My Blog

The XI Claudia

posted May 31, 2017, 4:00 AM by Gordon Doherty   [ updated Jun 6, 2017, 2:40 AM ]

I set out to write the Legionary series in order to visit the past: to walk the flagged roads, hills and meadows of Thracia and the Eastern Roman Empire; to forge further afield across wintry mountains, dog-hot deserts and dark woods of the borderlands and beyond… to see the world and all its wonders and woes as it was before the candle of Late Antiquity guttered and fell dark forever. 

I realise now it was never going to be ‘just’ a visit to the past: weaving a story around the Great Migration of the Huns and the Gothic Wars which followed – and doing so convincingly – requires emotional investment. I had to put myself there with the people facing those brutal times: to experience visceral angst every time the soil trembled with the hooves of approaching horse raiders; to feel my blood run cold as ice as I walked onto a battlefield to face a huge enemy horde; to let my heart surge with pride and relief and feel a deep urge to weep in the moments after victory. That level of attachment and 'putting myself there' really anchors itself as richly as any true memory and now, six books into the series, I consider 4th century AD Thracia a second home of sorts. 

More specifically, when I close my eyes I see the barracks and the marching camps of Legio Undecima Claudia Pia Fidelis, also known as the XI Claudia: legionaries gathering at their campfires outside their serried tents, grubby faces uplit by the flames and ruddy from their posca (sour soldier wine) ration. I can hear the gruff joking and singing, explosions of laughter, nickering horses, the clanking of pots and plates. I can smell the hearty aroma of baking bread, of stew and porridge… and other less savoury smells emanating from certain tents (clue: rhymes with hearty). I know the faces of the men in each cohort, century and contubernium. I remember – and will never forget – those who have fallen in the course of the Legionary series. And so I thought it was about time I turned the spotlight on this famous old legion, to explore their past and highlight just how much they went through before the few years I have had the pleasure of marching with them…


The Legionary series focuses on the late 4th century incarnation of the XI Claudia, but by then they were well over four hundred years old. It all began back in 58 BC, when Rome was still a republic and before the land of Thracia had even been incorporated into the Roman aegis. It was a little-known fellow by the name of Julius Caesar who started things. In need of fresh manpower for his impending invasion of Gaul*, he raised several new legions. One of which was granted the name 'the Eleventh Legion'.

* The Gallic Wars is a huge topic and one I can’t claim to be an authority on, but I can heartily recommend the action-packed Marius’ Mules series – penned by the expert and entertaining SJATurney.

The Gallic Wars

The Eleventh legion fought throughout Caesar’s Gallic campaign, notably against the Helvetii at the Battle of Bibracte in 58 BC, then against the Nervii confederation in 57 BC and in the famous Siege of Alesia in 52 BC. And after Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon and claiming of the city of Rome, the Eleventh Legion went with their general in pursuit of his great rival, Pompey the Great. The Battle of Dyrrhachium and the Battle of Pharsalus were fought in quick succession during the hot and bloody summer of 48 BC, with the Eleventh Legion and Caesar emerging as clear victors. In 45 BC, after thirteen years of hard campaigning and with the Roman world now stable and all neat and tidy again (mwahaha – if only they had known!), the Eleventh Legion was disbanded, its soldiers granted the old Samnite lands of Bovianum in southern Italy, to farm and live out their lives in peace…

Left: A depiction of Caesar's legions in battle against the tribes of Gaul in the 50s BC.
Right: The Battle of Dyrrachium, 48 BC.

...aaaand then Caesar was assassinated. The Roman world was thrown into chaos all over again. Fighting to avenge his slain great-uncle, Octavian recalled the Eleventh Legion from their pastoral retirement. They fought against the assassins and revolutionaries in Greece, in Sicily and through Italy and finally, they faced and defeated Mark Anthony in the naval clash at Actium which finally ended this latest bout of civil war.

But there was to be no return to the peaceful farmlands of Bovianum – the now well-scarred veterans of the Eleventh were instead sent to garrison Dalmatia (modern Croatia).

