Thursday, April 26, 2012

Getting Anglo-Saxon on Government?

Bayeux Tapestry

Today I read an interesting article on the BBC website about a movement in northern England to reintroduce the former Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia and separate from England.

What’s new there? There are several regions around the world who would like to do the same thing and separate from the countries in which they find themselves; Crete and Quebec come immediately to my mind and there are many more. It may be for different reasons (cultural, monetary etc.) but the overarching perspective, I suppose, is a belief that the current government, in whichever region we are talking about, is just not cutting it, not governing for the benefit of the people.

According to this article (, that is the case in northern England.

Pericles' Funeral Oration in Athens
I’m a big believer in learning from the past, no surprise there! If everyone could just remember and learn from past mistakes, so many troubles could be avoided. Unfortunately, it sometimes seems that it is the doom of humankind to repeat history, perhaps a sad reflection of the cycle of life. We are part of a giant ourobouros devouring our own tail but making the circle smaller and smaller. Governments throughout history are by no means perfect. Ancient Greece gave rise to democracy but was it true democracy when most of the population was not permitted to participate, including women and slaves? Still there was something there. The Romans were well organized under the tribes in the Republic, but greed, bribery and threats were always at work behind the scenes. When the Empire came about, representation of the people was facial, a mere formality under the powerful Emperors.

I am by no means an expert on various forms of government. However, I can see the value of what the Mercia Movement in England envisions. Here is a bit from the article, quoting a representative of the movement:

The Roman Senate
"The Mercia Movement therefore aims to act as a catalyst in the removal of the Establishment and in the re-empowerment of the ordinary people of the country. Mercia remains a legally autonomous region and we intend to re-create its independence in reality.
"Anglo-Saxon England provides a vital historical model which proves that a society based on community, organic democracy and environmental harmony is not a dream, but an achievable ideal."

Reading this, my first thought is that it is hopeful, idealistic (like me!) and sadly, unlikely. Central governments are not likely to give up chunks of their countries, nor are banks likely to give up their stranglehold on all of them. But the idea of grassroots democracy is a good one and though the Saxon version of it, with its ‘moots’ and ‘witans’, was by no means foolproof, at least something like that would provide the people with an opportunity.

As I read the news, speak with people from around the world, it seems to me that people are more and more desperate, lost in helpless mindset. Greece now, is a perfect example. Elections in Greece are coming up soon and as we all know, the people of that country have been battered and bullied of late. People will vote, they have too, but what are their choices? One corrupt party over another? The politicians are so corrupt, they have resorted to stealing money from the middle and lower classes, the people who need the most help. Bonds have been taken from people illegally with no sign of repayment. And they will get away with it. What can people do?
A peaceful protest in Athens

The word ‘idiot’ comes from the ancient Greek word ‘idiota’ which was used to describe someone who does not get involved in their local ‘demos’, who does not use their democratic voice. It is interesting that the ancients, those who invented democracy, had such a word. Yet today, so many people in our own communities do not get out and vote, do not get involved. How then can we complain?

I am contradicting myself here. On the one hand, we should get involved. On the other, the choices of politicians are, more often than not, poor indeed. I don’t have an answer and I am sure that this topic will spark many a heated dinner time debate over meat and mead (or wine!).

There is an argument for monarchy here also, for they would have a vested interest in keeping a country running smoothly if not for themselves then for their heirs, their children’s children. A monarchy thinks more of the long-term health of itself and, ideally, its subjects.

At the end of the day, the Saxons had Robin Hood to speak for them. But, short of putting black-goose fletched arrows in the sheriff’s men’s backs, peaceful protest and grassroots community involvement are good ways to get involved and make your voice heard. Finally, stop electing real ‘idiots’!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The World of Children of Apollo - Part III - The Severans

The Severans were a very interesting family and not without their tales of violence and greed and uniqueness of character. The period is not marked by something so brutal as the psychotic reign of Caligula but there are certainly many more dimensions. It is a time of militarism, of a weakened Senate, a time of spymasters in various camps. It is a time marked by the rise of lower classes, the presence of powerful women and, over it all, a blanket of religious superstition at the highest levels. Many believe that it is this period in Rome’s history that marks the true beginning of the end of the Roman Empire.

