I have a soft spot for books about Roman Britain which I think has more to do with reading Rosemary Sutcliffe than studying Tacitus (yes, I did that too, once upon a time!) So it’s a pleasure to welcome Scottish writer Nancy Jardine to talk about researching this fascinating era.
Thank you so much for inviting me to visit your blog today, Ali. I’m delighted to be able to share my research situation.
When there’s one main text to study for a historical episode lasting the best part of seven years – and that short text is often regarded with some suspicion – the author might be justified that there’s virtually nothing in written prime sources to go on. That makes creating credible settings and characters a wonderful challenge.
Since my chosen time period is late first-century northern Roman Britain, I’ve always accepted that research would be difficult. It’s just as well I love investigating other ‘non-written’ sources.
The ‘Agricola’, by Ancient Roman writer Cornelius Tacitus, is a brief account of the Britannic campaigns of his father-in-law General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola. As Governor of Britannia in command of the resident Roman legions, Agricola’s aims were to subdue the barbarians of northern Britannia and absorb their territories into the Roman Empire – North Yorkshire, Cumbria, and Northumberland first, then Scotland. Tacitus’ aim was to inform his listeners in the Roman Forum of the achievements of Agricola, flowery oratorical language being typical in c. A.D. 97. Some scholars of the ‘Agricola’ are sceptical of its accuracy as recorded by Tacitus, though others believe Tacitus recorded the campaigns of other generals reliably. I’ve used the ‘Agricola’ very loosely to create my own interpretation of the Roman invasion of northern Britannia in my historical series, in conjunction with suitable ground evidence.
I’ve depended heavily on archaeological findings for the locations used. The Romans marched almost all the way to the Moray Firth yet left no attested evidence in stone, or wooden fort building, as in southern parts of Scotland. I’ve, therefore, relied on aerial photography, backed up by ground excavation of temporary marching camps created as the Romans tramped north-eastwards.
Envisaging what the landscape was like has meant finding out about the flora and fauna that clothed the countryside. Where were the natural Caledonian forest areas? That’s important because vast tracks of current Aberdeenshire (Scotland) have been relatively recently forested by the Forestry Commission, established in the early 1920s. Archaeological soil samples; ancient farming techniques; changes in river courses; natural erosion of the coastline forming sea-stacks; retreating shorelines on the Moray Firth – are only some of the many issues I’ve researched over the course of writing the novel. What I see today is not necessarily how it was 2000 years ago.
Agricola’s Bane, Book 4 of my series, opens in the aftermath of a large battle between the Roman Legions and the Caledonian Allies (battle in Book 3). In the ‘Agricola’ Tacitus wrote that a large confrontation took place somewhere in northern Britannia, generally known to historians as the battle of ‘Mons Graupius’. Unfortunately, the battle site for Mons Graupius has never been identified, a number of possible sites mooted from Fife all the way to Inverness. And some enthusiasts don’t believe a battle happened at all, they think Tacitus exaggerated Agricola’s campaigning success in north-east Scotland.
The Romans set up a temporary camp in my home village of Kintore, Aberdeenshire, a corner of it being some 20 yards from my house and garden. A thorough excavation done c. 2004 found sufficient evidence to prove there was an Agricolan occupation of the site around A.D 84, and at least one further use at a much later date of c. A.D 200.
Agricola’s Bane is my interpretation of: why Agricola dominated Northern Britannia for a while; what he sought to find there; and the natives he intended to completely subdue c.A.D.84. It gives a hint of why Agricola left the supposedly conquered northern areas soon after to return to Rome.
Book 5 is now underway, continuing the story of Agricola’s withdrawal from the area of conflict and the situations my Celtic Garrigill Clan find themselves in.
Thank you, Nancy, for this great resume of the archaeological and literary sources.
Here’s all you need to know about Nancy and Agricola’s Bane.
Nith of Tarras helps Enya of Garrigill in the search for her kin, missing after the disastrous battle at Beinn na Ciche fought between the Caledonian warriors and the mighty Ancient Roman legions. Enya soon has a heartrending choice to make. Should she tread Vacomagi territory that’s swarming with Roman auxiliaries to find her brother? Or, should she head south in search of her cousin who has probably been enslaved by the Romans?
The Commander of the Britannic Legions and Governor of Britannia – General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola – is determined to claim more barbarian territory for the Roman Empire, indeed plans to invade the whole island, but finds not all decisions are his to make. It increasingly seems that the goddess, Fortuna, does not favour him.
The adventures of the Garrigill clan continue…
Buy Link: Agricola’s Bane
Nancy Jardine writes contemporary mysteries; historical fiction and time-travel historical adventure. Her current historical focus is Roman Scotland, an engrossing pre-history era because her research depends highly on keeping abreast of recent archaeological findings.
A member of the Romantic Novelists Association, the Scottish Association of Writers, the Federation of Writers Scotland and the Historical Novel Society, her work has achieved finalist status in UK contests.
You can find her at these places:
Blog: http://nancyjardine.blogspot.co.uk Website: www.nancyjardineauthor.com/ Facebook: http://on.fb.me/XeQdkG & http://on.fb.me/1Kaeh5G
email: email@example.com Twitter https://twitter.com/nansjarAmazon Author page http://viewauthor.at/mybooksandnewspagehere