My Blog

'Tis the Season for Swords & Sandals

posted Dec 17, 2017, 4:05 AM by Gordon Doherty   [ updated Dec 17, 2017, 4:12 AM ]

Just a quick festive newsletter to let you know the latest in Doherty-world. I'm writing like a dervish, and balancing five projects at the moment. There's quite a big backlog of books ready or nearly ready to go but just awaiting placement (traditional publishing or self-publishing), so I'm hoping 2018 will be a prolific one release-wise. So what's on the go?

The Gothic War is shuddering towards a frantic finale and the net is closing in on Pavo as old enemies approach from every direction. I've only written one-third of the first draft, but it's like settling into a comfy old soldier tunic and boots. I have packed rather a lot of gutter humour into the draft so far... oh, and a fair few horrific deaths :-) The likelihood is I'll have this novel ready for summer (ish) next year.

Forged in Fire
The talented Ms. Prue Batten asked Simon Turney and me if we'd like to put together a boxed set of books in time for Christmas. We said yes, and here it is!

​The fire could be viewed as a) a furious blazing inferno of battle and destruction or b) a cosy Christmas log-fire by the tree. You might have read Strategos: Born in the Borderlands already, but if not, this boxed set might be for you - as it comes with Simon's Roman Epic 'Marius Mules' and Prue's excellent Byzantine Tryptich Chronicles opener 'Tobias'. All for the price of a coffee and a cake. Check it out here.

Empires of Bronze
So the Hittite saga I've been bleating on about for a while now? No, my dog hasn't eaten the script - it's just taking its time to find a home as mentioned. The series, when it arrives, will be known as 'Empires of Bronze', and it will catapult you back to an age before Rome had risen, before classical Greece too. To an age of the first great civilisations and ferocious heroes... and the odd cataclysmic battle here and there. Hoping this will see the light of day in 2018, and when it does, I'll be able to reveal much more about it. I might be completely biased but I believe it is going to be a real thrill-ride of a read - a bit like this pic, even:

Inline image 7

Joint Project with Secret Agent Turney
When the fox flies at midnight and the blue-eyed goat sings soprano... okay, we dispensed with the super-secrecy a while ago: Simon and I have nearly completed a trilogy set in the time of Constantine the Great, during his rise to power. It's a real pow-wow of powerful personas, me taking up the mantle as Constantine and Simon as his great rival, Maxentius. It's Roman, it's written by me and Simon... therefore, as well as having a high number of fart jokes in it, it also promises to be another cracker. Fingers crossed and this might land in 2018 too.

Super-secret project #2
It's super-secret, and super-exciting. All I can say is: watch this space!

So that's what's going on with me. Now, it's time for a break, a mince pie and a beer :)
All the very best to you and your families for the festive period and best of health for 2018.

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Forged in Fire

posted Dec 10, 2017, 9:19 AM by Gordon Doherty   [ updated Dec 10, 2017, 9:19 AM ]

Simon, Prue and Me. We've been helping each other out for ages. Seemed a no-brainer to do a boxed set together!

Excited and honoured to team up with super-skilled wordsmiths and good friends Simon Turney and Prue Batten in this fiery feast of words and warfare. Forged in Fire brings together the acclaimed Marius Mules I - a rollicking take on Caesar's Gallic Wars, Tobias - a spine-chilling and intense look at the shadowy world of Byzantium and its secret dye, and Strategos - a story of a divided land and a troubled young man who finds himself drawn into a war that will shake the world.

All three books for the price of a coffee and a cake. Go on - bag a copy and settle down by the fire for some unforgettable Christmas reading :)

Strategos: The Boxed Set

posted Aug 10, 2017, 2:25 AM by Gordon Doherty   [ updated Aug 16, 2017, 1:20 AM ]

The tale of Apion, Strategos of Chaldia, is now available in a boxed set - currently on sale at just over half the price the individual books (below) would cost:

For now it's eBook only, but if this proves popular enough I'll look into getting it produced in physical format too.
If you've read the tale, pass on the word to friends who have not!

Legionary: Empire of Shades - paperback giveaway!

posted Jul 19, 2017, 2:49 AM by Gordon Doherty   [ updated Jul 19, 2017, 2:52 AM ]

Strategos: Island in the Storm - the audiobook

posted Jul 4, 2017, 2:03 AM by Gordon Doherty   [ updated Aug 3, 2017, 6:03 AM ]

It is with a great sense of satisfaction that I can announce the launch of 'Strategos: Island in the Storm' on Audible. It's been a while since I finished writing the trilogy (2014 I think), but it has always felt like there was something missing, and adding the audio version of books 1, 2 (see smaller thumbnails, below) and now 3 really have given things a sense of completeness.
Rob Goll has been an absolute joy to work with  - funny, witty and inventive in his approaches to narrating this third and final volume of Apion's tale. You can hear a sample of his work here.

Hope you like. And here's hoping the Greek translation (agreed but parked for the moment) will happen soon. 

