Watch 21st century Norfolk slip away as soldiers parade past temples and villas to the vast fortresses of the coast.

For writer Simon Scarrow, modern Norfolk covers a landscape of swamps and forests, its inhabitants struggling for survival against foreign invaders.

Simon, from Lyng, near Dereham, was Norfolk history teacher when he started writing about the Roman Empire. His first novel, featuring Roman soldiers Cato and Macro, was published in 2000. The 21st in the series, Death to the Emperor, is published this month.

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“I originally thought I was writing for a middle-aged commuter getting off the train to London, something my dad would have read, but I found there were a lot of younger readers following it. , a lot of female readers who followed him and there’s even an organization called Mothers of Cato, where they would meet and talk about the characters,” Simon said.

This time, Simon brings Cato and Macro to Norfolk. When the king of the Iceni dies, Rome is ready to annex his kingdom. But his widow, Boudicca, would rather die than be ruled by Rome.

“When I sit down to write a book, I feel like I’m going on vacation with old friends,” said Simon, whose fascination with the Roman Empire began at school.

“It’s so far back in history but at the same time, when you read the Roman sources, there are so many things that are contemporary. The letters they find on Hadrian’s Wall are of people inviting themselves to birthday parties and asking for socks to be sent.

“There’s a real familiarity, but on the other hand it’s the utter weirdness, the fact that they have gladiatorial games, they’re ruthlessly violent people.”

Born in Nigeria and raised in Africa, Hong Kong, California and the Bahamas, after his father’s banking career, Simon’s childhood was filled with enough real-life adventure to fill several novels, including war, violent burglaries and close encounters with poisonous snakes. .

There was also an operation without anesthesia after a skiing accident, at 18 years old. Simon stuffed the wound with snow before an Italian soldier used his first aid kit to sew it up. Years later, he drew on the experience for a scene after a Roman battle.

Simon came to Norfolk as a student at the University of East Anglia, then trained as a history teacher, working at the time Costessey High School, near Norwich, East Norfolk Sixth Form College in Yarmouth and City College, Norwich.

His own Latin and history lessons at school had left him enamored with ancient Rome, but in addition to his Roman books which traveled the old empire to Africa and Asia and were published in more than 20 languages, Simon has written historical novels and thrillers. .

Several million copies of his books have been sold worldwide and he is currently setting up a university course in creative writing and business in Mauritius – but regularly returns to Lyng.

“Once you’ve lived somewhere like Norfolk, with Norwich on your doorstep, it’s very hard to give it up,” he said.

His favorite Roman site in Norfolk is the town of Venta Icenorum, or Caistor St Edmund, which features in his last book. “A good way to get a sense of the landscape is the Boudica trail which is a modern walk but based on old tracks. It makes you much more aware of the history under your feet,” Simon said.

Death to the Emperor was published by Headline on November 24 and Simon is working on his next book continuing Boudicca’s story to the end.

What did the Romans do for Norfolk?

Roman cities

Caistor St Edmund is one of three regional Roman centers in Britain which have not been rebuilt. It had a forum, temples, thermal baths, an amphitheater, running water, defensive walls and ramparts. Outside the walled city were suburbs and a large temple complex.

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Roman forts

Discover the remains of the Roman coastal forts where Roman soldiers patrolled the far reaches of their vast empire at Brancaster, Caister-on-Sea and Burgh Castle.

Roman roads

Long stretches of the modern A140 follow the Roman road between Colchester and Caistor St Edmund. Another main Roman route to Norfolk from the south was along the Peddars Way, which was already 2,000 years old. From the west, the Romans crossed Fen Causeway to Denver. Other traces of Roman roads include the route still known as the Roman Road, running north from Toftrees, via Waterden towards Holkham.

Roman villas

A line of large Roman houses stretched along Peddars Way. The remains of a villa, with a bathhouse and underfloor heating, lie beneath farmland at Feltwell, others have been found near Weeting and Methwold, and as far north as Gayton Thorpe, Grimston and Snettisham. Each would have had public baths, mosaics and murals. There are the remains of a Roman villa at Tivetshall St Mary, near Diss, and banks and ditches built by the Roman-era inhabitants of Hilgay and Hockwold-cum-Wilton in the south-east of the county .

Every summer a community archaeological dig unearths Roman artefacts at the site of a villa and pottery kilns at Woodgate Nursery, Aylsham.

Roman industry

Tiny Brampton, between Aylsham and Buxton, was once a major manufacturing center with at least 132 kilns producing pottery plates, bowls, jugs and jars. More pottery kilns have been found along the Nar Valley at Pentney, Shouldham and Middleton.

roman treasury

In the 3rd and 4th centuries, the wealthy citizens of Roman Norfolk began to hide coins and jewellery, revealing the growing instability of the empire. Treasures have been discovered at Hockwold, Crownthorpe and Snettisham.

Roman temples

Temples once stood at Caistor St Edmund, Hockwold, Snettisham and Thetford. At Great Walsingham images of Roman gods and satyrs were found in 1950, revealing the site of a Roman temple. Inscribed rings suggest it was dedicated to Mercury. At Wicklewood, aerial photography revealed the outline of a temple near St James’s Church. So many tiny, colorful tiles have been found that archaeologists believe the floors must have been covered in mosaics and Roman coins have also been unearthed.

Roman bricks

Recycled Roman bricks can be seen in the walls of medieval churches in Brampton, Burgh Castle, Houghton-on-the-Hill and Reedham.

Roman statues

Not all of our Roman remains arrived in Norfolk during Roman times. Thomas Coke, the first Earl of Leicester, visited Italy 300 years ago. His memorabilia included ancient Roman statues, and he built Holkham Hall in part to house his collection.