Back to Top

Tag Archives: Romans

Two weeks ago, I paid another visit to my favorite reconstructed Roman fort—but this time, I was not alone, oh no! I was accompanied by my Roman rubber duckie, who felt straight at home in front of the porta praetoria, the main gate…

The Roman rubber duckie in front of the main gate of the Saalburg
…and between the Emperor Augustus‘ feet…

Duckie between the feet of the Emperor Augustus

But I didn’t visit the fort just for a photo shoot with the Roman rubber duckie, no, it was market day at the Saalburg, and at various stalls spread across the whole museum you could learn about antique crafts such as pottery (did you know boiling earthenware in milk will seal off the pores and make it waterproof?), spinning, glass making, and bone carving. I was quite surprised to learn that objects made from bone can be dyed, e.g., with onion skins or even green rust, which produces a lovely turquoise color.

Game counters made from bone

Game counters made from bone

There was also a stall with Roman cosmetics on display. Apart from a lead foundation (to make your face look all nice and pale) (it might get paralyzed a little, mind you, so perhaps you might want to use chalk powder instead, even though it doesn’t look as pretty as the lead), Roman ladies also used eyeshadow (the more colorful the better), rouge, and eyeliner.

Most make-up was available as a powder. A bit of powder would be mixed with a bit of oil and then applied to the face.

Roman cosmetics

Roman cosmetics

One of the highlights of the Roman market was definitely the military demonstration: a small group of auxiliary soldiers went through a number of exercises, while their (rather dashing) optio watched on with eagle-eyes. 🙂

Auxiliary soldiers & their optio
A Roman horseman going through a few simple weapons‘ exercises formed the crowning glory of that demonstration. He was in full regalia, including a silver mask, which the Roman cavalry wore on special occasions, e.g. for cavalry games.

Roman horseman
All in all, it was another delightful trip into the Roman past!

Posted in Research | Tagged , , | 1 Reply

A picture of the new print edition of Castle of the Wolf
Today I come to you with all kinds of bookish news: I’m currently knee-deep into the production of new print editions of all of my books. (It kind of hit me when I was preparing  Eagle’s Honor: Ravished, which I have entered into the RITAs, for print that very few of my novels were actually available as paperbacks. So it was definitely beyond time to remedy that situation.) Moreover, a few weeks ago, I also discovered how to create drop caps in MS Word and since then I’ve been on a roll. As you can see from the picture above. 🙂

For the print edition of Castle of the Wolf, my Beauty & the Beast story, in which a young woman inherits a mysterious castle in the Black Forest, I chose a set of initial letters that reminded me of old fairy tale books. I thought that was quite fitting since fairy tales play a very important role in the story.

So this is the good part. However, overall Sandra’s Adventures in Print Publishing didn’t go quite that smoothly. The grumpy dude on the cover? He’s orange. “But, Sandy,” you might say, “he is not orange in that picture above.” Yeah. I know. I applied a number of filters to that picture above because I didn’t want to inflict his glow-in-the-dark color on anyone. So if you’d like to get a nice new edition of Castle, please wait a few days. I’m currently fixing it. (I just hope he doesn’t turn out to look like a zombie this time around.) (That’s what living in a run-down castle does to you: turns you into a zombie!)

But what *did* turn out really nicely is the frontispiece (see? I’m really on a roll here! hehe!): I did include a sketch of the Kastelburg in Waldkirch, upon which the castle in my novel is (partly) based. Here is a picture of the frontispiece in the making:

A sketch of the Kastelburg in Waldkirch Annnnnnd in other bookish news, my grumpy centurion, whom I mentioned in my last post about doing portraits, is going to hit bookshelves this Friday. I so enjoyed telling Caius & Lucius’ story. I fell in love with these two when I first wrote them as secondary characters into Eagle’s Honor: Ravished, which is set ten years after The Centurion’s Choice, and I knew from almost the start that I very much wanted to tell their story as well.

