Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site

Main Page This family-friendly site celebrates Italian culture for the enjoyment of children and adults. Site-Overview



Mystery Book Series Set in the Ancient Roman Empire







Life in Rome




My Two New Italophile Sites

Italophile Book Reviews offers personal views on many books that might interest lovers of Italy.  Authors and Publishers:  I review books set in Italy, or about Italy and Italian culture, or about hyphenated Italian culture.  My site is family-friendly. Indie (Self) published books, and small publishing houses are welcome.  Contact:   info @

Italophile Books is an linked shop that has only products Italophiles are sure to love.  Shop with no distractions!  You can click through to the full site at any time, keeping your shopping cart.  Checkout is through's usual secure system.




Video of Ancient City of Rome below




Reclining Banqueter






These beautiful images are from Ancient Roman mosaics in Tunisia, from Tunisia Online.






The Wine Pourer






Serving the wine







On the hunt



























A Poet







Ancient Roman Kitchen






A Wealthy Ancient Roman's Bedroom





















































































Monty Python's famous 'What have the Romans ever done for us?' scene from the film Life of Brian, about a man mistaken for the Messiah throughout his sad life.














 Here are two wonderful simulations of an Ancient Roman house.





Some links:

 A site visitor, Theresa Caruso, has written an article about the history of the Roman Colosseum for the holiday accommodation site

Open, from my site, the PDF of a classic textbook about Ancient Rome and save it to your PC. Or right-click on the link and Save Link As to your PC without opening the book.

Or for an online, concise history of Ancient Rome, visit this educational site.

This digital map of the ancient city of Rome will help keep your characters whereabouts clear.

To see how the characters would have travelled around the Roman empire, check out this ancient Roman route-planner.

A beautiful video tour of ancient Rome, which brings the place alive.  It is made by the Rome Reborn Project.

Homeschooler Heather Ventura's Ancient Rome Links


And a great site:  The Detective and the Toga.









The most complete company for Roman reproductions, of museum quality coins, jewelry, etc., is Westair.  Visit their website and have fun visiting the ancient past.











Also see my pages:

Mysteries set in Italy

Non-fiction books about Italy

Romances set in Italy

Thrillers set in Italy

Historical Novels set in Italy

Children's Books

Italian Bestselling Writers






For fans of Indie E-books


Enter keywords in the Smashwords search bar, followed by a comma (for example:  mystery, ancient rome, fiction,) to locate the books that interest you.  The books are available in various e-book formats for immediate download.  And there are over 30,000 free e-books!




Visit my Marcus Aurelius's Meditations page


Visit my Ancient Roman History page

Pompeii has inspired artists and writers over the years, so there are many accounts and images of the doomed town.  My Pompeii page has one account and many images.

Visit my 'Living in Ancient Rome' page




Ruth Downie' / Gaius Petreius Ruso 

Lindsey Davis / Marcus Didius Falco

Lindsey Davis / Flavia Alba

Jane Finnis / Aurelia Marcella

Caroline Lawrence / Flavia Gemina

John Maddox Robert / Decius Cecilius Metellus

Rosemary Rowe / Libertus

Steven Saylor / Gordianus the Finder

Mayer-Reed / John the Lord Chamberlain

David Wishart / Marcus Corvinus

Albert Bell / Pliny the Younger

Marilyn Todd / Claudia Seferius



Mysteries set in Ancient Rome are enormously popular and prolific.  These authors produce series with a central recurring character, that have been running successfully for many years.

A warning to new readers:  Roman society was one in which sadism was institutionalized.  The whole society was sadistic and accepted sadism as normal.  Slavery.  Human and animal sacrifices.  Gladiator battles to the death for entertainment.  Slaying of animals for entertainment.  Torture of slaves, wives, daughters, criminals, enemies...  Infanticide by exposure.  Sexual predation of children.  Murder by horrible means for criminals, enemies, and the innocent, for entertainment. 

I have read at least one book in many of these series.  I've created some lists of their books available from  Where there is not a list, I've put links to books, and you can see at Amazon a full list of the author's books by clicking on the author's name.

Many of these books are available directly from the publishers.

This link goes directly to's Kindle page for Ancient Rome Mysteries.