Turma! Roman Cavalry Charge

posted Jul 2, 2017, 11:02 AM by Gordon Doherty   [ updated Jul 2, 2017, 1:07 PM ]

Just back from a top weekend in Carlisle watching many groups of experts and re-enactors coming together to put on a rather amazing Roman cavalry display. We had Legionary battles and displays, horse parades and mock-battles (Hippikia Gymnasia), all judged by Emperor Hadrian himself. And just how intimidating and spooky are the masked, plumed elite riders?!
One of the many things I took away from this was the sheer 'presence' of a turma. I have been guilty of writing about such a 30-strong group of horsemen as mere skirmish-fodder, but these guys showed just how much a unit this size, draped in full armour, standards and colours could inspire awe and fear in those they might be fighting or protecting. Here are a few pics:

Left: Me and my mucker, Simon Turney. Right: the Ermine St Guard on the march

Left: Hadrian leading his elite cavalrymen. Right: Perfect ranks cantering past.

Left: The elites - how intimidating would it be to face them in their emotionless, steely masks and bright, rippling plumes? Right: a bit blurry, but here they are hurling blunted lances at one another, watched by Emperor Hadrian.

Published at on 2nd July 2017

The XI Claudia

posted May 31, 2017, 4:00 AM by Gordon Doherty   [ updated Jun 6, 2017, 2:40 AM ]

I set out to write the Legionary series in order to visit the past: to walk the flagged roads, hills and meadows of Thracia and the Eastern Roman Empire; to forge further afield across wintry mountains, dog-hot deserts and dark woods of the borderlands and beyond… to see the world and all its wonders and woes as it was before the candle of Late Antiquity guttered and fell dark forever. 

I realise now it was never going to be ‘just’ a visit to the past: weaving a story around the Great Migration of the Huns and the Gothic Wars which followed – and doing so convincingly – requires emotional investment. I had to put myself there with the people facing those brutal times: to experience visceral angst every time the soil trembled with the hooves of approaching horse raiders; to feel my blood run cold as ice as I walked onto a battlefield to face a huge enemy horde; to let my heart surge with pride and relief and feel a deep urge to weep in the moments after victory. That level of attachment and 'putting myself there' really anchors itself as richly as any true memory and now, six books into the series, I consider 4th century AD Thracia a second home of sorts. 

More specifically, when I close my eyes I see the barracks and the marching camps of Legio Undecima Claudia Pia Fidelis, also known as the XI Claudia: legionaries gathering at their campfires outside their serried tents, grubby faces uplit by the flames and ruddy from their posca (sour soldier wine) ration. I can hear the gruff joking and singing, explosions of laughter, nickering horses, the clanking of pots and plates. I can smell the hearty aroma of baking bread, of stew and porridge… and other less savoury smells emanating from certain tents (clue: rhymes with hearty). I know the faces of the men in each cohort, century and contubernium. I remember – and will never forget – those who have fallen in the course of the Legionary series. And so I thought it was about time I turned the spotlight on this famous old legion, to explore their past and highlight just how much they went through before the few years I have had the pleasure of marching with them…


The Legionary series focuses on the late 4th century incarnation of the XI Claudia, but by then they were well over four hundred years old. It all began back in 58 BC, when Rome was still a republic and before the land of Thracia had even been incorporated into the Roman aegis. It was a little-known fellow by the name of Julius Caesar who started things. In need of fresh manpower for his impending invasion of Gaul*, he raised several new legions. One of which was granted the name 'the Eleventh Legion'.

* The Gallic Wars is a huge topic and one I can’t claim to be an authority on, but I can heartily recommend the action-packed Marius’ Mules series – penned by the expert and entertaining SJATurney.

The Gallic Wars

The Eleventh legion fought throughout Caesar’s Gallic campaign, notably against the Helvetii at the Battle of Bibracte in 58 BC, then against the Nervii confederation in 57 BC and in the famous Siege of Alesia in 52 BC. And after Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon and claiming of the city of Rome, the Eleventh Legion went with their general in pursuit of his great rival, Pompey the Great. The Battle of Dyrrhachium and the Battle of Pharsalus were fought in quick succession during the hot and bloody summer of 48 BC, with the Eleventh Legion and Caesar emerging as clear victors. In 45 BC, after thirteen years of hard campaigning and with the Roman world now stable and all neat and tidy again (mwahaha – if only they had known!), the Eleventh Legion was disbanded, its soldiers granted the old Samnite lands of Bovianum in southern Italy, to farm and live out their lives in peace…

Left: A depiction of Caesar's legions in battle against the tribes of Gaul in the 50s BC.
Right: The Battle of Dyrrachium, 48 BC.

...aaaand then Caesar was assassinated. The Roman world was thrown into chaos all over again. Fighting to avenge his slain great-uncle, Octavian recalled the Eleventh Legion from their pastoral retirement. They fought against the assassins and revolutionaries in Greece, in Sicily and through Italy and finally, they faced and defeated Mark Anthony in the naval clash at Actium which finally ended this latest bout of civil war.

