The Tragic Life of Annia Aurelia Galeria Lucilla

The Tragic Life of Annia Aurelia Galeria Lucilla

The tragic Annia Aurelia Galeria Lucilla was born around 150 AD.

Her father was the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, her mother the Empress Faustina the Younger. Lucilla was the elder sister of Emperor Commodus. A character loosely based on Lucilla was the love interest to Russell Crowe in the block buster film Gladiator in 2000. The film was directed by Ridley Scott. In the film the character based on Lucilla was played by the Danish actress Connie Nielsen. Crowe portrays the Hispano-Roman general Maximus Decimus Meridius, the man  betrayed by Commodus. Reduced to slavery, Maximus rises through the ranks of the gladiatorial arena to avenge the murders of his family. That, of course, was fiction.


The real Lucilla was married her father’s co-ruler Lucius Verus in 164 when she was 14. Marriage at such a young age was normal in the Roman world. Early marriages led to an astonishingly high death rate among the aristocracy. Even today a woman  getting pregnant in her early teens runs higher risks than a more mature woman. Her husband was 18 years her senior. Upon marriage, she received the title of Augusta and became a Roman Empress. Together they had three children: Aurelia Lucilla was born in 165 in Antioch, Lucilla Plautia and Lucius Verus. Aurelia and another boy died young. After Lucius Verus died, in 169, her father arranged a second marriage for her. This time it was to Tiberius Claudius Pompeianus Quintianus, a Syrian Roman who was twice consul and his political ally. Quintianus was at least twice Lucilla’s age. They were married in 170, and she bore him a son named Pompeianus.


Her Brother

The Roman Historian Cassius Dio wrote that Commodus ‘was not naturally wicked, but, on the contrary, was as guileless as any man that ever lived. He was simple and cowardly and a slave to his companions. He developed cruel and lustful habits. Commodus was nineteen years old when his father died. He had advice from his many guardians in the Senate, which he steadfastly ignored. He hated all exertion and craved the comfortable life of the city.’[1] Commodus’ behaviour became increasingly disturbing as the years went by. Lucilla hatched a plot to kill and replace him with her nephew her daughter, and two cousins; one of which was Marcus Ummidius Quadratus Annianus who wasmost probably her lover.


The Plot

Lucilla planned to take over as empress, but as her nephew attempted to stab Commodus, he shouted, “Here is the dagger the Senate sends you!”

The plot was foiled and Commodus was spared. The male members of the plot were immediately put to death, while Lucilla, her daughter, and cousin were banished to Capri. However, they did not escape death for long, Commodus had them executed a year later, in 182 AD.


[1] Epitome of Book LXXIII, Roman History by Cassius Dio,  Vol. IX of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1927

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction.

Her novel Sinclair is available of Amazon. Click here to get your copy.

Sinclair is set in the London Borough of Southward, the Yorkshire town of Beverley and in Paris and Edinburgh in the late 1780s. Strong female leads include the widow Charlotte Leadam and the farmer’s daughter Lucy Leadam. Sinclair is a story of love, loss and redemption. Prodigal son James Sinclair is transformed by his experience of being shipwrecked on the way to India to make his fortune. Obstacles to love and happiness include ambition, conflict with a God, temptation and betrayal. Remorse brings restitution and recovery. Sinclair is an extraordinary book. It will immerse you in the world of 18th century London where the rich and the poor are treated with kindness and compassion by this passionate Scottish doctor and his widowed landlady, the owner of the apothecary shop in Tooley Street.  Sinclair is filled with twists and tragedies, but it will leave you feeling good.

Sinclair_Cover Julia Herdman

See Also:

Messalina – The Most Promiscuous Women in Rome?


Questions in Egyptology No. 1

Questions in Egyptology No. 1

The cartouche – protective circle or protective loop?

The conventional view of the cartouche in Egyptology was first identified in royal architecture by Flinders Petrie in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although his chronologies and his views on race have not stood the test of time, Petrie was right in almost every respect when it came to the architectural survey and analysis of Egyptian monuments says David Ian Lightbody, in his article, The Encircling Protection of Horus, Current Research in Egyptology, 2011.

