Tuesday 30 June 2020

Vindolanda Hands!

There have been absolutely spectacular posts in this blog hop already, and I've loved visiting all of the author blogs that have posted contributions! Here is the last one from me for this month of June...

Vindolanda Hands!

Fantastic Find…
Towards the end of June 2018, The Vindolanda Trust indicated in a press release that a significant discovery had been made only a few weeks into that year’s summer excavation season at Vindolanda Roman Fort, Northumberland, England. (The 26th May may have been the actual find date) 

By the 30th June 2018, the news had travelled worldwide, many of the sources declaring that the Vindolanda excavations had excelled once again. Less than four inches long (10 cm), a child-size hand was found five feet under the ground in ditch-fill left from the Severan era (c.AD 208-212).
photo-Vindolanda Trust

Caked with dirt, the item was cleaned to reveal it was of very high-quality lead-weighted bronze, with incredibly good detail especially on the palm. At the base of the palm is a hole, deliberately there to hold another object which may have been even more precious – possibly an effigy of the god Jupiter Dolichenus.

Though it has no inscription, it’s possible that the Vindolanda hand was attached to a pole and may have been used for ceremonial purposes during the worship of the god Jupiter Dolichenus, the staff possibly dipped to bless devotees. Hands similar to this artefact, with inscriptions dedicated to Jupiter Dolichenus, have been found from the Roman era and were used for votive purposes – though they have generally been larger.

The fact that the hand was found near the northern wall of the 3rd century fort is also significant since, in 2009, an altar stone dedicated to Jupiter Dolichenus was discovered in the remains of a shrine at this location. The archaeologists at Vindolanda had originally thought that the temple treasures had been removed in the Roman era and were delighted to have further proof of worship of the deity.

Altar to Jupiter Dolichenus at Vindolanda.
The god Jupiter Dolichenus has often been depicted as standing on a bull, holding a double-headed axe raised high in one hand and a thunderbolt in the other. The origins of the mystery cult of Jupiter [Optimus Maximus] Dolichenus are vague, but some scholars believe the Romans ‘acquired’ the god from eastern worship and moulded it to their own requirements. This was not uncommon in the Roman pantheon. Little has been attested regarding the worship of Jupiter Dolichenus because it’s thought that the god was not worshipped in the open way of the public Roman gods. Like other cults it appears that initiation was required. Both men and women may have officially worshipped Jupiter Dolichenus, and the cult was possibly open to people from different levels of society. As such, it may have been favoured by members of the Roman military.

The Roman cult worship of Jupiter Dolichenus appears to have gained popularity in the second century, though it reached a peak during the Severan era when a number of altars, found across the Roman Empire, were dedicated to the god.

In c. AD 208, Emperor Severus paid a visit to Britannia. He was accompanied by his sons, Caracalla and Geta, and a very large retinue. There had been unrest and some degree of disobedience on the part of the Maeatae tribal federation of Caledonia. Severus marched northwards from Eboracum (York) with upwards of 40,000 soldiers he had amassed for the task, to teach the northern tribes a salutary lesson they would not easily forget. Recent theories point towards genocide. In preparation for Severus’ northern campaign, many of the forts in the Hadrian’s Wall area (which was the current frontier) were renovated and/or rebuilt. The Vindolanda Severan Fort is one of them.

Emperor Septimius Severus
Did Emperor Severus visit Vindolanda Fort and worship at the shrine of Jupiter Dolichenus? I don’t know, but would definitely love to.

A find like the ‘Dolichenus’ hand is incredibly significant, yet, is it the most significant find from the site at Vindolanda? Ask the resident archaeological team and they may have a different opinion. Recently, some of the team were asked to nominate their 10 favourite finds and it was no surprise that other ‘hand’ finds rated equally as highly as the bronze Dolichenus hand.

The nine forts at Vindolanda span the years from approximately AD 85 through to the end of the Roman era c. 410, though the last fort may have had some form of continued occupation after that. Fabulous material has been uncovered at the Vindolanda site over the last few centuries. However, the bulk of the most successful excavations have been since the Birley family bought the site in 1930s. Due to the anoxic soil conditions, and more sophisticated archaeological techniques, the volume of impressive finds has increased enormously during the last three decades.

So, what are the other popular ‘hand’ finds?

In 2017, two boxing gloves (not a pair) were found by the team led by Dr. Andrew Birley. The leather bands date to c. AD 120 (Hadrianic era) and were thought to have been used in training, or promoting fighting skills, rather than for ‘killing an opponent’ purposes. The bands were neatly folded into a ‘pouch’ into which the hand was inserted, and the leather packed with natural material for shock absorbance.

Some of the oldest finds at the Vindolanda site date back to the earliest wooden forts and are hugely significant in giving us an idea of what life was like on the frontier, for the soldiers who garrisoned the forts. For many years now, more and more of the famous ‘Vindolanda Tablets' have been uncovered from really-deep under ground level. Many of them give day-to-day mentions of goods being requested from, or sent to, other forts in the Hadrian’s Wall area and list deployment duties of the soldiers.

