Watch 21st century Norfolk slip away as soldiers march past temples and villas to vast fortresses on the coast. 

For writer Simon Scarrow, modern-day Norfolk overlays a landscape of marsh and forest, its people fighting for survival against the foreign invaders. 

Simon, of Lyng, near Dereham, was a Norfolk history teacher when he began writing about the Roman empire. His first novel, featuring Roman soldiers Cato and Macro, was published in 2000. The 21st in the series, Death to the Emperor, is published this month. 

Eastern Daily Press:

“I originally thought I was writing for a middle-aged commuter going down on the train to London, something my dad would have read, but I discovered there are lots of young readers following it, lots of female readers following it and there is even an organisation called Mothers of Cato, where they would meet and talk about the characters,” said Simon. 

This time Simon brings Cato and Macro to Norfolk. When the king of the Iceni dies, Rome is ready to annexe his kingdom. But his widow, Boudicca, would rather die than be ruled by Rome. 

“When I sit down to write a book it feels like I’m going on holiday with old mates,” said Simon, whose fascination with the Roman empire began at school.  

“It’s so distant in history but at the same time, when you read the Roman sources there is so much that is contemporary. The letters they are finding at Hadrian’s Wall are people inviting each other to birthday parties and asking for socks be sent.  

“There’s a real familiarity, but on the flip side to that is the complete strangeness, the fact that they have gladiator games, they are a ruthlessly violent people.” 

Born in Nigeria and brought up in Africa, Hong Kong, California and the Bahamas, following his father’s banking career, Simon's childhood was packed with enough real-life adventure to fill several novels, including war, violent burglaries, and close encounters with poisonous snakes. 

There was also an operation without anaesthetic after a skiing accident, at 18. Simon packed the wound with snow before an Italian soldier used his first aid kit to stitch it. Years later he drew on the experience for a scene after a Roman battle.  

Simon arrived in Norfolk as a student at the University of East Anglia and then trained as a history teacher, working at the then Costessey High School, near Norwich, East Norfolk Sixth Form College in Yarmouth and City College, Norwich. 

His own school Latin and history lessons had left him besotted with ancient Rome but as well as his Roman books which roam across the ancient empire as far as Africa and Asia, and been published in more than 20 languages, Simon has written historical novels and thrillers. 

Several million copies of his books have sold around the world and he is currently setting up a university creative writing and business course in Mauritius – but regularly returns to Lyng. 

“Once you have lived somewhere like Norfolk, with Norwich on your doorstep, it is very difficult to give it up,” he said. 

His favourite Roman site in Norfolk is the town of Venta Icenorum, or Caistor St Edmund, which features in his latest book. “A good way to get a feel for the landscape is the Boudica trail which is a modern walk but based on old tracks. It makes you much more aware of the history under your feet,” said Simon who is working on his next book continuing Boudicca’s story to the bitter end. 

Death to the Emperor is published by Headline and there is a chance to enjoy an evening with Simon Scarrow, as he launches his latest book with a talk, Q&A and book signing, at Jarrold, Norwich, on December 8.   


What did the Romans do for Norfolk?  

Roman towns  

Caistor St Edmund is one of just three regional Roman centres in Britain that have not been built over. It had a forum, temples, baths, an amphitheatre, running water and defensive walls and ramparts. Outside the walled town were suburbs and a big temple complex.  

Eastern Daily Press:

Roman forts  

See the remains of Roman coastal forts where Roman soldiers patrolled the edges of their vast empire at Brancaster, Caister-on-Sea and Burgh Castle.   

Roman roads   

Long stretches of the modern A140 follow the Roman route between Colchester and Caistor St Edmund. Another main Roman route into Norfolk from the south was along the Peddars Way, which was already ancient 2,000 years ago. From the west, the Romans marched across the Fen Causeway to Denver. More traces of Roman routes include the lane still known as Roman Road, running north from Toftrees, via Waterden towards Holkham.   

Roman villas  

A line of grand Roman houses stretched along Peddars Way. The remains of a villa, complete with a bathhouse and under-floor heating, lie beneath farmland in Feltwell, others have been found at nearby Weeting and Methwold, and northwards to Gayton Thorpe, Grimston and Snettisham. Each would have had bath houses, mosaics and wall paintings. There are the remains of a Roman villa at Tivetshall St Mary, near Diss, and banks and ditches built by the Roman era residents of Hilgay and Hockwold-cum-Wilton, in the south east of the county. 

Every summer a community archaeological dig unearths Roman artefacts from the site of a villa and pottery kilns at Woodgate Nursery, Aylsham.  

Roman industry  

Tiny Brampton, between Aylsham and Buxton, was once an important manufacturing centre with at least 132 kilns producing pottery plates, bowls, jugs and jars.  More pottery kilns have been found along the Nar Valley at Pentney, Shouldham and Middleton.   

Roman treasure 

In the 3rd and 4th centuries wealthy citizens of Roman Norfolk began hiding coins and jewellery, revealing the increasing instability of the empire. Hoards have been unearthed in Hockwold, Crownthorpe and Snettisham.  

Roman temples   

Temples once stood in Caistor St Edmund, Hockwold, Snettisham, and Thetford. At Great Walsingham images of Roman gods and satyrs were found in 1950, revealing the site of a Roman temple. Inscribed rings suggest it was dedicated to Mercury. In Wicklewood aerial photography revealed the outline of a temple near St James Church. So many tiny coloured tiles were found that archaeologists believe the floors must have been covered in mosaics and Roman coins were also unearthed.  

Roman bricks 

Recycled Roman bricks can be seen in the walls of medieval churches at Brampton, Burgh Castle, Houghton-on-the-Hill and Reedham.  

Roman statues  

Not all our Roman remains arrived in Norfolk in Roman times. Thomas Coke, the first Earl of Leicester, toured Italy 300 years ago. His souvenirs included ancient Roman statues and he built Holkham Hall partly to house his collection.