When I began thinking about the subject of the third novel in the Gaius Valerius Verrens series, my first object was to get Valerius back into uniform. In Hero of Rome he had been the rather immature young Roman officer of a type that was certainly common throughout the Empire’s armies, but a man forced to grow up quickly in the balefire of Boudicca’s rebellion. It turned out that he excelled at warfare, and I knew I’d taken a risk in making Defender of Rome a much more nuanced, political novel of betrayal and intrigue.
Judaea which was just coming to boiling point in the mid to late 60s AD seemed to be the natural environment for the new novel, but during my researches for the earlier books I’d come across an intriguing figure, General Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo. At the time, Corbulo was Rome’s most successful general; better known than Suetonius Paulinus, conqueror of Boudicca, and even the future Emperor Vespasian. He was also hailed for his loyalty to his Emperor; even Tiridates, King of Armenia, whom Corbulo had twice defeated, told Nero that he had no more loyal commander.
So why did Nero order his most successful and loyal soldier to commit suicide, an order Corbulo complied with because the alternative was the disgrace and impoverishment of his family? That, I thought, was a question worth trying to answer. So in Avenger of Rome Valerius takes ship for the east, and Antioch, where Corbulo rules almost as an Emperor in his own right. Yet I very quickly discovered I had a problem. By the time Valerius reaches Antioch, Corbulo’s campaigns in Armenia and Parthia had been fought and won. Where was the great battle I knew had to be at the heart of this book?
After debating long and hard over the ethics of rewriting history, I decided the answer was to take the political situation in Rome and the east and create a crisis; a plausible crisis that the events of the time could very easily have created. This in turn would lead to a battle that I would have to create from scratch in my imagination. The first question was: where would it be fought? It could have been a huge dilemma, yet my first check of Google earth in the utterly remote region where the armies would meet presented it to me on a plate. The perfect place to fight a defensive battle against huge odds. A place I call the Cepha gap. It seemed impossible, but there it was, this narrow valley running through the mountains, the perfect highway for an invader and a dagger into the heart of Armenia. Valerius had his battle, and I had my book.