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”.
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,
- festivals and processions,
- sacred springs,
- shepherds and cheese making.
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.
Many Roman buildings were so well built that they are still partly standing today, like the baths and amphitheatre at Arles.
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.
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.
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.
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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