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Phases of the Moon

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Pompeii, in the eighth year of the consulship of the emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus Augustus and the sixth year of the consulship of the emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus Caesar (77 A.D.)

Someone was hovering in the doorway behind her. Seline turned her head to see young Gnaeus.

Domina, it’s the Patronus.”

“In the atrium?” she asked, in those careful, cool patrician tones that she had cultivated for so many years.

“No, domina. He sent a message.” The boy held it out, a slim scroll tied with a scarlet thread. She handed it to her secretary, and nodded to Gnaeus to return to his duties.

Helenos unrolled the note, and, at her nod, read it aloud: The Praetor Lucius Divius Lucianus requires that you journey to Rome and attend him at his house on the Ides of Februaria at the twelfth hour.

She could have been angry at the presumption that her time was his—except that, of course, it was. It did surprise her, though, that he wished her in Rome. He came to the House of the Moon whenever he visited Pompeii. But it was he who, years ago, had required her to leave the capitol.

Seline finished the accounts with Helenos, went to give instructions to the girls, and then retired to her own room. She would need to hire a cart and guards, and take her maid. Where should she stay in Rome? She was sure Lucius would not want a whore under the same roof as his young daughter. Indeed, the thought affronted her, if only on Divia’s behalf.

The trip was no easier than she had expected, though she had sufficient coin to secure good lodgings, at least. She washed and rested for a few hours, and let her maid dress her hair and help her with her clothes. If she was visiting the domus of the Divian family, it would be her best silk tunic under the scarlet cloak despite the season.

She directed the litter bearers to the front, and minced in her thick cork-soled sandals to the broad, high door. The doorman showed her in, waving her slaves round to the back; and she was shown through to the atrium. Despite having made the appointment himself, it seemed that Lucius was unavailable; but she was treated as a guest: a slave brought a tray with a jug of wine and honey cakes, setting it on a table. She waited, sipping and nibbling, allowing herself only glances at the finely painted walls and the intricate mosaic floor. She had not been in the domus before, but she had her dignity.

After a while, she rose and took a gracious turn around the pool, dropping a few sestercii into the votive dish as she came to the lararium set into the wall, for it would do no good to offend the gods of the house. There was a marble bust: she thought, from the resemblance, it might be old Divius, Lucius’s father. Through the arch she could see that the study was empty; beyond she could see just a glimpse of the outer courtyard, and the sound of a child’s voice, clear and high against the background murmur from the service rooms.

Divia, she thought. There was a pang of regret for the child she had given to Lucius and then seen…nevermore. A clean break, he had said. She had known that, for the sake of her daughter’s respectability, he was right: he had not adopted the daughter of an acknowledged concubina but the child of a meretrix: it was best the girl grow up in her father’s house and forget her infancy.

It therefore came as a surprise to Seline that, when the heavy door was unbarred and heaved open for the return of the master, Lucius greeted her rather too abruptly for manners and took her through to the courtyard, saying that he wanted her to meet their daughter.

The light was fading, and there were lamps lit in several of the rooms. The child, wearing two tunics for warmth, was tossing a ball back and forth with a pair of slave girls only a few years older than she was. She looked taken aback when Lucius snapped at them to return to their duties and called her over; yet he did not chide her for wasting their time, but simply said that he wanted her to meet someone.

“This is Seline,” he said simply, offering no further description.

The girl looked her shrewdly up and down. “Is she a new slave for me?” she asked her father. “Or is she for you?”

“She is a friend of mine!” said Lucius sharply. “Mind your manners when you speak to her, filia mea.”

“Yes, Pater,” said Divia. But she did not sound as contrite as she should have done, given the insult to Seline’s libertas. At her age, she could surely not have guessed the lena’s profession; yet the look she gave Seline was not one that she would have been expected from a well-raised child to a silk-gowned woman.

“That’s a lovely ball you have, Divilla,” she said, deliberately using the diminutive. Indeed, it was made of thin, soft leather, sewn in sections each dyed distinctly: red, blue, green, and yellow. “Is it one that bounces, or stuffed with wool?”

“Oh, it can bounce,” said Divia, with a child’s glee, and demonstrated on the tiled floor. The ball went a little awry on the return; and Seline caught it, turned it in her hands to see the neat, small stitching, and then tossed it lightly back.

So much finer, she thought, than the toys of my childhood.

