I love research. And sometimes this takes me to subjects that are really scary, like anthrax especially right after 9-11. Which I did for my story Threatened Loyalties, set in Herculaneum right before Vesuvius blew its top. I kinda think I may have been on someone’s radar. But hey, You see, it was for my plot line; I had to find a way to kill the emperor Vespasian. Ironically, anthrax was perfect.

Now we may think that anthrax was something new, but it’s not. It is believed to be in the Old Testament and may have been the Egyptian plagues #5 & 6. Anthrax is also noted in ancient Hindi and Greek literature and onward throughout history. Back when I was researching this for my plot lilne, I read somewhere it even grew in Italy’s soil. (which I can’t find now)   But anthrax has been found in Egypt’s soil. (antimicrobe.org)

Usually anthrax is associated with animals, which I now think was why, in the Old Testament, God occasionally ordered all the livestock killed.  Maybe they were infected with anthrax. But this bacterium is deadly. Today, it is associated in biological warfare, and we will leave that right there.

Now, anthrax is deadly three ways; inhaled, ingested, and contamination by touching as a sore. Now for my purposes, Vespasian had to inhale it. And did. Thanks to Balbus’ mom who wanted to get her son Marcus Nonius Balbus, on the throne. (My plot line)

Now, according to Google, the symptoms of inhaled anthrax include: “Fever, chills, chest discomfort, shortness of breath, confusion or dizziness, cough, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, headache, sweats.”

Now follow along here. Suetonius in his ‘The Twelve Caesars”* regarding Vespasian’s death said, and I quote,  “During his ninth consulship Vespasian visited Campania. (Herculaneum is in Campania-my words) “and caught a slight fever. He hurried back to Rome and went to ….Reate where he made things worse by bathing in cold water (He must have had a fever –me again) and getting as stomach chill. Yet he carried on with his imperial duties as usual, even received deputations at his bedside; (while sick in bed, don’t miss that) until he almost fainted after a sudden violent about of diarrhea, struggled to rise, muttering that an Emperor ought to die on his feet, and collapsed in the arms of his attendants …”

Anthrax fit and I used it in Threatened Loyalties.   Yes, this is why I love researching and writing. Ya kinda need to be a little crazy though. But, you learn a lot about…a lot.

*Suetonius THE TWELVE CAESARS. Michael Grant. Penguin Classics. 1979. Page 291

Tags and #

  • Threatened Loyalties
  • JF Ridgley
  • Herculaneum -Pompeii
  • Vespasian
  • Ancient Rome
  • Campania
  • Vesuvius – volcano
  • Anthrax /Bacillus anthracis
  • Historical fiction
  • Suetonius the historian Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus


  • Historical novel
  • Historical fiction
  • Roman empire
  • Ancient rome
  • Ancient history
  • Roman legion
  • War and warfare
  • European history
  • volcanoes
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