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Author's Note

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When the Vandals sailed up the Tiber and sacked Rome in 455 A.D., the western Roman Empire had a remaining life-span of twenty-one years; in 476, the year of the famous "fall," the boy-emperor Romulus Augustulus was dethroned and replaced by a barbarian king. Following Valentinian III’s murder in 455, no fewer than nine emperors ruled from Rome and Ravenna. Petronius Maximus was killed by a mob in 455 after a reign of eleven weeks. His successor, Eparchius Avitus, occupied the throne for fifteen months. The rest were only marginally more fortunate. At Carthage, the pirate kingdom of the Vandals outlived imperial Rome by several decades; North Africa was reconquered in 553 by the Byzantine general Belisarius.

The political convulsions of the mid-fifth century, then, supply the historical framework of Highroad to Carthage. Among its characters, Aetius the Patrician, Pope Leo the Great, Valentinian III, Petronius Maximus, Eparchius Avitus, and Geiseric "King of Terrors" are all historical, as are the eunuch Heraclius, the two murderous Huns with Gothic nicknames, and various other minor figures. Their doings in the novel are more or less faithful to history. My principal actors are, however, fictitious. The character of Faustinus incorporates a clue or two from ancient sources, but my interpretation has been fanciful rather than scholarly. Adriana, Flavia, Quintus, and Wolf are entirely imaginary.

Working up a satisfactory impression of life in Italy at the beginning of the Dark Ages is like reconstructing a dinosaur from a jawbone and three vertebrae. Literary evidence from the mid-fifth century is limited to brief passages in the works of Apollinaris Sidonius, Jordanes, Marcellinus, Prosper of Aquitaine, and other late-Roman and Gothic writers. Standard modern sources in English are J. B. Bury’s History of the Later Roman Empire and A. H. M. Jones’s The Later Roman Empire. A full account of the years just after Valentinian III’s death is given in the Epilogue to Stewart Irvin Oost’s Galla Placidia Augusta. Thomas Hodgkin’s Italy and Her Invaders presents an outdated but wonderfully suggestive picture of the age.

Highroad to Carthage, my first novel, is the product of a long apprenticeship. Most of my literary mentors are long dead and all-but-forgotten: Robert W. Chambers, F. Marion Crawford, Samuel Rutherford Crockett, Edmondo de Amicis, Maurice Hewlett, Louise de la Ramée ("Ouida"), and other once-celebrated writers of a century ago. The story is my own, of course, but I have drawn gratefully on these old authors for incidental inspiration and local color.

For patient assistance during more than a decade of research I am indebted to the staff of the University of St. Thomas Library, St. Paul, Minnesota. My special thanks must go to Catherine Lutz, Dorothy McIlvenna, and Susan Davis Price, for suggestions and encouragement.


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