Marcus Didius Falco

Marcus Didius Falco

Marcus Didius Falco is the central character and narrator in a series of 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 "private informer"), Davis portrays the world of the Roman Empire under Vespasian. The tone is arch and satirical, but the historical information provided is carefully accurate.


Falco's life history

Falco was born on 20 or 21 March 41 AD[1] to Marcus Didius Favonius (aka Geminus) and Junilla Tacita. His father was a (somewhat shady) auctioneer, and his family was of Plebeian rank. A veteran of the Roman army, he still grieves for his elder brother, Festus, who 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 had also been a soldier, in the Legio II Augusta, but was "invalided out" in 60 following the legion's disgrace in the Boudiccan Revolt. Falco's father left his mother for another woman. Falco and his father were eventually reconciled in the course of an investigation (Poseidon's Gold) and now see one another occasionally, 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 has risen to a certain level of respectability – he has achieved equestrian rank (One Virgin Too Many) – and he and Helena now live 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 Last Act in Palmyra, reveals that she is expecting a child – she claims by Geminus.

Falco's other jobs

Falco, besides being a private investigator, is an amateur poet. He has written satires, some odes, and some epigrams. He has also written the play The Spook Who Spoke, meant to be understood as a precursor of Hamlet.

Falco has also been 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).

Prominent acquaintances

  • 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.
  • Claudius Laeta, a Roman official.
  • Sextus Julius Frontinus.
  • Anacrites, the chief spy, Falco's arch-enemy and sometime partner

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 and two brothers Aulus Camillus Aelianus and Quintus Camillus Justinianus; 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.


  • Social class relationships: Falco (plebeian) is "married" to Helena Justina, daughter of a senator (patrician), and he is trying to improve his status.
  • Family relationships: Falco, a pater familias, is trying to harmonize his family life with his job.
  • Four sesterces = one silver denarius. Twenty-five silver denarii = one gold aureus. See also Roman currency.
  • Togidubnus, who lived at Fishbourne in Chichester, is the same man as Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus, but there is some controversy as to how his name should be spelled.
  • Lindsey Davis in her series explores many aspects of Roman life, including some that are little known. For instance, Ode to a Banker includes a take on the vanity publishing industry and on the financial business, See Delphi and Die deals with Mediterranean package holidays; A Dying Light in Corduba depicts the olive oil industry; Venus in Copper examines the real estate business; Poseidon's Gold covers the world of art dealing; Last Act in Palmyra deals with theatre troupes; and The Accusers focuses on the legal profession.
  • As paterfamilias of a large, wrangling and not always socially secure family at risk from accusations of impiety, Falco, who has little enough time for the Roman deities, let alone for foreign superstitions and cults, is somewhat prejudiced against Jews, Christians, followers of Cybele, and adherents of other barbarian religions.

Books in the Falco Series

  1. The Silver Pigs, originally published as Silver Pigs (set in Rome and Britain) in AD 70-71. (1989)
  2. Shadows in Bronze (set in Rome and Campania) in AD 71. (1990)
  3. Venus in Copper (set in Rome) in AD 71. (1991)
  4. The Iron Hand of Mars (set in Rome and Germany) in AD 71. (1992)
  5. Poseidon's Gold (set in Rome and Capua) in AD 72. (1993)
  6. Last Act in Palmyra (set in Rome, The Decapolis and Palmyra) in AD 72. (1994)
  7. Time to Depart (set in Rome) in AD 72. (1995)
  8. A Dying Light in Corduba (set in Rome and Córdoba, Spain) in AD 73. (1996)
  9. Three Hands in the Fountain (set in Rome) in AD 73. (1997)
  10. Two for the Lions (set in Rome, Carthage, and Libya) in AD 73. (1998)
  11. One Virgin Too Many (set in Rome) in AD 74. (1999)
  12. Ode to a Banker (set in Rome) in AD 74. (2000)
  13. A Body in the Bath House, aka A Body in the Bathhouse (set in Rome and Britain) in AD 75. (2001)
  14. The Jupiter Myth (set in Britain) in AD 75. (2002)
  15. The Accusers (set in Rome) in AD 75. (2003)
  16. Scandal Takes a Holiday (set in Rome) in AD 76. (2004)
  17. See Delphi and Die (set in Rome and various locations in Greece) in AD 76. (2005)
  18. Saturnalia (set in Rome) at year-end. (2007)
  19. Alexandria (set in Alexandria) in AD 77. (2009)
  20. Nemesis (Set in Rome and Latium) in summer AD 77. (2010)

Other appearances

  • Falco also featured as the central character in the 1993 movie Age of Treason (played by Australian actor, Bryan Brown). The film was disowned by Lindsey Davis because it bore no resemblance to the books on which it purported to be based.[2]
  • A young Falco makes a cameo in The Eagle's Prophecy, by Simon Scarrow. A "Mrs Falco" is told by a neighbour to curb her son's inquisitiveness; while not actually named as the detective, Simon Scarrow has confirmed on his website that this was indeed meant to be a tribute to the Falco series. However, due to unauthorised usage, and what she regarded as a misrepresentation of her characters (particularly Falco's father, implied to be a drunken wife-beater), Lindsey Davis was highly displeased. The book was withdrawn and republished with the names altered, with Falco becoming Gaius and his mother renamed Mrs Gabinus.[citation needed]
  • The first five books were dramatised for radio by the BBC, one each year, between 2004 and 2009. Anton Lesser played Falco in all four, while Helena was played by Fritha Goodey in the first and, following Ms Goodey's death, Anna Madeley from the second onwards. It is produced by Lindsey Davis's friend Mary Cutler, of The Archers fame. The fifth novel, Poseidon's Gold, was broadcast by the BBC in May 2009.


  1. ^ In The Silver Pigs, p. 153 Falco celebrates his 30th birthday at Massilia in the spring of 71 AD. In Venus in Copper, p. 60 Falco gives his birthday as in March, on the cusp of Pisces and Aries i.e. 20 or 21 March.
  2. ^ Lindsey Davis: Radio and Film

External links

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