Saturday, 18 November 2017


Happy Saturday to you! 

and happy slightly belated birthday to Vespasian.  

Vespasian -Wikimedia Commons
I should have got this information posted yesterday on the 17th of November but new writing had me sidetracked and the day disappeared. Though perhaps not the most famous of the Flavian emperors, the one below started the family tradition of claiming emperor status. In a sense, though, he is the most important Ancient Roman Emperor for me as I write my Celtic Fervour Series. He was the emperor of the Roman Empire during Books 1 and 2, and for a part of Book 3. 

General Gnaeus Julius Agricola is mentioned in Book 3 but does not become a proper character till Book 4 of the series. However, what Agricola orders is very relevant to what my character Gaius Livanus Valerius undertakes. And, in turn, Agricola as general of the Brittanic armies and as Governor of Britannia is under orders of the Emperor Vespasian. 


Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus
Vespasian - Jewish Revolt 
Generally known as Vespasian, he was born on the 17th November A.D. 9 in Falacrinae, a village north east of Rome. His paternal grandfather, Titus Flavius Petro, elevated the otherwise undistinguished family when he became a centurion and fought for Pompey at the battle of Pharsalus. Vespasian’s father, Titus Flavius Sabinus, became a customs official and gained himself further status when he married Vespasia Polla whose father was a camp prefect and her uncle a senator.
As the second son, Vespasian was not expected to achieve much his elder brother, Titus Flavius Sabinus, having pursued the cursus honorum. His brother progressed through the ranks of being a military tribune serving in Thrace, then as quaestor in Crete and Cyrene. By A.D. 40 Vespasian’s brother was a praetor, favoured by Caligula.
Vespasian, like his brother spent time in Thrace and Crete but his route to high office was different from his brother. When Claudius became emperor in A.D.41, Vespasian was appointed as the legate of the Legio II Augusta which was then stationed in Germania but by A.D. 43 the Legio II Augusta was on campaign under the command of Aulus Plautius during the Invasion of Britannia.

Nero sends Vespasian to Jerusalem 
His military career was interrupted by periods as Governor of Africa Province but by A.D. 66 he was back in command of a couple of legions, supported by considerable mounted forces and auxiliary units. His success in suppressing the ‘Jewish Revolt’ earned him a reputation for being fair, perhaps ruthless at times, but mostly just.
When control of the empire collapsed with the death of Nero in A.D. 68, Vespasian was in a strong position to overthrow the third of the temporary leaders during the civil war Year of the Four Emperors in A.D. 69. Galba had taken control after Nero but was soon murdered by supporters of Otho. In turn, Otho was defeated by Vitellius. The natural next leader for the supporters of Otho to turn to was Vespasian.
The Senate in Rome declared Vespasian emperor in his absence since he was in Egypt securing the all too needed grain supplies.
Vespasian does not feature as a character in my Celtic Fervour novels but during his reign as emperor he was instrumental in what happened during the campaigns in  Britannia from A.D. 69 through to A.D. 79.
Vespasian - Ostia

The construction of many major building programmes were authorised under Vespasian, the Flavian Amphitheatre (Colosseum) being one of them. Before the foundations could be laid for the Colosseum the decadent Domus Aurea (Golden Palace of Nero) had to be demolished. The huge lake at the heart of the Domus Aurea was drained and the foundations for the Colosseum laid in its place. 

The Templum Pacis (Temple of Peace) was also constructed during the reign of Vespasian – a building that is briefly mentioned by General Agricola in my current manuscript.

Vespasian sestertius A.D. 71 reverse 'Judea Captured',_from_Ostia,_69-79_CE,_Palazzo_Massimo_alle_Terme,_Rome_(13643233603).jpg


Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Civilised Society? Polite, or what?

Wednesday already?

The weekend vanished in a flurry of preparing for and attending one of the largest Christmas Craft Fairs in Aberdeen, Scotland. The AWA (American Women's Association) has been organising very popular Fairs for more than 2 decades and generally have very high turnout of shoppers. Sunday past was one of the good days. I had a great time, sold 25 novels and maybe a few ebooks.

But to the matter in hand...

For too long I’ve been struggling to write Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series. There was the not being disciplined enough thing. Not allocating enough of my ‘free’ time to the task.  But my slow rate of progress hasn’t really been an inability to type lots of words. My not feeling satisfied with what I was writing, and the path that the story arc was taking, was the crux of the matter. Till recently, it just wasn’t working for me—my ‘dump’ bin being larger than the current manuscript of around 80 thousand words is a bit telling.

Is that civilised, I ask you?  Not being refined enough is exactly the problem!
A Roman Art Lover - L. Alma Tadema Wikimedia Commons

One of the main issues I’ve had to ponder (A LOT) about is what the Ancient Roman General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola found worthwhile during the invasion of Northern Britannia (Northern Scotland) in the autumn of AD 84, and what wasn’t worth bothering about. As a patriotic Scot, that phrase ‘worth bothering about’ is a hard one for me to swallow but the truth, in my opinion, is that Northern Britannia  i.e. the lands of the Caledonian allies, would not provide Rome with the revenues it needed for the territory to be part of the Roman Empire. 

