Hi friends!

Even though Priestess of Herculaneum is technically a historical fantasy, I am a history nerd at heart and love doing research on various time periods. As anyone who has met me will tell you, if we start talking historical trivia and favorite time periods, it will be a long chat!

So at the end of each of my historical fantasy books (even the ones that take place in the ‘modern’ period), I’ll have a list of notes and historical research that I did. Don’t worry though, while I do have a background in academic research, this won’t be written like a bibliography section. Rather, I’ll mention things (organized by chapter) of interest and reasons for why certain things were written into the story.

I’ll also give a little background for why I chose the setting that I did, since many of these books will take place in lesser known historical spots. With that said, I hope you enjoy these historical notes!

Mt Vesuvius

Setting: Herculaneum

Like many people interested in ancient history, the events of the Vesuvius eruption of 79AD have always fascinated me. Despite the grim fate of many inhabitants in the towns and cities, it is because so much of these places were preserved under layers of ash that we’re able to get a semi-accurate picture of daily life in ancient Roman times, especially during the Imperial period.

Because Pompeii is more fully excavated and has become the main tourist spot for those wanting to explore the ruins in the area, it is vastly more well known than some of its smaller or less excavated neighbors—like Herculaneum.

That’s part of the reason this story takes place mainly in Herculaneum. It is lesser known, which in my mind, makes it more interesting. Despite being less famous than Pompeii, it has just as many fascinating places (villas, domus, tabernae, etc) to explore. It’s also closer to the grand Villa of the Papyri. Herculaneum is also more intact—partially because it’s less excavated, and partially because Pompeii’s increasing popularity over the years meant Herculaneum was more or less left alone until more recently.

I also love the fact that Herculaneum (and Pompeii) show a large swath of lifestyles. While Herculaneum was a resort town for the wealthy and the elite, they weren’t the only ones who lived there and there is plenty of artwork and materials showing off how the less elite classes lived and worked.

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FUN FACT #1:

The premise for this story came to me when I visited a gorgeous temporary exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in March of 2009. (March 9th, 2009 to be exact.)

While the exhibit is just opening in my story, in real life, the Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples exhibit was a few weeks from wrapping up. Still, it stayed with me long after the exhibit closed and the space was reconfigured. I have no idea who designed the exhibit, but they did a fantastic job in setting the rooms up to make it feel like you were truly moving back in time.

FUN FACT #2:

I was in Washington DC at this time for an internship at the National Museum of American History—one of my favorite museums growing up. So I ended up visiting a lot of cool museums and talking to people who worked at those places, getting a sense for how different institutions sometimes worked with each other and what kind of behind the scenes work went on.

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FUN FACT #1:

The statue that mesmerizes Alex when she first enters the exhibit (and whom the docent refers to as ‘Priscilla’) is actually based on the first statue I remember seeing when I entered the real-life exhibit. Just like Alex, I was mesmerized by it, equally impressed by the amount of skill that went into creating the statue and also by how long it had been around. When the docent mentions that she sometimes imagines the statue coming to life, that was based on my own perceptions when I first saw the statue and was stunned by how life-like it was.

FUN FACT #2:

Those glass boxes you see at museums and exhibits that protect the items inside? Those are called vitrines. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and are really, really expensive.

FUN FACT #3:

The recreated triclinium Alex interacts with is based, once again, on a real art piece from the real life exhibit. It was another piece that blew my mind, especially all of the detail that went into it. The original piece also had pictures of the Muses on it. Greek mythology, in general, was a popular type of wall art in the Roman world during this time.

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Ego plerumque supra’ 

This is a less than perfect Latin translation of the phrase ‘I’m usually on top’. I tried to find a Latin phrase with a similar meaning (and also spoke to people with a better grasp on Latin) and was unsuccessful. Unfortunately, translating modern idioms is usually difficult, even between modern languages, much less modern and ancient languages.

Omnilingualism 

One of the immortal powers Alex experiences throughout the series (even though she’s not immortal). Much like the Tardis’s ability in Doctor Who, acolytes of Clio gain this ability once they start working for her. Also like the Tardis’s ability, sometimes the power of omnilingualism doesn’t work perfectly. Especially since humans don’t always speak languages perfectly or coherently…

In this chapter, Alex hasn’t quite gotten use to the power, so she initially hears a garbled version of Latin that her brain is trying to comprehend (hence the ‘Latin’ phrase up above).

‘watered down wine’

Wine in ancient time was often mixed with water to make it more palatable and reduce its intensity (less chance for public intoxication). Wine was also thought to purify water and other drinks. So it wouldn’t have been uncommon for ancient Romans and Greeks to have some kind of diluted drink on them while traveling, especially short distances.

Lectica

While not mentioned by name in this chapter, the vehicle Alex ends up in before passing out again is a lectica or portable bed. Initially considered decadent, by around 79 AD, it would have been fairly common to see one of these being toted around between cities and towns, or even within them. (There were eventually laws against having them within cities because of the traffic they would cause.) The elite would have their own lecticas and lecticarii (servants or slaves who would carry the lectica around), but as time passed, you would sometimes find enterprising individuals offering lecticas for rent. I imagine that there were plenty of rentable lecticas in a resort town like Herculaneum and that’s what Titus might have used from time to time.

‘we are near the beginning of the autumn season’

Because of the differences between the ancient Roman calendar and our modern calendar, scholars debate exactly when Vesuvius erupted. It is widely agreed upon that it happened around the early autumn period of the year—anywhere from late August to late October. Historically, the consensus has been August 24, 79 AD. Thus most scholars believe that the eruption happened somewhere between late August and early September. (So for narrative purposes, I have the eruption happening on August 24th, 79AD)

The beginnings of each season were also calculated differently by the Romans. So autumn didn’t begin on the autumnal equinox, but rather the halfway point between the solstices and equinoxes. (Cross-quarter days instead of quarter days, like in modern times.) So when Titus says this, he’s referring to the beginning of August as opposed to the middle of September.

Toga Pura

The Roman version of formal wear (or at least business attire) for male citizens. It was a symbol of one’s status and a Roman man like Titus would have worn it on occasions where it was important for his status to be known outwardly.

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“…[Pompeii] It’s not far from where we are now. Herculaneum….”

The walking distance between Pompeii and Herculaneum is about 3 hours (give or take). However, elite Romans would have had access to faster modes of transportation, such as horses and carriages. So while the two cities weren’t necessarily right next to each other, they were close enough to make a day trip to, especially if the individual had friends or family they were visiting (such as in the case of Priscilla and Titus).

“I was just reminded I was supposed to meet Father at the baths earlier today.”

While wealthy Romans would have had access to private bathing facilities, the public baths were still a place to socialize and do business. So it wouldn’t have been uncommon for a man like Titus to meet with his father or other family friends at the public baths for a variety of reasons.

“…tell him you were aiding a priestess in distress and your actions will bring blessings upon our family’s name.”

The Roman pantheon was a large and complex array of deities from across the lands that made up the Roman Empire. As such, many Romans worshipped a variety of gods and goddesses, and were generally cautious not to offend even those they didn’t worship. In the case of Titus’s father, I expanded that to make him the kind of individual who would rather welcome a priest or priestess of some deity than risk incurring that deity’s wrath.

“Alexandria in Egypt is one of the biggest centers of worship for those devoted to the Muses.”

The Mouseion in Alexandria, Egypt was built during the reigns of Ptolemy I Soter (367 BC-283BC) and his son Ptolemy II Philadephus (309 BC-246 BC). It reached its zenith quickly and then slowly declined over the centuries. However it still existed and was seen as a center for scholars even well into the Roman period. So it would have made sense to a Roman that a follower of the Muses was from Alexandria and they would have immediately assumed it was the Alexandria in Egypt.

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