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Circus Maximus: Rivals on the Track blog tour

Welcome to my stop on the Circus Maximus: Rivals on the Track blog tour. I'm really excited to be taking part in this, I absolutely loved the book. I'm delighted to say that I have some exclusive material from Annelise for this stop on the blog tour.

Here it is: Annelise Gray's favourite facts about the Romans:

My 5 Favourite Facts about the Ancient Romans

My introduction to the world of ancient Rome was made at the age of thirteen when I was given the chance to study Latin. Having struggled with most of my academic subjects other than English and History, I couldn’t get enough of this new language and loved spotting the roots of so many English words. But I also found the Romans themselves fascinating, with their dizzying array of gods, their unfamiliar ways of dressing and eating, their bathing complexes and their enjoyment of gladiator games. They were so similar and yet so different to us at the same time. Here are five of my favourite facts about the Romans, all of which I have managed to shoehorn into the Circus Maximus books.

Who’d like fish for pudding?

One of my favourite lessons of every teaching year is when I bring out the bottle of Nam Pla (Thai fish sauce) which I keep in the office next to my classroom. Watching how my pupils react when they sniff this distillation of fermented fish - a close approximation of ‘garum’, the ubiquitous condiment of the ancient Romans - is a reliable source of entertainment. It’s akin to a Marmite test - some love the smell, some claim they’re going to be sick. But none of them can believe it when I tell them there are Roman dessert recipes which include garum. It’s true, though. Opellius Otho, the owner of the Blues’ racing team in Circus Maximus: Race to the Death, is also a garum merchant.

The Romans washed their clothes in wee.

In an early scene of Race to the Death, Dido runs down a street lined with fulleries, the equivalent of Roman dry cleaners. I couldn’t resist adding a detail about the Romans’ most common choice of detergent – aged urine – which they acquired through ‘donations’ from passing pedestrians who would fill up jars placed for the purpose on street corners. The ammonia in the urine actually does a decent job of removing grease and dirt.

Roman ‘Barbie girls’.

Among my favourite artefacts from ancient Rome are the wooden dolls that have been found in the graves of young girls. A well-known example dating to the second century has fashionably styled hair and jointed arms and legs that could be moved, just like a modern Barbie. Unlike Barbie, though, this ancient doll has wide, child-bearing hips. In other words, Roman girls - just like 21st century ones - were given dolls which taught them the societally-approved ideals to which they were expected to aspire and conform. Elissa, Dido’s young cousin who she meets in Rivals on the Track, is playing with such a doll when we first see her.

The ‘vomitorium’ was not a room where people went to vomit.

My former professor, Mary Beard - among others - has publicly debunked this one already but I still get kids who confidently tell me that some Roman houses had a special room where people could go to puke up their food when they’d eaten too much. Not true, I’m afraid. The ‘vomitoria’ were actually the wide exit corridors that led out of theatres and arenas like the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus.

The Circus Maximus is called ‘Maximus’ for good reason.

As a fan of sporting statistics, I can’t help but appreciate that the Circus Maximus - the great chariot racing track where much of the action in my books takes place - could fit more than twice as many spectators as the biggest sports stadium in the world today, with a capacity of around 250,000 people. It underlines the fact that chariot-racing - far more than gladiator fighting - was the Romans’ favourite sport. (Time for an epic movie to be made about it, surely? Maybe with a girl charioteer as the lead? HINT, Ridley Scott).

My review of Circus Maximus: Rivals on the Track

I loved Annelise Gray's first book 'Circus Maximus: Race to the Death,' it was a thrill ride of an adventure that immersed me in ancient Rome and had me alongside Dido whilst she faced threats from evil characters like Emperor Caligula. It was brilliant. It was one of my books of the year. So, whenever I have had an experience like that I am always slightly nervous about reading the second book. Well I am pleased to say that I didn't need to be nervous. 'Rivals on the Track' is every bit as good as 'Race to the Death' and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This story finds Dido living in Utica with her uncle Scorpus (who those of you who have read the first book will be familiar with). Emperor Caligula is hunting for her although he doesn't know her true identity, he is also hunting for his favourite horse that she stole.

Bounty hunters have been seen in the area and familiar faces from Dido's past are coming uncomfortably close. If they discover her it could lead to the emperor finding her.

We also get introduced to some new characters in this book as we get to meet Barca, the older brother of Scorpus. Meeting him eventually leads to Dido going to Thugga where her mother's family live. It is here that the real adventure begins as a wealthy Roman-Gemellus Glabrio is building his own Circus Maximus in the town, in honour of the Emperor and is planning on having a competition of all the best racing teams in the area to open it.

Rivals on the Track has all the elements that made its predecessor such a good story. It has the element of threat, it has antagonists that are dangerous, it has the horses that you can't help falling in love with (wait till you meet Jewel!), and it immerses you in the past in such a vivid way you almost feel like you are there with the characters.

This is a fantastic book and it would be perfect for children that are aged 9 and above that love exciting adventure stories. It is steeped in history as well and so lovers of historical fiction and anyone interested in the Romans is also likely to love it.

The book is out on 3rd February 2022, here are some links for where you can order it:

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