Monday, 6 May 2019

#A2ZChallenge Survivor Reflections!

I'm a survivor!
Some reflections on my month of April.

Publishing a post on every possible day during the month of April for my blogging challenge was quite an achievement, but I absolutely loved doing it.  

I kept to my theme of Roman Scotland during the Flavian Era -  i.e. during the invasions of (mainly) General Agricola. I really enjoyed finding a suitable topic to match the letter of the day and in doing the posts it's helped clarify some aspects for my current writing. Some letters were much easier than others and yet they did not necessarily turn out to be the shortest posts. 

I thoroughly enjoyed finding suitable graphics to match the topic of the post and I even made some new maps which I'll definitely use in future - here on this blog, or in my PowerPoint author presentations which I give to various sizes of local groups across Aberdeenshire, Scotland. I've also learned even more new information about the era and, for me, that's fantastic because I've still so much to learn about Roman Scotland in general, and in Flavian terms as well. 

I made a rough estimate of my word count which was a whopping 34,000 words! That's about one third of a typical novel of mine, once through its final edits. 

Do I have any regrets? Yes, I do in that my posts often took all of my spare time on a daily basis, so I didn't manage to pop into as many other blogs as I'd have liked to. I read and commented as much as I could and had the energy left for, but more blog visiting on my part would have been better. However, I loved learning lots of new things about Indian myths and legends, those were my most informative and most entertaining visits.

I had about 4200 views during April. That's a little bit more than average and.... naturally the more the merrier! 

I'm delighted that I had some visitors and love the few comments made. Since my topic is essentially quite a serious one, that's relatively formal, I'm aware that the material isn't a lighthearted coffee time read that has a huge appeal. However, I do have to be totally truthful and confess that I did the challenge mainly for myself. Any new blog visitors, and hopefully new followers are a huge bonus! Thank you very much indeed, if you were one of my new visitors!

Since this wasn't my first time doing the challenge, I'm likely to do another one, though perhaps not as soon as next year! (Unless my fiction writing is a different time period) As before it was easy to sign up and well- organised so I know roughly what to expect another time. 

I've spent these first five days of May mostly doing gardening tasks, enjoying the fresh air and some digging exercise but I must now knuckle down to my latest writing which is Book 5 of my Celtic Fervour Series. Since I managed to write 34 thousand words for my A2ZChallenge,  then I'm setting a realistic target of adding 40 thousand words to my WIP by the end of June.

I do hope the muse is in residence! 

Enjoy the next months whatever you're intending to do. 


Wednesday, 1 May 2019

It's #Beltane!

Happy Beltane! 

May 1st means the festival of Beltane - a time of new beginnings for crops and the rearing of animals and a signal that spring has finally arrived. 

Having completed my April blogging #A2ZChallenge posts, I'm using the time before the rain starts  today(expected at lunchtime) to do some outside chores. I've painted part of an outside granite rendered wall that needed to be repaired and I'm now off to finish off the digging over of my new small vegetable plot. 

Later on I'll be expecting to do some fiction reading catch up for a blog commitment but if you're needing some new reading why not click the link and get a copy of The Beltane Choice. (Book 1 Celtic Fervour Series clan saga) It's packed with history; adventure and romance in the midst of war! Readers on Amazon who leave excellent 5 star comments tell me they're definitely not disappointed with their Beltane Choice!  

Click HERE to get a copy or read on #KindleUnlimited. 


Tuesday, 30 April 2019

#A2ZChallenge Z is for Zenith

Z is for Zenith…or maybe not quite.
Theme: Ancient Roman Scotland during the Flavian era

When I looked at my choices for the letter Z, I could only see myself using the following – zap; zealous; zone; zenith. I’m going to sneak in all of them but focus on zenith.

