29 May 2016

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Alison Morton on INSURRECTIO

This week, we’re pleased to welcome author and Unusual Historicals contributor, ALISON MORTON with her latest release, INSURRECTIO, the fifth in her popular Roma Nova series. On Sunday we read a tense excerpt, today Alison answers questions!

One lucky visitor will get a signed print copy of INSURRECTIO – this giveaway is open internationally. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post for a chance to win. The winner will be contacted privately by email.

Here's what INSURRECTIO is about...

‘The second fall of Rome?’
Aurelia Mitela, ex-Praetorian and imperial councillor in Roma Nova, scoffs at her intelligence chief when he throws a red file on her desk.

But early 1980s Roma Nova, the last province of the Roman Empire that has survived into the twentieth century, has problems – a ruler frightened of governing, a centuries-old bureaucracy creaking for reform and, worst of all, a rising nationalist movement with a charismatic leader who wants to destroy Aurelia.

Horrified when her daughter is brutally attacked in a demonstration turned riot, Aurelia tries to rally resistance to the growing fear and instability. But it may already be too late to save Roma Nova from meltdown and herself from entrapment and destruction by her lifelong enemy.…


**Q&A  with Alison Morton**


What’s been happening to Aurelia Mitela, the heroine of the last Roma Nova thriller, AURELIA?
Thirteen years after the end of that book our heroine, now senior imperial councillor and senator, has climbed the career ladder to assistant foreign minister. It’s hard work as you’d expect, but she loves it. Roma Nova’s government has a mix of traditional Roman elements such as a senate, an imperatrix – the ruler – with her imperial secretaries (equivalent to top civil servants) running the day-to-day administration. An imperial council of ministers heading specific departments give advice much like a standard Western cabinet. Aurelia is a leading member of this council; she’s at the centre of power.

At home, she is as much in love with her companion as ever and her daughter, Marina, has grown into a pretty young woman, scatty, but loving. What on earth could go wrong?

We’re in the early 1980s. What attracted you to this period?
INSURRECTIO follows the story of AURELIA which was set in the late 1960s. Aurelia Mitela’s nemesis, Caius Tellus, has been released early from jail in Prussia after serving 12 years of a 15-year sentence. The date was a matter of arithmetic! But the 1980s were the start of great technological as well as societal change. Although I work in an alternate timeline, I like to keep a flavour of a time that may be familiar to readers, even in a historical sense!

But there’s a huge trap with ‘young’ history; you think you know when things were invented or in use, but you don’t really. You can only recall the things directly relevant to you at that time, and then not accurately. So our old friend research is absolutely essential.

What’s behind the story of INSURRECTIO?
Although a standalone story, this is essentially Aurelia vs. Caius Part II.  I don’t want to spoil it for new readers of AURELIA, but let’s say that Caius isn’t best pleased with the way Aurelia keeps stopping his plans for domination.

We know from glimpses in the first three books in the Roma Nova series featuring Aurelia’s granddaughter, Carina, set in the early 21st century – INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO – that the Great Rebellion in the early 1980s was traumatic for Aurelia as a younger woman and Conrad as a small child.  We also know Caius Tellus was the instigator, but was it a power grab or something more personal? Are the two intertwined? Does Aurelia truly hate Caius himself or what he stands for? Is there an emotional and sexual reckoning between them? This is what I’m unravelling in this book…

Have you done any special research for INSURRECTIO?
Yes and no. I completed a masters’ in history in 2006, writing my dissertation on the experiences of young women during the Third Reich in Germany. The unexpected golden egg was the ton of research I already had in my hand when I started writing INSURRECTIO.

The politicised brutality and military expansionism of the National Socialist (Nazi) regime in 1930s and 1940s Germany is well known and exhaustively documented. Even today, we are fascinated by the seemingly unstoppable growth of their appeal. How could a cultured, highly scientific European society be gripped by a demagogue with a populist, nationalistic and often destructive message? Historians are still arguing about that one.

The ultra traditional, rather idealistic Ancient Roman view of women sitting at home, managing the household, weaving their husband’s clothes and producing children regularly that Caius so loves coincides perfectly with the Nazi ideological view of women’s place in our timeline. So when in INSURRECTIO Caius Tellus proposes to revert to traditional Roman male values and a ‘no women in the public sphere’ policy in Roma Nova, I had the perfect pattern in what happened to women during the Nazi Third Reich.

