When people hear the words “ancient Roman” they usually picture a man wearing a toga and reading from a scroll. However, by the time of our story, in the early 4th century, many things had changed (just as we live differently from people hundreds of years ago). This period of history is even given a special name: “Late Antiquity”.
At this time:
Men no longer wore the traditional toga, except for rare ceremonial occasions, and women wore robes with long sleeves and much smaller mantles, as shown in Clothes.
Papyrus scrolls were still used, but hand-written books were starting to become popular. They had leather covers and pages made of parchment (very thin leather).
Men and women no longer used the traditional Roman forms of names. They had several names – the most important people had many! – and were usually called by their final name.
There were new sorts of coins (like the nummus in the market in the story).
It became fashionable to recline on semi-circular dining couches (even on a picnic!) instead of the traditional three rectangular ones.
In Late Antiquity, some “barbarians” (people from outside the Roman Empire) joined the Roman army and fought with the Romans against other groups of barbarians. We borrowed the description of the barbarian soldiers in chapter 34 from the Gaulish writer Sidonius, who describes one he saw as “seven foot tall”.
At the time of the story, under Emperor Constantine, 313-314 CE, Arelate (moden Arles) became a very important city with a new mint and lots of new buildings including the bathhouse mentioned in the story.
Nobody knows exactly where the mint was, but the remains of a building with very thick walls have been excavated near the famous boat bridge, so we have imagined it there.
Many exceptionally rich, carved stone coffins from this period have been found in Arles.