Two takes on the XI Claudia's emblem...
Left: the bull, typical of the legions raised by Caesar. 
Right: a Neptune insignia, inspired by the Claudia's stint in naval warfare at Actium, perhaps?


Empire Rising

For a time, several generations in fact, the Eleventh Legion knew relative peace. Legionary fathers would have watched on as their sons enlisted in the Eleventh ranks, while back in Rome, the reign of Octavian (now Augustus) saw the Roman Republic fade out and the new system of empire rise in its place. Octavian was shrewd enough to go for a soft approach to this, never referring to himself as an emperor, only ever as a ‘Princeps’ (meaning ‘most senior of senators’ but to you and me: ‘the boss’). This era of Roman government, known as the Principate, would last for nearly three hundred years.

Fast-forward to 42 AD, when Claudius ruled the empire. A chap named Scribonianus, presumably bored with the relative stability of the time, decided to revolt against Claudius, and chose to begin his tantrum in Dalmatia. The Eleventh Legion were one of the first to react in support of the emperor and against Scribonianus. So, when the rebellion was put down, the emperor bestowed upon the Eleventh the honorific title ‘Claudia Pia Fidelis’ (Faithful to Claudius). And so, the XI Claudia proper was born!

A less-than-glorious episode followed in 69 AD – the so-called Year of the Four Emperors – when the XI Claudia sided with one of the four brief imperial claimants, Otho. They arrived at the Battle of Cremona to support him against his rival, Vitellius, late. By then, Otho had been defeated, but fortunately, Vitellius did not punish the XI Claudia, simply sending them back to Dalmatia, chastised. But that didn’t stop them from siding with a certain Vespasian when he came along to challenge Vitellius, and this time the Claudia arrived on time and helped win the Second Battle of Bedriacum to install Vespasian on the imperial throne and end the domino-like succession pattern of that year.

The Legions at war with the fierce Dacian armies.

In the following years, the XI Claudia were stationed on the Rhine, holding that frontier and at times participating in campaigns into the boggy woodlands beyond – notably under Emperor Domitian against the Chatti in 83 AD. Over the next half-century or so, the Claudia drifted eastwards, finding a temporary station in Pannonia (roughly present-day Serbia) before following Emperor Trajan east as a vital part of his Dacian conquest (the original, north-of-the-Danube Dacia, that is, not the more southerly Diocese from the Legionary series), then finally arriving at the place that would be their home for centuries to come: Durostorum (modern Silistra, Bulgaria) on the River Danubius.

Left: The Tablua Peutingeriana - a 13th century AD copy of an original Roman map (distorted to the modern eye used to things such as an atlas). This red ring highlights the riverside city of Durostorum.
Right: A more recognisable, modern representation of the map, with Durostorum again highlighted.


The Coming of the Dominate

While stationed at Durostorum, the Claudia were responsible for manning the lower Danube and its delta with the Pontus Euxinus (the Black Sea), as well as protecting the Roman-Greek colonies of Bosporus (modern Crimea). They and sister legions the I Italica and V Macedonica became a de-facto border garrison of those parts. And this new, more permanent role was perhaps symptomatic of the change in imperial governance and military strategy that came about in the late 3rd century AD. Bit of a tangent here, but you’ll see why it is relevant to the XI Claudia (bear with me)…

Beginning with Emperor Diocletian in 284 AD, the nature of empire changed. Emperors no longer pussy-footed with titles such as Princeps (honest guv’nor, we’re all equal), instead declaring themselves as out-and-out emperors (listen, pleb, I'm amazing and you're not). Gone too were modest ceremonial effects like the wearing of the ancient purple toga, Diocletian and his successors instead choosing to paint their skin gold, call themselves the embodiments of gods (referring to themselves as 'Sired by Mars' and the like, apparently), wear jewel-encrusted cloaks, opulent crowns and purple slippers – more akin to Persian Shahs than Roman leaders. More, subjects were required to prostrate themselves before the emperor, crawl towards him and kiss his slippers (hoping he’d washed his feet) and address him as ‘Domine’ (lord or master). This autocratic era of empire came to be known as the ‘Dominate’ thanks to its stark contrast to the earlier Principate.

