The World of Warriors of Epona – Part IV – Battle Line: The Gask Ridge Frontier

When most think of the Romans in Britannia or Caledonia, almost always the first thing that comes to mind is Hadrian’s Wall.

But there is another frontier that many people may not know of. You may have heard of some of the forts or camps that make up a part of this frontier, such as the legionary base at Inchtuthil.

Roman re-enactor watching the frontier

I’m talking about a line of forts and camps known as the ‘Gask Ridge’.

Research on this particular frontier has been less in depth than either the Antonine or Hadrianic walls. However, over the past ten years or so, the Gask Ridge has received its due attention thanks to the efforts of Birgitta Hoffmann and David Woolliscroft who have spearheaded the Roman Gask Project.

The importance of this frontier cannot be over-emphasized.

Gask Ridge Forts (Wikimedia Commons)

The Gask Ridge frontier has seen action in every one of Rome’s Caledonian campaigns and some of the research even shows that it was the first chain of forts in northern Britain, predating the other walls.

Some believe it is the first such frontier in the Empire!

It consists of a long line of forts, watchtowers, and temporary marching camps that run from the area of Stirling, on the Antonine Wall, past Doune, along the edge of Fife and up into Angus, all the way to Stracathro.

This is a very impressive line of defence built by Rome with the intent of holding the Caledonii at bay, and separating the highlands from the flatter plains leading to the North Sea.

Artist Impression of Caledonian Warriors

In writing Warriors of Epona, the trick was finding out which forts may have been in use during the campaigns of Septimius Severus in the early 3rd century A.D.

The forts of the Gask Ridge were used mostly during Agricola’s campaign in the late first century, and then by Antoninus in the mid-second century.

Roman road along Gask Ridge in Perth and Kinross

The Romans definitely knew how to pick a strategic location along the perfect line of march, so it’s likely marching camps would have been reused in later campaigns. But some of that is supposition.

One site that we know was built as part of the Severan campaign was the legionary fort at Carpow, on the banks of the Tay. With a large part of a legion stationed there, the supply chain could be maintained by sea with Roman galleys coming up the Tay. It was also at this time that some believe the first Tay Bridge was built when Severus ordered the creation of a boat or pontoon bridge to the Angus side of the river.

Aerial view of Horea Classis site (Carpow)

Carpow was a large base of operations intended to make a statement – Rome was going to stay this time! Severus was a military emperor who liked to prove his point. He was in Caledonia to finish what other Roman emperors had started, just as he did in Parthia.

The Gask Ridge plays a key role in Warriors of Epona, especially the forts that may have seen re-use during the third century, among them the forts at Camelon, Ardoch, Fendoch, and Bertha, the latter being where Lucius Metellus Anguis establishes his forward base.

Ardoch Roman camp remains

Of course, one of the exciting things about writing historical fiction, after the research, is filling in the gaps and exploring possibilities.

Because research on the Gask Ridge is relatively new, we can certainly look forward to learning more from Hoffmann, Woolliscroft, and everyone else on the Roman Gask Project team who are leading the charge to further our knowledge of this ancient frontier.

One thing that I have discovered over the years is that even though the history and research are very important, at the end of the day, in fiction, the story must come first.

With Warriors of Epona, history and story have come together nicely, and that has been pure magic!

Cheers, and stay tuned for the fifth and final part of The World of Warriors of Epona.

Aerial view of Fendoch and the Sma’ Glen from the south with the fort on the low plateau in the right foreground.

If you are interested in reading more about the Roman Gask Frontier, or about the Romans in Scotland, do have a look at the following resources:

The Roman Gask Project: http://www.theromangaskproject.org/

Rome’s First Frontier: The Flavian Occupation of Northern Scotland. By D. J. Woolliscroft and B. Hoffman. Pp. 254. ISBN: 0 7524 3044 0. Stroud: Tempus. 2006.

Warriors of Epona – Eagles and Dragons Book III is one sale now!

But remember! If you have not yet read any of the Eagles and Dragons novels, and if you want to start off on an adventure in the Roman Empire, you can pick up the #1 Best Selling prequel novel, A Dragon among the Eagles. It is a FREE DOWNLOAD on Amazon, Apple iTunes/iBooks, and Kobo.

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The World of Warriors of Epona – Part III – Combatants: The Tribes of the North

In the last post we looked at one of the sites that was right in the middle of the war zone beyond Hadrian’s Wall, a place that Rome used to good effect as it marched north over Britannia.

But who were the tribes north of Hadrian’s Wall that caused Rome such misery and bloodshed for over a hundred years? Who was Rome fighting?

In Part III of The World of Warriors of Epona, we’re going to look at the various combatants in our story.

Tribes of Northern Britain according to Ptolemy (Wikimedia Commons)

On a couple of occasions in the second century, the tribes north of the wall rebelled against Rome, and by the time Septimius Severus had finally defeated the Parthian Empire in the East, the time had come for Rome to deal once-and-for-all with the tribes of Caledonia.

This was no small venture.

Severus marched into Caledonia with at least six legions, his Praetorian Guard, plus numerous auxiliary units and cavalry ala, to deal with the rebellious tribes.

In this major offensive, the legions had to deal with bad weather, rough terrain, mountains, bogs, and river fords, as they attempted to take back strategic positions Rome had once held in previous campaigns.

Rome’s foes were also cunning and highly skilled at their unique guerilla tactics, never meeting the legions in open, pitched battle. They were mostly infantry, but they also used war chariots. Their weapons often consisted of small round shields, short spears, and swords.

Their devices lured many a legionary to his doom too. Livestock would be used as bait to lure Roman troops into swamps or ambushes, and warriors would lie in wait submersed beneath the surface of water when the Romans were marching by.

It was all about hit and run and hacking away at the edges of Rome’s forces. And they were so good at it that, by the end of the campaign, the Romans are said to have lost around 50,000 men.

So who were these expert guerilla fighters who proved such a thorn in the side of Rome for almost the entirety of its time in Britannia and Caledonia?

Let’s find out.

Most of what we know about the names of the tribes at this time in Caledonia and northern Britannia comes down to us from Claudius Ptolemaeus, or Ptolemy as most know him.

Ptolemy was a Greco-Egyptian mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, and geographer who lived c. A.D.100-170. It is his work, known as Geographia, which compiles geographical coordinates and knowledge of the Roman Empire in the second century, and which mentions many of the tribes and locations we are dealing with during the Severan invasion of Caledonia.

Severan Campaigns in Caledonia (Wikimedia Commons)

Other sources for places during this period and in this region are the Ravenna Cosmography, which is an early eighth century list of place-names from Ireland to India, and the second century Antonine Itinerary. The latter was created under Antoninus Pius and likely finalized under Caracalla at the beginning of the third century. The portion of the itinerary known as Iter Britanniarum was a list of Roman place names and roads in Britain.

Rome was anything but invincible in this fight, so we need to look first at those who fought alongside the legions in Caledonia.

One of Rome’s allies in this fight were the Votadini, and they play a large role in Warriors of Epona.

This tribe of Celtic Britons held the territory of what is now south-east Scotland and north-east England, and they had been Roman allies for generations by the time of the Severan invasion, and may well have been one of the key Romano-British fighting forces.

The Votadini came under Roman alliance in the mid-second century, and proved to be a great stabilizing entity between the Antonine and Hadrianic walls, mainly the region we know today as the Scottish Borders.

Dunpedyrlaw (Trapain Law) – Capital of the Votadini

Their capital, named ‘Curia’ by Ptolemy, was called Dunpendyrlaw, which meant the ‘fort of the spear shafts’. Today, the massive hill fort at this place is known as Traprain Law. This place was occupied by the Votadini and their descendants until about A.D. 400 when the capital was moved to Din Eidyn, that is, Castle Rock in Edinburgh.

One of the most magnificent finds from the Votadini capital of Dunpendyrlaw is a hoard of Roman silver plates, cups and more. Some believe this was given to the Votadini in thanks for service to Rome, others that it was a bribe to keep them in check and fulfilling their role as allies.

Trapain Law Treasure

The Votadini’s descendants were none other than the Gododdin, those Britons who made an heroic last stand at the battle of Catraeth around A.D. 600 when the Saxons were poised to overrun the island. This final battle is chronicled in the poem, Y Gododdin by Aneirin.

The poem was certainly an inspiration for me when I was writing about the Votadini in this book. It seems quite romantic in a sense, the Votadini, loyal Rome, standing against the enemy tribes after Rome pulled back from Antonine Wall.

Artist impression of Roman cavalry ala engaging Caledonians

The other allies in this fight with Rome, although perhaps a little more reluctant, was a tribe known as the Venicones. Their lands covered what is basically modern Fife, in eastern Scotland, and where, funnily enough, my alma mater, St. Andrews University, is located.

The Venicones are known to us from Ptolemy who mentions a town by the name of ‘Orrea’ which many have come to identify as the Roman settlement of Horea Classis. This is believed to be the site of the Severan legionary base at Carpow, along the Tay estuary, and it is from here that the emperor likely oversaw the Caledonian campaign, when not in the northern capital of Eburacum (York).

The Venicones were in a tough position. On the one hand, they were neighbours with Rome’s enemies, the Caledonii to the West, and the Taexali to the North.

Crop marks showing outline of Roman Principia at Carpow

They chose to side with Rome in the fight, but one wonders how much of a choice that was? As it turned out, the legionary base and ports at Horea Classis (Carpow) and the forts of the Gask Ridge frontier (the topic of our next post), were all in the lands of the Venicones.

What must the Venicones have been thinking when they agreed, or were forced, to become a Roman client state?

I wouldn’t have wanted to be the one throwing those dice!

Ordnance Survey map extract (Gask ridge and Venicones lands)

Now we come to Rome’s adversaries in the Caledonian campaign.

Even though we have some hints from Ptolemy and the other sources, it is difficult to be exact in naming the tribes that Rome was fighting on this far northern frontier. Many Roman writers, including Cassius Dio, use the name ‘Caledonians’ for all the tribes rebelling against the Empire.

In writing Warriors of Epona, I had to pick and choose which tribes I would write about, and which to leave out.

There are three peoples in particular who may well have joined forces with larger groups but which I decided to leave out of the story specifically.

The first are the Novantae. These were a people of the second century who lived in modern Galloway and Carrick in south-western Scotland. The Saxon historian, Bede, refers to the Novantae as Picts in his history, but it is believed that they were a Brythonic people.

Another group I decided to leave out of the story were the Damnonii. These were Celtic Britons located in Strathclyde in southern Scotland. They are only mentioned by Ptolemy and there really is not enough information on them and their activities.

The third group I decided to leave out was the Maeatae. This group was larger, and believed by some to be a union of smaller tribes whose lands lay somewhere along the Antonine Wall, westward from Stirling. The little that I read about them indicates that they likely joined forces with the Caledonii in the rebellion of A.D. 210.

British warriors (illustrated by Angus McBride)

In Warriors of Epona, the Romans have to deal with two main adversaries in the Caledonian campaign – the Selgovae, and the Caledonii.

At the beginning of the book, Lucius Metellus Anguis and his Sarmatian cavalry ala are engaging the Selgovae in the lands around Trimontium, north of the wall.

The fighting has been brutal and the leader of the Selgovae ruthless in his campaign against Rome.

Who were the Selgovae?

They were a large tribe of Britons mentioned by Ptolemy in the late second century. Their territory covered south-west Scotland and what is Dumfriesshire today.

It is believed that they were related to the Brigantes, Rome’s old enemies south of Hadrian’s Wall.

The Selgovae, like many other British tribes, used chariots in warfare. They also lived in stone huts and had many hill forts across their lands. Their warlike demeanour and the strength of their fortresses made them an obvious target for Rome during successive campaigns. Like the Brigantes, the Selgovae were more troublesome than other tribes.

Aerial view of Eildon Hill North – Capital of the Selgovae

In a previous post, we have already discussed the legionary fortress at Trimontium, the place Lucius uses as a base in his fight against the Selgovae. But before Rome occupied the site, Eildon Hill North, one of Trimontium’s three peaks, was the main tribal centre of the Selgovae.

Writing about this group of warriors, making a last stand against Rome at the beginning of the story, was thrilling and bitter-sweet. They were a once-proud people, but, like many who stood against Rome, they had to face the harsh realities of the Empire.

The main opponents of Rome during the Caledonian campaigns of Septimius Severus, and in Warriors of Epona, were the Caledonii.

These were the indigenous people of what is now Scotland.

They were originally considered to be another group of Britons, but now it is more widely believed that they were the people who later came to be known as the Picts.

Pictish stone at the Meigle Museum in Strathmore, Scotland

The Caledonii may also have been a federation of many tribes in Scotland, as well as remnant forces fleeing north after being defeated by Rome in the South.

One thing is certain – Rome was a definite threat to all the northern tribes, and the scene was set for a brutal fight, with the Caledonii leading the charge.

The Caledonii were certainly a hearty people who lived in a very rugged world that included the Scottish Highlands. As the first century historian, Tacitus, points out, they had red hair and long limbs. Much later than Tacitus, Cassius Dio, our main source for the period, added a bit more colour to the picture of the Caledonii, saying that they:

…inhabit wild and waterless mountains and desolate and swampy plains, and possess neither walls, cities, nor tilled fields, but live on their flocks, wild game, and certain fruits; for they do not touch the fish which are there found in immense and inexhaustible quantities. They dwell in tents, naked and unshod, possess their women in common, and in common rear all the offspring. Their form of rule is democratic for the most part, and they are very fond of plundering; consequently they choose their boldest men as rulers. The go into battle in chariots, and have small, swift horses; there are also foot-soldiers, very swift running and very firm in standing their ground. For arms they have a shield and a short spear, with a bronze apple attached to the end of the spear-shaft, so that when it is shaken it may clash and terrify the enemy; and they also have daggers. They can endure hunger and cold and any kind of hardship; for they plunge into the swamps and exist there for many days with only their heads above water, and in the forests they support themselves upon bark and root…

(Cassius Dio, Roman History 12,1)

One must always take ancient writers’ descriptions with a grain of salt, of course, but if even a part of this description of the Caledonii is true, then the Romans must have felt like they were fighting ghosts as they marched into Caledonia.

Artist impression of a Caledonian warrior

The Severan campaign was certainly not the first time Rome engaged the Caledonians. There were other campaigns which we shall look at in a later post in this blog series.

Prior to Severus’ invasion, the Caledonians rebelled in A.D. 180 when they travelled south and breached Hadrian’s Wall. And then in A.D. 197, the Caledonii, Brigantes, and Maeatae led another attack on the frontier.

At the time of these rebellions, Severus was campaigning against the Parthians in the East.

By the time A.D. 209 rolled around, Rome’s legions were set for the biggest offensive yet into Caledonia.

Once again, Cassius Dio gives us an account:

Severus, accordingly, desiring to subjugate the whole of it, invaded Caledonia. But as he advanced through the country he experienced countless hardships in cutting down forests, levelling the heights, filling up swamps, and bridging rivers; but he fought no battle and beheld no enemy in battle array. The enemy purposely put sheep and cattle in front of the soldiers for them to seize in order that they might be lured on still further until they were worn out; for in fact the water caused great suffering to the Romans, and when they became scattered, they would be attacked. Then, unable to walk, they would be slain by their own men, in order to avoid capture, so that a full fifty thousand died.

(Cassius Dio, Roman History 14,1)

Caledonia: The Scottish Highlands

Some believe that Septimius Severus actually wanted to settle the North and that there were plans for a city near the Tay estuary, but others stand firm in the belief that the goal of the Severan campaign was none other than the mass genocide of the Caledonii who had proved supremely troublesome to Rome for a long time.

Whatever the reasons for Severus’ invasion of Caledonia, one thing is certain – with their guerilla tactics, rough terrain, and sheer determination to keep Rome out of their lands, the Caledonii and their allies gave the men of the legions a fight for their lives.

We mustn’t think, however, that Rome was adrift and defenseless in Caledonia. On the contrary, the Empire dug in for a fight and, as part of Lucius’ mission in Warriors of Epona, they took back an old frontier to hem the Caledonians in on their highlands.

This battle line, this frontier, will be the subject of Part IV of The World of Warriors of Epona.

Thank you for reading.

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The World of Warriors of Epona – Part II – Trimontium: The Place of Three Peaks

The Legions are on the move once more in this second part of The World of Warriors of Epona.

In this post, we’re going to take a brief look at the site of Trimontium, which is located at Newstead.

Trimontium is the site of a Roman fort in what are today the Scottish Borders, north of Hadrian’s Wall. This was not a full legionary base, but rather a fort that housed about 1500 troops at its peak usage, cavalry in particular!

