Marcus Didius Falco
Marcus Didius Falco is the fictional central character and narrator in a series of historical mystery crime novels by Lindsey Davis. Using the concepts of modern detective stories (with Falco as the private investigator, roughly translated into the classical world as a delator or "private informer"), the novels portray the world of the Roman Empire under Vespasian. The tone is arch and satirical, but the historical setting is largely accurate.
|Marcus Didius Falco|
|First appearance||The Silver Pigs (1989)|
|Last appearance||Nemesis (2010)|
|Created by||Lindsey Davis|
Fictional character biography
Falco was born on 20 or 21 March 41 AD to Marcus Didius Favonius and Junilla Tacita. His father is a somewhat shady auctioneer, and his family is of Plebeian rank, but Falco himself eventually achieves Equestrian rank.
While Falco is still young, his father leaves his mother and the family home to live with another woman, changing his agnomen (a form of nickname) from Favonius to "Geminus". When Falco's elder brother Festus is killed, Falco becomes head of the family and in the position of responsibility his father has abdicated.
Falco joins the Roman Army and serves in the Second Augusta legion in Britain during the Boudiccan Revolt. He then became an army scout. Some time after that he manages to get himself "invalided out" with a relatively minor wound in AD 66. Festus had served in the legio XV Apollinaris and was posthumously awarded the mural crown after he was killed in 68 AD on active service during the First Jewish-Roman War in Judaea.
Falco and his father are forced to an uneasy accommodation in the course of Poseidon's Gold and see one another on occasions thereafter, but Falco's sympathies remain with his mother.
Falco met his wife, Helena Justina, the divorced and patrician daughter of a senator, while on an investigation in Britannia (The Silver Pigs), but their very different circumstances made their relationship difficult. After a series of successful missions for the emperor, Falco rose to a certain level of respectability – he achieved equestrian rank (One Virgin Too Many) – and he and Helena then lived together with their two daughters, in an arrangement acceptable to his in-laws. In Nemesis, it is revealed that Helena Justina has been pregnant once again. Tragically the baby, Marcus Didius Justinianus, dies shortly after birth on the day that Geminus, Falco's father, also dies. At his father's wake Falco discovers that he is to become a brother yet again when Thalia, an old friend he met in Venus in Copper, Last Act in Palmyra and Alexandria, reveals that she is expecting a child – she claims by Geminus.
Falco and Helena adopted Flavia Albia, a British child, whom they rescued in London in The Jupiter Myth. At the age of 28, in AD 89, she is a widowed informer and the central character of Davis's book The Ides of April, in the series Falco: The New Generation. In the sequel, Enemies at Home, Albia reveals the identity of her deceased husband, who is none other than Lentullus, an ex-legionary formerly under the leadership of her uncle Quintus when he was tribune.
Several novels suggest that Falco survived quite a few years after the cliffhanger ending of Nemesis, in 77 AD. The first Flavia Albia novel, The Ides of April, is set in 89 AD. While Falco does not actually appear as a character, he is alluded to at several points. Ode to a Banker suggests that Falco managed to survive as late as 94 AD (narrating events in 74 AD but apparently recounted twenty years later). In Last Act in Palmyra (p. 367), set in 72 AD, Falco is talking to the Roman garrison commander in Palmyra and asks this question:
- "Who's your governor in Syria?"
- "Ulpius Traianus."
- It meant nothing much then, though those of us who lived to be old men would see his son's craggy mush on the currency.
The reference is to the emperor Trajan (Traianus), who ruled 98-117 AD. When Trajan took over Falco would have been 57, probably an 'old man' by contemporary standards. In A Dying Light in Corduba (p. 279, mass paperback edition), Falco narrates the following with reference to the city of Italica (in the Roman province of Baetica, Hispania): Those who lived to be old men would know this dot in the provinces as the birthplace of an emperor. The allusion is to the Emperor Hadrian, probably born in Italica in 76 AD, who succeeded Trajan in 117 AD. The quote seems to indicate that Falco, at the time he is writing this particular memoir, knows that Hadrian became emperor—and so evidently Falco was still alive in August 117 AD, at the age of 76, now definitely one of those who lived to be old men.
Other employment, and business
Falco, besides being a private investigator, is an amateur poet. He has written satires, some odes, some epigrams, and the play The Spook Who Spoke, meant to be understood as a precursor of Hamlet.
Falco was awarded the post of "Procurator of the Sacred Geese" of the Temple of Juno Moneta, a sinecure given him by Vespasian in lieu of decent payment for his services. The post was later abolished (The Accusers).
