Thursday, 20 March 2014

The Roman Conquest of Scotland: Guest Post by Nancy Jardine

Hello, Mark, I'm delighted to visit your blog once again as part of a mini launch-tour. This time it's for the release of book three of my Celtic Fervour series, After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks, the official launch being on 25th March 2014.

The novel continues the stories of Brennus of Garrigill, Ineda of Marske and the Roman Tribune Gaius Livanus Valerius (the protagonists who featured in the earlier books), but the action takes place over a wider geographical area. It covers a period of around a decade, beginning in 74 AD, in Brigantia. The novel ends in the territory of the Taexali, in north-east Scotland, in the footsteps of the northern campaigns of Gnaeus Julius Agricola as Roman Governor of Britannia.

Agricola, as depicted in Georgian Bath. Photo: Ostrich (image is in the public domain).

During the tenure of Agricola's predecessor, Frontinus, Roman expansion within Brigantia seems to have been slow and steady. Treaties between Rome and Brigantia may have allowed the Brigantes to lead relatively normal lives, so long as they refrained from attacking Roman installations and personnel, and paid the agreed dues to Rome.

When Agricola became Governor in 78 AD, however, he seems to have been far less willing to leave the Brigantes alone, and his campaigns in northern Britain are recorded by his son-in-law, the historian, Tacitus. I have to be totally honest, and declare that I'd been waiting for a few years to write something about Agricola's campaigns in my home area of north-east Scotland. If I was going to retain the characters from the earlier books, however, that meant that they would have to do a fair bit of travelling. Conveniently for my plot, the range of hills known as Beinn Na Ciche (Bennachie), located in what was Taexali territory, is a prime contender as the site of the Battle of Mons Graupius, described in Tacitus's biography of Agricola. It may come as no surprise to readers of the earlier books in the series that the battle between the Roman Empire and a Celtic leader named Calgach is near Durno, opposite the foothills of Beinn Na Ciche.

                         Beinn Na Ciche. Photo: Nancy Jardine.

Reading about the routes taken by Agricola's legions on his northern campaigns, and learning about the extensive Gask Ridge Forts, which were built in north-east Scotland, was totally fascinating. It made even more of an impact since I've regularly travelled on the A90, a road which overlays many parts of the original "Roman" road to the North.

Key sites in northern Britain. Image: Nancy Jardine.

During the writing process, my journeys from Aberdeen to Glasgow and Edinburgh passed close to the areas where the so-called "glen blocker" forts were built, and I found it easy to imagine Agricola's legions tramping their way northwards. I could imagine how awesome (and I use that word with its true meaning) the sight must have been for the Celtic farmers who dwelt on the relatively flat, fertile plains between the glen-mouth openings and the sea.

When I read about the Roman fortress of Inchtuthil, I knew I had to find some way of including it in the novel. Reading about the hurried withdrawal from the facility, and about the way in which the area seems to have been swiftly stripped of most of the useful items, was interesting, but I was even more impressed when I read about the quantity of iron nails that had been buried in hastily-dug pits. The hiding of three quarters of a million hand-made nails, made in specified sizes for various uses, was astounding. I found myself itching to write a scene in which the wattle from the wooden buildings in the fortress of Pinata Castra (Inchtuthil) was set ablaze, the wooden posts removed and dumped onto waiting carts, the poles intended for reuse somewhere to the south. I could envisage the last cartloads of useful goods heading out of the fortress gates to begin their journey southwards. I would have liked to have written about some of the Roman soldiers smashing pottery to smithereens, whilst others filled up the drainage gullies and sewers with gravel. Sadly, this probably happened too late for inclusion in this novel, although I don't rule out including it in book four, or even book five. What I did decide, after reading about the Roman Corstopitum (the border country between present-day Scotland and England) and Inchtuthil, was that the provision of metal to the Roman forts around Britannia would form an important element of the plot for After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks.

Investigations of the "glen blocker" and Gask Ridge forts continue as I write this post, and every new revelation I read leaves me wanting to know more. Historical accuracy is very important to me, but I have constantly to tell myself that I'm writing a work of fiction, and that my writing cannot always include the newest interpretations of the past. I hope that my readers for book three of the series both appreciate it as my vision of what might have happened in northern Britannia in the 1st Century AD, and also enjoy it as a good adventure.

Ardoch Roman Fort on the Gask Ridge. Photo: Dr Richard Murray (licensed under CCA).

Remains of a Roman watch-tower at Kirkhill on the Gask Ridge. Photo: Jackie Proven (licensed under CCA).

After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks is published by Crooked Cat Publications, and is available for pre-order from Amazon.

Nancy Jardine's novels can be found in paperback and e-book formats from Amazon UK, Amazon USA, Crooked Cat Bookstore, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, W.H. Smith and other book retailers.

Nancy can be found at the following places: Blog Website Facebook Goodreads About Me LinkedIn Twitter: @nansjar.


  1. Thank you for hosting me, Mark, at the beginning of my mini launch tour, and I really like the images you've added. (ps I thought I'd left a message on Thursday but now realise it didn't post).

  2. Thanks, Nancy, I look forward to reading the book!