Saturday 30 June 2012

Turning the corner

Sometimes there's no telling what's around the corner without having a look. Some will go charging around it, not worried what will happen. Others will hold up a mirror and consider their options. And I suppose there's some who won't even bother and just turn away. But there will always be corners, and no matter what you do, one day you'll be waiting at one.

Find out how Calvus turns corners

Friday 29 June 2012

Chained to the wheel

Our modern day perceptions of slavery have mostly been shaped by the African slave trade to the Americas, where bondage was based on race as some sort of moral diminishment. However, if there's one thing that can be said about the Romans, they were very much about equal opportunity. In fact racism, as we know it, was unheard of in this multicultural ancient world. Anybody could become a slave, for any reason. In fact Roman citizens frequently sold themselves into slavery to pay debts. And while it was no doubt an uncomfortable proposition to be the goods and chattels of another household, it was by no means the end of the world. Slaves could earn and save money, and many bought their own freedom after only a few years - some even became incredibly wealthy. Many were educated by their masters and most of those brought from beyond the 'barbarian' lands chose to stay in this 'civilisation' when become slave owners too.

The thing is, while we can turn our noses up at an ancient world built upon a slave-based economy and say how terrible it was, take a moment to think about things. Yes, perhaps we don't have an owner with the power of life and death over us...but how many of us are truly free? How many of us have the freedom to stop paying the mortgage? How many of us are chained to jobs we could not possibly leave? Credit cards, bills, cars, responsibility, and the darker sides of addiction - they can make slaves of all of us. And now our personal debt is even bought and sold by banks...wealthy corporations haggling over us like the slave traders of old. So are we really free? Or are we just in denial...

Find out if Calvus was free  

Thursday 28 June 2012

Don't wait for tomorrow

There is never a right day to start something so there's no point waiting for it. Want to read that book? Want to change your life? Want to catch that fish? If you keep saying today is not the day, soon enough you'll find it was yesterday.

Find out if Calvus took the bull by the horns

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Diamonds are a Roman's best friend

If you think diamond edged cutting tools are something we thought of in the 1950s, then Pliny the Elder can tell you the Romans knew all about 'Industrial Diamonds'. In 78AD he describes how the shards left over from 'breaking' a diamond were used by engravers - who inserted the slivers into their iron cutting tools because, "they cut into the hardest surfaces with little effort." Waste not want not. Even at that time diamonds were considered the world's most valuable gemstone, so this would have been a brave decision to turn such a rare stone into a stone cutter.

Find out if Calvus can ever afford a diamond

Tuesday 26 June 2012

A Concrete Post

Since the invention (or should we say the reinvention) of 'Portland Cement' in the 1830s, we bastions of the industrial and computer ages have made monumental buildings a matter of poured concrete. Most structures we drive on or live and work in would not be possible without the wonders of 'modern concrete'. It can be pumped hundreds of metres into the air and set hundreds of metres under the sea. It has made the twentieth and twenty-first centuries possible. No small thing for a mortar invented for canal construction.

But in essence, all we've done is reinvigorate a construction material discovered even before the Romans conquered most of the 'known' world. The Carthaginians were building multi-storey concrete buildings prior to 146BC, and the Romans almost certainly adopted this Punic technology to build eight storey city tower blocks in Rome and other major cities...and some of these are still standing. Meanwhile the Pantheon, the world's largest uninterrupted enclosed space for 1900-years, offers a salute to the engineering we have only just rekindled. However cities were just the beginning. Concrete built the roads and the aquaducts that fed an empire, and hundreds of thousands of tonnes of Roman concrete was poured into the sea. The sea you ask? Yes, perhaps the greatest acheivement of all. Vast artificial harbours designed in a time before modern diving equipment, let alone mixing machines. King Herrod built the artificial Caesarea Harbour in 20BC, contructing it entirely from concrete bulwarks sunk in place...and still in place. North of Naples, Pliny the Elder's naval base used a similar technique, although in this case, parts of the harbour wall sink over one hundred feet below the sea's surface. How this was achieved and the how the sea floor was prepared raises a lot of questions, many of which we will have to look at in the future - such as - could any of this have been done without the use of stored or piped air for divers? The fact the Romans used concrete so freely must mean they used other accompanying technologies we take for granted but have not yet credited to them. Perhaps there's no concrete answer...