In The Ides of April, Falco seems to have given up his work as informer. Although he likes to discuss Flavia Albia's cases with her, he clearly acts as an adviser, rather than actually being involved. Instead, he appears to have taken up his fathers business as an auctioneer. For example, he's auctioning the legacy of the late Julius Viator. Even the tax evading seems to be still going on, as Flavia Albia is once travelling in a cart with a secret compound, that belongs to her "father".
- Helena Justina – Falco's "unofficial" wife, a senator's daughter and therefore a highly inappropriate match.
- Lucius Petronius (Petro) Longus – Falco's best friend from army days, a watch captain in the Vigiles who puts his daughters before alcohol, but alcohol before his wife. Petro develops a "friendship" with Falco's temperamental sister, Maia.
- Decimus Camillus Verus – Helena's father, who tolerates Falco socially.
- Vespasian – the Emperor.
- Titus and Domitian - the Emperor's sons, the one being a treasure and the other a trial. The Flavia Albia series explains that the ascendancy of the latter forces Falco into hiding, resulting in him playing a far less prominent role.
- Sextus Julius Frontinus.
- Anacrites - the chief spy, Falco's arch-enemy and sometime partner
- Claudius Laeta, a Roman official. Laeta also reappears in the Flavia Albia series and passes away in Deadly Election.
- Nothokleptes - a native Egyptian who functions as Falco's banker (as well as creditor for most of the Falco series) and has a somewhat prominent role in Ode to a Banker where he explains how banking in the Hellenistic era works. He is revealed to have a son in Deadly Election and is revealed to have grown senile in his last days.
- Aulus Camillus Aelianus and Quintus Camillus Justinianus - Helena's younger brothers. At the beginning of the Falco series their father hopes to have at least one of them elected into the Senate. This turns out to be difficult, if not impossible, due to lack of funds and ambition. Instead, both start working with Falco who acts as a tutor to them. In The Ides of April, however, Flavia Albia mentions that both of them are members of the Senate and working as lawyers, or accusers ("specialised on compensation claims").
- Rodan - initially a Gladiator, later a beater for Smaractus, the landlord of Falco's Fountain Court apartment, and finally the useless concierge of the same house (now owned by Falco). He considers Falco "nasty", because he was once beaten up by him. (The Ides of April)
Other characters include Falco's mother, his sisters, their husbands, and their never-ending crowd of offspring; his father Geminus (the shady antiques dealer); his two children and their British nursemaid Albia, whom Marcus and Helena have adopted; Helena's mother; Falco's one-time landlord Smaractus; the laundry proprietor Lenia, Smaractus' wife and Falco's former neighbour; Falco's personal trainer Glaucus; and various murderers, criminals, exotic dancers, and mangy animals, all of whom spend a great deal of time making Falco's life a little harder than it would be otherwise.
Flavia Albia is Marcus Didius Falco's adopted daughter, who eventually becomes a delatrix (a detective or private informer) like him. Albia first appears in The Jupiter Myth (2002) wherein she manages to save a pack of dogs from being burnt to death. This catches Helena's eye who then decides to adopt her, but Albia is almost turned away by Falco for vandalising the furniture of Helena's uncle, Hilarius. Eventually, however, Falco and Helena form a very close bond with their new protégée, and Albia makes an appearance in almost every successive book thereafter, helping Falco and Helena in their investigations. Her first notable case is recalled in the first Flavia Albia Mystery, The Ides of April (2013).
Albia was thought to have been born to a Romano-British couple who lost her during Boudica's uprising, when the Roman city of Londinium was burnt down and its inhabitants massacred. By the time she was a teenager, she had been living mostly as a street vagrant, although she may have done menial jobs, possibly as a slave in a Londinium household as mentioned in Enemies at Home. She is depicted as having dark-coloured hair and blue eyes.
Falco describes Albia as a troubled and moody teenager fond of food, yet fairly level-headed and down to earth because of her impoverished past (like her adopted father, who nonetheless says that "prophesying doom for men" brought Albia "much satisfaction"). Because Albia was expected early on to help Falco nurse his daughters Julia and Sosia, Albia is good at managing children. Following the events of Nemesis (2009), Albia decides to leave Falco and Helena to prevent Anacrites or any other enemies of the Didii from using her to hurt her adopted parents, and she enters the investigative profession under the tutelage of Falco and other unnamed delators, living in Falco's former Aventine residence. By the time of The Ides of April her family was able to acquire the entire insulae block some way or the other from Smaractus, whose former employee Rodan now serves the Didii as the porter of Fountain Court.
