Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Another 5* #review for Bran Reborn!


I've mainly been beavering away for the last few days at preparing slides for my online Zoom talk for the Aboyne and Deeside Heritage society next week. Finding fresh new material has meant a bit of lovely new research - it's been more than a year now since I've done an author presentation due to Covid 19 restrictions and I feel the need to upgrade the last ones. I generally do some changes anyway since my PowerPoint presentations are geared to the actual group I'm visiting, so although I might be sharing information I've learned on Roman Scotland, there is always a need to fine tune according to the audience. Some smaller groups want general Ancient Roman information and more of my novels, Some larger groups want more localised information i.e. Roman Aberdeenshire. 

The length of the talk also determines which slides are used. 

Old maps research is now much easier since I can access some really useful material online via the National Library of Scotland catalogues. Searching their online database has been a huge but entertaining distraction! I totally recommend their resources. They are FREE for me to access, provided I registered with them, but that cost nothing. (I am resident in Scotland so you'd need to check what rules apply to you)

During a short break before dinner this evening, I was alerted to a brand new 5* review for Book 2 of my Celtic Fervour Series- After Whorl Bran Reborn. Getting reviews is a huge excitement these days since they don't come all that often. I take the opportunity here to thank Dorothy (an unknown reader) - the review is very much appreciated! 

The link is below but these are her comments: 


"Well written and researched, this is a continuing story of the Brigantes in the battles of Romano-Britain. I enjoyed the storytelling. The characters have substance and one truly gets a feel for the early Britons in their fight for survival against the Roman usurpers. Can’t wait to read the next book."

I'd love to think Dorothy won't wait too long to read the second part of Brennus of Garrigill's story.


Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Yvonne Marjot interview!

Good Morning! 

Tuesday 6th April means it's time to welcome my guest Yvonne Marjot, the Ocelot Press author of Book of the Month for April - The Calgary Chessman. Yvonne has very kindly allowed herself to be asked lots of lovely questions and she has some great tips for you whether you're a reader or writer, or both as many of us are!

Can you please tell my readers a little about yourself? 

I was born in England, grew up in New Zealand (where I ran wild in the hills and forests behind our back garden) and eventually washed up on the Isle of Mull in Scotland as a lone parent with two tiny boys and a grown-up daughter who had already left home. Now my boys are both away to new lives on the mainland, and my daughter (and grandson) live just down the road from me. I’ve always loved to write, although it doesn’t pay the bills, and living in Scotland has proved to be an inspiration. 

What inspired you to become a writer/author? 

The first books I remember consciously imitating were the Moomintroll books by Tove Jansson. Tove has a great grasp of character, and character has always been at the centre of my stories too. The grown-up book I most admire is Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer, with three wonderful character arcs, and exemplary ecological science underlying her stories.

Nancy says: My elder daughter got a copy of Moomintroll when she was little and I loved reading it with her. After daughter 2 had had her fill, it ended up in my little classroom library that my pupils could access if they had completed their work. It's still upstairs and a very battered copy, indeed. 

What is the best thing about being a writer/author? 

Reading! Any excuse to read a good book. Honestly, I think every writer would tell you the same: we write because we love to read. 

What is your writing routine like? 

Normally I run the public library, four afternoon/evenings a week and all day Saturdays. I try to write in the mornings three days a week. During the pandemic I’ve found it difficult to motivate myself to do any writing at all, though I’m focusing on editing the Calgary Chessman series for republication (with Ocelot Press) 

How much time is spent on research?

Loads! If I’m stuck with the writing I can take a nice break by looking something up, or reading an author who’s written something similar. Because I try to get the history/archaeology right in my fiction I read a lot of non-fiction as well as indulging in fiction as much as possible.

Nancy says: I indulge myself too much with lovely engrossing research. It's so easy to find that time for writing slips away...

How much of the book is planned out before you start writing it? 

Almost none. I need to know my characters before I start, and I usually write (or at least plot) the climax/ending, so that I know what I’m writing to. Someone described my technique as ‘mosaic’ which is a very polite way of saying ‘all over the place’. Sometimes I have several important scenes written, and then have to patch them together. Plan? Synopsis? They come after the first draft. 

What do you think is most important when writing a book? 

The plot needs to make sense, the story arc needs to rise, climax, and resolve. But the really vital thing is character. I want my readers to believe in those people, to sign up to their lives and their beliefs, at least for the duration of the book. I like my characters to feel as though they are really speaking to you off the page.

Nancy says: Your characters really do speak directly to the reader, right from the beginning of the books. 

What is The Calgary Chessman about? 

Archaeological mystery; Contemporary romance; Memoir of survival 

Cas Longmore, a New Zealander recently divorced from her English husband, has ended up living in the family’s summer home on the Isle of Mull in western Scotland. Life is tough but she’s loving her new independence. One day, walking on the beach at beautiful Calgary Bay, she discovers a mysterious object buried in the sand. Finding out what it is, and the people she meets through this discovery, go a long way to making her feel more connected with the world. In the meantime, her son Sam comes home from boarding school with a startling revelation of his own. 

What inspired it?

Back in the mists of time (about twenty years ago) I watched a TV program about the British Museum’s top ten treasures. One of them was the Lewis Chessman. Later that night I had a nightmare about being chased by a faceless monster at Calgary Bay. I woke with the idea for a book, and the rest (eventually) was history.

What writing advice would you have given yourself when you started?

Do it for love. Be as organized, professional and hard-working as you can be, but ultimately do it because you love it and can’t imagine stopping. Isaac Asimov once said, “I write for the same reason I breathe: because if I stopped I would die.” And I really feel that’s true.

What writing advice would you give to an aspiring writer or a new author to the block?

Be prepared for many years in the wilderness. Most writers don’t make any money (or, at least, not enough to give up the day job) so you need to love this expensive and demanding hobby. Find your tribe: the people online who think like you, and will support and challenge you. Work hard. And love it.

Nancy says: All excellent advice, Yvonne! 

What is your all-time favourite book and why? 

Favourite book by a dead author: Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, which inspired me from childhood to this day. I reread it every year. Favourite by a living author: Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer. This is the book I wish I’d written—lush and loving, and with impeccable background research credentials. 

What are you currently reading? 

I’ve just finished a fab Space Opera published in 2020: Arkady Martine’s “A Memory Called Empire”. Not so much big space-ship battles and mayhem, more psychological warfare and strange human interactions. It’s set in The City (whose name also means “The World”): a vast urban complex run by an AI where a murder has just taken place. In some ways it reminds me of the best of Asimov – and in particular his detective Elijah Bailey, who took basic common sense and ‘earthman’ prejudices into an alien situation to solve a detective mystery.

What is on your To be read list? 

I’m working my way through the ‘Falco’ series by Lindsey Davis, more hardboiled detective fiction set in the Roman Empire at the time of Vespasian. A favourite re-read. 

Nancy says: I read some of Lyndsey's Falco books in the 1990s, when the first ones were fairly new and found them so refreshing. Books about Roman life that were humorous were such a novelty to me. Then I followed them with Andrew Wishart, again so entertaining. At the time I never imagined I would also write about Roman Britain but in quite a different style and tone. 

Where can readers find you, Yvonne?.

Facebook and group

Yvonne Marjot is a lost kiwi, now living in the Inner Hebrides. She has been making up stories and poems for as long as she can remember, and once won a case of port in a poetry competition. Her archaeological romances, beginning with The Calgary Chessman, are published with Ocelot Press, along with her paranormal romance, Walking on Wild Air.

She lives on the Isle of Mull where she is volunteering during the Covid19 pandemic, but normally runs the local public library. She has three grown-up children and a very naughty cat.

Thank you for a really great interview and some excellent tips. I'll have to get back to Mull and visit you after the pandemic. Mull is a favourite island of mine and even more so if we can meet up again, even for another quick visit. For my readers, here's a photo Yvonne has sent on of the two of us on the hillside a little bit above Mull when I made a short visit in 2015.  I can't say exactly how much Yvonne has changed since then but I'm almost white with messy lock-down hair! 

Till the next time...

Click HERE to get your bargain copy of The Calgary Chessman. 


Monday, 5 April 2021

Ludi Megalesia Part 1

I can't resist the temptation to write about an April festival held in Ancient Rome!


Between the 4th and the 10th of April, the people of the Ancient Roman Republic celebrated the Ludi Megalesia in honour of the goddess Cybele – the Magna Mater or Great Mother.

The Megale part meant great and the Ludi were the games, worship and entertainments held during some of the religious festivals.

Acquired after the wars against Carthage, the sacred stone representing the goddess Cybele – who had been importuned to give favour to the Roman side – was heralded on arrival to Rome with a magnificent procession. However, although the arrival of the goddess was solemnised, the annual celebrations of the Megalesia in her honour did not begin till around a decade later.

By 191 B.C., the temple Matris Magnae Idaeae was built and the sacred stone of Cybele was transferred from its temporary resting place in the Temple of Victory on the Palatine Hill. The temple in honour of Cybele also being built on the Palatine indicated that she was not seen as a foreign goddess but was from Ida, the home of Roman origins.

The rites were officiated by a Phrygian priest and priestess and later on the numbers of priests and priestesses increased, attested in various inscriptions. The priestly garb included a mitra (special headband), a veil, a necklace, a purple dress and an image of the goddess was pinned to the breast (an aedicula). He bore a basket of fruit, cymbals and flutes. The celebrations included general rejoicing and feasting.

Cybele- Luca Giordano

It’s likely the entertainments included plays based on religious themes, perhaps written by well-known playwrights, which would have been performed on the steep approach to her temple. During the days of the festival, there were exchanges of lavish invitations where wealthy Romans hosted each other, a bit of one-upmanship going on to be the one to lay on the most impressive banquet, or entertainment. It seems to have got out of order, though, since the Senate made a decree in 161 B.C. limiting the amount of expenditure on the food and utensils needed to provide the feasts.