Caius wants to cancel women’s commissions in the military, dismiss all ranks, dismiss women police, civil servants, university lecturers, senators and make women hand over assets and business ownership to the nearest male relative. The women heading the influential Twelve Families of Roma Nova are to be replaced by men and the Families reduced to a charitable organisation. Women would only be able to hold servant and junior clerk jobs.

What’s in INSURRECTIO for the readers?
Both women and men say lovely things about the Roma Nova books and the age range of those readers is 16 to 87. I’ve noticed from reviews, comments and from talking to readers that they like clarity, snappy dialogue, plenty of interaction, enough description to set the story, but not so much it weighs the action down. Many women love the idea of women running things. ;-) Everybody seems intrigued by the Roman-ness and the egalitarian nature of Roma Novan society. Some readers want to book a long holiday there and even emigrate to Roma Nova permanently!

INSURRECTIO deals with dark concepts; a populist demagogue attacking a government headed by a weak ruler; the forces of irrationality gaining ground over fair-minded and well-meaning people who play by the rules; abandonment of the rule of law; reduction of women to chattels; deliberate alienation of people from each other; and in Caius Tellus an amoral power-grabber with a fragile sense of inner worth. But there are also courage, moral and physical; loyalty; honour; comradeship; resourcefulness; determination; and love.

And next?
I’m currently drafting the sixth book, intrinsically the story of how Roma Novans fought back against Caius. After that, I’m thinking of going back to the late fourth century and writing the story of Roma Nova’s foundation.

Thank you so much for joining me today and warm thanks to Unusual Historicals for inviting me to talk about INSURRECTIO.

Praise for INSURRECTIO

INSURRECTIO - a taut, fast-paced thriller and I enjoyed it enormously. Rome, guns and rebellion. Darkly gripping stuff.” 

Conn Iggulden, author of the Emperor series

“Exploring the insidious spread of totalitarian ideals that undermine the social fabric of Roma Nova, INSURRECTIO is an excellent novel that builds to a fast paced, tense climax that keeps the reader on edge to the very end. Highly recommended.”
Elisabeth Storrs – author of the ‘Tales of Ancient Rome’ series

“Alison Morton's INSURRECTIO is a triumph of the imagination. She uses her forensic knowledge of ancient times to create a Roma Nova that feels utterly authentic, populated by genuine real life characters. Roma Nova is under attack from within by a merciless dictator and only Aurelia Mitela has the strength to face him. But even Aurelia's powers and principles are stretched by an enemy who seems to know more about her than she does herself. A brilliant helter-skelter mix of action and intrigue that hurtles to a bloody, heart-rending climax.”
Douglas Jackson – author of Gaius Valerius Verrens series

“Morton’s thrilling world-building is a masterclass in alternate history. You don’t just believe her version – you live every twist and turn.”
E.M. Powell – author of the Fifth Knight series

INSURRECTIO has been selected by the Historical Novel Society as  indie Editor’s Choice Spring 2016 and longlisted for the 2017 HNS Indie Award.

Where to buy:
INSURRECTIO is available as an ebook from Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, B&N Nook and as a paperback, author signed paperback and from other retailers.

Watch the book trailer:




Learn more about Alison Morton

Blogsite:
http://alison-morton.com

Twitter:
@alison_morton

 Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/AlisonMortonAuthor/



27 May 2016

My Characters Lived In 14th-Century England - The Freedom of the Widow

By Blythe Gifford

After having written seven books set in medieval England, I still wrestle with one immutable fact.  Throughout this time period, a woman was always described in relation to men in her life.  She was a daughter, a wife, a mother.  And a woman’s “career choices” were three:  marry, become a prostitute, or become a nun.  Yes, women did work in trade and beside their husbands running estates.  We can find examples of strong women in any era.  But when you look at the societal structure for women at this time, there were few roads to independence.


Christine de Pizan, an Italian widow,
earned her living as a writer.

Interestingly, one of these was to become a widow.  It was, in some cases, the only time in a woman’s life when she might have an independent legal and financial identity. 






Certainly after a husband had died, a woman often remarried.  And though a woman tended to wait a decent interval before remarrying (long enough to make certain she did not carry any children by her deceased husband), a “wealthy widow” was an attractive target.  Not every woman had the choice of widowed independence and a poor widow, literally, was among the most down trodden in all of society, so poor, perhaps, that she was forced to drink water instead of ale.


But for a certain class of women, having fulfilled her duty to marry and have children, the death of a husband could open a world of opportunity not available to other women.  