So what did Agricola actually do in Northern Britannia? He marched his armies to the current Moray Firth (reasonable ground evidence for this).
He maybe had a big battle at the elusively referred to battlegrounds of Mons Graupius (biased written evidence for this)… and then he left quite soon after to go back to Rome.
From written records we know Agricola was back in Rome by late A.D. 84 (or perhaps early A.D. 85). That, of course, does not necessarily mean his whole army retreated southwards with him because there’s ground evidence, as  at the supply fortress of Inchtuthil, to suggest the Roman legions remained in parts of the north for about a couple of years after Agricola was recalled to Rome.

Lovely questions loom. Was Agricola recalled because his efforts in subduing the Caledon allies were unsuccessful? Was it because he could find nothing worthwhile to send regularly back to Rome? Was it purely political in that the current Emperor Domitian didn’t like the success Agricola was having in Britannia? Those answers remain enigmatic but give me plenty of leeway for writing my fictionalised version!

Essentially what it boils down to is that northern Britannia was going to be far too expensive for the Roman Empire to deal with. To ensure that sufficient future revenues were going to pour into the Roman Empire coffers from northern Britannia, the Roman Empire was going to have to spend a huge amount of effort, and loads of money, in maintaining thousands of troops in the north. It is notable, though, that Agricola (or whoever organised the building of Inchtuthil) seemed to be making long term plans for using it as a campaign and supply base- probably for the invasion of the rest of the north and for maintaining order after such events.

Wikimedia Commons
For years, one of the touted reasons for the retreat of the Ancient Roman armies from northern ‘Scotland’ was that the Caledonian tribes and their allies were so fierce, and so good at guerrilla warfare, that Rome couldn’t handle them. That has to have been partly true, there’s enough written references and some archaeological excavations on the ‘Gask Ridge’ to likely back this up. But I believe that ‘Society’ or more specifically a lack of ‘Civilised Society’ was the reason for 'Rome' choosing to retreat.

Amalgamated Dictionary Definitions
Society: - the aggregate of people living together in a more or less ordered community. Synonyms: the community, the public, the general public, the people, the population….band, federation, union, alliance,
Civilised society: - marked by well-organized laws and rules about how people behave with each other. A civilized society must respond to crime with fairness and justice; has a well developed system of government, culture, and way of life and that treats the people who live there fairly: A fair justice system is a fundamental part of a civilized society.

What the Caledons,  Taexali, Venicones and all of the other northern Late Iron Age tribes lacked was a ‘Civilised Society’. An already established society that Rome could plunder with relative ease, without huge expenditure of money, without entailing major  ‘military man hours’ of effort, and a society that could be forced to do Rome's bidding afterwards.

The Late Iron Age tribes (I use the broad term Celtic to describe them) of the north were not structured in a way that Rome would call Civilised Society. However, in no way were they barbaric.

In northern Britannia, the population of the tribes would have been relatively small compared to some of the tribes in southern Britannia (the south of England).  Approximately 2000 years ago, living off the land was a harsh life. If the farmers didn’t have sufficiently good harvests they starved,  especially if they had no other means of survival like stored commodities. An average lifespan was much shorter than now and early death from disease, or some other nasty reason, was common. Surplus stock, of anything, was probably a rarity.
Giovanni Panninni Wikimedia Commons

And surplus stock was what Rome needed from the lands across its Empire because the City of Rome some 2000 years ago had a population of around 1 million inhabitants. The countryside around Rome could not provide enough for feeding the City of Rome so they needed stock from the wider empire.  A massive grain supply, and other foodstuffs were also needed to feed the thirty plus Roman legions stationed across the whole Roman Empire.

According to the most recent archaeological excavations in northern Scotland the iron age tribes lived in small communities, perhaps a half dozen roundhouses, farming a small workable area that had been cleared of forests and the boggy land having already been drained. (It seems that the north east was generally pretty swampy, mossy or unproductive scrub land.) There would have been rules of behaviour and a code of conduct but within what would have been mostly an extended family situation, any infringements being locally dealt with.

Did northern Scotland not have any larger settlements, larger than a small village or a hamlet? According to finds by recent archaeologists it seems that no large Roman era towns have been identified. There’s no dated evidence of ‘kingship’ or larger tribal centres in the north /north-east of Scotland till after the Roman period in Britannia.(post A.D. 400) Since northern Britannia seems to have had no 'Ard Righ' (high king) to establish Roman society, the only way to ensure that future production was plentiful and civilisation of the tribes took place would have been to leave a huge amount of soldiers in situ i.e. 'Rome' doing all the work of civilising the natives.

