Oracle of History

Guiding you through the ages

Archive for the month “March, 2015”

Ancient History Can Be A Killer

My guilty pleasure has always been historical fiction, but I also really like a good mystery/crime drama. So I was super excited when I first discovered historical mysteries!

Yes, you’ve read that right. Two of the very best of the entertainment genres mashed together. I’ll set the scene of the discovery for you. I was on holiday with my family, on a beach in the south of France. I am not a big fan of the beach since I am very pale with blonde hair and blue eyes. I would often bring reading material and hide under a huge umbrella. My dad, a huge history nerd like me, noticed my great love of the ancient roman world so he let me borrow his book – “Last Seen in Massilia” by Steven Saylor. For those of you who don’t know, Massilia was the Ancient Roman name of the town of Marseille in the south of France.

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Thus an obsession was born! From the age of 16, I devoured any historical mysteries I could find set in the world of the Roman Empire and Republic. It was so much more engaging than your standard history book because it looked at the fabric of everyday life in the ancient world. You could feel the streets of the cities come to life and the characters of the books seemed real.

What was most surprising was that I was actually learning from these books. When I got to University and took my first survey course on the ancient world, I knew a lot more than my peers did. I had a head start because I loved these historical mysteries.

So I thought I would share with the world some of my favorite historical mystery series set in the world of ancient rome

Roma Sub Rosa Series by Steven Saylor 

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This series follows the life of Gordianus. He is a finder, which is essentially a private detective for hire. The story spans from his beginnings as a young detective to his elderly years with his children (and grandchildren!). As with most historical fiction, he meets famous people like Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. And he curries favor by solving mysteries along the way. Definitely not PG though – kiddies beware!

Marcus Didius Falco and Flavia Albia Mysteries by Lindsey Davis 

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The original series follows Marcus Didius Falco, an informer. He is an independent detective, but he is often asked to investigate things by the Emperor (and you can’t really say no to the Emperor). It is set during the reign of the Flavian dynasty, which means Vespasian, Titus and Domitian. What is so compelling about this series is that he is often sent to other parts of the Empire to solve mysteries. So you get to see the everyday life of romans in the provinces, which is not always common in this historical mystery genre. He is also a very sassy character and the writing has a lot of quick wit.

Lindsey Davis then recently started a new series, following the life of Falco’s adopted daughter Flavia Albia. An orphan, found in a brothel in Londinium, she follows in the footsteps of her adopted dad and becomes an informer in Rome. There are only a couple books out in this series, but I look forward to the rest!

Plinius Secundus Series by Bruce Macbain

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This series follows Pliny the Younger, a lawyer, solving mysteries and bringing murderers to justice! Since the main character is an actual person who lived during that time, you’ll find that this series is more tame than the other two in terms of its artistic liberties. The story is fake though, so don’t be fooled by the real people!

SPQR Mysteries by John Maddox Roberts 

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Unlike many of the series I have mentioned before, this series is narrated by a Senator – Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger, to be specific. It is written as a flashback and it gives us an “in” with the lives of the rich in Rome as an equal. So it shows you a different perspective of Roman life.

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I think you should have enough reading material now to last you awhile. For those of you who are more interested in Ancient Egypt or Ancient Greece, I apologize. I know this is very one sided, but Ancient Rome was my first love.

Please feel free to add historical mysteries in other time periods that you think I should check out or add your own favorites!

Let’s share the love guys.

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Is Historical Accuracy Worth The Price?

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What would you pay for a historically accurate movie or TV Show? This is a question constantly asked by people involved in the production of historical entertainment for the big and little screen. It often costs quite a lot of money to make sure that everything is period perfect and this may be why a lot of productions cut corners in this department. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the need to adapt a story for entertainment purposes and in some cases it does make the historical figures more interesting. Maybe it’ll even inspire people to look up the real historical facts.

But what if putting a little extra work actually makes a difference?

Case study 1 – HBO’s Rome

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A cult favorite, this TV show is often cited as a reasonably good representation of what Ancient Rome would have been like. Even one of my professors at university recommended it to us. Not for the plot though, but for the attention to detail in the show. You must, of course, keep your skeptical goggles on, but the sets and props are pretty spectacular.

Unfortunately, it had a very short life span, with only two seasons under its belt. A shame for those who love ancient rome and quality entertainment. The main reason for the shut down seemed to be cost, which seems not to be a problem now for HBO with shows such as Game of Thrones. Rumors have spread that if Rome had been as popular then more “attention” would have been given to the show. However, this becomes a chicken vs egg debate that has been run into the ground for years.

Case study 2 – Showtime’s The Borgias 

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The Borgias follows the “reign” of Rodrigo Borgia, a Spanish nobleman who rises through the ranks of the church to become Pope. We also see the lives of his children, estranged wife, and mistress in a decadent Renaissance Italy. Although nobody really knows what the Borgias were like, it does paint a pretty picture of the lives of Italy’s most notorious family. Let’s be honest here, it’s mostly costume and set porn, but it does reflect very much the time that we see in Boticelli paintings or the work of Nicolo Machiavelli (who was a big fan of Cesare Borgia, by the way). I can guarantee that they were able to do this with a substantial amount of investment. Is it historically accurate? Probably not, but at least it makes an effort to look like it. This is the same network that made The Tudors, after all.

The question is, would they have made such an investment if the story itself wasn’t so exciting.  The premise of the show is that the Borgias are “the original crime family.” This implies violence, sex, and intrigue. Would any network want to invest in an historical drama that didn’t have these things?

My point is that history can be exciting and it would be a shame if it got completely lost in the glitz of hollywood entertainment. If only all studios and networks invested a little more effort in historical accuracy then all of us would be happy.

Bonus – Historically Accurate Disney Princesses from Buzzfeed

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