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A lost history

Author Brook Allen's fascinating search for Marc Antony

I’m thrilled to welcome novelist Brook Allen to the blog today. Brook has a passion for ancient history—especially 1st century BC Rome. Her Antonius Trilogy is a detailed account of the life of Marcus Antonius (better known today as Marc Antony).

As someone who rarely delves into fiction about ancient Rome, I was in for a treat when I read the first book of Brook’s trilogy: Antonius: Son of Rome. The story follows Antony from childhood, when his father dies in disgrace, through the tumultuous years of his twenties, when he meets Cleopatra for the first time. Thanks to Brook’s masterful storytelling and the fifteen years of research behind the book, I was completely transported by the novel.

Naturally, my inner research nerd would not rest until I learned more about the making of these books. So without further ado, here is Brook Allen in her own words discussing the research behind the Antonius Trilogy. Take it away, Brook!

Research: studious inquiry or examination especiallyinvestigation or experimentation aimed at the discovery and interpretation of facts, revision of accepted theories or laws in the light of new facts, or practical application of such new or revised theories or laws.

I chose the above definition from Webster’s Online, because I thought it was a proper fit for historical fiction authors, since we must have a studious mindset to examine facts pertaining to specific subjects on which we’re writing. Second, in an excellent story, we’re called upon to interpret those facts and arrange elements in the historical record—not necessarily to change it, but to make it pleasing and logical for readers’ eyes and minds.

Fifteen years ago, I set out on a monumental journey. My subject was Marcus Antonius—better known to us as Marc Antony—Caesar’s second in command, Cleopatra’s lover, and one of history’s biggest losers. Antony wasn’t always lovable, but he did have many admirable traits and is a fascinating character. However, his story was written down for posterity by his enemies, and due to damnatio memoriae—the damning of his memory—evidence of his life in inscriptions or art have mostly been lost. Only one letter in a collection of Cicero’s, a handful of relatively contemporary writings, a stunningly beautiful intaglio, and his coinage give us testimony of his life and rugged looks. Criticized by military experts throughout history, condemned by Cicero, destroyed by his brother-in-law, Antony’s legacy rested upon his descendants—children by his previous Roman wives and by Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt.

My research to “discover” and deliver the Marc Antony for my trilogy took place over thousands of miles, six different trips to Italy, two to Greece, and one extensive visit to Egypt. Still, I didn’t get to see everything I wish I could have. But these travels instilled into my psyche some important observations and insightful interpretations of exactly what I would write and how. And when it came to world-building, these experiences were invaluable. So please allow me to share of few of the things I discovered during these trips that helped me visualize Antony’s Roman world of the 1st century BC.


Supposedly, all roads lead there, and I’ve traveled on actual modern highways in Italy built along the same paths and in a few cases along the very foundations of Rome’s original ones.

Presenting a visual to my readers of what the ancient city looked like in Antony’s day was completely different from how the ruins appear now. Today’s jumble of rubble makes it unclear to inexperienced eyes exactly which buildings were standing at the time and which ones weren’t. I had to delineate that in my books through descriptive elements and maps. Furthermore, if there was a fire in the Senate house, how long would it take a senator to run from his domus (house) on the Palatine Hill and throw water on it? Yeah, I actually donned my sports sandals for a more authentic experience and jogged from the Palatine all the way to the present Curia Julia, dodging the crowds, to determine that length of time.

After several visits to Pompeii, I learned that the typical style of a Pompeiian domus wasn’t always the same sort of floor plan of older Republican homes in Rome. And at one point, after having received a special pass from the Rome’s Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Tourism, I followed some security guards down a steep, dark, steel stairwell leading into the bowels of the Casa dei Griffi—House of the Griffins—the oldest Republican-period domus in Rome.

The more I delved into Antony’s tale, there were things I had to revisit whenever I returned to Rome. Issues kept arising in my plot, like, if I’m in the Forum Romanum, where’s the nearest entrance to the Cloaca Maxima (Rome’s famous sewer)? I’m talking about stuff that Google didn’t even know! By the way, the Cloaca Maxima smells exactly like it did two-thousand years ago, and while looking for it, I often caught its scent. Then there is the Mamertine Prison where Antony’s stepfather, Publius Lentulus Sura met his demise in a highly charged scene in Antonius: Son of Rome. And whenever I passed some tourist pointing to the Curia Julia, saying, “Look! That’s the Senate house where Caesar got stabbed!”, I’d have to shake my head and silently walk on. Julius actually breathed his last in a different curia inside Pompeius’s Theater, a portion of which is still visible in an area of Rome called the Largo di Torre Argentina—now a place ten-zillion cats call home.


