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Before I began work on Aven, I had been entertaining the idea of a Roman-set fantasy for a while. It seemed to me that there was so much untapped potential there. Since so many fantasies get the typical western-European medieval/early-Renaissance treatment, but with Rome, you get so many different things — a more diverse population (not that, say, 12th century England was entirely homogeneous, but nothing to hold a candle to Rome, which had substantial populations from all over the Mediterranean and beyond), a complex religious system with archaic rituals and competing cults, a better (though by no means ideal) situation for women, layers upon layers of socio-economic-political strata, and, y’know, sanitation. I love my med-Ren studies, but limiting the fantasy genre to that aesthetic is just silly.

The thing that really triggered Aven in particular, though? Was this picture:

The Baths of Caracalla, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1899

The Baths of Caracalla, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1899

It’s my second-favorite painting of all time (after Titian’s Venus d’Urbino). I love how much of a story there is in those three women: the excited perching of the lady on the left, leaning in to impart some gossip or political news; the languid interest of the central figure; the piqued curiosity of the young lady on the right. The baths were such a social place for the Romans, much moreso than modern spas, and for both men and women, they could be important places to conduct business negotiations and political intrigues. There’s so much detail here, and so much personality, that it sparked in my mind and got some gears turning.

So, from Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s Baths of Caracalla sprang the idea of the Vitelliae sisters, on whom I could hang my ideas for a Roman-based fantasy story.