The Baths at Caracalla
The lack of a local ‘king’ or tribal leader of a considerable amount of people would have been a huge disappointment: a severe frustration for Agricola. In previous invasion campaigns, after a Celtic tribe was subdued and treaties signed, the Roman general would have appointed the tribal chief as the person responsible for conducting Roman Law in a proper and just manner. That same chief (along with Roman officials) would have been responsible for ensuring that Roman ways were adopted in a relatively peaceable manner, and they would have been responsible for collecting the taxes due to Rome (harvest products, goods, and slave labour rather than money).

I'm glad as an amateur history enthusiast that the Romans came to my part of Scotland...but in a way I'm also very glad they didn't stay!
  • Civilised: -behaving in a polite way instead of getting angry
What price civilisation? I'm not sure what they would have done to the local natives during their 'take over' bid would have been polite and I'm very sure some tempers would  have been raised -A LOT!

Of course, there might have been sumptuous baths like those portrayed here by L. Alma Tadema. Wikimedia Commons. Have I ever mentioned I love his paintings- even if they are not quite what would have happened at the baths.


Friday, 10 November 2017

The House at Ladywell is coming soon!

Friday Greetings to you!

Actually, I can hardly believe that I've not posted for days. Time has run away with me again and this week has been mainly spent focusing on completing Week 5 of my FutureLearn #FLVirtualRome course which was thoroughly enjoyable. It's now a 'done and dusted' deal with the certificate on the way but I'm sure it won't be the only Ancient Rome research that I do because there's still so much to learn about Ancient Rome. That took care of most of my research reading this past week. 

As for my fiction reading for pleasure that continues to be my re-reading of Diana Gabaldon's first 3 'Outlander' novels. I'd forgotten just how long they were back in the early 1990s when I first read them. 

After they're finished I've a kindle worth sitting waiting for me - an exaggeration, for sure, but I do have quite a few in my kindle queue. I also have a couple I can't quite access yet, and one of those is The House At Ladywell by Nicola Slade which is on pre-order just now from Amazon. I won't ahve too long to wait, though, since it's being published next week on the 14th of November 2017 by Crooked Cat Books

It sounds just a tiny bit scary but very intriguing. See what you think from the blurb and the very arresting cover! 

Here are the details: 

Nicola Slade

A hare carved in stone and the scent of flowers in a house full of echoes – can Freya’s inheritance help her to leave the past behind?

Had I gone completely crazy that first day? To open the door, take one astonished look round, and decide on the spot that I would live there?
To fall in love with a house?’

When Freya Gibson inherits an old, run-down property she has no idea she is the last in a long line of redoubtable women, including the Tudor nun who built the house. Unknown to Freya these women, over centuries, fought with whatever weapons came to hand – deception, endurance, even murder – to preserve their home and family.
Freya falls in love with the house but her inheritance includes an enigmatic letter telling her to ‘restore the balance’ of the Lady’s Well. Besides this, the house seems to be haunted by the scent of flowers.

 In the past the Lady’s Well was a place of healing and Freya soon feels safe and at home, but she has demons of her own to conquer before she can accept the happiness that beckons.
Pre-order and Buy Link HERE
Happy weekend reading.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Busy, busy!

Saturday Greetings to you!

My week has been extremely busy writing wise, most of which has been out and about talking about and selling my novels.

On Wed 1st November, I spent a lovely evening with 30+ ladies from the Kinellar SWI who had asked me to give them a talk/ presentation about my novels. They wanted a mixture of my writing background; the novels I've had published to date; and a little bit more about Roman Aberdeenshire- all of which I was delighted to give them along with a PowerPoint presentations of relevant images.

They were an extremely appreciative and intent audience, some of whom asked brilliant questions afterwards. I sold some books and though I live only some 4 miles from the venue, the travelling expenses were welcome.

Friday and Today 3rd and 4th of November, I'm out selling (and signing) my novels at Thainstone  Centre Christmas Craft Fair. The durations are Friday 5 hours and today (Saturday) 6 hours, so a longer time away from the keyboard. The weather is fine so we're (the attending crafters) all looking forward to a good turnout. Yesterday evening, the Fair being from 3 p.m. till 8 p.m. we were in competition with the Kintore Bonfire and Fireworks night (only 2 miles away from Thainstone Venue) but today there will hopefully not be any other large event taking away the local custom.

Here's hoping it's a good shopping day because I'm hoping to sell a lot of my stock! Yesterday, and Wednesday evening, the popular one was Topaz Eyes. Updates later...


Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Crappit Heid an 'a!

Welcome to my Wednesday post. 

Today was my turn to post at my regular x 2 per month Writing Wranglers Blog. Since Hallowe'en is now over and I have done a post on Scottish Hallowe'en already for them, I decided to post some interesting facts about Scotland.

Here's a bundle of random facts...

Loch Morar is Scotland’s deepest loch. As Loch Ness is home to the famous monster Nessie, Morar’s monster is named Morag. It might be new knowledge that sightings of Morag hit the headlines well before those of ‘Nessie’! I'd love to see Morag since she's said to be a lot more like a mermaid. 