Because of the extensive travel I had to engage in to research Antony, it became obvious that the man was highly traveled himself—especially for someone living millennia before automobiles, aircraft, or other modern transportation. Three of Antony’s more famous battles were on Greek soil. A friend and I spent a whole afternoon locating the obscure Epirus River (nothing but a muddy stream!) on the plains of Pharsalus where Antony led Caesar’s left wing next to the river’s bank.

In far northeastern Greece, I spent an entire day at the site of Philippi, where Brutus and Cassius faced off against the combined armies of Antony and Octavian. It was here that I became mesmerized at the immense scale of ancient warfare. After climbing to the top of Philippi’s theater, once built by Phillip of Macedon (Alexander the Great’s father), I gazed out over the battlefield and was so inspired, that I wrote the final scene of Second in Command there. How many clever Greeks got the idea to climb up onto the top of that theater back in 42 BC to watch the showdown? What a view they had!

I was further impressed with the magnitude and sophistication of ancient generals when I visited Actium, along the western Pelopponese. I happened to go there in the middle of Greece’s financial crisis, back in 2015. The guide I hired informed me that Octavian’s War Memorial had been closed due to lack of funds. She wound up buying a bottle of wine for the security guard at the site and he let us in! There, I saw the indentions where rams from some of Antony and Cleopatra’s ships had been mounted onto the Memorial’s walls as tithes to Apollo. The experience made me feel minute in comparison to the fight for power that took place there so long ago. My imagination sparked to life, envisioning massive warships rowing toward one another in what became one of history’s most defining battles.


Egypt was perhaps the most fabulous adventure of all, and Marc Antony would probably agree! I went back in 2008, when Hosni Mubarak was still in power. My final week was spent in Alexandria and of all of the places surrounding Antony’s story, it was the most difficult place in which to vividly imagine the romance and time he spent there with Cleopatra.

Alexandria is problematic from an archaeological standpoint for several reasons. 1) The coastline changed after a series of earthquakes and tsunamis hit during the Medieval Period, so land once visible in Ptolemaic times is now underwater, including most ruins from Cleopatra’s palace complex. 2) High-rise buildings have been haphazardly built up all over the city where scholars are certain many exciting finds remain, including the lost tomb of Alexander the Great. 3) Despite there being a portion of Antirhodos Island still remaining, where some of Cleopatra’s palace complex existed, it’s now a “classified zone”, due to an Egyptian military presence there. Still, I was able to view the base of what was once the magnificent Pharos Lighthouse.

While in “Alex”, I took a wonderful boat trip in the harbor. Despite rough seas, I was able to get a perspective of what it felt like to enter Alexandria’s Great Harbor by ship, just like my characters did. I was able to photograph what remains of Lake Mareotis, where Cleopatra took Antony fishing. It’s now mostly marsh, so once more, my imagination had to suffice. However, I paid several visits to the new Library of Alexandria, which has replaced the ancient one. Inside, the Center for Alexandrian Studies welcomed me and offered several phenomenal display models of the city so I was able to get a better grasp on its original layout.

What followed in the next seven years was the completion of my Antonius Trilogy, examining the story of how Rome’s Republic transitioned into an Empire—all from Antony’s point of view. Indeed, he’s a character who remains controversial, still spurring argument today. And because of damnatio memoriae, he’s a man history doesn’t really know. I hope you’ll consider joining me on his adventure, because it’s truly the story of how Rome became an empire!

Though she graduated from Asbury University with a B.A. in Music Education, Brook has always loved writing. She completed a Masters program at Hollins University with an emphasis in Ancient Roman studies, which helped prepare her for authoring her present works. Brook teaches full-time as a Music Educator and works in a rural public-school district near Roanoke, Virginia. Her personal interests include travel, cycling, hiking in the woods, reading, and spending downtime with her husband and two amazing Labrador Retrievers. She lives in the heart of southwest Virginia in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains.

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