Saturday, March 09, 2013

"Give Romans a Hug!"

Paul Roberts
I am so excited about the upcoming "Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum" exhibition at the British Museum.

It will be on from Thursday 28 March through until Sunday 29 September 2013.

In a recent interview with art historian Alastair Sooke, British Museum Roman curator Paul Roberts (right) says he wanted this exhibition to show what daily life in Ancient Rome would have been like.

Roman Mystery #2
Daily life in Ancient Rome is my passion, too. This is what I try to explore in my children's historical fiction series, The Roman Mysteries. Yes, my four protagonists solve mysteries and even go on a few missions for the Emperor Vespasian, but there is lots about ordinary life in a Roman town: shopping, eating, sleeping, napping, going to the baths, going to the doctor, entertainment, observing the festivals, etc. After all, the Romans were a lot like us, only they used a sponge-on-a-stick as loo roll and they didn't have chocolate!

Because Paul Roberts wants the exhibition to be about daily life, he and the organisers decided to set out the exhibition like a Roman house. The artefacts, objects or bodies (!) that might have been found in those rooms will be on display. The first thing you would have seen upon entering many Roman houses was the watch dog. Some houses had clever mosaic depictions of watchdogs. There are at least three different versions that I am aware of.

three different watchdog mosaics from Pompeii
These mosaic dogs were not meant to fool would-be robbers, but rather they warned potential perps about what might be waiting within. In fact, one mosaic actually has the Latin slogan "CAVE CANEM" written in tesserae beneath the dog. This literally means Beware of the Dog!

plaster cast of a watchdog who died in Pompeii
The famous plaster cast of the watchdog who died in the eruption of Vesuvius and left his negative space in the hardened ash will be the first item to greet us. This heartbreaking image inspired my first mystery, (and also Cerberus in the Cambridge Latin Course). Like many other objects that will be on show, he has never been shown in the UK before.

Over the May halfterm holiday, I am honoured to be giving two lectures supplementing this exhibition! The fun, illustrated talks will be aimed at families with children 7+, and they will focus on two of my favourite subjects: Animals and Children in Roman times.

If you have children with even a speck of interest in Ancient Rome, book tickets to see the Pompeii Exhibition for the May halfterm holiday. If you come on Monday, 27 May, you can reserve a free place to hear me give an illustrated lunchtime talk about Animals in Pompeii and Herculaneum. I'll be showing images of animals in mosaics, frescos and sculpture. I'll also introduce you to some real animals I have met on my research trips, like posh and scruffy cousins below. These dogs are the descendants of the ancient Roman watchdogs, lap dogs and hunting dogs.

Strangely, children aren't as well represented visually as animals. For every hundred images of animals, I'd guess we have only one or two of children. (Fewer, if you don't count cupids!) But if you come to my free lunchtime talk on Friday 31 May, you will learn some fascinating things about Children in Pompeii and Herculaneum. There are lots of fun and surprising facts about a day in the life of a Roman child. Including the ancient Roman version of toilet paper!

In his interview with Alastair Sooke, Paul Robertson said, "I want to give Romans a hug; that's what I want."

Roman Mysteries author Caroline Lawrence at the British Museum

I agree. I love the Romans. Sometimes I even dress up like one!

If you and your children also like the Romans, do book now for this exciting exhibition and also for one (or both) of my talks, and let's give the Romans a hug!

[This lecture is long gone but you can still get the 17 books in the Roman Mysteries series. They are perfect for children 9+ studying Romans as a topic in Key Stage 2. The Roman Mystery Scrolls series is aimed at kids aged 7+ and the Roman Quests series, set in Roman Britain, is a follow on for kids 9+]

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