Book Corner: How to Survive in Ancient Rome by LJ Trafford

Imagine you were transported back in time to Ancient Rome and you had to start a new life there. How would you fit in? Where would you live? What would you eat? Where would you go to have your hair done? Who would you go to if you got ill, or if you were mugged in the street? All these questions, and many more, will be answered in this new how-to guide for time travellers. Part self-help guide, part survival guide, this lively and engaging book will help the reader deal with the many problems and new experiences that they will face, and also help them to thrive in this strange new environment.

What a fun and entertaining read!

How to Survive in Ancient Rome by LJ Trafford is a tour guide to the ancient city of Rome for the inexperienced and seasoned traveller alike. The book takes a snapshot of the city, its society and the state of the Roman Empire in the time of the Emperor Domitian – and more specifically in the year 95 CE. It tells you all you need to know about Roman history and society so that you may get the best from a visit to the eternal city in the First century AD.

LJ Trafford covers all aspects of Roman life, from the history and family, to entertainment, shopping and crime and punishment. The tone is light-hearted, entertaining and often outright hilarious. Some anecdotes stretch credibility, but the author has clearly done her homework and includes endnotes and a comprehensive bibliography. The stories may be unbelievable, but LJ Trafford has the evidence to back her up.

The beauty of How to Survive in Ancient Rome is the book’s simplicity, which makes it accessible to all ages. I read excerpts out to my husband and teenage son, and both enjoyed the stories I recited. In fact some of the stories are – apparently – particularly appealing to the mind of a teenage boy!

The young Caligula, for instance, was said to enjoy donning a robe and wig and hitting the town. Otho’s floggable youthful pursuits involved wandering about the city bundling drunks and women into blankets and tossing them into the river Tiber, Mark Anthony, so Cicero alleges, dressed as a woman and took up prostitution in his youth.

There are less alarming leisure activities available. Watching chariot racing, for instance. Or wrestling. Or the Games. Or placing high-stakes bets on all of them, a pastime that is all the more appealing when you have a living pater familias responsible for all the family finances: including debts.

Probably the best example of the struggling pater familias is the Emperor Augustus. Augustus made a big show of family. His series of morality laws included inducements to have three children or more, penalties for failing to marry and stiff punishments for adulterers.

He paraded his own family as an example to follow, sharing the strict education of his daughter, Julia, as the model. He chose all three of Julia’s husbands for her and arranged the marriages. The first was to her cousin, Marcellus. The second was to her father’s right-hand man, Agrippa, who was over twenty years her senior. Her third marriage was to her stepbrother, Tiberius.

Augustus similarly orchestrated his male relatives’ lives, appointing them to public positions from a young age and insisting that they serve the state in unending duty. This is how family was done properly, he declared to the world. This is the traditional pater familias role.

Naturally, it all went wrong. Daughter Julia, knee deep in woven underpants, embarked on a full-scale rebellion against her father. She did this by ‘having some fun’, saying ‘things which might be considered by some stick in the mud Romans as undignified to her sex.’, and by putting it about a bit.

Don’t get me wrong! This may be a light-hearted look at life in ancient Rome, but you will be laughing as you are learning. How to Survive in Ancient Rome is chock-full of facts and interesting anecdotes. It delves into the structure of society, government and family, giving insight into the daily life of the average – and sometimes not-so-average – Roman. However, it also looks into the murkier side of Roman life; crime and punishment, prostitution, gambling and slavery. LJ Trafford takes you to the market, the forums and the gladiatorial games in a fascinating illumination of life in ancient Rome.

And you will enjoy every minute and every word.

Whilst the book focuses on a year in the reign of the Emperor Domitian, it also draws from the entirety of Roman history, from its legendary origins through the babies Romulus and Remus and the wolf that suckled them, through the greats such as Julius Caesar, Emperor Augusts and Vespasian, to the less admirable characters such as Caligula and Nero – who apparently had at least 3 people impersonate him after his death (and they each attracted followers proclaiming the survival of the emperor). LJ Trafford uses How to Survive in Ancient Rome to illuminate the diversity and experiences of ancient Roman life.