Rome, in the consulship of Gaius Pompeius Longus Gallus and Quintus Veranius Nepos (49 A.D.)

Paulla had no idea that she would grow into a beauty. She ran barefoot in her ragged tunic, playing in the alleys like the other Tiber brats, with pebbles for knucklebones and a knot of rags tied tight for a ball. She fought the gang from two insulae down the road, snatched an apple when the fruit-seller tripped on the ill-kept cobbles, and pulled up her skirt to piss in the gutter when the latrina was occupied—and no one minded, for no one cared, except her mother who, now and then, took a comb to her hair to get the lice out.

She had a knack for mimicry. When she aped Manius Perpernus, she caught not only the butcher’s limp but his lisp. She was taunting the water-bearer Ovius with his own Oscan accent the day that the procurer Labienus caught sight of her. He could have sent a bully-boy to steal her; but he was a law-abiding man, made inquiry as to her identity, and then approached her father.

It had never occurred to Paulla that she might be sold, largely because, child-like, she never considered the future beyond tomorrow. She had always known that her father was a man who cared for little except the wineskin. It was her mother who cried, but—as she said while Labienus counted out the coin—Paulla would be well fed and warm in winter (which was certainly not true at home); and probably she would not be beaten unless she misbehaved.

“So mind you pay attention,” she warned the child, “and do as you are told.”

Labienus took his new property away, held firmly by the hand. Paulla never saw her family again.

As Divia left with her nurse, Seline could not help but think that, for all that he had decided on this surprising reunion, at no point in their meeting had Lucius told his daughter the truth of their relationship. To refer to her as “friend” was flattery, given her position. Still, she hoped there was some measure of truth in it. For a while, indeed, he had been much to her: more than patron, though less than lover.

“She seems a well-grown, healthy daughter. You must be proud,” she said, with the formality that, nowadays, seemed appropriate between them.

“Thank you,” he replied.

They returned to his office, where he seated himself. She stood, as a client should; but he gestured to another stool.

“I need to talk to you about Divia,” he began, rather abruptly, as was his wont. “I want you to take her back to Pompeii. To live with you.”

If he had ordered the doorman to toss her in the pool she could not have been more shocked or chilled. He had adopted their daughter. Lucius could not…he could not…repudiate the child and send her packing. She was a part of his family now: Seline had no legal claim on her. What offence could the girl have committed that her father would send her to a brothel?

Her face was schooled by two decades of whoredom; still, something of her feelings must have shown.

“No, no,” Lucius said quickly. “She is…very precious to me.” He seemed almost embarrassed by the admission. “But…have you heard of the latest trouble in Gaul?”

Tongues wagged when the wine flowed, and words spilled on the pillow as semen did on the sheets. Still, she had not heard of new trouble from the northern provinces.

“Is it the Batavians again?” she asked.

“Another tribe,” he said, “a little further up the Rhine. You have the right of it, though: that whole border with Germania Magna is a running sore. We will have to teach them a lesson, once and for all.”

She looked at him, seeing his chin lifted, the pride swelling.

“You go to war,” she said.

“I have been chosen General,” he said, glowing with the honour of it. “I have two of Cerialis’s old legions under my command, the Eighth and the Eleventh. I ride to join them: Lucipor is packing even now. But,” his face shadowed, “there is my Divia. Our Divia,” he amended. “She is a mere child, and I have no wife.”

He paused, seeming unsure of himself, which was utterly out of character. Seline waited.

“What am I to do with her?” Lucius asked rhetorically. “Oh, I could send her to my family estates, of course; but there is no one there to supervise her properly. I would send her to my mother, if she had not died. As for relatives, my cousin Marcianus has never approved of the adoption, nor has Divius Bessus.” He trailed off. “I cannot leave her with any of my family, you see,” he said, with appeal in his voice. “I fear how they would treat her.”

“You have friends in Rome,” she said, measuring her words.

“But,” he admitted, “no certainty that they would raise her as I would wish. I do not choose my friends for their children.”

This hardly surprised her. His family might be provincial in origin, their villae to the north of Italia; but they were wealthy and ambitious, and had long since moved the household to the capital. Lucius Divius Lucianus was a name she expected to see in the consul list in a few years—especially if his military campaign was crowned with the success he expected. As, indeed, she had no doubt it would be.

“I turn to you,” he said simply.

“Managing a lupanar is a full time job,” she pointed out.

