Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology

  Trials and Traitors

It is pretty damn difficult to find information about trials in the Roman Empire? There's tons of info about the Republic, but for the Empire I've only figured out treason is a capital crime and punishable by death (no surprise here). I don't know what death - throwing from the Tarpinian rock, crucification? Was torture used not only on slaves but on a senator? What does seem to be correct is that the emperor can indeed pardon Caius Horatius. Though right now I'm in the mood of not having him do that.

There are days when I hate research.

  *Hides in the woods*- Another meme found me

It's Alex again. She and Doug .... *shakes head*

What were you doing ten years ago?
Working in a rather boring job. But I had more money.

What were you doing one year ago?
Writing. And trying to make ends meet with no money.

Five snacks you enjoy:
Ice cream, esp. vanilla and chocolate
Candied ginger sticks
Several sorts of cheese
Sour cream crackers

Five songs to which you know all the lyrics:
Verdi, La Traviata
Verdi, Un Ballo in Maschera
Donizetti, Lucia di Lammermoor
Mozart, Don Giovanni
Weber, Euryanthe

There a a few more operas of which I know more or less know the complete libretto, plus a nice assortment of arias, scenes; and a number of folksongs

Five things you would do if you were a millionaire:
More travel
Buy all the books and CDs I want (and some shoes, too)
Make sure my father could spend his last years as he likes, and my nephew and niece get a decent education
Have a SOS children village built in Afghanistan (or some other war region)

Five bad habits:
Nose picking (*hides from Doug's wrath*)
Singing along in voice ranges that are definitely not mine
Driving too fast
Not having any sleep habits - I sleep whenever I want which isn't good

Five things you like doing:
Reading, writing, listening to music
Riding and hiking
Having some nice food with a good wine or Whisky

Five things you would never wear or buy again:
I'm too polite to list the authors of whom I'll never buy books again
A cheap DVD player - the sucker is in repair most of the time (the only good thing is it's still on warrantry)

Can't think of any more.

Five favourite toys:
My laptop
My CD player (and I so want a protable one, too)
My camera (though a digital one would be more fun)
No more techno things that I really want/need. I prefer playing with books.
Can't afford a horse, or I'd list that.

Five people I'm tagging:
Bernita Harris (because it's going to be a fun one).
Sandra Ruttan (Sandra, you better don't tag Stuart *grin*).
James Oswald (don't think he's ever done a meme yet).
Andi Ward (so she finally takes notice of my blog, lol).
Dogsled Stacie (check her blog, it has the cutest doggie pics.

  Strong female characters in Historical Fiction

There's a discussion on some blogs, triggered by a synopsis crit of the famous Miss Snark, about strong female characters in historical fiction, and the lack thereof. The most interesting entries can be found on Carla's (who discusses her synopsis) and Bernita's (who looks at the role of women in Anglo Saxon literature) blogs.

The problem is that for many epochs we have sparse, contradictory and biased sources only. One thing seems to be sure, though: kick ass heroines à la Xena and Lara Croft were very seldom; and therefore it will prove difficult to write one well. But there are other sorts of strength - more about this later.

There are a few hints that women fighting with swords were not completely alien to the Norse world - even if we interpret the valkyrjar, the shieldmaidens who join battle and guide the dead warriors to Valhall, as metaphors; those metaphors have to work within the context of a society. Burial sites show that women often were treated with as much respect as men, and the sagas have a number of pretty strong and independant women. They could fe. divorce their husbands for "cowardly behaviour" or "incapability to provide for the family", and they did.

There are also the queens of the British tribes. While the sources are Roman and may have exaggerated things, women could obviously hold a position in a warrior society. I don't know whether Boudicaea actually fought with a spear or sword, or only drove her chariot along and was visible (an important psychological point), whether she made military decisions all alone or worked with some sort of warrior council, fact is that she played an important role in the war against the Romans and surely was strong minded and strong willed to do so. As was Cartimandua, though her politics was more pro-Roman.

In the 19th century, the Pictish tribes have been assumed to have developed a matrilinear succession in rulership and were thought to be matriarchial. But modern research has shown that this was an image to make them look even more alien, based on misinterpretation of the king lists and other sources. The Picts most probably were a Celtic warrior society - which doesn't exclude women playing a significant role, of course.

Mediaeval times are even more complicated. We have women with no right over their fortune, body and very life, and we have craftswomen who earned their own money, organised themselves in guilds and got involved in trade (though they could not join the magistrate). We have the third daughter forced to become a nun, and the abbess who was involved in decisions about an entire realm. We have treaties about the weakness inherent in females, and noble women who rode in the chase and followed their husbands on a crusade. Maybe a few even could wield a sword. It seems to have been more a question of status boundaries than of physical capabilites, since there is some proof for female carpenters and smiths. The feudal rules are a mess, too, some women who inherited a fief had to marry the man the liegelord told them, others could swear an oath of fealty themselves and have a say in marriage. Since the Middle Ages encompass several centuries and a wide area, things often shifted and changed, so if one wants to protray strong female characters, one better researches the specific period and country. But basically, it is doable to have a strong and interesting female MC who doesn't clash with the historical possibilities.

Now, if you don't want to write about a woman who pokes a spear into a few Romans, dresses in mail and chops the head off Evil Neighbour Baron, or becomes a stone mason because she desperately wants to get involved in building that great cathedral, you have to look for other forms of strength.

Judging from the synopsis, Carla's female MC runs a farm in 7th century Saxon England - that works in the historical context, women most of the time ran households, farms and castles when the husbands were absent or inexistant. She even defends the place against attackers - also no problem since she will have some men working on the farm, and help of the fugitive MC who is a full trained warrior. And she has a realistical outlook on her relationship with the MC and the fact that right now, there can't be a marriage or even an affair because both have other, more important duties and loyalties. I think it takes some inner strength to accept such a fate; I hope without several pages of angsting and whining ;-)

A strong female character can be a woman who is strong within her social context, without the writer making a lot of plot contructs to turn her into Xena the Second.

I try for that approach in several cases. Morait in Song of the North Wind is not a MC but plays a significant role in a few scenes. She grows within the story, becomes the spokeswoman for the female members of the tribes, and confronts the leader about the war that leads to the loss of too many men. Since the Pictish society remains partially unknown to us, I assume women held a role in the tribes because it was necessary to work together in order to survive. Suppressing the women to the point of insignificance would have led to the elimination of half of the people from active tribal life.

Clodia Atella from A Land Unconquered marries without love, fully aware that she needs the protection of a man after her brothers' death, and even when Horatius Veranius, the man she loves and thought dead, returns, she stays faithful to her husband because that is her duty. That, too, takes strength. Or Erelieva from the same book who walks up to the Roman authorities and demands her rapist be punished.

So, what about your female characters?

  Harz - Park in Braunlage

Some autumn impressions from the park in Braunlage / Harz mountains.


The Lost Fort is a blog based on my travels in Germany, the UK and other places, with essays on Roman and Mediaeval history illustrated with lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes. You may also find the odd essay about geology or Mediaeval literature.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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Location: Germany

I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who hasn't yet gotten an Instagram account. :-)