One of the best known of the wooden ‘postcard size’ tablets is an incredible example of the socialising that went on between fort inhabitants. The birthday invitation from Claudia Severa, wife of Aelius Brocchus (it’s unknown which fort he commanded), to Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of Flavius Cerialis the commander of Vindolanda c. AD 100, gives proof that the wives of the high-ranking commanders were living in the early forts in the Hadrian’s Wall area. (This invitation was, of course, sent some 20 years before Hadrian’s Wall was built.)

Vindolanda Tablets- Wikimedia Commons
Another spectacular ‘hand’ example (and I’m stretching it a little bit now) is part of the ‘Verecundus’ letter archive. The 2017 ‘dig’ season produced yet another pile of thin slivers of ink-stained wood. When restored, one particular letter again hit the Archaeology headlines since it was written by Iulius Verecundus, who is known to be the commander of both the original, and the second wooden fort at Vindolanda from c. AD 85. Letters to Verecundus were already in the Vindolanda archives, but this new one is said to be written by his very 'hand'. 

That ancient letter from almost 2,000 years ago was to be put on display at the Vindolanda site in 2020, but with COVID 19 altering many plans this may have been delayed.

And this leads me to another incredible find at Vindolanda. How did those Ancient Roman matrons know which day was which? How would Sulpicia Lepidina know when to set out for the fort where Claudia Severa lived, to go to the birthday party? We know that the ancient Romans were incredibly organised, but evidence of their ‘time-keeping’ is thin on the ground. However, an amazing fragment was found which accounts for some theories as to how they recorded time and calendar days - though since the date for the object is for the 3rd or 4th century, it’s still unknown what Claudia Severa would have used!

The Roman military observed festival and harvest times. Their smallest unit of time was the hour and there were 12 hours in a day. This meant that from sunrise to sunset the day was split into 12 parts, the hours of darkness from sunset to sunrise also split into 12 parts. Naturally, when living in a much more northerly location the length of day varied according to the season, so in summertime at Vindolanda the daylight duration was very different from a fort in Southern Gaul.  

By the time the first Vindolanda forts were built (from c.AD 85) the Romans were using the Julian Calendar of 12 months, with varying lengths of days. Clocks and calendars, of different styles had been invented well before the end of the 1st Century (AD), and in a fixed location there may have been a ‘calendar’ painted or engraved on a wall in a fortress town for public use. Though, that may not have been the case in the first wooden forts built in Vindolanda. Nevertheless, the military while on campaign had to have something portable, and the fragment found at Vindolanda goes a way towards possibly explaining how they managed to organise themselves so efficiently.
Vindolanda Museum

The fragment found is of a perpetual annual calendar style, and not set to any particular year. Only a few examples of such ‘calendars’ have been found, so far. A Celtic calendar was found at Coligny (1897) and at Grand, France, a Roman register of months was found in 1866. Including the fragment from Vindolanda, the three are all very different though indicate that there may have been different methods used to calculate days and months, and the hours of a day - perhaps especially in more remote locations. The Vindolanda fragment has the month of September clearly punched onto the copper. K represents the kalends on the 1st; abbreviations N nonae for the 5th; and I idus for the 13th and *(AE aequinoctum) the autumnal equinox. Using the fragment dimensions as a guide, the original would have been a disc of about 12 inches in diameter. Every two days a peg would have been moved into the next hole to indicate the correct date. The relatively small size indicates it may have been for personal use, e.g. the commander of the fort, rather than for the garrison in general. 

When I booked this slot on this Historical Blog Hop months ago, my plan was to have loads of photographs from a Vindolanda visit I was organising in mid-June. Covid 19 cancelled that plan, but I will go back to Vindolanda as soon as it is feasible. Instead, I’ve had to acquire my images from the public domain.

My last image from Vindolanda isn’t a ‘hand’ but a mouse. In 1993, a large leather bag full of bundles of leather offcuts was found in the commander’s house of a later fort (period AD 105-130). It went into storage and because of the COVID 19 lockdown restrictions, the museum staff had the opportunity to have another browse. One of the many items had been carved into a realistic looking little mouse.
Vindolanda mouse
Was some soldier using it as a prank to scare a fellow soldier who had a horror of mice? (Hopefully not someone on duty in the granaries which apparently had a huge problem with mice 😉)
Or was it fashioned as a toy for a child of the fort, but was never used?

It's definitely known that there were children at the early forts, since loads of child-size shoes have been discovered, making up only a tiny fraction of the thousands of shoes and boots already removed from the anoxic soil of Vindolanda.

I'm totally fascinated by Vindolanda and by Roman Britain in general. That accounts for why my Celtic Fervour Saga series is set between AD 71 to AD 90, in northern Roman Britain. Book 5 - Beathan the Brigante - has Vindolanda featuring as one of the Roman forts that hostage Beathan 'visits' (due for publication Aug 20th 2020). I've also written about the campaigns of Emperor Severus and son Caracalla in The Taexali Game, a time-travel historical.

This post is specially written as part of the Historical Writers Forum Summer Blog Hop and the blog hop will continue in July.

