It’s no secret that I love history, and I suspect that if you are reading this blog or my books, you love history too.
This morning I was on my usual commute, herded into the cattle car, surrounded by myriad long faces, when I started to day dream. This time of year, I day dream a lot more, my mind clawing at the distant past, trying to find a way to immerse myself in the comfort of history.
What can I say? I’m a history geek through and through.
The truth is that when this hectic, modern world gets me down, I do indeed find solace in the past. I need to grasp at that thread in the labyrinth to get back to my place of balance.
So, I thought I would share some of the ways in which I connect with and get excited about history. I will do these things not only to immerse myself in history, but also to fire my creativity and imagination so that I am ready to get stuck into the next story.
Here are my Top 10:
#10 – Listen to Period Music
I always write to soundtrack music, but listening to music or interpretations of music from the ancient or medieval worlds is a different sort of experience.
While the music is playing, I may flip through a book, have a glass of wine, or just close my eyes and let my mind wander, imagining myself in an ancient agora, or walking the lonely halls of a castle.
There are a lot of great period music groups out there, one of my favourite medieval ones being the Ensemble Claude Gervaise, their album, Douce Dame Jolie in particular.
There are fewer ancient music groups, but lately I did come across a wonderful album called Musical Instruments of Ancient Greece by the Petros Tabouris Ensemble. I played this during a dinner in which we made some ancient dishes and it really added to the atmosphere. If you have access to Hoopla through your public library system, that is where I found it.
#9 – Maps
I love maps, and I use them frequently in my research and writing as they help me to better visualize the world and period in which I am working.
My favourite maps are the Ordnance Survey maps from Britain. This are military grade maps that give a wonderful level of detail, and the series of historical Ordnance Survey maps are the best for writing historical fiction, or simply exploring the past.
My go-to historical map is the Ordnance Survey map of Roman Britain. I used this a great deal in research in past years, but also when writing the upcoming Warriors of Epona (Eagles and Dragons Book III).
#8 – Primary Sources
When getting stuck into the past, you can only get so far on secondary sources, sources written by modern or later scholars about past ages.
If you really want to get a feel for a certain period in history, to hear things from the ‘horse’s mouth’ so to speak, then primary sources are key.
Most people are not able to read ancient Greek or Latin, so it’s lucky that almost everything is available in translation. Two series I like are the Loeb Classical Library, which is now available on-line, and the much more affordable Penguin classics range which you can find in most bookstores.
Both of these are fine and can really immerse you in the ancient and medieval worlds.
The problem with some classical or medieval texts is that they can go on sometimes, depending on the author.
I remember reading Froissart’s Chronicles on the Hundred Years War a while ago and being bored by the never-ending lists of nobles. So, for a modern reader, some of these sources can be a bit tedious. But not all of them are boring and, in fact, a great many are quite entertaining.
If you don’t want to pay for some of these primary sources, you can find a lot of them on the Project Gutenberg website, and the Perseus Digital Library.
#7 – Documentaries
I’ve written before about how I love to watch documentaries in a previous post called ‘Roaming the Past’.
There are so many great documentaries available on YouTube that with the touch of a couple buttons, you can be off on a grand adventure with some of the leading historians of the day.
The thing I like about documentaries is that they are the next best thing to actually going to a site. The presenters often go to places that are not accessible to the average person.
If they are well-done, documentaries are a wonderful way to unwind, to learn, and to escape into the past from the comfort of your own home.
I always get pumped about history after watching a good documentary!
#6 – Big Non-Fiction Books
When it comes historical landscapes, ancient ruins, or castles, a picture definitely speaks a thousand words.
That’s why I love to sit down on a quiet Sunday morning, or after a stressful day at work, and peruse the large, full-colour pages of some of my favourite coffee table books.
I have several of these mighty tomes at home and they can always be relied upon to help me escape into history.