In Egyptology, the cartouche is considered to be a form of protective symbolism that was represented graphically, and as a partially abstracted concept, by the shen ring, or shenu. It was depicted as twin oval loops of rope, tied at the bottom. These protective symbols encircle the hieroglyphs of the pharaoh’s name

The cartouche is not circular. Circular symbols include the royal uraeus, represented in the image of a snake and the vulture goddess Nekhbet.

The god most closely associated with the Shen ring and the cartouche was the royal falcon Horus. Together, the Shen ring and the cartouche are said to represent royal protection and dominion over the encircled world in Egyptology.

Scenes incorporating images of Shen rings and cartouches were often depicted on the architectural elements of tombs and temples, particularly at entrances and on thresholds, such as under architraves, down door jambs or along the tops of enclosure walls. They are said to protect the royal building entrances and perimeters.

The earliest known shen ring image belongs to King Den‘s tomb and dates to the Second Dynasty. It appears on a tag from the royal tombs at Abydos, found by Petrie (Petrie 1901; Pl VII Wilkinson 2001, 207).  The symbol for gold is also on this tag and is considered significant in this context. The king, particularly close to Naqada or Nubt, the golden city, was always associated with gold (Wilkinson 2001, 207). The tag was part of the protection system for valuable goods, control of the treasury, and more generally, control and redistribution of food surplus that were the fundamental functions of the kingship and the basis for his power. This tag could have labelled an item of the king’s gold in the royal tomb.

The critical questions are were these images symbols of something or were they part of a functional magical system of royal protection. Was it protection in life or protection in death, and can a tied loop be considered a circle? I know it’s picky, but I’m pretty sure they are not the same.

If the loop is functioning as a protective magic circle, it provides a protective boundary by enclosing positive and beneficent energies within its confines. In otherwords, it protects what is inside the circle not what is outside. Or, is working like a charm or amulet? If so it may have been thought to offer protection to a given space, in much the same way as a horseshoe charm operates over a doorway. Was the king’s name really a lucky charm? It seems undignified and unlikely.

The idea of forming a protective circle suggests there are things in the world the protected something in the circle needs to be protected from. In Egyptology, there is a commonly held belief that the ancient Egyptians thought that chaos was all around them and that it was in danger of crashing into the world at any time and subsuming everything within it. This view makes the ancient Egyptians seem a bit like nervous wrecks, they sound like people who thought they had no control over the world they lived in which seems at odds with their culture which was highly organised and efficient.  In the cases mentioned by Lightbody, the protective encirclement is around the name of the king, not the tomb and certainly not the land of Egypt.

Now we come to the loop which is made from two pieces of rope. Why two pieces? Why was a single piece of rope not enough? The ropes are never joined wholly; why was that? The ancient Egyptians were perfectly capable of representing a continuous line, but they chose not to. What does this tell us about the way they envisioned the world? Do the two ropes represent duality? If so how?

The Egyptian magician spends a large part of his time tying knots according to Bruce Trigger et. al. A magic knot is a point of convergence of the forces which unite the divine and the human worlds he and his colleagues say in The American Discovery of Ancient Egypt, (Nancy Thomas, Gerry D. Scott, Bruce G. Trigger, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1995.)  How does the cartouche or the shen ring unite the human and divine worlds?

We see the knot tying image in the sema tawy image, a motif that shows the gods Horus and Set pulling on opposing ropes with the throne of Egypt in the centre. (in the image below it is two versions of the god of the inundation, Hapi.) The image is said to represent unity and shows the king’s name in a cartouche joined to the heart and lungs of a bull. The symbolism of the heart, lungs and trachea illustrate the complementary relationship between the organs, the lungs must work together to preserve the heart. It is an image of the two lands united by the king.

The image shows the king’s name is set within a cartouche.

