OK, many apologies for the radio silence. Since I got back from Italy, I’ve put my head down and tried to make some serious inroads into the second Spartacus book, Rebellion. I’ve hit 10,000 words for 2 weeks running, so it’s paid off. However, I’m aware that a reasonable number of you want to hear what I did in Italy. Hopefully, many of you will have seen the photos I posted on Twitter and Facebook, but no doubt others won’t. I’ll try and shrink a few & fit them on here.
Where to begin? At the beginning, I suppose.
Having made the decision only to stick to places related to Spartacus from the beginning, I had to leave Rome the minute I arrived there. That’s not something I would normally do, given the wealth of things to see there. I also knew I was going to be covering serious miles in my 6 days, so I headed north with all speed. Drove 400 km/ 250 miles, and got stuck in a horrendous traffic jam in the middle of nowhere not too far from Bologna. The cause was the horrendous rain two days in the NW before – as well as causing a number of fatalities, it had washed away a part of the coastal motorway. By 9 p.m., I was knackered and wanted my bed.
I made for Lodole, a nice-looking B & B that I’d found in Sawday’s book about Italy. What an inspired choice it was. Set in the Apennine mountains about 45 mins drive south of Bologna and Modena, Lodole is a 300 year old farmhouse that has been beautifully restored. The hostess is absolutely charming, and the breakfasts – my gods, I’ve never had such a spread every day. Got up the next morning determined to get the feel of what it might have felt like for Spartacus and his army as they marched north towards the Alps.
I took the long way to Modena, driving on mountain roads that twisted and turned up and down for miles. I took more hairpin bends than I have ever done in my life, I think. Not too many crazy drivers either, which was nice. The villages were few and far between, and the scenery stunning. After a cloudy start, the sun came out. I stopped on the outskirts of a village and, finding a mountain path, hiked for about half an hour up it. Soon I had difficulty seeing houses. I could faintly hear cars, but not often. The loudest sounds were of acorns dropping (hundreds of them!), flies buzzing and far down in the valley, a dog barking. Small lizards sunned themselves on rocks, birds flew from tree to tree. It was extremely atmospheric, because there was little to stop me imagining that I could have been in 72 BC rather than 2011 AD.
I continued the drive all the way to Modena, finding that the Apennines sloped very gradually down for miles on end, rather than the abrupt end one might have imagined. In ancient times, Modena, home of the balsamic vinegar, was called Mutina. It was also the base of the last Roman forces to stand in the way of the slave army as it headed north to freedom. Gaius Cassius Longinus, the father of one of Caesar’s assassins, was the general in charge of two legions. In the battle that followed, he was roundly defeated, barely escaping with his own life, and his forces suffered heavy casualties. They also left many of their standards behind, which in Roman eyes was extremely shameful.
I found a flat area of ground about 5 miles south of Modena that would have suited well for the battle. Given that none of the battle sites for the Spartacus war are known (bar say the top of Vesuvius), it’s really easy for me as a novelist to pick places like that. I found it very easy to imagine 60,000 slaves lining up against only 10,000 legionaries. What a sight it must have made. What a slaughter it must have been.
Gore over, I got stuck in Modena rush hour, so I cut off the main road and went back to my B & B via the mountain roads. Had dinner in a nearby village – fabulous local Italian food – and a couple of beers, and headed to bed. The next day, I had an incredible drive – from where I was, near the Alps, down the west coast and all the way to the ‘toe.’