Ancient Rome in Literature

Roman Forum evening shadows
Roman Forum evening shadows

Destination: Rome

Books: The Masters of Rome Series by Colleen McCullough

It seems to me that is essential to have some understanding of ancient Rome if you are going to travel to today’s Rome. All those piles of rock and bits of arches in the forum, with the magnificent hulk of the Coliseum watching over it all look a lot less confusing if you know something about the daily life of the Romans at the pinnacle of the Roman Empire.

I imagine that I see togaed figures reclining on benches in the baths, or scurrying around from shop to shop trying to strike a good bargain so they can afford all those splendid mosaics in the courtyard of the summer place down at Herculaneum.

Colleen McCullough’s book are just the time ticket you need to get a look at Roman life among the wealthy, and a few hints about the life of other people in the Roman Empire also.  Like every period of history, when I imagine myself in a far distant time, I pick a good stratum of society. Wouldn’t you love to have lived in Renaissance Italy? Well, as a noble, or at least high merchant class, not as a peasant. With my love of Greece, I daydream about living in Athens in the 5th century B.C. However, not as a slave, of course. Although some scholars claim that all women were treated pretty much as slaves, others say the mothers and managers of households were revered.  And in the Roman Empire, I am the wife of a Senator (at least–if not a Caesar.) And as in Greece, the female role of courtesan sounds pretty cushy.

Back to the point. McCullough wrote seven books based on life in Rome.  The First Man in Rome started the series, and while I enjoyed it, I found it had almost too much detail. There are Roman experts who quibble with her history, although for a novelist, she did a mighty fine pile of research, in my opinion.

So dramatic was ancient Rome that many fiction books exist based on the real history. If you love Rome, or love ancient history, you’ll be trapped and find it difficult to emerge.  Try to get out by by the time I talk about the movie Angels and Demons, which looks at ecclesiastical Rome rather than ancient Rome, but provides a heck of a travelogue along the way.


Photograph by VMB, all rights reserved.

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

4 thoughts on “Ancient Rome in Literature

  1. oh wow!! i used to love her books, read all through them.but yes, they are very long and detailed! but still, she gives a GREAT sense of place and character.

    have you read judith tarr and harry turtledove’s _household gods_? it is an excellent read, time travel back to second-century Carnuntum, in ancient rome/italy. what impressed me most about this book is that it did NOT suffer from “cleopatra syndrome”, where we think if we time travel we’ll come back as someone rich and famous. some parts were violent, though- just a fyi.
    .-= jessiev hopes you will read blog ..Recipes from Italy: Poached Pears =-.

  2. Hey –
    It’s fellow blogsherpie Jason at AlpacaSuitcase
    Nice post about Rome travel literature…I will check out the Colleen M. books…I just finished “Julius Caesar” by Phillip Freeman and “Pompeii” by Robert Harris. We go to Rome next week. My daughter is just finishing “The Agony and the Extasty” and wants another historical fiction book in ancient Italy. Any ideas?
    Check out this post for some unconventional ideas about teaching kids about ancient Rome:
    Thanks, I like your site.

    .-= Jason hopes you will read blog ..Corsica’s Cap Corse: Travels With Uncle Berny =-.

    1. Jason: Has your daughter read Michelangelo’s Ceiling? I’m assuming you’re talking about history that does not go back as far as Rome? I envy your your trip to Rome. Loved it and had all too short a time there.

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