My life in ruins

too many pieces

I try and start with those

lying near to hand.

My hands are bleeding

I hear my breathing

The ragged drawing in and out

of tortured breathes.

I cannot tell

if ribs are broken

or if the bleeding heart they pierce

is mine.

The roof has fallen

the walls askew

The world has rearranged itself

on sudden cue.

Deep beneath me

wells are springing

my silent tears are adding salt

unto their flow.

The Past is buried

the Future hidden

theres no-one left to tell me

where I ought to go.





Book review: “Blood of the Caesars”

by Stephen Dando-Collins (2008 John Wiley & sons)

 Everyone loves a murder-mystery, especially an historical one with romantic resonances that actually happened. Nothing like digging up the past again and bothering those old bones with the latest forensic scientific techniques.

Not that Australian academic and writer Dando-Collins bothers with faddish technology.

No x-raying craniums or examining the stomach contents of mummies for him. He sticks strictly to drawing from the classical sources to obtain his evidence.

I was pleased when I first found this book at the library, as I’d read and enjoyed two of the author’s earlier books, “Caesar’s Legion” and “Nero’s Killing Machine”, both histories of Roman legions and their part in the power politics of the day. I’d even done a favourable review of one. (see

However I ended up being a little disappointed with this book.

Fans of Robert Graves’, “ I, Claudius” historical novels, later made into the popular BBC series, and those interested in Roman history generally, would be familiar with the Life and mysterious Death of Germanicus Julius Caesar. Both Graves and the historical sources portray Germanicus as an heroic figure, the polar opposite to the grim, forbidding portrait that is generally drawn of Tiberius. Within the shifting tangled lines of the Julio Claudian family tree, Germanicus stood in varying degrees of relationship to Tiberius, but ended up as his adopted son and next in line for the succession to Emperor. It was widely rumoured that he planned to restore the Republic. Not un-naturally his “father” Tiberius was reputed to be not a little jealous of him, and if not the actual instigator of his death, was not unhappy either when it occurred.

Germanicus was widely believed to have been poisoned, and the finger of blame most often pointed to Tiberius as the secret Instigator of the plot against the popular champion, in collusion with his mother, the dreadful Livia.

Generally held to be the agents of Germanicus’ destruction were the arrogant troublesome Governor of Asia, Calpurnius Piso and his odious wife Plancina.

Dando-Colllins takes us through the events and their ongoing aftermath in the years that followed, drawing mainly on Tacitus and Suetonius to do so, occasionally drawing on Dio or Josephus for a little variety. Seneca is quoted more and more frequently in the later portions of the book, especially when dealing with Nero‘s reign.


Indeed, it is Dando-Collin’s contention that the murder of Germanicus precipitated a chain of events that led ultimately to the fall of the Roman empire. Had it not occurred he posits, history would have been very different indeed, and theorises that the Roman Empire could have expanded far beyond the limits it occupied, both in time and space. Perhaps they would have discovered America? Perhaps the Empire would be still going to this day?

Personally I’m not so sure. Sure individual Emperor’s personal qualities had an effect on events, but the broad current of history would have swept on pretty much the same course. The Huns would still appear. Plagues would still ravage the population. Christianity would probably still have come into its time, in one form or another. There is no compelling reason to believe that the Roman Empire’s course would have been markedly different had Germanicus lived. His descendants would probably still have been creeps. People like to play this “what-if-?” game with Alexander the Great too. What if he’d lived long enough to sail a fleet around Africa? What if he turned West and fought the Romans? Who would have won? A rich field for historical novels indeed, but we are supposed to be looking for the facts here ma’am. Just the facts.

So who dunnit? Mr Dando-Collins eschews the usual suspects of Tiberius, Sejanus, Livia, Piso & Plancina and goes off in a surprising direction and posits a conspiracy of two hitherto unsuspected actors. To save future readers some suspense I will name only one of his two nominees and that is Agrippina, Germanicus’s wife. Agrippina is generally held by the ancient sources to have been fiercely loyal to Germanicus, but it was also recognised that she was highly ambitious. This is the key to Mr Dando-Collins plot. Frustrated by Germanicus’ steadfast refusal to take power from Tiberius, he theorises that Agrippina decided to remove Germanicus as an obstacle to her ambitions and move her own children up the rungs towards imperial succession. Her accomplice? A smooth talking young Roman intellectual with no principles, who has been languishing in Alexandria, dreaming of power. (Guess who?)

As the author goes over the historical records looking for clues (mainly plundering Suetonius and Tacitus), I found myself thinking of the plea of Simpson’s character, Lionel Hutz, Attorney-at-Law, when asked if he had any further evidence: “We’ve got lots of hearsay and conjecture your honour. They’re kind of evidence.”

Mr Dando-Collins outlines a plot that is feasible, but is it likely I ask? It seems a needlessly complicated plan to undertake when her husband is next in line to succession already and needs only wait awhile. And why team up with someone whose imperial claims were very scant? No, I’m not convinced.

My own theory? No-one poisoned Germanicus. He just happened to die then. Perhaps it was food poisoning or hepatitis from an unhygienic kitchen. Maybe he had diabetes or cancer or something. There was no autopsy. Germanicus thought some one had got to him, through poison or witchcraft or both, but it is a natural human reaction to look for someone to blame for unforeseen, catastrophic events. Some “Primitive” societies believe that all deaths are caused by sorcery, and Germanicus was reputed to be a superstitious man.

Piso had certainly been sent to be a thorn in Germanicus’s side but I think it unlikely he was sent to assassinate him. It seems strange behaviour to me to be openly seen in opposition to the victim you intend to poison. The poisoner’s usual modus operandi is to kill in secret, to not draw attention to oneself. Hence the poisoner is much more likely to pretend to be a friend, or at least to be neutral or uninvolved rather than to openly declare their malevolence. The author’s theory has that fact going for it at least.

More likely that Piso was set up to be the fall guy if murder it was, with Livia pulling the strings in the distance. (Tiberius wasn’t really a poison sort of guy- he much preferred the judicial murder). And as to who actually administered the fatal dose, it seems unlikely that we will ever know.


The Reverend’ll miss when he’s gone!



~ by reverendhellfire on March 6, 2011.

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