Tuesday 10 September 2019

Join Historical Fiction author, Tim walker, as he takes a look at the Fall of Empires #History #RomanEmpire @timwalker1666

On the Fall of Empires
By Tim Walker
I recently watched, in drooling fascination, a one-hour TV documentary on the fall of the Roman Empire, expertly presented by the engaging and idiosyncratic Mary Beard. Striding through the ruins of the monuments of Rome in her designer trainers, Beard cherry-picks what she sees as the main causes of the decline and fall of the mighty Empire of Rome, imaginatively summarising in spoon-sized chunks fit for a TV audience, weighty and complex theories that took Edward Gibbon six volumes to cover in his epic work, ‘The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’.

She starts with a saunter along Hadrian’s Wall – the Roman Empire’s most northerly border. Here, she suggests that once Rome had ceased its expansion phase and clearly defined its borders with walls and forts to settle into a period of containment, they became a sitting target for both internal dissenters and external elements - those excluded from the benefits of the empire, who began to ferment opposition. This is an intriguing concept – that once a physical barrier is erected it causes affront to those outside, and can be seen as confinement by some of those within. Witness Donald Trump’s Wall and how it has become a magnet for both desperate migrants on the outside and dissenters within. There is something deeply divisive about physical barriers, and human nature is such that people want to breach barriers placed before them.

Beard does tell us that the decline and eventual fall of Rome took place over three or four generations, and that Rome was sacked on three separate occasions. The first of these was in 410 AD when Alaric, King of the Visigoths, swept into Rome and declared himself King of Rome. This is the same year that the Emperor Honorius wrote to the civic leaders of Britannia to ‘look to your own defences’, signalling the official end of the Roman occupation of Britain. Beard, sitting in a Roman restaurant, cuts her pizza into four quarters and places a cherry tomato in the centre to represent Rome. Then an olive in the centre of each of the four segments. By the time Alaric sacked Rome, it was merely a symbolic centre of a crumbling empire, as administrative power had been devolved to regional territories, where a number of competing emperors jealously guarded their segments. “What set out to be devolution, ended up as disintegration,” Beard ominously intones over the remains of her pizza.

She touches on the decadence, paranoia and isolation of a succession of weak emperors as a contributing factor, giving the example of one emperor who literally drowned his dinner guests in a shower of rose petals. A sweet-smelling way to go. Citizens increasingly felt they were too heavily taxed and resented the impersonality and decadence of imperial authority.

However, the greatest threat to centralised Roman authority came from competing religious beliefs that were allowed to proliferate in the outlying provinces under Rome’s relaxed polytheism -the toleration of a wide range of beliefs. The worship of multiple gods may have been at the heart of the Roman belief system, but this was a part of core shared values, held together by the practice of making sacrifices to the gods for favourable outcomes, and ultimately a belief in the Emperor as a divine or semi-divine figure at the top of the social hierarchy.

Religious devotion in the Roman world was a personal thing – the act of making a sacrifice of animals or crops to a relevant deity at temples or roadside shrines in the hope a favourable outcome to a situation or enterprise. New religions or cults practiced in groups led by a priest, such as with Judaism and Mithraism, were a departure from this, but were felt to be manageable by the Roman authorities as they were, initially, contained in geographical areas. However, when the Romans destroyed the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, in an attempt to enforce their will, it led to a six-year civil war that ended with a mass suicide of Jewish religious zealots. An even greater threat to the empire’s core values and beliefs was to grow out of Judaism’s spin-off religion – Christianity.

Christianity slowly spread though the empire in the first two centuries AD, with believers no doubt combining elements of pagan belief and ritual with their new faith. However, conflict with the Roman authorities grew when some Christians refused to make sacrifice to the gods, citing their belief in the One True God. Out of frustration, one emperor decided to make it a law that all citizens must sacrifices to the gods, and those refusing to do so were punished. What followed was the persecution of Christians and the infamous ‘Christians versus Lions’ blood sports in arenas across the empire. Beard makes the point that this started to pall when spectators became aware that those being torn to pieces for their entertainment were no longer just slaves, convicted criminals and gladiators, but their own neighbours who had embraced the new religion.

