2022 marks the 1,900th anniversary of the Emperor Hadrian’s visit to Britannia and the start of the northern frontier upgrade from earth and bank defence to stone wall. The Wall marks the fall back line beyond which no raids by Caledonian tribes would be tolerated. But more than that, it was a grand imperial statement that boasted of the might of the Roman Empire that came with a statement of intent: “You’d better get used to us as we’re here to stay.”
But the life of Hadrian’s Wall as a frontier barrier lasted for only another 280 years, abandoned by Rome around the year 410 – the year Rome itself was sacked by the Visigoths.
I visited Hadrian’s Wall in September 2020 and was inspired to write my own story of frontier life in the heyday of the Roman Empire, choosing the final days of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who died in the year 180 C.E. My hero is Centurion Gaius Atticianus of the VI Legion, a real figure whose name is engraved on an altar stone excavated at Whitley Castle – once the Roman fort of Epiacum. I have imagined his story and struggle to survive in the harsh Northumbrian climate. I also wanted to showcase the work of archaeologists in uncovering and breathing new life into our understanding of Roman Britain, so I settled on a dual timeline story that flips from a contemporary tale to the life of Gaius in alternating chapters.
Guardians at the Wall is a dual timeline historical novel set at Hadrian’s Wall in which archaeologists uncover artefacts that connect them to the life of a Roman centurion in second century Britannia.
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In June 2021, author Tim Walker published his latest novel – a dual timeline historical novel, Guardians at the Wall. The novel consists of two parallel stories, of equal weight, each with a main character or protagonist. They are both men, based at the same location (Vindolanda at Hadrian’s Wall), but that is all they have in common. Each story is set in different periods, one contemporary, the other almost two thousand years earlier in Roman Britain.
Modern day character profile
Name: Noah Jessop
Age: 20 years (story duration – 9 months)
Height: slightly above average, 5’ 9”
Hair: ash blond collar-length often uncombed.
Face: narrow, unblemished, clean-shaved or 2-3 days blond stubble
Build: Slim, not athletic.
Clothes: Light blue slim fit jeans, an oversized crew neck grey jumper, standard black Adidas trainers.
Personality: he is reserved until familiar with people and surroundings, then quite self-assured. He is thoughtful and studious, enjoying his classical and archaeology studies. His boyish good looks and shy first impression attract women who want to mother him.
Appearance: Has been described as handsome, with Robert Redford-ish looks and a warm and welcoming smile. He knows he’s good looking and has no problem finding girlfriends and is comfortable in the company of women.
Hobbies/interests: Enjoys watching action movies, console war gaming with his mates, pub nights out, maybe the occasional kick about…
Family/issues/development: Middle class family in a northern (Durham) county town His mother died when he was very young and he misses her close attention. He did not easily accept his stepmother when his father remarried. This has caused abandonment issues and may explain his predilection for an older woman. He’s developed a lot since being at Uni. He was previously very sheltered and introverted but has since come out of his shell. The relationship with his ex-girlfriend was positive while it lasted, but they met when they were both young and emotionally immature. Essentially, they were still ‘children’ and during their time at Uni they grew in different directions (hence the fizzling out). He is motivated to get a good degree in archaeology as a means to forging a career as an archaeologist or archivist.
Roman character profile
Name: Gaius Vitellius Atticianus
Age: 41 – 45 (story duration – 4 years)
Height: Short, 5’
Hair: Dark brown, coarse and wavy, cut to collar length.
Face: round and weathered, dry and lined skin, clean shaven
Eyes: Dark brown
Build: Stocky and muscular.
Clothes: Roman military uniform from second century. Allowed woollen leggings in winter and foot enclosed in leather ankle boots. Woollen socks and undershirt, chainmail vest, leather belt and leather skirt strips, shoulder armour, red plumed centurion’s helmet, sword scabbard hung from a cross-shoulder strap. Red woollen cloak clipped to shoulder guards. Forearm and shin metal armour held with leather straps.
Personality: Gaius was raised on a farm in Asturia (Galicia, N.W. Spain) and has simple, family-centric, provincial values. His wife is from a Briton tribe. He is honest and trustworthy, intelligent and literate. He was promoted through the ranks to optio and centurion on merit, is courageous, loyal and respected by his men. He enjoys a drink of ale or wine when off duty, but has no relish for the brothel or gambling. He loves his wife, Aria, is faithful, and looks forward to getting home to her and their young son, Brutus, when off duty.
Issues/worries: Gaius has a young family but he is in his early 40’s, and hopes to live to see his retirement at the age of 45. He is courageous and leads from the front in battle, but becomes wary and more cautious as he nears retirement age. He is not afraid for himself, but dreams of a small farmstead on a retired soldier’s colony where he can settle his wife and son. This is his dream and his motivation.