Next up tomorrow on the blog hop is Judith Arnopp who will be writing about the Dissolution of the Monasteries and The Pilgrimage of Grace. That will be another fabulous post in this series, and one not to miss!
I hope you have enjoyed this taster of the Vindolanda Fort site. There are so many other incredible finds from the 9 forts that it would take me many blog posts to cover them all.

If you have any questions for me, please pop them in the comments box.

SlĂ inte! 

Sunday 28 June 2020

Cover Reveal for Beathan the Brigante!

Hello! Things are moving on a pace now. 

For ages, I seemed to be getting nowhere but now I'm ecstatic that I can reveal the cover design for Beathan the Brigante. I gave my graphic designer, Karen Barrett, the gist of the 3 elements that I wanted in a composite image. They were:
1. the perfect young male's profile image (that I'd spent ages pouring over image sites to fit my ideal) 2. fire
3. a sense that it was a wooden fort that was burning (I'd found a fort wall) 
Karen found the fire, and a better wooden palisade, and...voila!

I really love my brand new cover and hope you like it, too. You can be sure that I'll soon be sharing it regularly, all over the place. 

The novel is out to beta readers and will, hopefully, be through final edits soon. The publication date for the Ebook of Beathan the Brigante is AUGUST 20th, 2020!

More details of this to follow...

Ocelot Press Short Story Anthology! 

Meanwhile, I've also been getting ready my short story, and a character interview,  for the Ocelot Press Historical Short Stories Anthology which has a publication date of the end of July. 

My contribution- The Pinnacle of Achievement gives Ruoridh of Garrigill a bit more of the limelight and I've been having a huge amount of fun interviewing Legate Gaius Salvius Liberalis, the good friend of my character General Agricola who appears in Books 4 & 5. Legate Liberalis is a strong secondary character at the beginning of # 5, Beathan the Brigante. 

Is he a friend or a foe of Beathan? 

Well, you'd have to read both the novel and the anthology to make your mind up on that. 

And also, look forward in a couple of days to an exciting post about the Vindolanda Roman Fort  (England) which is featured in Beathan the Brigante.  This is my contribution to the Historical Writers Forum Summer Blog Hop. 

SlĂ inte! 

More momentous events in the Historical Writers Forum Blog Hop!

Here are another couple of posts in this fabulous Historical Writers Forum Blog Hop ready for you to read.  (If you've missed any of the June ones you can get the links HERE from or Facebook page.)

Click here for a super article about Persecuting the Pagans from Alison Morton.

And there's an excellent post from fellow Ocelot Press author, Vanessa Couchman, on the  Treaty of Versailles.

There will be more wonderful posts during this Historical Blog Hop that is so varied in contextual eras. If you know someone else who loves history in general, feel free to share this information and they can get to know the historical authors who have written the articles.

And it'll be my turn to post on the blog hop in a few days...

Whatever you're reading- have fun.

SlĂ inte!

Thursday 18 June 2020

Beathan the Brigante is coming soon!


It's been a long while since I last posted, but that doesn't mean I've not been writing. Everything has been in slow motion for a while but I'm hopeful that is about to change right now.

For weeks now (around 12 to be exact) during serious lockdown, I've not been away from home but have had many different things taking up my daytime hours. I've been writing and editing, finishing Book 5 of my Celtic Fervour Saga Series.  I'm absolutely relieved to say that it's now out to beta reading. My intention is to publish it in July 2020. That time is now looming but things are moving. Soon, I expect to do a cover reveal and it'll be spectacular. I'm using the same designer as has created the four other covers, and it'll make a matching 5th!!

Of course, I spent time making my reenactment dress and shawl. That was meant to be worn at the Eboracum Roman Festival at the end of May. It was cancelled but I still decided to make the outfit. I created a blog post for the Ocelot Press Blog about the process but I'll be reblogging it here, too. 

For a long time, I had the beginning and the vague end for Book 5, but the rest was variable. I say variable since it went through lots of changes to the original plans of the novel. Since early Feb. 2020 I've been working on it every morning and I really love it now, whereas I wasn't happy with it before then. My character Beathan has come into his own, albeit that he starts off at 12 going on 13 years of age and is only 17 at the end of he story. Nowadays he'd be termed a late teenager, but back in AD 89, he is already matured and a true warrior! 

When not writing or creating marketing materials for Twitter and Facebook, I've also been doing major work to revamp a large section of my garden. This heavy work has been cathartic. It's not quite done but much closer than when I started in April. 

I've also been learning Scottish Gaelic and do a lesson every single day. I started a Duolingo course in December 2019 and I've only missed one day since then. I think I might just be forgiven for forgetting it because it was right at the start of lockdown, the first weekend and I was preoccupied with politics and the Covid 19 situation.

Now my priorities are finalising a short story which will go into the Ocelot Press Summer Anthology  (more on that very soon) and organising the front and end matter for my new novel - Beathan the Brigante! Of course, like my previous novels that also means creating some lovely maps to go with it.

See you soon with more updates.

Stay safe.

SlĂ inte!