The emperor at the time that Children of Apollo takes place is Septimius Severus (A.D. 193-211). He was the son of an Equestrian from Leptis Magna in North Africa. When Commodus was killed in A.D. 192, Severus was governor of Pannonia. When the Praetorians decided to auction the imperial seat a short time later, Severus’ legions declared him Emperor. He subsequently defeated his two opponents who had also declared themselves Emperor: Clodius Albinus and Pescennius Niger. A purge of his opponents’ followers in the Senate and Rome made Severus sole ruler of the largest empire in the world.
Septimius Severus

Septimius Severus was a martial emperor, the army was his power and he knew how to use it, how to keep the legions loyal and happy. He increased troops’ pay and in a radical move, allowed soldiers to get married. Severus was good to his troops, his Pannonian Legions and victorious Parthian campaigners. He promoted equestrians to ranks previously reserved for aristocrats and lower ranks to equestrian status. There was a lot of mobility within the rank system at the time due to Severus ‘democratization’ of the army. Remember, this was an emperor who favoured his troops, especially those who distinguished themselves. The Emperor is open and friendly with Lucius Metellus Anguis in Children of Apollo but, there are prices to be paid. No favour is free.

Julia Domna
One of the most interesting characters of the period is Severus’ Empress, Julia Domna. She appears as one of the strongest women in Rome’s history, an equal partner in power with her husband who heeded her advice but also respected her. Julia Domna was the first of the so-called ‘Syrian women’, she and her sisters hailing from Antioch where their father had been the respected high priest of Baal at Emesa (Homs in modern Syria).

Julia Domna was also highly intelligent, known as a philosopher, and had a group of leading scholars and rhetoricians about her. They came from around the Empire to be a part of her circle, to win commissions from her. No doubt, her strength also bought her a great many enemies, including the Praetorian Prefect and kinsman to Severus, Gaius Fulvius Plautianus. The conflict between the Empress and the Prefect of the Guard is something that will cause Lucius Metellus Anguis a good deal of trouble in Children of Apollo and the next novel. To boot, Plautianus’ daughter, Plautilla, was married to the Empress’ son, Caracalla. One can imagine what family gatherings must have been like!

Gaius Fulvius Plautianaus
Apart from the power, their keen ability to wield it, and their nurturing of the army’s loyalty, a very interesting and important aspect of Septimius Severus and Julia Domna is the great faith they both placed in astrology and horoscopes. They consulted with their astrologer and the stars on all decisions. Astrology affected everything, including Severus’ choice of her as his wife – he was greatly impressed by her horoscope.

By all accounts Caracalla and Geta, Severus’ heirs, were both at odds much of the time. The two brothers seem to have tolerated each other’s presence and competed fiercely, even in the hippodrome where at one point they raced each other so fiercely on their chariots that they ended up with several broken bones, almost leaving their father without his precious heirs. Caracalla seems to have been the favourite of the Empress though in much later years, Julia Domna does come to Geta’s defence, however much in vain.

Julia Mamaea
The Syrian women continued to hold power under the daughters of Julia Domna’s older sister, Julia Maesa who, herself, managed to save the dynasty for a time after the death of Caracalla. Julia Maesa was the mother of Julia Soaemias and Julia Mamaea, both mothers in their turn, of the last Severan emperors, Elagabalus and Alexander Severus. These powerful women held the family together. However, in the end, under Alexander Severus, the loyalty of the army was lost and, what once gave the Severans their ultimate power, became their downfall.

There is a lot more to each of the people I have mentioned so briefly here and it is a part of Roman history that is not often explored. However, the Severans made their mark on the Empire and brought about massive changes, from artwork to marriage for legionaries, to a crippling of the Senate and the extension of Roman citizenship to people all over the Roman Empire. They were strong, religious, varied and flawed and all make for fantastic fiction!

In the next instalment of The World of Children of Apollo, we’ll be heading to Ostia and Rome itself, in Lucius’ footsteps as he leaves North Africa to return home after many years. If you are up for a Roman holiday, be sure to check it out!