From a book on the Parthenon and ancient Athens, to ancient Rome, the castles of Britain, world archaeology, Egypt, and the travels of Alexander the Great, every time I heft one of these titans I’m guaranteed to get lost for a while in the best possible sense.
#5 – Visiting Museums
What better place to get in touch with different periods of history than in your local house of the Muses.
If you live in a big city, chances are you have access to a museum with a decent collection. Two of my favourites are the new Acropolis Museum in Athens, and the British Museum, entry to the latter being free!
You may also have a small, local history museum near you that could be of interest, so be sure to check it out.
Museums are a great way of connecting with people of the past, of getting close to the normal everyday objects that our ancestors used. These can add the texture to the greater historical picture we are imagining.
#4 – Living History Displays
When it comes to people dressed up in historical costume and swinging swords around, most of you may think of mad Renaissance festival goers with bad accents, and supremely laughable movies like The Knights of Badassdom or All’s Faire in Love (both are on Netflix).
These sorts of flicks can be fun, but they are not the living history displays I’m referring to.
If you want to really get into history, you should go and attend a display of one of the many living history, or re-enactor groups near you.
The people who take part in living history displays are not only die-hard history fans, but also serious researchers who have helped to further our knowledge of the past alongside our academic brethren.
Living history re-enactors use ancient and medieval methods and tools to create weapons and utensils, fabrics, horse-harness and all the other everyday implements of the past. They bring famous battles to life, and put on displays that show us how, for instance, Roman siege engines work.
For many people who have been bored by history through textbooks in school, living history re-enactments can be a welcome breath of fresh air that awakens a love of the past.
No matter what historical period you’re interested in, there is certainly a group of re-enactors that fits the bill. Ask around and see what is going on in your area, especially during the summer months.
Many of these groups put on displays at historic sites like Hadrian’s Wall. You can ask some questions, swing a sword, and maybe even try on some armour!
#3 – Watch Movies
Whenever any historical movie comes out, there is never any shortage of complaints on-line about the accuracy, or lack thereof, of the film.
And it is true that most historical movies do not depict the history exactly as it was. Of course not! They are telling a story and they have to work within the confines of their medium, and of their particular budget.
But I love watching movies that take place in an historical setting, even if it is rife with errors. It gets me excited about history. Period.
I’ve said before that Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves was the movie that really turned me on to studying history. People laugh at me for that (and that’s ok!), but I say that that movie started me reading everything I could get my hands on about the 12th century, warfare, and the Middle Ages. And in reading further, I found out how things really were. The movie made me want to learn more about history.
Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not!
So, if watching movies is something that you love and enjoy, ignore the critics and just go for it, whether you’re watching 300, Kingdom of Heaven, Troy, Pompeii, Gladiator, or any other period flick. It doesn’t matter, so long as the setting is historical, you are bound to get switched on.
#2 – Read Historical Fiction
Now I may be biased here, but I read a lot of historical fiction, almost exclusively.
Setting my bias aside, however, I truly believe that historical fiction, if done well, can both entertain and educate. It can move people’s hearts and minds, and give them an in-depth look at the past, the people, places, ways of thinking, and ways of living.
I really do believe that historical fiction should be on the curriculum for history classes at every level. It brings history to life in a more accessible way than non-fiction text-books, and in a deeper way than any film.
The reader is put smack dab into the history of the period the book is about. The reader can get lost, immersed in the history for as long as they want to read, or until the book ends.
Historical fiction, in a way, paints a more complete picture of the past, and is not constrained by any budget, or medium.
In writing historical fiction, or historical fantasy, anything goes, and there are no limits to the places a reader can be taken.
Finally, my number one activity for getting excited about history…
#1 – Site Visits and Travel
I think I fell in love absolutely with history the first time I set foot inside a real castle. I believe it was Warwick Castle in England.
I can remember walking around, not only impressed by the sheer scale of the place, but mesmerized by the battlements, the towers, the rooms filled with armour.
