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The Austin novelist famous for his Roma Sub Rosa series of historical mysteries delivers his magnum opus, Roma, this month. The engrossing tale tracks Rome from its origins as a stop on a salt trade route through the story of Antonius and Cleopatra.
Was it inevitable that your series would lead to an epic novel? Like history itself, it all seems inevitable—in retrospect. My publisher in England proposed I write a “big” book. When I thought “big,” I thought of the kind of multigenerational saga that makes a city or a country itself the main character.
Do you expose any popular misconceptions about Rome’s origins? Legend says that Rome was founded by twin orphans, Romulus and Remus, who were raised by a she-wolf. Until recently, modern historians have dismissed the legend wholesale, but there’s currently a lot of rethinking among scholars. In my book, Romulus and Remus did indeed exist.
Would you compare twenty-first-century American governance with any in Rome’s history? All the issues Americans face in a polarized republic, the Romans dealt with first. Staggering wealth brought in by foreign conquests only increased inequality at home; a handful of men, like Caesar, became far too powerful. The American republic has so far lasted only about half as long as Rome’s. Whether it will end with the rise of an all-powerful executive, as happened with the emperor Augustus, remains to be seen.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, was it? One of my most satisfying—and challenging—tasks in Roma was making its eleven city maps. The first shows Rome in 1000 B.C. Each subsequent map adds more and more man-made details—altars, walls, temples, statues, arches—until the final map is packed. The architectural and engineering feats of the Romans were crucial in their success.