Finally, towards the end of the third century, the Emperor Constantine put an end to this persecution by adopting Christianity as the religion of the vast Roman Empire, elevating a once illegal cult to the law of the land. But at the heart of Christianity was a new ideology that challenged the core beliefs of Roman civilisation, ultimately weakening Rome’s influence over its citizens as it spread across the empire. Beard concludes: “The real heir of the Roman Empire was Christendom, not an empire of political domination, but an empire of the mind and without limit.” She goes on to say that many empires since have drawn on aspects of the Roman Empire and wrestled with its dilemmas, adding, “We in the West still ponder where our boundaries lie, and what limits should be placed on inclusion. We have inherited the Romans’ ambivalence, forever questioning if the end justify the means, the tears alongside the victory parade.”

There is much food for thought in Mary Beard’s well-presented observations that form a prism through which we can reflect on contemporary trends in our own socio-political landscapes. In my historical series, A Light in the Dark Ages, I am fascinated by the return of Britain to tribal kingdoms in the aftermath of Roman withdrawal in the fifth century, and how native resistance to aggressive settler groups ultimately crumbled and gave way to a new wave of colonisation. In the first book in my series, Abandoned, I pose the question, ‘would the Britons have regarded it as liberation or abandonment following the Roman withdrawal?’ The answer for many would most likely have been, ‘a bit of both’ - there were undoubtably some winners, but many losers, as the cloak of protection and ability to organise was withdrawn. The disintegration of infrastructure was inevitable once it became apparent that no successful replacement imperial-minded system came into effect (although some early kings may have delayed it as they tried to mimic Roman ways). Certainly, the Anglo-Saxon colonists who had not lived under Roman rule, had no use for their structures or ways, choosing to build settlements outside the old town walls.

The Romans defended their Britannia land and sea borders for centuries before abandoning their province in order to defend their eastern and southern boundaries from more determined and numerous invaders. Excluding people and tolerating competing ideologies proved to be contributing factors to the undoing of the greatest empire in European history. Many would say the fall of the Roman Empire (indeed, all empires) was a good thing, but an uncontrolled implosion led to many years of hardship and suffering, with unscrupulous and greedy tribal leaders tearing a wide swathe across once peaceful settlements, destroying all that they did not understand or value. Those of us in Britain, teetering on the brink of a disorderly no-deal exit from the European Union (itself regarded by some as a corrupt and inflexible empire), fed on lies and mis-information by self-serving political leaders, have much to dwell on.

A Light in the Dark Ages Series
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In the year 410 the last Roman Governor of Britannia, Lucius, sailed away from the port of Londinium, never to return. Bishop Guithelin’s desire for a smooth transition in authority to tribal chief Mandubracius leads only to disappointment. Guided by visions from God, Guithelin undertakes a hazardous journey to a neighbouring country to seek assistance from a noble and Christian ruler. 

Abandoned is the starting point for an adventure that sets Briton nobles against each other and a foreign prince, whilst keeping one eye on raiders who spill onto the shores and over Hadrian’s Wall. Britannia’s abandonment by Rome presented opportunity for some and anguish and misery for others, as the island slowly adjusted to self-rule.

Through the chaos, heroes emerge, including half-Roman auxiliary commander, Marcus Pendragon, who organises the defence of his town from deadly raiders intent on plunder and murder. Guithelin does his best at diplomacy, never giving up hope for a stable and Godly leader to rule over the tribal chiefs and provide a protective shield for the fearful people of Britannia. But is the preening Prince Constantine the right man?

Marcus fights to protect his family from a range of opportunistic enemies, and by so doing establishes a legacy that will lead to his son, Uther, and grandson, Arthur, becoming kings of Britannia.

Abandoned is book one in a series – A LIGHT IN THE DARK AGES – and is followed by Ambrosius: Last of the Romans and Uther’s Destiny, the latter a winner of the One Stop Fiction Five Star Book Award.

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Last of the Romans

Britannia lies open to barbarian invasions as it slowly adjusts to life after Roman rule. Cruel high king Vortigern has seized control and chosen to employ Saxons in his mercenary army. But who is the master and who the puppet?

Enter Ambrosius Aurelianus, a Roman tribune on a secret mission to Britannia. He is returning to the land where, as a child, he witnessed the murder of his noble father and grew up under the watchful eyes of an adoptive family in the town of Calleva Atrebatum. He is thrown into the politics of the time, as tribal chiefs eye each other with suspicion whilst kept at heel by the high king.