During the Empire the rites were more ceremonial and much more elaborate, which I’ll write about soon…


Friday, 2 April 2021

5* Award Finalist Topaz Eyes is FREE across Amazon!

 It's Good  Friday for those who celebrate Easter,

...but it's also a Good Friday for getting a #FREE copy of my Award finalist mystery thriller Topaz Eyes. 

A very recent review states: “This book is fun to read -- it has all the delightful elements of a page-turner: intrigue, mystery, romance and action”.

Topaz Eyes is #FREE in Kindle across the Amazon network for the next 3 days-  Friday 2nd- Sun 4th April 2021. 

If you haven't yet read this mostly 5 star reviewed thriller, then click the link and get your #FREE copy now. From the comments of reviewers, I don't think you'll be disappointed. 

Click HERE

Enjoy the read! 


The Calgary Chessman is the Ocelot Press Book of the Month!

The Ocelot Press Book of the Month is The Calgary Chessman by Yvonne Marjot!

This is a lovely read set in a beautiful Scottish location. I'll be doing a longer post later in the month but, till then, this is to let you know that the ebook will be reduced across Amazon to 77p/99c for the whole month of April. 

You can find general information on the Ocelot Press Readers Group on Facebook. Why not join us there? 

You can get your bargain copy of The Calgary Chessman  HERE. 


Friday, 26 March 2021

NOUGAT DAY! 26th March

Today, Friday 26th March is NOUGAT DAY!

Love it or loathe it? 

Fine Piece Friday!  Love it or loathe it? Today, Friday 26th March is NOUGAT DAY!

In north-east Scotland if you have a 'fly cup' (morning /afternoon coffee or tea) you might have a 'Fine Piece' with it. That generally means something sweet or delicious. So, today, it just has to be something with nougat. :-)

The ancient cookery writer Apicius wrote down some recipes which may have produced something similar to nougat, if the mixture 'cooked' for a sufficient time to make the ingredients chewy, using: honey; egg whites and nuts (almonds or other).

Making nougat isn't for the novice cook (IMO) but there's a video link below that makes it look 'possible'- not easy, but maybe possible! ;-)

I love nougat though it's really far too sweet for my teeth.  How about you?

Do you have a favourite treat that contains nougat?



Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Quinquatria and Tubilustrium Festivals!

Happy end of Quinquatria and Happy Tubilustrium greetings to you!

I did say that March was a busy month for festivals in Ancient Rome! What you’ll find below are not the only versions available to read in books and across the internet about the festivals of the Quinquatria and Tubilustrium. Like the other festivals I’ve mentioned on this blog, over time religious festival habits changed and the classical sources differ, according to when they were written and what might have currently been more common.


Minerva, Simon Vouet  1590-1649
The Hermitage Museum 

Between the 19th and 23rd March was the time of the Quinquatria (sometimes named Quinquatrus), a festival sacred to the goddess Minerva. Originally, it was likely to have also celebrated the Spring Equinox, a time of rebirth, and may have celebrated the fertility of women. The Quinquatria began on the fifth day after the ides of March (middle of the month).

There is some doubt in ancient sources about the duration of Quinquatria – Only one day? Or as many as five?

Varro, Festus, and Ovid quote different celebration durations. However, Ancient Roman calendars only mark one day for the festival.

Ovid wrote that it got the name Quinquatria because it continued for five days. According to him no blood was shed on the first day, but contests of gladiators took place on the following four days. Ovid’s version is also that the festival commemorated the birthday of Minerva.

Festus wrote it was because the Minerva temple on the Aventine was consecrated on that day.

Since the Quinquatria was sacred to Minerva, women may have consulted fortune-tellers and diviners, in the belief that Minerva was guiding their futures.

The Emperor Domitian (reign AD 81-96) celebrated the Quinquatria quite spectacularly at his Alban villa, where a newly set-up collegium (priest group) oversaw the celebrations. Domitian ordered shows of wild beasts. Plays were performed, and there were contests of orators and poets.

The last day, the 23rd March, seems to have been one of those ‘use it since it’s there already’ festival days.

The Tubilustrium Festival

Tubilustrium - Trajan's Column

From the earliest times of Roman military strength, the 23rd March was a day when the trumpets used for giving military commands, during practice regimes and in battle, were symbolically cleansed and purified. This ancient festival was named the Tubilustrium. Once the trumpets had undergone the official ritual cleansing and purification process, it was a signal that all was ready to begin the new military campaign season. It was a signal that once the spring planting was over, the farmer/soldier would leave the land-tending to others, and they would converge at a nominated place e.g.  Rome. They were ready to resume an ongoing battle with some other tribe, or country. Or, they were prepared to begin a new invasion with their weapons all spick and span, and polished to the sharpest edges!

The October Armilustrium festival was the opposite to the Tubilustrium. In mid-October, the earliest Ancient Roman armies symbolically wiped-off their weapons and packed them away till the next Tubilustrium festival, in the following month of March. In October, the men went back to their homes and helped with any crop gathering that still needed to be done. They then stayed home till the spring call to arms, the Tubilustrium. During that winter down-time they ensured that their weapons/ kit (shields, knives etc) were renewed and ready.