Crappit Heid. They say that Scots are canny with their money and very practical people who hate wasting anything. I’d say that’s true for many and I personally hate waste but I wouldn’t go so far as to make and eat ‘Crappit Heid’. I love fish and seafood, eat them frequently but I’m not keen to try an out of fashion Scottish fish dish of ‘stuffed fish heads’. Like many other subsistence foods of yesteryear crappit heid is as nutricious as the other more edible parts of the fish- it was all about inventing a simple recipe with available staples to make every part of the fish acceptable for eating. BTW – There is a old Scottish word ‘crap’ which means to stuff or fill hence crappit heid being stuffed heads. I won’t offend sensibilities here by showing an  image but click this link if you dare… and see how Crappit Heid looks when ready.

Haggis will soon be available in Canada after a ban of some 46 years (not sure yet about the US regulations). This is because my favourite Haggis producer—Macsween of Edinburgh—have produced a recipe that tastes exactly like traditional haggis but without the banned bits of sheep’s lung. I love haggis and eat it throughout the year with mashed neeps (orange turnip/swede) and tatties. A wee dram doesn’t pass my lips because, would you believe it of me? I don’t like whiskey. However, Scotland also produces some nice gins!

Wikimedia Commons
The tallest and longest  hedge on earth is said to be a European Beech hedge at Meikleour (A 93 road, Perth and Kinross, Scotland). It is in the Guiness World Records as being 100 feet high and about 1/3 mile long. It was planted in 1745 by Jean Mercer and her husband, Robert Murray Nairne on the Meikleour Estate. Some say it reaches the heavens because Robert Murray Nairne and the men who planted it, as Jacobite sympathisers, were killed at the Battle of Culloden. (The hedge is trimmed approx. every ten years and I totally sympathise with that because I used to hate trimming the beech hedge that lined my driveway. That was about 9 feet high and took me a whole week of my school summer holidays!)

Wikimedia Commons
Staying with horticulture: The oldest Yew tree in Scotland  is the ‘Fortingall Yew’. Said to be around 5000 years old, there are many tales associated with the Fortingall Yew and its surroundings. Near Aberfeldy, Perthshire, it has connections with early Christianity in Scotland. In 1769, the circumference was measured at 52 feet but what remains are the relics of the original tree. In the field opposite the village of Fortingall there is an ancient cairn (pile of stones) known as the ‘Cairn of the Dead’. During the 16th century the Great Plague (Galar Mhor) ravaged Scotland and many in the area died. Legend has it that an old woman, unmarked by the plague, carried the plague victims on a horse drawn sledge to a mass grave and placed a cairn there to mark their resting place.

Skara Brae is the oldest village in Scotland inhabited around 3100 B.C. It’s the best preserved Neolithic settlement in Western Europe.
Step inside the reconstructed neolithic house and experience what it was like before you wander the ruins of the village.

The shortest scheduled passenger flight in the world is from the Orkney island of Westray to Papa Westray.  Given good weather conditions the flight is less than ONE MINUTE.

Braveheart was the name given to Robert the Bruce not William Wallace so in the film ‘Braveheart’ Mel Gibson was using a fair bit of artistic licence!

There are approximately 790 islands in Scotland but only c. 130 are inhabited. People pride themselves in Munro bagging across Scotland (climbing mountains over 3,000 feet) but so far I’ve never heard of anyone ‘bagging Scottish islands’!

Scotland may be famous for images of a red stag but the official animal of Scotland is the unicorn. The unicorn has been a Scottish heraldic symbol since the 12th century, the coat of Arms seen here the one that was in use from the 12th century (William I) to King James VI of Scotland 1603. 1603 was the year of the Union of the Crowns, when King James VI of Scotland became the ruler of both Scotland and England. In 1604 he decreed he’d be known as King of Great Britain. By 1606 he created a new flag combining the crosses of St. Andrew (Scotland) and St. George (England). It was named the Union Jack, the ‘Jack’ part being a reference to Jacobus the Latin version of James.

The image below was taken on Abbey Strand Edinburgh. 

Wikimedia Commons


Saturday, 28 October 2017

Axe wielding Vikings!

Shieldmaiden by Marianne Whiting

This was an enjoyable novel. It has similarities to other Viking novels I’ve read (very reasonable due to the scant historical detail available) but there is freshness to ‘Shieldmaiden’ that keeps the interest high. 
It was a little bit confusing though, to find things about Cumbria that made me think twice about what I was reading, though I would have to do a lot of Viking Britain research to know what are the best know facts about Viking invasion of northern Britain, and when. 
 Vikings are so well known for their pillaging and plundering strategies but the fact that they left their own lands to find foreign land to farm was an essential part of their domination of parts of the UK
Heroine, Sigrid, has interesting links to Norwegian nobility that elevates her status but in essence the tribulations of surviving a harsh winter at a more, or less, subsistence level means she comes across as a very practical and hard working individual- if a little bit arrogant and naive at the beginning of the story. Ragnar, the love of her life, plays a less strong role in the novel but that emphasises Sigrid’s many strengths. She wields a mean sword but the tale is not overly gory! 
The duality of Viking pagan worship and new found Christianity comes across in the book as very realistic- I'm sure it was expedient to profess to of one faith or another depending on the life and death situation a person found themselves in at this time many hundreds of years ago.  A wavering faith also seems realistic when one faith is almost forcibly supplanted with another. 
I found the ending a bit abrupt but I’m thinking a read of Book 2 will no doubt solve that problem. 


