The civilization of Rome lasted from 753 B.C. until 476 A.D. when Emperor Romulus Augustulus was defeated by eastern barbarians. That encompasses 1,229 years of history. Most writers working in Roman eras write in a narrow band of that timeline.
When I started writing the Clay Warrior Stories, a ‘knowledgeable’ reader accused me of placing Rome in the Bronze Age. To be clear, Rome was a metropolitan city of around 137,000 people during the 1st Punic War. Still, I worried about the comment because, although my books are fiction, I do extensive research for accuracy of settings, events, and technology.
Writing stories set in ancient Rome presented a problem of shifting eras. For over 12 centuries, the Romans and the City of Rome evolved. It was the research required to communicate viable and historical adventure stories that interests me.
The year: 259 B.C. The objective: To have the main character interact with a temple near the forum during the Ides of March. The challenge: Accuracy of description.
I imagined the majesty of Vesta’s Temple. Located at the Roman forum, the temple housed the eternal flame of Rome. Guarding and tending the sacred flame were 8 priestesses of Vesta, the celebrated Vestal Virgins. These women took a vow of purity for 30 years so they could devote themselves to the temple.
“Glorious!” I shouted as I started to write my character entering the temple.
Modern ruins in Rome of Vesta’s Temple hinted at the grandeur of marble and granite construction. But those were restorations from Imperial Rome. Going back in time, the Temple first experienced stonework in 241 B.C. That took place 18 year after my story, meaning my character, Alerio Sisera, could not walk into a temple as I envisioned it.
The Temple in 259 B.C. had been in continual use for 436 years. Although refurbished over those years, the Temple of Vesta had walls of twisted reeds covered in clay and a thatched roof.
Conclusion: Vesta offered no impressive temple for a grand entrance by my character. It was simply an old circular structure resembling a large barn of the era in the center of ancient Rome.
The year: 259 B.C. The objective: To have the main character have an adventure during the Ides of March. The challenge: Accuracy of location.
On the Ides of March, Romans celebrated the Goddess of the Circle of the New Year, Anna Perenna. Also, on the Ides of March, the Roman Senate elected two Consuls as administers of Rome and to act as Generals of the Legions. Note another example of historical changes over time: Consuls were the Generals during the 2nd century B.C. before the Legions became permanent armies. Of course, the most famous Ides of March event was the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C.
Dropping back in history, I read of people gathering and celebrating the Goddess Anna Perenna at the 1st mile marker on the Via Flaminia, a road running northeast from Rome. Here I had a location and a congregation to weave into the story. But wait, the Via Flaminia was not built until 220 B.C., placing it 39 years after the story.
In 1999, during construction of a parking garage, workers uncovered a fountain dedicated to the Goddess of the Circle of the New Year. I could work my story around a fountain with flowing water and Roman citizens. However, Anna Perenna’s fountain dated from the 1st Century B.C.
Conclusion: No structures or locations concerning Anna Perenna were available for a 259 B.C. story.
Much research goes into writing a story set somewhere within the long history of Rome. Buildings were rebuilt, technology improved, cultural norms shifted and, the expanding territory brought new influences to the city. Thankfully, for those of us who love history, there will always be issues when peeling back the years to write in antiquity.
I am J. Clifton Slater and I write Military Adventure both Future and Ancient.
The history puzzle presents an ongoing challenge when researching for the Clay Warrior Stories series. Set in the framework of the First Punic War, the books are epic tales designed to make you want to strap on a shield, grab a gladius, and join a Century’s battle line. Warning, this is not the professional Imperial Legion. This is the 2nd century levied Legion, and it is messy.
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