Guardians at the Wall has now been proof-read, beta-read and copyedited, and will be finalised in early May ahead of a planned 1st June launch. It might be released earlier if ready – I’m looking at Friday 28th May as a possible early release date. I’m in the process of arranging book blog appearances in June. I’ve decided to not go wide and just put it out as an Amazon exclusive in Kindle e-book, paperback and Kindle Unlimited.
Every independent author needs favourable reviews to entice casual browsers to make a purchase decision, so if you are defined interested in reading and reviewing it on Amazon (and/or Goodreads) please email me to request a pdf (for ipad); epub (for Kobo reader) or mobi file (for Kindle) so you can get started.
Guardians at the Wall blurb: A group of archaeology students in northern England scrape at the soil near Hadrian’s Wall, once a barrier that divided Roman Britannia from wild Caledonian tribes.
Twenty-year-old Noah makes an intriguing find, but hasn’t anticipated becoming the object of desire in a developing love triangle in the isolated academic community at Vindolanda. He is living his best life, but must learn to prioritise in a race against time to solve an astounding ancient riddle, and an artefact theft, as he comes to realise his future career prospects depend on it.
In the same place, 1,800 years earlier, Commander of the Watch, Centurion Gaius Atticianus, hungover and unaware of the bloody conflicts that will soon challenge him, is rattled by the hoot of an owl, a bad omen. These are the protagonists whose lives brush together in the alternating strands of this dual timeline historical novel, one trying to get himself noticed and the other trying to stay intact as he approaches retirement. How will the breathless battles fought by a Roman officer influence the fortunes of a twenty-first century archaeology dirt rat? Can naive Noah, distracted by his gaming mates and the attentions of two very different women, work out who to trust? Find out in Tim Walker’s thrilling historical dual timeline novel, Guardians at the Wall.
My new book, Guardians at the Wall, is due out on 1st June. It’s a dual timeline historical novel, set at Hadrian’s Wall. The main protagonist is Noah Jessop, a student undergraduate on a dig, who digs up a carved stone goddess. His professor, Maggie Wilde, identifies it as Brigantia, the protector of the local tribe, the Brigantes. This is the first of a few objects that connect the contemporary story to the historical account of Centurion Gaius Atticianus, in second century Britannia, that runs parallel through the novel.
I’ll share some of Professor Maggie Wilde’s research into the goddess Brigantia with you. The name of the tribe, ‘Brigante’ means ‘the high ones’, suggesting they were a dominant tribe over lesser neighbours, and Brigantia fulfils the function of being the high goddess over all others, the great protector of her people. The Romans recognised this and were keen to co-opt her into their belief system, twinning her with various deities including Minerva, Fortuna and Caelestis, the latter a North African moon goddess who was also co-opted by the Romans, from whom we get the word ‘celestial’.
Whilst the archaeologists are looking for meaning in their finds, Gaius is gifted the goddess statuette and presents it to his wife, Aria. Her reaction surprises him, as she is from a southern tribe and regards the Brigantes and their deities as foreign. She reminds her husband that their household is watched over by the water goddess of her people, Sulis, twinned with Minerva, and she won’t countenance having a rival deity in the house. Incidentally, the Roman name for the city of Bath was Aquae Sulis – ‘the waters of Sulis’.
This was too much for Gaius, who stalked off for a warming bath after a hard day in the saddle splitting enemy skulls. Aria picked her moment, one night, to return the offending goddess to her people.
The picture shows a stone altar carving of the goddess Brigantia, here twinned with the Roman goddess, Caelestis, that can be found in the Museum of Scotland. (picture source: pinterest board)
I have recently completed the first draft of my next novel – Guardians at the Wall. This is dual timeline historical novel set at Hadrian’s Wall. It was inspired by a visit to a number of Roman sites and museums close to Hadrian’s Wall in September 2020. This is very much my Winter 20/21 novel, and it has helped keep me sane through this trying Covid-19 lockdown. I have set the launch date for 1st June, and intend to reveal the cover in my 1st April newsletter. The book blurb is a work in progress, but this is the current version:
A group of archaeology students in northern England scrape at the soil near Hadrian’s Wall, once a barrier that divided Roman Britannia from wild Caledonian tribes. Twenty-year-old Noah makes an intriguing find, but hasn’t anticipated becoming the object of desire in a developing love triangle in the isolated academic community at Vindolanda. He is living his best life, but must learn to prioritise in a race against time to solve an astounding 2,000-year-old riddle, and an artefact theft, as if his career depends on it, because it does.