Left: "Here's to you, Domine". Okay, This is actually Heraclius, a 6th century emperor, but Diocletian began the journey in this opulent direction.
Right: Cristiano Ronaldo, absolutely raging that he doesn't have a peacock-feather headress.

You could be forgiven for thinking this was a big ego-trip for Diocletian – who probably sounds like the Cristiano Ronaldo of the Roman Empire – but like the Portuguese preener, there was substance behind Diocletian’s style. For the half-century prior to his rule, the empire had endured what is now referred to as ‘The Third Century Crisis’ – a storm of civil wars, economic collapse and pestilence. Twenty-six emperors came and went in those fifty years and the empire was in danger of crumbling away altogether. As such, a firm hand was perhaps the appropriate way to reassert control over the ailing state. Diocletian experimented with the Tetrarchic system, splitting the empire into four parts each with a clear ruler and successor. An understandable move, given the prior problems. But he got a lot of things wrong too: tinkering with the waning economy by introducing unworkable maximum-pricing edicts and ‘un-pegged’ golden coins; trying to ‘fix’ the religious strife of the time by triggering the Great Persecution of the Christians... both disastrous choices.

Militarily, it is questionable whether he got things right or wrong. The legions of old, XI Claudia included, had proud histories. Five-thousand strong armies that could oversee a stretch of imperial border, or march beyond to invade, or turn inwards to an interior troublespot in times of need. But times had changed and, as the Third Century Crisis had shown, the army of the Principate was incapable of simultaneously manning the imperial borders and keeping Roman usurpers or barbarian invaders who made it into the empire in check. Thus, Diocletian started the process of breaking down the old legions into broad ‘classes’. Instead of monolithic five-thousand-strong legions on the borders, he began to form ‘field’ armies, stationed in the heart of each of the major regions of the empire. These armies, composed of new, thousand-strong ‘comitatenses’ legions, were supposed to be the crack forces who could deal with internal strife or deal with any invaders who made it through the imperial borders. And on the borders, adding the outer layer of this new ‘defence-in-depth’ strategy, were the ‘limitanei’ legions (the ‘limes’ being the edges of the Roman Empire). It was the job of the limitanei to repel, or at least slow and track invaders until the local field army could be hastened to the trouble spot to crush them. And that is where the XI Claudia ended up – as limitanei, watchmen of the lower Danubius.

Left: How a limitaneus - such as Pavo or Sura - garrisoned at Durostorum might have looked
Right: A more 'with-it' legionary from their snazzy counterparts, the comitatenses. Perhaps he has flashing lights on his boots, or an iShield?

Now a lot has been said about the contrast in status and capabilities between the comitatenses and the limitanei (ranging from ‘they weren’t too different’ to ‘the limitanei were rubbish!’), and I touch on those differences here, but the fact is the limitanei were vital: without them, the empire’s edges would have been completely porous and undefined. More, it seems that the limitanei and the Claudia in particular were highly valued beyond their border watch status – over the years, vexillations of the Claudia were sent from their base at Durostorum to places such as Judea, Persia, Egypt and Mauretania, so they were clearly not just some makeshift peasant militia.

And that sets the scene for the 4th century heroes of the Legionary series. The things they face in my books may be brutal, but as you can see, the Claudia were well used to hardship and long stretches of war. So for those of you who say I put Pavo through hell – don’t blame me, it’s just the way it was!

Thanks for reading - hope you enjoyed. If there is enough interest, I'll put together a complementary blog on the future of the Claudia (i.e. what happened to them after the time of the Legionary series).

Click on any of the images below to grab copies of the Legionary books, and follow the adventures of the Claudia men in the late 4th century AD.

