Living Abroad – A Guest Post by Author Caterina Novelliere

I meet a lot of people on-line as an author, historian, and blogger. The great thing about it is that sometimes you get to meet people with whom you click right away, people who have the same interests, similar experiences, and the same hunger to learn more about the world, and about history.

Today, I’m pleased to post a guest blog by just such a person.

Caterina and I met on-line (was it Twitter?) when I was posting about Tunisia and the Roman sites there which are part of the setting for Children of Apollo, and Killing the Hydra.

When she told me that she used to live in Tunisia, as well as in Italy, I asked her if she could write a post about her experiences that I could share with all of you.

So, without further ado, over to Caterina to talk about what it was like to live abroad, and how that shaped her imagination, art, and interests as a young child.

Living Abroad picture

Adam was kind enough to invite me to share how living abroad at a young age influenced my writing and shaped my life over the years. As a child, I lived in Tunisia for two and a half years. My family frequently traveled around the country. I also had the pleasure of visiting Algeria. My time in North Africa significantly shaped my academic and personal interests. Tunisia is the place where I fell in love with Antiquity, North African history, and Middle Eastern culture. I study all three in my academic pursuits.

One of the first places my parents took me in Tunisia was Carthage. The ruins, especially the large columns of carved stone, fascinated me. At the time, I wondered who exactly were these people living in stone houses? Seeing elaborate mosaics in the remains of the baths and villas, I concluded they all had to be amazing artists. Each new twist and turn through the site prompted more questions. What was life like for the Carthaginians and Romans? What would the children who once lived there say if I could speak to them? What games did they play? The adults seemed so focused on banqueting and bathing, which were totally boring subjects to a young child.

Statue

Statue and Mosaics at the Bardo Museum, Tunis

I met my first archaeologist at Carthage. He took a few minutes out of his day to show me what he was doing, explain the finds, and answer some of the crazy questions that my five year old self had in addition to those of my parents and a few others who went with us. I can still vividly recall his face and the patient way he’d smile and elaborate on life in Antiquity. I thought he had the coolest job. At that point I was hooked by the past and longed to explore it further. Who wouldn’t like a job that allowed you to play outside in the dirt and discover such wondrous things? It was like recess all of the time! Little did I know how hard that work is nor how meticulous an archaeologist or historian needs to be when excavating or developing the narrative of a people that lived long ago. I passed Roman ruins in the city every day on the bus ride to school and swimming lessons afterwards. We frequently took field trips to the remains of Roman sites and El Djem (a Roman amphitheater in the area). I would stare out the bus window daydreaming about what it would be like to sit in the stands watching men fight lions and each other. Would the crowd be loud? Would the men all wear decorated armor and carry swords on their sides? Did the women faint or cry from the gore or their favorite fighter dying? Needless to say, I had a very Hollywood vision of Roman life. The thirst to learn more about Roman North Africa and the mighty empire began in those years spent in Tunisia. It has been unquenchable since. After hitting my early thirties, I decided I needed to formalize my education in the fields I enjoyed so much and began the journey of becoming a trained historian and cultural heritage professional.

The Amphitheatre of El Djem (Roman Thusdrus)

The Amphitheatre of El Djem (Roman Thusdrus)

An important piece of culture frequently taken for granted or overlooked by the average joe is food. Food history fascinates me. Studying food from both a commodities and cultural perspective gives us unique insight into a region, the development of trade, and social practices of various civilizations. Food is a fantastic historical subject if one is searching to form connections between the past and today. There are many dishes and drinks like wine, coffee, or tea that significantly shape a region economically, socially, and from an identity perspective. I subtly sprinkle traditional meals and beverages in any novel of mine you pick up. As my characters dine and move on their various adventures, dinners and drinks frequently reflect the location they are in. In my travels, you can routinely find me eating local dishes off the beaten path. My passion for food arose out of childhood trips to Tunisian vineyards, markets and cafes. My mother emphasized it was important that I tried everything on my plate anytime an invite came to go to someone’s house or we went somewhere new. I remember watching her learn to cook local meals along with a wide variety of Middle Eastern and French dishes due to the many nationalities that made up our circle of friends abroad. I am guilty of being drawn to any restaurant offering tagines, couscous, shwarema, and other North African delicacies. One of the first dishes I learned to cook as a child was a lamb, vegetable and couscous stew. It is definitely one of my go to comfort foods when I am feeling down. Fresh mint tea is a treat anytime of the year. Pomegranates, blood oranges, figs, almonds, and tangerines are some of my favorite snacks after discovering them in Tunisia.