Since I write of the Roman Army invasions of northern Britannia during the late 1st Century AD,  the idea of how the legions celebrated any of the military-oriented festivals is one which has preoccupied me, at times. There were so many Roman festivals held annually, but any in honour of the god Mars, or to do with military prowess and armaments must still have been very highly regarded by the armies of Rome.

Minerva - Frans Dekker

Some of the Britannic troops might well have had some free time on military festival days, possibly drawn according to some form of roster system. I’m sure that marking a day differently from another one was possible. Perhaps there was a small ceremony officiated by the Camp Commander or the Primus Pilus (first spear and highest ranking non-commissioned officer). Or maybe a Legionary Legate conducted the ceremony to bolster troop morale. The actual ceremony and duration of any festivities may well have depended on what size the fort or fortress was and the stability of the area with regard to avenging local tribespeople (barbarians or semi-subdued). 

There is spectacular evidence from Trimontium Roman Fort (Melrose, Scotland) of military parade helmets. It’s thought that the helmets and masks would have only been worn by the equestrian forces during ceremonies or special ‘shows’. I like to think that the superb craftmanship of the masks and helmets were shown off during a symbolic Tubilustrium, and other Mars festivals.

1st C AD Parade Helmet- National Museum of Scotland
Found at Trimontium Fort, Melrose

Since the Ancient Romans, and the army in general, were very guided on a day-to-day basis by religious beliefs then the Tubilustrium and other Mars festivals might have been extremely important for mental morale in Britannia.

I don’t think many of the auxiliary army units who occupied Britain in the 1st Century AD ever had the luxury of completely abandoning warfare in October, for a winter ‘down-time’. Tacitus, however, mentions that the legions tended to retreat from an occupied front line, to overwinter in a legionary base. That practice, to me, would have been very dependent on whether or not the local Iron Age tribes took ‘time-off’ from making any fort attacks during the winter season. There may only have been the possibility of removing the legionary soldiers to a fortress base if auxiliary troops were substituted to outposts if they were still manned.

Copy display at Trimontium Museum, Melrose.
(Look behind the helmet peak and you'll see a photo of a
terracotta statuette of Minerva that was found at Trimontium) 

While on active campaign in Britannia, and sleeping under leather tents, I feel that celebrating any festivals would have been a solitary occupation. A quick prayer to the nominated god a few more times on that special day might have been the only recourse to the rank and file soldiers. 

I hope you have enjoyed reading about my Fascinating Festivals! 



Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Suovetaurilia Sacrifices! #Martius

Happy Wednesday to you! 

I research when I feel the urge, though Wednesdays might be a more focused day for my research from now on. The reason is because our new Ocelot Press Readers Group on Facebook has begun  a 'WeSearchWednesday' feature. 

Today, I've been researching more about Martius festivals - i.e. of the month of March. This new focus is about the Suovetaurilia sacrifices and I've been getting my information from my brand new birthday book - Roman Art from The Louvre. 

Research is definitely all in the interpretation! A lot like my historical fiction writing.

Ancient Roman sacrifice was a popular event. and during the month of March there were plenty of opportunities.

An anonymous drawing of this fragment of a marble relief is in the Louvre collections. (I'm still trying to prove the whereabouts of the original marble since it used to be in the Grimani / Borghese collection.) Sadly it has only been partially restored in recent centuries after being discovered during the Renaissance era.

The animals lined up for the sacrifice are a pig  (sus); a ram (ovis) and a bull (taurus). This particular threesome made the event an even more special sacrifice and was named a Suovetaurilia. Suovetaurilia ceremonies tended to be associated with dedication to the god Mars. They were purification rites, as were many of the other war associated March ceremonies and festivals. The bull is adorned with sacrificial vestments and ornaments. (dorsuale, frontalia and infulae)

The animals are led by three victimarii, three assistants who carried out the sacrifices. Each of them wears a toga bunched up at the waist rather than a limus, a sacrificial apron. Perhaps this is because it was an even more special sacrifice than many would have been. Read on to find out...


Behind the bull is the popa, his sacrificial axe carried over his shoulders. Personally, I think the togas are bunched up to avoid the inevitable blood flow that would result after the sacrifices.

The sizeable pig is quite inquisitive and shows few signs of the fate in store for it. But that again is the artistic licence. Cowardly animals, like cowardly people, would not have been represented in Ancient Rome - except, of course,  if they were vanquished barbarian tribespeople!

laurel wreathed

It's difficult to see the details but the three major figures are crowned with laurel. This signifies that the lead priest is the emperor.

The dating of the marble is probably first half of the 1st Century AD. Emperors who were known to have been associated with these ceremonies were Augustus and Tiberius AD. 14; Claudius and Vitellius AD 47/48; and Vespasian and Titus c. AD 72/73 - according to their consular and religious offices.