But there was to be no return to the peaceful farmlands of Bovianum – the now well-scarred veterans of the Eleventh were instead sent to garrison Dalmatia (modern Croatia).

Two takes on the XI Claudia's emblem...
Left: the bull, typical of the legions raised by Caesar. 
Right: a Neptune insignia, inspired by the Claudia's stint in naval warfare at Actium, perhaps?


Empire Rising

For a time, several generations in fact, the Eleventh Legion knew relative peace. Legionary fathers would have watched on as their sons enlisted in the Eleventh ranks, while back in Rome, the reign of Octavian (now Augustus) saw the Roman Republic fade out and the new system of empire rise in its place. Octavian was shrewd enough to go for a soft approach to this, never referring to himself as an emperor, only ever as a ‘Princeps’ (meaning ‘most senior of senators’ but to you and me: ‘the boss’). This era of Roman government, known as the Principate, would last for nearly three hundred years.

Fast-forward to 42 AD, when Claudius ruled the empire. A chap named Scribonianus, presumably bored with the relative stability of the time, decided to revolt against Claudius, and chose to begin his tantrum in Dalmatia. The Eleventh Legion were one of the first to react in support of the emperor and against Scribonianus. So, when the rebellion was put down, the emperor bestowed upon the Eleventh the honorific title ‘Claudia Pia Fidelis’ (Faithful to Claudius). And so, the XI Claudia proper was born!

A less-than-glorious episode followed in 69 AD – the so-called Year of the Four Emperors – when the XI Claudia sided with one of the four brief imperial claimants, Otho. They arrived at the Battle of Cremona to support him against his rival, Vitellius, late. By then, Otho had been defeated, but fortunately, Vitellius did not punish the XI Claudia, simply sending them back to Dalmatia, chastised. But that didn’t stop them from siding with a certain Vespasian when he came along to challenge Vitellius, and this time the Claudia arrived on time and helped win the Second Battle of Bedriacum to install Vespasian on the imperial throne and end the domino-like succession pattern of that year.

The Legions at war with the fierce Dacian armies.

In the following years, the XI Claudia were stationed on the Rhine, holding that frontier and at times participating in campaigns into the boggy woodlands beyond – notably under Emperor Domitian against the Chatti in 83 AD. Over the next half-century or so, the Claudia drifted eastwards, finding a temporary station in Pannonia (roughly present-day Serbia) before following Emperor Trajan east as a vital part of his Dacian conquest (the original, north-of-the-Danube Dacia, that is, not the more southerly Diocese from the Legionary series), then finally arriving at the place that would be their home for centuries to come: Durostorum (modern Silistra, Bulgaria) on the River Danubius.

Left: The Tablua Peutingeriana - a 13th century AD copy of an original Roman map (distorted to the modern eye used to things such as an atlas). This red ring highlights the riverside city of Durostorum.
Right: A more recognisable, modern representation of the map, with Durostorum again highlighted.


The Coming of the Dominate

While stationed at Durostorum, the Claudia were responsible for manning the lower Danube and its delta with the Pontus Euxinus (the Black Sea), as well as protecting the Roman-Greek colonies of Bosporus (modern Crimea). They and sister legions the I Italica and V Macedonica became a de-facto border garrison of those parts. And this new, more permanent role was perhaps symptomatic of the change in imperial governance and military strategy that came about in the late 3rd century AD. Bit of a tangent here, but you’ll see why it is relevant to the XI Claudia (bear with me)…

Beginning with Emperor Diocletian in 284 AD, the nature of empire changed. Emperors no longer pussy-footed with titles such as Princeps (honest guv’nor, we’re all equal), instead declaring themselves as out-and-out emperors (listen, pleb, I'm amazing and you're not). Gone too were modest ceremonial effects like the wearing of the ancient purple toga, Diocletian and his successors instead choosing to paint their skin gold, call themselves the embodiments of gods (referring to themselves as 'Sired by Mars' and the like, apparently), wear jewel-encrusted cloaks, opulent crowns and purple slippers – more akin to Persian Shahs than Roman leaders. More, subjects were required to prostrate themselves before the emperor, crawl towards him and kiss his slippers (hoping he’d washed his feet) and address him as ‘Domine’ (lord or master). This autocratic era of empire came to be known as the ‘Dominate’ thanks to its stark contrast to the earlier Principate.

Left: "Here's to you, Domine". Okay, This is actually Heraclius, a 6th century emperor, but Diocletian began the journey in this opulent direction.
Right: Cristiano Ronaldo, absolutely raging that he doesn't have a peacock-feather headress.

You could be forgiven for thinking this was a big ego-trip for Diocletian – who probably sounds like the Cristiano Ronaldo of the Roman Empire – but like the Portuguese preener, there was substance behind Diocletian’s style. For the half-century prior to his rule, the empire had endured what is now referred to as ‘The Third Century Crisis’ – a storm of civil wars, economic collapse and pestilence. Twenty-six emperors came and went in those fifty years and the empire was in danger of crumbling away altogether. As such, a firm hand was perhaps the appropriate way to reassert control over the ailing state. Diocletian experimented with the Tetrarchic system, splitting the empire into four parts each with a clear ruler and successor. An understandable move, given the prior problems. But he got a lot of things wrong too: tinkering with the waning economy by introducing unworkable maximum-pricing edicts and ‘un-pegged’ golden coins; trying to ‘fix’ the religious strife of the time by triggering the Great Persecution of the Christians... both disastrous choices.