Albia once had a relationship with Aulus Camillus Aelianus, one of Helena's brothers, which abruptly ended when Aulus married his tutor's daughter from Greece. Albia eventually married Lentullus (a character from the original Falco series), but by the beginning of The Ides of April, Lentullus had already died. Afterwards, Albia begins a relationship with an aedile, Tiberius Manlius Faustus, and by the start of The Third Nero they are married.
Books in the Falco Series
- The Silver Pigs, originally published as Silver Pigs (set in Rome and Britain) in AD 70-71. (1989)
- Shadows in Bronze (set in Rome and Campania) in AD 71. (1990)
- Venus in Copper (set in Rome) in AD 71. (1991)
- The Iron Hand of Mars (set in Rome and Germania) in AD 71. (1992)
- Poseidon's Gold (set in Rome and Capua) in AD 72. (1993)
- Last Act in Palmyra (set in Rome, The Decapolis and Palmyra) in AD 72. (1994)
- Time to Depart (set in Rome) in AD 72. (1995)
- A Dying Light in Corduba (set in Rome and Córdoba, Spain) in AD 73. (1996)
- Three Hands in the Fountain (set in Rome) in AD 73. (1997)
- Two for the Lions (set in Rome, Carthage, and Libya) in AD 73. (1998)
- One Virgin Too Many (set in Rome) in AD 74. (1999)
- Ode to a Banker (set in Rome) in AD 74. (2000)
- A Body in the Bath House, aka A Body in the Bathhouse (set in Rome and Britain) in AD 75. (2001)
- The Jupiter Myth (set in Britain) in AD 75, follows on from the previous novel (2002)
- The Accusers (set in Rome) in AD 75. (2003)
- Scandal Takes a Holiday (set in Rome and Ostia) in AD 76. (2004)
- See Delphi and Die (set in Rome and various locations in Greece) in AD 76. (2005)
- Saturnalia (set in Rome) at year-end AD 76. (2007)
- Alexandria (set in Alexandria) in AD 77. (2009)
- Nemesis (Set in Rome and Latium) in summer AD 77. (2010)
Books in the Flavia Albia series
- The Ides of April (set in Rome in April AD 89) (2013)
- Enemies at Home (set in Rome in June AD 89) (2014)
- Deadly Election (set in Rome in July AD 89) (2015)
- The Graveyard of the Hesperides (set in Rome in August AD 89) (2016)
- The Third Nero (set in Rome in September AD 89) (2017)
- Pandora's Boy (set in Rome in October AD 89) (2018)
- A Capitol Death (set in Rome in November AD 89) (2019)
Books featuring other Didii family members
- The Spook Who Spoke Again (set in Rome in August AD 89) (2015 - novella; ebook and audio only) (features Marcus Didius Alexander Postumus, Falco's brother/adopted son)
- Vesuvius by Night (Set during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in August AD 79) (2017 - novella; ebook and audio only) (features Larius Lollius, Falco's nephew)
- Invitation to Die (Set in Rome in November AD 89) (2019 - novella; ebook and audio only) (features Aulus Camillus Aelianus and Quintus Camillus Justinianus, Falco's brothers-in-law)
Falco featured as the central character in the movie Age of Treason (1993), played by Australian actor Bryan Brown, and with Amanda Pays as Helena Justina. Lindsey Davis disowned the film because it bore no resemblance to the books on which it purported to be based.
The first five books were dramatised for radio by the BBC, one each year, between 2004 and 2009. Anton Lesser played Falco in all five, while Helena was played by Fritha Goodey in The Silver Pigs and, following Goodey's death, Anna Madeley from the second book adaptation onwards. The radio series is produced by Lindsey Davis' friend Mary Cutler.
- Davis, Lindsey (1989). The Silver Pigs'. p. 153. Falco celebrates his 30th birthday at Massilia in the spring of 71 AD.
- Davis, Lindsey (1991). Venus in Copper. p. 60. Falco gives his birthday in March, on the cusp of Pisces and Aries, i.e., 20 or 21 March.
- Davis, Lindsey (2003). Scandal Takes a Holiday. Century. p. 182. ISBN 0-7126-2587-9.
- Davis, Lindsey (2007). Saturnalia. Century. p. 41. ISBN 0-09-951998-4.
- "Radio and Film". Lindsey Davis. Archived from the original on 2011-09-04.