Teaser image for The Centurion's Choice by Sandra SchwabFor me, one of the great joys of writing the Eagle’s Honor series is that has expanded into an exploration of family relations across several generations as well as an exploration of family stories. Family stories formed an important part of my growing up – my paternal grandmother in particular liked telling me stories about the time when my father and his sisters were little, and sometimes also about the time when she was a young woman. And above my parents’ dining table there’s a huge collage of family pictures going back as far as the 1890s. So my own experiences of how people in my family talked about their past and about people from past generations I’ve never met, very much informed the way I have been approaching the stories the Florius family share.

I love imagining what kind of stories members of the Florius family would share about past generations and what kind of things would be passed from one generation to the next. And also imagine what sort of circumstances would interrupt this chain of oral traditions; in how far memories might change over time. For me, it’s a really nice way to link these stories that set apart several decades. (And of course, I hope readers will enjoy these links, too!)

Teaser image for The Centurion's Choice, by Sandra SchwabBut, of course, these family stories just form a tiny part of the background for The Centurion’s Choice, which at its heart is a enemies-to-friends-to-lovers story. With a very grumpy centurion. 🙂 (Watching those grumpy guys fall in love is always such great fun, isn’t it?) So without further ado, here’s the blurb for the novella. I will add buy links on Friday, when the book comes out.

It’s 178 AD, and barbarian tribes once again threaten the borders of the Roman Empire. To make matters worse, Lucius’ promotion in his auxiliary cohort has been denied, and instead the governor has appointed a moody, mean-tempered Roman to become the new centurion of the Septem Gallorum. And, incidentally, to trample all over Lucius’ ambitions.

Tall and burly, Centurion Caius Florius Corvus might be way too good-looking for Lucius’ peace of mind, but the man has also made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t trust Lucius as his second-in-command. Yet as they are swept into war and each has to shoulder his responsibilities, a reluctant respect begins to grow between them, which soon grows into friendship — and, perhaps, more?

a picture of the main gate to the Saalburg

Saalburg: Porta Praetoria (the main gate)

As I have surely already mentioned in an earlier post, one of the settings of my upcoming Roman romance EAGLE’S HONOR: RAVISHED is based on a real fort at the Upper German-Raetian limes: the Saalburg, which today is a renowned open air museum with reconstructions of several of the Roman buildings and fortifications. As I was preparing the Author’s Note for my novel, it struck me how many lives this Roman fort has had – and not just in the Roman period.

The first fort on this site was built in timber, but was soon replaced by a larger fort built in timber and stone.  A few years later, that fort was expanded and its defenses strengthened. Finally, at some point in the early 270s, the Romans gave up this stretch of the border and withdrew across the Rhine. The fort was abandoned and fell into ruins.

The Germanic people who moved into the area didn’t have much use for stone buildings, but from the Middle Ages onward, the stones from the fort were used for various building projects in the region. The original Roman name of the fort was forgotten; indeed, the very fact that this used to be a Roman fort was forgotten as well. The modern name, Saalburg, dates to the early 17th century and suggests people took the walls to be the remains of an early medieval castle.

It was only in 1723 when a stone altar bearing the name of Caracalla was found that people realized the Saalburg was actually a Roman ruin. But at that point only antiquarians (who were generally considered to be really strange people anyway) were interested in musty ruins, and so the Saalburg continued to be used as a most convenient stone quarry until 1818.

In the early 19th century archaelogy was still in its infancy, carried out by interested amateurs. In England William Cunnington, who started to do excavations of prehistoric sites in Wiltshire in about 1798, revolutionized the methods of archaeology, e.g., by carefully recording digs and finds. But it would take another few decades before archaeology became professionalised.

The increasing professionalisation of archaeology becomes also apparent when we look at the history of excavations of the Saalburg: from 1870 onward, the excavations were state-funded, and the men overseeing the digs aimed at using scientific methods and presenting their findings in a scientific way.

And when plans were made to not just excavate the remains of the fort, but also to reconstruct key buildings such as the principia (the headquarters building), the latest archaeological and historical findings were employed to make the reconstruction as faithful to reality as possible. This first phase of reconstruction work lasted ten years, from 1897 to 1907, and received support from Kaiser Wilhelm II himself.

a sketch of the military standards at the Saalburg

The military standards at the Saalburg

While this support was no doubt beneficial, it also meant that the Kaiser took an active interest in the project and in some cases influenced the way the reconstruction was done. The most obvious example of this is the presence of an eagle standard in the shrine of the standards in the principia. In Roman times, only legions fought under the eagle standard, and the Saalburg never housed a legion, but only ever auxiliary troops. However, due to the imperial symbolism of the eagle, the Kaiser insisted that the eagle standard was included.