The shen ring quite a different object, but it is tied in the same way as the cartouche. The Shen ring is usually seen carried by the vulture goddess Nekhbet and the god of eternity Heh. The Shen ring may be a protective charm when held over the king by Nekhbet.  The vulture goddess may be constantly on guard to catch the king’s soul as soon as he shuffles off his mortal coil. In the hands of Heh, it represents millions of years or an eternity of cycles.

We believe the cartouche holds the king’s name together in the same way that bandages held his dead body together. The ancient Egyptian were obsessed with thwarting the process of decay. They understood that bodies if left unbound disintegrated into a pile of bones.  The cartouche was designed to hold the king’s name together so that it would remain intact, could be read and said, and in this way, it preserved his Ka spirit or his worldly persona. The cartouche protects the king’s name not his tomb or the adjacent area. It provided the king with one of the many ways the ancient Egyptians believed a person could survive the decay of mortality. The two ropes represent the two ropes of time that are spooled out by the gods (See The Book of Gates). The shen ring, in our opinion, was principally a symbol of eternity.

Let us know what you think?

Forty years of documenting the Great Sphinx of Giza

Getting the Pharaoh to the Afterlife

Ancient Egypt – Cheapskate Coffin Makers

Paintings from the tomb of Nebamun

Paintings from the tomb of Nebamun

This beautiful illustration is laid out in typical ancient Egyptian style. The strange but charming perspective is called ‘aspective’ and it is the opposite of our modern western view called ‘perspective’. The aim of the ancient Egyptian artist was to show all the essential details of a thing or person from a universal, not a personal viewpoint.

The image of the pond is a halcyon one, the animals, fishes and trees represent the peace and tranquillity of the ideal afterlife. The colours are cool and tranquil to illustrate the peace and comfort of life in the Hereafter. Heaven was not perceived as a garden but gardens were thought of as heavenly.

The painting is one of 11 paintings acquired by the British Museum from the tomb-chapel of a wealthy Egyptian official called Nebamun in the 1820s. Dating from about 1350t BC, they are some of the most famous works of art from Ancient Egypt.

The Tomb of Nebamun is from  Dynasty XVIII. It was located in the Theban Necropolis on the west bank of the Nile at Thebes (present-day Luxor), in Egypt. The tomb was the source of a number of famous decorated tomb scenes that are currently on display in the British MuseumLondon.

Nebamun (c 1350 BCE) was a middle-ranking official scribe and grain counter at the temple complex in Thebes. His tomb was discovered in 1820 by a young Greek adventurer called Giovanni (“Yanni”) d’Athanasi, who was acting as an agent for Henry Salt, the British Consul-General. The tomb he found had plastered walls  that were richly and skilfully decorated with fresco paintings, depicting idealised views of Nebamun’s life and activities.

D’Athanasi and his workmen literally hacked out the pieces he wanted with knives, saws and crowbars. Salt sold these works to the British Museum in 1821, though some of other fragments became located in Berlin and possibly Cairo. D’Athanasi later died in poverty without ever revealing the tomb’s exact location.

The best-known of the tomb’s paintings include Nebamun fowl hunting in the marshes, dancing girls at a banquet, and a pond in a garden. In 2009 the British Museum opened up a new gallery dedicated to the display of the restored eleven wall fragments from the tomb. They have been described as the greatest paintings from ancient Egypt to have survived, and as one of the Museum’s greatest treasures

The frescoes are now on display together for the first time at the British Museum. Following the restoration process they now give a true impression of the colour that would have been experienced by the ancient visitors to the tomb-chapel.

Objects dating from the same time period and a 3-D animation of the tomb-chapel help to set the tomb-chapel in context and allow visitors to experience how the finished tomb would have looked.