You win and you lose....

Saturday Greetings! 

I'm late posting today since I've been out attempting to sell my novels at a local venue. Some of these days are fantastic and some a lot less so. Today was the latter but on the novelist front I did come home to find another new 5* review for The Taexali Game on Amazon UK. That is definitely the kind of boost every author needs! 

It's taken over two years to get some reviews for this novel but since the six reviews I now have are all 5* I'm glad people genuinely find it a great read. first post of the day is the lovely accolade for my time travel novel. My thanks go to Karen E. Proctor who took the time to write this lovely little review. 

She says:

"I’ve always been drawn to novels with a time travel element but find few novels deliver on their promise. The Taexali Game takes the idea of Time Travel and sets it in a computer game thereby making the concept wholly believable. I thoroughly bought into the idea. This is a fast paced, well written and thoroughly absorbing novel."

Find the reviews HERE

If you've also read The Taexali Game and have enjoyed reading it I'd really appreciate you giving it a similar mention on Amazon. If it gets something like 50+ reviews of high standard (5 or 4 stars) then Amazon just might begin to give the book more of a boost! I live in hope...


Monday, 23 October 2017

That's another entertaining read!

Monday Morning greetings to you! 

The dawn sky was very pretty this morning. I was hoping this meant that a good day was about to follow but that's already not the case as more rain is settling in at 11 a.m.

It's not really a problem though, since my intention is to write and read and research till late afternoon when some guests are due.

In the meantime...
Another recent read...

This novel was one that I acquired through my Amazon Kindle Unlimited and was recommended to me via one of the ebook sites that I've subscribed to.

I was in the mood for a very light read in the midst of lots of heavy research reading and this was just right for the occasion.

Reclaim My Heart by Donna Fasano 4*

This was an easy read with a feel good factor. The author highlights some issues of illegitimacy, possible abortion and adoption, prejudice and bigotry but does it sympathetically showing that major decisions made by parents can be for both good and bad reasons. 

The concept that life changing decisions can be made at different stages in a person’s life is evident in this novel but the author also points out that positives can be the outcome of negative deeds.

She has also set out, I believe, to show that negative influences of other people (e.g. parents) can be devastating to a younger person but that some people can change their opinions over time, though others may only manage a partial transition. The story of how Tyne and Lucas resolve their son Zach’s dilemma is a simple one and quite predictable but I liked how the extended family were included within the whole redemption situation. 

Love does find a way of making a HEA ending. 


Sunday, 22 October 2017

Mars Ultor-the avenger-and Augustus!

Sunday snippets!

Wikimedia Commons
This past week on my FutureLearn #FLVirtualRome course we were looking at Political Architecture- specifically in the ancient Forum and the Imperial Fora. We also had to consider the impact that various Emperors had on 'look' of the city of Rome. It was a great week and makes me want to blog about every single building. Though that won't happen immediately, here's the first of my observations of the Imperial Fora buildings- on the Forum of Augustus and the Temple of Mars Ultor.

To give a sense of where the remains are to be found in Rome these old maps have helped me place the Forum of Augustus relative to what is still left to view in 2017. 

(Most images are from Wikimedia Commons, the URLs at the end of the post)  

Wikimedia Commons
(The red marks above on the image show the placing of the Arch of Augustus.)

The Forum of Augustus, and the Temple of Mars Ultor, Rome

Augustus of Prima Porta Vatican Museums
According to the Roman writer Suetonius, on the eve of the Battle of Phillipi (42B.C.) Octavian vowed to build a Forum and a temple to Mars Ultor (Mars the Avenger) in Rome. He also vowed to avenge the assassination of Julius Caesar (d. 44 B.C.), his adoptive father. When his forces along with those of Mark Anthony defeated those of Brutus and Cassius the following day I’m sure his resolve to build the temple was doubled.  

As Emperor, Augustus completed numerous building projects in Rome that were begun by Julius, including the Forum of Iulius (Caesar), and he restored approx. 82 other temples. He imported many obelisks from Egypt and placed them around the city along with many statues in his own likeness. The building of the Forum Augustus and its associated Temple to Mars Ultor began to take shape somewhere around 20-15 B.C. They were designed to rival the Forum Iulius (Forum of Ceasar).

