Uncovering the Enigma of Marcus Agrippa, Right-Hand Man of Caesar Augustus

Author Lindsay Powell took some out of his busy schedule to talk to us about the challenges of writing a biography of  a general of the ancient world.

marcus agrippa

Marcus Agrippa’s name is inscribed on one of the most iconic buildings to survive from Ancient Rome, the Pantheon. Once he was Rome’s most famous military commander. Yet his story is largely unknown to most people today. He was the admiral who defeated Marcus Antonius and Queen Cleopatra at Actium off the coast of Greece. He was the field general who squashed rebellions in Gaul, in the western Balkans, the Crimea and Spain. He was only the second Roman commander after Julius Caesar to lead an army across the Rhine into Germania. Many times he could have challenged the emperor and seized power for himself. Yet he did not. In fact, he actively helped Caesar Augustus, not only to gain, but to hold on to power. Perplexing historians for centuries has been the question ‘Why?’ When I discovered to my great surprise that the story of this remarkable and multifaceted man had not been told for almost 80 years I decided I just had to.


It quickly transpired that it would be quite a challenge. Modern biographers usually have a wide range of resources to work from: diaries, letters, memoranda, speeches, newspaper articles and, in more recent times, audio-visual materials. For the biographer of personalities of the ancient world the sources are often scarce or fragmentary. Like many of his contemporaries, Agrippa wrote a personal memoir, but it is entirely lost. Fortunately enough material survives in other forms for us to piece together the man and his crucial role in his times. Roman historians mention him in their sweeping narratives; coins, busts and statues give us a good idea of what he looked like; inscriptions help us trace his movements by land and sea – and he was constantly on the go.


Having written biographies of great Roman generals before this one I was prepared for the task ahead. What emerged from my close study of the material over two years was a man of deep passions, a restless energy and, above all, an unswerving loyalty to his friend, Imperator Caesar Augustus Divi filius. His friend – whom he had first met as a teenager – was the heir to the name and legacy of the man murdered on the Ides of March 44 BC, Julius Caesar. Agrippa would serve him loyally for the rest of his life.


Agrippa likely saw military service in his late teens, certainly in his early 20s, and quickly developed a skill for field command. By his twenty-fifth birthday he was leading legions into battle in western Gaul. For crushing a native rebellion there, and also dealing with a threat from Germanic tribes, he was awarded a triumph, the highest military award afforded to a Roman commander. Amazingly he refused it. It would not be the first time. He never once celebrated the three triumphs granted in his lifetime, instead preferring simpler honors. His response was in complete contrast to the other generals of his day who craved the trappings of recognition, and it marked Agrippa out as different. Humility is an important aspect of his complex personality.


There was no military school, no Annapolis or West Point, for ancient Roman commanders. Skills were acquired on the job. Agrippa developed remarkable organizational skills early in his career. He understood that preparation is key to winning in war. In the vicious sea campaign against Sextus Pompeius of 37-36 BC Agrippa was given command of the fleet of Caesar’s heir. But first he had to build one. To train the tens of thousands of oarsman and marines he created a facility, joining two inland lakes by a canal, and a harbor of hydraulic concrete in the Bay of Pozzuoli – all in under a year. The towns of Italy supplied basic ships which were delivered to the facility and then outfitted with a range of military equipment, some of his own design. The following year Agrippa led his crews to victory at Mylae and Naulochus off the coast of Sicily. The lessons he learned from those battles he would take to Actium five years later.


Off the battlefield Agrippa displayed a knack for diplomacy, politics, and building. There’s a tantalizing suggestion that he conducted secret negotiations with the Parthians in the East that led to a major and durable peace treaty with them. He was a close friend of Herod the Great of Judaea and traveled with him through Asia Minor. (His impartial treatment the Jews is commented upon by Josephus). In Rome he unleashed a series of massive building projects, including the original Pantheon, which pushed construction techniques to their limits and awed his countrymen for centuries.


