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Ben Pastor (pseudonym of Maria Verbena Volpi)

  • Original Title: ELIO SPARZIANO
  • Publication date: February 2007
  • Publisher: MINOTAUR BOOKS
  • Country: IT
  • 368 print pages
  • Crime fiction/Thriller


  • Epoch: Historical
  • Time Period: 4th century
  • Location setting: Italy, Palestinian Territories
  • Themes: PEOPLE facing life, Looking back on one's life, Search for the truth, Death, PEOPLE facing the extraordinary, Conspiracy, Rivalry, SOCIETY DYSFUNCTIONS, Power, War and other conflicts


A historical thriller series starring Elio Sparziano, a cavalry officer, historian and biographer, in charge of solving the most puzzling mysteries in all the provinces of the great Roman Empire.


The author writes in English and then her books are translated into Italian.

Ben Pastor is an author who has Italian and US citizenship. She writes in English. After studying archeology at the university La Sapienza in Rome, she moved to the United States where she has taught at various universities in Ohio, Illinois and Vermont.



In 304 c.e. Aelius Spartianus, officer and historian at the court of Diocletian in Dalmatia, is writing the biographies of past Roman rulers, including Hadrian, who has been dead for nearly 175 years. Aelius's particular charge is to investigate the unsolved mystery of the drowning death in the Nile of Hadrian's favorite, young Antinous.

Soon his duty turns twofold: the hunt for Antinous's grave, supposed to conceal proof of a conspiracy against Rome, and the murder of a wealthy army supplier and his servant. The mystery thickens as deaths multiply; scholarly work turns into a race against time and into a confrontation with risk, lies, and half-truths at the hands of priests, authorities, and former colleagues. While the trials against Christians (later known as the Great Persecution) inflame Egypt, Aelius gathers clues in odd places until his road leads inescapably to Rome.

Joined in his search by a blind retired soldier who is well experienced in counterespionage, Aelius scavenges for evidence in a world capital in decline. From Rome his breathless trail takes him to Hadrian's country estate, which is now acres and acres of monumental ruins in the wilderness. In the haunted stillness of roofless halls and overgrown gardens, Aelius deciphers the great plan of the villa, an astronomical chart confirming how the danger against Rome is clear and imminent. But who is behind it all? How deadly close is danger? In order to save the state and himself, Aelius must solve not only the puzzle of Antinous's drowning, but also the murders that have marred his path.

Books 2 to 5

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