Forum of Augustus- Temple of Mars Ultor (Nancy Jardine)

First the land for the Forum Augustus had to be purchased at a huge cost, said to be 1 million sesterces and was paid for from the spoils of recent wars in Germany, Spain, Dalmatia and Egypt

The building work took many years after the site was excavated and was dedicated in 2 B.C. even though the Temple to Mars Ultor wasn’t quite finished. It’s not clear why the dedication ceremony was rushed but it has been speculated that it was done to match other special events of the year like the Ludi Martiales of May 12th, one of the new games started by Augustus. Or it may also have been chosen to augment the ceremony of the toga virilis for Lucius, one of the adopted sons of Augustus, Lucius being his heir. Receiving the toga virilis at fifteen meant Lucius was conferred as a consul, a role which he held for around 5 years. 
Wikimedia Commons

During the dedication ceremony of the Temple of Mars Ultor, 260 lions were slaughtered in the Circus Maximus, along with gladiatorial combat during which Lucius' brother Gaius took part with other youths, and there was a spectacular naval battle scene between  the Persians and the Athenians. It was also noted that 36 crocodiles were slaughtered in the Circus Flaminius which was flooded for the occasion – possibly another showcase for those unable to cram into the Circus Maximus or maybe held at a different time.
Italian unknown artist 17th century Wikimedia Commons
The Temple of Mars Ultor was said to have been crammed with military paraphernalia, including the sword of Julius Caesar and the reclaimed honour standards which had formerly been lost to the Parthians and were regained by Augustus.

Three towering Corinthian columns still remain and there are traces of vivid coloured marble that adorned the Forum floor. Traces can been seen in one corner of a huge statue of Augustus that was some 40 feet high- though I wasn't able to access that during my trip.

Some of the forum lies beneath the current highway created by Mussolini and should that ever be removed, it may be that fragments of the Forum of Augustus still lie beneath the road foundations.  
Roman Forum 1870s Feelix Bonfils (1831-1885)

As well as looking at historical details as recorded by ancient poets Virgil, and Ovid, and trying to absorb the factual details of the buildings recorded over the millennia, I've also tried to research as much as possible about the artwork created over time in paintings, drawings and photographs showing different stages of deterioration of the ancient buildings. I love looking at the different interpretations and try to piece together what I say on my own visit in May 2016 and what the artists have left available to study.
Claude Lorrain -painted c. 1634

Do you like making comparisons, as well? What do you think of the attached images? Which is your favourite representation of the Forum of Augustus and the Temple of Mars Ultor? 

It's time now for me to do some more of my current writing. Who knows which Forum building I might tackle next. (:-) insert smiley face) 




Saturday, 21 October 2017

Do I read as well as write?

Happy Saturday wishes to you!

I'm not actually in the 'zone' for  Storm Brian- it's currently hitting other parts of the UK - but we are in Aberdeenshire having more of the persistent downpours that my country of Scotland is famous for. So, What's new?  Weather wise, I've got another excuse for sitting at my keyboard and the autumn leaf tidy will have to wait for a drier day. 

I'm continuing with my non-fiction reading which now includes anything I can glean on the earliest road building in Scotland. My latest book is 'Britain's Last Frontier A Journey along The Highland Line by Alistair Moffat. It's packed full of information, as I expect it to be, so I'm reading it fairly slowly.

Other research reading is anything that keeps apace with my current FutureLearn course on Rome: A Virtual Tour of the city. It's a fabulous course and I thoroughly recommend it for anyone who wants to go beyond the tourist information gathering stages but not nearly to the depth that a degree course would entail. It is designed to encourage interest in the subject and, for me, it certainly does. Now I want to amass as much as I can about the Rome specifically of the era from AD 70 - AD 95. Updates on my progress will hopefully follow after some new writing this weekend. 

On the fiction front, I've read a couple of very different novels during this past couple of weeks.  The first mentioned below is the second in a series by a fellow Crooked Cat author, Jennifer Wilson. Jennifer is a seriously dedicated historian ( a marine biologist in her real world of work) and gets to grip with thoroughly researching the time period she writes about. Her concept of intermingling historical fact with fantasy is an interesting one, her cast of ghosts interacting among themselves in  public places of historical and current significance. 

In Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile, I liked reading about Scottish figures I had already read about and happily learned about new ones I hadn't encountered before but I have to confess to not really knowing the actual purpose of this well written tale. If I had had a clearer understanding of the story arc from start to finish as Queen Mary (Mary Queen of Scots) went through various scenarios, I would more likely have given it 5 * because the language of it is very well written, it flows easily and is a well edited novel. 

Here's what I've posted on Amazon and Goodreads.  

Knowing the Royal Mile in Edinburgh reasonably well, the next time I walk down it I’m pretty sure to be looking over my shoulder for all of Queen Mary’s ghostly retinue! Like Book 1 of the series, this well written novel is jam packed full of historical characters though they are now conducting ‘afterlife existences’- some in a different way from their mortal ones had been. An example would be the relationship of James V to Mary, Queen of Scots. The hierarchical strata, separating royalty from courtiers and commoners in real life, continue in this novel and these deferential roles emphasise the degrees of favouritism that once existed.  Darnley- what can I say? Is he getting a good deal in his ghostly life? No spoilers here, so you’d need to read yourself to decide.   

My next review will be on Reclaim My Heart by Donna Fasano. 