 Kindle Ancient Rome Mysteries


Ruth Downie's Army Doctor Gaius Petreius Ruso

Ruth Downie's series, called Novels of the Roman Empire, is now at six books and growing. 

  • Ruso and the Disappearing Dancing Girls (Medicus)
  • Ruso and the Dimented Doctor (Terra Incognita)
  • Ruso and the Root of all Evils (Persona non Grata)
  • Ruso and the River of Darkness (Caveat Emptor)
  • Semper Fidelis
  • Tabula Rasa (due mid-2014)

The doctor and reluctant detective is Gaius Petreius Ruso "a military medicus, who transfers to the 20th Legion in the remote Britannia port of Deva (now Chester) to start over after a ruinous divorce and his father's death.  Things go downhill from there."

From the first pages of Medicus I was intrigued with the protagonist, Gaius Petreius Ruso, an Ancient Roman military doctor, and by his world.  A Roman military doctor's job feels timeless in the hands of the author:  soldiers' injuries from training, fights, and dangerous recreation; the local services surrounding the camp; under-staffing and less than perfectly-trained hospital personnel. 

The element that stands out from the start of the book, however, is the element that should stand out in all novels set in the Ancient Roman Empire:  slavery.  The author of Medicus does not shy away from slavery; she actually makes it central to the story. 

Medicus's subtitle is A Novel of the Roman Empire.  It is not billed as a An Ancient Roman Mystery Novel because it is not one.  Medicus is similar to Rosemary Sutcliff's classic Eagle of the Ninth in the way the dramatic story is supported by an underlying mystery.  The principle story of both books is how the diverse cultures, Roman and Celtic, co-existed and eventually married in Britain. 

I think Medicus is a well-written character-study of two people, and a historical romance novel rich with humanity.  Like all good romances, the two people, Ruso and Tilla, begin by seeming worlds apart, and by the end of the book they seem a perfect fit.  They make a good couple, better together than they are apart, and they share the same values. 

For me, Medicus was a book to savor, to read slowly, to enjoy for the romance, the characters, the history, and for the portrayal of the constants of humanity through place and time. 

Read my full review at my Italophile Book Reviews blog.

Author's website


Lindsey Davis's Marcus Didius Falco

Marus Didius Falco is a private investigator working in first century Rome.  (Early Empire) He's described as 'Roman Emperor Vespasian's smart-aleck PI'.  Falco moves around Rome's empire, working for hire even in Roman Britain. 

The back-flap says 'Falco is a lively protagonist who can't stay out of trouble but always comes out of it with the mystery solved and his sense of humor intact in this consistently fine series of historical thrillers'.

I have read most of the books in this series, including the first book.  The books take place in first century Rome, but are written in the first person style of the cynical Private Detective from the 1940s, writing his memoirs.  I find the combination disconcerting, but I think the author's sense of humor is what makes the combination work. 

I also find the main character, Marcus Didius Falco rather stupid and disturbingly masochistic, but perhaps it is the author, Lindsey Davis, who is disturbingly sadistic to her protagonist?   All joking aside, Marcus does well to gain his clever sidekick in the first novel, who sticks with him through the series.

I noticed many elements in the early books that seem to be inspired by the masterly Wallace Breem's  historical novels:  The Eagle in the Snow and The Legate's Daughter

The series has a dedicated following.  Many fans of the series appear to enjoy the main character's down-to-earth family life more than the criminal case that moves the plot along.

Read my review at my Italophile Book Reviews site.

The books in the series are in order: 

  • The Silver Pigs
  • Shadows in Bronze
  • Venus in Copper
  • The Iron Hand of Mars 
  • Poseidon's Gold
  • Last Act in Palmyra 
  • Time to Depart
  • A Dying Light in Corduba 
  • Three Hands in the Fountain
  • Two for the Lions 
  • One Virgin Too Many  
  • Ode to a Banker  
  • A Body in the Bath House 
  • The Jupiter Myth
  • The Accusers
  • Scandal Takes a Holiday  
  • See Delphi and Die
  • Saturnalia  
  • Alexandria
  • Nemesis


My list of this author's books at

Author's website


Lindsey Davis's Flavia Alba

Ms. Davis has presumably ended her series featuring private detective (informer) Didius Falco.  She is now producing a series featuring Falco's adopted daughter, Flavia Alba, who has followed in her father's footsteps, and is an informer working only for female clients.