Most of all I was amazed by the lives people actually led in the past.
Visiting an archaeological site, a castle, a ruin, or an ancient landscape, however big or small, is unlike any other experience.
I’m a firm believer that travel is the best education, and site visits are the perfect way to put you in touch with history and the people of the past.
I’ve written about the sites I’ve visited a lot on this blog, most recently ancient Argos, Epidaurus, and Nemea, but I remember every time I have visited an historic site. The experiences are burned in my memory.
Every time, I felt like I connected with the people who inhabited that place and age, that I gained a fuller understanding of them. I touched the altars where they worshiped their gods, smelled the air they smelled, heard the way the wind caressed the wall about their dwellings or as it rushed through their forests.
To stand on the top of Hadrian’s Wall I had an inkling of what it was like for a Roman soldier on the edge of the Empire. I’ve walked beneath the Lion Gate of Mycenae on my way to an audience with King Agamemnon, heard the battle cries of 300 Spartans at Thermopylae, and gazed across African olive groves to the Sahara from the arches of a remote desert amphitheatre.
Until virtual or augmented reality are perfected, there is no better way to connect with the past than standing where ancient people stood, seeing what they say, touching what they touched.
The problem with this is the cost of travel. I don’t travel nearly as much as I would like. But, if you can manage to save to go to a place of history that you’ve always wanted to visit, the memories of that journey will sustain you for a long time and give you a much greater understanding of the past.
I hope that you’ve found this interesting, and that it had perhaps given you some new ideas about how to connect and get excited about history in the chaos of modern life.
How do you like to connect with and get excited about history?
Is it something on the list above, or do you have your own preferred activity?
Let us know in the comments below. There are always new adventures waiting for us!
Thank you for reading.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
Cheers, and thank you for reading!
I have a weakness for souvenirs.
Whenever I travel, I like to purchase something that reminds me of my evanescent days abroad. I don’t mean tacky, mass-produced rubbish that wasn’t even made in the country I visited.
I like to purchase something that is made locally, by local artists, with care and attention to detail.
One of the places I visited on my recent trip to Greece was ancient Epidaurus, home to the magnificent theatre, and the Sanctuary of Asclepios, one of the great centres of healing in the ancient world. I’ve been to this site a few times before, and never get tired of it. More on ancient Epidaurus in a later post.
It was a scorcher of a day on the archaeological site, the cicadas whirring, the smell of pine and wild thyme in the air. After a few hours, we left the site with one more stop in mind: the ceramic workshop and store, Ceramotechnica Xipolias.
Now, in Greece, there are many stores that sell pottery. It’s one of the tourist staples. However, there are few places where you can see the actual workshop, and speak with the artists.
I visited the Ceramotechnica Xipolias on my first visit to Epidaurus years ago, and have returned other times. Their museum replicas are some of the best around, they are generous with their time, and they don’t pressure you to buy while browsing.
I always look forward to stopping there and picking up a new piece…or a few. This place, to me, is like a candy shop to a child. I missed it on my last visit to Greece, so it was time to go back!
Ceramotechnica Xipolias has been run by the Xipolias family since the mid-seventies, and it is a testament to the quality of their work, and the friendliness of the people that it is still going strong.
When we pulled up in our car, it was during the afternoon lull, or siesta. The place was quiet, dark even, and I worried that we had missed the opening hours.
Luckily, the door opened and the lights flickered on to reveal rows of welcoming shelves chock-full of history. Some music came on, and out came Dimitra Xipolia, the proprietor, and one of the nicest people you’ve ever met. She greeted us warmly and invited us to look around.
So we did. I felt giddy as I walked among the rows of museum replicas of the Geometric, Minoan, and Mycenaean periods. The work was fantastic, so detailed, so accurate, and very affordable. I started making my mental list right away!