Key References:
  • Tablua Peutingeriana
  • The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon
  • Rubicon, Tom Holland
  • The Roman Army, McNab/Osprey
  • The Complete Roman Army, Goldsworthy
  • Warfare in Roman Europe, Elton
  • Barbarians Within the Gates of Rome, Burns


Pavo and Fronto

posted May 24, 2017, 10:00 AM by Gordon Doherty   [ updated Jun 6, 2017, 2:41 AM ]
The latest adventures of Pavo (the Legionary Series) and Fronto (The Marius' Mules series)

Interviewer: We're joined today by two stalwarts of Rome. From the first century BC and the days of the glorious Republic, Marcus Falerius Fronto, Legate of the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh legions and from the fourth century AD and the troublesome times of Late Antiquity, Numerius Vitellius Pavo, Tribunus of the XI Claudia legion.
Interviewer: So tell me about the places from which you have travelled.

Fronto: Eh? Er… Massilia. Sort of. And Tarraco. I've come hotfoot from Massilia, via Tarraco. The campaign season's over and I've managed to slip away from dangerous lunatics and oppressive proconsuls long enough to actually be a father again for half an hour. Didn't someone say there'd be wine?

Pavo: From Thracia. (frowns when interviewer seems nonplussed). You haven't heard? The land is like an open grave. The Goths are running riot there: last summer we fought them near Adrianople. Thirty thousand men on either side, and the hairy bastards won the day. They killed Emperor Valens and nearly two-thirds of the Eastern Army. (grips sword hilt) And when I get back there, I've got some scores to settle.

Fronto: (laughs) Welcome to my world! (lifts jug of wine from table and swigs) Bastards the lot of them...

Pavo: (charges wine cup to Fronto) Bastard barbarians.

Fronto: (nonplussed) I meant officers. Never mind.

Left: The Battle of Adrianople - a turning point in Late Antiquity 

Interviewer: Pavo, I hear you fourth century legionaries, especially limitanei, are the weak link of the later imperial army? Not like the all-conquering Republican legions.

Pavo: *Says nothing, gives interviewer burning stare*

Fronto: (chuckles and jabs thumb towards interviewer) And they wear trousers. Some say they don't even wear armour.

Pavo, head swivelling to Fronto: Have you been listening to that arsehole, Vegetius? The vet who thinks he understands the necessities of war in the fourth century? Me and the Claudia lads trekked through the desert once, and in the hostile regions near the Persian frontier - even when it was so hot you could fry an egg on the sand - we'd have our mail and helmets on. Always - iron and shield. Vegetius should have stuck to shoving his hand up cows' arses.

Fronto: Not like Marius's Mules. Carrying everything you need, right down to the sudis stakes to make camp for the night. Not me, mind you. A legate has enough weight on his shoulders without that. And look at your sword. What happened to your gladius? That looks like a Gaul's sword. Long as a German's dick. Seems to me like you're compensating for something.

Pavo: Well you're the one who mentioned it. You should meet my Primus Pilus, Sura; he's obsessed with the length of his cock too... (chuckles, takes draught of wine for himself)… and the thing is, it's absolutely *miniscule*!

Fronto: You've been peeking? All a bit Greek for me, that! (Takes another swig of wine).

The Standard Bearer of Caesar's legions landing in Britannia

Interviewer: But the way of war changed so much between each of your eras, did it not? Tell me about battle tactics...

Fronto: It's all about discipline. Doesn't matter how well armed you are or how clever your tactics. Rome wins the day when they have a general and an army that do not yield and will not break into melee and chase unless specifically instructed to do so. You could take a bunch of papyrus-pushing Aegyptian eunuchs and turn them into a fearful legion if you can instil discipline. Hades, they might even be better. After all, Pullo does spend way too much time playing with his balls. I think in my time we have the edge over Pavo's lot. We still have Romanitas, albeit backed up with a Spanish sword, Gallic armour, Greek tactics and a Punic navy. But we took the best and made an unstoppable killing machine with it. Pavo's lot took some close harmony choral stuff as their main influence.