The style of the new series is a bit different from the Falco books, less hard-boiled detective humor, and more of the female perspective that Falco's partner, Helena Justina, offered in the Falco series.  It is written in the first person, too.

There are two books in the series so far.

  • The Ides of April

  • Enemies at Home


Jane Finnis's Aurelia Marcella

From the Poisoned Pen Press website about the first book in the series:

Roman Britain in 91 AD is a troublesome part of the mighty Empire ruled by Domitian Caesar.  Tension is especially high in the north, where Aurelia Marcella, a young innkeeper from Italy, runs the Oak Tree Mansio on the road to York. 

A traveler, Quintus, is nearly killed close to the inn.  Soon he and Aurelia team up to track down the rebel warriors and identify their mysterious masked leader, the Shadow of Death.

Quintus becomes a recurring character in the series, as do Aurelia's twin brother, their sister, and assorted other relations and friends.  The series is narrated by Aurelia, in the first person, with hindsight.

The series is up to four books now:

  • Shadows in the Night
  • A Bitter Chill
  • Buried too Deep
  • Danger in the Wind


Please read my full review of Danger in the Wind and the series at my Italophile Book Reviews site.

Author's website


Caroline Lawrence's Flavia Gemina

Flavia Gemina is a 'girl-detective' in first century Rome, in this series for children ages 9-14, written at the appropriate level, in the third person.  Flavia lives in Ostia, Rome's port, with her sea captain father.  She solves mysteries with an assortment of friends from a wide range of Roman life.  The series is called "Roman Mysteries" and is now a TV series on the BBC.

Publisher's Weekly says 'this historical mystery series offers an intriguing glimpse into the customs, attitudes and class systems of the Roman empire'.  They do warn that the books are a bit violent, but admit they were violent times.

The books in the series in order:

  • The Thieves of Ostia
  • The Secrets of Vesuvius
  • The Pirates of Pompeii
  • The Assassins of Rome
  • The Dolphins of Laurentum
  • The Twelve Tasks of Flavia Gemina
  • The Enemies of Jupiter
  • The Gladiators from Capua
  • The Colossus of Rhodes
  • The Fugitive from Corinth
  • The Sirens of Surrentum
  • The Charioteer of Delphi
  • The Slave-girl from Jerusalem
  • The Beggar of Volubilis
  • The Scribes from Alexandria
  • The Prophet from Ephesus
  • The Man from Pomegranate Street


My list of this author's books at

Author's website


John Maddox Roberts's Decius Cecilius Metellus

Decius Cecilius Metellus is described as 'a would-be playboy son of an illustrious family'.  The series is called the 'SPQR' series, SPQR means The Roman Republic, or the Senate and People of Rome.  It is written in the first person.

The books are described as 'fast-paced', 'accurate', 'evocative'.  Decius is a born investigator who works his way up the Roman civil-service during the last years of the Roman Republic.  And indeed, the writing is not pompous or pretentious but spare and wears its erudition lightly.

The first book describes Decius's first big investigation in 70 B.C.  The stories are told in the first person, as if Decius were writing his memoirs late in life.  This provides us with entertaining hindsight about many of the famous characters, through the eyes of decent Decius.

I've read the first book in the series, but had to go slow to take in all the Roman terms and concepts, not to mention the political institutions.  The author explains all you need to know, and even includes a Glossary, but the names and concepts take some getting used to. 

Read my review at my Italophile Book Reviews site.

The books in the series in order:

  • SPQR  (The King's Gambit)
  • The Catiline Conspiracy
  • The Sacrilege
  • The Temple Of The Muses
  • Saturnalia
  • Nobody Loves A Centurion
  • The Tribune's Curse
  • The River God's Vengeance
  • The Princess and the Pirates
  • A Point of Law
  • Under Vesuvius
  • Oracle of the Dead
  • The Year of Confusion


My list of this author's books at


Rosemary Rowe's Libertus

Libertus is a mosaicist and an expert in puzzles and patterns.  He lives in Ancient Roman Britain and takes on problems for his clients and others.  The series is written in the first person.

The author offers lots of details about life on the fringe of the Roman Empire, and has lots of light humor in her tales.

