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

  Everything is packed

especially the waterproofs. The forecast looks very British. ;)

I'll be back June 10.

Constance, don't send the gnomes over to create havoc on my blog, or I'll get me a gladius or some other pointy tool.

Trier Cathedral
seen from the upper floor of the Porta Nigra

  Two Year Bloggiversary and a Meme

It's two years today I officially started my blog. Already two years? And 268 posts. Time flies by. It gave me a lot of fun and a number of online friends I met via comments on my blog and clicking links on other blogs.

Filched this meme from Carla. Since I, like her, already did the original meme about historical characters, I'll do her version, too.

Three fictional characters I’d like to meet:

I go with Faramir, too. I love the combination of education and a poetic soul, and being a brave warrior dedicated to his home. He needs a few hugs, since daddy's being so mean to him.

Athos, aka Olivier Comte de la Fère (Three Musketeers). So noble and tortured. And good with a rapier.

Teja (Felix Dahn, Ein Kampf um Rom). I'm cheating a bit, Teja is a historical character, one of the Ostrogoth kings in the unhappy years between Theodoric's death and the final fall of the Ostrogoth realm in Italy. But there's little known about him, and the version Dahn brought to life is another tortured character, warrior and poet.

A pattern? No way. *grin*
Hugh Berenger from the Cadfael series would be interesting, too.

Three fictional characters I’m heartily glad that I’ll never have to meet:

Heathcliff. He's not a tortured soul, he's a brat.

Karl Artur Ekenstedt (Selma Lagerlöf, Charlotte Löwenskjöld, Anna Svärd). A holier than thou Christian who makes life a misery for the people who love him.

Egil Skallagrimsson. Being in a constantly bad mood doesn't begin to describe him.

Three fictional characters who scare me:

Nikolaj Stavrogin (Dostojevsky, The Demons). He is fascinating, but definitely creepy.


Collin aka Vautrin aka Trompe la Mort aka some more names, from several novels in Balzac's Comédie Humaine (among others, Father Goriot and Splendour and Misery of Courtisans). He makes Mafia bosses look nice.

Sieber river, Harz

  Civilised Barbarians

In the blog connected to The Cimmerian, a journal dedicated to R.E. Howard, there's an article about The Ragnar Lodbrog chapter of The Star Rover, by Steve Tompkins. It deals with Howard's reception of Jack London's novel, and the subject of barbarians versus civilisation, a topic that reccurs in the introductions to Howard's works in the excellent Del Rey editions. In short - and somewhat simplified - for Howard, barbarism is the natural state of mankind and civilisations doomed to fail and revert to barbarism. Tompkins compares London's Ragnar, the Viking turned Roman officer, and the unnamed Scandinavian legionary in Men of the Shadows.

If barbarism is the natural state of mankind, then it is damn sure the natural, the only permissible state of barbarians, and Ragnar should be ashamed of himself. [...] Howard’s unnamed Scandinavian legionary reverts to his true self as the “real” Romans are Pict-picked off one by one: “By Thor and Wotan, I would teach them how a Norseman passed! With each passing moment I became less of the cultured Roman.”

Reading the essays made me think about my own take on Barbarians versus Rome that plays a role in all my Roman novels.

Howard wrote in the 1920ies and 30ies and was influenced by the theories about history, races and sociology prevalent at his time, but it's interesting to note that his contemporary Jack London, whose work Howard admired, took a different stance on the civilized Barbarian in the character of Ragnar.

Ragnar is the predecessor of men like Fullofaudes, Dux Britanniarum, and Flavius Stilicho, magister militum per occidentem; Roman generals of 'barbarian' origins who adapted so well than Stilicho even became member of the Imperial family (he was married to Emperor Theodosius' niece). We can add Alaric King of the Visigoths to that list who fought for Rome and would have continued to do so if he had been treated better.