Pavo: So your boys come steaming in, gladius in hand… but our lot are no barbarian rabble who'll look for 'glorious' one-on-one combat. True, our Greek and Latin is sprinkled with Germanic words and phrases, and lots of the men of the ranks are sons of tribesmen, but when we stand together as a legion, we're like a wall of iron. Have you seen us? Shields interlocked - sometimes two storeys of them - and a maw of spears - break into that if you can! And you'll hear us long before you see us. The draco standards trill and moan and the barritus, another tribal influence, is a war cry that you will hear once and never, ever forget. (stops and tuts at Fronto) Choral harmony indeed! More like Hades unleashed: tens of thousands of us, roaring in a crescendo, swords beating on shields and all manner of sharp pointy things flying out at you from behind our shield wall: lead-weighted darts, slingshot, arrows, javelins. Quadratus even threw a turd at a Gothic reiks once. Hit the bastard right in the mouth. He claims he found it on the ground. I suspect otherwise.

Fronto: Sounds like a phalanx. My forefathers gutted the Greeks when they tried to face us like that and we beat the Helvetii phalanx near Bibracte. A phalanx is not secure. Round the side, spill round the back, tear 'em to shreds!

Pavo: (grins) Then you weren't paying attention to our cohorts positioned in the woods? The ones waiting to fall on your backs? Ah, of course, you wouldn't have spotted them: faces and limbs smeared with dirt, bright shields armour left behind - tactically, in case Vegetius gets too excited. Great for surprising an enemy. A vicious bastard of a general by the name of Sebastianus taught me this.

Fronto: Now you're putting me in mind of the Nervii. Bastards. Alright. I concede the point.

Left: Goths assailing the legions of Late Antiquity

Interviewer: You both seem to be enjoying the wine. It's a soldier thing, isn't it?

Pavo: Indeed. Numbs the mind. (eyes cup thoughtfully for a moment). My men indulge more than me these days, but still, after a long march or a bruising skirmish, you can't beat a spicy wine or a foaming beer. Yes, beer. Now the Goths have a lot to answer for… but damn, they make good barley beer. We trade with them when we're not fighting with them, you see. In the better times it's all wine and beer, beer and wine.

Fronto: Common ground at last - excellent!... Actually, I've tried Gallic beer a number of times. It varies in taste from dirty baby water to armour polish. Never yet found a truly acceptable brew. That being said, I've had times when I will swear it is the sweetest nectar ever to pass my lips. But then we've all been there. Actually nothing ever will beat a good wine. I always thought I knew good wine, but it turns out I was all about quantity. Let me introduce you to Cathain. He will wean you off beer for life with his wine selections. And this from a land where they drink things that taste like feet.

Pavo: Feet-brew? Now I think we've been drinking in the same place - they don't serve sweaty-ball bread to go with it, do they? Because if they do that's the shithole tavern by the foot of Constantinople's third hill. Hmm, perhaps a visit to this Cathain would be good.
We drink like Satyrs...

Interviewer: What about barrack-life: the soldiers there must be like a family of sorts?

Pavo: No of-sorts about it. I mentioned Sura. He's my oldest friend in the legion. I trust him with my life. But, by Mithras, he doesn't half talk out of his arse: winning a pole vaulting competition with his - miniscule - tackle instead of a pole has to be his most absurd claim yet. Still, I look forward to his stories, especially on a long march - anything to raise the spirits. And speaking of people talking out of their arse, there was Quadratus, and his arse was rarely quiet. He was built like an ox, and he smelt like one too. Seriously, three men of his contubernium were admitted to the fort valetudinarium for medical treatment after suffering "a foul fog of Quadratus' gut-gas" every night. And the ones in neighbouring contubernia rooms were not spared; they had to suffer the sound effects - parp, parp, honk, quack, splatter… *all* night, *every* night! He blamed the barley beer. Told you the Goths had a lot to answer for.