A strange thing happens when a biographer reaches the point when his subject dies. I suddenly felt a sense of loss, as though a dear friend had departed. When I tweeted this emotion best-selling historian Tom Holland replied that he could totally relate. By the time I finished the book I had grown very fond of him. I was in good company, of course. Augustus was a very good judge of men. In Agrippa he found a man to match his ambition and vision, and the means to realize them. Were it not for his faithful deputy, Augustus might never have become emperor and the history of the Roman Empire might have taken a very different course. That alone is reason enough to try and understand the ‘BFF’ of the first emperor of Rome; and as for the reason why Agrippa was always loyal to him you’ll have to read the book to find out.



Lindsay Powell is a historian and writer. He is a columnist for Ancient Warfare and his articles have appeared in Military Heritage, Strategy and Tactics and other magazines. His books include Eager for Glory (2011) and Germanicus (2013), both available from Casemate. He divides his time between Austin, Texas and Wokingham England. Find out more at www.Lindsay-Powell.com

Can’t wait for Wolf Hall to hit the US?

As the US distributor for Amberley books- the  Tudor publisher and lover of all things Tudor, we thought you might be interested in hearing about some of their best loved recent Tudor titles.



Here is just a sample of Amberley’s  best Tudor titles out recently:

9781445618975 r

The Six Wives & Many Mistresses of Henry VIII: The Women’s Stories, by Amy Licence:

Henry was a man of great appetites, ready to move heaven and earth for a woman he desired; Licence readdresses the experiences of his wives and mistresses in this frank, modern take on the affairs of his heart. What was it really like to be Mrs Henry VIII?


In Bed with the Tudors: The Sex Lives of a Dynasty from Elizabeth of York to Elizabeth I, by Amy Licence:


What went on behind closed doors in the Tudor Court? ‘A fascinating book examining the sex lives of the Tudors in unprecedented detail.’ The Daily Express


Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the writings of the Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapuys, by Lauren Mackay:


‘A superb, sound, engagingly written and much-needed study of a controversial player at the Tudor court. Highly recommended.’ Alison Weir


Jasper Tudor: Dynasty Maker, by Terry Breverton:

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The first ever biography of the founder of the Tudor dynasty. ‘Breverton does a very good job of covering Jasper’s entire life and of explaining the many twists and turns within the so-called ‘Cousins’ War’.’ The Good Book Guide


In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn, by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger:


Accompanied by an extensive range of images, including photographs, floor plans and sketches, this book brings the sixteenth century vividly to life – and takes you on your own personal and compelling journey in the footsteps of Anne Boleyn.


Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Tudors But Were Afraid to Ask, by Terry Breverton:


‘Full of bite-sized chunks of fascinating information about topics as diverse as music and medicine, science and schools, as well as music and martyrdom.’ The Good Book Guide ‘A magnificent collection of facts and figures.’ Books Monthly


Thomas Cromwell, by David Loades:


‘A broadly admiring account of [Cromwell’s] career… Cromwell is cast as a statesman and modernizer, a tidy-minded “Mr Fixit” getting on with the business of government.’ The Times Literary Supplement


Tudors: The Illustrated History, by Richard Rex, with an introduction by Dr Suzannah Lipscomb:


The illustrated history of the Tudors from the finest historians working on the period today. ‘The best introduction to England’s most important dynasty.’ David Starkey; ‘Vivid, entertaining and carrying its learning lightly.’ Eamon Duffy.


And in 2015?


Henry VIII’s Last Love: The Extraordinary Life of Katherine Willoughby, Lady in Waiting to the Tudors, by David Baldwin:

The first ever biography of the Tudor woman who almost became Henry VIII’s seventh wife. Out May 2015.



The Real World of Sherlock Holmes

From Martin Williams’ blog ‘Do Yo Write Under Your Own Name?’:

Sherlock Holmes has often been in my thoughts this past twelve months, for a host of reasons. The publication of The New Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes is among them, naturally, but in addition to enjoying the Sherlock exhibition at the Museum of London (still running, by the way), I’ve read some good books about the great consulting detective.

