I can’t believe the holidays are upon us already. Where did autumn go to? It seems that the festive time of year always manages to creep up on us.
And that’s a good thing! It certainly is time for a bit of a break, some good cheer, and a few helpings of my homemade wassail.
I hope you enjoyed the wonderful posts from my fellow authors during the Holiday Historical Fiction Blowout event from December 1-8th. It was a very busy eight days, but we had a great time, met some new readers, and picked up some great books!
I hope many of you were able to take advantage of the fantastic .99 cent deals.
Time for a new blog post.
During this time of year, with the run-up to Christmas, talk of yule logs, wassail (drink and carols), I always tend to gravitate toward my Medieval interests.
Summer makes me think of ancient Greece and Rome, but the time of the Winter Solstice sets me firmly in the Middle Ages. Perhaps it’s the songs I imagine being sung in soaring cathedrals, or the glow of bees’ wax candles among fresh strands of cedar and pine. I have a bit more time at home, and it becomes my castle, a place where I can sit, read one of my antiquarian books of Arthurian tales, and think back on the year with gratitude.
After digging up the Christmas ornaments last weekend, I was going through one of many boxes of old photos that I have from my studies and travels, and came upon a packet of prints from a visit to a truly amazing place – Rosslyn Chapel.
Having lived in St. Andrews, Scotland for a couple of years, I had the opportunity to visit new and interesting sites all of the time, from Melrose and the Roman fort at Trimontium in the Scottish borders, to Inverness and Eilean Donan castle, and everything in between. It was something new every weekend. You can visit prehistoric sites, Pictish hill forts and Roman remains, of which there are many.
The great thing about living in Britain is that there are more medieval sites to visit than you can possible see in a lifetime.
One of the most interesting sites that I did visit during my time in St. Andrews was Rosslyn Chapel.
I was fortunate enough to have done this in the pre-Da Vinci Code days of publishing after which, I am certain, hordes of eager tourists turned the quiet chapel into a virtual marketplace of symbology. I’m not trashing that as I’m sure the major influx of funds helped Rosslyn Chapel to complete the restoration which finished in 2013. When I visited the chapel, there was scaffold everywhere, along with piles of stone that were to be used in the work.
But oh, what a place! And what a treat for me and my three friends to have it all to ourselves at the time.
Rosslyn Chapel lies just south of Edinburgh and has been known as many things throughout its history – the Chapel of the Grail, a key to the secrets and treasures of the Templar Knights, the survivors of which were absorbed, some say, into the Masonic order. Certainly, many authors and historians have contributed to theories that go beyond the boundaries of conventional academia. And why not? It makes for fascinating fiction as well as some perfectly viable historical theories. A few book mentions later on.
Rosslyn Chapel was founded in 1446 (a few years after the founding of St. Andrews University in 1410, my alma mater) by Sir William St. Clair, the last St. Clair Prince of Orkney, who was buried in the chapel. It took some forty years to build what remains today and even that was not what was intended, for the original plan called for a larger structure. Evidence of this was found in an early excavation when the archaeologists discovered foundation walls that went well beyond the existing walls. Not everyone perceived Rosslyn as a sanctuary, a work of art, or marvel of mysticism. Many, especially protestants, labelled Rosslyn as a house of idolatry, no doubt disconcerted by the images staring at them from every corner of the intensely ornate chapel.
I will not go into the long history of Rosslyn Chapel here as this is more of a short pictorial tease. However, this place was not awarded the respect that was due to such a work of art. In 1650, during the Civil War, when Oliver Cromwell’s troops were besieging St. Clair Castle (only about 100 meters away), the English horses were stabled in the chapel. In 1688, pro-Protestant villagers from Roslin entered and damaged the chapel because it was “Popish and idolatrous”.
It was abandoned until 1736 when James St. Clair repaired the windows, roof and floors. If you have read a great deal about Rosslyn, the Templars and/or Masons, you will know that the name of St. Clair (or Sinclair) figures prominently.
In April of 1862, Rosslyn Chapel was rededicated as a place for worship and has undergone various stages of repair over the years, including when I visited in 2000.
It is, unfortunately, easy to get taken up with picture taking in such a place. I know that at first, I certainly did, but once I ran out of film (yes, before digital was common!) I was able to sit quietly in that place and admire it for a while. I remember it being very quiet, and there certainly was a feeling of constantly being watched (and not by CCTV cameras!). No, there was definitely a feeling to the place, unlike any other.
Yes, you do have some of the usual religious iconography and stained glass, but there is more of the unusual and mysterious. Questions certainly abound. For instance, the appearance of American vegetation such as aloe or Indian corn! There is a plethora of mythical creatures, dragons especially, of unusual angels such as the one playing the bag pipes, or another carrying the heart of Robert the Bruce (could it be the Black Douglas who was to take the Bruce’s heart to Jerusalem?).
One of the most famous works in the chapel is the Apprentice Pillar. This twisted pillar, based with eight coiled dragons, is a true masterpiece and the story goes that when the master mason was away, his apprentice continued to work and created something that far surpassed that of the master. The master mason was so enraged with jealousy that he killed the apprentice with his mallet.
I think however, that the most striking thing for me was the barrel-vaulted ceiling of the chapel. At one point, you look up and there above is an intricate pattern of alternating daisies, lilies, flowers, Roses and stars.
Numerous books have been written about this place, countless pictures published on-line, but there is no substitute for actually visiting it and interacting with it.
Rosslyn has quite a story to tell, no matter what your perspective. You can gaze at it for hours and not see it all.
Here are a few recommended reads that touch on Rosslyn, but also on the Templars and Masons. If fiction is your thing, check out Jack Whyte’s Templar Trilogy in which the St. Clairs make an appearance. Oh, and why not check out Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code – it may not be literary fiction, but it is highy entertaining and has caused millions of people to pick up a book and read who might not otherwise have done so. Besides, he fictionalizes some quite interesting theories put forward by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh as well as other alternative historian/detectives.
A couple of non-fiction recommendations that I have are Rosslyn, Guardian of the Secrets of the Holy Grail by Tim Wallace-Murphy and Marilyn Hopkins and secondly, The Sword and the Grail by Andrew Sinclair. The latter is a very interesting exploration into the Templars and the possibility that they travelled to North America more than ninety years before Columbus’s journey of discovery. I know, it sounds mad, but it’s truly fascinating and besides, the Vikings discovered Newfoundland some five hundred or so years before Columbus! For you alternative history buffs out there, you’ll already have made the link to the carvings of Indian corn and aloe on the walls or Rosslyn Chapel.
Well, that’s all for now. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Be sure to check out the Rosslyn Chapel website for more information.
As ever, thank you for reading.
Also, do check out this 4-part BBC documentary on Rosslyn Chapel hosted by art historian, Helen Rosslyn – yes, the chapel has been in her family for hundreds of years!
Dear readers and fellow history-lovers,
I’ve got something different to share with you this week.
I’m taking part in a spectacular event from December 1st to 8th called the Holiday Historical Fiction Blowout!
During this special promotion all of the authors involved with be offering their chosen books for just .99 cents in various on-line stores. There is a lot of great storytelling here, and titantic deals to be had!
However, this isn’t just a sale, it’s an opportunity for us to learn something about various periods in history. During each day of the promotion, every writer is going to be blogging about the period of history and setting of each of their books.
We may all gravitate to different periods in time, but one thing we do share is a common love of history, reading, and writing.
The book that I am contributing to this special promotion, Children of Apollo – Eagles and Dragons Book I.
Children of Apollo is the first book in an exciting series set in the Roman Empire. It is a story of family, faith, love, and betrayal in time of war. This book takes you back in time to a world of gods and emperors, gladiatorial combat, chariot races, and heroes, to experience the ancient world like never before!
This story takes place during the early 3rd century A.D, during the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus.
Despite the fact that this period in Roman history is a pivotal time for the Empire, it is often ignored by historical fiction authors. It is an exciting time of change, but also a time that many historians believe to be the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire.
When Children of Apollo begins, the Roman Empire is at its greatest extent, stretching from Britannia and Germania in the north to the North African provinces in the south, and from the Pillars of Hercules in the west to the Parthian Empire in the east, newly-conquered by Severus’ legions.
This period in Roman history fascinates me for many reasons.
First off, Severus himself was of North African descent, hailing from the great city of Leptis Magna, the jewel of Proconsular North Africa. He was a soldier, and he knew how to reward soldiers and use the army to his advantage. This was one of the reasons he came out on top in the civil war that followed the infamous reign of Commodus and the time when the Praetorian Guard auctioned the imperial throne just a few years before.
Septimius Severus made many changes to the army, transferred units, and opened up positions that had been reserved for the aristocracy to the Equestrian class and lower. He seemed to have a knack for putting the right people in the right positions, except when it came to his Praetorian Prefect, Gaius Fulvius Plautianus.
Plautianus was actually a cousin of Severus’, also from Leptis Magna, and was constantly working in the background to gather power and wealth unto himself. He hated Severus’ sons, Caracalla and Geta, but most of all he hated the empress, Julia Domna.
Julia Domna was the first of the so-called ‘Syrian Women’, and she ushered in a line of strong women rulers. She was a constant adviser to her husband, extremely intelligent, and one of Plautianus’ greatest adversaries. Scholars and scientists came from all over the empire to speak with Julia Domna and be a part of her learned circle. She commanded respect, as did her successors.
This is the time in which Children of Apollo takes place. After a civil war, and a massive campaign against the Parthians involving over 30 legions, there is the potential for peace and prosperity, a new Pax Romana, under Severus.
However, when the blood stops running on the battlefield, war usually moves to the back rooms of imperial Rome where political machinations can be more deadly than an enemy sword.
The story’s hero, Lucius Metellus Anguis, is a young man from an ancient, but destitute family, who has found success in the legions and risen through the ranks to become a tribune.
However, once the wars are over, this idealistic young man begins to find out that peace is not what he expected, success not what he was promised. Lucius has enemies lurking the shadows, and finds himself thrust into a new war that threatens to destroy his family, his faith, and all that he has worked for.
Are the Gods on his side? Can he survive to protect those whom he loves?
You’ll need to read Children of Apollo to find out!
Researching and writing Children of Apollo has been an adventure in and of itself.
The settings are vast and varied in the book. Part one takes us across the deserts and through the cities of Roman North Africa to the remote legionary base of Lambaesis, in Numidia. The second part of the book is set in imperial Rome, from the intimacy of the Metellus household, to the palaces of the Palatine Hill, and the temples and markets of the Roman Forum.
