Meet author Ben Kane, who will lead our Pompeii tour in May 201916th July 2018
There is no place on earth quite like Pompeii, and touring this evocative site in the company of an archaeologist or historian only adds to the experience.
Next year, author Ben Kane, who wrote the Hannibal and Rome series as well as The Eagles of Rome series and Clash of Empires, will lead one of our popular 'Pompeii, Herculaneum & Classical Campania' tours.
We caught up with Ben to find out more about his insatiable passion for history, his expectations of leading our upcoming tour of Pompeii and what he is reading at the moment...
1) You seem to have a passion for writing about Roman history, what is it that interests you about this period?
To be fair, I am interested in many other periods of history. I do have a very soft spot for the Roman period, however. I can't explain why - my interest has been there since I was a small boy reading Asterix. My parents took me to the Pompeii exhibition in the British Museum when I was six, and I can still remember the poor petrified dog. I went to Alesia when I was about nine, and that had an impact as well. Peter Connolly's Ancient Greece and Rome at War was a book that I had on loan so long from the school library that the librarian made me return it in the end...maybe it's a combination of all of these. Oh, and I loved The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff too!
2) Have you been to Pompeii before? You’ll be leading our May 2nd departure to Pompeii, Herculaneum & Classical Campania next year - what do you think you can bring to the tour and what are you most looking forward to about it?
I have been to Pompeii only once; the same with Herculaneum, so I am really excited about returning to both. By the time of the tour, I shall have been to both, however, and I intend to use my upcoming visit (in October 2018) to decide the flavour of my tour in May. Since being published ten years ago, I have written 12 novels set in ancient Rome. My personal library contains more than 200 texts on Rome, and I have visited Italy more than half a dozen times on research trips. I have walked Hadrian's Wall in full Roman armour, and another 500 miles in kit, to see how it feels. I think I'm good at portraying how life might have been 2000 years ago for ordinary people, from the houses they lived in to the clothing and footwear they wore, and the food they ate, as well as their social mores.
3) You must have to do a lot of travelling to research for your books… what have been the most memorable trips and experiences you’ve had on them to date?
Without doubt, my trips to Sicily and Germany, and the cycle trip I took which brought me over the Alps, where Hannibal might have crossed. The sites of Agrigento, ancient Syracuse and Piazza Armerina are truly incredible. Vetera/Colonia Ulpia Traiana in Germany - see my answer to question 5 for more detail. Cycling along much of the route that Hannibal marched in 218 BC was a really special experience - a once in a lifetime trip. I was blown away by the Alpine valleys, and the difficulties Hannibal's army must have faced. I also wished that I had cycled the route before I wrote my first Hannibal novel!
4) Tell us about your Romani Walks adventures. You’ve raised a significant amount of money for charity and you wore an authentic Roman outfit…
In 2013, I walked Hadrian's Wall in full Roman gear, including the hobnailed boots. Two author friends did it with me - Anthony Riches and Russell Whitfield. We raised almost £20,000 for the charities Combat Stress and Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders). Buoyed up by this success, we walked 130 miles from Capua to Rome the following year, 2014. We filmed it, and with Sir Ian McKellen generously agreeing to do the voiceover, almost got the programme* onto the BBC. £26,000 was the total that time. In 2016, I couldn't persuade Tony and Russ to cycle Hannibal's trail with me, so I went without them, pedalling more than 1500 miles through the Pyrenees and over the Alps into Italy, and south to Rome. I'm proud to say that I raised almost £20,000 that time as well. I've done more fundraising since, for Park in the Past, an amazing project that aims to build a Roman fort/museum near Chester in NW England.
5) Where is your favourite site or location that is connected to Roman history and is there anywhere you’ve yet to visit that you simply can’t wait to explore?
Oooh, that's so hard! I think I will have to go with Xanten, in Roman Germany. The site of Colonia Ulpia Traiana, it's a Roman town that has been excavated and recreated in incredible detail. Think 400 yards of city wall, a three storey tall town gate, a working inn where you can eat recipes from Apicius' cookbook. There's an amphitheatre, a working forge and more. The first time I went, it took me 6 hours to walk around. Leptis Magna is top of my 'want to visit' sites. Sadly, I never went before Libya collapsed into civil war. I don't expect to go any time soon.
6) What are you working on at the moment?
My book in the shops at the moment is Clash of Empires, which is about the invasion of Greece and Macedon by Rome in 200 BC. I am more than halfway through writing the sequel, The Falling Sword, which will be published in May 2019.
7) What are your top three book recommendations for history lovers?
Ahhh! Fiction or nonfiction? I'll do both. Nonfiction - Pompeii by Mary Beard - a scholarly but massively enjoyable book on the most famous Roman site of all. Carthage Must Be Destroyed by Richard Miles - the most recent text on the Carthaginians. Hugely informative and interesting. Philip V by F.W. Walbank - a stunning biography of the king who fought two wars against Rome, only to be defeated at Cynoscephalae in 197 BC.
Fiction - The Boat of Fate by Keith Roberts (ignore the awful cover - it's an outstanding read about the last days in Roman Britain). Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault - first in the Alexander trilogy, and one of the best novels I have ever read. Killer of Men by Christian Cameron - first in the series about Arimnestos of Plataea, who fought at Marathon. Cameron is the best historical fiction writer around, in my opinion.
If you'd like to join Ben Kane on our 2nd May, 2019 departure to Pompeii, call us on 01722 569302 or click here to book your place today.
Watch Ben's aforementioned film, which is narrated by Sir Ian McKellen, below: