Background for Affairs of the Arena

Who doesn't love backstory?

So, this blog is (obviously) for promoting my new releases and sharing exciting deals and giveaways with you, but I also wanted to have some outlet for writing about Ancient Roman History because I’m a big nerd. Now, I’ve got a degree in History, but as really any person with a BA in History will tell you, mostly that is a degree celebrating you for how well you can create an argument, and not necessarily how well you can research (This is true, I feel, for really any sort of BA). Not to throw anyone under the bus out there—arguing well is really hard, and takes a considerable amount of research to do well.  But, it’s only really at the MA and Doctorate level that super in-depth research gets to a truly scholarly level. So, as Dan Carlin (of Hardcore History) says all the time: I’m not a historian, I’m just a fan of history.

For my first blog post of this kind, I wanted to get into some of the history behind the Affairs of the Arena series.

We start in the late 190s A.D., or C.E., or whatever is most appropriate (see? Not a historian). At this time, a guy named Septimus Severus is Emperor. He was a rather ruthless man, who used the chaos after the death of Commodus to ascend to the throne.

So I’m going to stop there because I can already feel the haze start to form over your eyes. I find this sort of thing ENTHRALLING but I get why others don’t. It’s a bunch of old white dudes in togas and who cares?

Well, it’s NOT exactly old white dudes in togas. Severus was from North Africa and is frequently noted to have dark skin. Which I think is kind of awesome—Rome didn’t really have our modern concepts of racism (which didn’t develop until WAY later), and so long as someone was capable and a citizen (which was REALLY hard/infrequent at the time), they could rise up through the ranks without any prejudice based on skin color. Now, this isn’t to say there wasn’t prejudice; Rome was one of the most classist, elitist societies that has ever existed. But there wasn’t all the weirdness we have that revolves around pigmentation.

Severus gets a bad rap from a lot of people because he was super militant and devalued the Roman currency. This had the duel effect of A.) Enforcing the idea that it was the military who kept people in power and B.) making it really, really hard to effectively pay the military later on down the road. What THAT means is that, until Diocletian takes power some eighty-odd years later, the military is pretty much in charge.

There’s this whole fascinating part of Roman history called “The Crisis of the 3rd Century” in which basically the military keeps putting people in power and then chucking them out when they don’t get paid enough. To get more payment FOR the military, Emperors keep printing coins…but there’s only a finite amount of actual silver and gold to provide for these coins. It’s problems town, and Rome never really rebounded.

But, I tend to like Severus, if only because he’s not Commodus, who was probably the worst Emperor in Roman History (outside of perhaps Severus’s son, Caracalla, who is a whole OTHER can of worms of bad).

Commodus came after the Reign of the “Five Good Emperors,” which was essentially a century-long golden age for Rome that established them as the Emperor-led superpower that we know this Imperial form as today. Commodus was crazy. Super crazy. Crazier than a whole factory full of crazy glue.

Some examples:

  • He was born Marcus Aurelius Commodus. He died (after renaming himself numerous times) Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus Augustus Herculeus Romanus Exsuperatorius Amazonius Invictus Felix Pius. That is, even for a Roman Emperor, way too many names.
  • He renamed the Roman calendar months. The new names corresponded with his OWN names—all twelve of them.
  • When part of Rome burned down (a recurring problem), he took the opportunity to rename it as Colonia Lucia Annia Commodiana, as well as renaming Senators, Legions, and the like to various forms of “Commodus.”
  • He thought he was the reincarnation of Hercules, going so far as to wear a dead lion pelt around his body and carrying a great giant club with him when he had to pass judgments on people who petitioned him for favors and the like.
  • Just imagine the above for a minute. Imagine going to petition the most powerful man in an Empire, and he’s dressed in a lion pelt with a gigantic club.
  • No, really, HE THOUGHT HE WAS HERCULES. He had statues drawn up to make him look more Herculean.
  • He fought as a gladiator in the Colosseum. As Hercules. (His opponents would have dulled or wooden weapons, so he was never really in harm’s way. I guess his Hercules powers were contingent on never ever once being tested?)
  • So, Severus didn’t kill Commodus, but like a lot of Romans at the time, he was probably thinking about it. He provided a lot of stability and success to Rome at a time when it needed exactly that, even if his sons almost immediately ruined it.


I write Historical Romance, the most recent of which (in terms of release day, at any rate) are the Affairs of the Arena series. Heart of the GladiatorLove of the Gladiator, and Desire of the Gladiator are all available NOW and are on Kindle Unlimited.

Get in touch with me at Twitter @LydiaPax or on Facebook. I’m always delighted to talk with fans.

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