Julia Herdman is currently working on the first book to tackle the subject of Ancient Egyptian Sacred Numbers for over a hundred years. To support this work please visit

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Ancient Egypt – Cheapskate Coffin Makers

Forty years of documenting the Great Sphinx of Giza

Getting the Pharaoh to the Afterlife


Best Historical Fiction – Five London Based Family Sagas

Best Historical Fiction – Five London Based Family Sagas

Tales of Tooley Street

Sinclair_Cover Julia Herdman

This London based historical fiction is set in the London Borough of Southward, the Yorkshire town of Beverley and in Paris and Edinburgh in the late 1780s. Sinclair is the eponymous hero but there are strong female leads including the widow Charlotte Leadam and the farmer’s daughter Lucy Leadam. Sinclair is a story of love, loss and redemption. Prodigal son James Sinclair is transformed by his experience of being shipwrecked on the way to India to make his fortune. Obstacles to love and happiness include ambition, conflict with a God, temptation and betrayal. Remorse brings restitution and recovery. Sinclair is an extraordinary book. It will immerse you in the world of 18th century London where the rich and the poor are treated with kindness and compassion by this passionate Scottish doctor and his widowed landlady, the owner of the apothecary shop in Tooley Street.  Sinclair is filled with twists and tragedies, but it will leave you feeling good.


Circles of Time: A Novel (Greville Family Saga) by Phillip Rock

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A generation has been lost on the Western Front when this London based historical romance gets started. The dead have been buried. A harsh peace forged, and the howl of shells replaced by the wail of saxophones as the Jazz Age begins in London. Ghosts of the summer of 1914 linger tugging at the memory of Martin Rilke and his British cousins, the Grevilles.

Everyone at Abingdon Pryory wants to forget the past.  The old values, social codes, and sexual mores have been swept away. Martin Rilke throws himself into journalism. Fenton Wood-Lacy is exiled in faraway army outposts. Back at Abingdon, Charles Greville recovers from shell shock. Alexandra is caught up in an unlikely romance.

Circles of Time captures the age in the midst of one of England’s most gracious manor houses, in the steamy nightclubs of London’s Soho, and the despair of Germany caught in the nightmare of anarchy and inflation. Lives are renewed, new loves found, and a future of peace and happiness is glimpsed—but only for a moment.


The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy

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The Forsyte Saga is John Galsworthy’s monumental chronicle of the lives of the moneyed Forsytes. As London based historical fiction goes you really could do no better.

The Forsytes are a family at war with each other. The story of Soames Forsyte’s marriage to the beautiful and rebellious Irene and its effects upon the whole Forsyte clan run through the series.

The Forsyte Saga is a brilliant social satire of the acquisitive sensibilities of a comfort-bound class in its final glory. Galsworthy spares none of his characters, revealing their weaknesses and shortcomings as clearly as he does the tenacity and perseverance that define the most influential members of the Forsyte family.



The Palliser Novels: Anthony Trollope

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In his autobiography, Anthony Trollope called the Palliser Novels “the best work of my life,” adding “I think Plantagenet Palliser stands more firmly on the ground than any other personage I have created.”

These London based historical novels centre around the stately politician Plantagenet Palliser, but the interest is less in politics than in the lively social scene Trollope creates against a Parliamentary backdrop.

Trollops’ keen eye for the subtleties of character and “great apprehension of the real” impressed contemporary writers from Nathaniel Hawthorne to Henry James, and in the Palliser Novels we find him at his very best.

This is a masterful portrait of Victorian society and politics with a profoundly human touch.,




Belgravia by Julian Fellowes

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Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia is the story of a secret. A secret that unravels behind the porticoed doors of London’s grandest postcode.

Set in the 1840s, this London based historical romance starts when the upper echelons of society began to rub shoulders with the emerging industrial nouveau riche, Belgravia is peopled by a rich cast of characters and begins on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 at the Duchess of Richmond’s new legendary ball, one family’s life will change forever, but you’ll have to read the book to find out whose it is.