Happy Reading to you! I'm now onto a combination of a reread of Diana Gabaldon's 'Outlander' novels and I've also started one called 'Shieldmaiden' by Marianne Whiting


Thursday, 19 October 2017

What Did Those Ancient Romans Ever Do For Me?

Good morning everyone!

It's been a few days since I posted and here's a bit of why... 

Rome Aqueduct - Wikimedia Commons
I've decided that living in rainy Scotland isn't such a bad deal after all. Though we've had intermittent downpours and sometimes continuous drizzle for days and days we are lucky compared to many areas of the globe that are having horrendous wildfires, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and hurricanes. My part of Aberdeenshire just missed the effects of Hurricane Ophelia who was downgraded to a severe storm by the time she reached southern Scotland. For many of us in Scotland, a storm with winds of 70 mph was just  a wee blow, nothing special, and a 'good drying day' for the washing (laundry) hanging outside in between downpours! For sure, some roofs lost their coverings but not many, and those damaged were possibly not the best maintained anyway! Or, not built to last over the decades, or centuries, or even the Roman aqueduct above! 

Enough of weather, and I'm not going near politics since that's something that's also taking up some of my precious day's reading time. Politics in the UK, and also in Europe, is a definite hot potato right now.  They say there is more than one way to skin a cat and what is needed now are sensible options being taken up by blinkered voters and incompetent governmental leaders in the UK.  

So, I'll return to my title topic What Did The Ancient Romans Ever Do For Us? and explain why it's been a great reason for me being too busy to post on here. 

I posted on my regular slot yesterday (18th Oct) at Writing Wranglers and Warriors Blog about  What Did The Ancient Romans Ever Do For Us? but here I'll expand my notes a little further! 

That phrase in bold above might bring to mind many different scenarios. For me growing up watching UK television in the 1960s and 1970s, the first image would be of an irreverently funny show called Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The weekly show itself had many spin offs, one of which was a definitely irreverent feature film "The Life of Brian". In the film, a character (John Cleese) derisively asks “What have the Romans ever done for us?”  The answers from those assembled reply: err…sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system via aqueducts, public health…and our peace. 

From Youtube.

It's a very funny film though not to everyone's taste as it challenges some established theories of religion, dogma and the like...

Ancient Rome was an amazing place. It is a city that I’m learning more about every day during my FutureLearn Course - Rome: A virtual Tour of the Ancient City
Aqua Claudia by Pietro Sassi - Wikimedia Commons 

It’s only Week 2 of my course and I’ve already learned about some of the list above. It’s incredible to think of how inventive the original engineers of Rome were back in 312 B.C. when the first short aqueduct of 16 km (c. 10 miles), the Aqua Appia, brought a constantly running supply of fresh water into the city of Rome. The Aqua Appia was an underground channel but by 140 B.C. the Aqua Marcia (55 miles) had a about 6 miles of its total running over arches. By the first century A.D. there were around 11 aqueducts feeding the city’s 1 million inhabitants with fresh water. 

This site has information on another ancient Roman aqueduct built in the first century A.D.

The Ancient Romans didn’t only appreciate the fresh water coming into their city for drinking purposes. They also used it for:
  • continuous flushing out of their communal lavatories
  • supplying water to their communal bathhouses
  • for other domestic, trade and industry reasons
  • for sluicing down their streets and sewers 
  • and for feeding the many fountains around the city.  

Trevi Fountain, Rome -Wikimedia Commons
The famous Trevi Fountain in Rome is still partially fed from the Aqua Virgo which was initially constructed in 19 B.C. during the time of the Emperor Augustus. The Aqua Virgo brought in the fresh water from hills and streams some 18 km (11 miles) away from the city and was used as a source for 400 years till it fell into disuse around the time of the Fall of Rome in approx 397 A.D. during the ensuing 1000 years, some attempts were made to restore the aqueduct but it wasn’t till 1453 that it was properly restored to feed a fountain on the site of the present Trevi Fountain. 

By 1762 a fabulous new baroque fountain was created, the one we can view today in Rome known as the Trevi Fountain. The Trevi is famous for various reasons, one of which is the 1954 film “Three coins in the Fountain” that title song sung by Frank Sinatra, though he got no credit for it.  

This site has some info on where the name Trevi probably originates from and gives details of the fantastic sculptures around the Trevi fountain. 

BTW - I’ve also learned about the sewers of Rome but I'll leave that topic for another day! 

The architecture of the buildings of the Roman Forum are now holding my attention much more, although I confess to being fascinated that had the Ancient Romans settled in my part of Aberdeenshire, Scotland, my surroundings might have been very different from they are now.

Aqua Claudia -Wikimedia Commons

The longest unbroken stretch of an ancient above-ground aqueduct near Rome is the Aqua Claudia. 

I'm off now to do a bit more of my FutureLearn Rome course and some very neglected writing. 


Sunday, 8 October 2017

Highways and Byways!

Sunday again!

I really can't believe it when someone tells me that their week has gone slowly past. I never have enough hours in the day to do all I want to. It's always a case of squeezing something in.