One of them is The Real World of Sherlock by B.J. Rahn, recently published by Amberley. I’ve known B.J. for a long time – she’s an American Anglophile, who usually spends part of the year in London, and she’s extremely knowledgeable about the genre. If you didn’t know she was an eminent academic, you’d guess from the amount of space devoted here to notes and a bibliography, and there is a suitable scholastic care about her study of the context in which Sherlock “existed”.

9781445637648She takes a number of different themes (including forensics, and the policing context of the stories) and for me the most fascinating part of the book concerns her analysis of the way Conan Doyle used, but adjusted, the storytelling model adopted by Poe in his ground-breaking stories about the first of the “great detectives”, Dupin. There’s much of interest, too, about the way in which Conan Doyle’s deep interest in true crime informed stories such as “The Bruce-Partington Plans”.

I’m delighted that Amberley have published B.J.’s book, and I suspect that even lifelong Sherlock fans will find a few things here that they didn’t know previously. Amberley have also published Conan Doyle’s War, which is an edited version of what Conan Doyle had to say about the British campaign in France and Flanders a century ago. Given that this year has seen the centenary of the outbreak of the so-called Great War, this is a timely publication, and it illustrates Conan Doyle’s versatility as a writer. But nobody could doubt that his finest work concerned Sherlock (except, of course, Conan Doyle himself – but what do authors know?)

You can purchase your own copy of The Real World of Sherlock here.

Food Friday: French Special


NOW AVAILABLE!  La Pâtisserie des Rêves from Grub Street Publishing.

La Pâtisserie des Rêves is the brand name of the world-famous French pastry shops – the brainchild of pastry chef Philippe Conticini and entrepreneur and hotelier Thierry Teyssier. With four shops already open in France and two in Japan, the first shop in London opened in January 2014. Translating literally as “The Patisserie of Dreams”, the new branch took London by storm.

The recipe book was originally published in French in 2012, and after the shop’s resounding success in London it seemed only natural to release an edition in English. The book features over 70 recipes for their signature pastries, including the traditional Madeleines, Tuiles, Gateaux, Clafoutis, Tartes, as well as delights like Saint Honoré (choux pastry, cream and caramel topping) and Paris-Brest (choux pastry with praline cream and praline sauce).

We’ve managed to get hold of an exclusive recipe from the book for you to try. We definitely have plans to have a go at these at Casemate Athena!

Apple Tartlets

Apple tartlets pic

 For 4 people
Preparation time: 40 minutes
Refrigeration time: 2 hours
Cooking time: 25 minutes
400g puff pastry (or 2 rolls of ready-made pastry)

6 Golden Delicious apples
20g caster sugar
120g almond butter
40g lightly salted butter
4 tablespoons brown sugar
Fleur de sel
Flour, for the work surface
Cut out the pastry cases
On the floured work surface, roll out the puff pastry to 5mm thick, prick it all over with a fork, then cut out 4 rounds of pastry, 14cm in diameter, using a pastry cutter or a plate to guide you. Cover with cling film then allow the pastry rounds to rest in the fridge for at least 2 hours.


For the apples
Peel, core and halve the apples from top to bottom. Cut the halves into slices 5mm thick.

Fill the pastry cases
Take the pastry rounds out of the fridge, lay them on a baking tray lined with well buttered baking parchment and sprinkle with caster sugar. On each round of puff pastry, place a heaped tablespoon of almond butter and spread it 4mm thick and to within 1cm of the edge.

Arrange the slices of apple
Preheat the oven to 160ºC (gas mark 3). Arrange the apple slices on the tart bases in five or six layers of overlapping concentric circles. Allow the equivalent of one and a half apples per tart. Now divide up little knobs of chilled, lightly salted butter equally between the tarts and sprinkle with brown sugar and a few grains of fleur de sel.

Bake the tarts
Bake for about 25 minutes. Take the tarts out of the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack before serving.


Philippe Conticini has worked as a pastry chef for many years, including a time at La Table d’Anvers restaurant in Paris. He and business partner Thierry Teyssier – who has already set up a theater company, an events company and a similarly-named hotel company Maisons des Rêves  launched the Pâtisserie des Rêves concept after deciding that they wanted a pastry shop that would recreate the excitement children feel about fresh cakes.