“My daughter need never set foot—should never set foot—in the brothel itself,” he said. “You have a domus. I purchased it myself: next door to the brothel, for your private use. You have a separate household.”

She could not deny this. He had always been generous.

Rome, from the consulship of the emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus and Cossus Cornelius Lentulus (60 A.D.) to the consulship of Gaius Memmulus Regulus and Lucius Verginius Rufus (63 A.D.)

It was Mamilius, the leno to whom Paulla was sold, who eventually decided that she should work under the name Seline. This was several years after he had purchased her, for Mamilius pimped women of marriageable age, and not children. Until then, Paulla learned to serve as ancilla ornatrix to the lovely Amphitrite—curling and plaiting and pinning, and listening as she talked about her clients and their expectations, how some liked to slum among the plebs while others sought cut-price famosae. It was no trouble for Seline to recall her guttersnipe childhood; but, with her elegant, patrician looks, it served her better to mimic the bearing and accent of the upper class. Even women of rank could be harlots under the covers.

Seline first met the younger Divius Lucianus at a party to which Mamilius was contracted to provide six girls, all pretty and none over eighteen. He was with a troop of tribunes, merry with drink and high spirits. She was assigned to share his couch, and fed him grapes from her own lips, which amused him. He asked her name, and came to the lupanar to buy her time. He became rather a favourite of hers, in so far as any whore has favourites. Then he was appointed quaestor, and sent as paymaster to the Fifth Legion.

It was almost a year later that Amphitrite bought herself free, to everyone’s surprise. It had never occurred to Seline to save her tips, though clients could shower small change when they were in a generous mood. Like the other girls, she had always spent the coins as they came. Her peculia were perfume bottles, hairpins, and cheap jewellery. She had no nest-egg.

“You must look ahead,” Amphitrite scolded her. “In a dozen years at the most, you will be too old for a high-class house like this. Do you want to finish under the arches, lifting your tunic for a couple of obols?”

A dozen years was too far ahead for Seline to care. Then. But by the time Divius Lucianus returned from the provinces it was another matter. She had seen Thaïs and Metellina, Larentia and Caenis, all leave the lupanar; and none of them had bought herself free, nor found a rich, besotted patron.

Divius Lucianus took a position in the administration that afforded him ample opportunity to make useful connections. In his spare time, he resumed his visits to Mamilius’s house, where his favourite girl still worked. She set herself to please him. A few months later, he bought her and set her up in a fine apartment on the lower floor of an insula in the better part of town, with three slaves to care for her rooms and a large allowance for food and clothes. He visited her almost daily: her life revolved around the hours when he was expected. She was a slave; yet he treated her as a cherished mistress. They billed and cooed like a pair of doves. If she stinted on the housekeeping and secreted half her allowance in a locked box, this in no way lessened her affection.

The move to Pompeii might have been her father’s decree, but Divia did not care a whit for that. Her awe and love for her father held her in check until his chariot had clattered over the cobbles, round the corner and out of sight; but she then protested loudly that she could see no reason why she could not remain alone at home while he was in Gaul. Seline did not argue. She simply pointed out that Lucius’s orders were clear and he was paterfamilias. Perversely, once they were on the road, sheer novelty kept the child out of trouble. Lucius had never taken her out of the city, and even the fields and orchards were an amusement.

Once in Pompeii, it was different. After her father’s palatial domus, Selene’s more modest house offended the child’s self importance. She found the courtyard cramped, her bedroom small, and the food—despite the expensive and well-trained cook—to be far less interesting and varied than at home. Oh, she was not an unbiddable child, provided the orders she was given marched with her own intentions. Nevertheless, although her father had explicitly told her, in Seline’s presence, that she was under the woman’s authority, Divia clearly did not consider that a stranger had the right to instruct the routine of her day

There were bounds to her disobedience. Lucius had never permitted her to go abroad alone; and so it did not occur to Divia to venture across the threshold into the street. She quickly realized, though, that Seline had, for convenience, had a door inserted in the wall between the two buildings, joining their wings; and curiosity impelled her to try to discover what lay on the other side. The door had always been left unlocked during the day; now Seline had to carry the key at all times.