Talorcan mac Ferac, the barbarian leader of the Selgovae from Song of the North Wind is a different case. To him, the Romans are enemies and he has no reason to admire a civilisation that killed his parents. He'll learn some tolerance during the novel because he has to work together with the Roman Lucius Valerius to stop some a plot against his people as well as the Emperor Septimius Severus, but he never sees himself as inferior or wants to embrace civilisation.

Valerius comes to appreciate the 'barbarian' qualities of Talorcan, his fierce courage and dedication to his people, his natural intelligence that sometimes sees right through the crooked Roman intrigues, his straightforward way to deal with problems and enemies, but Valerius continues to feel entirely Roman and a tad superior to the Selgovian chief. Allies, but not friends.

The wall Hadrian's Wall between the Romans and the northern Britain tribes stands for the separation of barbarians and civilisation.

M. Horatius Veranius Aquila (aka Aicilmuir) from Eagle of the Sea is a complicated case again. His father is Roman but his mother from a British tribe whom the father met during a campaign, and though he tries to hide that fact from his son, Aquila finds out when the Caledonians capture him and recognise him as born to them. So the civilised Roman finds himself in the position of a barbarian tribal leader. He feels out of place albeit he cannot deny the 'barbarian' side of his heritage and tries to adapt. A number of people in the Roman army treat Aquila as outsider once they come to know, as if the barbarian blood overwrites his exclusively civilised upbringing and the Roman side of his parents.

The last character for today brings us back to London's Ragnar / Howard's Scandinavian legionary dichotomy: the historical Arminius from A Land Unconquered. Here is another barbarian in touch with civilisation; Arminius was a Roman auxiliary officer, most probably literate, who spoke good Latin, Roman citizen (not unusual for members of barbarian nobility who had a treaty with Rome) and member of the equestrian order (very unusual - I think he's the only case that early). A civilised barbarian.

We don't know the exact reason why Arminius led several German tribes against the Romans. Maybe he had hoped for a career in Rome that was denied the barbarian, aspired high kingship instead and needed a war to strengthen his position, maybe he had indeed feelings along the way what we today call patriotism and wanted the Romans out of Germania. Most probably it was a mix of motives that will forever remain in the dark. As writer, I can make some up.

Fact is, he defeated the Romans in the battle of the Teutoburg Forest, and in the years to follow managed to hold his own against Germanicus' army until the latter was recalled to Rome, and the Rhine defined as border between the Roman provinces of Gaul and 'free' or 'barbarian' Germania.

The question is whether "years of Roman culture [will slip] away like sea-fog before the sun" upon Arminius' return to his people, or whether he will retain some layers of civilisation. Here's how I see him. Of course, he has to act differently among his people than he did as Roman officer, so during the period when he spends time with Varus and in secret organises the rebellion, he'll have to play two roles, and they're that to some extent, roles.

After Varus' defeat, the German role will take over and Arminius will indeed shed some layers of civilisation though he can recall them in the scenes with Antonius Merenda, with Chaerea, with Germanicus. But Arminius can never fully abandon civilisation, and therein lies his tragic, he has made the step past barbarism and that step cannot be fully retraced. In leading his people away from Rome, he leads them away from his own past and uproots himself, without being able to take roots in the German culture again. Though, contrary to Aquila, he can reconcile civilisation and barbarism to the extent that he can live among the 'barbarians' well enough.

Not Howard's legionary, then, but not Ragnar, either. Arminius' brother who remains a Roman officer and never returns to Germania, is more a Ragnar. Contrary to Howard I don't think one can abandon civilisation except if is nothing but a superficial polish, and I don't think it was superficial for Arminius during the years he spent in Rome and in the army.

The question Tiberius asks himself in ALU, "How Roman was Arminius behind his elegant Latin and his love for books?" can be answered by, enough to still read them in secret as tribal leader. Which doesn't prevent him from killing Romans.

The Lost Fort is a blog based on my travels in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and other places (like Flanders and the Baltic States), 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. :-)