Steven Saylor Interview

September 1, 2010 interviews
the author of Empire

author Steven SaylorOn September 1, 2010 we talked with Steven Saylor, author of the newly released time-sweep novel Empire about imperial Rome from 14 A.D. to 141 A.D. The novel covers the reigns of Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero and Domitian, to name just a few of the most memorable emperors.

What inspired your interest in ancient Rome?

My fascination began in childhood, with movies like Spartacus and Cleopatra, and I studied Roman history in college. But it was my first visit, in my twenties, that ignited a passion that just keeps growing. Writing Empire was my way to time-travel back to the city, and hopefully take readers with me.

What has held your interest in ancient Rome over the many novels you've set there, from your mysteries to your two time-sweep novels, Roma and Empire?

The ancient historians were first and foremost storytellers, and they used every trick to keep readers scrolling forward. There’s no end of scandal, passion, and violence. But we also have the writings of philosophers and poets, which give us entry to the thought-world of Rome--it’s rather like going through the wardrobe that opens into Narnia. Rome is my Narnia or Middle Earth--except that this lost world really existed.

What was your biggest challenge in writing about Rome under bloodthirsty and emotionally twisted emperors like Caligula and Domitian?

Our sources are dominated by imperial biographies. Everything is about the emperor--his astrological sign, his sexual habits, funny things he said, whom he killed on a whim. Most historical fiction focuses on the emperors--novels like Memoirs of Hadrian and I, Claudius.

I wanted to explore what life was like for other people, so Empire is seen through the eyes of the Pinarius family. What was it like to be sexually humiliated by Caligula? What was it like to fall under the charismatic spell of Nero, and to be with him at the sordid end of his life--then to become the confidant of his eunuch-widow, Sporus, who met her own spectacularly tragic end? What was it like to fall in love with a forbidden Vestal under the paranoid Domitian, who felt obliged to police the morals of his subjects?

The Pinarii make some bad choices, but each seeks wisdom in his own way. One becomes a follower of the wonder-worker Apollonius of Tyana, one of the most influential religious leaders the world has ever seen, who now is almost completely forgotten. One of the challenges of Empire was to bring Apollonius to life again. Previous novels and movies have really only grazed the surface of Rome; I think that Empire breaks a lot of fresh ground.

Review of Empire by Steven Saylor

See listing for Empire at Powell's Books

See listing for Empire at

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