Fronto: It would be nice to say I knew what you were talking about. I'm a legate. We have our own tent and a veritable army of slaves to maintain it. 'Course, I send most of the slaves away and my tent is often full of Galronus snoring or Antonius helping himself to my wine stock. That being the case, I would have to say that despite having lost some of my closest friends over the years - Priscus, Velius, Crispus, Palmatus and so on - my best friend is a man who, strictly speaking, is a barbarian. Galronus of the Remi. Always has my back. And sometimes my sister's, but that's a whole different story. It doesn't matter whether you're from Pavo's time or mine, or whether you're one of his 'Goths' or the Carthaginians or the Romans or the Gauls, you learn who your friends are when the iron is unsheathed. Seriously.

Pavo: By the God of the Light, I'll drink to that.

Roman fortresses are all rather similar

Interviewer: You are both men of the legions, but what about the states you each serve: Fronto, you fight for the Republic, Pavo, you march under the banner of Empire.

Fronto: (turns to Pavo) So am I right in understanding that you have one man in complete control of Rome? An Emperor, you said.

Pavo: Not at the moment, the emperor is dead, as I said, (eyes Fronto's cup) less drinking and more listening. But soon, I hope, someone will emerge to take the empty throne and steady the chaos.

Fronto: Isn't that basically a king? We drove out the kings and instituted a new political system entirely to avoid having a king again.

Pavo: That system failed. Way before my time, but I've read the histories. The Republic was a fine thing in theory, but first necessity then greed turned it all back to how it had been. Princeps, augustus, imperator.... yes, they are like kings. Still, a king can be wise or wicked, just as a republic can be strong or weak.

Fronto: In my day we fought tooth and nail to stop that very thing. We drove out Crassus and Marius and their like. With Caesar we reconstituted the true value of the republic.

Pavo: Hmm, you're from 49 BC, aren't you? Are you perchance travelling close to the River Rubicon this year?

Fronto: (Taking a large swig of wine) 'La la la la la... I'm not listening.'

Emperor Valens, Killed at the Battle of Adrianople in 378 AD

Interviewer: What's the worst thing you've ever done?

Fronto: For me it's Verginius. Simply: Verginius. Let me tell you a story of a brother who became the worst enemy imaginable...

Pavo: A brother? I watched my only brother, Dexion, die, and shed not a tear. That same day, Gallus – the leader of the Claudia Legion before me - died too. Plenty of tears then. (turns to Fronto) We should talk.

Fronto: (after a long silence) Is there a tavern nearby? We could blow this place. Where are we? Hang on... Wall slogans. "Brutus sucks donkey...." This is the Suburra. We're round the corner from the Laughing Swordsman.

Pavo: Sounds like one of Sura's nicknames. Well, what are you waiting for? How does it go in Latin again: Nunc est Bibendum – to the tavern!

The Tavern! Image by Dave Slaney from the forthcoming 'Pirate Legion'

Ah, okay, they've gone... and in quite a hurry too. Well, I hope you enjoyed the chat, folks. If you'd like to read all about Pavo and Fronto's adventures, then this is the time to do it. Both return this week in the latest instalments of the Legionary and Marius' Mules series respectively.

Legionary: Empire of Shades

posted May 4, 2017, 6:45 AM by Gordon Doherty   [ updated Jun 6, 2017, 2:42 AM ]
379 AD: Thracia has fallen to the Gothic horde…

With the ashes of Adrianople still swirling in the air, the Eastern Roman Empire is in turmoil. The emperor is dead, the throne lies empty and the remaining fragments of the army are few and scattered. Numerius Vitellius Pavo, now Tribunus of the XI Claudia, tries to hold his patchwork ranks together amidst the storm. One of the few legions to have survived the disaster at Adrianople, the Claudia do what they can to keep alive the dying flame of hope.

When word spreads of a new Eastern Emperor, those hopes rise. But the coming of this leader will stir the Gothic War to new heights. And it will cast Pavo headlong into the sights of the one responsible for the East’s plight – a man mighty and seemingly untouchable, and one who will surely crush any who dares to challenge him.

From the ashes of Adrianople, new heroes will rise… with dark ghosts in close pursuit.

