S.J.A. Turney's Books & More

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Posts Tagged ‘Archaeology

Lost Catterick

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A short but very visual post for you here. There follow a series of photos that have never been seen before of a site that will never be seen again. In 1959/1959 the A1 (Great North Road) was altered to create the Catterick Bypass. The new road was driven straight through the site of Roman Cataractonium, with the road itself passing just east of the fort walls, but cutting straight through the bath house and a substantial portion of the town that had grown up outside the fort. A season of rescue archaeology revealed a great deal of the Roman remains before they were completely destroyed by the new road, and unearthed some astounding artifacts that are now held in the Yorkshire Museum and the Richmondshire Museum. As it happens, my grandfather was both a professional photographer and a keen history enthusiast in the area at the time, and managed to photograph some of the work. The quality is not wonderful as they have been kept in a cupboard as slides for sixty years and I have had to be careful in converting the images, but still, grainy as they are, they represent a rare image of Roman archaeology now completely lost to us, and give some indication of how impressive what we have lost truly was. Enjoy…

Written by SJAT

January 13, 2021 at 11:21 am

Roman research – en Francais

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Something a bit different for this Thursday’s review. I’ve been tidying the bookshelves of my office and four of my research texts in particular caught my eye. Why? Because they’re the four I have that are in French. I’m not a fluent French speaker, by the way. I have ‘holiday French’ along with more specialised Gallo-Roman-connected French. This means that when I need to read a book on Rome in French, I can instinctively translate about every third sentence at a glance, and the other two I will need to work on. Hard work? Yes. Especially for research. But rewarding? Well yes. Let me explain why, for each book:

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A comic book! Gods, yes. Some consider it a lesser form of literature, and maybe if you’re talking about Dennis the Menace I might nod, but this graphic novel of Rome vs Gaul at the last great stand is really a very high quality read. This was one of the books I bought when I was writing Marius’ Mules VII, which centred on the siege of Alesia, and it influenced my vision of the battle and the warriors as much as any archaeological or topographic research. The authors and illustrators have put such passion into the detail, that it is impossible to not appreciate it. The armour and equipment are authentic. The oppidum of Alesia itself is spot on, having walked the site a few years back, and the Roman siege works are very well done. What’s the story? Well, I couldn’t tell you in truth. I didn’t read it as a story. For me this was a visual thing. And as a series of images of the events leading up to Alesia and the battle itself, it is hard to beat. Some day I will read it as a novel too. Hopefully it won’t disappoint. I have the feeling it won’t.

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Another text I bought for Marius’ Mules VII. This, however, is a serious text book. An archaeological treatise with a focus on the site and its remains rather than the famous battle that took place there. And this book I read whole chunks of. Not everything, since it is all encompassing, right down to dealing with the trial excavations in the days of the Second French Empire. For me it’s a 4* book, rather than 5, as it tends to be a little rambling at times, and could be more organised and focused. A two page spread on Napoleon III, I deemed rather unnecessary, for instance. And many pages are given over to antique illustrations connected with the subject (woodcuts and 19th century maps for eg). But as far as it lags in that respect, the upsides of this book are fabulous for anyone interested in Alesia. The archaeological work in the book is covered in such detail even a true expert would learn something. And the topographical illustrations are excellent, too. My interpretation of the Roman defences in my own account is almost entirely based on this book.

L.10EBBN001594.N001_VAlixMars_C_FR

Moving on from Alesia, this is a book I bought when writing Marius’ Mules VIII. Roman Marseilles is not a subject that is heavily covered in books, and certainly not in any depth. I bought this, expecting something a little like the Alesia one above – a graphic novel with some nice illustrations. It’s not. And any other books in the Voyages d’Alix series that cover places I will write about, I shall most certainly buy. The series covers many, many places in ancient times, from Jerusalem to Mexico, even! And it is not a graphic novel at all. It is a proper research book – just written for kids. Now that suits me down to the ground, since it meant it was picture heavy and much easier to read/translate. Each two page spread through the book covers an aspect of ancient Massalia, from religion to the port, to trade, to baths and so on. And along with a good descriptive text, it is illustrated with photos of remains and finds, and with reconstructions of the style and quality you can see on the cover above. Best of all for me, it had two panoramic views of the city, one during the period of Greek control and one later, under the Romans. Without this book, my view of Marseilles in MM8 would have been very different. And it will come into play again next year, when I get to MM10 and the siege of that same city.

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The jewel of the collection. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, even if you’ve not a word of French. Anthony Riches, author of the excellent Empire series, put me onto this book and I bought it immediately, and have opened it at least once a week now for years. It is a complete visual topography of Rome in the age of Constantine. It is organised by region and nowhere is left out (most books covering this sort of subject focus on the famous bits and gloss over the rest.) Whole sections of very informative text, accompanied by lovely glossy photos of the current city’s remains, are punctuated with fold out maps in the form of panoramic reconstructions (again such as on the cover above.) But these are great big and very detailed images. Better still, each one is unlabelled and clear (again as above), but is accompanied by a copy of the same image a little washed out and with each location labelled. I cannot stress enough the value of this to anyone trying to understand the ancient city of Rome. Praetorian 1 and 2 were both written using this as an almost constant research text. Not so Marius’ Mules, as the book concentrates on the early 4th century city, and the Rome of Julius Caesar would look a great deal different. But…. well, just buy it and look at it. Try not to drool on the pages!