Trimontium fort site, below Eildon Hill

However, it was a major stopping point on the route north, located as it was along Dere Street, the major Roman road in the region.

I first became aware of Trimontium as part of my master’s degree thesis research while at St. Andrew’s University. In researching a theory about the activities of an historical ‘Arthur’ in the region, I came across this remarkable Roman fort set in a beautiful and dramatic setting.

A site visit was definitely in order!

If you have ever been to the Borders, you will know that the region’s pastoral beauty belies its warlike past.

Scott’s View

As I drove south from Edinburgh on the A68 (which follows the line of Roman Dere Street, bulbous green and treeless landscapes gave way to fertile fields lined with hedges and accented with summer wildflowers. It was a bright, sunny day, which was often not the case in Scotland, and so I could see for some distance.

As we approached the River Tweed, the three peaks of the Eildon Hills came into view with the river sparkling in the summer sun. I was finally there, having followed in the footsteps of the legions.

Trimontium from the A68 with Tweed river and bridge

This area is loaded with wonderful places to see such as Scott’s view, a favourite place of reflection for Sir Walter Scott and a great spot from which to see the Eildon Hills, Dryburgh Abbey, Melrose Abbey (where the heart of Robert the Bruce’s heart is buried), and myriad country paths.

But it was the Roman presence that concerned me on this trip.

Eildon Hill from the ruins of Melrose Abbey

The fort at Trimontium was used as a marching camp by Agricola’s troops c. A.D. 80 and had eight subsequent phases of Roman occupation all the way to the time of Septimius Severus’ campaigns into Caledonia in the early 3rd century, the latter being the time in which Warriors of Epona takes place.

Trimontium is so-named because of the three peaks of the Eildon Hills that overshadow it. It was on the marching route to the north and provided a visible and central meeting place for the legions and auxiliaries. Some of the most important finds to come from the area are the horse harness and ornamental cavalry armour of the troops that were stationed there.

2nd century Roman cavalry auxiliaries (illustrated by Kawaleria Rzymska)

These finds are wonderful and some can be seen in the museum in Melrose, but mainly in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. The cavalry masks discovered at Trimontium inspired some tweaks to Lucius Metellus Anguis’ own armour in the book.

The Newstead Cavalry Mask (wikimedia commons)

It was the obvious presence of Roman auxiliary cavalry that gripped my imagination then, and so it quickly became obvious that Lucius and his Sarmatian cavalry ala would be based at Trimontium during a portion of Severus’ Caledonian campaign, the final phase of use for Trimontium.

Crop marks showing outline of fort at Newstead

Though today almost nothing remains of the Roman fort (it’s mainly a great field), during the Antonine period, the fort at Trimontium had three defensive ditches and a rampart, a principia (headquarters building) that may also have served as an exercise hall just off of the via Decumana, barracks, stables, a commander’s house, and granaries.

There were also annexes on every side of the fort with a parade ground on the east side, and a mansio (a sort of hostel) and bath house on the west side.

Plan of the site and successive fort(s) at Trimontium (from Newstead 1996 – The Northern Vicus and the Amphitheatre Excavations and Survey; University of Bradford)

Trimontium did not only have a military presence. Wherever the Roman army went, there were others who followed – wives and children, merchants, prostitutes and others.

Outside the walls of the fort, as with many Roman forts, there was a vicus, a civilian settlement on the north side where the people mentioned above would have lived.

But one of the most interesting features of Trimontium’s fort is the presence of an amphitheatre beyond the north-east corner of the fortress, near the banks of the River Tweed. The outlines indicate that it was elliptical rather than round, and because of its location next to the military installation, it was likely used not only for games, but also for drills.

Artist impression of Newstead Amphitheatre

When you visit a site like the fort of Trimontium, there actually isn’t much to see when you are ‘on the ground’. It helps to do a bit of research beforehand so you know what you are looking at.

For someone like me, who is interested not only in the site, but the smell of the air, the sound of the wind and the view of the surroundings, it is magic for my creativity. But it also helps to get a bird’s eye view of the site.

If you don’t have a helicopter or bi-plane, the best way to do that is to climb Eildon Hill North, the biggest, broadest peak of the three and that which overlooks Melrose and the fort at Trimontium.

Eildon Hill North (Wikimedia Commons)

I drove the car as close as I could get to the base of the hill, having left the fort behind, parked, and began to climb.

From a distance, Eildon Hill North doesn’t seem so big, but when you get up close, you realized you have quite a workout ahead of you. I was glad of my hiking boots, let me tell you.

Once at the top, the world opens up before you. The view is magnificent.

But after the calm beauty of the farmlands down around the fort, the howling winds at the top of Eildon Hill North made for quite a contrast. It wasn’t a place to picnic when I finally got up there.

View from the top of Eildon Hill

This was a sacred hill to the Britons during the Bronze and Iron ages, and was the site of a hill fort that housed up to two-thousand people of the Selgovae, the tribe against which Lucius does battle at the beginning of the book.

When Rome came to the region and took the hill, they constructed a signal station at the top which had a round enclosure about it. However by the time of the Severan invasion of Caledonia, it seems that the signal station might have been out of use. That’s not to say I didn’t have plans for Eildon Hill North in Warriors of Epona!

After the long trek up and back down again, I made my way into Melrose for lunch, after which I visited the lovely little Trimontium Trust Museum.

If you have the time, you should definitely visit this little museum, if only to try on some Roman arms and armour, heft a scutum, unsheathe a gladius, and sit on a four-horned Roman cavalry saddle.

When I finally sat down to write Warriors of Epona, my memories of the fort at Triumontium, the setting, and the wind atop Eildon Hill North all rushed back into my mind as if it were only yesterday.

The site features at the beginning of the book, and though my time there is at an end, the memories of it will always be fresh and inspiring.

Be sure to join me for Part III of The World of Warriors of Epona when we will be looking at the various combatants in our story.

Thank you for reading.

Warriors of Epona (Eagles and Dragons – Book III) is out now in e-book! CLICK HERE to get your copy from Amazon, Kobo, or Apple.

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The World of Warriors of Epona – Part I – Epona: Goddess of Horses

The Eagles and Dragons saga is marching on, and so I’m very excited to begin a new series of blogs posts based on the newest release, Warriors of Epona.

Writing the Eagles and Dragons series has been a fantastic and exciting adventure thus far, for me and for the characters inhabiting this world. And with each new book, I’ve tried to explore new realms, new areas of thought and belief, and to plumb new depths of the human experience.

In Warriors of Epona Lucius Metellus Anguis’ journey leads him down a very different path to a place that is both beautiful and terrifying.

I do hope that you enjoy the next phase in this adventure.

Epona and horses (Wikimedia Commons)

In Part I of The World of Warriors of Epona, I want to introduce you to a new character in the series, a goddess.

In Warriors of Epona Lucius has started the next phase of his military career as the praefectus of a Sarmatian cavalry ala. To read more about the Sarmatians, CLICK HERE.

Originally, Epona was a Celtic horse goddess, and some believe that her worship spread out from Alesia, in Gaul, at the time of Caesar’s conflict there with the Celtic war leader, Vercingetorix.

The interesting thing about Epona is that she came to be widely worshiped by Romans as well. This was a truly unique circumstance for a Celtic goddess, for worship of such deities was usually local in nature, and then they were often combined with a Roman god (for example the worship of Sulis Minerva at Bath).

Epona riding side saddle

However, the worship of Epona spread across the Roman Empire, especially among cavalrymen, and dedicatory inscriptions and altars to her have been found largely along the Rhine and Danube frontiers, but also in Gaul and Britannia.

She was also associated with plenty, and some of the few representations that survive show her holding sheaves of wheat. She was also associated with apples.

The Roman festival of Epona was celebrated on December 18th.

I have always been drawn to Epona since I read the Mabinogion, the compilation of early Welsh tales, or ‘Triads’. In the tale Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, the otherworldly woman, Rhiannon, is a reflection of the Goddess Epona, riding a brilliant white horse, followed by three white, red-eared hounds, and of course the birds of Rhiannon.

In Warriors of Epona, I chose to portray the goddess, who is Lucius’ new protector, as Rhiannon is portrayed in the Welsh Triads. If you have never read Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, I highly recommend it as it beautifully portrays some of the strongest archetypes of ancient Celtic myth.