Of course, she was herself in the office at the lupanar for much of the daylight hours, and thereafter in the atrium to greet clients and supervise their liaisons. For her slaves it was worse. Divia pestered them with questions they were under orders not to answer. And, although her old nurse, maid, and tutor had joined the household, she ignored the first, slapped the second, and played truant from the last. Imperiously, she ordered sweetmeats between meals, required the slaves to interrupt their work to play with her, and ordered the pond in the courtyard emptied so that she could see if there were fish in it, as her father had at home. When she ordered Strabo, the cook, whipped for not serving fresh melon out of season, Seline had to impose her authority. Divia was sent to her room; and, when she refused, was carried there by the doorman and locked in.

Rome, from the consulship of Gaius Licinius Mucianus and Quintus Fabius Barbarus Antonius Macer (consules suffecti) (64 A.D.) to the consulship of Servus Galba Imperator Caesar Augustus and Titus Vinius Ruvinus (69 A.D)

When Seline was pregnant, Lucius manumitted her, saying that he wanted their child to be born a free Roman citizen. She had the best midwife, though the birth was hard. After her recovery, she paid for a wet nurse so that her breasts would not be spoiled. Yet still she found that the frequency of his attentions declined: it was, perhaps, in part, the interruption of the crying child, which would put any man off, she was sure.

He continued to pay her expenses. However, without his regular visits, she resumed her old occupation, renting a room in which to meet her clients. If Lucius knew, he said nothing. He was increasingly busy advancing his political career: perhaps he was glad of her independence of him. She suspected that his father was pressing him to marry.

As their little Lucia found her feet and babble turned to words, Lucius regained his interest in their household. Indeed, most days, he managed to squeeze out time to drop by, usually in the late afternoon, well before the hour when Seline would leave to entertain a client. He tickled his daughter’s toes, and threw her up in the air, giggling with glee. He brought her a rag doll, and a wooden horse on wheels to pull round the floor by its string; and, when she was three, he bought her a Gaulish girl of seven, to be her maid and her companion.

Three months later, he arrived, heart heavy with the news of the revolt in Germania Inferior, took the girl away, and replaced her with a young Jew. He would not, he said, for safety’s sake, have a potential rebel near his precious Lucilla. Seline did not protest that Boudilatis was a mere child, nor that Judaea had its own disaffected. He was too shaken by the destruction of the Fifth Legion, too aware of the deaths of so many men he had known when he was their paymaster. The truth was that he simply could not bear to see yellow braids near his baby’s fair curls. In any case, though Lucilla cried for a day or two, she quickly became used to Shifra; so it made no difference.

The following year, old Divius Lucianus died of mal aria. Seline assumed that, as the new head of the family, Lucius would feel duty-bound to marry. Furthermore, he was now of age to run for aedile, which meant that he had to cultivate men of senatorial rank to gain the appointment; and more than one of them must surely have a daughter of marriageable age. She waited, expecting any day to be told that he would come no more, hoping—if only for Lucilla’s sake—that he would provide a generous pension.

That day, he lingered, playing with Lucilla; and she knew that he was saying goodbye. She could not look away from him lest she miss their last moments together, and dreaded the farewell when it came time for him came to leave. But then he abruptly put the child aside, telling Shifra to take her to her room, and turned to Seline to say, “I want to adopt her. Officially. As my legal daughter, and part of my family.”

How could she refuse? But then, when he explained what it meant, that he would take Lucilla away, raise her in the Divian household, change her name…. Oh, then she cried inside, as her mother once had cried openly—though she knew she should be joyful at her child’s good fortune.

“It would be best if she never sees you again,” he concluded. “I will pay you well,” he added. “If you leave Rome.”

After a day without food, Divia was more contrite; but there was a sly look to her eye when she was let out, and Seline instructed her staff to inform her of any attempt at retribution. A day later, the cook was scalded when Divia, visiting the kitchen ostensibly for the amusement of seeing dinner prepared, managed somehow to overturn a pot of soup on him. Seline beat her with a switch—not especially hard or long; but, from the outraged look on the child’s face, for the first time in her life.

A week after the beating, Seline found that her best silk tunic had been slashed repeatedly with a knife. The expensive material was quite ruined: at the most, some narrow lengths could be salvaged to sew into borders. When confronted with the evidence, Divia did not deny her guilt. She simply informed Seline, in a flat cold voice, that it was only her father who had true authority over her.

Divia had a jointed ivory doll with tunic and stolla and palla in the same fine cloth as the girl’s own clothes. Seline burned it in the brazier in the atrium, and made the girl watch until the last spark had flared and dimmed.

“When my father comes he will whip you,” the child whispered.