The books in the series in order:

  • The Germanicus Mosaic
  • A Pattern of Blood
  • Murder in the Forum
  • The Chariots of Calyx
  • The Legatus Mystery
  • The Ghosts of Glevum
  • Enemies of the Empire
  • A Roman Ransom
  • A Coin for the Ferryman
  • Death at Pompeia's Wedding
  • Requiem for a Slave
  • The Vestal Vanishes
  • Dark Omens
  • A Whispering of Spies
  • The Fateful Day (Reviewed at my Italophile Book Reviews site.)


My list of this author's books at

Author's website


Steven Saylor's Gordianus the Finder

Gordianus is a private investigator, called a Finder, working around 50 B.C. in Rome.  This series is rich with history and historical figures.  Gordianus even counts Cicero as his friend.  The series is called the "Roma Sub Rosa" series, meaning "the secret events of Rome".

I've read most of the books in this series.  The books are recounted in the first person, with the rather seedy Gordianus as the narrator.  It reads as if Gordianus writes the account only very shortly after it occurs, so any really interesting historical insight is missing.  I also found the writing style pompous.  If you enjoy paragraph after paragraph of descriptions of heat and setting or rising suns, you'll like his style.  The books progressively become more history than mystery plot.

Saylor indulges in his books in the misogyny and sadism of the times with a bit too much enthusiasm for my tastes.  If you are into a vicarious, voyeuristic experience of this sort, then this is your series.  Gordianus even owns a female slave who is his housekeeper and sex-toy.

The second and third "books" in the series are actually collections of short stories that are more like "Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine" stories, aimed at a teenaged audience.  The books in the series, however, are aimed at an adult audience, which can be disconcerting.

The author ages Gordianus quickly over the course of the early books.  The lastest book, The Seven Wonders, is a prequel set before the first book in the series.

I noticed many elements in the early books that seem to be inspired by the masterly Wallace Breem's  historical novels:  The Eagle in the Snow and The Legate's Daughter.

Read my review at my Italophile Book Reviews site.

The books in the series in order:

  • Roman Blood (you meet Gordianus and his client, Cicero, even the dictator Sulla)
  • The House of the Vestals (short stories - you meet kindly, patrician, fictional Lucius Claudius, a client, then friend, who changes Gordianus's life for the wealthier, for a teen audience)
  • A Gladiator Dies Only Once (short stories - don't read the notes at the end to avoid spoilers for the future books)
  • Arms of Nemesis (G. meets rich Crassus, among others)
  • Catilina's Riddle
  • The Venus Throw (G. meets Claudius and Claudia, the decadent, devious siblings)
  • A Murder on the Appian Way ( G. deals with Milo and Pompey)
  • Rubicon (G. and Caesar)
  • Last Seen in Massilia (G. deals with the siege of Marseille.
  • A Mist of Prophecies (G. meets the most powerful women of Rome)
  • The Judgment of Caesar (G. gets to know Caesar and Cleopatra)
  • The Triumph of Caesar (G. deals with Caesar and his wife)
  • The Seven Wonders (young G. visit the wonders- prequel, short stores for a teen audience)


My list of this author's books at

Author's website


Eric Mayer and Mary Reed's John the Lord Chamberlain

From the Poisoned Pen Press website:

"Byzantium, capitol of the 6th century Roman Empire, simmers a rich stew of creeds, cultures, and citizens with a sprinkling of cutthroats and crimes.  John the Eunuch, Emperor Justinian’s Lord Chamberlain, orders a Christian court while himself observing the rites of Mithra."

No need to say that people die, and John discovers who the killer is and the story behind the murder.  A unique character set in a fascinating era, written in the third person.

The series is up to nine books:

  • One for Sorrow
  • Two for Joy
  • Three for a Letter
  • Four for a Boy
  • Five for Silver
  • Six for Gold
  • Seven for a Secret
  • Eight for Eternity
  • Nine for the Devil



David Wishart's Marcus Corvinus

Marcus Corvinus is a member of the Senatorial class in first century Rome.  He is assisted in his criminal investigations by his intelligent wife, Perilla. 

The first person narrator of the series is Marcus Corvinus himself, a fictionalize version of the real man.  Purporting to be the vulgar, slangy Latin that we know from Ancient Roman poetry and from the scraps of novels that have survived, Corvinus's narration is joyously vulgar.  The fictional conceit is that we are reading Latin that appears as English.  All the English equivalents of the Roman's bawdy, rough language are used to convey that effect.