1) The point on the celestial sphere vertically above an observer. 
2) The highest point, peak, acme: the zenith of someone’s achievements

Z is definitely a tough letter to tackle but I’m going to aim for the almost unknown as I finish off this wonderful #A2ZChallenge2019. I’ve managed to keep to my intended theme of Ancient Roman Scotland during the Flavian era all the way through, so for this last post I’ll look at what General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola achieved in #Caledonia. What was his zenith?
General Agricola
Wikimedia Commons 

What was the highest peak of his achievements?

Even after a lot of studying of this era, I am not actually sure. I don’t believe anyone can be sure till more evidence is uncovered.

The almost unknown part is that we don’t really know what Agricola personally achieved in #Caledonia. We mainly have Cornelius Tacitus’ words to refer to. As far as I know, there is no back-up reference by anyone else writing at that same time who actually corroborates the vague comments that Tacitus wrote. 

Tacitus mentions that his father-in-law General Agricola was a military man who led his men during the campaign, was at the front of the marching line (perhaps not always literally) and liked to choose his next encampment site. That part I’m sure would maybe have been slight exaggeration since a commander would have been absorbing information from forward scouts on the terrain that lay ahead of the armies. The site engineer would also have been assessing the land to ensure all criteria were met before the camp engineers began the marking out of the perimeter. 

I can, however, see an experienced general like Agricola giving his stamp of approval in general terms about the suitability of a possible site.  If, for example, he was entering a narrow valley floor where it was instantly easy to see that defence would have been virtually impossible, then I could see him doing an immediate zap of it. And when a suitable situation, visibly well-able to be defended, presented itself after a decent day’s march then I’m sure Agricola was more than capable of doing that kind of ‘choosing’. Tacitus may have been telling everyone that Agricola was a perfectionist who was sufficiently zealous enough to want to be on top of all decision making. 

But was Agricola actually the first general to invade southern and central Caledonia? Was Tacitus giving more acclaim to Agricola than the man actually deserved? 

P.P. Statius
Wikimedia Commons
The poet Publius Papinius Statius was relatively contemporary to Tacitus and Agricola. However, Statius’ advice (in the poem Silvae) to Vettius Crispinus, about following the great example of Crispinus’ father – Vettius Bolanus – sheds a different light on who actually invaded parts of Caledonia first. The possibility that Bolanus was the first Roman Governor of Britannia to invade southern and perhaps even central Caledonia is enhanced by the results of more recent archaeological dating. Some Dendrochronology dates for southern Caledonia fort locations indicate an initial building programme during the early 70s, rather than during Agricola’s governorship of c. A.D. 77-84. Those invasions could then have been during the governorships of Bolanus (A.D. 69-71) and his successor Quintus Petillius Cerialis (A.D. 71-74).

What I really like to keep in mind is that although General Agricola was not Governor of Britannia during the period of A.D. 71-74, he was Legatus of the Legio XX. It’s known that while Cerialis was campaigning in eastern Brigantia (North Yorkshire/ Northumberland), Agricola was striding forward and subduing the western zones of Brigantia (Cumbria/ North-West Yorkshire). The troops who then invaded southern and central Scotland, may have been under the overall command of Governor Cerialis but some of them were probably under the direct command of Agricola if they were men of Legio XX , or vexillations attached to that legion.

Wikimedia Commons
Was that then Agricola’s zenith? I doubt it since invasion continued beyond central Scotland. The wooden forts in the zone of the River Tay (Gask Ridge/ Highland Line? ) may, or may not have been initially built by Agricola. Some historians favour the notion that there had been some action in those areas during the early 70s, organised by Bolanus or Cerialis, and that the earliest forts result from those forays. Did Agricola arrange the building of them? The answer might be yes, but when he was Legate of Legio XX.

Julius Sextus Frontinus, according to Tacitus, was very busy during his 3 to 4 year tenure as Governor of Britannia (c. A.D 74-77) in subduing the tribes of 'Wales'. That may indeed have been a priority for Frontinus but it seems unlikely that all Roman military action would have been completely suspended in the north. Perhaps the most basic presence maintained some sort of stability in the northern zones where fort building had taken place? Though as with Agricola in the early 80s, it may very well have depended on how many troops Frontinus had to command.

