Oracle of History

Guiding you through the ages

Archive for the tag “Ancient History”

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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Will History Stand The Test Of Time?

Sometimes when I’m bored I look through my old photos. It often results in me being embarrassed due to poor fashion choices and/or weird camera angles. It also brings back memories. I was particularly amused when I was looking at my photos from my trip to Egypt…..

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 …….And I found this gem! The most interesting part to me was that no one was telling her off. Don’t get me wrong I completely understand that if a baby needs changing it needs to be done, but it was fascinating to see how nonplussed everyone was about it. 

This made me think. How attached are we to the preservation of ruins? 

Therefore I decided that it was best to look at the different ways we are preserving our heritage. 

I know that personally, I would be severely disappointed if we let them rot, but on the other hand it would be fun to run and frolic through the ruins freely. I guess you can’t have it both ways! 

Case study 1 

That being said, preservation has also been used as an excuse for European countries to keep priceless artefacts from their country of origin – *cough* England *cough*

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about let me enlighten you….You may have heard of the Parthenon in Athens. One of the most recognizable ruins in the world. 

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Well, a British Lord, Thomas Bruce 7th Earl of Elgin to be exact, removed most of the marble sculptures from the Parthenon, taking it back to be housed at the British Museum. They are now affectionately called the “Elgin Marbles” 

Now, I’m a big fan of the British Museum – I almost lived there when I was a student, but this started a feud that has been going on since the early 1800s. It’s almost comical how every year the Greek government asks for them back and every year the British government says no. 

The best is that the latest excuse was that Athens had no way to properly preserve the marbles. So what did Athens do? They built an Acropolis museum of course! Still no luck in returning them though. 

Case study 2 

On the other end of the spectrum you’ve got Egypt, suffering at the moment from political and religious upheaval. They have more ruins than anybody knows what to do with and no one is going to see them. Although, unlike the Greeks they have their most prized relic – the treasures of Tutankahmun – firmly on their own soil, in Cairo. 

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When I was there I came across a man in the street who claimed to be a curator at the Egyptian Museum (he wasn’t) and have a PhD in Aromatherapy (he didn’t). So I listened skeptically as he ranted about the return of all the Egyptian artefacts, including the Obelisk in the Piazza del Popolo in Rome. 

To which my mother replied: “What about the Obelisk in Paris?” 

His response was of outrage : “No! That was a gift.”

To each their own I guess!

Case study 3 (and last I promise)

The more observant of you may have noticed that I know a lot about Paris. This is because I live there!

One of the most interesting example of historical preservation here is the Arènes de Lutèce (Arena of Lutecia).

Lutecia was the Roman town that Paris now sits on. The current name comes from the Parisi tribe that lived in the area before the Romans stepped in. Due to a massive architectural revamp campaign in the 1860s by Baron Haussmann most of the Roman remains were either destroyed or buried very deep.

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The arena is one of the true examples of preservation, but also of recycling urban space. It was once an arena meant for lavish entertainment in the Roman era.  Now it’s a public park. Kids play pickup games of football and groups of elderly men play pétanque throughout the year. I’ve even seen a man there walking his cat on a leash! 

This is all to say that there is no right answer when it comes to preservation, but let’s hope that we have enough common sense as a society to realize how important it is to keep our history alive! 

“Lovers are like bees in that they live a honeyed life,” and other wisdom from Pompeii

The quote in the title is quite ironic, considering that we all know what happened to the city of Pompeii. It’s actually a graffiti preserved by the ashes of Vesuvius.

They were poets back then too!

If you didn’t realize already, last night I went to see the movie Pompeii, with Kit Harington and Emily Browning.

Let me just begin by saying that it was an entertaining movie. It’s a summer blockbuster…in winter. I’m not sure why they decided to release a fictionalized story about the last hours of the city, but there it is.

NOTE : If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, be ready to see Jon Snow all grown up – shiny 6 pack and all.

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Nothing wrong with a little bit of eye candy, but as a history nerd it is my duty to point out the major historical inaccuracies.

You’re welcome 🙂

S.P.Q.P – For the Senate and People of….Pompeii? 

One glaring thing that basically ruined the entire movie for me was the supposed warfare between the people of Pompeii and that of Rome.

Emily Browning’s character, Cassia, says “I am not a Roman – I am a citizen of Pompeii.”

Now it’s true that the Romans were not always appreciated, particularly in those provinces under direct Roman rule. However, if you were within the boundaries of the Empire, not a slave, and born to a Roman family – you were a Roman citizen.

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Her family was also very wealthy and her father was clearly the government official of Pompeii. This would have meant that he either was educated in Rome or was sent to Pompeii for his diplomatic posting.

So no matter how much you whine Cassia, you are still a Roman citizen!

That’s all I have to say.

Purple is more than just a color 

Purple was the color of the Emperor and Senatorial elite.

So why was this guy wearing it?

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This is the best photo I could find, but his tunic underneath his armour is purple.

NOTE: Senators wore white togas with a purple sash. Emperors could wear entirely purple outfits.

He seems to be neither.

 Just for fun 

If you haven’t already, I would highly suggest you look at this list of Pompeii Graffiti – it’s hilarious, but NSFW so beware!  The brothel graffiti is especially funny!

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All in all, the movie was entertaining, but the historical reality is so much more interesting!

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