Since I write about the latter part of the 1st C AD,  I'd like it to be of Vespasian but because the main faces have been restored it's difficult  for the experts to decide which emperor it might be. that has also obscured the ability to assess according to the stylistic criteria of the eras e.g more realism during the time of Claudius. 

Even more complicated is the fact that what is seen above was likely to have been only one side of a double Suovetaurilia composition, since there's a hint of a second altar at the right hand side.

Which of the emperors would you like it to be?

This is another long frieze of a Suovetaurilia ceremony. 


Monday, 15 March 2021

Ocelot Press Book of the Month! March 2021


Welcome to the brand-new Ocelot Press Book of the Month. 

If you read my post yesterday on really ancient Roman Festivals, you might have noticed that I made absolutely NO mention of the 15th March being the Ides and a day to BEWARE OF (according to William Shakespeare, and with reference to his tragedy Julius Caesar). That was because this post, today on the 15th March, was already scheduled and entirely appropriate for me to post today! 

Each month, Ocelot Press will focus on one particular Ocelot Press publication. This month it is Sue Barnard’s romantic intrigue The Unkindest Cut of All , the action of which takes place over one week in March, during an amateur dramatic society’s production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel, based around the thespian environment, and loved it even more because Julius Caesar was one of the plays I studied as a 15 year old at school for my Scottish curriculum  'O' Grade  in English' examination, I walked the corridors of my school for months looking behind me because, believe it or not, I was born on the Ides of March. I'd walk around a corridor to find someone would theatrically 'jump out at me' brandishing an imaginary Roman dagger. Julius Caesar is a very memorable play, but so is Sue Barnard's The Unkindest cut of All'

Here’s the blurb:


Brian Wilmer is God’s gift to amateur dramatics – and he knows it.  So when the Castlemarsh Players take the ambitious decision to stage Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, there is only one man who can play the title role – even though Brian’s posturing “prima donna” attitude has, over the years, won him few friends and many foes.

Rehearsals progress apace, and the production draws ever closer.  But when another member of the cast has to drop out due to illness, local journalist Sarah Carmichael (a stalwart of the Players’ backstage crew) suddenly finds herself called upon to step into the breach at the eleventh hour.

Not surprisingly, Sarah finds that Brian is in his egotistical element playing the mighty Caesar.  The fact that the final performance of the play takes place on the infamous Ides of March – the day when, according to tradition, Caesar was fatally stabbed – only adds to the excitement.

But tragedy is waiting in the wings.  And when it strikes, it falls to Sarah – with the help of Brian’s personable and fascinating nephew Martin Burns – to uncover the incredible truth of what really happened…

The Unkindest Cut of All is available from Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.  To celebrate it being the Ocelot Press Book of the Month, the Kindle edition is currently available at the special offer price of just 77p (or the equivalent in your local currency).  To find out more, click HERE

And here’s a ***special treat*** for anyone who orders the e-book during this month.  Post a screenshot of your Amazon order in the Ocelot Press Readers Group on Facebook, and you will be entered into a draw to win a signed copy of the paperback edition.  The draw will stay open until the end of March 2021.

Sue has very kindly sent along some excellent fun facts about Julius Caesar. I love them and hope you will, too. 

(p.s. remember that calendar I posted yesterday, that complex one that was typical of what decorated the walls in Ancient Rome?)


Julius Caesar

When Shakespeare wrote his play
Julius Caesar, his main source was the work of an ancient historian called Plutarch.

One of the most famous phrases associated with Julius Caesar is the line Beware the Ides of March, which occurs in Shakespeare’s play.  IDES was a feature of the ancient Roman calendar.  It referred to the first full moon of the calendar month, which usually occurred around the middle of the month.  In March, May, July and October the Ides fell on the 15th of the month, whilst in other months it was the 13th.  According to tradition, Caesar was assassinated in Rome on the Ides of March in the year 44BC.

It is believed that Julius Caesar was born two days before the Ides of July in the year 100BC – but contrary to popular belief, he was not born by Caesarean Section.  Although the practice did exist in Caesar’s time, it almost always resulted in the death of the mother so was only performed in extreme circumstances.  In fact the word Caesarean has nothing to do with Julius Caesar – it is derived from the Latin word caesus, meaning “cut”.

Caesar married three times – first to Cornelia, then to Pompeia, and finally to Calpurnia.  He also had a number of extra-marital relationships, including one with Cleopatra VII, Queen of Egypt, and is believed to be the father of her son Ptolemy Caesar (later Ptolemy XV), born around 47BC.  The Ancient Egyptians referred to Ptolemy as Caesarion (meaning “Little Caesar”). 

Originally CAESAR was not a name – it was a title, meaning EMPEROR.  In Classical Latin it is pronounced the same as we pronounce the modern German word KAISER.

In a traditional pack of playing cards, Julius Caesar is represented by the King of Diamonds.

There are no living descendants of Julius Caesar.  Although he had several children by his various wives and mistresses, none of them produced any surviving issue. 

Remember to take that photo of your copy of The Unkindest Cut of All and post it to the Facebook Ocelot Press Readers group and enter the competition there.

