque Romani or Senatus Populusque Romae, but the version above is the one found on the famous column of the Emperor Trajan. (Trajan makes a cameo appearance in Chapter 2 parts 42 to 45, a long, long time before he gets to be emperor and build columns.)

It should be noted that, not more than few generations before the story, some cities such as Pompeii did not quite consider themselves Roman. Even at the time of this story, markedly different dialects were spoken throughout Italy; but Roman citizenship had long been greatly prized. Subtle difference, but probably very important to a proud Pompeiian.

return to top

manly Mt. Vesuvius

Why set this in Herculaneum instead of Pompeii?

For one thing, the type of volcanic flow that covered Herculaneum made it much more difficult to loot the city until modern times. Rescue efforts and outright thievery, digging through the loose stone and ash over Pompeii, stripped most of the important artifacts and disrupted the remains. In Pompeii one can find the skeletons of unlucky looters, together with their loot, fallen on top of the skeletons of unlucky citizens. Herculaneum sat sealed in stone for centuries, and even the worst of the modern looters—sorry, I mean, early archaeologists—had extreme difficulty excavating. Later, more responsible archaeologists have done their best to preserve what they have discovered (although many recovered wall paintings, wooden objects, books, etc., have been lost due to poor technology). So, Herculaneum is in some ways better known than Pompeii through its better preservation of daily minutiae; and also it is more mysterious, since so much of it is still unrevealed by painstakingly slow archaeological efforts. Some peculiar finds lead to all manner of speculation about what might have been going on in the city's final years. Also, with its wall paintings, mosaics, compact layout, and location, it's a stunningly beautiful city.

return to top

How large was Herculaneum?

Set between two rivers and at the very edge of the Bay of Naples, Herculaneum had a population of 4000-5000 free people, children, and slaves. Newest estimates of Pompeii's population range from 10,000 to 20,000, and all evidence shows Pompeii to have been a much more bustling, noisy town, walls laden with advertising and roads busy with commerce. Only about a quarter of Herculaneum's ruins have been explored; the modern city called Ercolano sits over of most of the ancient city, atop dozens of meters of solidified volcanic flow.

return to top

boyish mouse

How old is Mus?

In Chapter 1, Mus is about 18 to 20 years old.

If Mus is 18 or 20, why doesn't he look more manly?

Not enough cow hormones in his Big Macs? He's a small, boyish-looking person, and takes advantage of it: dresses like a boy, wears his hair longer; he doesn't wear a grown man's signet ring; and the good luck charm from Felix he wears under his clothing could be mistaken for the good luck charms Roman children wear. After all, which would you rather discover sleeping under your stairs—a full-grown adult man, or some poor, sweet kid?

Why would Mus be sleeping under my stairs?

That remains to be explored.

What does "Mus" mean?

"Mouse." It's a nickname. His little sister calls him Daui, another nickname. He seems to acquire them.

return to top

Felix's manly profile

Felix looks very manly. How tall is he?

He's at least six feet tall—an imposing height when the male population averages five-and-a-half feet tall and many of the women are around five-foot-nothing. He comes from a long line of big, well-nourished men with strong jawlines suitable for profiles on coins.

How old is Felix?

In Chapter 1, he's around 25.

What does "Felix" mean?

"Lucky." It's a common name, and distinguishes him from his older brother, Marcus Rufus ("Red"), and his younger brother.

So what's the big secret Felix's father never got around to telling Rufus?

That too remains to be explored (in Chapter 2).

In which legion Felix did serve?

The legion or legions in which Felix served are part of the unfolding story, but for those who like to google (I don't know about you, but I love reading about this stuff), legions of particular interest may be: III Cyrenaica, XII Fulminata, XXII Deiotariana, and X Fretensis. Legion designations are a number and a name descriptive of the location, the legion's founder, or a favoured deity, or even a nickname such as "the Larks"; and there might be more than one legion with the same number, since emperors and rival generals enjoyed creating their own "Legion Number One."

return to top

How long did men serve in the Roman Army?

A man would probably enlist between the ages of 16-20, and the required term of service was 20 years. A soldier could be discharged early for a number of reasons, including a dishonourable discharge. Once honourably discharged, a veteran received a pension, perhaps some land, and the right (denied while in service) to marry as a full-fledged citizen of Rome, and a diploma (made of folded sheets of metal) as proof of service.

return to top

Iusta, a very girly girl

How old is Petronia Iusta?

Just about ready to plan seriously for marriage, so, around 14.

Is Iusta based on a real person?

Loosely. There was a Petronia Iusta in Herculaneum, whose mother was called Petronia Vitalis, whose father, Petronius Stephanus, was married to a woman named Calatoria Themis. Although a lot has been extrapolated in scholarly studies about Iusta's life based on a set of incomplete legal documents found in a house facing the Forum, most of it, as here, is speculation.

return to top

Vespasian coin of 71

Who is Emperor?

After Nero's death in AUC 821, Rome went through a year of chaos with four military commanders vying for the ultimate position of Commander-in-Chief-for-Life. Different legions and civilian factions supported different rivals during this Year of the Four Emperors, as one general after another declared himself victor. Vespasian (Titus Flavius Vespasianus), a canny old soldier with solid ties to the political community and the sympathy of the common citizen, was the last man left standing. His sons Titus Jr. and Domitian continued to oversee the legions once Vespasian settled down to the business of benevolent despotism.

Legions that supported one of the three rivals were decimated, decommissioned, or sent to the middle east.

return to top

Wait, wait—what's "AUC"?

The year as counted from the founding of the city of Rome, ab urbe condita. Although some Emperors made a big deal of celebrating certain milestones in AUC reckoning (Year 800, Year 1000), in day-to-day use Romans dated documents with by the term of the highest political official, which at this point was the Emperor, who was still somewhat pretending to be serving term after term as a sort of president. A bit like saying, "I bought my car in Tony Blair Year 3 and it's still running well."

return to top