I owe this page to Sharon Kay Penman, whose hilarious “Medieval Mishaps” confession marked the first time I’d ever seen a historical fiction author frankly list the errors in their own work. If Sharon Kay Penman can admit she’s not perfect, then I certainly can!
I’ve researched till my ears bled on every book I’ve written, but a few mistakes crept in nonetheless. I’m lucky enough to have a sharp-eyed bunch of beta readers to help catch my mistakes – editor, copyeditor, literary agent, and a hard-working research assistant who also goes by the name of “Mom.” Even so, a few mistakes slipped past us all.
In “Mistress of Rome,” a great many people sink down on velvet cushions or hurl velvet cushions during quarrels. Whoops – velvet didn’t come to the European continent until the Middle Ages.
In both “Mistress of Rome” and “Daughters of Rome,” there are references to my heroines’ lacquered or varnished nails. Another whoops; dyes were used to color nails in ancient Rome, but adhesive colorants didn’t come around until there were more reliable binding agents to hold the color to the nail.
In “Mistress of Rome,” my gladiator hero has a long and varied career in the Colosseum including some very unorthodox fights – at one point he is pitched into a one-on-six battle, and in another fight he is pitted against a team of women. This was a deliberate choice on my part, to change up his fighting experiences and give more variety to the book, but a real Roman gladiator fought according to strict rules in the arena. The aim was a good show, not a grossly-unfair matchup, so fighters were carefully paired against only a selected variety of opponents.
In “Daughters of Rome,” famous gourmand Emperor Vitellius makes reference to a vomitorium so he can empty his stomach and start feasting all over again. A real Roman vomitorium did not refer to a special room for bulimics, but to an egress passage from an ampitheatre or stadium designed for the rapid exit of large crowds. It’s a common misconception that I decided to include for the fun of it, much the way the “I, Claudius” miniseries included the popular thumbs up-thumbs down gesture in their Colosseum scenes even though the real “Die or live” gestures were very different. I got a few irate emails about that vomitorium reference, though, so in future I may decide not to get cute with deliberate errors.
In “Mistress of Rome” and “Empress of the Seven Hills,” reference is made to Jewish characters speaking Hebrew. Whoops – Hebrew was an ancient language even at this time period, and reserved for ritual prayers. They should have been speaking Aramaic. (All thanks to sharp-eyed reader Jenny Brown for pointing this out.)
In “Daughters of Rome,” a Christian slave wears a wooden cross around his neck. Turns out that the cross as a Christian symbol wasn’t widespread until the next century. (Thanks due to Julie B on this one.)
In “Empress of the Seven Hills” I make a reference to Gibraltar. Whoops – should have been the Pillars of Hercules, as the name Gibraltar didn’t come about till much later.
Who knows what other mistakes I’ve made? I count on sharp-eyed readers to tell me, and I mean that in all sincerity. If I make a mistake and no one points it out, then I will likely make that same mistake again. Any more mistakes that crop up, I will add here – so feel free to drop an email and tell me where I’ve messed up!