Here is an excerpt from Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed:

Once upon a time he [i.e. Pwyll] was in Arbeth, a chief court of his, with a feast laid out and great hosts of men all around him. After the first course, Pwyll got up to go for a walk and made for the top of a mound which was above the court and was called Gorsedd Arbeth.

‘Lord’, said one of the court ‘it is a peculiarity of the mound that whatever high-born man might sit upon it, he will not go away without one of two things: either wounds or blows, or his witnessing a marvel.’

‘I have no fear of wounds or blows in the midst of this host. A marvel, however, I would be glad to see. I will go,’ he continued ‘ and sit on this mound’. And he went to sit on the mound.

As they were seated, they could see a woman on a large stately pale-white horse, a garment of shining gold brocaded silk about her, making her way along the track which went past the mound. The horse had an even, leisurely pace; and she was drawing level with the mound it seemed to all those who were watching her.

‘Men’ said Pwyll ‘ is there any of you who recognizes that lady on horseback over there?’

‘There is not, my Lord,’ they replied.

‘One [of you] go up to her to find out who she is’ he said.

One [man] got up, but when he came onto the road to meet her, she had [already] gone past. He went after her as fast as he was able to on foot, but the greater was his speed, the further away from him she became. When he could see that following her was to no avail, he returned to Pwyll and said to him:

‘Lord, it is no use anyone in the world [trying] to follow her on foot.’

‘Aye,’ said Pwyll ‘go back to the court, and take the fastest horse that you know, and go after her.’

He took the horse and off he went. He got to smooth open country, and he began to set his spurs to the horse; but the more he struck the horse, the further away she became. Yet she still had the same pace with which she had begun. His horse flagged, and when he noticed his horse’s slackening pace, he returned to Pwyll.

‘Lord,’ said he ‘it is no use following that Lady over there. I haven’t known any horse in the land faster than this one, but [even on this] following her was to no avail.’

‘Aye’ said Pwyll ‘there is some kind of a magical meaning to this. Let us go [back] to the court.’

[So] they went [back] to the court, and passed the rest of that day. The next day they arose and that [too] passed until it was the hour to eat. After the first meal [Pwyll spoke thus]:

‘We will go – the company that we were yesterday – to the top of the mound. And you,’ he said to one his retainers ‘take with you the fastest horse you know in the field.’ And that the retainer did. They [then] made for the mound with the horse.

And, as they were sitting, they could see the woman on the same horse, with the same apparel about her, coming up the same road.

‘Look!’ said Pwyll ‘here comes the lady on horseback. Be ready, boy, to find out who she is.’

‘Lord, that I’ll do gladly.’

Thereupon, the lady on horseback drew level. The boy then mounted his horse, but before he had [even] settled in the saddle, she had already gone past, and there was a distance between them. Her pace was no different from the day before. He [too] put his pace at an amble, supposing as he did that however slowly his horse went, he might be able to overtake her. But it was no use. He loosed his at the reins, but got no nearer than if he had been on foot; and the more he beat his horse, the further away she became. [Yet] her pace was no greater than before. Since he saw it was useless [trying] to follow her, he returned, coming back to Pwyll.

‘Lord,’ said he ‘there is no more this horse can do than what you have seen.’

‘[So] I saw’ replied [Pwyll] ‘ its pointless anyone pursuing her. But between me and God,’ he continued ‘she has a message for someone on this plain, if obstinacy would [only] allow her to say it. Let us go back to the court.’

They came [back] to the court and spent the evening in song and carousel as they pleased.

The next morning, they passed the day until it was the hour to eat. When they had finished the meal Pwyll announced ‘Where is that group of us that went up on the mound yesterday and the day before?’

‘Here [we are], my Lord’ said they.

‘Let us go [then],’ said he ‘to sit upon the mound. And you’ he said to his stable-boy ‘saddle my horse well and bring him to the path, and bring my spurs with you.’ And that the boy did.

They came to sit on the mound. They had hardly been there any time before they caught sight of the lady on horseback, coming along the same path, with the same apparel, at the same pace.

‘Ah, boy, I can see the lady on horseback coming!’ said Pwyll ‘Bring me my horse.’

Pwyll mounted his horse, and no sooner than he had done so, she had passed him by. He turned after her, and let his lively horse prance at its own pace. He guessed that he would catch her up on the second or third bound. [But] no nearer did he get to her than [any of the times] before. He spurred on the horse as fast as it could go. But he saw it was useless following her [in this way].

Then Pwyll spoke: ‘Maiden,’ he said ‘for the sake of the man you love the best, wait for me!’

‘Gladly I’ll wait’ said she ‘but it might have been better for the horse if you had asked me a good while before.’

The maiden stopped and waited and drew aside the part of her headdress that was there to cover her face. She looked him in the eye, initiating conversation with him.

‘Lady,’ he asked ‘where are you from? And where are you going?’

‘Going about my business’ said she ‘and glad I am to see you.’

‘And you are also welcome to me,’ said he.

And he realized at that moment the faces of every woman and girl he had ever seen were dull in comparison to her face.

Rhiannon – Illustrated by Alan Lee

The first time I read this passage, it was like a spell was cast over me, just as Rhiannon’s beauty overcame Pwyll in the tale.

Epona, in the guise of this otherworldly woman, has been in my thoughts ever since, and so beautiful goddess of horses has finally come into the Eagles and Dragons story as a mother and protector of Lucius and his elite group of horse warriors.

They will certainly need her in the battles to come…

Warriors of Epona (Eagles and Dragons – Book III) is out now!

To pique your interest, here is the synopsis of this new adventure with Lucius Metellus Anguis:

At the peak of Rome’s might a dragon is born among eagles, an heir to a line both blessed and cursed by the Gods for ages.

It is the year A.D. 208, and Emperor Septimius Severus’ legions are set to invade Caledonia in an effort to subdue the rebellious tribes north of Hadrian’s Wall once and for all.

Ahead of the legions, the emperor has sent Lucius Metellus Anguis, prefect of an elite force of Sarmatian cavalry, to re-establish contact with Rome’s old allies and begin waging bloody war on the rebel tribes. As the guerilla war rages on the edge of the highlands, the legions, the imperial court, and Lucius’ own family draw nearer to the front he was commanded to secure.

With the help of his horse warriors, can Lucius snatch victory from the chaos and blood of war? Can he keep the family he has not seen in years safe? As Lucius is drawn into a mysterious world of violence and despair, he discovers that his greatest enemy may well be the one within.

Find out if the Gods will turn their backs on Lucius, or if they will pull him out of the darkness before it is too late…

Roman Cavalry (Comitatus re-enactment group)

Stay tuned for Part II of The World of Warriors of Epona.

If you have not yet read any of the Eagles and Dragons novels, and if you want to get stuck in, you can start with the #1 Best Selling prequel novel, A Dragon among the Eagles. It is a FREE DOWNLOAD on Amazon, Apple iTunes/iBooks, and Kobo.

Thank you for reading.

 

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Ancient Everyday: Medicus! – Physicians in the Roman Empire

ancient everyday header 1

Going to the doctor’s office is never something one looks forward to.

For most, myself included, it gets the heart rate and stress levels up to step into a building that’s full of ‘sick people’.

Sitting around in a waiting room with a group of scared, nervous, fidgety folks, is enough to drive you mad, and the sight of a white coat and stethoscope makes one want to run screaming from the building.

It was probably the same for our ancient Greek and Roman ancestors. Most civilians would have been loath to visit with a physician. It might not have been someone you wanted around, unless absolutely necessary.

‘Oh dear. That cough doesn’t sound good, my dear Septimius!’

Not so for the soldiers in the field.

I’m not an expert in ancient medical history, but I do know that the level of injury on an ancient battlefield would have been staggering. The sight or sound of your unit’s medicus would have been something sent from the gods themselves.

Imagine a clash of armies – thousands of men wielding swords, spears and daggers at close quarters. Then lob some volleys of arrows into the chaos. Perhaps a charge of heavy cavalry? How about heavy artillery bolts or boulders slamming into massed ranks of men?

Ancient surgical instruments, including forceps

Ancient surgical instruments, including forceps

It would have been one big, bloody, savage mess.

Apart from the usual cuts, slashes, and puncture wounds, the warriors would have suffered shattered bones, fractured skulls, lost limbs, severed arteries, sword, spear and arrow shafts that pushed through armour on into organs.

If you weren’t dead right away, you most likely would have been a short time later.

