The Thieves of Ostia
Series: The Roman Mysteries
Published in: 2001
Age Range: Pre Teens
Period: 1st C
Setting: Ancient Rome
- Flavia Gemina is the daughter of a Roman captain who enjoys solving puzzles.
- Nubia is a slave-girl Flavia buys for her birthday
- Lupus is a young mute beggar whom the children befriend
- Jonathan is Flavia's next-door neighbour, a 12-year-old Jewish Christian
Several of the watchdogs in Flavia's street are decapitated, and Flavia and her friends suspect a man whose daughter died after being bitten by a rabid dog. As matters progress, though, they discover that this is unlikely and that a more sinister plot is in progress.
Literary: A simple story, simply told. While the backdrop is ancient Rome, and there are many realistic supporting details, many things are kept similar to modern-day life so the effect is not too alien. If anything it's a little too simple, particularly in light of some of the events and ideas present within this story and the others in the series which seem to demand a slightly older readership,
Religion: Flavia's family are conventional Roman polytheists, favouring the Twins Castor & Pollux because of the family name. Jonathan's family are Jewish, but are not welcome in the synagogue because they have become Christians and insist on forgiveness rather than retribution. We meet several other characters and situations which hint at an early Christian community in Rome.
Family: Flavia's mother died years before the story starts, giving birth to twins who also died. Jonathan's mother has disappeared and we know nothing of Lupus and Nubia's family. Jonathan's sister Miriam is old enough at 13 to be married, and Flavia spends time specualating on which of the young men around her will ask her to marry him.
Miscellaneous: One man, in despair at the loss of his daughter, commits suicide, witnessed by Lupus the mute beggar boy. Aside from its place as a plot device (essentially to provide an alibi for the dead man) no comment is passed on the event. Nubia is one of a number of slaves traded by Venalicius the slave-dealer who is brutal and greedy.
One bright afternoon, a few days later, FLavia's new friends accompanied her to the river harbour to see her father off on a voyage.
Doctor Mordecai and Captain Geminus led the way.
They looked an unlikely pair, Flavia thought, as she watched them walking and talking together: her fair-haired Roman father in his tunic and blue cloak, the doctor with his exotic turban, robe and beard. But they had a common passion: travel. Mordecai had lived in Babylon and Jerusalem, two cities her father had never visited, and Captain Gemiinus had seen many countries which Mordecai had only read about.
Flavia was glad they liked each other because in only a few days she and Jonathan had also become firm friends.
Jonathan had been coming to her house every morning to help teach Nubia Latin. He and Flavia had been reading the Aeneid to her, often stopping to explain or act out words. Joanthan was very funny and made them both laught. Flavia thought it was good for Nubia to laugh.
Saturday 10th January 2004