Decius Metellus

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Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger is a fictional character created by author John Maddox Roberts, the protagonist of Roberts's SPQR series of historical mystery novels. A Roman Senator during the waning days of the Roman Republic, Decius solves mysteries, while at the same time working his way steadily up the cursus honorum. 'Decius' is, nonetheless, an impossible Praenomen for the Republican period; the author may have been thinking of 'Decimus'.

The SPQR series takes the form of Decius's memoirs, written during the reign of Augustus Caesar, when he has outlived all his friends and enemies, and no longer cares whom he offends or what anyone might do to him.

Character history[edit]

Born in 95 BC into the prominent Caecilii Metelli family, a (fictional) nephew of Metellus Pius, Decius began his career serving as a military legate and scout commander, in the civil war against Quintus Sertorius, during which he receives a scar from an Iberian spear.

He holds several political and judicial offices in the turbulent days leading up to the Roman Civil War. He becomes an ally of Cicero, a reluctant ally of Cato the Younger, a close friend of Titus Annius Milo, and a mortal enemy of Publius Clodius Pulcher. He later marries Julia, the (fictional) niece of Julius Caesar (by a lucky accident, the political marriage desired by his family coincides with his and Julia's own wishes).

Immediately before the Civil War, he is touring southern Italy as praetor peregrinus (a sort of roving magistrate who adjudicates cases related to resident non-citizens).

The volume most recently published in English, The Year of Confusion, takes place the year before Caesar's assassination, while Caesar is exercising his dictatorship in Rome. Decius is the sole surviving member of his family (or at least the only member still in the Senate), since his family connection with Caesar has separated him from the rest of his family, who have been disgraced and destroyed for their support of Pompey. Decius's activities between the previous novel, Oracle of the Dead and the events of Confusion are not detailed in the novels (except for a reference at the end of the fourth, The Temple of the Muses, that he was in Egypt with Caesar during his famous mediation between Ptolemy XIII and Cleopatra).

By the time of his memoirs' writing, he is an elderly senator during the reign of Augustus, whom he despises so much that he refuses to refer to him except as "The First Citizen," one of his more innocuous titles. Augustus leaves Decius alone, knowing him to be powerless, and even occasionally calls on him to solve a mystery (the subject matter of some of the short stories).

It is confirmed in Oracle that Julia, his wife, has predeceased him. Their inability to conceive a child is a source of tension in their marriage during the novels, but, according to one of the short stories, he has at least one grandson, indicating that he and Julia had at least one child before she died.

After Decius solves the murder of Julia the Elder's lover in 22 BC, clearing Julia of all suspicion, Augustus offers him the position of Rex Sacrorum. Decius declines, declaring that he views exile on an unknown island as being preferable. His exploits after that are unknown.

Cursus Honorum[edit]

  • 95 BC: Decius is born.
  • Scout commander in the Spanish army of his uncle Metellus Pius, against Sertorius.
  • SPQR I: The King's Gambit: Decius uncovers a plot to subvert Lucullus's command in the East, on the eve of his campaign against Mithridates VI of Pontus. In doing so, he befriends Titus Milo, and makes deadly enemies of Clodius, and his sister, Clodia.
  • (Elected Quaestor).
  • SPQR II: The Catiline Conspiracy: drawn into Catilina's conspiracy, and works undercover to undermine the conspiracy .
  • SPQR III: The Sacrilege: investigates Clodius's invasion of the rites of the Bona Dea and inadvertently uncovers proof of the pact between Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey.
  • SPQR IV: The Temple of the Muses: accompanies his relative on a diplomatic mission to Gallic expatriates in Spain, and then to Alexandria to the court of King Ptolemy XII.
  • SPQR V: Saturnalia: returning to Rome, commissioned to investigate the murder of his kinsman, Metellus Celer, with Clodia as his primary suspect.
  • SPQR VI: Nobody Loves A Centurion: when Clodius is elected tribune, Decius is no longer safe in Rome, and so reluctantly serves as a cavalry troop commander with Caesar's Legio X Gemina at the start of the Gallic Wars, surviving capture by Ariovistus.
  • SPQR VII: The Tribune's Curse: Commissioned to track down (and later solve the murder of) the rogue tribune Gaius Ateius Capito, after his sacrilegious cursing of Crassus on his departure for Syria (and his war on Parthia).
  • SPQR VIII: The River God's Vengeance: elected aedile, where he investigates and prosecutes corrupt building practices, and supervises cleaning of the city sewers after a serious flood.
  • (Forced to serve a second term as aedile, while his family brokers a compromise between Pompey and the Senate to resolve the worsening gang violence in the city).
  • SPQR IX: The Princess and the Pirates: To beef up his military experience, he is given command of a small naval flotilla charged with rooting out piracy in the Eastern Mediterranean; based in Cyprus, he reluctantly accepts the young Cleopatra's aid as one of his ship's captains.
  • SPQR X: A Point Of Law: While campaigning for the praetorship in Rome, Decius is accused of murder of a young aspiring politician who accused him of corruption.
  • SPQR XI: Under Vesuvius:a priest’s daughter is murdered. Decius must find her killer and keep the mob off a young boy whom everyone blames but he believes to be innocent.
  • SPQR XII: Oracle of the Dead: elected praetor peregrinus, Decius enjoys a leisurely tour of southern Italy, solving several murders along the way.
  • SPQR XIII: The Year of Confusion: an ordinary senator again, Decius is tasked by Caesar with supervising the introduction of the new calendar.