If you want to find out more about La Pâtisserie des Rêves, you can follow the London branch on Twitter, or visit their website.

Don’t forget to check out the other great cookbooks we have at Casemate Athena, and keep up to date with new releases via our Facebook and Twitter.

Divorced, Beheaded, Sold: Ending an English Marriage 1500-1847

If you’re stuck for an entertaining summer read, why not try Maria Nicolaou’s Divorced, Beheaded, Sold, published by Pen & Sword History?

Pleasures of the Married State

“The Pleasures of the Married State”: a rare depiction of a happy marriage

It’s easy to make the assumption that divorce is relatively modern. Books and films tell us
that unhappy marriage was all but inescapable: Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre tries to marry Jane bigamously because he cannot divorce his insane wife. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice barely tolerate each other, but still continue to cohabit because they seem to have no other option. Even in the 1920s setting of Downton Abbey, Lady Edith’s lover Michael Gregson has to resort to moving to Germany to be able to legally divorce his current wife, and the stigma that accompanies it would be enough to destroy Edith’s life in London society. It’s therefore unsurprising that so many people have no idea about how far back the history of separation and divorce stretches. Henry VIII and his six wives are probably some of the only well-known examples in England that you can think of before the twentieth century.

Maria Nicolaou introduces us to “those who were determined to defy convention and who succeeded in escaping their marriages”, and reveals how they did so in the days before divorce was readily available – from committing bigamy to selling a wife at market. Her book is full of colorful characters and warring spouses, like Captain Blood, who bribed judges and deliberately bankrupted himself to escape giving his wife alimony; the Duke of Grafton, who hired an army of detectives to spy on his wife and obtain proof of her adultery; and Marion Jones, who recruited a gang to take back her property from her husband.

Nicolaou goes into great detail about the different ways people would end marriages, one of the most unsavory being “wife sales”: men would auction off their wives in the same way as they would auction cattle, and the purchaser would be considered the woman’s new husband. Although not technically legal, blind eyes were turned. Wife sales were still taking place as late as the early twentieth century, with one being on record from 1919.

Wife sale

From the Kentish Chronicle, 1797: “On Friday a Butcher exposed his wife to sale in Smithfield market, near the Ram Inn, with a halter about her neck, and a rope about her waist, which tied her to a railing, when a Hog-driver was the happy purchaser, who gave the husband three guineas and a crown for his departed rib, Pity it is, that there is no stop put to such depraved conduct in the lower order of people.












Con Phillips

Con Phillips, circa 1748

Here at Casemate Athena, one of our favorite stories featured in the book is that of Teresia Constantia Phillips – or ‘Con’ for short, who filled a pistol with firework powder and shot at her estranged husband and a gang of his friends to prevent them entering her home at 2am. The judge was so amused by the story that she was released with no charge. Con became a notorious bigamist and courtesan, moving from husband to lover to husband to keep herself in the manner to which she had become accustomed. Buy the book to read about Con’s whole life story!



Divorced, Beheaded, Sold is available NOW on the Casemate Athena website. If you want to find out more about our books, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook!

If you’re interested in learning about the author herself, follow Maria Nicolaou on Twitter, and check out her post on the Pen & Sword History Blog.

Food Friday: The Healthy Lunchbox

Keep your eyes (and your carrots) peeled this September for Grub Street Publishing’s new edition of Fiona Beckett’s The Healthy Lunchbox!

According to the Government’s nutritional standards, a child’s lunch should contain at least one portion each of fruit and veg, protein (meat or alternative), dairy products and Healthy_Lunchbox_cover_PRINTstarchy food, such as bread or pasta. But a survey by the Food Standards Agency found that nine out of ten children still take packed lunches to school that contain too much saturated fat, sugar and salt.