This is where the ancient field medic could have made the difference for an army. He would have been going through numerous patients in a short period of time. He would have had to decide who was a lost cause, who could no longer fight, and who could be patched up before being sent back out onto the field of slaughter.

The medicus of a Roman legion was an unsung hero whose skill was a product of accumulated centuries of knowledge, study, and experience.

Asklepios and Igia

Asklepios and Igia

Many of the physicians in the Roman Empire were Greek, and that’s because Greece was where western medicine was born. Indeed, the ancient Greeks had patron gods of health and healing in the form of Asklepios, Igeia, and sometimes Apollo.

Artist rendering of the Asklepion of Kos

Artist rendering of the Asklepion of Kos

The greatest medical school of the ancient world was in fact on the Aegean island of Cos, where students came from all over the Mediterranean world to learn at the great Asklepion. Hippocrates himself, the 5th century B.C. ‘father of medicine’, was from Cos and said to be a descendant of the god Asklepios himself.

When it comes to Roman medicine, much of it is owed to what discoveries and theories the Greeks had developed before, but with a definite Roman twist.

Hippocrates

Hippocrates

The fusion of Greek and Roman medicine in the Empire consisted of two parts: the scientific, and the religious/magical.

The more scientific thinking behind ancient medical practices is a legacy owed to the Greeks, who separated scientific learning from religion. The religious aspects of medicine in the Roman Empire were a Roman introduction.

Because of this fusion of ideas and beliefs, you could sometimes end up with an odd assortment of treatments being prescribed.

‘To alleviate your hypertension over your new business venture, you should take three drops of this tincture before you sleep. You should also sacrifice a white goat to Janus as soon as possible.’

Many Roman deities had some form of healing power so it depended on one’s patron gods, and the nature of the problem, as to which god would receive prayers or votive offerings over another. Amulets and other magical incantations would have been employed as well.

Roman surgical instruments

Roman surgical instruments

Romans had a god for everything, and soldiers were especially superstitious.

Greek medical thought rejected the idea of divine intervention, opting more for practicality in the treatment of wounds, and injuries; cleaning and bandaging wounds would have been more logical than putting another talisman about the neck.

All the gods were to be honoured, but in the Greek physician’s mind they had much better things to look after than the stab wound a man received in a Suburan tavern brawl.

Roman Legionaries (illustrated by Peter Dennis)

Roman Legionaries (illustrated by Peter Dennis)

For the battlefield medicus, things must have been much simpler than for the physician who was trying to diagnose mysterious ailments. They were faced mostly with physical wounds and employed all manner of surgical instruments such as probes, hooks, forceps, needles and scalpels.

Removing a barbed arrowhead from a warrior’s thigh must have required a little digging.

Of course, in the Roman world, there was no anaesthetic, so successful surgeons would have had to have been not only dexterous and accurate, but also very fast and strong. Luckily, sedatives such as opium and henbane would have helped.

Medic helping a warrior tend a wound

Medic helping a warrior tend a wound

When it came to the treatment of wounds, a medicus would have used wine, vinegar, pitch, and turpentine as antiseptics. However, infection and gangrene would have meant amputation. The latter was probably terrifyingly frequent for soldiers, many of whom would end up begging on the streets of Rome.

It is interesting to note that medicine was one of the few professions that were open to women in the Roman Empire. Female doctors, or medicae, would also have been mainly of Greek origin, and either working with male doctors, or as midwives specializing in childbirth and women’s diseases and disorders. When it came to the army however, most doctors would have been male.

Roman shears

Roman shears

Army surgeons played a key role in spreading and improving Roman medical practice, especially in the treatment of wounds and other injuries. They also helped to gather new treatments from all over the Empire, and disseminated medical knowledge wherever the Legions marched. Many of the herbs and drugs that were used in the Empire were acquired by medics who were on campaign in foreign lands.

Early on, physicians did not enjoy high status. There was no standardized training and many were Greek slaves or freedmen. This began to improve, however, when in 46 B.C. Julius Caesar granted citizenship to all those doctors who were working in the city of Rome.

This last point really hits home when it has become common knowledge that foreign doctors who come to our own countries today find themselves driving taxis or buses because they are not allowed to practice.

Modern governments, take your cue from Caesar!

Galen

Galen

One of the most famous physicians of the Roman Empire is Galen of Pergamon (A.D. 129-c.199). Galen was a Greek physician and writer who was educated at the sanctuary of Asklepios at Pergamon in Asia Minor.

After working in various cities around the Empire, Galen returned to his home town to become the doctor at the local ludus, or gladiatorial school. He grew tired of that work and moved to Rome in A.D. 162 where he gained a reputation among the elite. He subsequently became the personal physician of the Emperors Marcus Aurelius, Commodus, and for a short time, Septimius Severus.

Galen’s work and writings provided the basis of medical teaching and practice on into the seventeenth century. No doubt many an army medicus referred to Galen’s work at one point or another.

Galen is also an important character in A Dragon among the Eagles, the FREE prequel in the Eagles and Dragon series. In the book, Galen, an old friend and colleague of Lucius Metellus’ late tutor, presents Lucius with a choice that could well change the direction of Lucius’ life. In fact and fiction, Galen is a fascinating person of history.

Re-created ancient surgical instruments

Re-created ancient surgical instruments

I’ve but barely scratched the vast surface of this topic.

For some, there is this assumption that ancient medicine was somehow false, crude and barbaric. But modern western medicine owes much to the Greeks and Romans, civilian and military, who travelled the Empire caring for their troops and gathering what knowledge and knowhow they could.

The fusion of science, religious practice, and magic provides for a fascinating mix. In truth, medical practices in medieval Europe might have been more barbaric than in the ancient world.

Thank you for reading, and may Asklepios, Igeia and Apollo grant you good health!

12th century mural of Galen and Hippocrates in conversation

12th century mural of Galen and Hippocrates in conversation

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The Nine Muses – Creativity and the Higher Realm

apollo-and-the-muses

And one day they taught Hesiod glorious song while he was shepherding his lambs under holy Helicon, and this word first the goddesses said to me – the Muses of Olympus, daughters of Zeus who holds the aegis: “Shepherds of the wilderness, wretched things of shame, mere bellies, we know how to speak many false things as though they were true; but we know, when we will, to utter true things.”

So said the ready-voiced daughters of great Zeus, and they plucked and gave me a rod, a shoot of sturdy laurel, a marvellous thing, and breathed into me a divine voice to celebrate things that shall be and things there were aforetime; and they bade me sing of the race of the blessed gods that are eternally, but ever to sing of themselves both first and last.

(Hesiod, Theogeny)

Hesiod

Hesiod

Sometime between the eighth and seventh centuries B.C. the poet Hesiod created his Theogeny, a work outlining the birth and genealogy of the Gods.

At the beginning of this epic poem, Hesiod talks about how, as a shepherd, he was caring for his flock on the slopes of Mt. Helicon, in the region of Boeotia. While there, Hesiod says that the Muses came to him and inspired him to create the Theogeny, a work that to this day provides the basis for ancient Greek religion.

Hesiod, before that, had not discovered his artistic self. He was a shepherd, the son of a farmer.

And yet, while on the slopes of this sacred mountain, the goddesses, the Muses, came to him and inspired him to bring forth his great work.

Mt. Helicon - 1829

Mt. Helicon – 1829

Hesiod does not say he invented the contents of his work, or that he gathered existing tales from all over the Hellenic world.

The Gods gave him that song to sing. They inspired it in him, and he heard them.

We may scoff at this sort of thing today, our modern, media-driven minds too dense and distracted to hear anything beyond the ping of a mobile, but in the ancient world, and later ages of faith, the greatest artists and creators were those that paid attention to divine inspiration.

In the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, creativity and artistic endeavour were the realm of the Nine Muses, the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, or ‘Memory’.

Tell me, Muse, the story of that resourceful man who was driven to wander far and wide after he had sacked the holy citadel of Troy. He saw the cities of many people and he learnt their ways. He suffered great anguish on the high seas in his struggles to preserve his life and bring his comrades home. But he failed to save those comrades, in spite of all his efforts. It was their own transgression that brought them to their doom, for in their folly they devoured the oxen of Hyperion the Sun-god and he saw to it that they would never return. Tell us this story, goddess daughter of Zeus, beginning at whatever point you will.