After a few minutes of browsing, Dimitra invited us to see how a Pythagoras cup works. I had never heard of a Pythagoras cup before, so I was thrilled to see how it worked. Dimitra told us that apparently, Pythagoras wanted his students to have equal measures of wine in class, so he invented this cup with a sort of rise in the middle and a line around the edges.
Students were to fill their cups only to the line, and so, get equal measures. But, if a student got greedy and filled it passed the line, all of the contents would leak out a hole in the bottom of the cup and onto the floor! I’m not sure of the exact science behind it, but it was fun to witness.
After that, we spoke with Dimitra about Ceramotechnica Xipolias, and she explained that all their work is made and painted in-house, by family members, and that all the paints, clay etc. are non-toxic.
After always being so careful about avoiding toxic products, I found it shocking that these lovely mugs, cups, dishes, pitchers, and so much more, were perfectly safe for everyday use, even safe for children! In addition to being non-toxic, Dimitra explained that their work is also dishwasher and microwave safe.
Once I heard that, my mental list got bigger, not just because of the beauty and quality of the work, but also because back home, it’s very difficult to find such non-toxic quality at an affordable price.
I picked out a few pieces, including what I’m calling my ‘writer’s mug’ for coffee. I love the scenes of the ancient world that are painted on their products, as they provide me with a lot of inspiration as I work. But there are also many unique pieces on display, not just historical replicas.
After I chose a few pieces, Dimitra invited me to walk around. In the pictures that are part of this post, you can see the area where the painting is done, the massive kilns where the pottery is baked, and the potter’s wheel where the clay is shaped into numerous designs reminiscent of the ancient world.
Our time at Ceramotechnica Xipolias was not just about picking up a few souvenirs. It was about learning and appreciating art and ancient ceramic making techniques. Our visit was about tradition, and with such a warm welcome, it also felt like a visit with friends.
I’m glad to say that all of our pieces made it back home without a crack, thanks to Dimitra’s expert wrapping.
When we have people over now, these works of art are also centrepieces of conversation. Our friends ask about the fantastic olive dish we have on the table, or the mythological scenes on our new cups. And that’s when I talk about the people who made them.
In this age of mass produced-everything, it’s refreshing to hold a product that is handmade with precision, care, and artistry. It’s also of utmost importance these days to support local artists and industry, in Greece and around the world.
I asked Dimitra if they ship around the world, and they do, with a guarantee that if something breaks in transit, they’ll replace it. With the holiday season around the corner, perhaps this is something to consider when shopping for your favourite history-lover or philhellene.
You can check out Ceramotechnica Xipolias’ work on Etsy, Facebook, and on their website at www.xipolias.gr. On the website there are just a few examples of the fine work they do. As you can see in my photos, they have a lot more on offer. If you place an enquiry via the ‘Contact Us’ tab to let them know what you are looking for, I’m sure they’ll be more than willing to accommodate.
Giassou for now!
Thank you for reading.
Greetings readers and fellow history-lovers.
Well, I’m back from my adventures across the sea, and I had an amazing, blessed time.
I tried to keep you all up-to-date via the Instagram feed, but my Peloponnesian connectivity was a bit dodgy.
Needless to say, I’ve got a tonne of pictures and some video which I’ll be sharing with you over the coming months.
I didn’t get to all the sites I wanted to see, but I did manage to visit the ancient theatre and agora of Argos, which I’ve wanted to see for years. I also made return visits to the theatre of Epidaurus, as well as the Sanctuary of Asclepios there. In Athens, I made a return visit to the Acropolis, and the new museum which was amazing.
Normally, I would have taken in many more sites, but this trip was more about family and friends for me. That said, just driving across the landscape in Greece, or swimming in the turquoise sea, is not only inspiring, it’s also a form of research. This ancient landscape, especially in the Peloponnese, remains relatively unchanged, from the incredible light and colour, to the flocks of goats and sheep bounding up mountainsides, to the whirring of cicadas in the dry, pine-scented heat. You step back in time in rural Greece.
