Friday 29 March 2024

For all of them, the only way to survive is exile.

By Alison Morton

Publication Date: 27th February 2024
Publisher: Pulcheria Press
Page Length: 364 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

Exile – Living death to a Roman

AD 395. In a Christian Roman Empire, the penalty for holding true to the traditional gods is execution. 

Maelia Mitela, her dead husband condemned as a pagan traitor, leaving her on the brink of ruin, grieves for her son lost to the Christians and is fearful of committing to another man.

Lucius Apulius, ex-military tribune, faithful to the old gods and fixed on his memories of his wife Julia’s homeland of Noricum, will risk everything to protect his children’s future.

Galla Apulia, loyal to her father and only too aware of not being the desired son, is desperate to escape Rome after the humiliation of betrayal by her feckless husband.

For all of them, the only way to survive is exile.


[Galla Apulia narrates. They have started their journey into exile. They are making their first stop at one of Lucius’s colleague’s villa.]

Late Spring, AD 395

We didn’t reach the meeting point that evening but were received at the villa of one of Father’s senatorial colleagues, just south of Veii. Aulus Glabrus owned a vast latifundium, a giant farm, worked by thirty field slaves and another twenty in the dairy, threshing and processing workshops as well as a blacksmith’s forge, farrier and woodwork barn. Numerous gardeners must have kept the clipped hedges and herb and flower beds in the pars dominica grounds round the house in such pristine order.  

Glabrus himself came out to greet us. He made a beeline for Father. In truth, fatigue from the past few weeks and a full day in the saddle made me too tired to do anything but say a polite greeting when the rest of us were introduced. Grooms appeared from nowhere and took our horses which, by the droop of their heads and sweat-caked coats, looked to be as tired as we were. Glabrus ushered us into the house.

‘Welcome, welcome, honoured Apulius,’ he said effusively. ‘And of course, you too, Mitelus,’ he said as an afterthought. ‘Perhaps the ladies would like to retire to the baths and their rooms to change for dinner.’ A short blonde woman in a long red tunic decorated with copious lengths of gold embroidery appeared. She wore a gold necklace, bracelets and earrings and her belt glinted with gold panels. ‘Ah, Lysia, my dear. Would you escort the ladies to our bathhouse and show them their sleeping arrangements. Oh, and the children.’ 

He turned back to Father and Gaius, having shuffled off responsibility for us to Lysia, presumably his wife. But he’d omitted to even mention our households.

‘Excuse me, Aulus Glabrus,’ I said, mustering my strength. ‘May I know the arrangements for our servants? Where will they sleep and when may they use the baths?’

He frowned, then looked puzzled. 

‘I’m sure my steward will have taken care of them. We have extensive slave quarters.’

‘None of our servants is a slave. All are freedmen and -women.’

‘Really?’ He pulled his head back as a pigeon would. His face showed a mixture of shock and surprise. ‘How unusual.’

‘My daughter is correct and I’m pleased she’s reminded me,’ Father said. ‘Perhaps your steward would attend her so she may be sure of our people’s welfare.’

‘Well, if you think it absolutely necessary. Your daughter is very confident of herself. How modern.’ 

Lucilla took a step forward, her mouth opened, but I grabbed her wrist before she could say anything. I shook my head very slightly. She glanced at me, then shrugged.

‘My sisters and daughters will be delighted and relieved to go to bathe,’ I said, ‘as will Maelia Mitela and her daughters, but I will stay here and wait for your steward.’ I looked him directly in the face, something this old-fashioned man would not have been used to from most Roman women. From the corner of my eye, I caught Gaius smiling behind our host.

‘Oh, very well.’ Glabrus ordered the young man standing at the side of the atrium to fetch the steward. 

We all waited in silence. Give him his due, the steward arrived very quickly. He was a man about Father’s age, but with more grey hair. He bowed to Glabrus, who pointed to me. 

‘Lucius Apulius’s daughter wishes to speak to you. But before you do, send somebody to mix us some wine. I’m sure we men could all use a drink.’

‘I thought Glabrus was going to have a seizure when you addressed him,’ Lucilla said in a low voice when we lay in the warm pool. Lysia was occupied talking to the children several feet away, but acoustics in small private baths were often a little too good. 

‘And I thought you were going to tell him exactly how rude you thought he was,’ I replied as quietly.

‘Well, he was.’

‘He was not only rude, but thoughtless.’

‘Typical new man.’ Lucilla snorted.

‘Typical man,’ I replied. ‘But sometimes you have to ignore it and curb your tongue in order to get what you want.’

‘Are our people well?’

‘Yes. Their steward was very patient and polite. They’ve all been fed in the freedmen’s dining room and rooms found for them. They will have to share, but at least they’re not housed in the slave barracks.’ 

‘I bet those places are as miserable as Tartarus if Glabrus is anything to go by.’

‘Basic, I’d think, but the steward seemed reasonable, so perhaps not as bad as on some latifundia. Anyway, the children are going to have supper and we must tidy ourselves up ready for dinner with the delightful Glabrus.’

‘I can’t wait,’ grumped Lucilla.

‘You have packed a long tunic, haven’t you?’ Surely Lucilla wasn’t going to walk into the triclinium wearing her trousers? Glabrus would have a fit then.

‘You should see your face, Galla. Of course, I have.’ 

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 Alison Morton

Alison Morton writes award-winning thrillers featuring tough but compassionate heroines. Her ten-book Roma Nova series is set in an imaginary European country where a remnant of the Roman Empire has survived into the 21st century and is ruled by women who face conspiracy, revolution and heartache but use a sharp line in dialogue. The latest, EXSILIUM, plunges us back to the late 4th century, to the very foundation of Roma Nova.

She blends her fascination for Ancient Rome with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, historical and thriller fiction. On the way, she collected a BA in modern languages and an MA in history.  

Alison now lives in Poitou in France, the home of Mélisende, the heroine of her two contemporary thrillers, Double Identity and Double Pursuit. 

You can also find her on the following social media platforms:

#RomaNovaSeries #EXSILIUM #AlternativeHistoricalFiction #HistoricalFiction #BlogTour #TheCoffeePotBookClub


  1. Thank you so much, Mary Anne, for highlighting this excerpt from EXSILIUM. I very much enjoyed writing the warm relationship between these sisters who had distinctly opposite natures!

  2. Thank you so much for hosting Alison Morton today.

    Take care,
    Cathie xx
    The Coffee Pot Book Club

  3. I haven't read much historical fiction in the ancient world but this one sounds like it is a good read.


See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx