Sextus Pompey – Angry Youth and Vengeful Pirate
ALISTAIR FORREST delves into the story of Pompey the Great’s youngest son who features in his new novella trilogy
Betrayal and murder are not uncommon throughout ancient Roman history. But spare a thought for a teenager by the name of Sextus Pompey who, in 48BC, witnessed the ignominious execution of his hero-worshipped father, Pompey the Great.
What happened sparked a series of events that would transform him from a teenager with a bright future into a bitter rebel with a price on his head. New Rome’s leaders will hound him to an early grave and all honour and respect will lie in tatters. From that day, young Sextus was on the receiving end of more treachery and carnage than he could possibly deserve.
I began my research into Sextus when writing my first novel, Libertas, in which he and his brother Gnaeus almost succeeded in halting Julius Caesar’s relentless mission to control Rome. This fascination with the damaged young man continues as I write the Agents of Rome series, set in the aftermath of Caesar’s assassination, with Book One Nest of Vipers focusing on Sextus’s pirate base in Sicily.
Initially, I couldn’t help but like him and portrayed him as a cocky adventurer with sufficient principles to keep his democratic mission on track, but now, as I write Book Two, I fear the dark side will begin to emerge. As it surely must given these powerful and unkind events in his young life:
The murder of his father
Following Caesar’s defeat of Pompey the Great at Pharsalus, 19-year-old Sextus and his step-mother Cornelia caught up with the distraught general on the island of Lesbos, and thence to the shores of Egypt at Pelusium. Having watched from a distance as his father’s war in Greece against Caesar went from bad to worse, this is the defining moment as his father was brutally murdered before his eyes. A sudden shock to the system of a magnitude that’s impossible to imagine.
Defeat by Caesar
With Gnaeus, he rallied the Optimates faithful for a final push to defeat Caesar, first at Thapsus (Africa 46BC), then at Munda (Spain 45BC). The brothers, together with Caesar’s turncoat tribune Labienus, had the numbers if not the training to end the civil war at Munda. But they failed, as recounted in Libertas bringing this comment from Doug Jackson, best-selling author of the Gaius Valerius Verrens series: “The author vividly recreates the epic battle that gave Caesar the prize he sought so avidly.”
The brothers fled, Caesar’s men giving chase before catching and executing Gnaeus. Sextus, however, was more fortunate and escaped by sea. His seamanship and piratical instincts would serve him well. He was now the last of the Pompeys – and destined to share his father’s fate.
His crazy admirals
Nest of Vipers takes up the Sextus story after he has built what can only be called a state-operated pirate base in Sicily, from where he controlled Rome’s grain supplies with a fleet far superior to that of Octavian’s war-ravaged Italy. The key naval admirals under Sextus were Menodorus, also known as Menas, a freedman from his father’s day, and Menacrates, another freedman. Both were unsavoury characters, as was Murcus (yes, the Three Ms of Mayhem!) who had joined Sextus’ cause after Philippi. Menodorus soon betrayed Sextus, offering his ships to a grateful Octavian whose own navy was inferior to that of Sextus. By now Sextus probably trusted no one, the ambitious Murcus least of all, and had him murdered at his home in Syracuse. Against his better nature, the darkness took over with Sextus resorting to desperate measures.
His enemies close in
After a series of naval defeats by Sextus’s faster ships, Octavian called in the big guns to deal with ‘The Problem That Is Sextus’ once and for all. He gave his ingenious general Agrippa free rein to build a competitive fleet and create a secret weapon – the Harpax – while 14 legions were shipped from Africa to Sicily.
You can see that it’s not going to end well for Sextus so it’s a good thing that the protagonist in the Agents of Rome series is the noble former centurion Titus Villius Macer who, with his wife Zerenia and his faithful optio Crispus, witness the climax of poor Sextus’s ill-fated defiance against the might of New Rome. As it happens, Sextus managed to escape Octavian’s and Agrippa’s clutches only to face further brutal betrayal by his one-time ally Mark Antony. And, possibly, even by his own father-in-law!
Weaving stories around such a tragic life of murder and betrayal is a historical fiction author’s dream although this sensitive soul (me) frequently has to come up for air, take the dogs for a long walk, and be grateful that life isn’t like that anymore.
Or is it?
Nest of Vipers
Agents of Rome - Book 1
By Alistair Forrest
Philippi 42BC. Caesar is dead and his successors crave vengeance.
The massed legions of Octavian and Mark Antony face off against Cassius and Brutus. Primus pilus Titus Villius Macer is ordered to probe new defences thrown up by the assassins' auxiliaries.
His success wins him an audience with the young general Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, who sends him on a mission to his native Sicilia, which is ruled by the pirate Sextus Pompey.
Macer's homecoming is different to what he expects, however. His wife has changed - and so has the governance of the island.
The soldier becomes a spy and is drawn into a plot, which will test his mettle and loyalty, involving piracy and assassination. A race against time and sea-battles await the veteran.
Nest of Vipers is the first book in the Agents of Rome series of novellas.
Praise for Nest of Vipers
"A gripping and exciting read, well-researched and convincing."
Peter Tonkin, author of The Ides.
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Nest of Vipers
By Alistair Forrest
Spain 45BC. Julius Caesar’s crack legions bear down on an obscure Spanish town, Munda, at the climax of Rome’s civil war.
Against him are ranged the massed forces of Pompey the Great’s sons, Gnaeus and Sextus. To the victor, the spoils.
Caught up in the conflict is an unlikely hero, Melqart. Near fatally wounded in the battle, his family is sold into slavery and his people oppressed by Arsay One-Eye, a foe crueller than Caesar.
Melqart’s quest to free his family takes him to Sicily and the shores of Africa as he encounters enemies and allies alike.
Ultimately, the Spaniard must return to his homeland and confront Arsay. Melqart and his people must free themselves, or die trying.
Praise for Libertas
"Alistair Forrest's Libertas is a fast-moving tale of fortitude, survival and eventual retribution told against the background of Rome's bloody civil war.”
Douglas Jackson, author of the best-selling
Gaius Valerius Verrens series.
"Forrest has the gift of the true story-teller the ability to engage his readers interest from the very first sentence."
Lord Cormack, politician, historian and author.
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Alistair Forrest is a journalist, editor and author of historical fiction. He has worked for several UK newspapers, edited magazines in the travel, photographic and natural products sectors, and headed a PR company.
He lives in the Channel Islands with his wife Lynda. They have five children, two Maremma dogs and a Spanish cat, Achilles.
His books are published by Sharpe Books of London. Alistair loves to hear from readers. Contact him through his website or Twitter.