My turn to interview someone for the Historical Fiction Writers’ Forum “Interview my Character” Blog Hop! This series is proving to be a seriously good read – if you’ve missed any, I’ve included the links towards the end of this post.
Today I’m interviewing Nancy Jardine’s character General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola, from the fourth book in her Celtic Fervour series, Agricola’s Bane. I’m a bit nervous about it – the Governor of Britannia doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and has been known to bite; I have the distinct urge to call him “Sir”!
Me: What was your childhood like?
A nostalgic question! I never knew my father, Julius Graecinus, a senator of great integrity who refused to impeach an innocent man. Did you know that the Emperor Caligula was not amused and ordered my father’s execution? My mother, Julia Procilla, already pregnant with me in the womb, could no longer stay in Rome. She returned to the city of her own equestrian upbringing, the Forum Julii in Gallia Narbonensis, where she gave birth to me. Unlike most Roman matrons, she remained a univira, choosing not to remarry. She was a strong woman of high principles who brought me up herself, ensuring that I understood her justifications.
Though my mother was my main instructor, my paternal grandfather ensured I had a good degree of male influence. A man of profound knowledge, he taught me about the earlier Greek culture of the province, yet also versed me well in the vibrant new Roman architecture built under the auspices of the Emperor Tiberius. My first visit to the new amphitheatre, with grandfather, is an indelible memory – so vast, noisy, colourful…and bloody. I was hungry to learn all things new, even the harshest. And, when I was old enough, my mother dispatched me along the coast to Massalia, to receive the more-rounded education worthy of a boy of my equestrian status.
Me: In what way did it prepare you for high office?
I have been asked if I was lonely, growing up without siblings. I never felt alone but it certainly made me learn to keep my own counsel, my decisions and their consequences were mine to own. Of course, I missed my mother when I first went to Massalia but there were so many things to learn: it was a time of great wonder for me. Much larger than Forum Julii, Massalia was so lively and energetic. Massalia’s harbour was even busier than the one at Forum Julii and, when not being tutored, I spent many hours watching the flow of ships in and out of the port. I learned things about sea travel from ship captains that my tutors had no knowledge of, all of which gave me a great craving to experience unknown lands for myself. At the forum, I pondered many truth-seeking questions with the more learned of my tutors and I acquitted myself well in philosophical areas. I ultimately learned that moderation of spirit and conscientious considered actions were most likely to gain lasting success during my forthcoming military career.
Me: You have little sympathy for your Tribune – did your own tribuneship go smoothly?
Certainly more smoothly than that of Titus Sicinia Flavus – that boy is a baronis, a dunce of the first order! It was inevitable– my mother being such a strong willed character – that my career would be military and political rather than that of a philosopher. But if I had grown to be as naively stupid as Flavus, I am certain my mother would have found some other avenue for me to pursue than a potentially deadly occupation in the legions. The first rungs on my cursus honorum, my career ladder, were as a junior tribune in the direct service of Suetonius Paulinus in Britannia. There was no easy entry into that post since the infamous Queen Bouddica was causing havoc in southern Britannia. Thrust into the perils of battle, my prompt execution of duties was essential. I had to learn on the hoof. It turned me rapidly from boy to man, but Flavus…?
Me: What have been the best/worst bits of your Governorship so far?
Such a question! I am a realist. Marching my legions deep into the lands of the Caledonians is undoubtedly the best of my military accomplishments. The worst part is accepting that Emperor Domitian could not care a fig about any of my successes in Britannia.
Me: Do you have any sympathy with the tribespeople opposing you?
Not at all. Why should I? Conquered tribes must accept that being Roman is a better future for them. Being absorbed into the Roman Empire, and being accorded the status of Roman citizenship, is a reward worth having and the loss of their nationhood is a small price worth paying.
Me: Do you see any value in the tribespeople’s way of life?
What value could there be in living in a primitive wooden hut like a snuffling pig? The barbarians have no culture, no written language, and no education. Those in northern Caledonia do not even have any form of citizenship. They have no cities and not a hint of civic structure. These Caledonians need Rome to civilise them and teach them a better way of governing themselves. Rome will bring them structure and show them the value of being prosperous.
Me: How much do you know about it?
By that question, do you mean how much of the local way of life do I have experience of? If so, then my answer is less than none. Those cowardly Caledonians and their allies skulk in the high hills and we only see them when they mount their sneaky little forays to attack my troops. Though, I have been in Britannia long enough to know the traditional Celtic way of life elsewhere on this large island.
Me: What are you going to do to get back in Domitian’s favour?
Ha! You are certainly naïve if you think that is even a possibility. Nothing I do in Caledonia will garner Domitian’s favour. He is not even sufficiently interested in the excellent progress we make in southern Britannia. Fortresses of stone and surrounding settlements are being built with forums that will excel many others across the provinces. But Emperor Domitian is far too obsessed with his own failures in Germania, though he naturally claims ample triumphs to add Germanicus to his titles. He is currently too fearful of the closeness of insurrection in Dacia which is why he has bled me dry of troops, month after month. How can I possibly continue my Caledonian success with my legions and vexillations stretched far too thin across the north?
