Anthony Riches on why we’re all fascinated by Ancient Rome
Posted on: 07/03/2017 with tags: Anthony Riches, author blog, history, Rome, Roman
Rome is that rare thing from a writing perspective – an apparent sure-fire winner when it comes to making books sell. There are others – the Tudors stand out given recent successes – but Rome just seems to keep on giving. For whatever reason – TV series, gladiators, Gladiator (see what I did there?) we seem to be collectively hooked on Rome, and yet, with a burgeoning population of writers ploughing this fertile soil, we mostly seem to be stuck in the ‘sweet spot’ in historical terms, of the period from the rise of Julius Caesar to the death of Nero.
I’ll admit that I’ve just dipped a naughty toe into that somewhat overpopulated water of late (my new trilogy, ‘The Centurions’, is set in AD69-70 and takes as its subject the Batavian revolt, a cataclysmic upset in Roman history), but my previous nine books in the ‘Empire’ series have all been set in the AD180’s, so I still feel relatively virtuous. And yes, there are other authors mining other periods. Ian Ross has staked out the 4th century, and Ben Kane happily plunders the 500 year republic for amazing history, but for the most part ‘Roman’ authors tend to cluster in that (roughly) one hundred year period when the republic died and the empire enjoyed its golden honeymoon years. Why?
The answer isn’t all that hard to define. It’s sexy. Julius Caesar, a dictator hacked to death by his friends and peers. His heir Octavian, a young prodigy who went toe to toe with his rival Mark Anthony for power and comprehensively defeated the older and more experienced man despite his youth. The establishment of an empire, where previously there was a republic (although let’s not mistake that for the death of democracy, more like the end of an oligarchy). A golden age of (relative) imperial wisdom that lasted only as long as Octavian – now Augustus – himself, and thereafter fell into depravity, murder, arson, legendary excess and all the other stuff that makes for such good reading when portrayed with skill. The petulant Tiberius, deranged Caligula, canny Claudius and much maligned Nero all go to make a story that you probably couldn’t have made up, and with the end of the Julio-Claudian dynasty something seems to go out of Rome as far as its suitability as a back drop goes.
And yet the thousand-year history of the city and its rise to dominance over the Mediterranean basin and much of Europe is packed with equally fascinating stories, if we make the time to have a good look. Rome’s decades long wars with Carthage, contesting control of the sea and ending in their rival’s total destruction as a political entity. The conquest of Dacia in pursuit of wealth that propped the empire up for a hundred years. The catastrophe of the third century and Rome’s resurrection under the rule of a Christian emperor. And much much more. Rome really doesn’t have to be about men marrying horses and fiddling while the city burns!
Book One of Anthony Riches new series set in Ancient Rome, Betrayal: Centurions I is out 9th March