Troglodyte Dwelling - Matmata

Troglodyte Dwelling – Matmata

My fiction writing contains more than just the gastronomical flavorings of North Africa. Locations like Dougga, Carthage, and Hippo appear in storylines. There is something incredibly romantic about the places bordering the Mediterranean that fuels my imagination. One particular event I attended stands out in my mind as the most captivating culturally in all of my Tunisian and Algeria adventures, The Douz Festival. The races, celebrations, and traditions one witnesses traveling to the Saharan extravaganza further reeled me into the world of the Bedouin and Berber. The Douz Festival is an annual celebration of the harvesting of the dates and the nomadic way of life. Many Arab, Bedouin, and Berber clans come together to compete in horse and camel racing, trick riding, and overall merriment. The festival was so different from any circus or fair I attended in the states. The excitement in the air each day was contagious. Camels moved faster than I thought they could in intense matches. My pulse raced watching Arabians decked out in traditional saddles and bridles fly down the desert track. My heart was stolen by one of the trick riders one night. He rode a black horse whose saddle and bridle were decorated in red, green, white and black plumes. I was transfixed in place watching him stand in the saddle as his horse cantered past along with performing other amazing feats. If there was such a thing as a knight or fearsome desert warrior, it certainly had to be him. When he finished his act, he rode over to my family and spoke with us. Allowing me to pet his horse and the smile he offered before riding off had me completely smitten with my first crush on a stranger. No doubt my parents would laugh if I told them for a few years afterward, I wanted to marry a desert prince with a black stallion. From that day forward, I wanted to learn to ride like him and the others we saw at the festival. My parents knew a riding instructor in the US and three years later I learned to ride and vault. Needless to say time reshapes our perspective on romance, but I have never forgotten my Tunisian Horseman. Phantoms of him, a love for horses, and the euphoria of desert life intermingle in a few of the tales I craft. All three of these left their lasting mark on me.

Douz Animal Market, Tunisia

Douz Animal Market, Tunisia

Perhaps the two most precious gifts North Africa bestowed on me consist of language and a willingness to be open to new things. In school, it was mandatory we study French, Arabic and English. Not many American children receive the opportunity to start working with three languages in elementary school. By the time we left Tunisia, I had a fluency and working level well above my age in all three. It was strange to come stateside and not use the French or Arabic any longer. I periodically revive my French and Arabic as they do fade without use. My studies with them provided a foundation to learn Italian and Latin later on in college. One day I hope to add Greek, Berber (Tuareg or Tamazight), and Turkish to my list of languages.

Learning to interact with an international community, sampling a variety of cuisines, and seeing the various lifestyles from living in modern cities, Bedouin tents, or underground homes in Matmata (think Luke Skywalker’s house in Star Wars) helped me start to appreciate and embrace diversity at a young age. This exposure continues to help me approach topics and people from a more curious and open perspective versus a judgmental one. Undoubtedly, North Africa firmly rooted my willingness to try just about anything once.
Caterina Novelliere author photoCaterina is passionate about history, music, romance, old languages, and travel. She regularly intertwines these subjects in her writing. She holds a degree in Music Management with a minor in Vocal Performance from Old Dominion University in Virginia and a second B.A. in History with a minor in Italian from the University of Texas San Antonio. Ever a glutton for punishment and a believer in life long learning, Caterina is completing a M.A. in Public History from Texas State University. She was fortunate enough to receive awards that enabled her to study abroad in Urbino, Italy and Chester, England. She took full advantage of these opportunities to explore Italy, Jersey, England, Scotland, and Wales; conducting boots on the ground research for her coursework and literary works. While she is a fan of all history, her heart resides in Antiquity. She enjoys studying time periods up through the Renaissance. Modern history is just not as fun as gladiators, emperors, caliphs, queens, knights and kings. An obsession with cappuccino and Greek coffee started her down a path of researching commodities and gastronomy history in her free time.

