The Roman empire spread from Britain and France all the way to Egypt and Iraq and everyone who lived in those areas called themselves Roman. They built Roman-style cities with a standard grid layout which included a theatre, amphitheatre, bathhouse, market, forum, temples and walls. In cities today, you can sometimes still make out the Roman grid and see remains of some of these structures.
Rich people wore Roman dress, and built country mansions in Roman style, called “villas”. The villa in the novel is near the Roman port town of Forum Julii (the modern town of Fréjus), where Maximus would have been an important man before he moved to Arelate.
Click here to view a digital reconstruction video of a luxurious villa in Gaul, like the one the travellers visit on their way to Arelate.
Before the Roman conquest, the people of Gaul spoke Gaulish (a Celtic language like modern Irish and Welsh). By the time of the story (more than 300 years later), they spoke the Roman language of Latin, but we have given the country slaves Gaulish names, since people in the countryside may still have used some Gaulish. The language of Gaulish died out, but researchers have reconstructed what it must have been like from words written on ancient objects found in France. The words of the song the slaves sing while treading the grapes in chapter 11 – geneta (girl) uimpi (pretty) and linda (drinks) – are known from writing on a cup and a weight used for spinning wool.