Militarily, it is questionable whether he got things right or wrong. The legions of old, XI Claudia included, had proud histories. Five-thousand strong armies that could oversee a stretch of imperial border, or march beyond to invade, or turn inwards to an interior troublespot in times of need. But times had changed and, as the Third Century Crisis had shown, the army of the Principate was incapable of simultaneously manning the imperial borders and keeping Roman usurpers or barbarian invaders who made it into the empire in check. Thus, Diocletian started the process of breaking down the old legions into broad ‘classes’. Instead of monolithic five-thousand-strong legions on the borders, he began to form ‘field’ armies, stationed in the heart of each of the major regions of the empire. These armies, composed of new, thousand-strong ‘comitatenses’ legions, were supposed to be the crack forces who could deal with internal strife or deal with any invaders who made it through the imperial borders. And on the borders, adding the outer layer of this new ‘defence-in-depth’ strategy, were the ‘limitanei’ legions (the ‘limes’ being the edges of the Roman Empire). It was the job of the limitanei to repel, or at least slow and track invaders until the local field army could be hastened to the trouble spot to crush them. And that is where the XI Claudia ended up – as limitanei, watchmen of the lower Danubius.

Left: How a limitaneus - such as Pavo or Sura - garrisoned at Durostorum might have looked
Right: A more 'with-it' legionary from their snazzy counterparts, the comitatenses. Perhaps he has flashing lights on his boots, or an iShield?

Now a lot has been said about the contrast in status and capabilities between the comitatenses and the limitanei (ranging from ‘they weren’t too different’ to ‘the limitanei were rubbish!’), and I touch on those differences here, but the fact is the limitanei were vital: without them, the empire’s edges would have been completely porous and undefined. More, it seems that the limitanei and the Claudia in particular were highly valued beyond their border watch status – over the years, vexillations of the Claudia were sent from their base at Durostorum to places such as Judea, Persia, Egypt and Mauretania, so they were clearly not just some makeshift peasant militia.

And that sets the scene for the 4th century heroes of the Legionary series. The things they face in my books may be brutal, but as you can see, the Claudia were well used to hardship and long stretches of war. So for those of you who say I put Pavo through hell – don’t blame me, it’s just the way it was!

Thanks for reading - hope you enjoyed. If there is enough interest, I'll put together a complementary blog on the future of the Claudia (i.e. what happened to them after the time of the Legionary series).

Click on any of the images below to grab copies of the Legionary books, and follow the adventures of the Claudia men in the late 4th century AD.

Key References:
  • Tablua Peutingeriana
  • The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon
  • Rubicon, Tom Holland
  • The Roman Army, McNab/Osprey
  • The Complete Roman Army, Goldsworthy
  • Warfare in Roman Europe, Elton
  • Barbarians Within the Gates of Rome, Burns


Pavo and Fronto

posted May 24, 2017, 10:00 AM by Gordon Doherty   [ updated Jun 6, 2017, 2:41 AM ]
The latest adventures of Pavo (the Legionary Series) and Fronto (The Marius' Mules series)

Interviewer: We're joined today by two stalwarts of Rome. From the first century BC and the days of the glorious Republic, Marcus Falerius Fronto, Legate of the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh legions and from the fourth century AD and the troublesome times of Late Antiquity, Numerius Vitellius Pavo, Tribunus of the XI Claudia legion.
Interviewer: So tell me about the places from which you have travelled.

Fronto: Eh? Er… Massilia. Sort of. And Tarraco. I've come hotfoot from Massilia, via Tarraco. The campaign season's over and I've managed to slip away from dangerous lunatics and oppressive proconsuls long enough to actually be a father again for half an hour. Didn't someone say there'd be wine?

Pavo: From Thracia. (frowns when interviewer seems nonplussed). You haven't heard? The land is like an open grave. The Goths are running riot there: last summer we fought them near Adrianople. Thirty thousand men on either side, and the hairy bastards won the day. They killed Emperor Valens and nearly two-thirds of the Eastern Army. (grips sword hilt) And when I get back there, I've got some scores to settle.

Fronto: (laughs) Welcome to my world! (lifts jug of wine from table and swigs) Bastards the lot of them...

Pavo: (charges wine cup to Fronto) Bastard barbarians.

Fronto: (nonplussed) I meant officers. Never mind.

Left: The Battle of Adrianople - a turning point in Late Antiquity 

Interviewer: Pavo, I hear you fourth century legionaries, especially limitanei, are the weak link of the later imperial army? Not like the all-conquering Republican legions.

