There were no passenger boats in the Roman Empire, so people who wanted to travel by river or sea had to negotiate a lift on a cargo boat. There were many different kinds of ships, boats and barges, and goods like the African pottery and barrels of wine or fish products carried on the Lady Luck were transported by water.
Barges full of cargo were dragged upstream against the strong flow of the river by teams of up to fifty men walking on the riverbanks. The work was very slow and very hard. Roman writers describe their bent backs and the noise of their shouts, and sculptures show them walking with sticks, pulling ropes tied to a towing mast. The barges could return downstream more quickly by floating with the river current.
We modelled the Lady Luck on a real barge found by archaeologists in the Rhône River at Arles. This boat, which is on display at the Museum of Ancient Arles, is very long and thin and shallow, to navigate the rough waters of the river.
The name of a boat owner called Anatolius was found on a bronze token in Arles, so we gave his name to the captain of the Lady Luck. It is possible that he or his family came from Anatolia (modern Turkey). You can see the token here.
The details of the journey in Chapters 16-25 are based on Roman writings and images, descriptions of the life of the Rhône barge men in medieval documents and the book Lord of the River set in 1840, when barges were towed by horses but the river conditions were little changed. A wooden bailer like Borius’s was found in a Roman boat wreck in Italy.