How to Survive in Ancient Rome by LJ Trafford is a brilliant, entertaining book. Easily readable for the avid fans of ancient Rome and novice Romans alike, it is not to be missed. It is thoroughly researched and beautifully written, with a view to entertaining and informing the reader in equal measure. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

How to Survive in Ancient Rome by LJ Trafford is available from Pen & Sword Publishing and Amazon.

About the Author:

After gaining a BA Hons in Ancient History LJ Trafford toured the amphitheatres of western europe before a collision with a moped in Rome left her unable to cross the road. Which was a shame because there was some really cool stuff on the other side. Returning to the UK somewhat battered and certainly very bruised she spent several years working as a tour guide. A perfect introduction to writing, involving as it did, the need for entertainment and a hefty amount of invention (it’s how she got tips). She now works in London doing something whizzy with computers.

Palatine is the first in the Four Emperors series. Book Two is Galba’s Men, and is followed by Otho’s Regret and Vitellius’ Feast. See also two short stories featuring the same characters: The Wine Boy and The Wedding (in the Rubicon collection)

Follow me on Twitter, if you dare! @traffordlj


My books

Coming 31st May:

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.


You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Book Corner: Commodus by Simon Turney

Worshipped by Rome. Betrayed by love. Stalked by death. Rome is enjoying a period of stability and prosperity. The Empire’s borders are growing, and there are two sons in the imperial succession for the first time in Rome’s history. But all is not as it appears. Cracks are beginning to show. Two decades of war have taken their toll, and there are whispers of a sickness in the East. The Empire stands on the brink of true disaster, an age of gold giving way to one of iron and rust, a time of reason and strength sliding into hunger and pain. The decline may yet be halted, though. One man tries to hold the fracturing empire together. To Rome, he is their emperor, their Hercules, their Commodus. But Commodus is breaking up himself, and when the darkness grips, only one woman can hold him together. To Rome she was nothing. The plaything of the emperor. To Commodus, she was everything. She was Marcia.

Commodus by Simon Turney is the second in his The Damned Emperors series, exploring the lives of those emperors even Rome wanted to erase from history. The first in the series, Caligula was a fabulous and intelligent read that really made you think about the political intrigues of ancient Rome. Commodus is no less thought-provoking.

The thing that struck me after reading both Caligula and Commodus is why on earth would anyone want to be emperor – or even close to the emperor in ancient Rome. Yes, the job came with ‘phenomenal cosmic power’ (as the genie in Aladdin would put it) but you did not expect to die in your bed – unless it was from poison or an assassin in the night.

What makes The Damned Emperors series so unique is that Simon Turney uses the women close to the emperor to tell his story. In Caligula it was his own sister, Livilla, who witnessed her brother’s rise to ‘the purple’ and followed his story to an inevitable violent conclusion. In Commodus the tale is told through Marcia, a childhood friend who rose to be the emperor’s lover and consort, though not his wife and empress. Each woman is able to narrate the emperor’s life and the events which shape his personality and rule. Each book is a standalone.

‘I’m supposed to turn my other cheek to you, ignore your violence and forgive you. And because I want to be a good Christian, I’ll do that. I’ll forgive you but only this once.’

He made .to push me again, but perhaps something in my expression stopped him. Certainly, he stepped back. I was a freedwoman of the emperor Lucius Verus, and he was a slave. I had allowed him to get away with pushing me over in anger, but I had warned him not to do so again. For my part, I meant every word. I would punch him in the eye if he tried again. For his part, I suspect he thought I meant I would report his behaviour to the major-domo, which would have seen him beaten at the very least. Whatever the case, he walked away. As he reached the door, he paused and turned.

‘In the old days, they used to burn your sort.’