Pavo: *Says nothing, gives interviewer burning stare*

Fronto: (chuckles and jabs thumb towards interviewer) And they wear trousers. Some say they don't even wear armour.

Pavo, head swivelling to Fronto: Have you been listening to that arsehole, Vegetius? The vet who thinks he understands the necessities of war in the fourth century? Me and the Claudia lads trekked through the desert once, and in the hostile regions near the Persian frontier - even when it was so hot you could fry an egg on the sand - we'd have our mail and helmets on. Always - iron and shield. Vegetius should have stuck to shoving his hand up cows' arses.

Fronto: Not like Marius's Mules. Carrying everything you need, right down to the sudis stakes to make camp for the night. Not me, mind you. A legate has enough weight on his shoulders without that. And look at your sword. What happened to your gladius? That looks like a Gaul's sword. Long as a German's dick. Seems to me like you're compensating for something.

Pavo: Well you're the one who mentioned it. You should meet my Primus Pilus, Sura; he's obsessed with the length of his cock too... (chuckles, takes draught of wine for himself)… and the thing is, it's absolutely *miniscule*!

Fronto: You've been peeking? All a bit Greek for me, that! (Takes another swig of wine).

The Standard Bearer of Caesar's legions landing in Britannia

Interviewer: But the way of war changed so much between each of your eras, did it not? Tell me about battle tactics...

Fronto: It's all about discipline. Doesn't matter how well armed you are or how clever your tactics. Rome wins the day when they have a general and an army that do not yield and will not break into melee and chase unless specifically instructed to do so. You could take a bunch of papyrus-pushing Aegyptian eunuchs and turn them into a fearful legion if you can instil discipline. Hades, they might even be better. After all, Pullo does spend way too much time playing with his balls. I think in my time we have the edge over Pavo's lot. We still have Romanitas, albeit backed up with a Spanish sword, Gallic armour, Greek tactics and a Punic navy. But we took the best and made an unstoppable killing machine with it. Pavo's lot took some close harmony choral stuff as their main influence.

Pavo: So your boys come steaming in, gladius in hand… but our lot are no barbarian rabble who'll look for 'glorious' one-on-one combat. True, our Greek and Latin is sprinkled with Germanic words and phrases, and lots of the men of the ranks are sons of tribesmen, but when we stand together as a legion, we're like a wall of iron. Have you seen us? Shields interlocked - sometimes two storeys of them - and a maw of spears - break into that if you can! And you'll hear us long before you see us. The draco standards trill and moan and the barritus, another tribal influence, is a war cry that you will hear once and never, ever forget. (stops and tuts at Fronto) Choral harmony indeed! More like Hades unleashed: tens of thousands of us, roaring in a crescendo, swords beating on shields and all manner of sharp pointy things flying out at you from behind our shield wall: lead-weighted darts, slingshot, arrows, javelins. Quadratus even threw a turd at a Gothic reiks once. Hit the bastard right in the mouth. He claims he found it on the ground. I suspect otherwise.

Fronto: Sounds like a phalanx. My forefathers gutted the Greeks when they tried to face us like that and we beat the Helvetii phalanx near Bibracte. A phalanx is not secure. Round the side, spill round the back, tear 'em to shreds!

Pavo: (grins) Then you weren't paying attention to our cohorts positioned in the woods? The ones waiting to fall on your backs? Ah, of course, you wouldn't have spotted them: faces and limbs smeared with dirt, bright shields armour left behind - tactically, in case Vegetius gets too excited. Great for surprising an enemy. A vicious bastard of a general by the name of Sebastianus taught me this.

Fronto: Now you're putting me in mind of the Nervii. Bastards. Alright. I concede the point.

Left: Goths assailing the legions of Late Antiquity

Interviewer: You both seem to be enjoying the wine. It's a soldier thing, isn't it?

Pavo: Indeed. Numbs the mind. (eyes cup thoughtfully for a moment). My men indulge more than me these days, but still, after a long march or a bruising skirmish, you can't beat a spicy wine or a foaming beer. Yes, beer. Now the Goths have a lot to answer for… but damn, they make good barley beer. We trade with them when we're not fighting with them, you see. In the better times it's all wine and beer, beer and wine.

Fronto: Common ground at last - excellent!... Actually, I've tried Gallic beer a number of times. It varies in taste from dirty baby water to armour polish. Never yet found a truly acceptable brew. That being said, I've had times when I will swear it is the sweetest nectar ever to pass my lips. But then we've all been there. Actually nothing ever will beat a good wine. I always thought I knew good wine, but it turns out I was all about quantity. Let me introduce you to Cathain. He will wean you off beer for life with his wine selections. And this from a land where they drink things that taste like feet.

Pavo: Feet-brew? Now I think we've been drinking in the same place - they don't serve sweaty-ball bread to go with it, do they? Because if they do that's the shithole tavern by the foot of Constantinople's third hill. Hmm, perhaps a visit to this Cathain would be good.
We drink like Satyrs...

Interviewer: What about barrack-life: the soldiers there must be like a family of sorts?

