Monday, 25 May 2015

Why AD 71? (Reflections on Celtic Obsessions- Part 5)

Why AD 71?

Why did I choose to set The Beltane Choice in AD 71?

What prime source documentation can be looked at in relation to what was happening in northern Britain in AD 71? There aren’t too many that I’ve found so far.  

For centuries, historians have been relying on the work of the Roman historian Tacitus who wrote about events a decade or two after they happened. Since his account isn’t first hand, it isn’t reliable. Few people nowadays would take Tacitus’ words as truth and they can be confusing to the non professional—especially translated from Latin for someone like me who isn’t versed at all in Latin. Suetonius likewise was born in approximately AD 69 and therefore his accounts are also second hand.

(Image from the Nuremberg Chronicle- Wikimedia Commons)

AD 69 wasn’t only the likely birth year of Suetonius (Gaius Suetonius Tranquillis) it was also a year of incredible turbulence in the Roman Empire, a time of military uprising and civil war. After Nero committed suicide in AD 68, he was succeeded by Galba. His tenure didn’t last long before he was supplanted by Otho in AD 69, and then came Vitellius, and Vespasian—still in AD 69.

Vespasian - Wikimedia Commons
When Vespasian assumed the mantle of the Emperor, he re-stabilised the armies of Rome and set about bringing order to the chaos that had ensued during the previous year, instilling a more lasting Imperial loyalty throughout the Roman Empire. In ensuring forces who would be loyal to him, he sent a new Governor to Britannia in AD 71. This was Petilius Cerialis who had recently proven his worth in Germania. Cerialis was also familiar with Britannia since he had been stationed there in AD 60— though he’d not actually done so well in keeping order during the revolt of Queen Bouddica.

Cerialis set his armies to quell the unrest in the north. (i.e. England and at that time all of the whole island of Britannia that had been almost subdued) King Venutius, the ex-husband of Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes (Cartimandua had faded into obscurity around AD 69), was stirring up the north and it needed to be suppressed. Cerialis wasn’t only using his own forces, Legio IX, to make this happen as he marched from the encampment which grew to become the huge military base at Eboracum (York) but he also commanded Gnaeus Julius Agricola to come northwards in a pincer movement with the Legio II Adiutrix from Lincoln. King Venutius was vanquished.    

“And Petillius Cerialis at once struck terror into their hearts by invading the commonwealth of the Brigantes, which is said to be the most numerous tribe of the whole province: many battles were fought, sometimes bloody battles, and by permanent conquest or by forays he annexed a large portion of the Brigantes.”

Reading that translation which comes from the works of Tacitus was sufficient to make me choose to site my battle between the Brigantes and the forces of Rome at Whorl, not far from Stanwick. I have no evidence to substantiate that there was a battle there but on Ordinance Survey maps of the area, there is a hill called Whorlton which has suitable topography. The layout of land would be a good choice for a battle.

The plot of The Beltane Choice grew. I wondered what would make Celtic tribes come together to fight against Rome and Petilius Cerialis. What bargains might have had to be made, to make these accustomed enemy tribes across a common border unite and fight alongside each other for more than loyalty to King Venutius? I decided that there would be a battle mentioned in my plot but I wasn’t setting out to be a military history novelist so the military technicalities of it wouldn’t play a major role.

However, how the inevitable battle would affect the daily life and love of my characters was crucial in what I wanted to describe. My focus was on the complete upheaval that an incursion by the forces of Rome would make to my characters and their families.

Lorcan of Garrigill, a Brigante chief’s son is a key character in The Beltane Choice—as is Nara, a daughter of a Selgovae chief, yet the plot isn’t actually so simple as man meets woman.

The manuscript that was published by Crooked Cat Publishing contained as much of my general knowledge of the Celts as was reasonable and I’d implemented all the helpful editorial suggestions I’d received.  The result is a novel that’s much more than a romance but is a tale of family loyalty; loyalty to the King (Venutius); complete upheaval to daily life amid treachery and cunning demands by Celts and Romans; the current political unrest in Brigante country in AD 71 and the tremendous threat that came to it from the usurping Roman Empire.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for reading my blog. Please pop your thoughts about this post in the comment box. :-)