I’ll share my experiences of the sites and more with you in future blog posts.
As for the book I had planned on finishing, well… let’s just say that the goal I had set myself was unrealistic. I managed to finish about a third of Heart of Fire, and I’m happy with that. Here’s why:
For the first half of the trip, I was getting up at about 7 am every morning to write outside for a couple of hours, but, as the ‘schedule’ began to fill with visits from dear friends and family I hadn’t seen in a long time, it became harder to squeeze in the writing time. Worse, I began to stress about getting that writing time!
That’s when I had an epiphany.
I realized that my vacation was slipping by, and that I was wasting my precious time worrying and not relaxing. After all, isn’t that what vacations are for?
I also remembered that, in the past, I wasn’t trying to squeeze in writing while on vacation. I was always absorbing the history, the sights, the smells, and the feel of the world around me.
The writing was always something that came afterward, when I was missing the places I had been to, reviewing my mental tapes of the entire odyssey. I forgot that I would have an acute case of the ‘Aegean Blues’ after my trip, and that this would be something I could use well after the fact.
So, about half-way through my trip, I stopped worrying and began to absorb and enjoy much more. I wrote when I could, but I just let it go if the day was not conducive to it – plenty of time to write afterward.
I’m happy with what I’ve written of Heart of Fire so far, though as often happens when writing historical fiction, there are a few research gaps I need to fill in. That’s fine, as it keeps me immersed in the period.
This was a wonderful holiday and it reminded me what a lovely country Greece is, the land, the sea, the history, the people. I miss it already, and I can’t wait to go back.
I’m struggling now, back in my cubicle. Honestly, who wouldn’t? But I’m writing full speed ahead.
On Friday, I finished the first draft of an Eagles and Dragons series prequel novel which I have kept secret till now (more on that to come!). It’s called A Dragon among the Eagles.
Now, I’m going to stay put in the year 396 B.C. and Heart of Fire, until the story is completed.
That’s the update for now.
Thanks for following along, and thank you for reading!
I’m going on vacation for the next few weeks, but you can see my daily posts here:
I’ll be taking a pause from the blog until mid-September, but I won’t be off the radar.
I’ve set myself a challenge.
As part of my vacation abroad (you’ll have to follow the Instagram photo stream above to see where I am!), I’m hoping to write a full, first draft of my next book, tentatively titled Heart of Fire.
I may be mad, but I’ve got the research done, and the story outlined. So, we’ll see. If the Muses are with me, I may feel the olive crown resting lightly on my brow. If not, well, it will have been a good experiment.
But I’m determined to get this done, and I’d like you to all follow the journey via the pictures above. If you’re on Facebook, you can ‘Like’ the Eagles and Dragons Facebook page too, since the photos will be flowing directly to that (as well as Twitter) from Instagram.
I just hope I have connectivity where I’m going! What I do know is that there will be history, and beauty, and all the things that inspire a good story.
I’ll try to post a daily picture of a site, an inspiring view, a writing spot and more. I’m also going to try and get some video footage which I’ll be using in the coming months.
I can’t wait to share the adventure with you, and get stuck into the magnificent story I’ve got banging around in my head.
So, stay tuned, and enjoy the rest of your summer.
Cheers, and thank you for reading!
I don’t know about you, but in this post-holiday time of the year I’m feeling a bit down.
This past week, like many I suspect, I went back to my small square-of-a-cubicle at my day job to get on with ‘regular work’.
That’s always tough, and, despite hitting the weights, yoga, meditation, going to see the new Hobbit movie, and all other manner of uplifting activities, fighting those back-to-work doldrums can make you feel like a lone centurion facing down a Parthian cavalry charge.
But, as ever, there is hope and enlightenment to be found in history.
One thing that I’ve always found is that getting lost in your favourite period of history can wipe out the New Year blues and make you feel like you have some reinforcements at your back.