(Homer, The Odyssey)

Greece 2006 076

There is a wonderful book that every creative person should read and re-read. It’s called The War of Art, by historical fiction author, Steven Pressfield. The book is about doing the things that you love and were meant to do without giving in to any excuses, or ‘Resistance’, as Pressfield calls the artist’s enemy.

Whenever I read The War of Art, Pressfield reminds me of something that I forget from time to time.

Creativity should never be taken for granted.

If you feel that there is something creative you want to do, or be, it is your sacred duty to do or become that. When you feel those urges, you have to fight ‘Resistance’ and rationalization with all of your might so that you can bring those things you were meant to create to fruition.

Those urges are the Muses speaking to you, telling you it’s time. If you ignore them, it’s to the detriment of your own soul.

Because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitable and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose.

This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight.

(Steven Pressfield, The War of Art)

Homer and his Guide - William Adolphe Bouguereau 1874

Homer and his Guide – William Adolphe Bouguereau 1874

In ancient eyes, those who ignored the Gods didn’t do too well.

Hesiod and Homer knew that it was their duty to honour the Muses, they knew that they could not have created the works that they did without the goddesses’ help. Hubris was not a good thing in the ancient world.

But it was not just Hesiod and Homer who called on these goddesses for help. Throughout history, some of the greatest poets and other artists did so too.

Tell me, Muse, the causes of her anger. How did he [Aeneas] violate the will of the Queen of the Gods? What was his offence? Why did she drive a man famous for his piety to such endless hardship and such suffering? Can there be so much anger in the hearts of the heavenly gods?

(Virgil, The Aeneid)

Praxiteles' Hermes and Dionysos

Praxiteles’ Hermes and Dionysos

The artist who called on the Muses for aid and blessing was the one that was listening.

We know of writers and poets who have called on the Muses in their work because they have been written down, but I imagine that painters and sculptors would have done so too. What might Praxiteles have done before he broke the surface of a piece of marble? Or Michelangelo before he put his brush to the ceiling of the Cappella Sistina? What went through Mozart’s head before the first heavenly notes of his Clarinet Concerto in A major came to him? Just listen to it…

Before an ancient singer breathed those first notes, or before the lyre player plucked that first string at the Panathenaea or the Pythian Games, you can be sure that some inner prayer, conscious or unconscious, was sent up to their own Muse.

Apollo

Apollo

You can also be sure that for the artist whose heart was open to this, the Muses spoke back.

…and I alone was there, Preparing to sustain war, as well Of the long way as also of the pain, Which now unerring memory will tell. Oh Muses! O high Genius, now sustain! O Memory who wrote down what I did see, Here thy nobility will be made plain.

(Dante, Inferno)

But who were the Muses? Early traditions said there were three, but that eventually turned to nine, and that is the number that has been given for ages. Their leader was Apollo, the God of Art, Light and Prophecy, and in this particular capacity he was known as ‘Apollo Mousagetes’, or ‘Apollo Muse-leader’.

Each one of these goddesses was responsible for a particular art form, and so, individual artists may have called on certain Muses. The names of these goddesses and their assigned art are as follows:

Calliope - Epic Poetry

Calliope – Epic Poetry

Clio - History

Clio – History

Erato - Lyric Poetry

Erato – Lyric Poetry

Euterpe - Song and Elegaic Poetry

Euterpe – Song and Elegaic Poetry

Melpomene – Tragedy

Melpomene – Tragedy

Polyhymnia – Hymns

Polyhymnia – Hymns

Terpsichore – Dance

Terpsichore – Dance

Thalia – Comedy

Thalia – Comedy

Urania – Astronomy

Urania – Astronomy

I will begin with the Muses and Apollo and Zeus. For it is through the Muses and Apollo that there are singers upon the earth and players upon the lyre; but kings are from Zeus. Happy is he whom the Muses love: sweet flows speech from his lips. Hail, children of Zeus! Give honour to my song! And now I will remember you and another song also.

(Homeric Hymn to the Muses and Apollo)

Some of the arts assigned to the Muses might not seem like ‘art’ to us today – I’m thinking of Astronomy and History in particular. However, to the ancients, this made perfect sense. Astronomy involved philosophy and the understanding of the Heavens; it required great imagination and thought.

Mnemosyne by Gabriel Dante Rosetti

Mnemosyne by Gabriel Dante Rosetti

And History? Well, to me that is ‘Mnemosyne’. History is the record of human achievement in all areas, including art. History, poetry, and storytelling go arm in arm.

It must have been a humbling experience for ancient artists to know that the Muses were looking over their shoulders as they carried out the work they were inspired to do.

It must also have been a wonder-full experience to feel that, to know that you were not alone.

My hope is that we have not totally lost this today – artists, writers, athletes, inventors, creators of all kinds will find themselves in what we call ‘The Zone’. Many will thank ‘God’ for their successes, they will be exhilarated after a good session.

Sun

As a writer, I know that when I sit down and have a fantastic writing time, even after the worst of days, there must be something more at work. I feel like I’ve had help that day. I feel like I have done justice to the art that I love, and for that, I am grateful.

If you are a creator of something, anything, it behoves you to acknowledge the help that you have had, especially if that help is Heaven-sent.

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend The brightest heaven of invention! A kingdom for a stage, princes to act, And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!

(William Shakespeare, Henry V)

Thank you for reading.

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Rewarding Sacrifice: What today’s world leaders can learn from Alexander the Great

corinthian-helmet-with-poppy

Every year around this time, I try to write a post dedicated to the theme of Remembrance Day, something of a hat-tip to the service men and women who are scattered over the Earth trying to protect the world from itself.

After all, everyone one of my books deals with warriors, the struggle of war, and the changes war wreaks upon the fighters, their families, and the world around them. Eagles and Dragons Publishing’s #1 best selling book in 2016, A Dragon among the Eagles, is dedicated to men and women in service (and I mean that with utmost sincerity), and every year I attend my local Remembrance Day ceremony and think of all those who have laid down, or are currently risking their lives for the rest of us.

D-Day at Omaha Beach, Normandy

D-Day at Omaha Beach, Normandy

I think of my two grandfathers who fought in the World Wars as part of the British Army and Greek Merchant Navy respectively, and of my cousin who lost her husband outside of Kandahar more recently.

poppy-field-remember-banner

But is this enough of a tribute?

I don’t think so.

Frankly, I feel like anything I do or say or write, no matter how sincere and heartfelt it is, is not enough to be of sufficient thanks.

And I’m not talking about honouring war or the politicians who send men and women to war for their own selfish ends. I’m not going to sully this post with talk of political motives.

The troops are not responsible for the wars that happened in the past, or that are happening as we speak.

British Troops in Afghanistan

British Troops in Afghanistan

Sadly, we’ve seen a whole new generation of veterans emerge, people younger than you or I. When I was young, the word veteran was relegated to grandparents wearing poppies, or stories from history.

Not so anymore.

And we’ve a seen a resurgence of anti-war, pro-soldier art in the form of books, music, illustration, poetry, film and more. So much that seeks to honour the sacrifices being made.

Is it important to create these works of art?

Absolutely.

But again, is it enough?

I still don’t think so…

A new generation of troops

A new generation of troops

Let me say this now. I don’t have any answers. You won’t leave this post thinking, wow, he’s hit it on the head!

That is not my intent. But my hope is that we can all be a bit more aware and leave this post with some questions in our minds.

My original intent with this post was to rant about the lack of support for troops returning from various tours in the current hell-holes of the earth.

But ranting isn’t productive either.

WWII veterans visiting a cemetery in Normandy

WWII veterans visiting a cemetery in Normandy

In truth, when I started research for this post, I did some digging on-line for programs intended to support veterans and their families here in Canada, as well as in the USA and United Kingdom.

To my surprise, there are a lot of support systems in place.

That’s good, because veterans of any age are dealing with a tonne of shite that you and I can only imagine. Here are just a few:

  • extreme uncertainty

  • re-integration into civilian society

  • proper health care for injuries sustained in line of duty

  • PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)

  • relationship difficulties

  • unemployment

  • homelessness

  • financial uncertainty and debt

That is a pretty heavy list, and there are a lot more that could be added to it.

pained-serviceman

The support that is out there is largely charity and foundation-driven. Many groups seem to be doing some outstanding work, and they do get some government support, but perhaps not enough.

Shouldn’t the people sending troops into danger do their utmost to help those same troops when they return home and are in crisis as a result of combat?

