Posted by: Sarah | November 20, 2005

The Roman Empire Never Died!

Romanitas by Sophia McDougall

As I’m distressingly short of reading time at the minute, I’m debating whether to read this novel which is the first of a trilogy.

Although I don’t care for science fiction or alternative fiction, the premise sounds intriguing and I’d love to know what Sophia McDougall does with it — 2005 and Britain is still part of the Roman Empire: my eyes are on stalks at the very idea!

Here’s the associated jazzy website and an interview with the author, who is only 24 and a poet and playwright as well as a novelist!

If you’ve read the novel, I’d love to know what you think of it.

Roman Engineering: Io Triumphe

One of the irritating things about the current drama serial Rome is the way it (deliberately?) misreads Roman cultural mores, thus perpetuating the saggy cliche that the Romans were addicted to violence and sexual debauchery. If this were so, one wonders how they managed to build an empire and maintain it for so long and how they found the time and inclination to invent such dull but essential stuff as concrete and plumbing.

By way of restoring the balance somewhat, I quote from a report in today’s Sunday Telegraph about the imminent collapse of some of the ancient ruins on Rome’s Palatine Hill, although it manages to misspell the names of both Septimius Severus (forgivable, I suppose) and Caesar (a crucifiable offence, no question):

Only Plumbing Can Prevent the Fall of Rome

An urgent rescue operation is being launched to save some of Rome’s most important ancient ruins, including the palace where Julius Ceasar once lived, from the ravages of increasingly violent rainstorms that are undermining their foundations. Archaeologists fear that buildings on the Palatine Hill, most more than 2,000 years old, are becoming dangerously unstable and pose an increasing risk to the 3.5 million tourists who visit the area each year.

And how do they intend to do this?

“The first thing we have to do at the Palatine [said Carlo Giavarini, a conservation engineer at La Sapienza University who is involved in the rescue plan] is understand how to divert the water that is undermining the walls. The ancient Romans knew how to do it, but not us.”

A maze of 2,000-year-old irrigation tunnels runs beneath the hill as part of the complex original plumbing for which the Romans were famed. But they are largely unmapped and have become blocked or have broken in many places. One of the first challenges will be to find ways to dig out these aged drainage systems and link them to new ones serving the half-square-mile area.

I love it! But not this:

Prof Croci, [the chief engineer on the project], who has travelled the globe advising governments on how to protect ancient monuments, added: “Italians are the best in the world at doing this kind of thing, so it is important that we should be also be seen putting our own house in order.”

Come again? Unless his most recent project was Herculaneum, I beg to differ. It was in a heartbreakingly shocking state when we visited 4 or 5 years ago.


  1. Oh-er! I’m agog about Romanitas too! Do you think you can get hold of a review copy from the HNS? Bet it will be a 1st-2nd century sort of Rome that has survived … 😉

    Pity the poor Italians – they’ve got so much that they can’t preserve all of it! Egypt is as bad, if not worse. In Britain, our monuments are just about (just about) manageable.

  2. I’ll try and get a review copy. Failing that, I’ll see if they’ve still got any copies at our local Sussex Stationers, which has a good line in half-price hardbacks.

    You’re right — those Romans certainly left their Italian descendants with a whopper of an archaeological headache. Maybe the rest of the world (or the Western world at any rate) should help them out a bit more. After all, it’s our heritage too.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if there isn’t a Mafia problem as well, at least in Southern Italy.

  3. There was an article in a German archaeological magazine about the mess on Italian sites, bribes and all those nice things. Especially in Rome itself.

    My To Buy list and my bank account don’t like each other right now, so Romanitas is pretty much on the bottom until the 10 Euro paperback comes out in March 2006. I read the excerpt and frankly, wasn’t really hooked, which is a pity, because the premisse sounds interesting.

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