Miscellaneous Facts

In this section you can find all the snippets of historical information which relate to the Falco novels, but don’t merit a full page to each yet.

On this page:
Rome’s Informers | Vigile Night Watch | Vestal Virgin Lottery

Rome’s Informers

There is historical evidence of the existence of informers in Rome, and many Roman writers have mentioned them. Delatores (Dela’tor’es), were men who earned a living by informing against citizens. Under some Emperors known for their jealousy and avarice, this led to false accusations being made, and the Delator was paid according to the importance of the information provided! Sometimes, there were fixed fees that were paid to the informers, for example 5 aurii (gold pieces) paid for each recaptured run-away slave. Quadruplatores (Quadruplator’es) were so called because they either received a fourth part of the estate of a criminal, or those who were convicted had to pay fourfold (quadrupli damnari) as in the case of gambling, usury etc. Although, the name of quadruplator seems to have been given contemptuously to mercenary or false accusers. Eventually the number of informers grew so rapidly and caused trouble, that various emperors either banished them or got rid of them in some other way. Indeed, Suetonius records that both Titus and Domitian did not look favourably on informers:

One of the worst features of Roman life at the time was the licence long enjoyed by informers and their managers. Titus had these well whipped, clubbed and then taken to the amphitheatre and paraded in the arena; where some were put up for auction as slaves and the remainder deported to the most forbidding islands.
[Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, (XI Titus, 8)]

He [Domitian] checked and severely penalized informers who had brought false accusations for the benefit of the imperial treasury. A saying attributed to him runs: ‘An Emperor who does not punish informers encourages them.’
[Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, (XII Domitian, 9)]

Smith, William, D.C.L., LL.D. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman AntiquitiesJohn Murray, London (1895).

Suetonius The Twelve Caesars (Trans. Robert Graves, 1957. Revised – Michael Grant, 1979) Penguin Classics (1989)

Vigile Night Watch

In the Falco novels, Petronius is a Vigile (when he’s not suspended from duty) and takes part in solving crimes and capturing criminals (Time to Depart, Ode to a Banker etc). This was not actually the historical role of Vigiles, who were originally set-up by Augustus to act as firemen after a severe bout of fires in Rome.

When many parts of the city were at this time destroyed by fire, he [Emperor Augustus] organized a company of freedmen, in seven divisions, to render assistance on such occasions, and appointed a knight in command over them, expecting to disband them in a short time. He did not do so, however; for he found by experience that the aid they gave was most valuable and necessary, and so retained them. These night-watchmen exist to the present day, as a special corps, one might say, recruited no longer from the freedmen only, but from the other classes as well. They have barracks in the city and draw pay from the public treasury.
[Dio Cassius, The Roman History, (55, chap. 26)]

So although the real Vigiles were little more than firemen, it is not inconceivable that they played some role in reducing crime by the fact that they went on regular night-time patrols.

Cassius Dio The Roman History: Volume VI. Books 50-55 (Trans. Herbert B. Foster 1905-06, Revised Trans. by Earnest Cary) Loeb Classical Library (1924)

Vestal Virgin Lottery

In One Virgin Too Many, Lindsey Davis writes about a lottery to choose the next Vestal to enter the order. This may sound far fetched, but the ancient writers to record the introduction of the Vestal lottery, as this quote from Cassius Dio (writing about the Augusten period) shows:

And since the noblest families did not show themselves inclined to give their daughters to be priestesses of Vesta, a law was passed that the daughters of freedmen might likewise become priestesses. Many vied for the honour, and so they drew lots in the senate in the presence of their fathers, so far as these were knights however, no priestess was appointed from this class.
[Dio Cassius, The Roman History, (55, chap. 22)]

During the time of the Etruscan kings, the Vestals were chosen by the King, and in the time of the Republic and Empire, they were chosen by the Pontifex Maximus. There were a number of conditions the girls had to satisfy in order to be eligible to be chosen as a Vestal.

  • Aged between 6 and 10 years.
  • Physically fully able.
  • In full possession of all her senses.
  • Have a mother and father still living.
  • Be of free and freeborn parents who:
    1. Had never been in slavery.
    2. Were not in a dishonourable occupation.
    3. Lived in Italy.

According to the Lex Papia, when a vacancy occurred within the order, the Pontifex Maximus could use his discretion to name twenty qualifying girls, one of whom was picked by lottery. Exemption was granted to girls who had a sister in the order already and to the daughters of certain priests of high social class. Many fathers were reluctant to hand over all control over their daughters, which is why Augustus declared that the daughters of freedmen (former slaves) were also eligible to become Vestals (see the Dio quote above). However, if a respectable person came forward voluntarily and offered his daughter, and she was eligible, then the casting of lots was not carried out.

Cassius Dio The Roman History: Volume VI. Books 50-55 (Trans. Herbert B. Foster 1905-06, Revised Trans. by Earnest Cary) Loeb Classical Library (1924)

Smith, William, D.C.L., LL.D. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman AntiquitiesJohn Murray, London (1895).