The story also takes us to ancient Etruria where family secrets are unearthed, and finally to an ancient settlement at Cumae where an oracle of the god Apollo has words for our protagonist.
Whenever possible, I love to travel to the places I write about. A safari of Roman sites in North Africa helped a great deal with the research for Children of Apollo and its sequel, from the dunes of the Sahara desert, to the great salt lakes of Tunisia, to the magnificent remains of Roman cities such as Thysdrus (El Jem), Thurburbo Maius, and Thugga.
However, it is only when walking the streets of Rome, by seeing the Forum and experiencing the peace of the Palatine Hill, that I was able to get a sense of the scale and grandeur of the Roman Empire, its majesty, but also the great human cost building such an empire took as toll.
From the green hills and vineyards of Etruria, to the dirt and marble of Rome, to the sand seas of North Africa where ancient mosaics lay open to the sky, creating this book has been one of the great journeys of my lifetime.
If you would like to read more about the history and settings of Children of Apollo, do make sure to check out the World of Children of Apollo six-part blog series which looks at the Desert, the Settlements of Roman North Africa, the Severan Dynasty, Imperial Rome, Etruria, and Cumae and the Sibyl.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this short journey through Children of Apollo with me.
If you haven’t read Children of Apollo yet, and your interest is piqued, be sure to download a copy for yourself at the discounted price (from $4.99 down to .99 cents) before December 8th on Amazon, Kobo, or Apple iBooks.
If you are so inclined, I’d be grateful if you shared this with your friends and family who may also enjoy history and an adventure in the Roman Empire.
There is a lot more in to come in the Eagles and Dragons series, so don’t forget to Join the Legions and sign-up for the Newsletter by clicking HERE so you can get special offers, advanced copies of new releases, and a lot more history!
Time marches on, and there are many more adventures to be had in the Holiday Historical Fiction Blowout!
Don’t forget to check out the posts by all the other participating authors listed below. There’s something for everyone from Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, to Medieval England, the Golden Age of Piracy, Regency England, and a Roman Empire of the Future.
There is a lot of talented storytelling in this group of creatives, so be sure to sign-up for everyone’s mailing lists and pick up your .99 cent treasures.
Happy Holidays and thank you for reading!
Now, here are all the other authors featured in the Holiday Historical Fiction Blowout from December 1st to 8th
Click on each author’s website link to read about the history and setting of each novel. Enjoy the journey!
A Similar Taste in Books – by Linda Banche
Historical Period: Regency
Book 1 of Love and the Library: Clara and Justin
“Pride and Prejudice” has always brought lovers together, even in the Regency.
Justin has a deep, dark secret—he likes that most despised form of literature, the novel. His favorite novel is “Pride and Prejudice”, and, especially, Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Intelligent, lively, fiercely loyal Miss Elizabeth. How he would love to meet a lady like her.
Clara’s favorite novel is “Pride and Prejudice” and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Intelligent, steadfast and willing to admit when he is wrong. Can such a splendid man exist? And can she find him?
One day in the library, they both check out copies of their favorite book. When Justin bumps into Clara, the magic of their similar taste in books just might make their wishes come true.
A sweet, traditional Regency romantic comedy novella, but not a retelling of “Pride and Prejudice”.
Sales Link: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/247691
On sale for 99 cents at Smashwords only with coupon code FF67C
Kingdom of Rebels – by Derek Birks
Historical Period: Fifteenth Century – the Wars of the Roses
When all hope is gone, only death lies in wait…
England in 1468 is a nervous kingdom. King Edward IV has fallen out with his chief ally during the Wars of the Roses, the powerful Earl of Warwick. Ned Elder, a young lord whose sword helped to put Edward on the throne, has been forced out of England by Warwick.
Far away on the Scottish border, a beleaguered fort, Crag Tower, desperately awaits Ned’s return. Led by his fiery sister, Eleanor, the dwindling garrison is all that remains of his brave army of retainers. Unknown to all except the loyal knight, Ragwulf, Eleanor has Ned’s young son in her charge – a son who has never seen his father. But, as border clansmen batter the gates with fire, the castle seems certain to fall. One by one Ned’s family and friends are caught up in Warwick’s web of treason. The fate of the Elders and those who serve them lies once more in the balance as all are drawn back to Yorkshire where they face old enemies once more. Eleanor can only hope that Ned will soon return. She must fight to keep that hope alive… and when Lady Eleanor fights, she takes no prisoners…
Purchase at Amazon UK or at Amazon.com
Search for the Golden Serpent (Servant of the Gods, Book 1) – by Luciana Cavallaro
Historical period: 600 BCE – Ancient Greece
The story is about Evan, an architect whose been having strange dreams. He received an unexpected phone call from an entrepreneur from Greece who wants Evan to restore his Family’s home. He dismissed the caller and regarded the person as a crank. During a dream, he met the mysterious entrepreneur, Zeus, who catapulted him back in time, five hundred years before the birth of Christ. Evan, an unwilling participant finds himself entangled in an epic struggle between the gods and his life.
Purchase at Amazon, Smashwords, and Kobo
Children of Apollo (Eagles and Dragons – Book I) – by Adam Alexander Haviaras
Historical Period: The Roman Empire, A.D. 202
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.
Lucius Metellus Anguis is a young warrior who is inspired by the deeds of his glorious ancestors and burdened by the knowledge that he must raise his family name from the ashes of the past. Having achieved a measure of success in the emperor’s legions in North Africa, Lucius is recalled to Rome where he finds himself surrounded by enemies, cast into the deadly arena of Roman politics.
Amid growing fears of treachery, Lucius meets a young Athenian woman who fills his darkening world with new-found hope. Their love grows, as does their belief that the Gods have planned their meeting, but when an ancient oracle of Apollo utters a terrifying prophecy regarding his future, Lucius’ world is once more thrown into chaos. Ultimately, he must choose sides in a war that threatens to destroy his family, his faith and all that he has worked for.
Available for purchase on Amazon, iBooks, and Kobo
Sea Witch (Voyage One) – by Helen Hollick
Historical Period: The Golden Age of Piracy – 1716
Escaping the bullying of his elder half brother, from the age of fifteen Jesamiah Acorne has been a pirate with only two loves – his ship and his freedom. But his life is to change when he and his crewmates unsuccessfully attack a merchant ship off the coast of South Africa.
He is to meet Tiola Oldstagh an insignificant girl, or so he assumes – until she rescues him from a vicious attack, and almost certain death, by pirate hunters. And then he discovers what she really is; a healer, a midwife – and a white witch. Her name, an anagram of “all that is good.” Tiola and Jesamiah become lovers, but the wealthy Stefan van Overstratten, a Cape Town Dutchman, also wants Tiola as his wife and Jesamiah’s jealous brother, Phillipe Mereno, is determined to seek revenge for resentments of the past, a stolen ship and the insult of being cuckolded in his own home.
When the call of the sea and an opportunity to commandeer a beautiful ship – the Sea Witch – is put in Jesamiah’s path he must make a choice between his life as a pirate or his love for Tiola. He wants both, but Mereno and van Overstratten want him dead.
In trouble, imprisoned in the darkness and stench that is the lowest part of his brother’s ship, can Tiola with her gift of Craft, and the aid of his loyal crew, save him?
Using all her skills Tiola must conjure up a wind to rescue her lover, but first she must brave the darkness of the ocean depths and confront the supernatural being, Tethys, the Spirit of the Sea, an elemental who will stop at nothing to claim Jesamiah Acorne’s soul and bones as a trophy.
Helen’s books are available on Amazon
INCEPTIO – by Alison Morton
Historic Period: Modern/Roman (alternate history)
New York, present day, alternate timeline. Karen Brown, angry and frightened after surviving a kidnap attempt, has a harsh choice – being eliminated by government enforcer Jeffery Renschman or fleeing to mysterious Roma Nova, her dead mother’s homeland in Europe.
Founded sixteen centuries ago by Roman exiles and ruled by women, Roma Nova gives Karen safety, at a price, and a ready-made family in a strange culture she often struggles with. Just as she’s finding her feet, a shocking discovery about her new lover, Praetorian special forces officer Conrad Tellus, isolates her.
And the enforcer, Renschman, is stalking her in her new home and nearly kills her. Recovering, she is desperate to find out why this Renschman is hunting her so viciously. Unable to rely on anybody else, she undergoes intensive training, develops fighting skills and becomes an undercover cop. But crazy with bitterness at his past failures, Renschman sets a trap for her, knowing she has no choice but to spring it…
Available for purchase on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks UK, iBooks US, Nook Book UK, and Barnes & Noble Nook (US)
Men of the Cross (Battle Scars I) – by Charlene Newcomb
Historical period: Medieval – 12th century
War, political intrigue and passion… heroes… friends and lovers… and the seeds for a new Robin Hood legend await you…
Two young knights’ journey to war at Richard the Lionheart’s side sweeps them from England to the Holy Land in this historical adventure set against the backdrop of the Third Crusade.
Henry de Grey leaves Southampton in high spirits, strong in his faith and passionate about the mission to take Jerusalem back from Saladin’s army. Stephan l’Aigle’s prowess on the battlefield is well known, as are his exploits in the arms of other men. He prizes duty, honour and loyalty to his king above all else. But God and the Church? Stephan has little use for either.
Henry’s convictions are challenged by loss and the harsh realities of bloody battles, unforgiving marches, and the politics of the day. Man against man. Man against the elements. Man against his own heart. Survival will depend on more than a strong sword arm.
Flavia’s Secret – by Lindsay Townsend
Historical Period: Ancient Roman Britain, 206 AD
Spirited young scribe Flavia hopes for freedom. She and her fellow slaves in Aquae Sulis (modern Bath) have served the Lady Valeria for many years, but their mistress’ death brings a threat to Flavia’s dream: her new master Marcus Brucetus, a charismatic, widowed officer toughened in the forests of Germania. Flavia finds him overwhelmingly attractive but she is aware of the danger. To save her life and those of her ‘family’ she has forged a note from her mistress. If her deception is discovered, all the slaves may die.
For his part torn between attraction and respect, Marcus will not force himself on Flavia. Flavia by now knows of his grief over the deaths of his wife Drusilla and child. But how can she match up to the serene, flame-haired Drusilla?
As the wild mid-winter festival of Saturnalia approaches, many lives will be changed forever.
On sale at Bookstrand: http://www.bookstrand.com/flavias-secret
Thank you for visiting, and please help spread the word about the Holiday Historical Fiction Blowout!
Some of the very first things that interested me in history as a young boy were weapons and armour.
Boys will be boys, and so it’s no surprise that this is what drew me into the ancient and medieval worlds in the first place.
I remember getting a used book called The Art of Chivalry, which I flipped through over and over again. I was mesmerized by the images of broad swords and gothic armour, the shields, the lines, and the hack marks from various battles.
If there is one piece that has been common to most ancient cultures, it’s the helmet.
Apart from Celtic warrior heroes, most soldiers and fighters wore a helmet into battle. However, despite the common usage of something to protect the head and face, the styles varied greatly over the ages, making for some magnificent pieces that were utilitarian and beautiful at the same time.
So, here is my Top 10 list of favourite ancient and medieval battle helmets…
The Trojan War
#10 – Mycenaean Boar’s Tusk Helmet
My tenth choice on this list is one that you might not have expected to see. It isn’t made of iron or bronze, but rather of boar’s tusks that would have been sewn together over a skull-cap, or lining of some sort.
We’ve all heard about the Trojan War, but the portrayals of Greeks and Trojans wearing Classical Age Corinthian Helmets is not exactly accurate. We’re talking about the (approximately) 12th century B.C. here. This is a helmet of great antiquity that was worn by the heroes who fought beneath the walls of Troy in this most famous of wars.
I’ve put it on this list for sheer interest’s sake.
See You in the Lists!
#9 – Jousting Helmet
If gladiators were the entertainment of the Roman world, jousting was the equivalent of the Middle Ages.
From the time I was a boy, this is what I was drawn to. Two knights in armour careening toward each other with their lances couched. I could see their horses’ trappings fluttering as they came closer and closer and then the tremendous impact of splintered lances and shattered shields.
Fantastic! But wow, so dangerous. Tourney knights may have donned colourful ribbons and head dresses for the tilt, but they were certainly not wussies. These guys were tough as nails!
And they did this with little to no visibility! The tourney helms were thick and heavy, and were intended to deflect a lance point at speed. It must have been absolutely suffocating inside one of those.
But how imposing they looked, how fantastic with the colourful tourney crests affixed on the top. These guys took the tourney circuit, and the ladies, by storm, all in a chivalrous way, or course. Men such as William Marshall or Ulrich von Lichtenstein (not Heath Ledger, the real one!), made a name for themselves in the European lists and helped to shape the chivalric ideals we see in art and story.
Riding with Alexander the Great
#8 – Hellenistic Cavalry Helmet
When you get to the time of Alexander the Great and the successors, they begin to add a bit more pizazz to their headgear. Alexander would have had special helmets outfitted just for him, perhaps made to look like a lion head which you can see on the coins (remember, the Argead dynasty claimed descent from Herakles!), or the ram horns of Zeus-Ammon.
My eighth pick would be the helmet commonly used by the Alexander’s Companion Cavalry, commonly thought to be the best cavalry in the ancient world. Being one of these guys was glamorous and carried a lot of cache. They wore a Boeotian-type cavalry helmet with embellishments such as laurels and other ornamentations. It was also a sort of armoured sun-hat, perfect for charging across the plains of Asia in summer.
But don’t let the fanciness fool you, the Companions were crack heavy cavalry troops, and fierce enough to help Alexander bring down the mighty Persian Empire.
The Battle of Hastings
#7 – Norman Conical Helmet
1066 is a year that many of you will be familiar with. This is the year that William the Conqueror and his Norman army invaded England and killed the last Saxon King, Harold, at the Battle of Hastings. The Normans changed the face of England, some might say not for the best.
But they were a fighting force to be reckoned with. And their arms and armour reflect a more functional, militaristic culture that is immortalized in the Bayeux Tapestry.
When I think of the Normans, I think of kite shields, chain mail, and of course the conical helmet. This may not be the most dashing or even protective of warlike head gear, but its silhouette is unmistakably Norman. It was basically two bits of steel held together by a spine with a big nose guard. That’s it. There was no neck protection unless chain mail was attached to the lower rim, and the face was exposed apart from the nose. It would have had great visibility and some deflective traits because of its pointed shape. It would not be my pick for personal use, but I’ve included it because there’s just something about it.
Gods of the Arena
#6 – Murmillo Gladiator
The Romans didn’t just like violence on the battlefield. They also enjoyed it on a Saturday afternoon, just for fun!
Some of the most enduring images of ancient Rome that we have are of gladiatorial combat in the amphitheatre. Gladiators were slaves, but they were also showman, and some reached unprecedented heights of popularity, almost as high as the charioteers of Rome.
Because it was a show, the gladiators played the roles of mythological beasts or ferocious, long-defeated enemies from past campaigns. But they didn’t wear masks, they wore elaborate helmets. My favourite gladiatorial helmet is the Murmillo, which was meant to represent a sort of sea creature, paired off against a Thracian warrior, or Thraex.
The Murmillo helmet was big and could be very elaborate with mythological or battle scenes embossed on it. This was an ornate, but heavy-duty helmet that was meant to inspire awe and take some heavy hits. During the early Empire, the Murmillo and Thraex were the most common pairing in combat. When they clashed, you can bet the crowd was baying for blood!
The Cross the the Crescent
#5 – Medieval Great Helm
The Crusades figured largely in my study of medieval warfare, and so it’s no surprise that the one helmet from the time that should be included here is the medieval ‘Great Helm’.
This cylindrical helmet would have been worn over a chain mail headpiece, or coif, and was the standard for most knights going on Crusade to the Holy Land. Designs by way of the puncture holes for breathing varied, but they were all big with narrow eye slits and cross-like seems on the face.