It's worth mentioning that during the tenure of Frontinus as Governor of Britannia, Agricola was likely to have been elsewhere. He was appointed Governor  of Gallia Aquitania (France) at this time. The lack of determined and zealous invasion in Caledonia during those few years may have been because there was no military commander experienced enough to ensure that a further expansion into northern Caledonia (beyond the Tay) would have been successful.

A huge problem with theorising like this is how to deal with the fact that when Agricola returned to Britannia as Governor and Commander of the legions it took him from c. A.D. 77 to A.D. 83/84 to push as far north as the Moray Firth. If there was already military presence of any degree in central Caledonia, why did it take so long for him to get to the far north? Was it because he was indeed so zealous, such a perfectionist that only absolute capitulation of everything to the south of where he currently was, was good enough for him? Did he have a lot more engagement with the local tribes of Caledonia which meant his progress was slower than Tacitus wanted to include in his Agricola? Given that Agricola was in charge of the rest of the island of Britannia, did he have issues there that took a lot of time and energy away from his invasions of the far north-east? It's known that he was given a judicial legate to help him with the workload of running all civic and military aspects in Britannia so his responsibilities were considerable. It must have needed a lot of time and huge effort during his longer-than-average tenure as governor to ensure the most smooth-running progress in all areas. 

Whatever the answers to the timescale and the actual events of the invasion of Caledonia, it's evident that thousands of Agricolan soldiers marched onwards to the Moray Firth area, though only creating temporary camps rather than wooden forts. 

While I was writing Agricola’s Bane, Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series clan saga, I tried really hard to get into the mind set of General Agricola as he shivered in a Caledonian early winter. In an academic paper on climate studies, I read that the climate of ‘Caledonia’ 2000 years ago would not have been vastly different from it is now. The atmospheric conditions which can affect our Scottish weather patterns today may well have been somewhat similar and just as responsible for creating mercurial weather back then. While today we accept the scientific reasons for changeable weather, Agricola really would have been likely to have blamed the god Mercury for the unpredictable conditions he was enduring! 

It’s thought there was an Agricolan presence at one, or both, of the encampments named Auchinhove and its larger much larger neighbour Muiryfold. If Agricola was encamped at either one then marching his armies to almost the Moray Coast of Scotland was quite an achievement, yet I don’t think that was his ultimate aim or the zenith of his career. To conquer the whole of Caledonia and thus the whole of the island of Britannia would have meant a bit more campaigning, time that he wasn’t given since it seems he was recalled to Rome. After campaigns spanning the best part of seven years it would be reasonable to think that a zealous invader like Agricola would have been shocked to the core to realise his ultimate ambition wasn’t going to come to fruition. Archaeological digs in Aberdeenshire have produced sufficient ground evidence to be sure of Roman presence there, but the land north of the Moray Firth has not produced similar crop markings. Of course, the lack of evidence from aerial photography north of Inverness doesn’t mean Agricolan troops never visited the area – it’s currently just that there’s no evidence.

Cornelius Tacitus Wikimedia Commons
Tacitus wrote an interesting phrase that went something like: Agricola held the whole of Caledonia in his hands but then it was let go. In the translations that I've read, Tacitus does not say 'Agricola let it go'. The zenith of Agricolan achievement, the climax of his Roman army campaigns, would have been the capitulation of every local person on Caledon soil. Sadly for Roman Empire expansion, I don't quite think that Agricola made his zenith...

Speaking as a born and bred zealous Scot, I'm not sad at all that the country of my birth remained less influenced by the Roman legacy compared to some other countries. 

But... if you've been following my blog posts this past April 2019, you'll have noticed that I'm definitely fascinated that Agricola (Rome) came and then went away again! 

Do you think that Agricola reached his zenith?

Thank you for reading my April #A2ZChallenge posts. If you have any questions on any of the topics, pop them into the comments box!