It’s quite amazing how much excellent popular Roman historical fiction is available these days. From the majestic Masters of Rome Series by Colleen McCullough and the novels Pompeii and Imperium by Robert Harris to the Marcus Didius Falco detective novels by Lindsey Davis and Steven Saylor’s Roma Sub-Rosa series about Gordianus the Finder, you can get a wonderfully rich taste of what life must have been like during the city state’s tumultuous history not just for the leading figures such as Gaius Marius, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, and Julius Caesar but also the common people.
Just about the only problem you have as a reader is maintaining your contextual bearings amid this wealth of material spanning a millennium. Exactly when was Rome first invaded by the Gauls? When (and why) did Rome first establish itself as a Republic? And what led to the ultimate collapse of the Republic and its replacement by the Imperial system under Augustus?
With his novel Roma, Steven Saylor provides you with this context by weaving together many of the most important episodes in Rome’s history in a single linear narrative starting in 1000 BC and closing with the advent of the Roman Empire.
This approach has its advantages, effortlessly gliding you through many of the most famous and infamous incidents in the history of Rome, from the mythical founding of the city by Romulus and Remus, the abduction of the Sabine women, and the rape of Lucretia right through to the assassination of Julius Caesar and ascent of Augustus as Rome’s first emperor.
But it does come at a cost as well, because the speed of the narrative never gives you time to properly get to grip with any of the characters, the majority of whom appear and disappear in a matter of pages.
Still, the book is very well written in tight, sparing prose and offers a revealing view of the dynamics that drove the economic, political, and social development of Rome, its myths and religions, and its leaders’ voracious appetite for the glories and spoils of conquest. As such, Roma provides an excellent starting point for further explorations of the history of Rome.