Pavo: No of-sorts about it. I mentioned Sura. He's my oldest friend in the legion. I trust him with my life. But, by Mithras, he doesn't half talk out of his arse: winning a pole vaulting competition with his - miniscule - tackle instead of a pole has to be his most absurd claim yet. Still, I look forward to his stories, especially on a long march - anything to raise the spirits. And speaking of people talking out of their arse, there was Quadratus, and his arse was rarely quiet. He was built like an ox, and he smelt like one too. Seriously, three men of his contubernium were admitted to the fort valetudinarium for medical treatment after suffering "a foul fog of Quadratus' gut-gas" every night. And the ones in neighbouring contubernia rooms were not spared; they had to suffer the sound effects - parp, parp, honk, quack, splatter… *all* night, *every* night! He blamed the barley beer. Told you the Goths had a lot to answer for.

Fronto: It would be nice to say I knew what you were talking about. I'm a legate. We have our own tent and a veritable army of slaves to maintain it. 'Course, I send most of the slaves away and my tent is often full of Galronus snoring or Antonius helping himself to my wine stock. That being the case, I would have to say that despite having lost some of my closest friends over the years - Priscus, Velius, Crispus, Palmatus and so on - my best friend is a man who, strictly speaking, is a barbarian. Galronus of the Remi. Always has my back. And sometimes my sister's, but that's a whole different story. It doesn't matter whether you're from Pavo's time or mine, or whether you're one of his 'Goths' or the Carthaginians or the Romans or the Gauls, you learn who your friends are when the iron is unsheathed. Seriously.

Pavo: By the God of the Light, I'll drink to that.

Roman fortresses are all rather similar

Interviewer: You are both men of the legions, but what about the states you each serve: Fronto, you fight for the Republic, Pavo, you march under the banner of Empire.

Fronto: (turns to Pavo) So am I right in understanding that you have one man in complete control of Rome? An Emperor, you said.

Pavo: Not at the moment, the emperor is dead, as I said, (eyes Fronto's cup) less drinking and more listening. But soon, I hope, someone will emerge to take the empty throne and steady the chaos.

Fronto: Isn't that basically a king? We drove out the kings and instituted a new political system entirely to avoid having a king again.

Pavo: That system failed. Way before my time, but I've read the histories. The Republic was a fine thing in theory, but first necessity then greed turned it all back to how it had been. Princeps, augustus, imperator.... yes, they are like kings. Still, a king can be wise or wicked, just as a republic can be strong or weak.

Fronto: In my day we fought tooth and nail to stop that very thing. We drove out Crassus and Marius and their like. With Caesar we reconstituted the true value of the republic.

Pavo: Hmm, you're from 49 BC, aren't you? Are you perchance travelling close to the River Rubicon this year?

Fronto: (Taking a large swig of wine) 'La la la la la... I'm not listening.'

Emperor Valens, Killed at the Battle of Adrianople in 378 AD

Interviewer: What's the worst thing you've ever done?

Fronto: For me it's Verginius. Simply: Verginius. Let me tell you a story of a brother who became the worst enemy imaginable...

Pavo: A brother? I watched my only brother, Dexion, die, and shed not a tear. That same day, Gallus – the leader of the Claudia Legion before me - died too. Plenty of tears then. (turns to Fronto) We should talk.

Fronto: (after a long silence) Is there a tavern nearby? We could blow this place. Where are we? Hang on... Wall slogans. "Brutus sucks donkey...." This is the Suburra. We're round the corner from the Laughing Swordsman.

Pavo: Sounds like one of Sura's nicknames. Well, what are you waiting for? How does it go in Latin again: Nunc est Bibendum – to the tavern!

The Tavern! Image by Dave Slaney from the forthcoming 'Pirate Legion'

Ah, okay, they've gone... and in quite a hurry too. Well, I hope you enjoyed the chat, folks. If you'd like to read all about Pavo and Fronto's adventures, then this is the time to do it. Both return this week in the latest instalments of the Legionary and Marius' Mules series respectively.

Legionary: Empire of Shades

posted May 4, 2017, 6:45 AM by Gordon Doherty   [ updated Jun 6, 2017, 2:42 AM ]
379 AD: Thracia has fallen to the Gothic horde…

With the ashes of Adrianople still swirling in the air, the Eastern Roman Empire is in turmoil. The emperor is dead, the throne lies empty and the remaining fragments of the army are few and scattered. Numerius Vitellius Pavo, now Tribunus of the XI Claudia, tries to hold his patchwork ranks together amidst the storm. One of the few legions to have survived the disaster at Adrianople, the Claudia do what they can to keep alive the dying flame of hope.

When word spreads of a new Eastern Emperor, those hopes rise. But the coming of this leader will stir the Gothic War to new heights. And it will cast Pavo headlong into the sights of the one responsible for the East’s plight – a man mighty and seemingly untouchable, and one who will surely crush any who dares to challenge him.

From the ashes of Adrianople, new heroes will rise… with dark ghosts in close pursuit.

