How I found out about the past

To find out about the details of Roman clothes, furniture, houses, travel, festivals, prayers, food, children’s games, farming, and theatre, I used ancient writings, paintings, mosaics, sculptures and archaeology.  Writings or remains from the past are called “primary sources”. I also read books, articles and museum information pages written by archaeologists and historians. These modern works are called “secondary sources”. 

Ancient writings 

From Roman letters, poems, novels, recipes, farming manuals, and a 4th century list of prices (always checking the original Latin text!) I found out about 

  • cheap food and fancy meals,
  • betrothals, 
  • festivals and processions, 
  • sacred springs,
  • shepherds and cheese making.
For Chapter 42, we used the Roman  writer Columella’s instructions on how to make cheese, as seen in this painting from Pompeii. Photo Carole Raddato via flickr

The 2nd century Roman writer Apuleius describes a religious procession and theatre show, which we used for the descriptions in chapters 50 to 53.

Roman writings on classes boys did in school helped us to imagine the speech day in chapter 4.

The writer Pliny describes an important woman and benefactor being greeted with applause by the public, which inspired Eugenia’s entrance to the baths in Chapter 4.

Roman buildings

Many Roman buildings were so well built that they are still partly standing today, like the baths and amphitheatre at Arles.

Constantine’s bathhouse in Arles, where Felix writes on the stripey wall, sits below the car park because centuries of dust, dirt and building have raised the street level. Photo Mbzt via Wikimedia Commons

Even when buildings are ruined, archaeologists can reconstruct many details of daily life from the foundations of the walls, pipes and drains, remains of toilets and rubbish pits, and the fragments of roof tiles, mosaics, wall paintings and columns which they find. Click here to see remains of mosaics and wall paintings with fake painted marble like Petronia has in her room at Villa Fontanicum in Chapter 30. The mosaics in these photos are similar to many found in southern Gaul.

Finds from the past

I read about archaeological remains of plants, animal bones, jewellery, coins, boats,and temples, offerings and altars at sacred springs, to find out about details to use in the story. Click here to see some images of real statues offered at a spring, and reconstructions of what the sacred area and the shops might have looked like.

A coin of Emperor Constantine, like the nummi in the story. Photo Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. via Wikimedia Commons
In Chapter 7, Petronia has earrings “made of gold and pearls jingling in her ears” like these ones. Photo Public domain via Met Museum

Images and sculptures

I studied mosaics and sculptures of grand ladies like Eugenia, children with dogs, shepherds, and scenes of processions like the one for Mercury in chapter 50.  

4th century sculpture of a shepherd. Photo Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

Archaeology and science

Researchers use many scientific methods to find out more. By using chemical analysis and special light to examine remains, we know that building walls and columns were often partly red, marble statues were painted in realistic and vivid colours, and people wore coloured and patterned tunics, cloaks and mantles.

Colour reconstruction of a Roman period statue, based on the use of infrared light and examination of tiny traces of paint. Photo Carole Raddato via

Click here to see a video showing how archaeologists and scientists can rediscover the lost paint on ancient statues and recreate how they looked originally

Computer experts and archaeologists work together to create accurate reconstructions from the remains of buildings and objects. Click here to view a digital reconstruction video of the luxurious early 4th century bath house of the Emperor Diocletian in Rome, produced by the National Roman Museum. 

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