Book Trailer now posted: to view the new book trailer for Children of Apollo on You Tube, go to the link at the top right of this blog.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Children of Apollo - E-Book now available

At long last, the battle for formatting has been won and Children of Apollo, Book I in the Eagles and Dragons series, is now available as an e-book.

If you are interested, and count yourself among the technologically-inclined, you can get this from Amazon in the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, France, Italy and of course, the U.S. Canadian customers can purchase from

For those of you with iPads, Kobos, Sony Readers, Nooks etc., never fear. Children of Apollo will be available for those devices in a few weeks.

In the meantime, be sure to visit the new Eagles and Dragons Facebook page. Also, Part III of The World of Children of Apollo will be posted very soon, so, watch this space. This time, we'll be meeting the Severans.

Cheers and happy reading!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Makings of a Hero

Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials. This is a favourite phase of the myth-adventure. It has produced a world literature of miraculous tests and ordeals. The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the supernatural helper whom he met before his entrance into this region. (Joseph Campbell)

In Joseph Campbell’s seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the author looks at the various traditions and archetypes that make up heroes in cultures from around the world and the common journeys those heroes must make.

Heroes are prominent in history, legend and literature. The hero is essential to storytelling. We have myriad examples of heroes and heroines from Greek, Roman and Celtic mythologies, Arthurian Romance and countless other traditions. Heroes might be flawless or, they might be of the dregs of society. Whether fighting beneath the walls of Troy or in the world of Tolkien, heroes dominate and drive story. As do their adversaries; the bigger the foe, the greater the hero.

But what makes a hero? What is it that sets the hero apart from the rest? The answer to this is not necessarily a simple one. The answer is also subjective, depending on a person’s perspective. A hero to one may be a villain to another. Take Achilles as an example. To the Greeks fighting at Troy, he was the ultimate hero; fearless, skilled, destructive to their enemies. However, to the people of Troy, he was their worst nightmare, spoiled, selfish, arrogant, the slayer of their city’s favoured son. We each have our own idea of what a hero is. Mine is shaped by the stories on which I was raised. I grew up on Arthurian romance, Tolkien and Star Wars. Arthur, Aragorn and Luke Skywalker were ever in my mind, firing my imagination and now influencing my own stories.

Heroes all have a journey to make. That is compulsory. Whether it is Herakles and his twelve labours or Joan of Arc from the time she heard the voice to the time of her death. The hero’s journey has particular steps along the way. At first there is a level of naïveté followed by an event that sets things in motion. There are challenges and adversity. There are choices the hero must make and ultimately, it is those choices that determine how others will view the hero, how the hero will view himself. For me, it might end with the hero putting others, or some greater cause, above himself. Gods (and stories!) often require sacrifice and the hero is the one who will step to the fore despite hardship, despite pain, despite fear.

When I started writing Children of Apollo, the first book in my Eagles and Dragons series, I wanted to create a protagonist who could stand out in ancient Rome while at the same time maintain a measure of honour. Making it big in ancient Rome certainly did not mean you were good. However, as with all heroes, I soon realized that it was going to be the journey that Lucius Metellus Anguis would make that was important. People grow with experience and the learning never stops. I have not completed the series and, being a writer who likes things to develop in an organic way, I do not yet know what sort of hero Lucius will turn out to be. He has a lot more to experience, fears to face, and not until his death perhaps, will I know if he has the makings of a true hero.

I have but scratched the surface of this topic, sketched a brief image of what are, I think, some of the main qualities of a hero. All people have the potential for good or evil. To me, the hero ultimately chooses the side of good. He may have made mistakes along the way, but that makes him human and someone we can relate to all the more.

Whether a peasant or a demigod, a warrior or a mother, a king who loves and defends his subjects or a father who loves and defends is family, we all have our own heroes, real or imagined. At the end of the day, heroes across the ages are those who inspire us to goodness. They are the ones who, even in the darkest of times, are that one spark of light and hope that will kindle the fire in which good can overcome evil. They are present now, in history and in fiction and their deeds will continue to resonate through the ages.