When not traveling or studying, Caterina finds time to sing classical music, act, write, paint and fence. She is always up for trying something new so the list of hobbies is ever expanding.

Caterina is a social media junkie who enjoys meeting new folks. If you would like to contact her or learn more about her and future works, you can find her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and on her Blog.

A big ‘Thank You’ to Caterina for taking the time to write this wonderful post for us and, for myself, digging up all the great memories I have of my own visit to Tunisia and the Sahara. Don’t forget to connect with her so you can stay apprised of her historical research, and future travels.

Also, be sure to check out her novel, Mark of the Night, to see how her experiences have affected her fantastic storytelling!

Mark of the Night cover

Cheers, and thank you for reading!

 

 

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The Holiday Historical Fiction Blowout! – For the Love of History

Historical fiction promotion twitter banner

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.

apollofinal

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.

Roman_Empire_3rd century

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.

SPQR

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!

At the Amphitheatre of Thysdrus (El Jem) where a gladiatorial combat scene takes place

At the Amphitheatre of Thysdrus (El Jem) where a gladiatorial combat scene takes place in Children of Apollo

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.

On safari in the Sahara

On safari in the Sahara

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.

At an Etruscan tomb that figures largely in the book

At an Etruscan tomb that figures largely in the book

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!

Be sure to download these titles during the Holiday Historical Fiction Blowout!

Be sure to download these amazing books during the Holiday Historical Fiction Blowout!

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

A Similar Taste in Books

Historical Period: Regency

Synopsis:

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”.

Website: http://lindabanche.blogspot.com

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

Kingdom of Rebels

Historical Period: Fifteenth Century – the Wars of the Roses

Synopsis:

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…

Website: www.derekbirks.com

Purchase at Amazon UK or at Amazon.com

Author Derek Birks

Author Derek Birks

 

Search for the Golden Serpent (Servant of the Gods, Book 1) – by Luciana Cavallaro

GoldenSerpent

Historical period: 600 BCE – Ancient Greece

Synopsis:

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.

Website: http://luccav.com/2015/11/28/hhfb/

Purchase at Amazon, Smashwords, and Kobo

Author Luciana Cavallaro

Author Luciana Cavallaro

 

Children of Apollo (Eagles and Dragons – Book I) – by Adam Alexander Haviaras

apollofinal

Historical Period:   The Roman Empire, A.D. 202

Synopsis:

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.

Website: http://eaglesanddragonspublishing.com

Available for purchase on Amazon, iBooks, and Kobo

Adam Portrait Twitter

Author Adam Alexander Haviaras

 

Sea Witch (Voyage One) – by Helen Hollick

SeaWitch

Historical Period: The Golden Age of Piracy – 1716

Synopsis:

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.

Website: http://www.ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com/

Helen’s books are available on Amazon

HelenH

Author Helen Hollick

 

INCEPTIO – by Alison Morton

INCEPTIO

Historic Period: Modern/Roman (alternate history)

Synopsis:

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…

Website: http://alison-morton.com/2015/12/01/holiday-historicals/

 Available for purchase on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks UK, iBooks US, Nook Book UK, and Barnes & Noble Nook (US)

Author Alison Morton

Author Alison Morton

 

Men of the Cross (Battle Scars I) – by Charlene Newcomb

MenoftheCross

Historical period: Medieval – 12th century

Synopsis:

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.

Website: http://charlenenewcomb.com/2015/11/30/holiday-historical-fiction-blowout

Available for purchase on Amazon

Author Charlene Newcomb

Author Charlene Newcomb

 

Flavia’s Secret – by Lindsay Townsend

FlaviasSecret

Historical Period: Ancient Roman Britain, 206 AD

Synopsis:

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.

