Interview with Alex Johnston

UNRV Hello Alex, why donít you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got interested in Roman history?
Alex Johnston: Iíve worked in finance and technology most of my career, and have always been interested in history Ė ancient history primarily, and Roman history primarily primarily. Not sure how it happened, to be honest with you. It was just always the case for as long as I can remember. In Caesarís Lictor, I have Pompey riding Crassus about how old he is. Well, Iím the same age, more or less, and thinking about retiring. So I thought it would be fun to do something with that interest as sort of a post-retirement gig. The extra $1.50 or so per month that I expect to earn should really come in handy.

UNRV When did you first have the idea of your main character "Marcus Mettius", and base a novel around him?
Alex Johnston: I was perusing Caesarís Commentaries on the Gallic War with the idea of doing some sort of novelization of it. Iím lazy, and Caesar did such a great job of providing material that I thought I would just plagiarize him. Heís dead, right, so whatís he going to do about it? Well I was captivated by the account of the time that Marcus and his buddy Gaius Valerius Troucillus spent as captives of Ariovistus, with the threat of a very painful death hanging over Gaius at least. Caesar just tosses it in almost as an afterthought, but I thought it would be interesting to flesh it out a bit. That kind of started the whole series.

UNRV: What aspect of the Roman period do you like best/worst?
Alex Johnston: : You know, itís the same old story. If you were in the one percent, then Rome was a great place to be! Great houses, great food, and the latest in modern appliances (aka slaves). Must have been a fantastic time! But the violence and utter debasement that much of the rest of humanity suffered are not things that I would like to have to endure.

UNRV: Who is the most underrated person from Antiquity and why?
Alex Johnston: You know Iím going to say Marcus Mettius, right? Just kidding. Iím going to go with Lucius Cornelius Balbus, who I did kind of use as an inspiration for the character of Marcus. He was the ultimate consigliore Ė a naturalized power-broker who ingratiated himself with all of the leading Romans of the day, and who was instrumental in establishing the Triumvirate among Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus. He also got tight with Octavian after Julius Caesar died. As one who has always marveled at the youthful Octavianís astounding success, I have to think that Balbus played a major part in it.

UNRV: If you could meet one person of the Roman Empire, who would it be and what would you ask?
Alex Johnston: Crassus. Iíd ask him if he could spot me a few denarii until payday.

UNRV: If you had to live in Antiquity where and when would you like it to have been?
Alex Johnston: Alexandria, Egypt. I would like to have been there when Marcus was there as told in Caesarís Emissary. The place sounded like a blast Ė fantastic architecture, warm sea breezes, lots of money floating around, good entertainment and plenty of intrigue. And the Library!! Plus, I would like to have gone drinking with Marcus.

UNRV: What lost Classical work would you like to have survived and why?
Alex Johnston: Julius Caesarís L Ways to Pick Up Chicks. Or, if I can get mythic, the six books that the Cumaean Sibyl burned before Tarquinius quit being such a cheapskate. They are rumored to contain secrets about how to make a killing in commodities. Or, was it the killing of the legendary Greek King Commodities? I guess weíll never know which.

UNRV: What aspect of Roman history would you like to flush out with the Cloaca Maxima (i.e. get rid of)?
Alex Johnston: The untimely and gruesome deaths of all of the leading Romans from Julia up to her Dad and a few years after. I plan on continuing to write about the period and I try to make my stories fun. That will no doubt get harder as the bodies start to pile up.

Hey, speaking of the Cloaca Maxima, do you know the difference between Cato and the Cloaca Maxima? No? Well, read Caesarís Lictor and youíll find out!

UNRV: What do you think is the most important aspect of Antiquity that has survived?
Alex Johnston: Lessons learned. A knowledge of the consequences of an un-tempered lust for glory. An understanding of the motives and possible sociopathies of powerful individuals. .

UNRV: When you open your fridge we would be surprised to see...?
Alex Johnston: A raw green smoothie. My wife makes one for me every day. Marcus would no doubt consider me a wimp. Please donít tell him.

UNRV: The title of your biography would be....?
Alex Johnston: Dazed and Confused.

UNRV: We have a section on our forum called Quintus Libri..., where we list 5 key books on certain topics. Any topic you would like to share with us?
Alex Johnston: Well, sure. How about the topic of Roman fun? ? See my post on the forum!

UNRV: What are your plans for the future?
Alex Johnston: To make it last as long as possible!

UNRV:: Thank you so much for your time!
Alex Johnston: Youíre welcome. It has been an honor.

Alex Johnston is author of several fiction books about Marcus Mettius, a minor character in Julius Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War. Marcus brings a salesman's amused and worldly perspective to the major characters, locales, and events of the late Roman Republic period. The Marcus Mettius titles are Caesar's Ambassador,Caesar's Emissary, Caesar's Daughter, a compilation of those three stories, and Caesar's Lictor.

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Union Jack Alex Johnston for the UK