Title of the work
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Country/countries of popularity
First Edition Date
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Caroline Lawrence, The Thieves of Ostia. London: Orion Children’s Books/Dolphin, New York, NY: Puffin Books, 2001, 208 pp.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org
Peer-reviewer of the Entry:
Susan Deacy, University of Roehampton, email@example.com
Lisa Maurice, Bar-Ilan University, firstname.lastname@example.org
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, email@example.com
Roman Mysteries, BBC United Kingdom, 2007 & 2008.
Dutch: Flavia en de dieven van Ostia, trans. Gerbrand Bakker, Amsterdam: Piramide, 2001, 143 pp.
Spanish: Ladrones en el Foro, trans. Atalaire, Barcelona: Salamandra, 2002, 185 pp.
Chinese (traditional): 奧斯提亞的竊賊 [Aositiya de qie zei], trans. Wei Yuru, Taibei Shi, 2003, 221 pp.
Japanese: 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 roma no nazotoki adobencha], trans. Minako Taguri, PHP, 2003, 215 pp.
Finnish: Ostian koirat, trans. Pekka Tuomisto, Helsinki: WSOY, 2003, 217 pp.
Italian: I ladri di Ostia, trans. Giancarlo Carlotti, Casale Monferrato: Pieme Junior, 2004, 154 pp.
Czech: Lupiči z Ostie : záhady ze starověkého Říma, trans. Hana Petráková, Praha: Albatros, 2006, 144 pp.
Slovenian: Tatovi iz Ostije, trans. Maja Ropret, Ljubljana: Grlica, 2007, 166 pp.
German: Die Diebe Von Ostia, trans. Dagmar Weischer, München: Cbj, 2008, 188 pp.
French: Du Sang Sur la Via Appia, trans. Amélie Sarn, Toulouse: Milan jeunesse, 2010, 224 pp.
Sequels, Prequels and Spin-offs
- 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
- 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.