Moreover, in the years since 1900, new research into Roman military architecture has revealed that parts of the early reconstruction are incorrect, for example, the walls surrounding the fort would have been white-washed and the towers of the main gate wokuld have had been higher. Further reconstructions from the 2000s reflect these newer findings.

The Saalburg today thus presents itself as a fascinating hotchpotch of visions of what a Roman fort might have looked like, and it represents yet another phase of that old Roman fort that was first built in this place in the early 2nd century.

Would the soldiers who were stationed here during the reign of Emperor Hadrian recognize their old home in the Saalburg. Bits of it, perhaps. Though I’m not quite sure what they would make of the eagle standard in their shrine…

A Map of the Rhine, 1832

I have the unfortunate habit of getting rather obsessed with minor points of  research – like travel. When I wrote my second novel, Castle of the Wolf, I spent at least a week if not more (probably more given that I have a fat folder full of notes and research material) reading up on travels on the Rhine. I pushed the date of the story back several years in order to make it feasible that my heroine would take one of the early steamships for traveling to the south of Germany. Indeed, I even unearthed timetables for the steamers that transported people up and down the Rhine.

And all of this for not even half a chapter. Wheee!

(On the left you can see a part of a map of the Rhine that was included in the third edition of Baedeker’s guide book Die Rheinreise from 1839. You can view the whole map here.)

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the ease with which people were able to travel was, of course, largely dependent on their income. Indeed, most people would have never traveled far from home: just as far as their feet could carry them. Hiking tours were apparently quite popular among students, and in the 1790s it was one such tour – a trip of the two friends Ludwig Tieck and Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder through southern Germany – that brought about the birth of German Romanticism.

In Britain meanwhile, the eastablishment of a network of turnpike roads in the 18th century improved travel considerably. Turnpike roads opened up the countryside and made the country estates of the aristocracy and the gentry more accessible. Various new forms of passenger transport came into being, with the fastest form of transport being the mail coach (they didn’t have to stop at toll gates, and horses were changed frequently), followed by stage coaches, which could carry up to 18 people. Moreover, several inns specialized in the renting of post coaches and horses to wealthier travelers. Yet the cost for carriages, horses, and toll fees made traveling still expensive.

Thus, perceptions of distances could vary widely as the following conversation between Lizzie and Mr. Darcy from Austen’s Pride and Prejudice shows (from Chapter 32; they’re at the Collinses’):

“It must be very agreeable to [Mrs. Collins] to be settled within so easy a distance of her own family and friends.”

“An easy distance do you call it? It is nearly fifty miles.”

“And what is fifty miles of good road? Little more than half a day’s journey. Yes, I call it a very easy distance.”

“I should never have considered the distance as one of the advantages of the match,” cried Elizabeth. “I should never have said Mrs. Collins was settled near her family.”

“It is a proof of your own attachment to Hertfordshire. Any thing beyond the very neighbourhood of Longbourn, I suppose, would appear far.”

As he spoke there was a sort of smile, which Elizabeth fancied she understood; he must be supposing her to be thinking of Jane and Netherfield, and she blushed as she answered,

“I do not mean to say that a woman may not be settled too near her family. The far and the near must be relative, and depend on many varying circumstances. Where there is fortune to make the expence of travelling unimportant, distance becomes no evil. But that is not the case here. Mr. and Mrs. Collins have a comfortable income, but not such a one as will allow of frequent journeys — and I am persuaded my friend would not call herself near her family under less than half the present distance.”

(Hmmm…. It might be time for another re-read of Pride & Prejudice.)