Me: How far would you go?
Do you mean how obsequious would I be prepared to be? Do you really have to ask me that? The goddess Fortuna no longer favours me, either. The way to satisfy my irrational emperor presently eludes me, though I have pondered the problem long and hard.
Me: How much influence does politics in Rome have on your day-to-day decisions?
That is a very good question! Generally, I would say it matters greatly what happens in Rome but being at the boundary of the western empire does mean some decisions do not have the same immediacy in Caledonia as they would if they were taken closer to Rome. I forge ahead and make my own decisions, till Domitian’s orders can no longer be ignored.
Me: Is there any action that you regret, from your Governorship?
Caledonia is not yet fully under my control.
Me: What would have changed if you had chosen differently?
Domitian’s father, the Emperor Vespasian, was a military man of great experience who knew the value of full strength armies. Had I pressed for more legions from him when I first became Governor of Britannia, those damned Caledonian barbarians would have been brought to heel long before now!
Me: What’s next for you?
Rome. And you may have already realised that returning there is a double-edged sword. I am now weary of my overly-long tenure as Governor of Britannia and would happily spend domestic time with my wife Domitia Decidiana. Though, not being in Emperor Domitian’s favour probably means I must temper my tongue in order to stay alive long enough to enjoy that time with my wife.
Me: Thank you, Sir – uh, General. Ave atque vale!
General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola decrees that he has authorised his creator – Nancy Jardine – to make available one ebook set of the Celtic Fervour Series (4 books) to be given to one #Winner worldwide. To be entered into the draw for this #FREE ebooks#WIN simply leave a comment in the ‘Comments Box’ on this blog, and post a hello on the Facebook Historical Writers’ Forum Blog Hop Page . The draw will take place on 10th July.
Nancy Jardine writes contemporary mystery thrillers and romantic comedy; historical fiction and time-travel historical adventure. Her current historical focus is Roman Scotland – an engrossing pre-history era, her research depending highly on keeping abreast of recent archaeological findings. She lives in Aberdeenshire where life is never quiet or boring since she regularly child minds her young grandchildren. They also happen to be her next-door neighbours, her garden creatively managed by them, though she does all the work! Her husband is fantastic at providing regular cups of coffee and tea…excellent food and wine! (Restorative, of course)
A member of the Historical Novel Society; Scottish Association of Writers; Federation of Writers Scotland; Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Independent Alliance of Authors, her work has achieved finalist status in UK competitions.
You can find her at these places:
Facebook: http://on.fb.me/XeQdkG & http://on.fb.me/1Kaeh5G
Amazon Author page http://viewauthor.at/mybooksandnewspagehere
Universal Amazon link for Agricola’s Bane mybook.to/ABsherenow
Celtic Fervour Series https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/bookseries/B07CTSL7N7/
He turned back on hearing his name, the saluting eques bearing a pile of wooden boards inexpertly wrapped in a cloth, to protect them from the elements.
“Where have these come from?”
“Pinnata Castra, sir.”
He acknowledged the man’s exhaustion, realising that the soldier had jogged up the Via Praetoria to catch up with him.
“Did you stop at our last camp?”
The rider nodded. “Only long enough to learn that you were here, sir, and to rest my horse.”
The arrival of his junior scribe from the direction of his tent was a timely one, though Agricola knew it would have been at Crispus’ behest.
“Deal with these, Lentulus.” He passed over the wax tablets from the Durno camp and accepted the wooden boards from the latest dispatcher, a flash of something he had heard recently bringing forth a fleeting upward-turn to his lips. One of the enraged captives, taken after the confrontation, had called his last temporary camp site Moran Dhuirn. When translated, he was told it meant many fists. Durno was a good enough name.
Dismissing the dispatcher, the first proper smile for a long while broke the freeze at his cheeks as he uncovered the pile. Keeping the one that had cheered him, he handed Lentulus the others. “Crispus can deal with those.”
Lentulus cradled wax and wood gingerly. Dropped onto wet muddy ground would be as harmful to wax messages as to the flimsier wood, if one smudged and the writing on the other disintegrated into a soggy mess.
A measured pace gave Agricola time to absorb the document again as he continued back to his tent, with Lentulus in his wake.
The smile became a grin. Emperor Domitian should be appreciative that the Venicones territory was fully under control now and that it could sustain good farming yields, so long as some effort was put in to drain more of the marshy flatlands that lay between the mountain passes and the waters of the Mare Germanicum – though he knew the emperor probably would not be. It was reassuring to have some positive news during this ominous campaign into the northern reaches of Caledonia.