The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard

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The Light Years, Marking Time, Confusion, Casting Off and All Change

Howard offers a classic English country-house saga, in this impressive London based historical saga covering the late 30s to late 50s. As the various members of the upper-middle-class Cazalet family circle are hatched, matched and dispatched against a background of the changing times Howard keeps the family and the story together. Her characters are forensically interrogated to reveal their strengths and their weaknesses. This historical fiction is based on her own experience, giving Howard’s characters a ring of authenticity that is rare. The war looms large and alters lives. It is the social history of this class of people who would disappear with the modernity and taxes of the 1960s.


Julia Herdman writes historical fiction.

Her novel Sinclair is available of Amazon. Click here to get your copy.

Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle  Also available on:

Amazon Australia

Amazon Canada

Amazon New Zealand

Amazon South Africa

Amazon USA


See Also:

Writers of influence – Hilary Mantel




Getting the Pharaoh to the Afterlife

Getting the Pharaoh to the Afterlife

How did the royal priests convince the king he had the golden ticket that would take him to the afterlife?

Ancient Egypt
Getting The Pharaoh to the Afterlife

Every ancient Egyptian king required a ticket to the afterlife. To understand how these tickets were made we need to understand the king’s sacred monuments, their design, materials, and decoration, but more importantly we need to understand the religious ideas that inspired them.

The ancient Egyptian priesthood were the architects of each pharaoh’s greatest projects; their temples and their tombs; they supplied the spiritual structure, the technically outstanding design work, and the organisational framework that underpinned and made possible all the monumental creations ever built in ancient Egypt.

A succession of high-ranking priests were inolved in getting the Pharaoh to the afterlife. They listened to and understood each ruler’s requirements; then facilitated projects that provided their monarch with their personal edifices of glory and their individual road-map to the afterlife. But what was it the king needed to be sure he arrived there safely?

Using a common language of shared intellectual and spiritual beliefs the priests and their kings created that route in some of the greatest religious monuments on earth. These were pyramids and tombs with special sarcophaguses, decorated coffins, books of spells and sacred amulets. This special combination of design, decoration, furniture, spells and rituals created the pharaoh’s pathway to the afterlife.

The Royal cult sat at the centre of religious and cultural innovation for 3000 years. Its ideas and practices were taken up by the wealthy and privileged in ancient Egyptian society, and some of its practices trickled down to those at the bottom of the social pile. What the king did first was sure to be followed by others.

Neither the pharaoh nor their priests had a word for religion; that concept came from the Roman world where religio, according to Cicero meant the repeated reading of the sacred rites; the Egyptian word for what we call religion was heka, and it meant magic; making manifest the providential ordering of the cosmos.

The Power of Heka

The ancient Egyptians believed heka operated in this world and the next; it was neither good nor bad; it was simply the invisible energy or force that powered everything in the world. The royal priests believed they knew how it worked, how to connect with it, and, how to control it. It was their special knowledge, and it helped to maintain their position at the top of ancient Egyptian society for over three thousand years, and it was this sacred knowledge, the knowledge of the god Thoth that convinced the king his priests could get him to the afterlife.

A lot has been written about heka or hike; it was the tool of the gods; the Heliopolitian creator god Atum used it with Sai (perception) and Hu (speech) to make the world. Today we might call heka something like gestalt because it was the thing that provided the structure that made the world manifest in all its beauty and all its horror. Heka was also how the deceased passed from this transitory world to the life eternal beyond the grave. Beliefs surrounding heka were the fountainhead and the origin of every sacred building constructed in ancient Egypt. Egyptologists believe words contained the power of heka but not numbers, although they never speak of this omission.

Thoth and Isis were the two great magicians of the cosmos and were said to be great in heka. Like Sai and Hu, Heka was depicted as a god in his own right from the Old Kingdom and sometimes appeared in illustrations of the funeral boat on tomb walls. The gods Sai, Hu and Heka, were the physical manifestations of the invisible powers that created the universe, understanding heka was the key to comprehending the world.

The priests could invoke the gods’ power through speech, by saying the right spells or prayers but understanding heka was problematic; where was it and how could it be manipulated? We believe it was by using sacred materials, sacred images and by using both words and numbers. The priest’s special knowledge all of these things ensured the king’s transformation from man to god.