Monday, January 31, 2011

Themes & Topics

Themes and Topics in the Roman Mysteries
compiled by the author herself: Caroline Lawrence

These are the various themes and topics I had in mind while writing the Roman Mysteries. But writing is as much an intuitive right-brain exercise as a logical left-brain one. In other words, even the author doesn't always know everything he/she is doing. So if you think you've seen something new or different, you are probably right!

Book 1: The Thieves of Ostia (theme: fear of the unknown)
Roman topic: introduction to a Roman town (Ostia port of Rome) & Roman social structure.
Real historical characters: Cartilius Poplicola (resident of Ostia attested in inscriptions)
Sources: The Aeneid, the Bible, Ostian inscriptions
Greek myths: Aeneas, Cerberus, Perseus and Medusa
featured food: snails, stuffed dormice, dates, fruit
key artefacts and objects: signet ring, wax tablet & stylus, oil lamp, tombs, amphoras, quartz dice
ROMANS Key Stages 2 & 3 - relevant blogs: How to Make a Stola, A Day in Ostia

Book 2: The Secrets of Vesuvius (theme: parentage & adoption)
Roman topic: the eruption of Vesuvius and destruction of Pompeii & surrounding towns
Real historical characters: Pliny the Elder, Titus Tascius Pomponianus, Rectina
Sources: Pliny the Younger, Pliny the Elder, Catullus, Ostian graffito
Greek myths: the return of Vulcan, Thetis, Achilles
Roman festivals: Vinalia, Vulcanalia
Pliny's simple fare: cheese, fruit, eggs; Tascius's rich fare: turbot in dill sauce
key artefacts: scrolls, portable inkpot & pen, flute, pan-pipes, parasol, cushions

Book 3: The Pirates of Pompeii (theme: slavery & freedom)
Nubia's book
Roman topic: Patrons and clients, slaves and freedmen
Real historical characters: The Emperor Titus, Pollius Felix (attested in a poem of Statius)
Historical site: the villa of Pollius Felix on the Cape of Sorrento, Scraio (spa town near Sorrento)
Sources: Pompeian graffiti, Statius's 'Silvae' (poems)
Greek myths: Dionysus and the pirates, Ariadne & Theseus
food: lemons (recently introduced); goat stew, flat bread, chickpeas, mineral water, sage tea
key artefacts: earrings, hairpins, theatrical masks, lyre, flute, kylix (Greek drinking cup)

Book 4: The Assassins of Rome (theme: guilt)
Jonathan's book
Roman topic: Nero's golden house, the destruction of Jerusalem, Jewish slave labour, chariot races
Real historical characters: Emperor Titus, Berenice, Domitian, Josephus
Sources: Suetonius, Cassius Dio, Homer, Josephus, the Bible
Greek myths: Odysseus, Polyphemus the cyclops, Penelope the faithful wife
Jewish festivals: Rosh Hashannah, Yom Kippur, Succot
featured food: exotic oranges; buttermilk; honey dipped apples for Rosh Hashanna
key artefacts: wax tablet & stylus, alabastron, loom & weights, bass lyre, tambourine

Book 5: The Dolphins of Laurentum (revenge & forgiveness)
Lupus's book
Roman topic: a real maritime villa, sponge-diving on the Greek islands
Real historical characters: Pliny the Younger
Sources: Pliny the Younger's letter about his Laurentum villa (letter II.xvii)
Greek myths: Medusa, Arion & the dolphins, Neptune & Amphitrite
Roman festival: Meditrinalia
featured food: honey glazed prawns, chicken soup
key artefacts: sponge-stick, sea-sponges, dolphin earrings, anchors, ball games

Book 6: The Twelve Tasks of Flavia Gemina (love & marriage)
Flavia's book
Roman topic: Love, betrothal and marriage in first century Rome
Historical site: notable buildings in and around Ostia
Sources: Ostian inscriptions, Ovid, Martial, Apollodorus
Greek myths: Twelve Tasks of Hercules, Pygmalion, Cerberus, Atalanta
Roman festival: Saturnalia
food: lentil stew, eggs, plums, oysters, mushrooms, quail pie, boar, ostrich, love potion!
key artefacts: sigilla (figurines), dice, objects in household shrine, strigil & bath set

Book 7: The Enemies of Jupiter (theme: hubris)
Jonathan's book
Roman topic: medicine and doctors in first century Rome
Real historical sites: Tiber Island, Palatine Hill, Capitoline Hill and the Temple of Jupiter
Sources: Suetonius, Cassius Dio, Galen, Pliny the Elder, Hippocrates
Greek myths: Prometheus & Pandora, Aesculapius, Niobe and her children
featured food: food for medicinal properties, light, medium & heavy foods, etc
key artefacts: bleeding cup, votive parts of the body, medical instruments

Book 8: The Gladiator from Capua (theme: blood & sacrifice)
Nubia's book
Roman topic: gladiators, beast-fights and the opening of the Colosseum in spring of AD 80
Real historical sites: the Flavian Amphitheatre (the Colosseum), Domus Aurea, Mons Testaccio
Real historical figures: Titus, Domitian, Carpophorus the beast-fighter, Martial
Sources: Martial, Suetonius, Cassius Dio, Ovid, Statius, Seneca, Pliny
Greek myths: Orpheus, Ganymede, Prometheus, and more
Jewish festival: Passover
featured food: barley porridge for gladiators, snacks sold at games, etc.
key artefacts: gladiatorial arms & armour, ancient souvenirs, lottery balls thrown to crowds