“I am not a slave,” Seline reminded her, in a voice that was quiet but hard. “Remember, Divia, it was he who placed you in my care. I act for him in all my dealings with you.”

Pompeii, in the consulship of Servus Galba Imperator Caesar Augustus II and Titus Vinius Ruvinus (69 A.D)

Once Seline had decided on Pompeii, she lost no time in making arrangements for the move. Lucius instructed his steward to purchase adjoining houses in a decent part of town, and provided her with funds to decorate and staff them as she chose. The property was deeded to her, with the proviso that, as liberta, she owed him a portion of her profits.

Seline purchased house slaves as necessary; but, for the lupanar, she hired free meretrices, selecting those who were still young but experienced, with wit and education, well able to converse with and amuse the clientele she hoped to attract. The House of the Moon, as she called it, became the most exclusive brothel in Pompeii.

Most years Lucius came—to visit with friends, he said. He always found time to drop in at the House of the Moon, and not always in company. He never went upstairs with any of the girls. Instead, he sat talking with their lena. He was an honoured guest, whether he chose to share her bedroom or not; but he never stayed long.

His daughter did not come with him to Pompeii: his visits were for political gain and personal pleasure. Seline asked him regularly for news of Lucilla, as she still thought of her. “Divia,” he corrected. In time, to stop his annoyance, she accustomed herself to the change.

News from the war came slowly, and the campaign continued far too long. Lucius wrote, as regularly as could be in the circumstances. Helenos read each letter aloud to Seline, but she read between the lines for herself: he was certain of victory, and enjoyed war, yet he missed the daily sight of his daughter. To her surprise, she saw too that he missed his visits to Pompeii and the House of the Moon. He still cared: she had never realized.

She had Helenos read the letters to Divia, and knew the girl was grateful to hear from her father. Invariably, each scroll concluded with an exhortation to his daughter to obey the lena as she would himself—words that Selene, at least, was satisfied to hear.

Divia decided to write; and Seline enclosed the letter with one she dictated to Helenos. It would take weeks to be delivered to the General on campaign; but they both knew that he would welcome news from home, just as they craved word from him.

And so a truce was signed—in Pompeii, if not in Gaul. Whether this was because Divia heeded her father’s orders, or whether she simply did not wish to risk another taste of the switch, Seline did not know. However, when her charge had behaved herself for a week, she instructed Strabo—whose blisters had now peeled to leave shiny patches of pink—to make a plate of the girl’s favourite sweetmeats. Young Gnaeus brought them into the courtyard on a tray, with a pair of water-clear glass goblets and a striped jug of fruit juice. Spring was warm in the air; and, as they ate under the budding rose, Seline remarked that perhaps a few fish in the pond might not be a bad idea.

Over the next few months, Divia behaved remarkably well, considering her age and upbringing. All she had needed, thought Seline with some complacency, was the firm hand that her father had failed to provide. It seemed as though, at last, she had regained her daughter after so many years apart, albeit only while the campaign continued in the north.

If, at times, she caught an almost calculating look in the girl’s eye, she dismissed the notion.

Pompeii, in the ninth year of the consulship of Imperator Caesar Vespasianus Augustus (followed by the consulship of Caesar Domitianus, consul suffectus) and the seventh year of the consulship of Imperator Titus Caesar Vespasianus (79 A.D.)

Early in the month of Martius, Divia fell ill. This was well before the Emperor Vespasian died; but, by the time his son assumed the purple, Seline was so distraught over her daughter that she scarcely heeded the change of power.

At first, the child’s fever was not severe, though she lost appetite and weight, and suffered a lethargy that was unlike her. She was dosed by her nurse, who thought it the usual winter decline which would pass with fresh food in the shops. Nevertheless, Seline sent for the most fashionable doctor in Pompeii, who examined Divia’s nails, lifted her eyelids, and took her pulse. He compounded medicine (which Divia could barely be brought to swallow for it tasted vile), and told Shifra to bruise sage, soak it, and bathe her young mistress in the solution. Prayers were made to Aesculapius for her recovery.

The next doctor recommended a paste of garlic applied to the soles of the feet, and a tincture of rosemary in wine—the best wine, he stipulated—to which were to be added two drops of his own medicinal distillate, to be taken thrice daily. In addition, Seline ordered a sacrifice at the temple.