One way in which I do this is to watch ancient and medieval history documentaries. The combination of knowledge, travel log, archaeological discovery, and ancient innovation always fills a void and reignites my passion for history. And the human stories behind the history never fail to make that Parthian cavalry charge feel smaller and more manageable.
Today I wanted to share with you some of my very favourite documentary series to help temper your own version of cubicle-itis, and get you through the next few weeks as we step into the jaws of Winter (at least in the northern hemisphere).
As with all of these shows, much hangs on the presenter.
Remember, we’re dealing with history here, and most people don’t have very fond memories of their school history classes. Documentaries are dynamic school rooms and it all hangs on the teacher/presenter.
I can’t stand it when a television presenter is overly academic, snooty, blustery, or arrogant. The show should always be about the subject matter, not the host’s ego.
And so, the following shows are on my list not only because of the fascinating topics, but also for the quality of the hosts, their respect and passion for the subject matter.
For me, Michael Wood has presented some of the most fascinating documentary series since the late 70s. His In Search of series covers everything from the Myths and Heroes, to the Dark Ages, Anglo-Saxon England, and Shakespeare. However, the most fascinating of this series, for me, and for many archaeologists I know, is the six-part In Search of the Trojan War.
I highly recommend this series. It’s not just about the Trojan War itself, but the Bronze Age in general. You’ll even learn about the Trojans, the Greeks, and the Hittites!
My absolute favourite Michael Wood documentary, however, is his magnificent series entitled In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great.
In this three-part series, we journey with Michael along the entire route taken by Alexander’s army all the way from Macedon and Greece, to Tyre and Egypt, through war zones controlled by the Taliban to the Hindu Kush on into India and back. There are times when Wood was in danger too, but he is intrepid and curious, and you really get a feel for what the journey might have been like, visiting landscapes which few people will ever see in person.
At the time of filming, Wood was unable to visit the battlefield of Gaugamela, but after the second Iraq war, he returned to the area to film a follow-up documentary called Alexander’s Greatest Battle which is also well worth a look.
If you watch any of these videos, and have an interest in Alexander the Great, In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great is the one I recommend you watch. Here is the long trailer for it:
Next up we have another British historian and broadcaster whose list of documentary credits is just as astounding as Michael Wood’s, perhaps even more varied.
Bettany Hughes has done documentaries on ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, and she’s looked at Helen of Troy and Nefertiti, Atlantis, ancient engineering, Democracy, and sex in the ancient world.
She has that passion that is so essential to teaching history, and she doesn’t sugar-coat the past. In fact, she gets down to the nitty-gritty, dirty details, and can tear down with style the romantic images that cloud our view of the past; her documentary Athens: The Dawn of Democracy is one such show.
Bettany seems to have a truly adventurous spirit too, which is great. Just recently she was tweeting out from modern Georgia and the land of Medea and the Golden Fleece where she was shooting for a new show.
My favourite documentary series that I have seen thus far from Bettany is The Spartans. This three-part series provides a fantastic look at the nature of Spartan society, its past glories, and its downfall. You’ll definitely want to see this one!
Our next presenter is probably the jolliest character of the group. He is a scientist, a historian, a broadcaster, and much much more. If you look at the range of his work, you’ll see that he covers a wide range of topics besides history.
The reason I’ve put Adam Hard Davis on this list is because his BBC series, What the Romans did for Us, is the most interesting documentary series I’ve ever seen that looks at the practical side of the Roman world.
In this series, Adam shows us numerous inventions and innovations to come out of the Empire. And the cool thing is that these are all things that we still use in some way, shape or form today.
Did you know that a Roman invented the hamburger? Or that the Romans had invented a fire engine? There are all sorts of wonderful surprises in this fantastic series, hosted by a man who loves what he does and has a child-like curiosity and enthusiasm that is truly contagious. You’ve got to watch this!