City of the Blind

posted May 4, 2017, 3:22 AM by Gordon Doherty   [ updated Jun 6, 2017, 2:42 AM ]



What follows is a piece of flash fiction, set between Legionary: Gods & Emperors and Legionary: Empire of Shades. Chalcedon, perched on the eastern shores of the Bosphorus strait, was once branded 'the City of the Blind' by a 6th century BC Persian general named Megabyzus, when he contrasted the settlement with the far superior and sparsely-occupied site on the opposite shores. By Late Antiquity, Chalcedon languished in the shadows of the city that had risen on that far shore through the intervening centuries: the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, Constantinople.

Yet something that happened in Chalcedon in that twilight era which suggests that ancient lessons had gone unheeded...

Chalcedon, “City of the Blind”
December 8th 378AD

Colias the Goth woke to the clarion call of a Roman buccina. For that lightning-flash moment, he was a tribal warrior again: he gasped and leapt from his bed, one hand going for his longsword, the other for his spear – once his fathers and his grandfather’s before that. Then he relaxed with a gentle laugh, feeling his feet settle on the cold flagged floor, seeing the legionary spatha by his bed and the imperial helm and mail shirt resting on a frame. He looked around the interior of the Roman barrack house that was now his home, his laughter fading into a gentle sigh.
    ‘Sleep,’ Pudulf, his fellow Goth croaked, sitting up in his bed, opposite. He grinned and tapped his temple. ‘It plays havoc with the mind, eh?’
    Colias stretched, sweeping his mass of thick, golden hair backs and looping it in a knot on his crown then massaging each of his bare, broad shoulders in turn, feeling the chill air bite at his skin. ‘Aye. Three nights ago, I dreamt I was a boy,’ he said as he threw on an imperial tunic and drew on his calf-length leather boots. ‘I was running through the thick forests, across the empty grasslands and over the green hills of the northlands. I saw my parents again in that dream – we ate deer by the fire.’ He looked through the open shutters into the muster ground of the garrison compound, bathed in the dawn light of a low winter sun. Now he held up and shook two fingers. ‘Two nights ago, I dreamt of when I first enlisted with the Romans, before the war. I was standing watch on the walls of Adrianople,’ his eyes tapered and his nostrils widened a fraction. ‘I could almost smell the fresh bread from the city bakehouses, the charred fish from the market taverns. I saw the faces of dead men, Pudulf... alive, with hope in their eyes...’        ‘And last night?’ Pudulf said, cocking an eyebrow.
    Colias’ face fell. ‘I dreamt of the day the Romans heard news of Fritigern’s horde, of how Thracia had been invaded, of how the Goths would be the end of them. I dreamt of the day they turned upon our garrison century, the day we fought back like wolves, the day we fled the city to join the horde, leaving hope behind… I dreamt of the pillage that followed… of the… of the things we did,’ his head flopped forward. ‘I dreamt of war.’
    Pudulf's eyes slid down to examine the flagstones. 'Me too,' he said quietly.
    The dawn buccina call sounded again. The others amongst Colias’ century were awakening in the many other sleeping blocks of the long barrack hut.
    ‘But then you chose wisely, sir,’ Pudulf continued. ‘You made your peace once more with the empire. You brought us here,’ he gestured around the room.
    Colias glanced sideways at him. ‘Choice?’ he mused. He thought of last summer, of the gnarled, one-eyed Roman tactician who had trapped his warband in a sweltering gully then convinced him that life in the empire could still be right for him and his warband. Bastianus. That had been in June. Bastianus had been slain in August, rumour had it – cut down in a storm of steel on the hot plains north of Adrianople, cut down with scores of legions… slain along with Valens, Emperor of the East, on the bloodiest day the land of Thracia had yet seen. For a moment, Colias felt a touch of guilt. He had not been there to stand with his blood, the Goths of Fritigern. Nor had he been given the chance to stand by his convictions and line up with the legions on that fateful day. Instead, he and his warband had been shipped here, to Chalcedon, the white-walled town on the Asian banks of the Hellespont – an arrow-shot across the water from Constantinople. Almost close enough to hear the war, yet safe from its lethal edge. Bastianus had spared him the battle… perhaps even saved his life?
    ‘We can only seek out that hope we once knew, to make things right once again, Pudulf,’ Colias said, standing and throwing a cloak around his shoulders. ‘Today and every day ahead, we will serve the empire. We will show them that our people and theirs can work together.’
    The pair stepped outside into the bright chill, the frosted ground crunching under their soles. As Pudulf unfurled the century’s banner, Colias drew a wooden cup of water from a drinking font and drained it in one draught. Gazing absently into the font water, something glinted in his memory like a jewel in the sand: the two young soldiers with General Bastianus that day. He saw their faces now, clearly: one dark and hawk-faced, the other blonde and impudent. Pavo and Sura, he recalled. He remembered the looks on their faces as they stood up on the edge of that hot gully, looking down on his warband, their faces etched with vigour, willing the trapped Goths to submit, but ready to act if they did not. Good soldiers, he mused… good men. As the buccina cry tapered off, the image in the water's surface faded and was replaced by the reflection of two black crows circling then settling on the barrack compound’s ice-veined walls, cawing. If the pair named Pavo and Sura had been at the Battle of Adrianople, then they had surely perished along with so many others, he realised. 