In her foreword to the book, Fiona Beckett points out that if you make a packed lunch for your child every day up until they leave school at 16, you have made over two thousand lunchboxes. It’s understandable that after a while your creativity (and patience) may waver! As a mother herself, Fiona understands the difficulties of creating multiple lunchboxes that are interesting, appetizing and healthy. In The Healthy Lunchbox you will find ten of her favorite lunchboxes, such as “My First Lunchbox” and the “I Don’t Want to be Different” Lunchbox. She also provides information on how to plan a week’s meals on the basis of just one or two shopping expeditions, and a table with a month’s worth of suggestions for lunchboxes.

Take a look at this exclusive recipe from the book:


Lite Lunch

This salad would fit perfectly into the “Lite Lunch”.

The logical time to make this is after a meal with rice. Just measure off enough cooked rice for the salad and dress it with rice vinegar while it’s still warm.
Serves 3
About 300g freshly cooked basmati rice, white or brown (125g uncooked weight)
2 tbsp Japanese seasoned rice vinegar (e.g. Mitsukan)
1/3 of a cucumber (about 125g), peeled, deseeded and diced
2 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
1 stick of celery, trimmed and finely sliced (optional)
200g can of tuna in spring water, drained and flaked
1 level tbsp toasted sesame seeds* (10g)
3-4 slices of pickled ginger (about 7g), finely chopped or a little finely grated fresh ginger (optional)
2 tbsp seaweed flakes or 1 sheet roasted nori seaweed (optional)

*To toast the sesame seeds put them in a dry pan and heat over a
moderate heat for 4-5 minutes until they begin to turn pale brown,
stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Cook the rice following the instructions on the pack. Spread the
cooked rice in a shallow dish and pour over the rice vinegar. Mix in
well and leave to cool. Add the diced cucumber, spring onions, tuna,
sesame seeds and pickled ginger and seaweed flakes if using, and
toss together. If you can only find sheets of roasted seaweed, scrunch
one up in your hands, scatter the pieces over the salad and stir them

Per average serving:
Energy 320 calories | Protein 22g | Total Fats 8g | Saturated Fats 1g | Sugars 3g | Fibre 3g | Salt 1.3g
Bonus: Low in saturated fats and a good source of protein. This recipe 
supplies Vitamin K as well as the mineral phosphorus both important for bone development.

If you decide to try this recipe for yourself, let us know via our Facebook or Twitter! If you want to follow Fiona herself to find out more about her, click here.

The book will be available on the Casemate Athena website from mid-September.

The Dark Lady Rises…

ambereley bookAmberley Publishing has released, The Dark Lady: The Woman Who Wrote Shakespeare’s Plays in the UK, and it will be available in the US for purchase from Casemate Publishers at the end of the month!

John Hudson, who is the author of The Dark Lady: The Woman Who Wrote Shakespeare’s Plays is a Shakespeare director as well! He teaches advanced and experimental Shakespeare to actors at H.B. Studios, and directs one of the world’s most innovative Shakespeare companies, the Dark Lady Players, in New York City.

This weekend, The New Perspectives Theater Company presents “The Dark Lady Rises: A Festival.” This will be a weekend of revolutionary performances and conversations by the Dark Lady Players celebrating Amelia Bassano Lanier, the first woman in England to publish a book of original poetry—and the true author of the works attributed to William Shakespeare. See below for an itinerary of the festival, and make sure to check it out if you are in NYC this weekend!

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Family Tree Friday!

Are you a genealogy enthusiast or perhaps a family historian? Do you enjoy researching about your ancestors, or are you someone just looking to get started? Pen & Sword Books publishes a great series entitled Tracing your Ancestors that can guide you through all your research. Check out the following titles within the series to get started! They are available in both print and digital formats!

 Tracing your Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians

9781844686759This accessible, well-organized, easy-to-use beginners’ guide to the world of family history is essential reading for anyone who wants to find their way into this fascinating subject. In a series of short, practical chapters Simon Fowler takes readers through all the first steps that will reveal the lives of their ancestors and the world they lived in.