It troubled her what to tell Lucius in the letters she dictated to Helenos. Correspondence could so easily go astray. She did not want him to read of Divia’s illness but miss the news of her recovery. In any case, concern over his daughter would distract him from his military duties. So she debated with herself each time she sent a letter; and, each time, decided yet again that she should omit any mention of Divia’s health.

By midsummer, she had hired most of the medical practitioners in Pompeii, whether Roman, Assyrian, Greek, or Jew. Her steward had scoured the apothecaries for herbs (alas that silphium, specific against so many ills, was unavailable nowadays at any price); and she offered freedom to any of her staff who could locate a healer actually capable of effecting a cure.

The summer heat was oppressive. Divia’s fever grew; and she could not eat at all. Shifra stayed by her side, moistening her brow with a sponge, and trying to get her to sip honeyed water. Seline left her office, time and again, to check on the child; but there was no improvement. Helenos fetched the latest doctor, a urologist. There was little in the chamber pot for him to examine, nor had it recently been emptied: he looked worried.

It was Strabo who told Seline the rumours of a recluse living some miles to the north of the city who was reputed to have strange powers. She sent Gnaeus with a message and a gift of gold. He returned safely, talking of an aged man with wizard’s eyes. Seline began negotiating the price for his services. He feigned reluctance, so it proved to be high: ten healthy slaves in their prime. By that time, though, she would have sold the lupanar itself to save her daughter.

The old man arrived long after sunset. He wore a heavy hooded cloak that should have been intolerably hot; but his hand was dry and cool as he laid it on her arm. It felt like a lizard’s claw, and she drew back. Even indoors, he did not throw back the hood; and his face remained in shadow, though his eyes glinted in the lamp light. She could see enough to tell that the skin of his face was stretched thin over the bones, as happens with the very old. Under the cloak, his clothes were cut to a strange pattern, and the cloth was best Egyptian cotton. More than anything else, that gave her hope that he might be privy to foreign mysteries.

“Doctor,” she began; but he interrupted. “I am a healer, but by the rites of my own people. You may call me Qa’ra.”

Whether this was his name or his title she could not tell, and did not bother to ask. She took him to see his patient. Unlike the doctors of Pompeii, he did not go through the usual ritual of examination. His form of healing did not require it, he told her; and there was true authority in his voice.

He insisted on being left alone with the girl.

Proprieties be damned, Seline thought; and she chivvied out the old nurse, and Gnaeus with his tray, and poor devoted Shifra; and she locked the door so that no one would interrupt. And then she had a stool brought; and she sat outside the door, waiting, her ear bent to catch every sound. She expected chanted prayers or psalms to a foreign god, the scent of incense or the reek of asafœtida. She heard nothing. She smelled nothing.

She waited.

At one point, Qa’ra spoke. His voice was deep and sonorous; but she could not make out the words through the door. She thought she heard her daughter respond; but the child’s voice was weak from illness, and she could not be sure. The temptation to unlock the door and go in was great; but she resisted. Qa’ra had said that his treatment required complete privacy; and one did not interrupt magic.

It was nearly dawn when the door finally opened. Seline rose swiftly, eager to hear what the ancient healer had to say.

“She sleeps,” he said. “All day, I believe. She has taken the first, essential nourishment,” a statement that puzzled Seline, “and will need fresh food, which you must provide. I will go now; but I will return.”

Seline had many questions; but, even as she opened her mouth to demand an explanation, something in the dark eyes chilled her to silence. She accompanied Qa’ra to the outer door of the domus and let him out. The sky was just starting to lighten; and he would not return, he said, until after sunset: Divia would sleep; and she should not disturb her.

It proved to be a long day. Divia did indeed sleep, behind the locked door. Seline could content herself only with the reminder that she knew where Qa’ra lived and, if he proved to be a fraud, she would go before the magistrate and sue for the price of the slaves she had paid him.

He returned, though well after sunset. He disappeared behind the locked door. And then, once again sitting outside, Seline heard Divia’s voice, raised in the normal irritation that the girl always showed when shaken awake by her nurse.

Close through the door, she heard Qa’ra say, “Have one of the maids enter.”

It was Shifra who insisted on carrying in the tray, loaded with tidbits prepared by Strabo to tempt the invalid. Seline would have followed; but Qa’ra’s arm shot from under the cloak, barred her path, and shut the door—all so fast that she had no time to protest.