Alexander riding into battle at the head of his troops

Alexander riding into battle at the head of his troops

This leads me to the title of this post: Rewarding Sacrifice: What today’s world leaders can learn from Alexander the Great

Whenever I think of the prime example of a true leader, I think of Alexander the Great.

Yes, I know many think of him as blood-thirsty tyrant, a maniacal conqueror, maybe even a selfish psychopath.

Whatever you think of Alexander the Great, however, you can’t deny that he shared in his soldiers’ hardships, and led by example. He inspired his troops to do what many thought was impossible, and after it all, including looming mutinies, they still loved him.

Alexander led from the front in every engagement, and when the battles were over, he knew how to reward his soldiers.

He knew that they had given everything to him, that they had been away from their families for years. They had fought and died, and Alexander, though disappointed with their grumblings at times, knew how to reward their sacrifices.

So what can world leaders learn from Alexander the Great?

be-a-marine-wwii

What prompted this question was a passage I came across while doing some research for the (still ongoing) Alexander novels.

When Alexander’s army had crossed the Gedrosian Desert at the end of their long march to India, and they arrived at Opis, the troops, jealous of ranks given to Persians, threatened mutiny again.

Alexander delivered his famous ‘speech at Opis’ then, speaking to his disgruntled troops, not as the son of Zeus, or the new ‘Great King’, but as one of them. He could do this, and his words did move them, for he had shared their toils. If you would like to read the full speech in Arrian’s Anabasis, CLICK HERE.

But what we are concerned with here is not the mutiny, or the speech itself. It is how Alexander rewarded the veterans, those unfit for service due to old age and injury, or those unwilling to go further.

According to A.P. Dascalakis in his book Alexander the Great and Hellenism, Alexander:

“…had paid off all their debts, without asking how they had been contracted: they received high pay, besides what they seized as booty after every siege. Most of them had golden wreaths, as immortal guerdons of their valor and of honor from him. And if any died, their death was glorious, their burial splendid; bronze statues of most of them were set up in their towns, their parents were honoured and were exempt of all tax or levy.”

Think about some of that for a moment…and then think of the list of things troops returning home have to deal with after serving.

Canadian troops in Afghanistan

Canadian troops in Afghanistan

From what I can tell, there are support programs to help veterans with PTSD, injuries, and general health care, but we still hear a lot about veterans living on the streets, unable to afford a home, however small, or even get a job.

Some might say ‘Hey, a lot of other people are out there facing those same things!’, and that is true, but not everyone steps forward to defend their fellow citizens on the battlefield.

Alexander the Great honoured his soldiers with wreaths and statues and his love, but more practically, he paid off their debts, gave them good pensions, and rewarded their families by exempting them from taxation. He also ordered that soldiers’ children be given a proper education.

This got me to wondering…

If returning veterans did not have to worry about debt, taxation, homelessness, little to no pension, or further education for themselves or their children, they could focus more on the intense healing needed for them to deal with PTSD, health issues, new disabilities, and re-integration into the society which they had stepped up to defend.

Out of the trenches in WWI

Out of the trenches in WWI

I think Alexander the Great had it right. Give your veterans the rewards they deserve, commensurate with the sacrifices they have made.

I know this is more practical, but sometimes I’m guessing that is what’s needed.

Here are some crazy ideas Alexander the Great would approve, and that world leaders could implement for veterans:

  • Forgive all debts for veterans and their families so that they can have a fresh start

  • Give them boundless health care to overcome their wounds (mental and physical)

  • Ensure all vets get high-level pensions

  • Create legislation that forces all colleges and universities to provide free tuition for veterans and veterans’ children

Some of this may already be done in some countries, but I suspect most not.

Does this mean higher taxes for the rest of us civilians?

Likely, yes. But these are things that I think we can do for those who put themselves on the line for the rest of us.

Greek Resistance fighters in WWII

Greek Resistance fighters in WWII

Call me naïve and idealistic, but with everything else vets are dealing with, money worries should not be among them.

As I said before, I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t know about all the programs for veterans and their families that are out there.

Here are a few that I know of and which I came across while researching this post:

In Canada:

Vets Canada

Veterans Transition Network

Wounded Warriors Canada

Veterans Affairs Canada

In the United Kingdom:

Veterans Aid

Veterans’ Foundation

Royal British Legion

Veterans UK

In the United States:

Disabled Veterans National Foundation

Veterans Support Foundation

United States Veterans Initiative

US Department of Veterans Affairs

If any of you know of some particularly helpful charities or programs in the country where you are, please do share the information in the comments below. You never know who will be reading and whether something here might help.

Also, if you haven’t heard about Theatre of War, you may want to check out this post on healing PTSD with ancient Greek tragedy. PTSD was a condition that afflicted ancient warriors as well as modern ones, and this particular theatre group has been making great headway in helping veterans to cope with PTSD. CLICK HERE to check it out.

As for what us civilians can do, it may not be enough, but every little must help.

Pin a poppy on your jacket, donate to a veterans’ charity, go to a ceremony, write a blog post, shake a vet’s hand, say thank you to a veteran.

It’s all better than doing nothing, lest we forget…

Thank you for reading

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This year, Eagles and Dragons Publishing is happy to make a donation to Wounded Warriors Canada and their COPE program which provides therapy to military families dealing with PTSD.

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Ancient Everyday – Garum: MSG of the Roman World

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Here is lordly garum, a costly gift, made from the blood

of a still-gasping mackerel

(Marcus Valerius Martialis)

If you are a fan of the Roman Empire, or read any fiction or non-fiction about Roman civilization, chances are you will come across a certain salty condiment that many ancients went mad for.

In this edition of Ancient Everyday, we’re going to look at garum.

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Now, let me say this: I’m not a big fish-eater.

Yes, I know, I’m half island Greek and don’t all Greeks love to eat fish?

Not this one.

So let me tell you that when I first found out what garum was, what it was made of, I had a titanic wave of nausea wash over me.

But whereas garum would have had me running, most Romans across the Empire loved this stuff!

So, as this is supposed to be an educational piece, I shall set aside my disgust and press on in the interests of history.

A Roman Banquet - spot the hints of garum!

A Roman Banquet – spot the hints of garum!

So, what exactly is garum?

Basically, it is fermented fish sauce that was used as a condiment on just about anything. It was created from fish intestines and other parts mixed with salt.

It was immensely popular and supposedly quite healthy in that it was packed with protein, amino acids, minerals and vitamin B.

It was also rich in monosodium glutamate. That’s right…MSG!

Many of you will know MSG as a long-standing chemical compound used in modern food flavouring. It’s been called a ‘silent killer’, and linked to adverse health effects including something called ‘Chinese restaurant syndrome’.

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Fish bits used to make garum

Now I don’t know if the Romans experienced anything like garumitis (today’s made-up word), and that doesn’t really matter here. What we need to know is that Romans put it on everything from seafood and chicken, to olives, porridge and more. It was the food seasoning of choice for those who could afford it.

They couldn’t get enough of garum!

Here is Pliny the Elder, the famed natural historian, speaking about garum:

Another liquid, too, of a very exquisite nature, is that known as “garum:” it is prepared from the intestines of fish and various parts which would otherwise be thrown away, macerated in salt; so that it is, in fact, the result of their putrefaction. Garum was formerly prepared from a fish, called “garos” by the Greeks; who assert, also, that a fumigation made with its head has the effect of bringing away the afterbirth.

At the present day, however, the most esteemed kind of garum is that prepared from the scomber, in the fisheries of Carthago Spartaria: it is known as “garum of the allies,” and for a couple of congii we have to pay but little less than one thousand sesterces. Indeed, there is no liquid hardly, with the exception of the unguents, that has sold at higher prices of late; so much so, that the nations which produce it have become quite ennobled thereby. There are fisheries, too, of the scomber on the coasts of Mauretania and at Carteia in Bætica, near the Straits which lie at the entrance to the Ocean; this being the only use that is made of the fish. For the production of garum, Clazomenæ is also famed, Pompeii, too, and Leptis; while for their muria, Antipolis, Thurii, and of late, Dalmatia, enjoy a high reputation.

(Pliny the Elder, Natural History 31.43)

Artist impression of a garum factory

Artist impression of a garum factory

After the garum liquid was extracted, the macerated remains, a pulp called allec, was used by the poorer classes, those who could not afford garum, to flavour their porridge – a grisly tapenade of sorts.

FYI – I prefer maple syrup on my porridge.

