Gaius Verres was an asshole. He persecuted the Roman citizens that he was supposed to be ruling. He exploited a disaster on the mainland in order to line his own coffers, by accusing locals of harbouring escaped slaves. A man who stood up to him was so badly beaten that he died from his injuries. Another was crucified in sight of the mainland, taunting him with the knowledge that he died almost, but not quite out of the jurisdiction of the man who’d had him killed.
The people of Sicily got their revenge in the end, when they hired the young, up-and-coming litigator Cicero to plead their corruption case against their former governor. Cicero went for Verres like a man possessed. We know this because we still have the transcripts of his court-room arguments: a scathing, sarcastic series of personal attacks published as the Verrine Orations. Cicero never got to deliver them all because Verres, realising that bribes wouldn’t save him, fled the country, but Cicero was so keen on taking him down that he published the rest of his notes anyway.
The accusations from the Verrine Orations read like a…. well, like a proposal for a tie-in novel for Spartacus: Vengeance. As Spartacus terrorises the mainland, Verres uses his own position as governor of Sicily to exploit the disaster. He accuses locals of harbouring escaped slaves, and confiscates their property on trumped-up charges. He puts an incompetent crony in charge of his anti-pirate fleet, so that he can steal the man’s wife. The newly appointed admiral is so useless that the pirates actually attack Syracuse harbour.
My novel Spartacus: Swords & Ashes had to take place during the first season of the TV series, just before Verres took office in Sicily. But the temptation was irresistible to treat it as a prelude to the Verrine Orations. Why would Cicero be so keen to take Verres down after the Spartacus War? Could it be that they had met before, in a story unmentioned in the history books?
One of the stand-out characters in the Verrine Orations is Timarchides, a freed slave who works as Verres’ hatchet-man, intimidating witnesses, beating up rivals, and purloining government property for parties and orgies. For a story like that of Spartacus, obsessed with the state of slavery and what it means for human beings, what kind of man would Timarchides have been? How would he feel about having won his freedom, and what sort of attitude would he have to those who were still slaves?
So I put all three of them into Swords & Ashes. Gaius Verres, the newly-appointed governor of Sicily, ready to frisk the province for all it’s got. Timarchides his right-hand man, a former gladiator who despises slaves. And Cicero, the good-hearted young investigator, who comes to Neapolis on senatorial business. All are thrown into new intrigues at the funeral games of a noted local lanista, whose Capuan colleague Batiatus is providing the gladiators… including his celebrity warrior, Spartacus.
What could possibly go wrong…?
J.M. Clements is the author of Spartacus: Swords & Ashes, out now in the US in paperback and on the Kindle. It is released in the UK on 27th January.