She herself washed Shifra’s corpse. She noted the injuries, and understood what they meant. The poor girl had served her mistress well to the end. So Seline used her own paints to cover the marks, and arranged for the proper rites in the Jewish faith and decent burial in their cemetery. She told the household that the gods had required a life for a life, which was true: if they suspected blood sacrifice, the outward signs were disguised; and, if they suspected poison, they had no proof. In the end, they said nothing. A master has the right to dispose of a slave as he wills: Shifra had been property. Though the laws of Claudius now made it murder to kill her, none of the household dared lay a complaint. Prudently, she gave Strabo the promised manumission. He took the peculium he had saved and left Pompeii as quickly as he could.

For a month, Qa’ra came each night and took Divia away with him. She always returned well before dawn. Where they went and what they did Seline guessed, at least in essence. She should have shuddered at the true price she had paid for her daughter’s life. Yet somehow, when Divia’s eyes held hers, she realized that no price could be too high. She had lost her daughter once; she had feared to lose her twice.

She had yet to realize that she still had lost her child.

The war ended in triumph. The legions returned to their headquarters, and their general returned to Rome. The rebellion had been soundly crushed; the slave markets were full; the celebrations were lavish. People were already calling Lucius by the agnomen Martellus. “Hammer”, thought Seline, as she heard the news from the forum. The “Hammer of the Gauls”: a good nickname: he surely likes it.

That day, she saw Divia lurking in the shadows of the colonnade around the garden, holding her new doll. Seline called her to come and admire the last of the twice-flowering roses. It was warm in the sun, and the girl was too pale; yet, even under the strongest urging, Divia balked at joining her by the pool. That evening, Seline sat in the atrium with a light cloak over her tunic, and noted that Divia did not seem to feel the autumn chill.

Despite her pallor, her health is truly better, Seline thought. But I think I must be getting old.

Soon, she knew, Lucius would come to the House of the Moon to claim his daughter. And, as she thought this, she felt the earth move, just a tremor, as it does sometimes in Pompeii.

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1. “Phases of the Moon” is based on events in the flashback of the Forever Knight episode “A More Permanent Hell”, which is set in Seline’s brothel in Pompeii at the time of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the late fall of 79 A.D.

2. Slavery was the foundation of the Roman economy:  there were literally millions of slaves in Italy.  Many were born into slavery; others were purchased from overseas provinces; and, since the Empire was in an expansionist phase, every military campaign produced an influx of captives to be sold.  As well, a paterfamilias had enormous legal powers over his family.  Although it was frowned on, he could legally sell his children into slavery—a practice obviously more common among the poor.

3. There were few restrictions on what an owner could do with a slave.  However, by custom, slaves did have personal property, including money that they earned or received as gifts.  Skilled slaves could earn quite a lot, and were often permitted to use this money to purchase their freedom.  Others could be manumitted; and, in that case, they were customarily permitted to take their savings with them.

4. Freed slaves (liberti) did not become Roman citizens, and might still owe obligations to their previous owner.  However, their children would automatically be full citizens, with all the rights and duties that this status meant.  A Roman citizen who was sold into slavery was something of a special case, however, if s/he was subsequently manumitted.

By law, the child of a slave woman was free if she were herself free at any time during her pregnancy.

5. Prostitution was legal in ancient Rome, though an unlicensed prostitute was subject to fines.  Many prostitutes were slaves (and, if the owner decided to use a slave for this purpose the slave had no choice in the matter).  However, prostitutes came from all levels of society.  As a result, Latin has a wide range of terms for the profession, with an equally wide range of social acceptability.  Something of the same thing is true today:  a hooker is not a call girl.

Brothels were typically small, dirty places serving just the one purpose—to make money for the owner.  However, there were also high-status brothels, which were often situated quietly in well-off neighbourhoods.  Prostitutes could also be hired from a brothel to attend the guests at parties.

Rome in the first century A.D. was a bawdy place.  It was expected that unmarried (and many married) men used prostitutes, unless they were rich enough to keep an attractive slave for their own use.  Indeed, many women in that period enjoyed the same sexual freedom as men, especially among the upper classes.  Nevertheless, the virginity of an unmarried girl was always carefully guarded.

6. The tunic, worn shorter by men than women, was the basic garment for both sexes, and the usual clothing for children.  Over it, a married woman would wear a stola (a type of dress), over which might go a palla (a style of large shawl or cloak).  However, prostitutes were forbidden to wear stolae and instead wore scarlet togas, a distinctively draped cloak more usually associated with men.  This garb was a mark of their profession.