I really like the look of this helmet, but I can imagine that in the heat of Palestine, it would have felt like being in an oven. Furthermore, because the ears were covered, and because of the box-like structure of the Great Helm, the echo inside must have been insane in the thick of battle.
When I see this helmet, I also tend to think of Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail. ‘None shall pass!’
The Waning of the Middle Ages
#4 – Gothic Armour
Some of the most complete and beautiful armour ever comes from the late middle ages. Late medieval armour was, in large part, a reaction to new weapons technology, namely firearms.
This was really the last hurrah for full body armour and helmets that matched beauty with defensive intent. We know it as Gothic armour, and there are plenty of well-preserved examples in museums and castles around the world where you can get up close and personal with it.
There are many styles, but they all share one thing in common: they seek to encase the wearer as much as possible to protect against sword, mace, axe, arrow, and of course firearm shots.
Early firearms were notoriously inaccurate, but knights would have been extremely vulnerable when charging into the spray from a bunch of arm cannons. The English longbows at Agincourt and Crécy destroyed the French knights, and this just took things one unfortunate step further.
The Gothic age of helmets and armour in general is a bit of a swan song.
Warfare had changed and the sight of fully armed knights tilting on battlefields such as Bosworth was soon to become a thing of the past, a thing of romance. Perhaps it is fitting that this was some of the most beautiful, functional armour all rolled into one. It was indeed the end of an age, and well-deserving of number four on my list.
#3 – Late Roman Cavalry Helmets
Now we come to it – the top three.
Whereas the men of the Legions had solid functional helmets when they went into battle, the cavalry alae of the Empire went in for something a bit more dashing and terrifying.
There is a lot of differentiation among the auxiliary units attached to the Legions because most of them were not Roman, and brought their own cultural style to the mix.
However, my favourite cavalry helmets are those with masks attached. They’re ornate on top, often with mythological scenes or beasts, and then have a mask of the same metal protecting the wearer but also striking fear into the enemies they were riding down.
There is some debate as to whether or not the actual masks were used only for demonstrations or parade, that they were perhaps removed for actual battle. But it’s not unlikely that they were indeed worn into battle. After all, some medieval helmets, as we shall see, provided much less visibility than a Roman cavalry mask.
These elite cavalry troops would have seemed like shades or furies as they rode into the fray, swinging a spatha and holding a howling draco standard. My solid number 3!
Men of the Legions
#2 – Roman Imperial Gallic Helmet
The Romans knew their warfare and their weapons. They also knew how to adapt, and how to adopt when they saw a good thing.
By far, my favourite Roman helmet has to be the Imperial Gallic helmet. If you look closely at the design, it makes perfect sense. They thought of everything – good vision and hearing for the legionary, protection for the back of the neck from downward slashes by those Celts, a visor in the front for the same thing, and massive cheek pieces that protected the side of the face without hindering vision.
This was a warrior’s helmet, and it was worn by tribunes, centurions, optios, and regular troops. A crest could also be attached depending on the rank of the person wearing it. But regular legionaries wore it without decoration and just went at it with the enemy in front of them. This is my pick for most utilitarian! It could easily take number one, but…
Grace in the Golden Age of Greece
#1 – The Corinthian Helmet
…I’m giving in to beauty.
When it comes to ancient Greece, the helmet that most people imagine is the Corinthian helmet. To me, this is a supremely beautiful helmet, my favourite for looks. It was used for several centuries, sometimes with a crest, sometimes without. These were made of bronze and would have been great at deflecting, spear thrusts, sword swings, and whizzing arrows.
I’ve tried on this helmet at re-enactor fairs and I must say that it’s very comfortable. Vision is decent, and it does indeed rest easily on the top of the head when not sweating it out in the shield wall. Hey, if it’s good enough for the goddess Athena, it’s good enough for me!
The one downside of the Corinthian helmet is that it would have been difficult to hear everything that was going on because there were no holes for the ears. Also, in the Mediterranean heat during the summer campaign season, it would have been hot!
But I still love the Corinthian helmet. For me, this is #1!
This could easily have been a much longer list. It was harder than I expected (but oh, so much fun!) to pick just ten. They are unique, utilitarian, and beautiful in their own ways, and so deserving of a place on the list, in my humble opinion.
I’ve always felt very strongly that the invention of gun powder was a low point in human and military history. It meant that any coward could pick up a gun and, from a distance, take down the most skilled, well-trained warrior without breaking a sweat. It meant that the scale of casualties would increase, and that is something we feel painfully to this day.
A lot of people might disagree with that. They might say that guns are the great leveller.
But somehow, in an age of cold black steel and bullets, I don’t really think we’ll hear about heroes like Hector or Achilles meeting face to face. Alexander won’t be charging King Porus’ elephant on Bucephalas any time soon. The Spartan shield wall is lost to history and the lists of medieval Europe are long silent but for a few scattered bands of Renaissance Festival enthusiasts.
But the art of war does remain, and it serves as a reminder of the past and the reasons for it.
Next time you are at a replica shop, re-enactor fair, or Renaissance festival, be sure to slip an ancient or medieval helmet replica over your head. You’ll be taking one step closer to understanding and feeling the past.
Thank you for reading.
What does your top 10 list look like? Do you have a favourite?
Let us know in the comments below…
It’s always a sad thing to hear of the passing of an artist whose work has made a lasting impression.
It seems that every year more and more names shuffle off this mortal coil, leaving us with our own perceptions of their public face, but more so the faces of the roles they played.
This morning I found out that British actor Nigel Terry passed away at the age of 69.
Many people might not know Nigel Terry at first mention. He was not necessarily a Titan of the big screen. However, he did appear in a few historical/fantasy dramas, most notably John Boorman’s 1981 film Excalibur.
I used to devour all things Arthurian, and it still is my favourite realm to visit, whether of history, literature, or archaeology.
Excalibur, based on Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, will always be one of those movies that made a lasting impression upon me. The film brought to life the magic and mystery of the Arthurian legend like nothing else. It explored the nature of the king’s relationship to the land he is bound to protect, and took you on the quest with the Knights of the Round Table, from their courageous departure to find the Holy Grail, to depths of madness, despair, and pain, to the glorious attainment of the Grail, and the final confrontation at the Battle of Camlann.
Nigel Terry’s Arthur was of a different sort – naïve, daring, stern, trusting, brave, flawed, honourable. Whenever I imagine an historical Arthur in my head, it is often Nigel Terry’s face that appears.
If you have never seen the movie Excalibur, and you like Arthuriana, then you should definitely watch this movie. While you’re at it, see how many famous actors’ young faces you can spot in the cast about Nigel Terry.
Most of Nigel Terry’s work was done on stage, but I will forever remember him in historical films. Apart from Excalibur, he was also in the wonderful screen adaptation of the play, The Lion in Winter.
When it comes to medieval history, the 12th century has always been my favourite period, and the Plantagenets the family to watch. In The Lion in Winter, Nigel Terry plays a young Prince John, son of Henry II (Peter O’Toole) and Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katherine Hepburn), and brother to Richard Lionheart (Anthony Hopkins). You will also see a young Timothy Dalton as the French King, Phillip.
This story is set at Chinon, in France, where the royal family has assembled for Christmas court and a battle of wills and verbal sparring that is really second to none. And the young Nigel Terry certainly holds his own next to the greats of the acting world.
During the 1990’s, there was an often forgotten television series called Covington Cross, in which Nigel Terry portrayed a widower knight who is trying to keep his three sons, and a willful daughter, safe from their enemies at court. Though not acclaimed in any way, I loved this show because it was a fun medieval romp, complete with drama, laughs, and of course, sword fighting. Who doesn’t like that? I was beginning my medieval studies at that time and this show with Nigel Terry at the helm, was just what I wanted to fan the spark of my interest in history, a spark which eventually turned into a full-on blaze.
One of the last things I saw Nigel Terry in was the movie Troy, where he was re-united with Peter O’Toole who played King Priam.
Nigel Terry played the high priest of Apollo in Troy, and though he did not have a major role, you were drawn to his strong screen presence, despite the heavy hitters all around him.
That’s the thing with historical dramatizations – there always seem to be regulars in the cast, people whom you picture more in period dress than in modernity’s garb.
It was always a comfort to me when Nigel Terry’s face showed up, as if I knew that I was going to experience good historical drama with some solid acting, even if it was only while he was on screen.
Now my mind floats back to the end of Excalibur where I will forever remember Nigel Terry as Arthur, grievously wounded on the deck of a solemn barge, and guarded by the three ladies of Avalon as he is carried to the sacred Isle until needed again someday.
Of course, Nigel Terry had countless more acting credits to his name than the four I have mentioned. These are but my personal favourites.
Here’s to yet another fallen prince of stage and screen. He won’t be the last, but he will be remembered, armour shining and sword in hand.
When I write about history my work is inspired by human behaviour and the people of the past, but a large part of my inspiration comes from the remains of civilizations that I have seen.
Whenever I have been fortunate enough to travel, the memories of my visits to ancient and medieval ruins have stayed with me as a sort of vivid library of information and emotion through which I can browse whenever I need to.
Often, sites will give me a particular feel or ‘vibe’ for lack of a better term. I can well imagine the voices of a crowded agora, or the cheers of a packed amphitheatre. You can’t help it. The past speaks to you in these places.
The other day I read a fragment of an 8th century old-English Saxon poem called ‘The Ruin’. This fragment, which survives from the Exeter Book, is a sort of elegy for the Roman city of Bath. It is incomplete, but very interesting to read, even a little sad. Here it is in translation:
Wondrous is this foundation – the fates have broken
and shattered this city; the work of giants crumbles.
The roofs are ruined, the towers toppled,
frost in the mortar has broken the gate,
torn and worn and shorn by the storm,
eaten through with age. The earth’s grasp
holds the builders, rotten, forgotten,
the hard grip of the ground, until a hundred
generations of men are gone. This wall, rust-stained
and moss-covered, has endured one kingdom after another,
stood in the storm, steep and tall, then tumbled.
The foundation remains, felled by the weather,
grimly ground up ….
…… a crust of mud surrounded …
….. put together a swift
and subtle system of rings; one of great wisdom
wondrously bound the braces together with wires.
Bright were the buildings, with many bath-houses,
noble gables and a great noise of armies,
many a meadhall filled with men’s joys,
until mighty fate made an end to all that.