Enjoy the Ides of March- I know I always do! ;-) 


Sunday, 14 March 2021

Mamuralia, Equirria and Anna Perenna Festivals - 14th and 15th March.

The Ancient Roman March festivals.

The next festivals I'm making a mention of in this mini-series of really ancient Roman March Festivals are Mamuralia, Equirria and Anna Perenna.

The Mamuralia

The last post was about the Ancile - the shield that was revered as being absolutely essential for the continuity of Roman dominance in that part of the Mediterranean. 

As previously mentioned, our current knowledge of these very ancient Roman festivals comes from legends and from the pens of writers who came much later in Roman history. Whatever the truth of any of the festivals, they were needed at a time to bolster up the mood of the communities who lived around Rome. Those ancient peoples needed something to cling to, to keep them going, when life was tough. Sometimes natural disasters happened and the blame had to be laid at someone's door. At such times, it was easier to claim the gods gave favour, or denied favour, to a venture. 

Here's a little bit more about what happened after the Ancilia Festival of the Shields, which took place on the 9th March.

When the king, Numa Pompilius, ordered the eleven extra shields to be created  - to match the divine one that fell from the heavens - he chose a smith named Mamurius. Mamurius was, presumably, the best smith around and one who would be guaranteed to do exactly what was asked, someone who would honour the prophecy of the original ancile (shield). 

Carmen Salii
As payment for the work involved, it's said that Mamurius asked that his name be one that was never forgotten. A way to sort this out was to include his name in a song that would be sung for centuries to come. The Carmen Saliare did exactly that. On the 9th March, when the Salii paraded the shields around the city, they beat the shields with a sacred rod, they danced a special military dance, and they sang the song/ poem Carmen Saliare which gave honour to Mamurius.  [A fragment of the Carmen Saliare still exists]

However, in the way of legends, there are often different versions of the same story as the years roll by. Ioannis Lydus (John the Lydian-early 6th Century)  had a slightly different slant to the tale. Instead of the twelve Salii priests beating the shields, Lydus' account is that on the 14th March, an old man (possibly wearing only animal skins) was chosen to be driven out of the state, and beaten along the route during the Mamuralia Festival. (Poor old guy. I hope he was deserving of such a fate) 

A version also states that the old man in the beating process was Mamurius who was chastised by some soldiers/priests because they did not get the proper protection from the shield that they carried. (Presumably having believed they alone carried the divine shield)

Whatever the current story of the day, all those thousands of years ago, on the 14th March the shields seem to have been paraded again in the streets of Rome. 

This Mamuralia taking place on the 14th March was unusual in that festivals generally occurred on an odd numbered date. 

An intriguing reason is that the Mamuralia initially took place on the ides of March (15th), however there were already two other important activities on that date and a third major one was one too many. The two established 15th March events were the Equirria and that of the Festival of Anna Perenna.

The Equirria 

This was a chariot-racing event. (perhaps also with horseback racing?) It was one of two festivals of similar name that were held in honour of the god Mars, which were very popularly attended, the other date being on the 27th February. The Equirria were said to have been started by Romulus himself and were held in the Campus Martius, a public space just outside the sacred boundary of Rome (when not flooded). Because the pre-Julian Roman calendar started with the month of March, the Equirria festival of the 15th March was part of the new year festivities, whereas the one held on the 27th February was to 'close' the year. 

Anna Perenna 

She appears to have originally been a divinity who was lauded as the giver of life, of health, and abundance. Her goddess powers were most effective and evident during the return of spring, hence the ides (middle) of March being a good time for a celebration day for her. She was honoured at her grove at the first milestone on the Via Flaminia (a road from Rome over the Apennine mountains to the Adriatic Coast). The festivities may have been somewhat licentious (according to Ovid), but then probably many others were similarly conducted in high revelry. 

The suicide of Dido-
Giovanni Francesco Barbieri detto il Guercino

One tale of the poet Ovid, is that Anna was a sister of Dido and Anna fled after Dido's death. To avoid her brother Pygmalian, she fled to Malta and was welcomed by Battus the king of Malta. When Pygmalian was seeking war some three years later, Battus recommended Anna flee again. Shipwrecked on the coast of Latium, she was protected by Aeneas. Unfortunately, she stirred extreme jealousy in Lavinia. (a recurring theme in fiction and mythology) The danger was so great that Dido appeared in a dream to Anna, warning her of the situation. The unfortunate Anna was then swept away in the River Numicius, after which she was transformed into a water nymph and hidden in the 'perennial' stream. 

An interesting aspect of the Anna Perenna festival is that she is equated to the 'ring or cycle' of the year and is the origin of the term Per Annum- meaning once a year. 

A slightly different version has her as the sister of Dido, and daughter of Belus. After her father's death she fled to Carthage where the king, Aeneas, welcomed her. All was not well when the jealousy of Lavinia was aroused. Dido appears to Anna in a dream, warning her of the perilous situation, whereupon Anna drowned herself in the River Numicius. 

