Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Refugees then…refugees now

There is only one more day left of The Beltane Choice being one of the three featured Historical novels at Crooked Cat Books page on Facebook.

Here's another insight about aspects of the novel...

Flee or be subsumed…

 “…Nancy Jardine has done an outstanding job seamlessly weaving their story into the history of that time. She captures the fear of having one's home overtaken by foreigners, and the heat of falling into a love forbidden by all. Her use of language is exquisite and her writing style a joy to read…” The partial review quote homes in on one of the very important themes I’ve tackled in The Beltane Choice.

A strong theme in my Celtic Fervour Series is that of the displacement which happens during war situations. In effect, it was also a refugee crisis situation in my Celtic Fervour Series during the years AD 71- 84.

The historical background
When the usurpers thrust their way into new territory, as the Ancient Roman Army did in the north of Britannia in approximately AD 71 (possibly earlier *see below), many innocent people were caught up in the conflict. I don’t need to write here of the mirroring of similar current situations across the globe—they’re still happening right now where there’s a wresting of land from people under extreme duress.

In the late first century AD, the Roman Emperors Nero, Vespasian and Domitian were on a big expansion spree across the known world to add territory to their growing Empire. Britannia was a key player in the sense that those Emperors wanted the land to exploit any riches within and also gain political kudos in Rome for being successful with military strategy on the frontier. Southern Britain was in some ways happier than the north to become Romanised because a number of southern tribes already had successful trade links established and wealth accumulated from the practice. However, by AD 69, no longer satisfied with only maintaining control of the south, the Roman legions marched northwards into Brigantia, a large swathe of land (modern day Yorkshire, Cumbria, Northumberland) held by the Brigante Tribal Federation.

During the years between the Claudian invasion of AD 43 and AD 69, Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes, and initially also her husband King Venutius, had largely kept Brigantia free of Roman presence by making arrangements with Rome. In becoming a ‘client queen’ it seems that some sort of understanding meant the Roman Army largely steered clear of her territory, but also kept the Brigantes from being attacked by other hostile tribes to the south. This arrangement seemed to last fairly well for some time during the reign of Emperor Nero but things changed when Nero pulled out one of the four legions in AD 67, which had been stationed in Britannia. Legio XIV Gemina Martia Victrix left, perhaps the intention for them was to strengthen the troops in the Caucasus regions, but it seems they never got there.

Wikimedia Commons 
Unfortunately if Britannia had seemed stable to Nero, it clearly wasn’t so. The Governor of the time, AD 67, Trebellius Maximus, had to focus plenty of his more limited resources in quelling rebellions in present day Wales. However, it’s possible from some evidence finds further north that there may also have been a need for the Romans to establish their physical presence in the north west of Britannia in the lands of the Carvetti and the Cornovii to the west and the south west of the Brigante Federation. Carbon dating not being exactly precise, the earliest some of the small fortlets found in the north may have been established is during the tenure of Trebillius Maximus, though more likely in the time of his successor  Bolanus. 

During the first forays of Roman infiltration in Brigantia, small skirmishes were recorded and according to Tacitus, the Roman historian who gave us most of our knowledge of the era, there were also some larger face-to-face battles. The Brigantes didn’t give up their land easily but ultimately they were unable to force the Romans to retreat.

From approximately AD 71 (*probably even earlier if some carbon dating of wooden remains from northern Cumbrian fortlets is accurate) the Roman presence made itself more permanent in the building of numerous guard towers, fortlets, forts and eventually fortresses- as at Eboracum (York) and Deva (Chester).

The Beltane Choice
At the beginning of Book 1 of the series—The Beltane Choice—full scale war between the Brigantes of the north and the Roman Empire is looming. My aim in this part of the novel is to indicate that although the Celtic warriors were fierce fighters they were no match for the Roman army machine. I feel that there had to be some of the Brigantes of AD 71 who realised that each separate tribe—even a huge one like the Brigante Federation—could not defeat the progress of the Roman expansion. As such, I have my Brigante negotiator Lorcan moot the idea that the tribes even further north of Brigantia need to join forces since the Roman footsteps will soon be on their soil, too.  The Selgovae were the tribe situated just over the Cheviot Hills in what is modern day central southern Scotland.

I’ve read enough to have an idea that the tribe to the east of the Selgovae, the Votadini, probably wouldn’t have been interested because there’s a reasonable assumption that the Votadini had probably already been in some sort of negotiation with Rome in exchange for leaving their territory free of legionary domination. There is sufficient lack of Roman forts/ fortlets in this area to the east which indicates that the heavy Roman presence wasn’t necessary—i.e. resistance was less likely. The Votadini flatlands were agriculturally likely to be productive and, as such, very important to Rome via some sort of trade deal.

By the end of the book full scale war has directly affected my Brigante characters. Initially my warriors defend their way of life by riding off from their home hillfort of Garrigill to go to war at Whorl, a battle site near the stronghold of the Brigante King Venutius. Devastatingly, the battle at Whorl is a crushing defeat. Many Celtic warriors are killed. Others hirple their way home, as my maimed Garrigill warriors do, but the fact is that the mighty Roman armies are too strong, too well drilled and too well armoured for the brave but less battle trained Celtic warriors to overpower.

At the end of The Beltane Choice, the take over of land has already happened in Brigantia. The Roman legions under the governorship and command of General Petilius Cerialis have flooded the northern reaches of Brigantia making it untenable for my warriors to remain at their home. They flee northwards to Tarras, the Selgovae hillfort of Nara’s birth, north of what we now name the Cheviot Hills (to Dumfriesshire). Their safety at Tarras doesn’t last all that long though because some seven years later the Roman legions are also on the march across Selgovae territory.
All through this trauma that's affecting my characters life, of sorts, goes on. Love still plays a part and some relationships strengthen, though some decline. Though the background of the novel is of war essentially the story is about developing relationships and love blossoming regardless. There's also a theme of inevitability! 

The next 2 books of the Celtic Fervour Series deal further with the fleeing Brigantes who eventually move systematically further northwards to Taexali lands (modern day Aberdeenshire) to avoid being subsumed into the Roman Way of Life. My Garrigill warriors are not totally cowed, though. They are seeking a young and vibrant leader who will amass a Celtic Army to face the Roman legions under General Agricola at what was named by the Roman historian Tacitus as The Battle of Mons Graupius’.

Does that end their flight? History says no since the battle of Mons Graupius was ‘won’ by the Romans and some 20,000 Celts fled to the high hills- again according to the only written source, penned by Tacitus.

Read a sample here or buy at only 99p!


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