Exsilium – an origin story for Alison Morton’s Roma Nova series

What if? We’ve all asked ourselves that question as our lives have unfolded. Author Alison Morton has made a writing career out of that question. Central to her Roma Nova series is the fact that over time the Roman Empire “localised and eventually dissolved like chain mail fragmenting into separate links, giving way to rump states, local city states and petty kingdoms all facing the dynamic rise of the new peoples of Europe particularly the Franks, Visigoths, Burgundians and Alamans.”

Alison’s Roma Nova series is based on the idea that a group of senators committed to the old gods and unwilling to accept Christianity left Rome, ultimately settling in the hills north of Italy. There they founded a colony where they could keep their own traditions and worship the old gods. In this new society, women gained significant leadership roles because the men were so often away defending their territory. The citizens of Roma Nova discover silver in the surrounding mountains which gives them wealth. Over time, they become a very influential, but tiny, country.

Alison Morton’s latest novel, Exsilium, one of two origin stories for Roma Nova, spans the period AD 383-395. The other, Julia Prima, begins in AD 370. Exsilium takes place “at a disruptive and very strange period in the Western Roman Empire”. Alison writes: “Rome’s rule was inevitably diminishing by AD 395 with its land loss (ergo tax revenue loss), an aggressive state religion undermining Rome’s thousand year traditions, barbarian incursion and settlement, and the rise of warlords controlling child emperors. Small wonder that people were forced to make incredibly difficult decisions to protect themselves. Within eighty years, there would be no Western Roman Empire.”

I had the privilege of reading Exsilium last month and was captivated by the history of the time and the main characters who tell the story: Maelia Mitela, Lucius Apulius, and Galla Apulia. Alison writes with a deft hand and keen knowledge of that era. Exsilium transports us in time and place – a true test of successful historical fiction – and provides the reader with a page-turning story that’s hard to put down.

By the way, we might take some lessons from Exsilium for today’s world and the notion of adherents of one religion trying to stamp out all others.

Alison Morton will be guest posting this Wednesday on the topic: Hidden or Merely Unknown History? Stay tuned. You can also read other posts by Alison:

Exsilium by Alison Morton

Exile – a living death to a Roman. Or a way to survive?

In AD 395, the Roman Empire is riven with religious conflict, dividing parents from children, brothers from sisters, and deteriorating into bitter violence. As the Christianised state stamps out all vestiges of Rome’s thousand-year religion and threatens execution for failure to convert, a group of senatorial  Roman families, resolute in their traditional beliefs and values, has no choice but to go into voluntary exile.

Maelia Mitela, on the brink of ruin when her husband dies fighting for a tolerant emperor, grieves for her son lost to the Christians and is fearful of committing to another man…

Lucius Apulius, ex-tribune, true to the old gods, fixed on the powerful memory of his wife Julia’s homeland of Noricum, will risk everything to protect his children’s future…

Galla Apulia, loyal to her father but as the eldest of four daughters only too aware of not being the desired son, and enduring the sting of personal betrayal…

A logistical nightmare, spoilt egos and heartbreak are challenging enough but the threat of forced conscription into the imperial army, barbarian raiders and a vengeful ex-spouse could sabotage their whole escape. Will courage, steadfastness and willpower be enough for them to survive?

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The historical fiction author behind A Writer of History...

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One Response

  1. Thank you for featuring EXSILIUM on your blog today, Mary. I’m delighted you enjoyed it. The late 4th century was indeed a chaotic time and, with a few notable exceptions, a period not featured often in historical fiction. I aim to change that.

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