Virgil's 'Aeneid ' has yet another version! 

There are yet more versions of why she was revered. One option has her as an old woman. When Mars fell in love with Minerva, he went to the old woman named Anna Perenna and asked for her help to seduce Minerva. Mars thought his request was granted when Minerva appeared before him. However, when he lifted her veil to kiss her, only scorn came his way because it was really the old woman, Anna Perenna, who was pretending to be the beautiful Minerva.  

Anna Perenna 

A further Anna story has the old woman giving away food to the starving around Rome, after which the thankful plebs built a temple to her in honour of her good deeds. This was at the time of the First Plebeian Secession, a time of conflict between the ruling classes and the commoners. 

An aspect yet to be highlighted on this blog is that the March festivals were related to the new year, to the new campaigning season and to the readiness for such momentous events. More coming soon on this...

In order that the ordinary people of Rome got to grips with what festival was on which day, something like this calendar was carved onto the walls at street corners! How they coped with this minefield of festival days over the course of a year, is a mystery still to be solved by me. :-) 

Raise a glass to the festivals held on the 14th and 15th of March!


Tuesday, 9 March 2021

Ancile! The 9th March!

Martius – which was the first month of the pre-Julian Ancient Roman calendar – was the month dedicated to the god Mars and it was as busy a month as a few of the others!

Mars- Capitoline Museum, Rome

In Ancient Rome, the concept of an official holiday from work did not seem to exist but there were many feast days instead which were a time to celebrate, even if only a little by the poor, or if you were a slave. The 9th of March was one of those very special days, and was the day of the ancilia. Twelve sacred shields of a notable shape were brought out and paraded through the streets, carried by twelve dedicated and identically dressed priests named the Salii. According to legend, the Salii order of priests was specially created during the reign of Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome. Their dedicated purpose was to ensure the safety of the twelve shields and it was their job to display them to the people of Rome, a parade which began on the 9th of March.

Why twelve shields and twelve priests?

The story of the ancilia, like many ancient legends, was probably created to boost the power of the state. One version of the story tells that during the reign of Numa Pompilius, a devastating plague swept through Rome. Living in this current time of the Covid 19 pandemic of 2020/2021, it’s easy to see that ancient people needed something to account for the desolation caused by such a disease. A divine intervention was created to bolster the allegiance and spirits of those who remained alive. Magically, or otherwise, the story tells of a shield falling from the heavens. After this event, the progress of the plague slowed down and a voice was heard to say that Rome would be mistress of the world while the shield was preserved.


The shield became regarded as one of the pignora imperii, items which were sacred guarantors that would maintain Rome as a sovereign state, a sovereign entity. (The Greeks had a similar equivalent regarding their Palladium) However, in case someone tried to steal the initial shield that fell from the heavens, in a similar way to Ulysses stealing the Palladium, Numa Pompilius made a declaration. He ordered that eleven exact copies of the shield be made which were kept with the original, effectively hiding the true sacred one in ‘plain sight’, a ploy to confuse any would be thieves. It seems the idea for his instruction may have come from his divine consort and councillor, the nymph Egeria.

To further safeguard the ancile (ancilia when relating to all twelve) the Salii order was created. These twelve priests were tasked with looking after the shields and they held the job for life, unless they chose to leave having been given another important ‘post’ in Rome. Their place of assembly was the Curia Saliorum on the Palatine hill, and they were named the Salii Palatini. [They are not to be confused with the Salii Collini who gathered on the Quirinal Hill. Originally, these were originally two distinct communities. N.B. The name Salii also occurs in other parts of ‘Italy’.]


On the 9th March the Salii paraded out of the Curia Saliorum. They were bedecked in a uniform which resembled a cross between a priest and a warrior.  They wore as short embroidered tunic, a bronze breastplate, a (red?) short cloak, and a pointed cap (apex). As well as carrying an ancile (sacred shield) they also carried as short staff which they used to beat the shield like a drum. They danced and sang the Carmen Saliari, their sacred song around the streets.

Of course, they couldn’t cover all of the streets of Rome in one day, so the shields were paraded around (probably on and off) during the rest of March. But that isn’t nearly the end of the story because the Salii were very busy on the 14th, 18th and 24th of March as well.

You can look out for more information on those dates, coming your way…very soon.

But for now celebrate, with me, the 9th of Martius.


images: Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 8 March 2021

Queen Cartimandua, a strong leader or a vilified adulteress?

Today, 8th March, is International Women's Day.

It's a day marked for celebrating women who have in some way made their mark politically, scientifically, or are memorable for some special exploits. Or in the case of the 2021 theme, they have done something to 'choose to challenge'.

I have some very strong female characters in my Celtic Fervour Series, but today I'm mentioning someone who is believed to have been a real historical person of the era, and not one of my fictional characters.

18th C engraving. Cartimandua giving up Caractacus. 

