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Welcome to the Forum

At the centre of every book set in Ancient Rome is the Forum. There are some fantastic YouTube videos out there, like this one, where you can see the Forum reconstructed, and really get a feel for the scale of it.

I think this one is really well done, but I do wish it was a little dirtier. For more true to life depictions, and a lot more dirt, I do love the scenes in HBO's Rome, although of course that is set before Augustus famously found Rome made of brick and left it made of marble.

Progetto Traiano also has a great video showing you what the buildings all are:

In Sub Rosa, my Rome is definitely not a clean or pristine city, and that's just the way I like it. Here's an excerpt:

From my house on the Caelian Hill the road sloped downwards towards the Forum on a gentle incline, dipped sharply where the Caelian met the Esquiline, and flattened out at a busy intersection where crowded apartment buildings suddenly blocked out the sunlight and balconies blossomed from faded facades and overhung the street. This neighbourhood was full of tradesmen and artisans who were on the way up, and the middle rankers who despised them but couldn’t afford to move. This was where the bustle of the city really began, and from here it was only a short hop to the Forum.

Like most of the people in the big city we were headed to the Forum. If you stood in the Forum on the busy day, sooner or later all the people you needed to see (and a couple you needed to avoid) would cross your path.

The Forum was busy, awash with the usual crowd. The posers in clean tunics and togas making the right impression and drifting towards the Curia like flies on the trail of something particularly rancid; the wheelers and dealers who ran the currency through their fingers like sand; the lawyers and clerks touting for business and pretending not to be, and the mob of tourists and wastrels with nowhere else to be.

I hope that the Rome I've depicted in Sub Rosa is a vibrant, crowded, and yes, a dirty one. I've talked before about how so much of the history we're taught is rather sterile. I still remember my high school Ancient History textbook. It was called A View from the Forum and most of the pictures were of marble busts or maps. It wasn't very compelling, at least not for an easily distracted kid like me, who was more interested in the gritty details of daily life than in what year some marble guy in a sheet became emperor. But something must have snagged enough of my attention that I went and did my own digging, fortunately, and discovered there were a lot more resources out there than school textbooks and that there were actually books written for people who wanted to learn the same things about Ancient Rome that I did. Things like, what did their houses look like? What sort of underwear did they wear? Did their kids go to school like I did? While the emperors were doing emperorish things, what was the average person in the street doing?

And then those questions got slightly weirder, like what would happen if a cynical, directionless patrician went to a dinner party and tripped over the murdered corpse of his host? And Valerius and Sub Rosa were born. I can't wait until you guys can read this book. I hope you love it as much as I do. And I hope that my Ancient History teacher, Ms Faithful, knows that despite the textbook that she had to use, she sparked something in my pinball teenage brain that rattled around back there long enough that it created an entire book.

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