Among those who gained opportunities were urban women in trade.  Although many guilds restricted membership to men, women typically worked beside their husbands.  In the event of a man’s death, a woman might keep the business running, and, often, the guild would turn a blind eye.  In addition, marrying a guild member’s widow could be a path to guild membership, giving a widow some possibility of choice over her next husband.


The situation was different for the nobility.  A noblewoman’s marriage typically included a dowry, designed to protect a woman should her husband die before she did, a common occurrence.  The children, typically, would inherit the major holdings.  The “dower lands,” would serve as a sort of insurance, providing for the widow during her lifetime and for any children not entitled to inherit their father’s property.


The Magna Carta gave widows the right not to be forced to marry.
Hence a “dowager,” which now has connotations of an aging woman, was simply a widow with some land of her own.  This term, and many others associated with this transaction, actually came into the language after the 13th and 14th centuries, but they described situations and statuses that occurred earlier.  A “dower” was, confusingly, both something the wife brought to a marriage and money or property the husband gave to the wife’s family.


And to make it more confusing, a "dowry" could also be wealth a woman brought to the marriage but was not necessarily allowed to keep in the event of her husband's death.
At any rate, after her husband’s death, with a little property of her own, a woman had a chance for independence that she could not achieve any other way.  Among the lessor known rights granted in the Magna Carta was the promise widows would not be forced to marry.  (This has been called “one of the first great stages in the emancipation of women,” by J.C. Holt in Magna Carta.)  As a result, many did not remarry, or chose to marry for reasons of the heart.  (They were, of course, supposed to have the approval of their feudal lord before wedding.)


In fact, in thirteenth century England, “independent noble widows were ubiquitous,” according to Linda Mitchell.  “They controlled large amounts of land, they frequently preferred to remain single, and they were fully capable of handling their families and their tenants with an iron fist.”  (“The Lady is a Lord: Noble Widows and Land in Thirteenth-Century Britain,” Linda E. Mitchel, Historical Reflections, Vol. 18, No. 1) http://www.jstor.org/stable/41298944


Of course, it was never that simple.  This dower property was supposed to stay with the widow, transferable to a new husband should she remarry.  Her husband was supposed to keep the dowry intact, but although it was “her” money, “he” had total control over it during the marriage.  And because we are talking, in some cases, about substantial money, other family members might not want the widow to take the property from the estate.  We have ample evidence of lawsuits over who had rights to what. 

The Wife  of Bath, Chaucer's famous widow.
And, as time went on, the laws and customs changed in ways that whittled away the opportunities for a widow’s independence.   Complex systems of land trusts and ownerships developed.  While some of them protected the holdings from being sold or taken away, the fact that the property was tied up in trust opened some widows to being pressured to “cash out” the holdings, often for a sum much less than their total worth.  By the fourteenth century, a larger portion of the dowry transferred to a prospective husband tended to be in cash rather than land.  This was wonderful for younger sons who needed income but more problematic for a woman who might find the money gone after his death[1] .  A widow might have been promised a percentage of the husband’s holdings instead of specific land.  But if the family wealth shrank during the marriage, that portion might not be all that had been expected. 


Of course, this summary generalizes across time and space.  Every situation was different.  But when we think of an independent widow in medieval England, we have as an example one of the most famous widows of medieval England:  Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, who had been married five times.  While she is, as far as we know, fictional, her forthright, outspoken attitude may be a clue to the freedom that many women felt when they were free of the constraints of married life.




After many years in public relations, advertising and marketing, Blythe Gifford started writing seriously after a corporate layoff. Ten years and one layoff later, she became an overnight success when she sold her first book to the Harlequin Historical line.  Since then, she has published ten romances set in England and on the Scottish Borders.  WHISPERS AT COURT, a Royal Wedding story, was a June 2015 release from the Harlequin Historical line.  For more information, visit www.blythegifford.com



Author photo Jennifer Girard




  




 [1]The English Nobility in the Late Middle Ages: The Fourteenth-Century ...Givens-Wilson

My Characters Lived in Viking controlled Scotland


My characters (or rather my current set of characters) live in the Viking controlled Hebrides during the mid-9th century. This is when the expansion of the Vikings really took hold. It is when Norway, in particular, became unified, pushing many warriors out of their homelands. It is when the Vikings went and settled in Britain, and France as well as colonising Iceland. Because they did not use the Latin alphabet and were not as literate as the monks they were terrorising, we tend to a skewed view of the Vikings.

