Wine, Anyone?

Below us, the forest gave way to fields, each planted with precise, parallel rows of trellised vines.

On the southern coast of my fictional land, in what is roughly the 7th century, the southern village of Karst grows grapes for wine. Given that this land is an analogue of Britain, how reasonable is this?

Grapes have been grown for millennia; six thousand years ago, grapes were grown in an area reaching from the far east of Europe to Asia Minor and through the Nile Delta. Grape cultivation spread westward with the Hittites, into Crete and Thrace as early as 3000 BCE. (The first written laws governing the wine trade are from Hammurabi, in 1700 BCE.) The Phoenicians took grapes ever further west, and Rome brought them to Britain shortly after its conquest in the first century CE.[1]

Even before the Roman conquest, wine was being imported to Britain.[2]  But Rome saw wine as a necessity, available (in differing qualities) to everyone. Wine was imported to its outposts, but vineyards were also established wherever possible, to save the cost of shipping. Increasing consumption of wine in Romanized Europe also meant less of it was available for import, so growing their own was a sensible solution.  

After Rome left Britain ‘to see to their own defences’, winemaking primarily fell to the monasteries. As Christianity – or any widely organized religion – doesn’t exist in my world – I didn’t incorporate it. But the idea that grapes grow in the south of my land is based on historical record. In the Domesday Book, that great record of population and agriculture and land ownership compiled in the late 11th Century, there were 42 vineyards in England, all below a line from Cambridgeshire to Gloucestershire.[3] 

Domesday Book vineyards are all south of this line.

So what Lena sees, looking south from an escarpment towards Karst could, possibly, have been seen in England too, at the equivalent time to the setting of Empire’s Daughter.

Below us, the forest gave way to fields, each planted with precise, parallel rows of trellised vines. Dirt tracks ran between the fields, houses, and outbuildings scattered among them. Smoke rose from the houses, and in the far distance, I spotted a larger building with a tower: the central meeting hall. Beyond that were more fields, and then a shimmer at the horizon: the sea.  


[1] https://ipm.missouri.edu/MEG/2013/8/Grapes-A-Brief-History

[2] New Light on the Wine Trade with Julio-Claudian Britain. PAUL R. SEALEY Britannia Vol. 40 (2009), pp. 1-40 (40 pages)

[3] https://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/07/medieval-warmth-and-english-wine/

Featured image Image by Bruno /Germany from Pixabay

Lena and Maya: Can This Relationship Be Saved?

Even if the request to fight had never come, could this relationship survive?

Lena and Maya, characters in Empire’s Daughter, are partners in life and work; like many young village couples, they’ve known each other all their lives, moving from playmates to a closer bond. They apprenticed together, and now as adults – which they’ve been for a year, in their world – they work together on a co-owned fishing boat. Maya is six months older than Lena, practical, organized, disliking of change. “Maya needed order and predictability,” Lena thinks. “In our business partnership, her need for stability balanced my impulsiveness. In our personal relationship, it had always cast a small shadow.”

Image by prettysleepy1 from Pixabay 

Lena describes herself as a dreamer, given to mood swings and doubts.  But Maya sees something else: “You think this is an adventure, Lena?” she accuses. “Something new? Something different? You always want to sail a little further, find another cove, even though the ones we know provide us with all the fish we need.”

Now the Emperor has made an audacious request: will the women of his land learn to fight, to help protect their country from invasion?  They’re needed, in his judgment: the men alone cannot win, not without leaving the northern frontier underguarded and vulnerable. It’s a departure from hundreds of years of tradition, an abandonment of the Partition agreement that structured the lives of men and women into distinct roles. Men fight; women fish and farm.

Lena doesn’t admit to Maya that, yes, she sees an adventure in the choice that has been presented. Fishing needs all her wits: the seas can turn nasty in a moment. It should be enough to deal with that day to day. But there’s a drive in her – inherited from her father, although she doesn’t know that – for new horizons, new challenges.

Maya just wants things not to change. Tradition is important to her. She wants her village to refuse the request: it’s the men’s job to protect the land, not women’s. And she thinks if they agree to this, and survive it, what else will change?  The idea frightens her, and she’s become rigid in her thinking.  “Don’t make up my mind so soon?” she snaps. “I know how I feel, Lena. What Casyn is asking, what the Empire is asking, is wrong. I know that, and so do you.  Women don’t fight. We don’t kill or harm others.”

This relationship had some issues before this divisive request. So, readers, here’s your question:  even if the request to fight had never come, could this relationship survive?

Empire’s Daughter is available from Amazon.

Featured image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Lena’s World: Sexuality in the Empire. Empire’s Daughter Backgrounder IV

Like most of the cultural structures in Empire’s Daughter, the sexuality is rooted in historical fact, although I do not pretend it is historically accurate.

This is the fourth in an occasional series on the history and geography that lies behind and informs my historical fantasy series, Empire’s Legacy.  Book I, Empire’s Daughter, is available on Amazon: Book II, Empire’s Hostage, will be released around June of 2017.

 

In Lena’s world, the world of the Empire, sexuality is varied and fluid.  This is, I hope, presented simply as part of the background and the culture of this world, but to some extent it is also based on history.

Sexuality is both innate, sexual preferences and gender identity something we are born with (and that do not necessarily conform to the gender identity we are assigned at birth) but the strength of sexuality as a basic human need can also mean that sexuality can be situational.  Men or women deprived of the company of their preferred sexual partners for long periods will seek and find sexual release and comfort where they can.  In the Empire, the structure of the society, where men and women live separately for all but a couple of weeks per year makes situational sexuality a normal and accepted practice in the lives of both men and women.