City of the Blind

posted May 4, 2017, 3:22 AM by Gordon Doherty   [ updated Jun 6, 2017, 2:42 AM ]



What follows is a piece of flash fiction, set between Legionary: Gods & Emperors and Legionary: Empire of Shades. Chalcedon, perched on the eastern shores of the Bosphorus strait, was once branded 'the City of the Blind' by a 6th century BC Persian general named Megabyzus, when he contrasted the settlement with the far superior and sparsely-occupied site on the opposite shores. By Late Antiquity, Chalcedon languished in the shadows of the city that had risen on that far shore through the intervening centuries: the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, Constantinople.

Yet something that happened in Chalcedon in that twilight era which suggests that ancient lessons had gone unheeded...

Chalcedon, “City of the Blind”
December 8th 378AD

Colias the Goth woke to the clarion call of a Roman buccina. For that lightning-flash moment, he was a tribal warrior again: he gasped and leapt from his bed, one hand going for his longsword, the other for his spear – once his fathers and his grandfather’s before that. Then he relaxed with a gentle laugh, feeling his feet settle on the cold flagged floor, seeing the legionary spatha by his bed and the imperial helm and mail shirt resting on a frame. He looked around the interior of the Roman barrack house that was now his home, his laughter fading into a gentle sigh.
    ‘Sleep,’ Pudulf, his fellow Goth croaked, sitting up in his bed, opposite. He grinned and tapped his temple. ‘It plays havoc with the mind, eh?’
    Colias stretched, sweeping his mass of thick, golden hair backs and looping it in a knot on his crown then massaging each of his bare, broad shoulders in turn, feeling the chill air bite at his skin. ‘Aye. Three nights ago, I dreamt I was a boy,’ he said as he threw on an imperial tunic and drew on his calf-length leather boots. ‘I was running through the thick forests, across the empty grasslands and over the green hills of the northlands. I saw my parents again in that dream – we ate deer by the fire.’ He looked through the open shutters into the muster ground of the garrison compound, bathed in the dawn light of a low winter sun. Now he held up and shook two fingers. ‘Two nights ago, I dreamt of when I first enlisted with the Romans, before the war. I was standing watch on the walls of Adrianople,’ his eyes tapered and his nostrils widened a fraction. ‘I could almost smell the fresh bread from the city bakehouses, the charred fish from the market taverns. I saw the faces of dead men, Pudulf... alive, with hope in their eyes...’        ‘And last night?’ Pudulf said, cocking an eyebrow.
    Colias’ face fell. ‘I dreamt of the day the Romans heard news of Fritigern’s horde, of how Thracia had been invaded, of how the Goths would be the end of them. I dreamt of the day they turned upon our garrison century, the day we fought back like wolves, the day we fled the city to join the horde, leaving hope behind… I dreamt of the pillage that followed… of the… of the things we did,’ his head flopped forward. ‘I dreamt of war.’
    Pudulf's eyes slid down to examine the flagstones. 'Me too,' he said quietly.
    The dawn buccina call sounded again. The others amongst Colias’ century were awakening in the many other sleeping blocks of the long barrack hut.
    ‘But then you chose wisely, sir,’ Pudulf continued. ‘You made your peace once more with the empire. You brought us here,’ he gestured around the room.
    Colias glanced sideways at him. ‘Choice?’ he mused. He thought of last summer, of the gnarled, one-eyed Roman tactician who had trapped his warband in a sweltering gully then convinced him that life in the empire could still be right for him and his warband. Bastianus. That had been in June. Bastianus had been slain in August, rumour had it – cut down in a storm of steel on the hot plains north of Adrianople, cut down with scores of legions… slain along with Valens, Emperor of the East, on the bloodiest day the land of Thracia had yet seen. For a moment, Colias felt a touch of guilt. He had not been there to stand with his blood, the Goths of Fritigern. Nor had he been given the chance to stand by his convictions and line up with the legions on that fateful day. Instead, he and his warband had been shipped here, to Chalcedon, the white-walled town on the Asian banks of the Hellespont – an arrow-shot across the water from Constantinople. Almost close enough to hear the war, yet safe from its lethal edge. Bastianus had spared him the battle… perhaps even saved his life?