The Hebrides from wikicommons
The Western Isles which includes Islay were part of the Dal Riata confederation and closely allied to Ireland at this point.  To make things really confusing – the word Scot in this time period means someone from the Western Isles and Northern Ireland.  Until Kenneth McAlpine kills most of the Pict hierarchy at supper, and founds Alba, there isn’t really a Scotland. It isn’t until his grandsons become king that the word Scotland is used in the modern context.

Islay
While Kenneth McAlpin was causing turmoil on the mainland, the Vikings as they so often did in this period took full advantage and captured territory – namely Shetland, Orkney, and the Western Isles or Hebrides as well as the Isle of Man and parts of the west which are now referred to Galloway. Galloway means the foreign Gaels.  The area around Man and the Hebrides is often referred to as the Kingdom of the Isles. The kingdom of the Isles dates roughly from the mid-ninth century until it is broken up in the 13th century. It is sometimes referred to as the Southern Isles as the Northern Isles of Shetland Orkney were often under different rulers.

We know under the Vikings the Hebrides were ruled from the Isle of Man. The overlord of the King of Mann varied quite a bit. Sometimes it was Norway, others it was England, the Orkneys, Ireland or Scotland.  But go to Islay or Jura today and little besides place-names remain from that time. The Islay museum has only a few relics.

The references are often very shadowy as with much of Viking history. Because most of their structures were wood, little remains. Some archaeology has been done but because sites often had multiple uses over the period sometimes it can be very inconclusive. It is assumed that the buildings were similar in style to those found in Norway and Iceland. They were built around the idea of a great hall with other smaller buildings and workshops supporting the great hall.

The paps of Jura
It was a clash of two cultures in many ways. The Gaels had been Christian since St Columba in the fifth century. They had their own traditions such as the Celtic stone crosses and artwork. The Vikings were raiders and merchants. They were pagans and their traditions were markedly different.  However the Vikings were mainly men and they did tend to intermarry with the Gaels. These foreign Gaels or Gall-Ghaeil  tended to be Christian and follow the traditions of their mothers. But they also followed the profession of their fathers and became great seafarers and warriors.

A Celtic cross
To understand this time, you need to think in terms of sea roads and trade, rather than land travel. It wasn’t horses on roads so much as ships. Summer was the season for warfare. A farm planted his crop in the spring, and left his wife and slaves to tend it while he went to war during the summer. He would then return in time for the harvest and would over-winter on his land. In fact the 12th century warrior Somerlad, who is credited with driving the Vkings out of the Western Isles and founding the Clan Donald is a corruption of a Norse name meaning summer warrior or Viking. He was not some Gaellic hero but the product of the Norse-Gael ruling culture. He simply was able to wrest control of the Isles from the King of Man and became the self-styled Lord of the Isles. In short the Vikings did not leave the Western Isles but became part of the fabric of the society. They settled and adapted to their new homeland.


So my characters lived in a time of flux. When a man could carve a kingdom with the point of his sword and his sons could lose it just as quickly. They would have recognised the mountains and hills of Islay and Jura but little else.

Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romances. SHe is currently revising her next Viking set romance which is set in Islay.  Her most recent Viking Summer of the Viking was published in the US and England in June 2015. It will also be published in Norway and Sweden in June 2016 and France. You can learn more about Michelle and her books on www.michellestyles.co.uk

26 May 2016

Excerpt Thursday: INSURRECTIO by Alison Morton

This week, we’re pleased to welcome author and Unusual Historicals contributor, ALISON MORTON with her latest release,  INSURRECTIO, the fifth in her popular Roma Nova series.

Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. One lucky visitor will get a signed print copy of INSURRECTIO – this giveaway is open internationally. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. The winner will be contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb…

A woman defies a charming populist demagogue making a power grab. Stopping him could risk her own destruction.

‘The second fall of Rome?’
Aurelia Mitela, ex-Praetorian and imperial councillor in Roma Nova, scoffs at her intelligence chief when he throws a red file on her desk.

But early 1980s Roma Nova, the last province of the Roman Empire that has survived into the twentieth century, has problems – a ruler frightened of governing, a centuries-old bureaucracy creaking for reform and, worst of all, a rising nationalist movement with a charismatic leader who wants to destroy Aurelia.

Horrified when her daughter is brutally attacked in a demonstration turned riot, Aurelia tries to rally resistance to the growing fear and instability. But it may already be too late to save Roma Nova from meltdown and herself from entrapment and destruction by her lifelong enemy.…


Praise for INSURRECTIO

“INSURRECTIO - a taut, fast-paced thriller and I enjoyed it enormously. Rome, guns and rebellion. Darkly gripping stuff.” 

Conn Iggulden, author of the Emperor series

“Exploring the insidious spread of totalitarian ideals that undermine the social fabric of Roma Nova, INSURRECTIO is an excellent novel that builds to a fast paced, tense climax that keeps the reader on edge to the very end. Highly recommended.”
Elisabeth Storrs – author of the ‘Tales of Ancient Rome’ series

“Alison Morton's INSURRECTIO is a triumph of the imagination. She uses her forensic knowledge of ancient times to create a Roma Nova that feels utterly authentic, populated by genuine real life characters. Roma Nova is under attack from within by a merciless dictator and only Aurelia Mitela has the strength to face him. But even Aurelia's powers and principles are stretched by an enemy who seems to know more about her than she does herself. A brilliant helter-skelter mix of action and intrigue that hurtles to a bloody, heart-rending climax.”
Douglas Jackson – author of Gaius Valerius Verrens series

“Morton’s thrilling world-building is a masterclass in alternate history. You don’t just believe her version – you live every twist and turn.”
E.M. Powell – author of the Fifth Knight series

INSURRECTIO has been selected by the Historical Novel Society as  indie Editor’s Choice Spring 2016 and longlisted for the 2017 HNS Indie Award 


**An excerpt from INSURRECTIO**

Early 1980s Roma Nova. The influential Twelve Families Council is meeting to discuss a dubious will that has caused a breach with the imperatrix, the ruler of Roma Nova. The unsavoury Caius Tellus has been summoned to appear before the Council. Our heroine, Aurelia Mitelia, the senior family head, presides.

Heavy pounding at the door. Who was knocking as if it was the exit from Tartarus? Domitia Tella wheezed and broke into a fit of coughing. Quintus’s figure stiffened. Of course, it could be only one person. As the noise continued, I signalled Branca to fetch some water for Tella. Her hand, barely more than skin-covered bones, shook as she raised it to her lips.
     I nodded to Quirinia. She unlocked the door and Caius Tellus strode in, brushing against her, causing her to take an involuntary step backwards. He wore a shirt, no tie, casual jacket and slacks. He stopped a few paces into the atrium, took in the thirteen of us and gave a half smile, half sneer. He sauntered along the table nodding at each of the family heads as if he was their superior. He reached his great-aunt’s chair and placed his hand on her shoulder. She flinched.
     The bastard.
     ‘What a cosy gathering you have here, Aurelia. Is it time for tea?’ He looked around. ‘Aren’t you going to invite me to sit?’
     ‘No.’
     He shrugged and folded his arms. The scars running down in white lines from under his nose, through his lips and to the edge of his chin stood out prominently, much more so than at Constantia’s funeral. Was he anxious about this appearance today? He looked down at me, his eyes hard as agates, but a tight smile pasted on his uneven lips. Every time I looked at his face, I remembered fighting him for my daughter’s life. I had no regret for ruining his film star looks before sending him back north to prison.
     ‘Well? What do you want me here for, Aurelia? I have other, more important things to do than this.’ He tipped his head slightly and made a big show of studying his watch.
     ‘As you know perfectly well from the summons served on you, Caius, we’re deciding on the custody of Constantia Tella’s child. Under the rules when there is a dispute, the Families Council or, if necessary, the Families Court decides. Quintus Tellus disputes your claim to custody. As the child prefers his company and Quintus and his father offer a stable family environment, we are inclined to grant his claim. The alternative, if there is an equal vote for and against, is to foster him with a family where there are other young children in the household.’
     ‘All very elegant and no doubt you’ve gossiped with the others here to stitch up the decision, but you’ve forgotten one vital fact.’
     ‘Really? And what is that?’
     ‘Constantia’s testament naming me the child’s guardian.’ He threw two ribbon-bound sheets down onto the table in front of me. ‘It’s legal and binding. No argument.’
     I studied it. The date was a week before Constantia had died.
     ‘Quintus, is this Constantia’s signature?’
     He picked up the stiff papers as if they carried the plague. He read the document through, then returned it to me and nodded. He looked as if he was going to be sick. Caius smirked at his brother.
     ‘I would like Cornelia’s view on this testament’s validity,’ I said.
     She studied it for a full five minutes, flipping back from one page to another. The rain was hammering down on the glazed centre of the roof directly above me as if Jupiter himself was trying to burst through. I longed to get up and walk over to the French windows to break the tension. Eventually, Cornelia looked up.
     ‘It’s legal,’ she said.

INSURRECTIO is available as an ebook from Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, B&N Nook and as a paperback, author signed paperback and from other retailers.

Watch the book trailer: https://youtu.be/eXGslRLjv6g




Learn more about Alison Morton

Blogsite:
http://alison-morton.com

Twitter:
@alison_morton

Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/AlisonMortonAuthor/



20 May 2016

New & Noteworthy: May 20

M.J. Neary's new novel THE GATE OF DAWN will soon be released by Penmore Press. Stay tuned to Penmore Press for the cover art and purchasing links. Congrats M.J.!

Blythe Gifford has two book signings this month. On Saturday, May 21, at 3 p.m., she will be signing at the Hyatt Regency in Schaumburg, IL with many other authors as part of the Spring Fling Book Signing.  Then, on Sunday, May 22, at 2 p.m., she will be part of an historical romance panel and signing at Anderson’s Books in Naperville, IL.  For details, see www.blythegifford.com.


Heather Domin is running a Memorial Day double giveaway for her VALERIAN'S LEGION series. Goodreads users can enter to win paperbacks here, and Tumblr users can enter to win e-books here. Winners will be chosen May 27.


18 May 2016

My Characters Live In Roma Nova - an alternative place to live





What if Harold had won the Battle of Hastings in 1066? Or Julius Caesar had taken notice of the warning that assassins wanted to murder him on the Ides of March? Or the Spanish Armada had defeated and conquered England in 1588? Suppose Christianity had remained a minor Middle Eastern cult?

“Alternate history” stories give us the opportunity to explore such ‘what if’s. Sometimes they’re infused with every last detail of their world but have a simple plot, other times the alternative world is used as a setting for an adventure or complex thriller. Some stories rework important events of history, others focus on ordinary or imagined people. Whichever type they are, three things shape these stories: identification of the point of divergence when the alternate timeline split from our timeline; how that world looks and works since that divergence; and the historical consequences of the diversion.

In my Roma Nova series, the premise is that a tiny remnant of the Roman Empire has survived into the modern era, but with a twist – a big twist.

How did Roma Nova come into being?

In our real timeline, the Western Roman Empire didn’t ‘fall’ in a cataclysmic event as often portrayed in film and television; it localised and eventually dissolved like chain mail fragmenting into separate links, giving way to rump states, local city states and petty kingdoms all facing the dynamic rise of the new peoples of Europe particularly the Franks, Visigoths, Burgundians and Alamans. The Eastern Roman Empire survived, albeit as the diminished city state of Byzantium until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottoman Empire.

Some scholars think that Christianity fatally weakened the traditional Roman way of life; certainly, Emperor Constantine’s personal conversion to Christianity in AD 313 was a turning point for the new religion. By AD 395, his several times successor, Theodosius, banned all traditional Roman religious practice, closed and destroyed temples and dismissed all priests. The sacred flame that had burned for over a thousand years in the College of Vestals was extinguished and the Vestal Virgins expelled. The Altar of Victory, said to guard the fortune of Rome, was hauled away from the Senate building and disappeared from history.

All the above really happened, but AD 395 is the point of divergence in when Roma Nova originated. Three months after Theodosius’s last decree banning all pagan religions, over four hundred Romans loyal to the old gods, and so in danger of execution, trekked north out of Italy to a semi-mountainous area in the middle of Europe. Led by Apulius at the head of twelve senatorial families, they established a colony based initially on land owned by Apulius’s Celtic father-in-law. By purchase, alliance and conquest, this grew into the mini state of Roma Nova. 

Roma Nova rises


Twenty years before Apulius and the twelve families founded Roma Nova, he’d met Julia Bacausa, the tough daughter of a Celtic princeling, when he was serving as a young officer in Noricum (roughly present day Austria).  After Apulius had been ordered back to Rome in AD 375, Julia had taken to her horse and with a few retainers followed Apulius to Rome and married him on the day of her arrival.

She came from a society in which, although Romanised for several generations, women made decisions, fought in battles and managed inheritance and property. Their four daughters were amongst the first Roma Nova pioneers so had to act more decisively than they would have done in a traditional urban Roman setting.  While men concentrated on defending the new colony, women worked the fields, traded, ran the families and, in the absence of fathers and brothers on the front line, made decisions in the governing council.

Given the unstable, dangerous times in Roma Nova’s first few hundred years – this was the time of the Great European Migrations – eventually the daughters as well as sons had to put on armour and wield swords. Fighting danger side-by-side with brothers and fathers transformed women’s status and roles. Moreover, Roma Novans remained loyal to the traditional gods and never allowed the incursion of monotheistic paternalistic religions.

Photo courtesy of Britannia,
www.durolitum.co.uk
In today’s Roma Nova women, especially senior and more experienced ones, hold social and economic life together. The Senate, People’s Assembly, and above all the Twelve Families council support a (female) constitutional ruler, the imperatrix. Although women head families and descent of name and property is through the female line, men are not disadvantaged in this ‘egalitarian-lite’ society. Men are numerically stronger in the military and police services, women more in politics, law and commerce. That’s a generalisation, of course. Nothing is ever that simple…

Service to the state is supposed to be valued higher than personal advantage, echoing Roman Republican virtues; it drove Roma Nova’s survival through the centuries. However, as we see in PERFIDITAS, not everybody subscribes to this.

Roma Nova’s continued existence has been favoured by three factors: the discovery and exploitation of high-grade silver in their mountains, their efficient technology, and their robust response to any threat. Today, although tiny, perhaps the size of Luxembourg, Roma Nova has become one of the highest per capita income states in the world.

So has Roma Nova’s existence changed the rest of the world?

Remembering their Byzantine cousins’ defeat in the Fall of Constantinople, Roma Novan troops assisted the western nations at the Battle of Vienna in 1683 to halt the Ottoman advance into Europe. Nearly two hundred years later, they used their diplomatic skills to help forge an alliance to push Napoleon IV back across the Rhine as he attempted to expand his grandfather’s empire.

Prioritising survival, Roma Nova remained neutral in the Great War of the 20th century that lasted from 1925 to 1935. The Greater German Empire, stretching from Jutland in the north, Alsace in the west, Tyrol in the south and Bulgaria in the east, was broken up afterwards into its former small kingdoms, duchies and counties. Some became republics. There was no sign of an Austrian-born corporal with a short, square moustache.

And the New World that features in the first few chapters of INCEPTIO? New York, where we find Karen living and working, is an Autonomous City in the Eastern United States (EUS) that the Dutch only left in 1813 and the British in 1865. The New World French states of Louisiane and Québec are ruled by Gouverneurs-Généraux on behalf of Napoléon VI. California and Texas belong to the Spanish Empire and the Western Territories are a protected area for the Indigenous Peoples.

If this has glimpse has intrigued you, you can find out much more at The Roma Nova Story [http://alison-morton.com/roma-nova/roma-nova-history/] or read gossipy travel writer Claudia Dixit’s quick Visitor Guide to Roma Nova [http://alison-morton.com/roma-nova/claudia-dixits-tourist-guide-to-roma-nova/]

Bio

Alison Morton is the author of the acclaimed Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO and AURELIA (finalist in the 2016 Historical Novel Society Indie Award). Her fifth book in the series, INSURRECTIO, was launched at the London Book Fair on 12 April 2016. 

Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: http://alison-morton.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison-morton

Read about INSURRECTIO, Alison’s latest book, here: http://alison-morton.com/books-2/insurrectio/

INSURRECTIO book trailer



11 May 2016

My Characters Lived In 10th-Century Spain

This illumination from a circa-1175 Beatus of Liébana groups seven knights.

In Seven Noble Knights, Castilian warriors make raids in foreign territory and defend the frontier very close to home. A few days’ ride takes anyone from survival mode to the most civilized and exotic place on the European continent. Followers of three religions coexisted to create a single culture filled with the brilliance that comes of such tension. With these exciting contrasts, Seven Noble Knights couldn’t have taken place anywhere or any time but tenth-century Spain.

Interior of the Great Mosque at Córdoba, almost unchanged since
the year 1000. Photo by Jessica Knauss
Caliph Abderramán III made al-Andalus its strongest even while planting the seeds of its destruction. He unified Muslim Spain with military prowess and political savvy his heirs would find impossible to maintain. He also began the construction of the palace city Medina Azahara in 936 and transferred the court there in 945. Al Hakim succeeded him as caliph in 961.

During this time of relative peace, al-Andalus reached its highest point of culture, science, and art. Al-Andalus had no competition in luxury and learning. The capital, Córdoba, had such creature comforts as pavement, illumination at night, sewage systems, and a library with as many as 400,000 volumes. Although it’s unlikely everyone in the caliphate knew how to read, a high proportion of Cordobese residents would have, giving Ruy Blásquez no doubt in making such an assertion to his brother-in-law in Seven Noble Knights.

The mihrab of the Great Mosque. Photo by Jessica Knauss
Modern scholars have emphasized the convivencia of this place and time, saying that the jewel of culture wouldn’t have been possible without collaboration between the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish residents. It’s important to remember that for all the cooperation, daily life would have been rife with racial and religious tension as the Christian kingdoms in the north of the peninsula expanded their territory and power at the cost of al-Andalus.

Al Hakim’s successor in 976 was technically Hisham II, but through court intrigue and probably a few murders, the vizier, then hayib (personal guard or chamberlain), later known as Almanzor took control of the military and government within a few years. Such was the impression he made that the people in the rest of the peninsula referred to him as the caliph. Gonzalo Gustioz and many Christian visitors in the time of Mudarra make this mistake in Seven Noble Knights. They couldn’t fathom a mere chamberlain as the director of so much force and terror.

Map by Nuno Alexandre Vieira for Seven Noble Knights
At the time of our story, the rest of the Iberian Peninsula is occupied by the separate Christian kingdoms of León and Navarra, and the France-dependent County of Barcelona.

My characters would have recognized his view from Burgos castle.
Photo by Jessica Knauss 
Castile, where much of Seven Noble Knights takes place, was in the tenth century a county on the eastern frontier of León. The quintessential borderland, its name refers to its abundance of castles and fortifications. A nobleman from this territory of uncultured upstarts, Fernán González, took advantage of the instability after the death of King Ramiro II of León in 951 to amass power for his county. 

This seventh-century hermitage near Salas could have been visited by my
characters! Photo by Jessica Knauss 
Although it wasn’t as independent as the historians of the time would have us believe, Castile became the most important county in the Kingdom of León and the count at its head enjoyed a certain level of autonomy. Upon his death, Fernán González passed the government to his son, García Fernández, who is the presiding count in Seven Noble Knights. Later, Castile took over as the dominant kingdom in the peninsula and in modern times its culture has became synonymous with Spanish.

In Andalusia: prosperity and political unity. Nonetheless, after the time of Seven Noble Knights, upon Almanzor’s death, Andalusia dissolved into multiple petty kingdoms at war with each other as well as with the northern kingdoms.

In Christian Spain: a hardscrabble existence and a multitude of governments serving their own purposes. Yet the end of united Andalusia marks the beginning of a centuries-long process of unification of the Christian kingdoms and their eventual consolidation into modern Spain.

This is one reason the story of Seven Noble Knights is so compelling: because it takes place during Spain’s baptism by fire.

The author with a 20th-century statue depicting her villainess,
Doña Lambra; her villian, Ruy Blásquez; and her hero, Mudarra. 
For a little more of historical context of Seven Noble Knights, see this post

This post muses on the meaning of one of the strangest incidents in the tale, the bloody cucumber.

Check out this post for the way I cobbled together a wedding ceremony for the beginning of Seven Noble Knights

Take a look at this post for some of the ways Spaniards today celebrate the medieval epic poem on which Seven Noble Knights is based. 

The crest of Salas includes characters from
the legend of the seven noble knights.
Further Reading

Castro, Américo. The Spaniards: An Introduction to Their History. Translated by Willard F. King and Selma Margaretten. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971.

Gerber, Jane. The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience. New York: Free Press, 1992.

Lowney, Chris. A Vanished World: Medieval Spain’s Golden Age of Enlightenment. New York: Free Press, 2005.

Medville, Charles, and Ahmad Ubaydli, eds. Christians and Moors in Spain. Vol. 3, Arabic Sources (711–1501). Charles and Warminster: Aris & Phillips Ltd., 1992.

Menocal, Maria Rosa. The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain. Boston: Back Bay Books, 2002.

O’Callaghan, Joseph F. A History of Medieval Spain. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1975.



Jessica Knauss earned her PhD in medieval Spanish with a dissertation on the portrayal of Alfonso X’s laws in the Cantigas de Santa Maria, which has been published as the five-star-rated Law and Order in Medieval Spain. A driven fiction writer, Jessica Knauss has edited many fine historical novels and is a bilingual freelance editor. Her historical novel, Seven Noble Knights, will be published in December 2016 by Bagwyn Books, and she is working on the sequel. On the contemporary side, her YA/NA paranormal Awash in Talent will soon be published by Kindle Press. Find out more her writing and bookish activities here. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter, too!