Tracing your Tank Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians

9781844686643 If you want to find out about the career of a soldier who served in tanks, are researching medals awarded to a tank crew member or just want to know more about a particular regiment squadron or operation, this book will point you in the right direction.

Tracing your Labour Movement Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians 

9781844686834If you want to find out about the life of an ancestor who was active in the labor movement or was a union member, this handbook will be a fascinating introduction to the subject. Mark Crail provides a graphic and authoritative account of the history of the labor movement in Britain from the early nineteenth century to the modern day.

Tracing your Criminal Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians

 9781844686803Did you have a criminal in the family, an ancestor who was caught on the wrong side of the law? If you have ever had any suspicions about the illicit activities of your relatives, or are fascinated by the history of crime and punishment, this is the book for you.

Food Friday: Cheese Pudding

9781906502898 For this weeks Food Friday, we have a delicious recipe from Grub Street Publishing’s fantastic cookbook Marguerite Patten’s Best British Dishes.

In this book, Marguerite covers traditional  breakfasts, to high teas, from roasts to hearty soups – a collection of over 400 of her favorite recipes that show the enormous and exciting variety of British produce and cooking.

You can purchase your own copy of Marguerite Patten’s Best British Dishes here.  The eBook is also available from all major retailers.

Try out the recipe below for your next meal. It’s sure to be a family favorite!

Cheese Pudding
Cooking time: 30 Minutes • Serves 4 

This could be described as a homely version of a soufflé, for the mixture rises well and is light in texture. Choose a mature cheese to give the maximum flavor. Do not over-cook the pudding, it should be pleasantly soft and moist.

1 1/4 cups milk
3 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups white breadcrumbs
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon English mustard
1/3 lb Cheddar, Cheshire, or Lancashire cheese
2/3 cup single cream
3 eggs

Heat the milk in a saucepan with the butter. Remove from the heat, add the breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and mustard. Cover and allow to stand for 30 minutes.

Finely grate the cheese. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease a 2 pint soufflé or pie dish.

Beat the cream with the eggs and strain into the breadcrumb mixture. Add the cheese. Spoon the mixture into the dish and bake for 30 minutes or until well risen and golden brown. Serve at once.

Flan Photo

Happy Birthday to Paul Cézanne

Paul Cézanne was born today in 1839. A french post-impressionist painter, Cézanne is said to have formed the bridge between late 19th century Impressionism and the early 20th century’s new line of artistic inquiry, Cubism.


In celebration of Paul Cézanne’s Birthday, we have created a Pinterest board to celebrate the works and quotes from this great artist. Make sure to take a look at it here.

Paul Holberton Publishing has also released two fantastic publications that examine the works and influence Cézanne had on the art world.

9781907372117Cézanne’s Card Players
Barnaby Wright

Paul Cézanne’s famous series of paintings of peasants playing cards has long been considered among his most important and powerful works. The image of seated peasants, still and seeming silent, concentrating on their game of cards, can be seen as the human counterpart to the landscapes of Cézanne’s home countryside, notably Montagne Sainte-Victoire, which held such iconic significance for him.

This catalogue accompanies a landmark exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery, London, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, that will be the first to bring together the majority of these remarkable paintings alongside a magnificent group of Cézanne’s closely related portraits of Provençal peasants and rarely seen preparatory oil sketches and drawings.


The Courtauld Cézannes
Stephanie Buck
John House

The Courtauld Gallery holds the finest group of works by Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) in Britain. This is the catalogue to an exhibition showing the entire collection together for the first time, marking the culmination of The Courtauld Institute of Art’s 75th anniversary. The importance of the collection lies not only in its exceptionally high quality but also in its wide range, with seminal paintings and rarely seen drawings and watercolors from the major periods of the artist’s long career.

The collection includes such masterpieces as the iconic Montagne Sainte-Victoire, c. 1887 – one of the finest examples of Cézanne’s treatment of this subject – and Card Players, c. 1892–95, which show Cézanne working at the height of his powers. Through examination of such works, this book will chart the development of the artist’s revolutionary approach that would later see him acclaimed as the father of modern art.