Garum production and export was a BIG industry in the Roman Empire, with production centres, a system of distribution by land and sea, amphora marked by the producer etc. etc.

It was also a smelly industry, for obvious reasons, so garum factories were often located outside of cities.

Garum amphorae

Garum amphorae

Just as with wine and olive oil, there were different grades of garum that were priced accordingly, as Pliny alludes to in the quote above.

Not all gara were created equal, and there were different recipes from different ports. The best was said to be from the Iberian Peninsula, in Hispania, particularly from Carthago Novo (Cartagena), and Gades (modern Cadiz in Andalusia).

Ruins of a garum factory in Spain

Ruins of a garum factory in Spain

Different fish were used in garum too, depending on the company, recipe, and place where it was made. Some of the most common were mackerel, anchovies, sprats, sardines, tuna, and even shell fish. Archaeology has also revealed the production of kosher garum among Roman Jews.

You might think that every person in the Empire loved garum, but not everyone was a fan, including Seneca, whose family was from Hispania:

What? Do you suppose that those oysters, a sluggish food fattened on slime, do not weigh one down with mud-begotten heaviness? What? Do you not think that the so-called “Sauce from the Provinces,” the costly extract of poisonous fish, burns up the stomach with its salted putrefaction? What? Do you judge that the corrupted dishes which a man swallows almost burning from the kitchen fire, are quenched in the digestive system without doing harm? How repulsive, then, and how unhealthy are their belchings, and how disgusted men are with themselves when they breathe forth the fumes of yesterday’s debauch! You may be sure that their food is not being digested, but is rotting.

(Seneca, Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales 95.25)

Seneca seemed like a rather more health-conscious person, so, perhaps like people today who ask for their Chinese food without MSG, he was aware (or disgusted by) the adverse effects of consuming too much of the over-pricey liquid that Pliny believed was “exquisite in nature”.

I suppose the tastes of the people in the Roman world were as vast and varied as the Empire itself.

Modern garum

Modern garum

For myself, I’ll give garum or its modern equivalent a miss, but that’s not to say people don’t go in for it today. Maybe you do as well?

Thank you for reading!

 

the-classical-cookbook

If you are curious about an ancient recipe that uses garum, and you want to try it out, the Classical Cookbook has a few. Here is one by Apicius for soft-boiled eggs (page 117) that you may want to try.

Ingredients:

– 4 oz pine kernels, soaked overnight in white wine

– 1 teaspoon chopped fresh lovage or celery leaf

– 1 tablespoon of Garum (Fish Sauce)

– 1 tablespoon of honey

– 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar

– ½ teaspoon of ground black pepper

– 4 soft-boiled eggs

Strain the pine kernels and pound or process them to a smooth paste. Add the lovage, fish sauce, honey, vinegar and pepper and continue to pound or process until you have a smooth mixture. Finish the dish as if you were making egg mayonnaise and garnish with cucumber.

Bon appétit! Or rather, Bene sapiat!

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Samhain at the Gates of Annwn

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It’s the end of October, and as it is the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain I thought it would be a good idea to look a place that is both mysterious and iconic: Glastonbury Tor.

To most, the mere mention of Glastonbury will likely conjure images of wild, scantily clad or naked youths and aged hippies. You’ll think of thousands of people covered in mud as they wend their way, higher than the Hindu Kush, among the tent rows to see their favourite artists rock the Pyramid Stage.

It’s a great party, but to me that’s not the real Glastonbury.

This small town in southwest Britain is an ancient place. The real Glastonbury is a place of mystery, lore and legend. It is a place that was sacred to the Celts, pagan and Christian alike, Saxons, and Normans. For many it is the heart of Arthurian tradition, and for some it is the resting place of the Holy Grail.

Today, Glastonbury is a place where those seeking spiritual enlightenment are drawn. The New Age movement is going strong there, yet another layer of belief to cloak the place.

I lived in the countryside outside of the town for about 3 years and I never tired of walking around Glastonbury and exploring the many sites that make it truly unique.

From where I lived on the other side of the peat moors, I awoke every morning to see Glastonbury’s majestic Tor shrouded in mist.

My morning view of the Tor across the Somerset levels

My morning view of the Tor across the Somerset levels

Tor is a word of Celtic origin referring to ‘belly’ in Welsh or a ‘bulging hill’ in Gaelic. Glastonbury Tor thrusts up from the Somerset levels like a beacon for miles around. Every angle is interesting. On the top is the tower of what was the church of St. Michael, a remnant of the 14th century. Before that, there was a monastery that dated to about the 9th century A.D.

However, habitation of this place goes much farther back in time with some evidence for people in the area around 3000 B.C. But it was not always a religious centre. In the Dark Ages, the Tor served a more militaristic purpose and there are remains from this period.

In Arthurian lore, the Isle of Avalon is a sort of mist-shrouded world that is surrounded by water and can only be reached by boat or secret path. In fact, during the Dark Ages and into later centuries, until the drainage dykes were built, the Somerset levels were prone to flooding. This flooding made Glastonbury Tor and the smaller hills around it true islands. With the early morning mist that covers the levels, this watery land would have been a relatively safe refuge for the Druids, and early Christians, Dark Age warlords and late medieval monks.

The Tor surrounded by flooded levels - Avalon!

The Tor surrounded by flooded levels – Avalon!

In Celtic myth, Glastonbury Tor is said to be the home of Gwynn ap Nudd, the Faery King and Lord of Annwn, the Celtic otherworld.

Gwynn ap Nudd is the Guardian of the Gates of Annwn. He is an Underworld god. It is at Samhain that the gates of Annwn open. This was also the place where the soul of a Celt awaited rebirth. (Quick hint: We delve into this in the upcoming Eagles and Dragons novel, Warriors of Epona!)

If you are on the Tor at Samhain, you may hear the sound of hounds and hunting horns as the lord of Annwn emerges for the Wild Hunt of legend.

The Wild Hunt 1872 by Peter Nicolai Arbo

The Wild Hunt 1872 by Peter Nicolai Arbo

In Arthurian romance, there is a tradition of the wicked Melwas imprisoning Guinevere on the Tor. Arthur rides to the rescue, attacks Melwas and saves Guinevere. This particular story mirrors an episode in Culhwch ac Olwen, one part of the Welsh Mabinogion, in which Gwythyr ap Greidawl attempts to save Creiddylad, daughter of Lludd, whom he is supposed to marry, from Gwynn ap Nudd himself.

Another even more fascinating Arthurian connection can be found in a pre-Christian version of the ‘Quest of the Holy Grail’, called the ‘Spoils of Annwn’ which was found in the ‘Book of Taliesin’. In this tale, Arthur and his companions enter Annwn to bring back a magical cauldron of plenty. In this, some say that ‘Corbenic Castle’ (the ‘Grail Castle’) is actually Glastonbury Tor. It isn’t just Herakles and Odysseus who journeyed to the Underworld!

Glastonbury Tor is not only associated with Celtic religion, myth and legend. It is also said by some to be a place of power or a sort of vortex in the land that lies along some of the key ley-lines, including what is called the St. Michael ley-line. The majority of sites associated with St. Michael, the slayer of Satan, along the ley-line were indeed places of power and belief of the old religion.

But this is nothing new. Christians built on top of sites sacred to the pagans they were eager to overcome. What better way to symbolize your ‘victory’ than to build right on top of a site and make it yours.

‘Gates of Annwn and Gwynn ap Nudd? Let’s build a church of St. Michael on top of it! That’ll show ‘em!’

Artist impression of Gwynn ap Nudd at the hunt

Artist impression of Gwynn ap Nudd at the hunt

But myth and legend persist through story and place, and the Tor is a prime example of how successive traditions do not overcome each other, but rather combine to make up the various aspects of that place.

If you ever get to Glastonbury, the Tor is a definite must. Walk to the top and sit awhile. Look out over the landscape and watch the crows and magpies dive in the wind around the steep slopes. Close your eyes and listen. While you’re there, you can decide whether you are sitting on a natural formation, a ceremonial labyrinth, a hill fort, a sleeping dragon, the mound where Arthur sleeps until he is needed once more, or the doorstep of the Gates of Annwn itself! The Tor is all of these things and more.

However, no matter what you believe, one thing is certain: Glastonbury Tor remains a site of extreme beauty and mystery that is well worth a visit, even if it is just to watch the sun sink in the West.

Have a safe and happy Samhain.

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