I do make time for non-fiction reading as well as my fiction slots and some of my recent reading has been quite enlightening. It's easy to see why rumours can grow and why local folklore is deeply embedded in what people believe of a an area. While doing some research on the possibility of Ancient Roman roads in Aberdeenshire, I got myself a copy of a book I'd been recommended some months back (probably sometime during 2016). 

The book is an 'out of print' hardback that was published in Aberdeen in 1985 and is titled Highways and Byways Round Kincardine. My second hand copy has no dust jacket and I've no idea if it ever had one but there are many interesting photographs,maps and illustrations within.

What I have in Highways and Byways Round Kincardine  is a companion volume to a first book entitled Highways and Byways Round Stonehaven and is the work of Archibald Watt who certainly (faithfully and lovingly)  had tramped many miles to gather up his information. The book I have is essentially a book of local driving routes which also take the hiker off road for much of the time- sometimes through public access land and at others over farmland or local private estate land.

I'm not local to Aberdeenshire and I have little experience of Kincardinshire or the Mearns area but the book is a little gem of Watt's knowledge gathered over decades which doubles as a history of the area as well.

Where his original information derives from is very varied -some from original textbooks, old maps,  and histories of the area; some from anecdotal material; some from the libraries of landowners of the area whom I'm guessing he was acquainted with.

The aim of Watt in writing the book of routes is to "stimulate public interest in the history, character and beauty of Kincardineshire, to further knowledge of and interest in our local heritage and to encourage the preservation of various ancient historical sites and buildings that mean so much to us and are of aesthetic and environmental importance."

The book was published just a few years before I moved to Aberdeenshire but I'm very ignorant of the area save when I drive northbound along the A90 to reach Aberdeen, or the opposite direction to drive south to Edinburgh or Glasgow.  Watt is careful in his book to make clear that some roads which were anecdotally and in the local oral tradition thought to be historically Roman are not attested by the Archaeological Department of Aberdeen University. That is not to say the Romans never laid down any proper roads in Kincardine, it just means thorough excavations have never been done to prove it.

In the following extract he writes about a Roman Camp near Kair House (Fordoun) It is believed by some historians to have been created by Emperor Severus around AD 210 rather then during the Agricolan expeditions of the first century AD (AD 84). Watt sounds pretty sure of his information in this book but the site has never been given official status because, like so many others, no formal adn positive excavations have been recorded.

An aerial survey led to this belief the aerial photograph taken in 1945. Watt's description is highly readable even if not proven!

"A Tired Roman Legionary's Earthen Wall
Now let us carry on up the hill to the steading of the Mains of Kair. Here we turn right and left again, past the dwelling house, until in just under a quarter of a mile in all we reach two small huts on the right. Between them you should stop again for you are parked on the site of the porta praetoria or general's gate, the main entrance to the camp, placed as was always the case in a slight re-entrant angle in the middle of the north-east side of the camp, the side facing the enemy. Between the two small huts can still be seen the remains of about 20 yards of the turf rampart or agger which, originally 7 ft high, had once surrounded the camp surrounded by a palisade (vallum) of sharpened wooden stakes. How fascinating that the earthen wall built by some tired legionary some nearly 1800 years ago should show today where the line of defence once continued for another 280 yards down the field on our left!" 

I'm particularly interested in the parts where Watt points out possible Roman sites but the general historical details are also very interesting for periods across all eras.

My next non-fiction 'book I've read' post is likely to be on The Military Roads in Scotland by William Taylor- also a fascinating, though not up-to- date, book.


Saturday, 7 October 2017

Review of Under Heaven's Shining Stars by Jean Grainger

It's still Saturday but this time I'm writing my thoughts on a book that I've just finished reading!

I've lately been getting daily emails from many different promotional sites like : Book Hippo; Booksends; Just Kindle Books; Bargain Booksy etc and some of those advertised have drawn my eye and I've done that 'Oh, So Easy' click though on Amazon. I can't remember which source I saw this one on but that doesn't matter because it was a great read. 

Under Heaven's Shining Stars by Jean Grainger 

This was a very engrossing book covering a number of themes.

The deep friendship of three very different young boys- Liam, Patrick and Hugo- from (or near to) the city of Cork, Ireland, continues to develop into adulthood, forming bonds that are unbreakable.

For a young devout Roman Catholic man entering the priesthood there are hurdles for Liam to pass and ethics to agonise over. For Patrick there are life changing events that it seems impossible to evade the consequences of. Hugo looks set to have the loneliest life, even though privilege sits on his shoulder, but fate has a way of balancing the sadness.

I'm not religious so I have no way of knowing how accurate the aspects of Catholicisms are but Roman Catholic religion is central to the story and how circumstances which don't fit the norm can be adequately accommodated.

Having money and the lack of is a theme that runs throughout. Death and the consequences to those left behind is a tragic theme that affects all three of the main characters but I’m glad to read that the story has favourable endings for all of them. 

I thought this was a 5* read!