In AD 71, the year that my series begins, my (fictitious) warrior clan from the Brigante Hillfort of Garrigill are facing a deadly new threat. The background to their situation is this:

During the late AD 60s, a destructive civil war raged for many years between the rival Brigante factions of Queen Cartimandua and those of her ex-husband King Venutius. Pitched battles have taken place between the forces of Cartimandua, and those of Venutius, causing massive disruption across the territory of Brigantia. Old loyalties die slowly and lingering enemies are made amongst the Brigante peoples. After one particular confrontation between the two factions in AD 69, Cartimandua disappears. It's unknown if she was slain, there's no body to prove that. Rumours abound that she has enlisted Roman help, yet another time, having already been rescued from an earlier battle by the Romans. She may, this last time, have been safely secreted off the battlefield and escorted all they way to Rome, though that cannot be corroborated either. However, for the Brigantes who remain in the territory, now that Cartimandua has gone, there is no leader around who is in cahoots with the Roman Empire like Cartimandua had been for many years. Her collaboration with Rome meant no massive Roman invasion of Brigante territory, but by AD 71 that is no longer the case. Venutius clings on as the Brigante leader but now has to face a new enemy- the legions of the Roman Empire. led by the current Governor of Britannia, a man named Petillius Cerialis. Cerialis leads a determined force northwards to dominate the territories of the Brigantes and properly absorb it into the Roman Empire. My Garrigill warriors, as loyal followers of Venutius, go to battle against Rome.

Much of the above plot was real, according to the Ancient Roman writer Cornelius Tacitus.

But what are the historical facts surrounding Cartimandua who was Queen of Brigantia?

Sadly, since the Late Iron Age tribes of Britain left no written records of their own, we have only the writings of a few Ancient Roman writers who mention her name and who wrote according to their own bias. Cornelius Tacitus is the main source, but what can we believe of his account of Cartimandua?

Tacitus writes that after the Claudian invasion of Britannia in AD 43, an arrangement of some kind was made with Queen Cartimandua who was the current ruler of the Brigantes federation of tribes, and who may possibly have been the Brigante leader for a while prior to the invasion of Claudius. In exchange for some form of bribes (possibly gold and promised Roman support against any of her tribal enemies), it appears that the territory ruled by Cartimandua, a queen in her own right by birth or perhaps even by merit, was largely left uncontested by the marauding Roman legions for many years.

Many of the tribes of Britain fought bravely against the domination of Rome but others seem to have acquiesced relatively readily. Tacitus mentions some of these male leaders in derogatory terms, others as being more honourable. Female tribal leaders seem to have been far less common and he only mentions two of them.

In Ancient Rome, a female leader/ ruler was unthinkable. It was a concept prohibited by by the senate, so females like Bouddica of the Iceni and Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes were written about with different degrees of suspicion by Tacitus. The story of Bouddica's trials and tribulations comes to us down the centuries as of her being a female freedom-fighter - but does Tacitus hint that Cartimandua was the same? I don't think so.

Tacitus is somewhat scathing about Cartimandua (her name possible meaning sleek pony). He writes of her as more of a collaborator, treacherous and self-seeking, someone who was happy to collude with Rome possibly in order to make her own life more peaceful. The real historical reasons remain a mystery but according to Tacitus, in c. AD 61 or 62, Queen Cartimandua handed over King Caractacus of the Catuvellauni tribe to the Romans. Caractacus had been rebelling against Roman domination for years, had fought some bloody battles against the forces of Rome but was eventually defeated in the lands of the Ordovices (modern day Wales). Caractacus, having abandoned his family, fled northwards in the hope that Cartimandua would give him shelter and aid but, according to Tacitus, she calmly handed him over to Rome.
Caractacus appealing to Emperor Claudius-18th C engraving

Tacitus further writes that Caractacus, and his family who had been scooped up as spoils of war, were dragged off in chains to Rome. They were all paraded around the city as defeated 'Celts' of Britannia, execution being the norm after a public degradation. However, according to Tacitus, an eloquent plea by Caractacus to the current emperor (Claudius) got Caractacus a pardon, after which he and his family lived out their lives in Rome. Whether, or not, that was pure fabrication on the part of Tacitus is unknown, but he writes of Caractacus as being almost a male champion of liberty, his abandonment of his family to save his own skin a forgotten element. Claudius gained some clout as an emperor prepared to grant clemency to defeated opposition so Caractacus is written as almost a hero.

Cartimandua, on the other hand, is vilified for handing Caractacus over and for being a loyal 'client Queen' of Rome.

Tacitus goes on to heap scorn on Cartimandua as an adulteress. Sometime between 61 and 67 AD, Cartimandua divorced her consort King Venutius. This would have been yet another unpalatable fact for Romans to contemplate. It was fine for a Roman male to divorce his wife, a very simple process, but not the same for a female of an Iron Age 'Celtic' tribe to do the same. Cartimandua was thus called an adulteress when she went on to marry Venutius' shield bearer- Vellocatus.

Whether she was a devious collaborator, or a strong woman who snatched at the only methods available to keep her lands from being decimated by the thudding feet of the Roman legions, we will probably never know. But I'd love to hear her side of the story! Whatever the truth, she was a strong woman. Slàinte!