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

The Procurator & The Governor

How does an Empire, sure of its institutions and its laws and traditions, integrate its practices with those of another country?

Two new characters are introduced into my ‘Empire on the edge of history’ in the novella Oraiáphon and the novel Empire’s Reckoning:  Decanius, the Procurator from Casil, and Livius, the Governor. Who are these characters, and what exactly do they do?

A Procurator in the Roman Empire was the man in charge of the finances of a Roman province. He worked beside the Governor but was not subordinate to him, and his responsibilities included tax collection, rents on land belonging to imperial estates, pay to the military and other public servants, and the management of mines. You can see how this might be a position that allowed for enriching yourself, and your friends, and also could make the office-holder extremely unpopular among the residents of the province. Are tax-collectors ever admired?

Decanius arrives first, because the army must be paid, and tariffs and taxes are going to be collected as soon as possible. He’s an accountant through and through, counting and measuring everything, and he has no interest in the people of Lena’s land, or their laws and traditions. His name derives from Cato (or Catus) Decianus, the Procurator of Britannia at the time of Boudicca’s fight for freedom from Roman rule. Dio, writing a hundred years and more later, suggests that heavy taxation was behind the rebellion, and it would have been Decianus who was responsible for that. So with a little tweaking, the historic, hated Decianus becomes the fictional, hated Decanius.

File:Boudicca Statue.png
Statue of Boudicca at Westminster

Livius is the new Governor. (I just liked the name, in his case.) A Roman governor was responsible for the civil administration of the province; he was also the judge in capital crimes (smaller crimes often being left in the hands of the people he was governing) and was the commander-in-chief of all military units deployed in the province. Unlike the Procurator, who was a civilian, the Governor was a military officer. So almost the first thing Livius asks to do when he arrives from Casil is inspect the troops. An experienced official, Livius governs with affability, but he’s also adamant about what has to happen. “There’s iron behind his smile,” Sorley says of him.

Domitius Corbulo, the Roman governor of Germania Inferior

There were differences in how Imperial provinces (under the control of the Emperor) and Senatorial provinces (under the control of the Senate) were governed, but to say more about that might reveal too much of what happens in Oraiáphon. The roles and responsibilities changed over the years Rome had an Empire, and I chose the pieces that work. I’m not tied to a specific timeline: I borrow concepts, not exact history, in creating my alternate world. What I was interested in was how an Empire, sure of its institutions and its laws and traditions, integrates its practices with those of another country; not a conquered one, but one that has agreed to become a client province. Do they integrate, or do they impose? “We might have been a province of the Eastern Empire once before,” Lena says, “but we kept almost none of its laws and traditions, except in the army.” Peace has a price.

Oraiáphon Amazon

Empires’s Reckoning Amazon

E-pub

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Statue of Domitius Corbulo: photo by Carole Raddato, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Statue of Boudicca:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Boudicca.jpg Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Statue of Julius Caesar (Featured Image): By Skitterphoto –  Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

Walls in Empire’s Hostage, walls in history.

“…they did not find the conquest of the northern lands easy, for the inhabitants knew the hills and valleys, forests and caves well, and used them to their advantage’.

The advantage of writing historical fantasy is that it is fantasy – in the case of my Empire’s Legacy series, the fantasy isn’t the dragons and wizards sort, but the creation of a world loosely based on cultures, historical events, and people, all of whom existed.  But I have taken huge liberties with timelines, geography, and cultures, so while the setting and background of the books may seem familiar, it isn’t anywhere you really might know.

In previous installments of this occasional series, I’ve talked about various aspects of Lena’s world. (Lena is the protagonist of Empire’s Daughter and Empire’s Hostage, in case you are new to this blog).  In the newly-published Empire’s Hostage, Lena’s world expands to include the lands north of the Wall.  The Wall is based on Hadrian’s Wall, the Roman wall in the north of England built by the Emperor Hadrian in AD 122 to mark the dividing line between civilized Britannia to the south, and uncivilized (and unconquerable) Caledonia to the north.  It plays the same role in my books, dividing the ‘civilized’ Empire from the unconquered lands of Linrathe.

Linrathe, though, has another wall, further north, an earth-and-wood rampart called The Sterre.  Where did this come from?  Well, although it has a very different role in the world of Empire’s Hostage, it’s based on the Antonine Wall, another Roman wall – this one built by the Emperor Antoninus Pius, in AD 142, in an attempt to move the boundary of Roman occupation farther north.   In Empire’s Hostage, the character Perras, quoting a work of  history to Lena, tells her “… ‘they did not find the conquest of the northern lands easy, for the inhabitants knew the hills and valleys, forests and caves well, and used them to their advantage’. It is a wild land, Lena, and very difficult, and more so as you go north. But they did try; the Sterre, the other wall you noticed yesterday on the wall map: they built it, but could not hold it for more than a dozen years, if that. Their armies retreated south, and left these lands in peace, more or less.”  The Romans held the Antonine Wall for only eight years, before retreating back to Hadrian’s Wall, likely for all these same reasons.

Antonine_wall

Here’s a picture of what the Antonine Wall looks like now, nearly two thousand years after it was built.

In the next installments, I’ll be talking more about how early-to-late medieval Scottish history influences Empire’s Hostage.  In the meantime, if you’re intrigued, here is the link to the books!

 

Photo of the Antonine Wall  by: Excalibur [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons