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BLOG: Through an Author's Eyes~Hadrian's Wall

Many of my readers are already aware, but when I researched the Antonius Trilogy, Marc Antony's travels led me literally all over the world. Italy, Egypt, Turkey, Greece... It was a fantastic experience actually SEEING history from my story and then re-imagining it in my books. Indeed, research has a way of doing that.

Whenever I meet up with another author who shares my passion for a period, I get excited. Heather Robinson is one of those people with whom I sometimes imagine sharing a brain. Even though she lives in the UK and I'm in the US, it's like we think alike--being drawn as we are to the Roman period--and photography. Naturally, I asked Heather to share about both her books and a particular interest of hers: Hadrian's Wall. Though I've been to Britain three or four times, I've never ventured farther north than Coventry, so I expect that one of these days, I'm going to have to venture back "across the pond" to take a walk along Hadrian's Wall.

Welcome, Heather! I hope you're able to woo a few of my readers your way and as always, I challenge everybody to READ ON!

Through An Author's Eyes: Hadrian's Wall

By: Heather Robinson

Thank you for inviting me to your blog, Brook. I'm so pleased to be here with a fellow author of Roman fiction. It's an era rich in intrigue that draws me in like no other. Although we both write in the Roman period, my first book, Wall of Stone, is set over two hundred years later than your award-winning Marc Antony trilogy.

As the title suggests, it was the fascination of Hadrian's Wall during a family holiday to the area that first drew me to this time period. The Limes Britannicus as it was known to the Romans. A frontier. The extreme limit of settled land beyond which lies wilderness, the edge of the Roman known-world, here, in the country where I live. How could my interest not be piqued? Looking out across the Whin Sill from Housesteads Fort, in the peace and beauty of modern Northumberland, I could feel the whispers of history, the presence of those long gone. The legionaries, the Brigante tribespeople, I needed to learn more.

And so the research began and the more I learned, the more interested I became.

The Wall was an audacious piece of engineering. It wasn't the first limes to be built in the Roman Empire but, boy, was it special in Britain where building with stone was not the norm. A grand concept and a huge practical undertaking with a consistency of planning, a thoroughness of execution and a technical grasp of landscape control. It was a mighty display of Roman dominance, the building of which reflects the organization and discipline that the legions are renowned for in their fighting. It was an incredible barrier, seven to ten feet thick, fifteen to twenty feet high, running the breadth of the country covering eighty Roman miles, traversing three major rivers and marking territory in a magnificent show of arrogance.

My fascination with the time period doesn't cease with the engineering feats either. The political reasons as to why the Wall was built intrigue me too. Up until Hadrian's rule the Empire had been expanding. It would appear that Hadrian made the tactical decision to mark the limit of his Empire, to control passage through to the south, to conquer through diplomacy.

Yet, not long after construction of the Wall commenced, historians and archaeologists have determined that plans were changed and what appears to have started out as a defensive barrier, seems to have changed to a more offensive barricade with the addition of more forts along the Wall. To add further to the conundrum, a defensive ditch – the Vallum – was created on the southern side of the barrier as if trouble was occurring from the so-called Romanized south! What was going on?

With all these facts bobbing around in my head, it led me to wondering what effect the arrival of the Legions to the area must have had on those people already living there. We know the Brigantes traded with the Romans, we know there was interaction other than warfare. Hearts must have collided. Loyalties must have been tested.

Wall of Stone starts in AD 121 and my first plan was for the book to span a decade and see Hadrian's Wall completed. Silly me. In my naivety as an author, I hadn't realized my characters would have a different idea. They had such a lot to tell about their lives in the first year of that decade, that we never laid any stones together, not even the foundations. We did have some fights though as the Picts shook things up with some raids. Life was dangerous on the northern frontier.

The construction of that frontier barricade is still to come in my writing. I will regain charge and have those legionaries build that wall! will have to be book three as my second novel, Juno's Peacock, which was to be a sequel, became hijacked by a young slave girl in Pompeii. During research I came across a nugget of information that screamed at me: child exposure; abandoning an infant to die in the elements. Shocking, but it was practised in first century Rome and my resulting character, Decima, despite being slight in stature compared to my legionaries, stood head and shoulders above the parapet demanding her story be told.

Exposed, cast aside, condemned... she was in quite a difficult situation and calling out so loudly that I couldn't ignore her plight. It wasn't the best start in life for Decima but perhaps the gods favor her more than she realizes as she escapes the devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79 giving her a new start. But can she keep her shameful past buried in the ashes that cover Pompeii or will her lies unravel? Freedom or slavery, which awaits her?

With my diversion to Italy complete, I'm back researching the legions in the north of Britannia again. Do you know there are three principal gateway types in the milecastles on Hadrian's Wall, each type attributed to one of the three legions who helped build it? They started construction from east to west and it would appear that each legion, Legio II, Legio VI and Legio XX, was building two milecastles and associated turrets up until Milecastle 17 when the steady plan changed. Why did it change? What happened? I don't know yet but I know some legionaries from the Twentieth and a local Brigante family who will tell us...

All About Heather

Heather Robinson is a novelist and short story award winner from Wiltshire, UK. Her academic background includes a Bachelor of Science degree with most of her working life spent as an Administration Manager locally. She is also a qualified and experienced radio presenter, hosting a weekly show for Warminster Community Radio. Proud parents of two boys, Heather and her husband Graham share a passion for live music, hiking and motorcycling.

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