This post is by Nancy Jardine
When I’m writing my Celtic Fervour Saga Series, set in late 1st century Roman Britain, I depict a reality that my readers can immerse themselves in and totally relish. A 2019 review of Book 1 included: “The descriptions of the people, places, tribes etc are phenomenal – I literally felt like I was there.” Comments like these are absolutely delightful and tell me that what I strive for is well-appreciated.
Since written evidence for late 1st century Roman Britain is so scant, more than a quick dip into archaeology is needed, and other sources also help with world-building. Scientific disciplines like soil culture, land erosion, natural plant and animal habitats assist with describing the landscape of 2000 years ago – because, to me, it’s wrong to put characters of Roman Britain into the fields and farms of the 21st century and call it historical fiction.
However, I also acknowledge that what I write comes from speculative information. An archaeologist digs out an artefact from a situation, takes care to detail its surroundings, but what happens after that is his/her interpretation of its use in society. Since beginning the writing of my series in 2011, I’ve discovered a recent archaeologist interpretation of a historic site may differ from an interpretation of the 1970s. Both of those may also be quite different from those of the earliest historians and ‘hobby archaeologists’, from the Medieval era onwards (before archaeology was a proper scientific study with documented procedures).
I love reading that evidence uncovered four or five centuries ago is being given a new examination because the very early investigators were sometimes a little bit off the mark. A glaring example might be that, for a while, it was thought that the c. 73 miles of stone wall, which extends across the north of England, was built by Ancient Roman Emperor Septimius Severus. Severus’ Wall? I can see lots of heads negatively shaking right now! That opinion was formed by some of the early classical scholars who relied on translating the scant written texts available to them, in conjunction with studying some artefacts unearthed in the area. It was only after a lot more physical evidence was gradually uncovered that Emperor Hadrian was given the glory for being such an incredible frontier builder. Emperor Severus WAS in the Hadrian’s Wall area during his Caledonian campaigns of c. A.D. 210, but by then the wall had existed for around 90 years.
Now, it seems that almost every day, there’s new information on social media about artefacts uncovered from the forts and settlements that peppered Hadrian’s Wall. I’m heartily glad that we now get an almost daily update on archaeological digs, and it’s really exciting when we get glimpses of the evidence before they are cleaned. Even better is when I see daily webcam footage of ongoing archaeological investigations!
In late 2018, I visited a wonderful little museum in Melrose, in the Scottish Borders, run by the Trimontium Trust – though it’s currently closed to visitors and under expansion. When re-opened, its upgrade will make it mirror the typical museum style of the 21st century and in some ways, this saddens me. When I visited the one-roomed museum, it was literally crammed to the ceiling with evidence collected from the nearby Trimontium Roman Fort (Newstead Roman Fort) and wonderful reconstructions of what life might have been like at Trimontium during the few centuries of fort occupation. I hope the new museum will still have a similar tactile and visual impact. The most recent excavations indicate that the area housed multiple successive forts with adjacent temporary camps – the Romans adept at dismantling a building, levelling the ground, and rebuilding over the top. The downside being that process makes it difficult for archaeologists to asses the layouts of the earliest Flavian forts, especially the one which my characters would have inhabited.
Trimontium Roman Fort, named for the three peaks of the Eildon Hills behind it, was situated at a crossing of the River Tweed where the Ancient Roman Road we refer to as Dere Street wended its way northwards. Trimontium was therefore an important, strategic fort on the main route north/south and, unlike many forts in Scotland, had longer periods of use than some others.
The evidence collected at Trimontium has been astounding, as has that of another location on Hadrian’s Wall named Vindolanda Fort. I expect to be writing at length on my own blog about Trimontium and Vindolanda…not to be mistaken with Vinovia, which is yet another fort on Dere Street and not so far away from the ‘wall’
All of these forts feature in Book 5 of my Celtic Fervour Saga, expected to be published later in 2020 when I complete the stories of General Agricola, Beathan the Brigante and my Garrigill Clan.
Ocelot Press novels are all well-recommended, wonderful tales. Whatever you may be reading – enjoy the experience!
For the link to Nancy Jardine’s Author Page on amazon click HERE . All novels are available in #KindleUnlimited and paperback versions are available to order/buy at bookstores.