Find out if Calvus has the answer     

Sunday 24 June 2012

It's a matter of Coffee

Every morning is different, you just need enough coffee to tell. So enjoy your favourite beverage and remember tomorrow is just another day away...that's when your grinder might not grind, your espresso comes to a stop or your steamer gets frosty. In other words...don't mistake a normal, average start for a bad one.

Find out how Calvus starts his day

Saturday 23 June 2012

Controversy time : Gladiators

Gladiator was on TV again last night - and while I don't want to knock this Sword and Sandal Blockbuster and its historical shortcomings - like Commodus dying about twelve years too early; or using the wrong artillery pieces in the opening battle scene - this movie remains a prime example of how the Gladiator myth has been perpetuated. Sure, this was sport and spectacle at its most gruesome - men and women most certainly fought to the death or were maimed terribly in the process. The question is, was this the daily fair served to the hoards with hot nuts, as poor, hapless slaves died at the drop of a thumb? The answer is no. This was a highly organised and professional sport, with millions invested by individuals or consortiums and millions more passing between punters and bookmakers. The similarities between Roman weekend sport and our modern forms is stark. Yes, some of the gladiators were slaves. But many were volunteers - slaves, freedmen and citizens seeking the same glory and money as today's footballers, boxers or racing car drivers. And slave or not, the financial rewards for entering the arena were probably justification enough for the risk. Gladiators usually retired multi-millionaires and the toast of their respective cities.

Retired, you say? How did they survive long enough for that? Well, put quite simply, most fights were not to the death. In fact, I suspect gladiators often performed more like American pro-wrestlers rather than in the cut and thrust action we see in the movies. Think about it...the owner of a gladiator team would have spent the modern day equivalent of $1.25-million on each fighter to buy and train. Like a prized race horse or racing car driver, the team owner would know there was a certain danger in each bout, but he wouldn't be in the business if he lost a fortune everyday...or even every year. The simple fact is that the sheer cost of each gladiator would have made the business unworkable if the expectation of death was the primary focus. And as if to enforce this fact, a gladiator cemetery recently found in Turkey - beside an arena that remained in use for two hundred years - had only thirty bodies interred in it. Hardly indicative of mass killings every public holiday. So the next time you watch Gladiator or Spartacus, just remember these heroic victims of circumstance were worth far more to their promoters and owners alive than we give this terrible sport credit. 

Did you know that Calvus was the son of a sports promoter

Friday 22 June 2012

Made in China

In 78AD Pliny the Elder wrote, "Man now quarries mountains for marble, seeks clothes from China, pearls from the depths of the sea and emeralds from the depths of the earth." I guess some things never change - 1934 years later and the Global Economy is just as the Romans left it. We're still digging up mountains and still importing clothes from China. The more we think we've changed the world, the more we copy the past. Economies come and go, but when you peel back the layers you can see they're all pretty much the same. We find something to sell and someone else sends us something to buy. I wonder if the Romans had trouble finding Chinese made XXL shirts too?

Find out where Calvus got his shirts from

Thursday 21 June 2012

Heading down the wrong road

I have to admit, writing is not without its challenges. Every book will have three or four 'intersections' - turning points where your character will arrive and face at least two options. Do they go this way? Do they go that way? In creating a naturally plotted narrative these moments can sneak up on you. Usually I allow the character's nature to point them down the new pathway. However there's nothing worse than heading down this road for a half dozen chapters and realising you've turned the wrong way. In the modern world the 'delete' button is wonderful and yet terrible tool. It can make that mistake go away. And it can gobble up weeks of work in a single gulp. The trick is knowing when to use it.

Find out all the mistakes Calvus makes

Wednesday 20 June 2012

A little more ordinary

I know the Romans get a lot a bad press. Face it, all we hear about is Gladiators, throwing Christians to the lions and invading Britain. All topics I'll cover in the future, but first I thought I should clear the air a little. You shouldn't take for granted that you've been given the big picture. Everything we know is the stuff that makes history sexy. It's like looking at our society as if it were only about Las Vegas, World War Two and football. But we don't hear about the average family sitting down after dinner and reading some good books, but an awful lot of them did...their literacy levels were about the same as ours. We don't hear about them playing draughts, dominoes, dice and ludo...but they did - they invented most of those games. And then there's the food, much of which we still enjoy - they developed oyster farming and champagne, and French cuisine owes a lot to the previous leaseholders of Europe. It's the ordinary that makes a people, and believe me, they were just as ordinary as us...although they spoke Latin better. 

Find out how ordinary Calvus was

Tuesday 19 June 2012

A good set of wheels?

Pop quiz - why doesn't Calvus use a chariot?

Just in case you've noticed this, then I'm afraid all those 'Sword and Sandle' flicks we've seen have been...well, more cliche than accurate. You see by the time of Calvus (80BC) the 'Chariot' was archaic. The Greeks and Romans never used them in battle - because for the last 800 years or so their horses had been big enough to ride. In fact seeing a chariot on the streets back then would be like seeing a Formula One car today. Chariots were for racing...and they probably looked a lot more like a modern day trotting gig than the 'Egyptian' style you see in the movies. Roman art shows these machines consisted of a flat floor hung from leather straps above the axel. This not only gave the Roman racing chariot shock absorbers, but it kept the 'floor' level for the Charioteer to stand - rather than sit. Not quite what you saw in Ben Hur. And unless Calvus loses a bet you won't see him in one.

Find out what Calvus did use    

Monday 18 June 2012

It's the Economy

Now I have to admit, in this age of the global economy and the high-speed internet it can be hard to see any point dwelling on the past, particularly one so distant that it can't possibly impact on the futures market. I mean, Decatur and Texas are a long way from Caesar and Sulla - there's nothing those guys did two thousand years ago that impacts on day traders, right? Well, okay, apart from one inventing the modern calendar and the other holding together the Roman Republic long enough for that to happen. Oh, and producing the first currency based 'European Union' that like the modern one also relied on Asia for most of its imports. No parallels there. Even the peoples of the Arabian Peninsular grew incredibly rich on a single 'must have' commodity...frankincense. The fact is, although the technology has changed, basic economics haven't. What worked then worked now. And what didn't work then doesn't work now. We've got to stop trying to invent the wheel everyday, some other guy's already done it.  

Find out more about Calvus

Sunday 17 June 2012

The Blank Page

Don't be afraid of the blank page staring at you, that little blinking cursor isn't mocking you - it's your own personal cheer squad. For the first time this empty rectangle can be filled with endless possibilities...each one just beyond your fingerstips. This is the moment where the horizon is limitless and no boundaries have been set in your way. This could be the beginning of something incredible or it might be a minute of quiet introspection. Don't waste it. Have a sip of your coffee and get going, you never know what you might find.

Find out more about Calvus        

Saturday 16 June 2012

The Idea

One thing I've found is an idea is just an idea until you do something about it. Don't wait for someone else to explore it...if it's yours then take the bull by the horns. Imagine where we would be if Thomas Edison had decided the light bulb wasn't worth the trouble to invent? Or if Shakespeare figured he didn't have time to write Romeo and Juliet? History is created by the ideas that came to one remembers a thought that wasn't hammered into reality.

 Find out more about Calvus

Friday 15 June 2012

The Why

So why did I start writing Roman novels? Well, I have to say I was initially attracted to the political machinations of the day - the back stabbing, the libellous mudslinging, the spiteful vetoes, the partisan shouting matches and the milllions thrown into election campaigns only the very wealthy could win. And then I realised there were enough people writing about current events...  

Thursday 14 June 2012

Lets get things started

There's one thing you'll notice about Ancient Romans after a while...okay, yeah, they're all dead...but apart from that, there's another important fact a lot of us tend to forget - they all lived. It's all too easy to look at a pile of broken stones and say "So what?" Well, that pile of stones was someone's home, their business, their place of worship or their favourite bar. They weren't too different from us. They worried about their families, their  careers, and their bank accounts. They had good days and they had bad days - and they watched the clock just like us. Sure it's been two thousand years, but nothing's really changed, we're even writing on tablets again.

Find out more about Calvus