Giveaway & Author Guest Post: Why I (and Everybody Else) Love Ancient Rome by Kate Quinn, author of Mistress of Rome

Passages to the Past is pleased to bring you a guest post written by Kate Quinn, author of Mistress of Rome.  I had the pleasure of reading Mistress of Rome recently and can tell you that it's one of those books that hooks you from the first page and keeps you intrigued until the last.  So you can imagine how excited I was to learn that there will be a sequel, as well as a prequel.  It's hard to believe that this is Kate Quinn's first novel...she sure hit it out of the park with this one!

Without further adieu I bring you a...

My fascination with ancient Rome began when I was perhaps four or five. I had a typical little-girl fascination with weddings – mostly because I liked long fancy dresses – and one night when my mother was watching the Roman miniseries “I, Claudius” she brought me to the TV for a wedding scene.

“It doesn’t look like a wedding,” I objected.

“It’s a Roman wedding.”

The Roman bride wore a white dress, but a red veil. With that blood-red veil, I was hooked – how could something as universal as a wedding look so familiar, yet so different? My fascination continued through more movies, more books, more research, and when I was nineteen I ended up writing a novel set in ancient Rome, a book now published under the title Mistress of Rome. Even that didn’t slake my obsession with the period: I’ve got two more books on the burner, both set in first century Rome.

I admit my focus on Roman history is narrow – specifically, the end of the Republic and the early years of the Empire. But I don’t think I’m alone here. More novels have been written about Julius Caesar alone than about all the late Emperors combined. As for Hollywood, almost everything focuses on the early Empire: Charlton Heston’s Ben Hur and Ridley Scott’s Gladiator; HBO’s Rome and BBC’s I, Claudius; Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus and Starz’s currently-running blood-and-beefcake series Spartacus: Blood and Sand. We can’t get enough of the early Empire. Why? A few thoughts . . .

1. Trappings. The early Roman Empire has the best accessories of Rome’s history, or indeed any nation’s history. Blood red veils on brides, purple-bordered togas on senators, vast expanses of pillared marble, legionaries in red armor and gladiators in loincloths, laurel wreaths and animal sacrifices and white-veiled priestesses and four-horse chariots screaming around hairpin turns – it’s all just so damn picturesque. The later Empire got more diluted in its cultural flavor as power shifted away from Italy and Christianity took hold, but the early Empire has a unique and unmistakable look to it. It looks great on screen, it looks great on the page, and that’s why novels of ancient Rome are more popular than ever and Spartacus: Blood and Sand was renewed for another season before the first even finished.

2. Violence. With the end of the Republic and a few colorful occasions like the Year of Four Emperors to spice things up, the early Empire corners the market on interesting violent events. The Republic is labeled as too boringly peaceful and democratic to be very interesting. The later Empire might be blood-drenched, but Emperors swap back and forth in such a confusing welter of assassinations and counter-assassinations that you need a flow chart to keep things straight. Early Imperial Rome has just the right balance between glory and chaos to keep us interested. And politics aside, it was the absolute zenith for both wars on the frontiers and blood sports in the gladiatorial arena.

3. Familiarity. So many things in the Roman world are familiar to us, even in the twenty-first century. Private homes had toilets and running water. Public courts revolved around lawyers who represented defendants and gave closing arguments. Married couples wore rings on the fourth finger of the left hand and worked out prenuptial agreements. Women shaved their legs and used birth control; men stayed fit at gyms and rooted for their favorite team at the local arena. From daily baths to no-fault divorce, Rome supplies many features of daily life we know well in modern days. But . . .

4. Shock. Though so many things look familiar in Imperial Rome, we are continually brought up short by the things that are different. We might root for our favorite football teams on Sunday afternoons, but at least Tom Brady and the Patriots get to limp off the field alive after a bad loss – in a Roman arena, they’d have been slaughtered while thousands cheered. Lonely singles in the modern era troll bars in hopes of getting lucky – a Roman bachelor just summoned a slave girl and took care of things without bothering to ask her opinion on the matter. Modern politicians wreck their careers with one ill-considered racist remark – Roman politicians casually ordered the slaughter of thousands of foreigners and patted themselves on the back for civilizing a new province. No matter how well we think we know a past era, something will always shock us in the end. The Early Empire with its stock of larger-than-life personalities is good at that.

5. Respect. Finally, our fascination with Imperial Rome exists because for once, civilization got it right. Imperial Rome was not perfect by any standard, but with a few good Emperors and some luck, they achieved a few centuries of booming economy, architectural beauty, artistic renaissance, and military strength. Sure, it all slid downhill afterwards. But the zenith is still breathtaking to look at, even from historical hindsight.

These are at least some of the reasons for Imperial Rome’s eternal fascination. Sometimes this fascination has very unfortunate results – for example, the direct-to-video genre of B-movies that throw together a few togas, a perverted Emperor, and a lot of naked slave girls and call it historical. But on the good side, we’ve gotten some very fine movies out of Imperial Rome, some wonderful books, some marble buildings that take your breath away even as they crumble, and some lingering cultural effects (June is the best month for weddings! Gladiator sandals are in!)

I’m not sure about gladiator sandals, but I am sure that Imperial Rome will never bore me.


How would you like to win a copy of Mistress of Rome?  Well, PTTP has 1 copy up for grabs!

Just leave a comment with your email address to enter.  Giveaway is open to US entries only.  Only one entry per person.  Giveaway ends on April 25th.

Good luck to all and thanks again to Kate Quinn for a fabulously enlightening and intriguing post!




  1. What a wonderfully informative post. You certainly have been immersing yourself in this time period. From all the good things I've heard about your book, you have put that research to good use. I look forward to reading it as well as the others in the series once they are written.
    Question: you said you wrote this when you were 19. How long did it take you to get it published?

    librarypat AT comcast DOT net

  2. Great post! I think Kate was right on with her reasons. Definitely looking forward to her next two books!!!

    No need to enter me as I have already reviewed this awesome novel :)

  3. As usual I keep repeating myself and saying what gorgeous books you offer all the time.

    Please count me in for this fabulous giveaway.

    I follow.


  4. Fantastic post! It's true that Rome seems so familiar, and yet so different. I'd love to read the book, please enter me.


  5. I love this post and have been thouroughly fascinated by just about everything Kates put on all HFBRT's sites. But another fascination of mine with Rome is all the crazy emperor/dictators from Nero to Ceasar and all the bad boys before, after, and in-between. There were some great controvercial men throughout Romes rich history. Thanks for such a great post and giveaway!

  6. Wow! Thank you Kate Quinn for the most interesting guest post I've read in a long time. I had no idea that women shaved their legs. The comparisons you made with current times was intriguing to say the least.
    And, Amy, thanks for the giveaway.


  7. Another amazing guest post by Kate - I have been enjoying them all over the blogosphere. I am so excited for this book, please enter me.


  8. Oh, oh! I'd like to win one! Please sign me up! Thanks :)

    strawn dot elizabeth at gmail dot com

  9. This sounds really good. What a great gues post :) I've yet to read a book set in Rome. And lol about the gladiator sandals. Please enter me.

  10. That was an awesome post! I can't beliee she wrote this when she was only 19! Such an accomplishment.

    I had absolutely no idea women shaved their legs and used birth control back then. I never really thought to look that deep and notice such similarities between now and a civilization so long ago.

    I would love to be entered to win this book.


  11. This book sounds splendid. Please count me in.

    cindyc725 at gmail dot com

  12. What a great post! I'd love to win this, please sign me up! Thanks!


  13. Great post! I am so excited about reading this book! Please enter me in the giveaway; I am a follower.

  14. Hi everybody - thanks for all the great comments on my guest blog post. I'm glad you enjoyed it, and delighted so many of you have entered to win a copy of "Mistress of Rome."

    Amy, I've got a number of extra author copies lying around my apartment - pull two names for your giveaway, and I'll personally mail one to the second winner (as long as they are in the continental US). Just email me the address - and thanks again for having me on Passages To The Past!

    Librarypat, to answer your question: I wrote this book when I was 19, then put it away in a drawer for a number of years and only intermittently tried to get it published. I would always rather be working on something new than be camped out by the mailbox waiting for rejection letters, so I kept letting it slide until I finally got lucky with an agent!

  15. Sounds like a great read! Please count me in.

    mlawson17 at hotmail dot com

  16. Wonderful Post and it's so funny that I just ordered the Rome Series 1 and 2 on Netflix! Hard to find movies as good as books thought. Thanks for the giveaway Amy, fondly, Roberta

  17. Thanks for the giveaway!!

  18. I would like to enter the giveaway contest!

    m (dot) ashton (dot) phillips (at) gmail (dot) com! Thank you!

  19. Count me in!
    minoubazaar AT

  20. would love to read this book...thanks for the chance :)

    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

  21. Please enter me. =)

  22. This is a wonderful guest post I would love to read Mistress of Rome. Oh, I'm a big fan of Spartacus.

    nancysoffice at gmail dot com

  23. Great post! I'd love to win this book, sign me up :)


    Thanks :))

  24. I'd love to read this! Thank you for the giveaway!
    mittens0831 at aol dot com

  25. My favorite subject and what a beautiful cover! Would love to win -

  26. Right up my reading alley! I'm a sucker for historical fiction, especially ancient Rome!
    tnshadylady at

  27. I would love a chance to win this novel, thanks :)

    Nunezbella at hotmail dotcom

  28. Would love a chance to win this novel please

    rubs.escalona [at]

  29. Please enter me in the contest!

  30. Rome is such a romantic city! Crumbling ruins, glowing fountains, great food. ahh.
    Enter me please.

    chellebcool at hotmail dot com

  31. I can't wait to read this book! Thanks so much for hosting the giveaway!

  32. Awesome contest!! I'd love to enter!!

    inthehammockblog (at) gmail (dot) com

  33. I would LOVE to read this!

  34. You know, I don't think I've read any books involving ancient Rome before. I'd really love to give this book a try. :D


  35. Sounds awesome! I am very interested!

  36. Please enter me in this giveaway!

    familyhistree at yahoo dot com

    Sarah E


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