When I dug into travel in Roman times this weekend, I was quite surprised to find a number of parallels to Georgian and Regency England: not only do several of the major roads in Britain (and in other parts of Europe) still follow old Roman routes even today, but along the Roman roads you could also find a network of inns and way stations. Ideally, every 6 to 12 Roman miles you would have had a way station, where you could change horses, and every 25 Roman miles an inn where you could spend the night. 25 Roman miles, approximately 37 km or 23 modern miles, was probably meant to be the distance somebody walking on foot could cover in a day.

Many of these stations were meant to be used by traveling officials or by merchants transporting goods like fabrics or building material. They could change horses for free and could also spend the night at the inns for free. The costs had to be covered by the local towns and communities, which led to many tensions between the provinces and Rome.

But what perhaps surprised me most was the fact that maps were already available in Roman times: they listed all the towns along the chosen route and also gave the distances between towns. Here is a snippet from one such map, the Tabula Peutingeriana from 250 (from a facsimile from 1887/88; the whole map can be found here):

a part of the Tabula Peutingeriana

Do you know the scene in Mary Poppins where Mary, Bert, and the children jump into one of Bert’s chalk paintings on the sidewalk? Something similar happened to me last weekend, though there were no dancing penguins involved nor any chalk drawings. Nevertheless, I suddenly found myself walking through the setting of a long-time favorite novel of mine.

Now, I have visited Britain often enough to know that strange feeling of familiarity that overcomes you when you walk through Burlington Arcade or take a peek into that seventh heaven of bachelorhood of the Regency period, Albany, or visit one of Britain’s numerous country houses: as a reader of historical romance, you’re bound to recognize these places from the novels you’ve read.

But what happened to me last weekend was a bit different, more visceral, probably because it was so unexpected: as a lover of Rosemary Sutcliff’s books set in Roman Britain, you don’t really expect to be easily transported back to that time by any place given that most of the remains of the Roman empire are mere ruins. Even Hadrian’s great northern frontier wall in Britain has been reduced to a mere stubble of its former existence.

I live near the lines of another of these great Roman frontier walls, the Germanic Limes, and a mere 40-minute drive from my town lies a reconstructed Roman fort, the first of its kind, re-built in the late 19th century.

a picture of the main gate to the Saalburg

Saalburg: Porta Praetoria (the main gate)

And as I was walking amongst the reconstructed houses, past the reconstruced barracks, I suddenly remembered a passage from one of Sutcliff’s novels, about how each Roman fort looks the same no matter where you are in the empire. They might not have looked exactly like the Saalburg (all the walls would have been white – something that historians back in 1900 didn’t yet know), but still I felt this sudden, keen connection to Sutcliff’s characters.

Indeed that feeling was so strong, that the sight of the eagle standard nearly made me burst into tears because I was so touched. (Alas, the Saalburg eagle not only is a fake, but it is also anachronistic, for these forts were manned with auxiliary troops rather than legions, and the auxiliaries didn’t have eagle standards. However, Kaiser Wilhelm II, who commissioned the building of the Saalburg museum, insisted on the eagle.)

a sketch of the military standards at the Saalburg

The military standards at the Saalburg

What I always find so fascinating about visiting museums and all those British country houses is that, for me, it is always the small things, the everyday items, that makes me feel a connection to the people of the past who used them. Amidst the exhibits in the Saalburg, you can also find pretty Roman shoes (which would make perfect summer shoes!), pretty dishes and vessels (have I already mentioned that I have this thing about tea sets?)….

a sketch of a small Roman vessel

A small Roman vessel from the Saalburg

…as well as pretty fibulae, Roman brooches. These come in all shapes, including cute, colorful animals:

a sketch of Roman brooches found at the Saalburg

Roman brooches from the Saalburg

You can just imagine a gruff Roman soldier buying such a pretty brooch for his sweetheart. (And then you start to imagine all kinds of things, and all at once your Muse is yelling into your ear how wonderful it would be to write a novel set here at the old Roman frontier, and then she forces you to buy all kinds of research books and… Oh gosh, I don’t just have a tiny problem in regard to tea sets, but also in regard to research books! *blushes*)

a picture of a pile of research books

My Muse made me do it

Now let’s hear it: Which setting of which novel or film would you like to visit? Pemberley, perhaps?

Get every new post delivered to your inbox
Join millions of other followers
Powered By