Website: www.lindsaytownsend.co.uk

On sale at Bookstrand: http://www.bookstrand.com/flavias-secret

Author Lindsay Townsend

Author Lindsay Townsend

 

Thank you for visiting, and please help spread the word about the Holiday Historical Fiction Blowout!

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The Ruin – An Anglo-Saxon Poem of the Past

Ruins of the Roman Baths

Ruins of the Roman Baths

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.

Roman Bath

Roman Bath

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:

 

The Ruin

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,

it fell…..

grimly ground up ….

……cleverly created….

…… 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,

under…

until the circular pool …. hot…

…..where the baths were.

Then….

….. that is a noble thing,

how …. the city ….

 

(translation by R. M. Liuzza)

The Exeter Book

The Exeter Book

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.

Artist's reconstruction of Aquae Sulis

Artist’s reconstruction of Aquae Sulis

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.

Anglo Saxon poet

Anglo Saxon poet

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.

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The World of Children of Apollo – Part II – Roman North Africa

Temple of Peace  Thurburbo Majus

Temple of Peace
Thurburbo Maius

In this second instalment of The World of Children of Apollo, we are going to take a brief tour of some of the settlements of Roman North Africa.

When I say ‘Roman’ I mean located within the Roman Empire, such as it was at the beginning of the 3rd century A.D., when Children of Apollo takes place. In actuality, most of the ‘Roman’ settlements in North Africa were either of Phoenician or Greek origin, with the exception perhaps of the legionary base at Lambaesis and the nearby colonia of Thamugadi, the latter established for veterans of the III Augustan Legion.

Severan Basilica Leptis Magna

Severan Basilica
Leptis Magna

The southern Mediterranean coast was dotted with rich trading cities, settlements such as Apollonia, Cyrene, Leptis Magna, Sabratha and the once proud Punic capital of Carthage. Then there were the inland settlements of Thysdrus, Thugga, Thurburbo Maius and others. Where Egypt had long been the grain basket of Rome, the rise and wealth of these other settlements made them the new cornucopia of Empire. They were the leading producers of grain, oil, olives and garum (a highly popular fish sauce). The fact that Septimius Severus and his kinsman, the Praetorian Prefect Gaius Fulvius Plautianus, were from Leptis Magna ensured that the city and the region received imperial favour and capital investment.

The Forum of Sabratha

The Forum of Sabratha

Children of Apollo begins in the desert of Cyrenaica province, near settlements of Apollonia and the splendid city of Cyrene, both across the water from Crete. I was not able to travel to these two sites in modern Libya, but from my research they seem splendidly sited in the fertile lands near the Mediterranean. Apollonia served as a port for Cyrene which was surrounded by olive groves and fields of wheat and barley. Cyrene itself rivalled Carthage in size and prosperity.

Arch of Trajan Colonia of Thamugadi, Numidia

Arch of Trajan
Colonia of Thamugadi, Numidia

Moving west, one comes to the great city of Leptis Magna, the home town of Emperor Septimius Severus. Lucius does not visit this city in Children of Apollo, but rather in the next book, Killing the Hydra.

Leptis Magna garnered much wealth from its fertile lands with cereal crops and olives. Emperors Trajan and Hadrian had building projects there, but under Severus the city received much favour with a large new forum, a colonnaded street, a unique four-sided triumphal arch, a basilica, added warehouses and a lighthouse. Our main character, Lucius Metellus Anguis, gets his first real taste of politics in the town of Sabratha where he must make a very difficult decision that impacts later perceptions of himself.

Amphitheater of Thysdrus

Amphitheater of Thysdrus

When it comes to Tunisia, there are several Roman settlements. Lucius and his men end up attached to the III Augustan Legion at Lambaesis, on the rocky, Numidian plain of what is now Algeria. A unique feature of the base was its massive, enclosed parade ground which featured a viewing platform with an equestrian statue of Emperor Hadrian in the centre, a commemoration of that emperor’s visit to the base. Lucius meets up with some old friends at the colonia of Thamugadi which was founded by Trajan and featured high walls, a library and fourteen public baths.