Ambrosius finds that the influence of Rome is fast becoming a distant memory, as Britannia reverts to its Celtic tribal roots. He joins forces with his adoptive brother, Uther Pendragon, and they are guided by their shrewd father, Marcus, as he senses his destiny is to lead the Britons to a more secure future.

Ambrosius: Last of the Romans is an historical fiction novel set in the early Dark Ages, a time of myths and legends that builds to the greatest legend of all – King Arthur and his knights.

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Uther’s Destiny

Late fifth century Britannia recoils in shock at the murder of charismatic High King, Ambrosius Aurelianus, and looks to his brother and successor, Uther, to continue his work in leading the resistance to barbarian invaders. Uther’s destiny as a warrior king seems set until his world is turned on its head when his burning desire to possess the beautiful Ygerne leads to conflict. Could the fate of his kingdom hang in the balance as a consequence?

Court healer and schemer, Merlyn, sees an opportunity in Uther’s lustful obsession to fulfil the prophetic visions that guide him. He is encouraged on his mission by druids who align their desire for a return to ancient ways with his urge to protect the one destined to save the Britons from invaders and lead them to a time of peace and prosperity. Merlyn must use his wisdom and guile to thwart the machinations of an enemy intent on foiling his plans.

Meanwhile, Saxon chiefs Octa and Ælla have their own plans for seizing the island of Britannia and forging a new colony of Germanic tribes. Can Uther rise above his family problems and raise an army to oppose them?

Book three in A Light in the Dark Ages series, Uther’s Destiny is an historical fiction novel set in the Fifth Century - a time of myths and legends that builds to the greatest legend of all – King Arthur and his knights.

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Arthur Dux Bellorum

From the ruins of post-Roman Britain, a warrior arises to unite a troubled land.

Britain in the late Fifth Century is a troubled place – riven with tribal infighting and beset by invaders in search of plunder and settlement. King Uther is dead, and his daughter, Morgana, seizes the crown for her infant son, Mordred. Merlyn’s attempt to present Arthur as the true son and heir of Uther is scorned, and the bewildered teenager finds himself in prison. Here our story begins…

Arthur finds friends in unexpected quarters and together they flee. Travelling through a fractured landscape of tribal conflict and suspicion, they attempt to stay one step ahead of their pursuers, whilst keeping a wary eye on Saxon invaders menacing the shoreline. Arthur’s reputation as a fearsome warrior grows as he learns the harsh lessons needed to survive and acquire the skills of a dux bellorum, a lord of war.

Tim Walker’s Arthur Dux Bellorum is a fresh look at the Arthurian legend, combining myth, history and gripping battle scenes. Although in a series, it can be read as a standalone novel.

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Tim Walker

Tim Walker is an independent author living in Datchet, East Berkshire. He grew up in Liverpool where he began his working life as a trainee reporter on a local newspaper, The Woolton Mercury. A media career ensued, including a stint overseas in Zambia.

His creative writing journey began in earnest in 2013, as a therapeutic activity whilst recovering from cancer treatment. He began writing an historical fiction series, A Light in the Dark Ages, in 2015, following a visit to the near-by site of a former Roman town. The first book in this series, Abandoned, starts in the year 410 AD, the date given for the end of the Roman occupation of Britain. The aim of the series is to connect the end of Roman Britain to elements of the Arthurian legend, through researched history, presenting an imagined history of Britain in the early Dark Ages.

His latest book is Arthur, Dux Bellorum, a re-imagining of the story of King Arthur, published in March 2019. Book four in the A Light in the Dark Ages series, it won two book awards in April 2019 - One Stop Fiction Book of the Month and the Coffee Pot Book Club Book Award. He plans to write a second Arthur book for 2020 publication. Abandoned (second edition 2018), is followed by Ambrosius: Last of the Romans (2017), and book three, Uther's Destiny (2018). Series book covers are designed by Canadian graphic artist, Cathy Walker. Tim is self-published under his brand name, timwalkerwrites.

Tim has also written two books of short stories, Thames Valley Tales (2015), and Postcards from London (2017); a dystopian thriller, Devil Gate Dawn (2016); and two children's books, co-authored with his daughter, Cathy - The Adventures of Charly Holmes (2017) and Charly & The Superheroes (2018) with a third in the pipeline – Charly in Space.

Connect with Tim: Website FacebookTwitterAmazon Author Page.

1 comment:

  1. I'm an Arthur fan/writer also! These look great! Thanks for sharing.


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