7. The Batavian revolt in 69 A.D. was a serious threat to the north-eastern portions of the Empire.  Two legions were destroyed outright, and two others controlled by the enemy.  The following year, a force several legions strong was mounted against them under the command of Quintus Petillius Cerialis; and the revolt was finally suppressed.  There is a map of the Rhine frontier at the time of the Batavian revolt on Wikipedia.

The Fifth Legion (in which I have Lucius earlier serve as paymaster) was indeed destroyed in the revolt.  However, the later rebellion that he is sent to suppress is fiction—though it is, of course canon, being mentioned in “A More Permanent Hell”.

8. The Romans used sundials, dividing the day into hours.  The twelfth hour (duodecima hora) was the hour before sunset.  The months of Februaria and Martius are our February and March.  The “Ides” was their name for the day in the middle of the month.


aedile – a moderately high position in the cursus honorum, with various administrative responsibilities in Rome – open only to former quaestors who were at least 36 years old
agnomen – nickname, normally tacked on at the end of the name – “victory titles” were quite common for successful generals
ancilla ornatrix – a slave girl who acts as a lady’s maid or hairdresser
atrium – main room of the house, with an open skylight in the centre over a pool to catch rainwater, which drained into an underground cistern – the family living room, so to speak, also where guests would be greeted
concubina – concubine (a recognized relationship, but outside formal marriage)
cursus honorum – sequence of public offices held by young men of high birth interested in a political career, a mixture of military and administrative posts
Domina – Mistress
domus – townhouse
famosa (sg.), famosae (pl.) – courtesan, usually of upper-class birth (literally “famous”)
filia mea – my daughter
insula (sg.), insulae (pl.) – apartment building
lararium – shrine to the gods of the household
latrina – public toilet
lena (f.), leno (m.) – owner or manager of a brothel
liberta (f.), libertus (m.), liberti (pl.) – freedwoman, freedman
libertas – state of being free (as opposed to slave)
lupanar – brothel
meretrix (sg.), meretrices (pl.) – self-employed free woman working as a prostitute, either from her own home or in a room rented at a brothel
obol – a small Greek coin – a diobolara (literally, a “two-obol-er”) was a cheap street-walker
patronus – patron
peculium (sg), peculia (pl.) – personal property of a slave or child – legally this belonged to their owner or father, but by custom was considered to be their own
quaestor – financial administrator, one of the middle steps in the cursus honorum
sestercius – a small coin
tribune – junior military officer, one of the early steps in the cursus honorum
villa (sg.), villae (pl.) – country house


Batavian Rebellion:
Gaul after Caesar – a Legacy of Rebellion
List of Roman legions - Wikipedia article
Revolt of the Batavi - Wikipedia article

Children’s Toys in Ancient Rome:
The Ideal Roman Ball
Toys, Games and Pets – Ancient Rome for Kids

Hebrew Names for Girls
List of Roman Gentes - Wikipedia article
Name Constructions in Gaulish
Praenomen - Wikipedia article
Roman Names
Roman naming conventions - Wikipedia article
Roman Naming Conventions in the Late Roman Republic

Prostitution in Ancient Rome:
Ancient Roman Prostitutes and Notes on Roman Prostitution: Terms for Ancient Roman Prostitutes and Brothels. From W.C. Firebaugh’s translation of Petronius’s Satyricon
The many types of prostitutes in ancient Rome
Prostitution in ancient Rome - Wikipedia article

Roman Houses:
Domus - Wikipedia article
Insula (building) - Wikipedia article
Lares - Wikipedia article
Peristyle - Wikipedia article

Slavery in Ancient Rome:
"Servus” - article in A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. John Murray, London, 1875 (on-line version)
Slavery in ancient Rome - Wikipedia article
“Slavery and Freedom: Reasons and Consequences of the Use of Rewards” by Giuseppe Dari-Mattiacci (cached HTML version)

Cursus honorum - Wikipedia article
Julian calendar - Wikipedia article
List of Roman Consuls - Wikipedia article
Pompeii - Wikipedia article
Roman Calendar Terminology
Roman currency - Wikipedia article
Roman glass - Wikipedia article
Roman medicine - Wikipedia article
Silphium - Wikipedia article
Women in Ancient Rome - Wikipedia article