Title of the work
Country of the First Edition
Country/countries of popularity
First Edition Date
First Edition Details
Caroline Lawrence. The Thieves of Ostia. London: Orion Children’s books, 2001, pp. 208.
In 2009 Lawrence won the Classical Association Prize for a significant contribution to the understanding of Classics.
We are still trying to obtain permission for posting the original cover.
Author of the Entry:
Chloe Roberta Sadler, University of Roehampton, email@example.com
Peer-reviewer of the Entry:
Susan Deacy, University of Roehampton, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lisa Maurice, Bar Ilan University, email@example.com
Caroline Lawrence (Author)
Born in England, Lawrence grew up in the United States of America and studied Classics at Berkeley. She won a Marshall Scholarship to Cambridge and went on to study Classical art and Archaeology at Newnham College Cambridge. Lawrence studied for her MA in Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College London and went on to teach Latin, French and art at a primary school in London.
Lawrence published The Thieves of Ostia, the first instalment in the Roman Mysteries Series in 2001. Lawrence has also worked on University of Reading’s educational website Romans Revealed, which presents stories about Roman Britain related to archaeological finds.
Bio prepared by Chloe Roberta Sadler, University of Roehampton, firstname.lastname@example.org
Roman Mysteries, BBC United Kingdom, 2007 & 2008
Du Sang Sur la Via Appia Caroline Lawrence; Alélie Saran-Cantin (French)
Ladrones en el Foro (Spanish)
Tatovi iz Ostije Maja Ropret (Slovenian)
I Lauri di Ostia Alfredo Belli (Italian)
Lupiči z Ostie : záhady ze starověkého Říma (Czech)
オスティア物語 : 古代ローマの謎ときアドベンチャー / Osutia monogatari : Kodai rōma no nazotoki adobenchā Minako Taguri (Japanese)
Die Diebe Von Ostia Dagmar Weischer (German)
Ostian Koirat Pekka Tuomisto (Finnish)
Flavia en de dieven van Ostia Gerbrand Bakker (Dutch)
Sequels, Prequels and Spin-offs
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
Bread and Circuses
Trimalchio’s Feast and other mini mysteries
The Legionary from Londinium and other mini-mysteries
The First Roman Mysteries Quiz Book
The Second Roman Mysteries Quiz Book
The Roman Mysteries Treasury
From Ostia to Alexandria with Flavia Gemina: Travels with Flavia Gemina
In this, the first book in Lawrence’s Roman Mysteries series we meet Flavia Gemini, the central character of the series. She is the daughter of a merchant sailor whose mother died in childbirth. Flavia has discovered that someone is killing the dogs in Ostia, and she is determined to find out who is responsible.
We are soon introduced to the three other important characters in the Roman Mysteries series, Lupus, Nubia and Jonathan. Jonathan lives next door with his father, who is a doctor, and sister. Jonathan is a Jew who believes in Jesus and he and his family are shunned for practising a forbidden religion. Lupus is an orphan, who lives on the streets before being accepted into Jonathan’s family. At some point before the beginning of the series, someone cut out his tongue. He is very sensitive about what happened to him and will not let anyone know what happened. Nubia is a slave girl from Africa. Feeling sorry for Nubia when she sees her in the market, Flavia uses her own money to purchase her from a slave trader. After some wrong turns and a few red herrings, the four friends discover that the person killing the dogs of Ostia is doing so to be able to steal without the guard dogs barking. The dog killer turns out to be the adopted son of a friend of Flavia’s father, attempting to steal a large sum of money as he is poor. What he is unaware of is that the man who has adopted him was intending to leave his fortune to him.
As the first in the Roman Mysteries series, The Thieves of Ostia serves as an introduction not just to the central characters of the series, but to life in ancient times. Lawrence gives no specific dates to her series, but as we find out, Jonathan is an early Christian, which requires a setting in the first century CE or later.
Lawrence’s book reads somewhat like a fact book about Roman life, with a story running alongside. Nearly every page has some small piece of information about how Roman society functions. Lawrence takes time to explain many aspects of Roman life which differ from those with which her readers will be familiar, for example seating arrangements at meals. Lawrence does so by having Jonathan and Flavia explain aspects of Roman life to Nubia and Lupus, this allows Lawrence to places these facts in the narrative without disrupting the flow of the prose or the plot.
Thanks to how the facts about Roman life are littered throughout the book, there is always something new to learn on each page. These facts are not usually necessary to the advancement of the plot, suggesting that Lawrence is not simply trying to tell an exciting story but to educate her readers as well. Lawrence delves into a variety of topics including the kind of food Romans ate, how they used wax tablets to write, and how they buried their dead. Lawrence also includes maps of the houses of Flavia and Jonathan, giving a visual anchor for the explanations of how Roman houses are organised. Lawrence also spends some time explaining the structure of Roman society by explaining the slave trade and citizenship.
Though the book has undertones of Christian propaganda, the overall experience of the book is one of learning. This feeling of Christian propaganda comes across in the tangents that both Jonathan and his father go on at various points, to talk about the saving power of the Christian faith. The attitude with which Lawrence discusses the new faith, and the narrative of the book, make Christianity sound superior to the ancient faith, as though Christianity has only good points; there is no counter argument to this viewpoint. Even for children without any special interest in ancient history, the story is engaging and entertaining. However, for children with an interest in ancient history and ancient life, Lawrence’s book might be especially interesting for them as they can learn about ancient life whilst trying to solve the mystery along with the children.