The Field of Ghosts begins with an historical event, the murder of the urban prefect (mayor) of Rome in AD 61 by one of his slaves. An ancient Roman law decrees that the entire slave population of the household, over four hundred individuals in this case, must be executed because some of them surely helped, or at least turned a blind eye, to the murderer’s intentions. The four hundred slaves are crucified one day and night on the Vatican fields, causing massive riots in Rome. Jacob Watts sees this event as increasing the appeal of eastern religions, particularly Judaism and its recent offshoot, Christianity, which proclaim messages of equality and justice for the lower classes. Massive gladiatorial reenactments of famous battles, the great fire of Rome, murderous intrigue in the court of Nero, armies in revolt, astrologers who can change a person’s fate, the trial of St. Paul before the emperor—the reign of Nero was full of cinematic violence and color, which Watts brings to life. Yet this is not a dress ball with modern characters who happen to wear tunics and togas. The power of the novel lies in the fact that as readers we enter the ancient mind at a time of turbulence and social upheaval, bringing changes that echo across the centuries and become strangely relevant to events occurring in the world today.
Jacob Watts was a distant relative on my mother’s side, a theologian who died while on a missionary assignment in India. I can take credit for the maps, which show where many of the events described by Watts occurred in the city of Rome and across the Roman Empire.The Field of Ghosts is now available on Amazon Kindle Book.