But of course, there is a wide range of sexual preference within this society, as there is in any, so the partnerships range from the men and women who prefer their own sex: Finn, the young officer; Siane and Dessa, at Tirvan; those who prefer the opposite sex: Tali, whose love for Mar keeps her living alone throughout her life; and those who are more fluid: Lena, the protagonist;  many of the women of the villages, many of the men of the army.  One or two characters may be construed as transgendered: Halle would be one.  My intent was not to define the characters by their sexuality, but let them be whatever they are, incidental, for the most part, to the story.

Where did this come from?  Greek and Roman societies were well known for accepting sexual love among athletes and soldiers of the same sex.  The Oxford Classical Dictionary, paraphrased on Wikipedia, states:

The ancient Greeks did not conceive of sexual orientation as a social identifier as modern Western societies have done. Greek society did not distinguish sexual desire or behavior by the gender of the participants, but rather by the role that each participant played in the sex act. (Oxford Classical Dictionary entry by David M. Halperin, pp.720–723)

The Sacred Band of Thebes was a 4th Century BCE troop of elite soldiers, comprised of 150 pairs of male lovers from the city of Thebes in Greece.  The troop, whose historical existence is accepted by most scholars, given its mention by classical writers such as Plutarch, was destroyed by Philip of Macedon (Alexander the Great’s father) in 338 BCE. Indeed, some military commanders of the classical era believed troops of lovers fought the hardest, because they were defending those whom they loved, not just the state.

Less is known about female same-sex relationships.  The Greek poet Sappho was head of a thiasos, an educational community for girls and young women, where same-sex relationships were part of life. The same may have occurred in Sparta.

Moving forward to the Roman era, many of the same attitudes regarding male to male sex continue, with the exception being within the military. In the Republican period (4th to 1st centuries BCE) soldiers were forbidden, by penalty of death, to have sex with each other, although sex with male slaves appears to have been acceptable. In the Imperial period, this prohibition may have been lifted, as marriage was forbidden to soldiers.

Hadrian, the Roman Emperor from 117 – 138 CE, whose British wall is the model for the

Wall in Empire’s Daughter (and the upcoming sequel Empire’s Hostage) had a lover named Antinous, one, likely, of Hadrian’s ‘harem’ of both male and female lovers.  But when Antinous drowned, Hadrian mourned him publicly, founding the Egyptian city of Antinopolis in the boy’s memory and having him deified, suggesting (strongly) that his attachment to him was deep and serious. In the British Museum’s exhibition marking fifty years since the decriminalization of homosexuality in England and Wales, the heads of Hadrian and Antinous stand side by side, honoring their relationship. (Hadrian’s the one with the beard.)

So, like most of the cultural structures in Empire’s Daughter, the sexuality is rooted in historical fact, although I do not pretend it is historically accurate. I write alternative history, or historical fantasy, (choose your category), not historical fiction!  But I also chose to honor the existence of these relationships in history, because so many books of this type seem to gloss over or totally ignore love that is not heterosexual, and that’s just not the way it was, or is.

For the previous installments in this series, click the links below:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Lena’s World: The Social Structure of Empire’s Daughter

As to why there is this tiny, isolated Empire at the edge of the world, underpopulated and ring-fenced by the Wall, the mountains and the sea….well, to say more would need a big SPOILERS alert!

In Empire’s Daughter, men and women lead very separate lives, the women living together, primarily in farming and fishing villages, the men in mandatory military service.  Male children are taken at age 7 to begin military training; girls are educated in their own villages, and then apprentice to a trade.  Where did these ideas come from?

There isn’t one source, one society that I borrowed from.  The idea of male children being taken at seven into military training is from the social structure of the ancient city-state of Sparta, where exactly that happened.  Spartan boys were basically cadets until age 20, when they took on greater responsibility in the military; they could marry at 30, but did not live with their wives, but stayed with their military comrades in barracks….and that was the germ of the idea of the men and women living almost completely separate lives, except for a couple of weeks each year.

The Roman Empire’s military structure also influenced how I envisioned the lives of menroman_soldiers_at_rest2 in the Empire. Roman soldiers served 25 years in the military, and could not (officially) marry unless they were of officer class, although they often formed permanent relationships with local women.  But again, it was that sense of a primarily masculine life that influenced how the men live in Empire’s Daughter.

The lives of women were influenced by a number of sources: Icelandic and Viking women, for one, where women frequently were completely responsible for farming and fishing and all the other work woman_blacksmith_-_eng-_i-e-_england_loc_24225694456while the men were at sea, either fishing (Iceland) or raiding (Vikings).  The apprenticeship of girls at twelve to a trade is simply based on long practice throughout much of the world, for both boys and girls: even my own grandfather was apprenticed at age twelve to a coal merchant in England, in about 1896. (The photo is from England, c 1915-1920)

Now, as to why there is this tiny, isolated Empire at the edge of the world, underpopulated and ring-fenced by the Wall, the mountains and the sea….well, to say more would need a big SPOILERS alert.  You’ll have to read the books to find out!

Empire’s Daughter, book one of the Empire’s Legacy series, is currently available from Amazon in e-book format or paperback.  Look for book 2, Empire’s Hostage, around June of 2017!

Roman soldier picture: By Pablo Dodda (Flickr: Roman Soldiers) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Woman blacksmith picture:  Bain News Service; taken in England c 1915-20; courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.  No known copyright restrictions.