The slain fell on all sides, plague-days came,
and death destroyed all the brave swordsmen;
the seats of their idols became empty wasteland,
the city crumbled, its re-builders collapsed
beside their shrines. So now these courts are empty,
and the rich vaults of the vermilion roofs
shed their tiles. The ruins toppled to the ground,
broken into rubble, where once many a men
glad-minded, gold-bright, bedecked in splendor,
proud, full of wine, shone in his war-gear,
gazed on treasure, on silver, on sparking gems,
on wealth, on possessions, on the precious stone,
on the bright capital of a broad kingdom.
Stone buildings stood, the wide-flowing stream
threw off its heat; a wall held it all
in its bright bosom where the baths were,
hot in its core, a great convenience.
They let them gush forth …..
the hot streams over the great stones,
until the circular pool …. hot…
…..where the baths were.
….. that is a noble thing,
how …. the city ….
(translation by R. M. Liuzza)
I’ve often wondered what people in the Middle Ages might have thought of the Roman ruins that were all around them. They probably used the Roman roads (and we still do today!), walls, foundations, and town plans, but I had never really read a primary medieval source that lamented the ruins of Rome’s past in Britain in such a way.
I have to admit that I was a little surprised to read ‘The Ruin’ and detect a hint of sadness as the poet describes what remains of the once-great town of Aqae Sulis. I feel as though he is expressing how I might have felt seeing that wondrous, crumbling city.
The poet has resuscitated Roman Bath for us at a moment in time, after the days of its glory. I can see the grass growing out of the cracks of the paving slabs, and the moss filling the spaces where mortar has crumbled from walls. I can hear ravens cawing from atop the city’s carcass as terra cotta roof tiles slither and slide from their perches to crash on the ground below.
This is yet another interesting perspective to keep in mind when visiting ancient sites – how might other people in history have viewed these places, depending on the perspective of their own age in time?
It’s something worth thinking on.
Thank you for reading!
Let us know what you think about this poem by leaving a comment below.
If you want to hear what the poem sounds like in old-English, here is a video of a young historian reading it. She speaks for about a minute before she starts reading the poem, but hang in there. It’s well worth the wait! What a beautiful language.
On this blog I tend to speak mainly about ancient history and mythology because those are the periods and subjects in which I have been writing for the last few years.
However, this blog is about bringing the ancient and medieval worlds to life. So, this week, we’re going to step forward in time to the Middle Ages.
In truth, my love of history began with the Middle Ages, especially the period from the Norman Conquest to the death of King John in A.D. 1216. This period has it all – the Norman invasion, the Crusades, the Domesday Book, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II, Richard the Lionheart, Robin Hood etc. etc. The list goes on!
One of the things that really sparked my curiosity about this period was the Bayeux Tapestry.
The first time I saw the Bayeux Tapestry was during the opening crawl of the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
I can still conjure the feeling I had as the movie started to roll and the tapestry started to show on the screen to the thrilling soundtrack by Michael Kamen (CLICK HERE to listen to the music online). To me, it was history and movie magic!
I loved seeing the scenes of Norman ships sailing across the Channel, the Norman cavalry with their unique kite shields bearing down on the axe-wielding Saxon forces – that one work of embroidered art fired my interest in an age.
Of course when I was seeing these images for the first time, I had no idea what I was looking at. My research began immediately at my local library where I took out books on the castles of England, medieval warfare, and the Bayeux Tapestry itself.
But what is the Bayeux Tapestry exactly? Who commissioned it? When was it made?
The tapestry is actually a work of embroidery that depicts events leading up to, and including, the Norman invasion of England and the defeat of the last Saxon King, Harold Godwinson, by William Duke of Normandy at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. From then on, William was known as ‘William the Conqueror’, the first Norman king of England.
The Bayeux Tapestry is generally thought to have been commissioned in the 1070s by William’s half-brother, Bishop Odo of Bayeux, later Earl of Kent. This famous piece of embroidered cloth is a whopping 70 metres long (230 ft.) and is housed in the Bayeux Tapestry Museum in France.
One theory states that the creators of the tapestry were inspired by Trajan’s Column on a trip to Rome. This seems reasonable as the Bayeux Tapestry illustrates the events of a conquest over a certain period of time. Just as Trajan’s Column depicts that emperor’s conquest of Dacia, so does the tapestry depict the Norman conquest of England.
Works of art like the Bayeux Tapestry (and Trajan’s column) were created not long after the actual events, and because of this contemporaneity we have much more knowledge of events, people, places, arms and armour. However, as with most historical sources, we need to keep in mind that these were created by the victors of these conflicts.
But the Bayeux Tapestry is unusual in that it does not try lambaste the Saxons or Harold. In fact, it shows Harold being crowned King of England, and the Saxons fighting bravely on the battlefield against the heavy Norman cavalry.
Below is a fantastic video in which the creators have animated the Bayeux Tapestry from start to finish. It’s a fantastic new way to look at this work of art. You can watch the video below or click HERE.
A nice touch the creators of this video added was the comet flying over the length of the tapestry. In the middle ages, comets were thought to be ill-omened, and the one seen prior to the Battle of Hastings was, some believe, Haley’s Comet.
Whatever the meaning, it seemed that even though both Harold and William had claims to the English throne, God was on the Conqueror’s side that day in 1066.
What are your thoughts on the Bayeux Tapestry? Have you seen it yourself?
Be sure to click on ‘Leave a comment’ below, under the social media buttons, to let us know your thoughts!
Thank you for reading!