Conditions in Caledonia
1. Rollo Mire
It’s thought by soil experts that large swathes of the landscape of ‘Aberdeenshire’ were covered in boggy ground. Rollo Mire is an area in my village of Kintore that is a protected “semi-natural wetland ecosystem- which receives sustainable management via the ‘Greenbelt Group’ This belt of land sits within the rampart boundary of the Roman temporary marching camp at Kintore of approx. A.D. 84, and was possibly similar 2000 years ago. Rollo Mire was never drained, although during recent centuries it was surrounded by tilled farmland.
Anecdotal Statistical evidence of the late 1700s states that it was given the name Rollo Mire after a man named Rollo. Rollo, according to the oral tradition, was given the surrounding ‘estate’ (a massive swathe of ‘Aberdeenshire’) sometime after the Normans arrived, post Norman Conquest of Britain when ‘Britain’ was divvied up between the Norman overlords. If correct, then the area has been boggy for at least one millennia, and it’s unlikely it was much different during the invasion of Agricola around A.D. 84.
2. Blanket Bog – Forest of Birse, Aberdeenshire Wikimedia Commons
This is also what much of the landscape may have looked like since a lot of it had already been deforested by the time of the Agricolan Roman invasions. Soil sampling experts (ScARF) think blanket bog extended across much more of what are now drained lower hill slopes of northern Aberdeenshire, so e.g. the bogs were a lot closer to the Moray coast than today.
Me: Thank you, Nancy – I thoroughly enjoyed talking to the Governor, and I now have a much better idea of the challenges he faced!
Blog Hop Dates:
Wednesday 5 June Jen Black interviews courageous, Byrhtnoth, of the Byrhtnoth Chronicles by Christine Hancock
Saturday 8 June – Sharon Bennett Connolly interviews wild and beautiful, Eleanor Elder, heroine of the Rebels & Brothers series
Saturday 15 June Lynn Bryant http://www.lynnbryant.co.uk/blog/Interviews handsome, wily, Matho Spirston of Jen Black’s, The Scottish Queen trilogy
Wednesday 19 June Judith Arnopp http://juditharnoppnovelist.blogspot.com/ interviews the intriguing, fiercely ambitious, Edward Seymour of the Seymour Sagaseries by Janet Wertman
Saturday 22 June Derek Birks https://dodgingarrows.wordpress.com/ interviews the courageously defiant Nicholaa de Haye of Sharon Connolly’s Medieval Heroines
Monday 24 June Vanessa Couchman https://vanessacouchmanwriter.com/2019/06/24/interview-my-character-blog-hop-sheriff-and-priest-wimer-the-chaplain-by-nicky-moxey/ interviews the wily, intrepid Saxon in a Norman’s World, Wimer, from Sheriff & Priest, by Nicky Moxey
Wednesday 26 June Nancy Jardine https://nancyjardine.blogspot.com interviews Paul van Daan, Lynn Bryant’s gorgeous young officer from The Penisular War Saga
Saturday 29 June Stephanie Churchill https://www.stephaniechurchillauthor.com/ interviews Marie Therese, talented singer of Vanessa Couchman’s historical novel, Overture
Monday 1 July Christine Hancock https://byrhtnoth.com/Interviews Wulfhere, flawed but heroic thegn of Horstede from Paula Lofting’s Sons of the Wolf series
Wednesday 3 July Paula Lofting http://www.paulaloftinghistoricalnovelist.wordpress.cominterviews the conflicted, yet honourable, Prince of Agrius, Casmir, from Stephanie Churchill’s Crowns of Destiny trilogy
Saturday 6 July Nicky Moxey https://nickymoxey.com/ interviews General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola, exceedingly determined soldier from Agricola’s Bane, Book 4 of the histfic saga – Celtic Fervour by Nancy Jardine
Monday 8 July Janet Wertman https://janetwertman.com/interviews steadfast and resilient Margaret Pole from Faithful Traitor by Samantha Wilcoxson
Wednesday 10 July Cathie Dunn https://cathiedunn.blogspot.comInterviews Aldaith, the long-haired, muscular Viking Warrior from Sarah Dahl’s Viking saga The Current, Bonds, and Battles
Saturday 13 July Alex Marchant https://alexmarchantblog.wordpress.com/ interviews Joanie Toogood, the rough, tough, but kind hearted street girl from Judith Arnopp’s The Winchester Goose
Monday 15 July Samantha Wilcoxson http://samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com interviews the tormented and conflicted Munro from Turn of the Tide and the Munro Scottish Saga by Margaret Skea
Wednesday 17 July Margaret Skea http://www.margaretskea.cominterviews Alex Marchant’s young loyal page to Richard III, Matthew Wansford, in The Order of the White Boar series
Sunday 21st July Sarah Dahl https://sarah-dahl.com/blog-posts/Interviews Geoffrey de Mortagne, a man torn between an oath and his duty, in Cathie Dunn’s, Dark Deceit