“Every man is the architect of his own fortune…” – Appius Claudius Caecus (312 BC) Roman consul
I am currently reading Roma: A Novel of Ancient Rome by Steven Saylor and am in love with it. More specifically, I am in love with the new things I am learning. I have had quite an interest in all things Italian for some time now, but had not taken the time to fully explore Ancient Rome yet.
Saylor’s historical fiction novel takes you from the aborigines of ruma in 1000 B.C. to 1 B.C.; right before Christ was born. In the book, you follow a few ancient families as the centuries turn. The characters, often with the same names as their fathers and grandfathers in previous chapters, live their lives amongst the great historical figures of Roman history. We experience the major wars, the creation and worship of the various temples and gods….we ‘watch’ as architectural masterpieces are built and we ‘live’ the lives of Romans at that time. A time when every son was required to spend 10 years in the military, during a time when war was constant. A time when women couldn’t drink wine because it led to adultery, and there was a god for every part of life. I found myself constantly referring to Wikipedia to get the deeper story of many of the people, events, and wars. Wiki provided a great compliment to the book and pulled me further into my new-found interest in Ancient Roman history.
Since the storyline obviously requires fiction to hold it together, Steven Saylor took liberty with the casual conversations. (Otherwise it would be non-fiction, right?) For example, the twins, Remus and Romulus, with the help of their friends, came up with a story about being abandoned descendants of King Nimitur, to justify their right to the spoils of war from King Amulius. Also, prior to the war, locals would gossip about their mother, calling her a she-wolf (word for prostitute in 770 B.C. apparently!) Now, when you read the history of King Romulus, you will see one speculation that the “royal descendant” twins were raised by a wolf until they were found by their adopted father! Yes, Saylor fictionalized the conversation of the young boys, but I found it interesting to consider that this is probably EXACTLY how many myths and legends come to be. Modern day rumors, lies, and stories passed on from generation to generation..until it is fact…or ordained by the gods!
The parts of the story that I adore most, are those that involve the architecture. The building of the temples and Forum. They had NONE of the technology we have today, yet created massive temples to honor their gods! Structures of the like that would never be done today. There were no books or manuals, yet Kings and the Senators came up with brand new ways of thinking and doing despite the fact that for centuries things were done a certain way. Look at their creation of a Republic in a time of Kings. Look at the Appian Way or the first aqueduct. What revolutionary thinking at the time to consider that one could transport water to a city instead of building a city around water! I don’t know much about Ancient Rome and all of it’s players yet, but I definitely have intentions to explore more. I’m glad Steven Saylor has 12 more books about this period in time! Historical fiction is easily my favorite genre of books, because I’m not great at reading history books, but I love learning about it while I read fiction! Once I am more familiar with a subject…then I will follow-up with history books or Wiki.
All of this is going to make my Italy trip SO much more meaningful. It is awe-inspiring that Romans have managed to preserve many of the structures (or pieces of) for truly thousands of years. Wow. Thousands.