The Assassins of Rome

Number in series


Told Through



September 79 AD


Ostia & Rome in Italy

First published

17 October 2002

Number of pages



The Pirates of Pompeii


The Dolphins of Laurentum

The Assassins of Rome is the fourth book in Caroline Lawrence's The Roman Mysteries. It was published by Orion Books.


September, 79 AD

“In Ostia, near Rome, Flavia Gemina the sea captain's daughter, Nubia the African girl and Lupus the mute boy are celebrating their friend Jonathan's birthday.

Then a visitor from the past turns up to see Jonathan's father. Next day the visitor has disappeared, and so has Jonathan. His friends realise that he has gone on a secret quest to Rome, and they are determined to find him. Their dangerous mission takes them to the Golden House of the Emperor Nero, where a deadly assassin is at work.

The latest of the Roman Mysteries is the darkest yet, as the four friends learn about the terrible destruction of Jerusalem, and its impact on Jonathan's family.”

(The above text is an extract from blurb.)

Plot SynopsisEdit

The story begins on Jonathan ben Mordecai 11th birthday. He is gloomy, saying that something bad always happens on his birthday. He opens his presents and is not satisfied with any except a jar of lemon oil; he breaks it, the scent reminding him of his mother, who died in the Siege of Jerusalem. Suddenly, officials turn up to warn Jonathan's father, Mordecai, that an assassin, Simeon ben Jonah, has been asking for him.

Not long afterwards, a stranger arrives at the house. Jonathan overhears his father talking with the mysterious man, who mentions that Jonathan's mother didn't escape the siege 'because of Jonathan'. Then Jonathan realises that the stranger is Simeon ben Jonah. Darting out of hiding place, Jonathan head-butts the assassin and tells his father to knock him out cold before he gets up. Mordecai doesn't do so, instead telling him that Simeon is the brother of Jonathan's mother, Susannah.
Later, Jonathan thinks about the overheard conversation, concluding that Simeon must hate him for preventing Susannah from leaving. That night, he dreams that his mother is sat at her loom in the Cyclops cave and tells him that she is still alive.

The next day, the household wakes to find that Jonathan and Simeon have disappeared, but have left a message: Gone to Rome. The official returns and arrests Mordecai for hiding Simeon.

Realising that Jonathan is very likely in danger, Flavia Gemina and Nubia set off after him, with their bodyguard, Caudex, and cart driver, Feles. They head to Flavia's aunt and uncle's house in Rome, only to find it empty except for the secretary, Sisyphus. To their relief, the man welcomes them in and they tell him the reason for their visit; he kindly agrees to help them.

Meanwhile, Simeon and Jonathan have rented a room in Rome, where Simeon admits to his nephew that he is a messenger to the Emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus. Simeon is also revealed to be a skilled musician on the bass lyre.

Back in Ostia, Lupus, Aristo and Miriam go to ask the official, Bato, why Mordecai has been arrested. Bato tells them that Simeon had been involved in a plot to kill the emperor. If Mordecai helped him, it was treason.
The three friends visit Mordecai in the prison; he tells them that Simeon really was an assassin, but had changed his ways years before. They then return home to discover a message from Jonathan: Susannah is alive and at the Golden House; this was the reason he had run away with his uncle. Aristo and Lupus set off to Rome to tell Flavia and Nubia the news and help them, whilst Miriam stays in Ostia to look after the house.

Meanwhile, Simeon admits to Jonathan that he is the first of three assassins hired to kill the Emperor. He then asks the boy if he wants to go with him to the palace disguised as musicians, and help him kill the Emperor. Jonathan agrees, but only as it would provide a chance to see his mother.
At the palace, Simeon is allowed in to perform because of his exceptional musical talent; however, whilst he is playing he is recognised as an assassin. Simeon and Jonathan are arrested; Simeon is told that his eyes will be gouged out.
Jonathan is branded as a slave and sent to work at the Golden House, where he meets the eight year old Rizpah, who knows all the passages, or "cryptoporticuses", of the Golden House. She tells Jonathan that there is a woman called Susannah in the building, who turns out to be Jonathan's mother. He is able to find her, but discovering that she is visited by the Emperor, he at first thinks that Susannah and Titus are lovers and leaves without making himself known
Rizpah tells Jonathan that it was woman called Berenice had hired Simeon and other assassins, but that the target was Susannah, not the emperor Titus.

Later that day, Flavia tricks the Golden House's guard into telling them that the second assassin (after Simeon) has been arrested and crucified. Then Flavia, Sisyphus, Aristo and Nubia pose as musicians and are hired to perform music for Titus at the Golden House's Octagonal Room. Lupus slips into the Golden House to search for the third assassin.

Meanwhile, Jonathan hides behind a bush and sees Susannah visited by the Emperor again. After Titus leaves, Jonathan is discovered and Susannah realises that he is a slave in the House. She tells him that Simeon has not been harmed and that the emperor regrets that he sieged Jerusalem. She also explains that she stayed behind all those years ago because her lover, Jonathan the Zealot, was fighting in the city. Jonathan realises that this was the Jonathan whom Simeon was speaking of.
Although shocked by his mother's confession, Jonathan tries to persuade her to come to Ostia with him; she regretfully refuses, saying that she could not leave Titus, who she feels needs her. She believes that she can make Titus repent for the evil things he has done in the past.

Elsewhere in the Golden House, Lupus spots the assassin, Porcius, and chases him. The assassin escapes and climbs up to the roof, but Flavia throws a tambourine at him. He smashes through the glass roof and falls to his death.
Titus realises what had almost happened and out of gratitude gives all the slaves and women of the Golden House the option to leave if they wished. Susannah, Rizpah and Rachel - Rizpah's mother - are the only ones who stay. Simeon becomes the steward to the Golden House.

Titus apologizes to Jonathan for the brand and frees him. He also gives him a ring with Titus' seal imprinted on it, which the boy can show if anyone ever questions him on the slave brand.

The group returns to Ostia to find Mordecai free. The novel ends with the characters holding feast to celebrate. Clio comes, which causes great surprise, as the Ostians had thought she had died in the volcano eruption. Lupus is especially delighted, as he is very fond of her. An old acquaintance, Felix, is also at the feast.

Maps IncludedEdit

  • Rome in AD 79
  • Detail of Nero's Golden House - Ground Floor

Allusions to HistoryEdit

Queen Berenice of Judaea, the Roman emperor Titus, his brother Domitian, and the historian Josephus are historical characters who appear in The Assassins of Rome.

The novel is set about nine years after the siege and fall of Jerusalem during the First Jewish-Roman War and refers to those events and the subsequent enslavement of thousands of Jews. Characters describe the siege and also the love affair between Berenice and Titus.

Flavia and her friends also witness contemporary events such as the building of Vespasian's new amphitheatre - now known as the Colosseum - and the chariot races at the Circus Maximus during the Ludi Romani. The unusually hot weather that autumn, a consequence of the eruption of Vesuvius, is frequently mentioned. Some of the action is set in Nero's Golden House, which the book suggests was used as a palace for Berenice and her Jewish handmaidens (its actual use at this period is unknown).


  • The opening scene in Jonathan's birthday party was inspired by a Garfield cartoon, as mentioned here.