‘Roma’ was a truly brilliant book in my opinion — designed as a history book more than a historical novel (with an explanation referring to the ancient art of history writing in which storytelling was considered a good part of it, and an in-joke that Titus Livius would well appreciate what has been done in ‘Roma’) the book is an appealing move through a thousand years or more from before the 11th century BC into 1 BC — vaguely following the stories of a patrician family, the Potitii, through the events they encounter.
We are first introduced to the ancient legend the Romans used to tell of Hercules visiting their lands in times past, and freeing the people from the horror of a monster. Next, we are taken to times when Roma is already a city of greater importance and the brothers, Romulus and Remus, live there. The book describes (a possibility) of how the Lupercalian festival originated as well as how Romulus became the king.
The continuing years are described as they are, with a touch on the expulsion of Tarquinius Superbus and the following sagas of Coriolanus, as well as the creation of the Twelve Tables. Similarly, we pass down and see the characters Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus speak to us, and then the famed/fabled Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus. The tragic story of the Gracchii brothers has it’s place, as does the early history of Gaius Julius Caesar (in the days of Sulla). Later, as any novel of Rome of that time, we are given the sight of the death of the dictator, as well as a reflection of what the successors might have done and discussed in their private conversations, which is the last stop before a final reflection of how Roma itself, as a city, managed to change from the beginning of the reign of Augustus to a few decades into it.
All in all, Stephen Saylor provides for an interesting view into the the legends and stories surrounding ancient Rome, not shying away from difficult topics concerning the rights of classes and privileges.
‘Our families are so very old, and our ancestors accomplished so many things — great and small, wonderful and terrible — it’s hard to keep track! Sometimes I think it would be a relief if we all turned to dust, so the rest of the world could simply forget us and go on about its business as if we never existed.
“No friend ever did him a kindness, and no enemy ever did him a wrong, without being fully repaid.”