I bring you a non-fiction book for those of you who’ve always dreamed of travelling back in time and visiting Imperial Rome.
How to Survive in Ancient Rome by L J Trafford
Imagine you were transported back in time to Ancient Rome and you had to start a new life there. How would you fit in? Where would you live? What would you eat? Where would you go to have your hair done? Who would you go to if you got ill, or if you were mugged in the street? All these questions, and many more, will be answered in this new how-to guide for time travellers. Part self-help guide, part survival guide, this lively and engaging book will help the reader deal with the many problems and new experiences that they will face, and also help them to thrive in this strange new environment.
About the author:
After gaining a BA Hons in Ancient History LJ Trafford toured the amphitheatres of western europe before a collision with a moped in Rome left her unable to cross the road.
Which was a shame because there was some really cool stuff on the other side.
Returning to the UK somewhat battered and certainly very bruised she spent several years working as a tour guide. A perfect introduction to writing, involving as it did, the need for entertainment and a hefty amount of invention (it’s how she got tips).
She now works in London doing something whizzy with computers.
Palatine is the first in the Four Emperors series. Book Two is Galba’s Men, and is followed by Otho’s Regret and Vitellius’ Feast
See also two short stories featuring the same characters: ‘The Wine Boy’ and ‘The Wedding’ (in the Rubicon collection)
Follow me on Twitter, if you dare! @traffordlj
I thank Rosie Croft, from Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback ARC of this book, which I freely chose to review.
I am not an expert on Ancient Rome, but you don’t need to be to enjoy this title. In fact, I think this is a great entry-level book for those who want to learn a few things about Rome but don’t have much time or/and don’t fancy having to trudge through huge History books, but would rather a light read that gives them an overview of what life was like at the time.
This book is pretty similar to many modern guide books; it offers the basic information somebody who is completely new to a place needs to survive there and not get into any trouble. It contains black and white pictures, charts, and illustrations summarising important timelines, providing examples of civil clothing and uniforms, sketches and maps, and also boxes highlighting important and curious facts under the title ‘Did you know?’ There are also an index and a bibliography for those who might want to carry on reading about the topic after this introduction.
The actual book is set in 95 CE, and I particularly enjoyed the author’s decision to introduce two narrators or guides. They can provide us with first-hand insights into the social mores and everyday life in the era: one, Hortensia, is a lady of noble birth, and she tells us how it is to be female in Ancient Rome (not fun, let me tell you, even if you are well-off), and the other one, Titus Flavius Ajax, a freedman, was formerly an imperial slave and is now secretary to the emperor. This provides us with pretty informal but eminently practical information, giving it a personal touch that is otherwise missing from most standard guides or history books.
The entire book is written in a colloquial and easy-to-read manner, full of funny and amusing touches. That does not mean it is lightweight, as the depth of knowledge of the author is clearly in evidence, and there is plenty of factual historical information included as well. But it is seamlessly incorporated into the various chapters, and it does not feel heavy or dry.
The book is divided up into chapters, each one covering one of the basic topics. There is an introduction of two chapters offering a summary of the basic history of Rome up to that point, and another one offering more detailed information about the situation in 95 CE. The other chapters discuss subjects such as social structure, family, clothing, accommodation, shopping, food and diet, entertainment, health and medicine, work, warfare, religion and beliefs, law and order, and politics. The end matter of the book includes the bibliography and index already mentions, as well as a section of acknowledgements and one of notes corresponding to each chapter. I’ve already said I’m not an expert, although I’ve read a few books set in Ancient Rome, and, like most people, watched a few movies and series, but I have to admit I learned many details I had no idea about, and I got a much clearer sense of what life was like on a day to day basis for all the people living in Rome, and not only the kings and emperors.
People who prefer to make sure they like the style of writing before going ahead with a purchase can check a sample online. Just in case, I´m sharing a few snippets here, that I found amusing/intriguing.
‘Most of Rome is propped up with planks to stop it falling down’ comments the poet, Juvenal, drily. Even Cicero, who presumably could afford a decent block, complained that two of his invested rental properties had collapsed.
Demolishing this palace was a gesture by Emperor Vespasian that he was going to give back to the people, rather than taking from them. The Jewish Wars having just been settled meant that Vespasian, rather handily, had a lot of booty and a lot of slaves to build his grand edifice.
Did you know? The Roman punishment for patricide is most bizarre. The culprit was sewn up in a leather sack with a dog, a monkey, a snake and a cockerel, then rolled into the river.
This is an informative and entertaining book, offering quite a novel way to learn about Ancient Rome to those who aren’t fond of standard history books or prefer an informal and bite-sized approach. I recommend it to those interested in the topic and looking for a starter text, and also to people looking for a gift that combines educational value and amusement. Highly recommended.
Thanks to Rosie and the author for this book, thanks fo all of you for reading, and remember to keep safe, keep laughing, and if you’ve enjoyed it, you know what to do. ♥