Cells beneath the Amphitheater floor Thysdrus ('El Jem')

Cells beneath the Amphitheater floor
Thysdrus (‘El Jem’)

In northern Tunisia, we traded our 4×4 for an aged Toyota minibus driven by a silent but mad driver we affectionately dubbed ‘Sebulba’. His driving was like pod racing in Star Wars and our ‘Sebulba’ seemed just as reckless, his chosen vehicle eating up the road with a very loud chug-chugging sound. We passed through many different villages along the way, the most disturbing one being the ‘village of butchers’, so called by us for all the cow and goat heads that hung bleeding along the very side of the road, glossy eyed and lifeless.

One of the most interesting sites I visited during our Tunisian safari was Roman Thysdrus (modern El Jem). This settlement today is pretty unassuming except for the massive, extremely well-preserved amphitheatre in the centre. It was a real treat to sit in the seats of the amphitheatre, looking down on the scene of an imagined combat. I could not visit this site and not include a tense scene of gladiatorial combat, as seen by the legionaries on leave. Walking beneath the floor, along the cells where the animals and gladiators were kept, the sounds of those bygone days of barbarism and brutality echoed in my ears. The place definitely has memory. If you ever get the chance to visit El Jem, I would highly recommend it. It must have held some spectacular games in its day.

Roman Thugga

Roman Thugga

Another settlement that bears mentioning here, though it figures more largely in Book II of the Eagles and Dragons series, is Thugga. This is a sprawling settlement surrounded by olive groves and green plains. It featured a large theatre, a massive capitol, public baths, a hippodrome and a network of paved streets that you can still walk today. This was a place where I could see my characters walking, and interacting with others. It was helped by the fact that we were the only group there the entire time. It was deserted, a Roman ghost town. The mosaics that decorated homes, baths, taverns and brothels are still there, intact and open to the sky.

The public latrine is there too, where men and women feeling nature’s call would sit cheek to cheek, literally. I wonder what odd bits of conversation happened there? Would Romans sit there and chat away while they did their business or would they stare at the ground and try not to make eye contact as they made offerings to the Roman infrastructure. Maybe the public latrine was just a place to be avoided, a place where one entered at one’s own risk for fear of robbery or worse. It was just down the street from the brothel (named ‘The House of the Cyclops’), so perhaps those patrons were regular users. The imagination ran wild in Thugga!

Public Latrine Thugga

Public Latrine
Thugga

The final city we visited was Tunis, the ancient city of Carthage. Sadly, there was no sign of Dido, Aeneas, Hamilcar or Hannibal. When Rome razed Carthage to the ground after the Punic wars and salted its once-fertile earth, they built anew. And today, much of Tunis covers what the Romans built. There are however, some bits that are well worth the visit. One particular spot is the massive Antonine Bath complex which overlooks the sea. This was a quiet, sad site, surrounded by city, but it was still possible to glimpse the grandeur that it once exposited. Sadly, I was not able to see the great double harbour of ancient Carthage.

If you happen to be in Tunis, a must see is the Bardo Museum which contains much of the mosaics and statuary from all of the settlements of that part of the Roman Empire. This is a world class collection with some of the finest mosaics I have ever seen. It was there that the faces of Septimius Severus, Plautianus, Julia Domna and others stared back at me.

Antonine Baths Carthage (modern Tunis)

Antonine Baths
Carthage (modern Tunis)

Leaving Tunisia behind was bitter sweet for I knew that it may be a long while before I would be able to visit such ancient sites on a truly intimate basis again. Haggling in French in the bazaars was fun, as was the experience of seeing camel traders dressed in cloaks that looked a lot like Jawa outfits. I could have done without the bout of fever brought on by my poor choice of soup in Douz, but eating dates from a branch right off the tree was great. Such are the contrasts of travelling, but it all adds to the experiences required by research and writing.

In the next part of The World of Children of Apollo, we will meet the imperial family of the time, the Severans.

As ever, I look forward to your thoughts, questions and comments below!

Thank you for reading.

apollofinal

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