Being British at the time of Rome by Jacquie Rogers

I am thrilled to have my friend and fellow swanwicker, Jacquie Rogers whose historical novels set in Ancient Rome are fabulous. She has focused here on her major theme of dual identity, as seen in her character Julia Aureliana.

[Image: Legio VIII Augusta MGV Roman Living History Society]



We all have multiple identities, and we’ve become used to recognising that about ourselves. Think about just one aspect of identity, nationality. Feeling British, perhaps taken for granted in easier times, has become more important than ever in our national discourse in recent years. Brexit, the Windrush scandal, and now the Ukrainian war have all brought into higher focus issues of identity and nationality. We have always been a mongrel nation — Roman, AngloSaxon, Danish, Norman, AngloFrench, Imperial British — now more than ever.

When I wrote The Governor’s Man, the first of my Roman Britain mystery series, I knew a major theme would be identity. I wnated to know what it was like in the third century, after two centuries of Roman colonisation, to be both British (Brythonic), and Roman. This was especially interesting for women, as mainstream Roman culture de-emphasised the role of women in public life. But increasingly scholarship shows that Brythonic women in the province of Britannia were quite different.


Step forward my RomanoBritish noblewoman, Lady Julia Aureliana of the northern Durotriges (later Somerset). How would it feel to be Julia? Does she consider herself to be Roman? At the same time, how British does she feel?


For a start, she would not look like the modest statues of Roman maidens we expect, all white marble with clasped hands and downcast eyes. I picture her more like the woman in my title picture: assured, busy, dressed in sensible clothes that nod to both British tradition and Roman styles. Julia is thirty, an unmarried mother, wealthy in her own right, and mistress of the prosperous Somerset estate her family have farmed for generations.


In her British persona, she has high status as a tribal noble, and also as a trained herbalist, the descendant of Druidic tradition which included women as healers, teachers and war leaders. But Julia is also a deeply enculturated Roman. She speaks fluent Latin and Greek as well as her native tongue. She lives in a large villa. She has travelled abroad, and is well-read in the classics.

At the same time, the parallel British culture still operating in Roman Britain has also shaped her. She is an accomplished horsewoman, and knows the local countryside intimately. When her tribe is incited into a dangerous uprising, she takes personal responsibility to stop it at considerable risk to herself. She accepts that the Roman structure of local administration is a continuum, not a break, and continues the family tradition of leadership as Magistrates and Decurions, rather than cheiftains.


But she bases her medical practice on the Latin writings of Galen, as well as her Druid heritage.


My view of Julia is that she is a hybrid, both Roman and British, created from a unique fusion. This perhaps best illustrated by her religious beliefs. She is a devotee of the merged goddess Sulis Minerva, and makes offerings in Roman style at the great temple in Bath. But she maintains a less transactional and more personal relationship with that alter ego of Minerva, the British goddess Sulis, who was worshipped at the same sacred springs before Minerva came with the legions.


Thus Julia: a 3rd century hybrid Briton, shaped but not over-shadowed by the Mediterranean culture of Rome. A fascinating Roman-British woman.


Further reading: Ancestors by Professor Alice Roberts.

The Author


Jacquie Rogers worked in advertising, then FE and HE teaching and research, before finding writing suited her best.


The Governor's Man is the first of her Quintus Valerius mystery novels, set in 3rd century Roman Britain. It was published in May 2021 by Sharpe Books. A linked short story appeared in Aspects of History’s anthology Imperium in November 2021.


In both 2020 and 2021, Jacquie was Runner Up in the Lincoln Book Festival story competition.

Jacquie lives in the Malvern Hills of England. She walks the hills daily with her husband and their Staffie-cross, Peggy. Jacquie loves to travel by motorbike, and enjoys discussing politics, travel and books with friends and family. She spends a lot of time in cafes and pubs.


The Links

Jacquie blogs at jacquierogers.SubStack.com

Other connections: linktr.ee/jacquierogers


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