In the same place, in the year 180 C.E., Centurion Gaius Atticianus, hungover and unaware of the bloody conflicts that will soon challenge him, is rattled by the hoot of an owl, a bad omen. These are the protagonists whose lives will brush together in the alternating strands of this dual timeline historical novel, one trying to get himself noticed and the other trying to stay intact as he approaches retirement. How will the breathless battles fought by a Roman officer influence the fortunes of a twenty-first century archaeology mud rat? Can naive Noah, distracted by the attentions of two very different women, work out who to trust? Find out in Tim Walker’s thrilling historical dual timeline novel, Guardians at the Wall.
I have tried to link the contemporary and historical strands of my story through objects and through themes, such as trust, loyalty, societal attitudes and locations. One object that fascinated Noah that is on display in the Vindolanda museum, is fragment of a glass drinking tankard with a hand-painted colour frieze around it depicting gladiators fighting (pictured). In my historical story, Gaius and his mates drink a toast to Saturn on the eve of the Saturnalia festival, downing the ale poured by a serving girl and passing it on to the next in their circle, each having to tell a story of bravery in battle. To think that Roman legionaries over 1,800 years ago would have drunk from this tankard in the tavern outside the walls of Vindolanda fort is amazing to me. Here is what the Vindolanda guidebook says about this incredible discovery:
“A long strip building, situated just outside the west gate of the fort, was the Vindolanda tavern. here the people of Vindolanda would have been able to enjoy locally brewed beer and wines from across the Empire and hot food. The front of the building, facing onto the street was where the common room or bar was situated. Its ceiling was held up by pillars to provide an open social area, with a small kitchen set behind to supply meals to travellers and patrons. You can imagine this would have been a noisy and smelly room, on of the focal social points of Vindolanda in the 3rd century.
When excavated, the tavern produced the highest concentration of drinking vessels from the site. One of those vessels is a fragment of the beautifully painted gladiator glass cup (now in the museum). The tavern owners had planned for their future by burying 270 coins below the floor of the kitchen. Unfortunately for them they never had the chance to spend the money as it remained hidden until excavators located the hoard in the 1977 excavation. It is likely that some of the money, which you can now see on display in the Vindolanda museum, was used to buy a round or two of beer in the tavern, almost 1,800 years ago.”
Here’s an extract from Guardians at the Wall. It is the scene where Gaius Atticianus, Officer of the Watch, meets auxiliary soldier, Amborix, on the battlements at Vindolanda in 180 C.E. on a cold winter’s night:
“Thank you, sir – although I have been told something different,” Amborix replied, also turning to watch the shimmering lights. He was only a few months at the Wall, and had already spent his meagre wages on woollen socks and a thick tunic he wore day and night. He watched in silence as the mysterious wave of light added in new colours – red, blue, violet and yellow – as it climbed into the night sky. “This is a strange land,” he added, throwing a stone in the direction of a hoot from an owl, “and a cursed one. Our protector, Sol Invictus, will only rise from his slumber for a few short hours.”
Gaius decided to ignore his insolence and let him prattle on. His head still throbbed from the beer he had drunk with his unit at the tavern that afternoon to celebrate the start of the feast of Saturnalia. They had sacrificed a goat to Saturn and had roasted the meat on a spit beside the tavern. Now he regretted the last two toasts, but grinned at the memory of drunken tales of bravery on their last posting in the wild lands north of the Wall. A glass tankard depicting colourful gladiators fighting for their lives had been passed around his carousing mates – each making a toast and downing the contents as a serving girl stood by ready to re-fill it from a pitcher.
“It is indeed a strange and wild land, but you will see in the coming weeks that Sol Invictus will gain more hours and Artemis will sulk in her hall. The long days of summer will come to give me more time with my horses.” He adjusted his shoulder guard and turned to the youth. “In Rome they say this is an empire without end, but here we are, boy, at the wild edge of Empire, hemmed in by the Wall.”
Our lives are layered beneath our feet. Archaeologists peel and scrape back the skins of our onion earth to reveal clues about the lives of those who have gone before us. What did they eat? How did they dress? Why did they bury their wealth in haste? We can then speculate that they were fleeing for their lives, but from whom?
The important and fascinating work of archaeologists is helping plug the gaps in our fractured history, offering a glimpse into distant lives and their struggles to survive. Our history is living and fluid, like our language and culture – constantly being revised and updated. It is the great conveyor belt of existence on which we live our lives – fascinated by the present, wondrous over the future, and intrigued about the past. Our history is part of what defines us, and we should never lose interest in it.
So, here’s to the archaeologists, archivists and historians. May they continue to shine their torches into our grainy past and pull out objects that can illuminate our understanding of our ancestors. For as Winston Churchill may have said, ‘we must understand the past in order to make sense of the present and see into the future’.