Depending on how much you believe the ancient scholars, the vices at Emperor Caligula’s court in ancient Rome ran the gamut from incest to poisoning, and that was just the emperor himself. Those who weren’t partying with him like it was 41 A.D. were trying to keep their heads down and escape notice. This was one era in history where you didn’t advance at court by attracting the sovereign’s attention. If you were unlucky enough to catch Caligula’s eye, he’d probably accuse you of treason, have you executed, sell your family into slavery and steal your wealth. It’s no wonder the Romans cursed Caligula and the horse he rode in on, which he’d deified the year before his assassination.
Reading about people living under such perilous circumstance gave me the idea for Mask of theGladiator. I wanted to write a story about two individuals caught up in the extraordinary events of their time, in this case, the tyrannical rule of Caligula and the assassination which brought it to an end. I also wanted to explore how love could help two people survive the danger and give them the courage to stand up to a tyrant.
I had a lot of fun researching ancient Rome and weaving my hero and heroine, Titus and Livia, into the historical record. It was challenging because, not only did I have to wade through a lot of bad ancient publicity about Caligula to get to the truth, but I also had to work within some predetermined constraints when crafting the story. For example, there are ancient accounts of Caligula’s assassination. While I wrote, I had to keep the accounts in mind so that Livia and Titus would be present when the daggers started flying. To add more realism to their story, I surrounded them with actual historical figures involved in the plot. Thankfully, ancient Rome is so well documented that it wasn’t difficult to gather names and details of the era. I was even able to pinpoint specific historical events that took place one year after the assassination and add them to Livia and Titus’ story.
By the time 41 A.D. drew to a close, there was a new emperor on the throne and a sense of peace and optimism for Rome’s future. The empire had survived the crazy antics of Tiberius and Caligula, and was starting to thrive under the stabling influence of Claudius. In an era when many people’s lives did not end with a happily ever after, it was fun to create a story where they did.