    He drew his cloak a little tighter and looked up to the barrack compound's walls, seeing the dawn-streaked red tiles of the small city's wards. A gentle chatter of the town’s populace rose outside the barrack walls: the lowing of beasts, the playful repartee of pedlars, the cry of seabirds and the gentle sound of waves on the nearby shore. It would be a quiet day of street patrols and mending the rotting pier at the city harbour, he realised as the buccina sounded a third and final time. He turned to see his men spill out of the barrack block dutifully, dressed in Roman trousers and tunics, encased in helms, spears and shields. An attendant brought him his swordbelt and helm.
    ‘Garrison, in line,’ he barked. The men obeyed, coming into a block of eighty as always. ‘Today, Pudulf will take two contubernia to the docks, and I wi-’
    A groan of stressed timber cut him off. He and every other head turned to the compound gates – the leftmost of which was swinging open. Two riders entered, red-cloaked and mail-shirted Roman equites, swaying on their roans as they ranged towards the assembled garrison. Their eyes found Colias.
    ‘Magister Militum Julius summons you,’ they leftmost one said, devoid of emotion.
    ‘Julius? He is here?’ Colias said, one eyebrow dipping. Julius was one of the few Roman officers accounted for in the aftermath of the Battle of Adrianople – the rest dead, hiding or scattered. More, he was the most senior authority remaining in all Asia Minor. It was his duty, and Colias’… and that of every other military and civil authority, to hold these lands steady until Thracia could be recovered. ‘I did not realise he was coming.’
    ‘He brings early annona,’ the rightmost rider said, managing a one-sided smile.
    Colias’ Gothic legionaries broke out in a series of excited whispers. Legionary purses were filled three times a year, but it was only December and the next annona was not due until January. He decided not to contend the issue. ‘Draw open the gates in full,’ he called to his century, then looked back to the riders, ‘then the Magister Militum can bring the annona wagons inside. I will have the men prepare a hot breakfast for him and for you.’
    The leftmost rider raised a hand that stayed the Goths. ‘The Magister Militum will receive you outside the city.’
    Colias’ head tilted to one side, confused. ‘Very well,’ he said after a time. He snapped his fingers at two men working on a stove. ‘Bring the wheat porridge outside.’
    A short while later, they left the small barracks in a line, as if marching to battle were it not for their leaving behind of their spears and shields. They chatted and joked as they clattered through Chalcedon’s flagged market square, spirits high. But Colias, leading them along behind the two riders, walked alone. Chalcedon’s populace gave them a wide berth: many wide eyes and fearful looks. Trust would have to be earned, hard earned, he realised. They passed through a wide gap in the white marble ‘walls’ of the city – really just a low, token outline of the fortifications that had once existed here, with no battlements or towers. Emperors and generals had quarried the great blocks and carried them over the water to build ever more magnificent structures in Constantinople, leaving this uneven perimeter, akin to worn-down teeth. Outside, the paved coast road and the golden hinterland were speckled with frost, and a chill, clean westerly wind blew as if from Constantinople – glinting like a pearl in the pastel haze across the water. Great white gouges gaped in the nearby bluffs where more marble had been sourced, and smaller mining pits glimmered in myriad colours: waxy and lustrous cerulean and amber, night-black and blood-red where the famous and precious chalcedony had been mined.
    Colias halted when the two horsemen did. They parted. A hundred paces away stood Julius, clad in a cloak as black as his armour and plumed helm, his face in shade. With him were no wagons, just soldiers. A century of scale-clad legionaries and two of imperial sagittarii archers draped in mail. The wind licked at Colias and his men. Silence reigned.
    'Colias? What is this?' Pudulf whispered through dry lips.
    ‘Magister Militum?’ Colias called across the void, echoing Pudulf's confusion.
    Julius’ head rose a fraction, the shadow peeling away from his eyes enough for Colias to see the baleful fire in them. The Magister Militum flicked a finger. Suddenly, the two riders bolted in opposite directions, leaving Colias and his Gothic century alone on the flat ground before Chalcedon. 
   ‘Sir?’ Colias said, his voice edged with a beseeching tone now.
    The Magister Militum did not respond, other than to raise his hands either side of him, like a conjurer summoning spirits, his teeth set in a rictus. The two archer centuries spread out like wings to part-envelop  Colias and his men, then nocked and drew their bows.
    Pudulf and the others wailed in fear and confusion. All Colias could hear was the crows cawing… and the archers’ bows groaning.
    As Julius’ hand chopped down and two hundred arrows sailed through the air, Colias closed his eyes and returned to the dreams of his youth.
Hope you enjoyed the story. You can buy the full follow-on novel, Legionary: Empire of Shades, here

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