Monday, 21 September 2020

Strong #Roman Iron Age Women

Were strong women common during the Roman Iron Age?

My image of Nara 

Since first writing about 1st century AD Roman Britain, I've often pondered the question of what women were capable of at that time. Because it’s a pre-historic era, we have no written evidence documented by the local Late-Iron-Age Britons themselves regarding any 'strong' female leaders. However, from the writings of Ancient Romans and Greeks (e.g. Julius Caesar, Tacitus) we are told that some Late-Iron-Age tribes were led by females. Examples would be the widely known Cartimandua of the Brigantes Federation, and Bouddica of the Iceni. 

Exactly how those women were proclaimed tribal leaders is a question I would love to be definitely answered. Some theories veer towards the women having been elected as leaders due to their intellectual superiority and physical prowess, having been presented as candidates alongside males. If a meritocracy was the norm amongst the tribes of Late-Iron-Age Britain, then there were probably many more women who became tribal leaders and whose names were never recorded. Speculation is a wonderful thing for an author fiction!

When I wrote The Beltane Choice – Book 1 of my historical Celtic Fervour Series saga which begins in A.D. 71 – I created a strong warrior-woman who has temporary, inhibiting, vulnerabilities. Nara of the Selgovae is the daughter of a chief and as such is eligible to be nominally named 'princess'. She also has links to the Druid priestesshood. Both of these situations would probably have given her a position of some power in a Celtic tribe but what could make such a privileged woman temporarily vulnerable? 

Nara is introduced after some momentous events have befallen her which have shaken her to the core and have forced her to embark on a whole new lifestyle. She has grown up with one future ‘career’ ahead of her, which she’s been training for from the age of seven. During fourteen apprenticeship years, she’s acquired many different skills. She's learned spiritual and religious training; leadership skills; the practical knowledge of a tribal healer. And she’s a fully-fledged ‘branded’ warrior. However, as an acolyte for the priestesshood, she’s been prohibited from certain aspects of normal life. There has been no sex with men and no prospects of child-bearing.

Highly superstitious and deeply spiritual in their druidic faith, the people of Nara’s tribe have always regarded her as different, untouchable, and chosen by the gods and goddesses for a special destiny. As such, her contact with the tribe has never been casual, familiar, or normally inclusive.

In one awful proclamation, the High Priestess declares the goddess has decreed that Nara must follow a different future path. The final steps to becoming a priestess are denied her. She’s expelled from the island home of the priestesses and sent to live in the tribal hillfort with a father who deems her a failure. Her confidential ‘doctor/patient’ importance as a healer is zapped. Available now to mate with males of the clan, the women are superstitiously wary of Nara’s new status. In short, she’s shunned, friendless and threatened in her new role From being a strong, well-trained woman she’s a square peg trying to fit into the proverbial round hole.

Nara is emotionally vulnerable from the outset, yet still able to demonstrate that her innate warrior-capabilities and learned judgements are largely unaffected as the story unravels and develops. When she’s captured by Lorcan of Garrigill, an enemy Brigante, it’s yet another dent to her highly-bruised pride. Though she wounds him during an attempted seduction, Lorcan doesn’t kill her as is his right, having been attacked by her as an enemy Selgovae ‘branded’ warrior. Instead, she’s dragged southwards to his Brigante hillfort.

Uniting normally warring Brigante and Selgovae tribes, so that they can confront the Ancient Roman invaders as a larger fighting force, is a laudable idea but as a bargaining chip Nara knows she’s useless when Lorcan hatches a plan.

Unable to escape from Garrigill Hillfort, it may seem as though Nara is capitulating too easily but…only a reader of The Beltane Choice will unravel how her innate warrior strengths don’t desert her, and she casts the insecurity aside to become that feisty female-warrior once more.

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SlĂ inte!

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