And then he was gone. I seethed, shaking, promising myself that one day I would settle that score. I received my second shock in a short space as Commodus emerged from the shadows near another door, confusion creasing his young, innocent face.

‘What’s a Criss-chen?’ he asked, stumbling a little over the unfamiliar word.

Hmm. I thought lessons would be cancelled today, what with Fulvus bedridden, but it seemed I was to teach instead. I thought long and hard on the question as he watched me with those intelligent, searching eyes.

‘We believe in only one God. He is the creator of all things and the world is made according to His plan.’ I shrugged, trotting out the words I’d heard so many times. ‘There’s more to it, but that’s the main thing.’

‘Which god?’

Marcia’s own story is as fascinating as that of the emperor she adores, and serves as an example of how power corrupts not only the leaders, but those around them. Marcia is an interesting character who uses necessity and love to justify actions that many would find questionable, if not downright abhorrent. And yet you can’t help liking and sympathising with a woman who had little real power and influence over her own life, let alone anyone the emperor’s!

Simon Turney is a master of intrigue and has a remarkable ability to get inside the head of the women who lived alongside these emperors. And then into the heads of the emperors themselves. You cannot help but have sympathy for these great men, who rose to such heights that they practically ruled the world, but could trust no one. His knowledge of Roman history is second-to-none and he puts it to good use in depicting not only the Roman psyche, but also the Roman way of life.

Simon Turney vividly recreates the streets of Rome, the buildings, people and events to the extent that you can practically smell the markets, the blood in the arenas and the wondrous aromas of the lavish meals served to the imperial family. As a consequence, you can also feel the despair and despondency of the poor and unrepresented populace – the plebs and the slaves – who are ignored and left to suffer famine and plague by their indifferent rulers.

Commodus is not always an easy read, but it is fascinating. It draws you in from the very first pages, and leads you on a journey of discovery, not only of the emperor himself but of the life of the imperial family. It is eye-opening! Beautifully written and addictive, it is one of those books that you can’t wait to finish – and yet, desperately want it not to end.

To buy the book:

Commodus: The Damned Emperors Book 2 by Simon Turney is available from Amazon in the UK and US.

About the author:

Simon lives with his wife, children and dogs in rural North Yorkshire. Having spent much of his childhood visiting historic sites with his grandfather, a local photographer, Simon fell in love with the Roman heritage of the region, beginning with the world famous Hadrian’s Wall. His fascination with the ancient world snowballed from there with great interest in Egypt, Greece and Byzantium, though his focus has always been Rome. A born and bred Yorkshireman with a love of country, history and architecture, Simon spends most of his rare free time travelling the world visiting historic sites, writing, researching the ancient world and reading voraciously.

Simon’s early career meandered along an arcane and eclectic path of everything from the Ministry of Agriculture to computer network management before finally settling back into the ancient world. During those varied years, Simon returned to university study to complete an honours degree in classical history through the Open University. With what spare time he had available and a rekindled love of all things Roman, he set off on an epic journey to turn Caesar’s Gallic War diaries into a novel accessible to all. The first volume of Marius’ Mules was completed in 2003 and has garnered international success, bestseller status and rave reviews, spawning numerous sequels. Marius’ Mules is still one of Simon’s core series and although Roman fiction features highly he now has Byzantine, Fantasy and Medieval series, too, as well as several collaborations and short stories in other genres.

Now, with in excess of 25 novels available and 5 awaiting release, Simon is a prolific writer, spanning genres and eras and releasing novels both independently and through renowned publishers including Canelo and Orion. Simon writes full time and is represented by MMB Creative literary agents.

Look out for Roman military novels featuring Caesar’s Gallic Wars in the form of the bestselling Marius’ Mules series, Roman thrillers in the Praetorian series, set during the troubled reign of Commodus, adventures around the 15th century Mediterranean world in the Ottoman Cycle, and a series of Historical Fantasy novels with a Roman flavour called the Tales of the Empire.


My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.


You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly