Literature / Roma Sub Rosa

A series of historical novels written by Steven Saylor taking place in the last days of The Roman Republic and eventually covering the period of Gaius Julius Caesar. They start out as mysteries taking place in ancient Rome, featuring a gumsandal named Gordianus, who calls himself "Gordianus the Finder." Eventually they get more into political intrigue as well.

The books in reading order. Publication dates given in parentheses:

  • Seven Wonders (2012). A prequel focussing on a young Gordianus' journey to see the The Seven Wonders of the World.
  • Raiders of the Nile (2014). A second prequel, set during the time Gordianus spends in Alexandria as a young man.
  • Wrath of the Furies (2015). Third prequel set in Alexandria.
  • Roman Blood (1991).
  • The House of the Vestals (1997). Short story collection.
  • A Gladiator Dies Only Once (2005). Short story collection.
  • Arms of Nemesis (1992).
  • Catilina's Riddle (1993).
  • The Venus Throw (1995).
  • A Murder on the Appian Way (1996).
  • Rubicon (1999).
  • Last Seen in Massilia (2000).
  • A Mist of Prophecies (2002).
  • The Judgment of Caesar (2004).
  • The Triumph of Caesar (2008).

The books contain examples of:

  • Ambiguous Ending: The Judgement of Caesar ends with Gordianus and Bethesda having a conversation in what appears to be the afterlife, after Gordianus seems to drown in the Nile while looking for her. In The Triumph of Caesar, he is unable to explain what happened and how he and Bethesda are still alive after being thought dead.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Gordianus gets caught up in some major events, including the Catiline Conspiracy and the power struggle between Caesar and Pompey. A number of the trials that Cicero took part in as a lawyer have made for plotlines as well, with Gordianus either working for Cicero or his opponent.
    • Gordianus' son Meto is also credited with ghost-writing Caesar's memoirs.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: Clodius and Clodia are accused with this, and from what we see, their relationship is indeed very close.
  • Call to Agriculture: Gordianus tries to do this in Catilina's Riddle after inheriting a country villa from his patron, Lucius Claudius. It doesn't work out, with dead bodies showing up on his property, shortly followed by Cicero entreating him to make friends with and spy on Catilina in the lead-up to the consular elections. By the next book, Gordianus has shifted his household back to Rome.
  • Character Filibuster: Catilina has one discussing Roman sexuality and its relationship to power in Catilina's Riddle.
  • Clear Their Name: When Meto is accused of trying to poison Caesar in The Judgement of Caesar, it's up to Gordianus to find out who the real killer is.
  • Dead Person Conversation: Gordianus has one with Hieronymus in The Triumph of Caesar while trying to solve his murder.
  • Detective Mole: In Rubicon, Pompey forces Gordianus to investigate a murder that was actually committed by him.
  • Faking the Dead: At the beginning of Seven Wonders, Gordianus' teacher and travelling companion Antipater fakes his own death, ostensibly so that he can leave Rome for good and travel anonymously. It also allows him to proceed with a spying mission on behalf of King Mithridates of Pontus against Rome.
  • Happily Adopted: Gordianus' sons, Eco, Meto and Rupa.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Bethesda is more than happy to serve as Gordianus's mistress until he decides to free her and marry her.
  • Hermaphrodite: The plot twist in the Seven Wonders story 'The Widows of Halicarnassus'- the widow of a deceased young man turns out to be the young man who has decided to live as a woman and did so with his mother's help.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners Cicero and his slave and later freedman, Tiro.
  • High-Class Call Girl: Antipater's cousin Bitto decided to become one after being widowed, known in Greek as a hetaira. Teenage Gordianus is quite smitten when he meets her on a visit to Halicarnassus.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Gordianus encounters just about every prominent figure in the late Republic.
  • I Have No Son: Gordianus disowns Meto at the end of Last Seen in Massilia for his duplicity as a double-agent for Caesar. They eventually reconcile in The Judgement of Caesar.
  • Parental Abandonment: Eco suffers this in the first book.
  • Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: Gordianus in The Triumph of Caesar, following on from The Judgement of Caesar.
  • The Scapegoat: Used in the historical sense in Last Seen in Massilia. Hieronymus is the scapegoat for besieged Massilia- this means he lives in relative luxury, but will be executed as a Human Sacrifice to the gods.
  • The Speechless: Eco, whose speechlessness is caused by a childhood fever that also claimed his biological father's life. At the end of Arms of Nemesis, he falls ill again, and his voice returns when he recovers.
    • Gordianus' third adopted son Rupa is also mute.
  • Stalking Is Love: Catullus seems to think so.
  • Shown Their Work: The books in general are very well-researched and accurate in their portrayal of everyday Roman life, and the first book's mystery is taken directly from one of Cicero's first major cases.
  • Tsundere: Bethesda, with emphasis on the tsun.
  • Those Two Boys: Mopsus and Androcles, the two young slave boys Gordianus rescues from Clodius' country estate.
  • The Watson: Eco fills this role for the first couple of books, coming along with Gordianus on investigations and acting as a sounding board for his ideas. When he grows up, he follows in his dad's footsteps and becomes a private investigator himself.
    • His daughter Diana wants to be this to Gordianus, but he's reluctant to get her involved in his often-dangerous investigations. In The Triumph of Caesar he finally agrees to let her help out.
  • Women's Mysteries The Venus Throw was all about this.

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