Book 9: The Colossus of Rhodes (theme: vows & promises)
Lupus's book
Roman topics: the seven wonders of the world, ancient 'tourism'
Historical sites: Rhodes, Symi , Kalymnos
Sources: Pliny the Elder, Apollonius of Rhodes, Homer
Greek myths: Jason and the Argonauts by Apollonius of Rhodes
GREEKS KS2 & 3 - relevant blogs: Colossus of Rhodes, Ancient Gum, Hylas

Book 10: The Fugitive from Corinth (theme: jealousy)
Nubia's book
Roman topics: Greeks in the Roman world
Historical sites: Corinth, Delphi, Athens
Sources: Pausanias, Apollodorus, Herodotus, Aeschylus
Greek myths: Theseus's Athenian adventures, Eumenides

Book 11: The Sirens of Surrentum (theme: sex & decadence)
Flavia's book
Roman topics: Roman philosophy and the failed plot to kill Nero
Historical characters: Nero, Seneca, Lucan, Polla Argentaria, Flaccus
Sources: Seneca, Lucan, Suetonius, Tacitus, Statius, Propertius
Greek myths: Dido and Aeneas, Odysseus and the Sirens
ROMANS KS3 - relevant blogs: Villa Limona, Serendipity in Surrentum, Poison

Book 12: The Charioteer of Delphi (theme: faithfulness)
Nubia's book
Roman topics: chariot races and factions
Historical site: the Circus Maximus
Historical characters: real charioteers like Scopas, Hierax and Crescens
Sources: Ovid, Juvenal, Martial
Greek myths: Pelops and Oenomaus
Roman festivals: Ludi Romani
ROMANS KS2 & KS3 - relevant blogs: Fun Chariot Facts, Roman Horse Names

Book 13: The Slave-girl from Jerusalem (theme: death & birth)
Jonathan's book
Roman topics: childbirth, funerals, wills, Roman law courts, gestures of a rhetor
Historical backstory: destruction of Jerusalem and siege of Masada
Sources: Josephus, Quintilian, Cicero, Juvenal, Seneca, Roman legal documents
Greek myths: Jason and the Argonauts by Apollonius of Rhodes
featured food: pea and leek soup, mastic chewing resin, sage tea, chestnut flour
key artefacts and objects: birthing chair, funeral pyre, bier, tombs, seal-box for wills

Book 14: The Beggar of Volubilis (theme: piety)
Flavia's book
Roman topics: Roman theatre, Cleopatra's descendants, sightings of Nero
Historical sites: Sabratha, Tripolis, Volubilis, Ghadames
Sources: Strabo, Pliny the Elder, Plutarch
Greek myths: Diana and Actaeon
featured food: millet porridge, roast locusts, lizard meat, camel-milk pancakes, senna tea, cola nuts
key artefacts and objects: bow, arrows, quiver, betrothal ring, bath-set, Nero's emerald, lens
EGYPT KS2 & KS3 - relevant blogs: Volubilis, Ugly Cleopatra

Book 15: The Scribes from Alexandria (theme: going home)
Nubia's book
Roman topics: Roman Egypt especially Alexandria, eunuchs, the Great Library, the Nile
Historical sites: Canopus, Alexandria, Giza, Edfu, Aswan, Nubia
Sources: Strabo, Martial, Juvenal
Egyptian myths and legends, including story of Isis, Osiris and Seth
featured food: sun-bread, bean porridge, palm wine, onions, leaf-cups, dom-fruit
key artefacts and objects: hieroglyphs, graffiti, riddles, codes, treasure map

Book 16: The Prophet from Ephesus (theme: redemption)
Jonathan's book
Roman topics: early church in Asia Minor
Historical sites: Halicarnassus, Ephesus, Hierapolis, Laodicea, Heracleia
Historical characters: St John the Evangelist, Tychichus
Sources: Strabo, the New Testament
Greek myths: Pluto and Persephone, Endymion and Selene
featured food: grapes from the vine, cucumber, sour cherry juice, sheep entrail kebabs, pomegranates
key artefacts and objects: dolls, travel baskets, reed flute, lyre, carpets, looms

Book 17: The Man from Pomegranate Street (theme: resolution)
Flavia's book
Roman topics: mysterious death of Titus in September AD 81
Historical sites: Rome, the Sabine Hills, Palace of Domitian and the 'Emissario' on Lake Albanus
Historical characters: Titus, Domitian, Ascletario, Gaius Valerius Flaccus, Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus
Sources: Suetonius, Babylonian Talmud, Apollonius of Tyana
Greek myths: Romulus and Remus, Rape of the Sabine Women, Death of Odysseus
featured food: Sabine olive oil, brown bread, honey, grapes, imported oysters
key artefacts and objects: needle-sharp stylus, graffiti, wedding veil and the spear to part the bride's hair

[The Roman Mysteries books are perfect for children aged 9+, especially those studying Romans as a topic in Key Stage 2. You can watch a television adaptation of some of them on Amazon Prime. For more information about Caroline's other books, go to]

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