So there you go. Four French books in one review. If you’ve an interest in the subject, they’re all recommended, each for different reasons.

Back to normal next week with a 20th century historical novel review.

Written by SJAT

April 14, 2016 at 9:48 am

Scots invade Hadrian’s Wall…

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Well, sort of.

I have just spent a magnificent long weekend in Gilsland on the Northumberland/Cumbria border with my lovely wife and children and with Gordon Doherty (of Legionary and Strategos fame) and his wonderful better half.

Gordon’s current portfolio:

 

Now the weekend was a particularly good one for three distinct reasons:

Firstly: Location. Our holiday cottage was close enough to Hadrian’s Wall (or at least the turf ridge that marks its passage) that I could have hit it with a thrown weasel, had I had one to hand. That kind of proximity to the ancient always gets my blood and imagination going. It also meant that in our available time we had the chance to visit a number of Roman sites (Birdoswald, Chesters, Poltross Burn, Willowford, and the Greenhead Roman Army Museum. Now that in itself is superb and worthy of pictorial memoirs and so here we go. Time to clog up your browser, broadband and memory with a run of photos:

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1. Two JAFRAs (in-joke term for a Roman Author) posing in their place of work. Do ya think we’re sexy?

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2. In case you didn’t get the details! Heh heh heh

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3. The Eastern wall and main east gate of Birdoswald (Banna) Roman fort in glorious sunshine.

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4. Marcus investigating every crevice of the Roman world.

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5. Tracey, Marcus and Callie taking in the view from the walls of Birdoswald.

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6. Simon (me) and my poser of a boy Marcus at Birdoswald. Future catalogue model in the making, you think?

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7. Poltross burn milecastle at Gilsland. One of the most sloping, geographically-challenged of all British Roman sites. Bet they never played dominoes or tried to eat soup from a shallow bowl!

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8. Renowned author of late Roman and Byzantine novels Gordon Doherty surveys his domain from the top of the wall. He is clearly uninspired by the railway fencing and the other tourists!

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9. Marcus tries to recreate Willowford’s early 3rd century Roman bridge by dropping stones into the river one at a time.

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10. Gordon appears to like Willowford.

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11. A detail shot of the three stages of bridge abutment at Willowford for those interested in real historical things rather than just posturing or…

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12. Pictures of WILLIES!!!!

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13. Chesters museum hasn’t changed much since Victoria was on the throne, but that just makes it all the better for me. Great, isn’t it?

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14. Marcus and Callie seem to like it anyway. I think Marcus just squeezed one out, looking at that…

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15. Too cool for school. Gordon Doherty and S.J.A. Turney trying to look normal among the barrack blocks of the cavalry fort of Cilurnum (Chesters)

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16. Callie and Marcus making no attempt to look normal and yet still beating us at the game…

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17. Deep in discussion. Come on, ladies… two Roman fiction authors in a hot baths together… phwoooaaarrrhhh!!! Or… not.

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18. Callie tries to work out why her boat won’t float.

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19. Gordon Doherty being tour guide and discussing the relative heights of original floor level in a Roman bath house.

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20. Simon and Gordon take a seat in the apodyterium (changing room). It was too cold for just a subligaculum and wooden clogs!

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21. The underfloor heating of the Commanding Officer’s baths. Now if only they’d been working. Oooh that chill wind….

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22. The ancient military meets the modern. Love this shot that wifey took: Chinook helicopters over Hadrian’s Wall. Bet the Caledonii would have been a pushover had Agricola got his hands on a couple of those…

The second reason the weekend was good? Well, because of great friends and family. Gordon and his wife are excellent company and the weekend was just comfortable and great fun.

But the third reason: It was not all fun. In fact, only half of it was having a beer and gallivanting around the Roman sites. The rest of it involved Gordon and I sitting in a room surrounded by laptops, pads and pens and reference books while we took the bare idea of a plot we had a while back and hammered it out before folding it and adding a keen edge and turning it into a fully fledged story right down to a chapter plan. Yes, as you may have noted on Twitter or Facebook, Gordon and I will shortly be embarking on a collaborative project and the story we have so far is fabulous. I mean, it’s going to knock your socks off, so you’d best send home to mummy for more with the next delivery (Vindolanda joke – sad, I know.) But it really is a stunning idea. We will start to release occasional teasers once we’re properly involved in the writing, which will being some time after the release of Gordon’s Strategos II and my Marius’ Mules V. I will simply leave you with these images to give you something to chew on….

bust  bridge building

Have a really nice week, folks. Will be back the day after tomorrow with a book review and then something else at the weekend.

Written by SJAT

April 23, 2013 at 4:49 pm