Our next documentarian is British Egyptologist, historian, and author, John Romer.
He has done several shows on the ancient world, but the one that introduced me to him remains, for me, his very best.
Watching Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is a wonder-full journey to these magnificent sites that have captivated the human imagination for ages.
Romer does not give us the usual academic tour of these ancient tourist attractions. Rather he gets up close and personal with the ruins, the landscape, and the people who lived in those places. He mesmerizes the viewer with his poetic admiration of everything about these places.
In this series, Romer looks at the hidden corners surrounding the Seven Wonders. He’ll admire the grand design and architecture, but also the fine details of a hidden relief that decorates a forgotten piece of history.
Some people might think of Romer as melodramatic, but I think he is more passionate than anything. He loves ancient culture, history, and the people who created these timeless monuments.
This next presenter is relatively new to the history documentary scene compared with those I have mentioned above, but when I first saw one of his shows, I knew he would be an ancient history documentarian who would get a whole new generation of students interested in history.
Michael Scott’s style is cool and interested. He is very knowledgeable, and has great passion for the subject matter he is talking about. Definitely not your typical, dry academic!
His most recent series is called Roman Britain from the Air, which began airing last month. I haven’t seen that yet, but I’m looking forward to checking it out.
Most of his documentaries are about ancient Greece, however, and the one that I wanted to mention here is his three-part series Ancient Greece: The Greatest Show on Earth.
This show was a bit of an eye opener for me. Not having studied ancient Greek theatre, it came as something of a surprise that ancient Greek drama was so closely linked to the birth of Democracy, and that it played such an essential, pivotal role in ancient Greek society.
If you want to learn a lot about ancient Greece, in a fascinating and entertaining way, you should definitely watch Michael Scott’s series. After watching this, you’ll want to get yourself on a plane to Greece as soon as you can!
Wait! Richard Harris, the actor? Yes.
My last entry here is not an academic or historian, but he sure was an entertainer, and sometimes larger than life.
One of my primary refuges from the madness of the world is the Arthurian realm, and so I could not offer up this list of blues-chasing documentaries without mentioning my favourite Arthurian documentary.
Many of you may have seen Richard Harris in the first couple of Harry Potter movies as Professor Albus Dumbledore. Personally, I liked him as the Emperor Marcus Aurelius in the movie Gladiator, and King Richard the Lionheart in the movie Robin and Marian. Actually, Richard Harris rarely ever disappointed in any of his film roles over the years of his magnificent career, including as King Arthur in the film version of the musical Camelot.
The latter was the reason he was chosen to host this single documentary on Britain’s most famous hero.
Arthur: King of the Britons came out not long before Richard Harris’ death in 2002. This is a wonderful documentary of this myth, history and archaeological discoveries surrounding the person of Arthur.
Rather than seeking to tear down or dismiss the theories about an historical Arthur, this documentary looks at the real possibilities and evidence for the existence of Arthur. This is not about late medieval knights in shining armour.
This documentary is about the search for the person who may have been the historical Arthur, the Romano-British warlord who held off the Saxons for a brief time in the early sixth century A.D.
What I love about this documentary are the visits to Tintagel Castle, and South Cadbury Castle, as well as the digital recreations of these and other sites. It gives a magnificent perspective of them, and the latest research at the time.
As I mentioned in that post, I had been working as an archaeologist on the dig there, which happened to be during the time of the filming of Arthur: King of the Britons!
Unfortunately (well, sort of unfortunately), I was in Greece when the film crew and Richard Harris showed up at the site. So, I missed meeting the great actor himself – and my dig mates made sure to tell me! However, you can see my dig director, Richard Tabor, on the video, which is pretty cool.
Richard Harris is legend, and so what better actor than one who has played Arthur, to present this documentary. He is cool, captivating, and powerful as he tries to unravel the mythical Arthur, and bring us face-to-face with the Arthur of history.