If you are a fan of the Didius Falco Series by Linday Davis (reviewed at Italophile Book Reviews), you might recognize the tonal references to hard-boiled P.I. novels from the '30s and '40s .  The first Falco novel was published before the first Corvinus novel. 
Did one copy the other?  Did they come up with their ideas separately?  That is possible.  Both writers rely heavily on writing tropes and cliches for character relationships and plotlines. 
How do they differ?  The Corvinus novels are much more vulgar, and they require a greater knowledge of Roman history to appreciate the complex storylines and wealth of historical characters.  The Falco books read like dumbed-down and cleaned-up versions of Corvinus's books.

The author knows his Roman history and seems to thoroughly enjoy thrashing it about in the cause of pure entertainment.  That is what the Corvinus books are:  pure entertainment.  Don't expect literature.  Just sit back, read, and revel in the joyous nonsense and historical frolicking that the author concocts.

The narrator of the Corvinus novels has an entertaining voice.  His self-deprecating, ribald humor, and the wry comments on the Roman state and bureaucracy are a lot of fun.  The author combines deep knowledge of the era with great verbal dexterity. 
The story in all the books is basically of a man in a prolonged puberty (Corvinus is 21 in the first book), who becomes a man, finally, and sees the truth behind the well-constructed façade of Imperial Rome.  He finds love, too, the part of the story I found most convincing (and it includes adult sex-scenes).
For readers such as myself, who dislike seeing slavery, misogyny, bigotry and sadism portrayed as run-of-mill stuff, then you will cringe often, as I did.  The author does not raise his protagonist above his peers.  And for those not schooled in British mystery fiction, the time spent on theorizing the solution to the mystery will make your head spin.
For American readers, the British English text may read as if it needs a few hundred more commas to improve the readability, but it is not a huge problem.

The series books in order are:

  • Ovid (reviewed at my Italophile Book Reviews site)
  • Germanicus
  • Sejanus
  • The Lydian Baker
  • Old Bones
  • Last Rites
  • White Murder
  • A Vote for Murder
  • Parthian Shot
  • Food for the Fishes
  • In at the Death
  • Illegally Dead
  • Bodies Politic
  • No Cause for Concern
  • Solid Citizens
  • Finished Business (reviewed at my Italophile Book Reviews site)


My list of this author's books at

Author's website


Albert Bell's Pliny the Younger

Mr. Bell uses the real historical figure of Pliny the Younger, a first century Roman politician, writer and scientist, as his ancient Roman detective.

The books in the series in order are:

  • All Roads Lead to Murder (reviewed at my Italophile Book Reviews site, and with synopses of all the books in the series)
  • The Blood of Caesar
  • The Corpus Conundrum
  • Death in the Ashes
  • The Eyes of Aurora


Author's website

Book Series website


Marilyn Todd's Claudia Seferius

Claudia lives in Ancient Rome circa 10 B.C.  She's had a hard first few decades, but then marries well, and is quickly widowed.  She runs her husband's wine business and solves crimes in her spare time, sometimes with the help or obstruction of a Roman official, Marcus Cornelius Orbilio, who secretly has the hots for her. 

These are not cozy novels, despite the books' cozy covers.  All the novels feature perverse sex and sex crimes.

The books in the series are:

  • I, Claudia
  • Virgin Territory: A Roman Mystery
  • Man Eater
  • Jail Bait
  • Black Salamander
  • Wolf Whistle
  • Dream Boat
  • Dark Horse
  • Second Act
  • Widow's Pique
  • Stone Cold
  • Sour Grapes
  • Scorpion Rising

Please read my full review of Sour Grapes and the series at my Italophile Book Reviews site.


Search for Other Books

If you want to find other series, or information about Ancient Rome, you can use this Search tool for  

Just enter 'Books' in the 'Search' field, and 'ancient Rome mystery' (for example, or 'ancient Rome history') in the 'Keywords' field.  Then click on the 'Go' button.

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Rome Reborn 

Rome Reborn 2.2: A Tour of Ancient Rome in 320 CE from Bernard Frischer on Vimeo.