    ‘We can only seek out that hope we once knew, to make things right once again, Pudulf,’ Colias said, standing and throwing a cloak around his shoulders. ‘Today and every day ahead, we will serve the empire. We will show them that our people and theirs can work together.’
    The pair stepped outside into the bright chill, the frosted ground crunching under their soles. As Pudulf unfurled the century’s banner, Colias drew a wooden cup of water from a drinking font and drained it in one draught. Gazing absently into the font water, something glinted in his memory like a jewel in the sand: the two young soldiers with General Bastianus that day. He saw their faces now, clearly: one dark and hawk-faced, the other blonde and impudent. Pavo and Sura, he recalled. He remembered the looks on their faces as they stood up on the edge of that hot gully, looking down on his warband, their faces etched with vigour, willing the trapped Goths to submit, but ready to act if they did not. Good soldiers, he mused… good men. As the buccina cry tapered off, the image in the water's surface faded and was replaced by the reflection of two black crows circling then settling on the barrack compound’s ice-veined walls, cawing. If the pair named Pavo and Sura had been at the Battle of Adrianople, then they had surely perished along with so many others, he realised. 
    He drew his cloak a little tighter and looked up to the barrack compound's walls, seeing the dawn-streaked red tiles of the small city's wards. A gentle chatter of the town’s populace rose outside the barrack walls: the lowing of beasts, the playful repartee of pedlars, the cry of seabirds and the gentle sound of waves on the nearby shore. It would be a quiet day of street patrols and mending the rotting pier at the city harbour, he realised as the buccina sounded a third and final time. He turned to see his men spill out of the barrack block dutifully, dressed in Roman trousers and tunics, encased in helms, spears and shields. An attendant brought him his swordbelt and helm.
    ‘Garrison, in line,’ he barked. The men obeyed, coming into a block of eighty as always. ‘Today, Pudulf will take two contubernia to the docks, and I wi-’
    A groan of stressed timber cut him off. He and every other head turned to the compound gates – the leftmost of which was swinging open. Two riders entered, red-cloaked and mail-shirted Roman equites, swaying on their roans as they ranged towards the assembled garrison. Their eyes found Colias.
    ‘Magister Militum Julius summons you,’ they leftmost one said, devoid of emotion.
    ‘Julius? He is here?’ Colias said, one eyebrow dipping. Julius was one of the few Roman officers accounted for in the aftermath of the Battle of Adrianople – the rest dead, hiding or scattered. More, he was the most senior authority remaining in all Asia Minor. It was his duty, and Colias’… and that of every other military and civil authority, to hold these lands steady until Thracia could be recovered. ‘I did not realise he was coming.’
    ‘He brings early annona,’ the rightmost rider said, managing a one-sided smile.
    Colias’ Gothic legionaries broke out in a series of excited whispers. Legionary purses were filled three times a year, but it was only December and the next annona was not due until January. He decided not to contend the issue. ‘Draw open the gates in full,’ he called to his century, then looked back to the riders, ‘then the Magister Militum can bring the annona wagons inside. I will have the men prepare a hot breakfast for him and for you.’
    The leftmost rider raised a hand that stayed the Goths. ‘The Magister Militum will receive you outside the city.’
    Colias’ head tilted to one side, confused. ‘Very well,’ he said after a time. He snapped his fingers at two men working on a stove. ‘Bring the wheat porridge outside.’
    A short while later, they left the small barracks in a line, as if marching to battle were it not for their leaving behind of their spears and shields. They chatted and joked as they clattered through Chalcedon’s flagged market square, spirits high. But Colias, leading them along behind the two riders, walked alone. Chalcedon’s populace gave them a wide berth: many wide eyes and fearful looks. Trust would have to be earned, hard earned, he realised. They passed through a wide gap in the white marble ‘walls’ of the city – really just a low, token outline of the fortifications that had once existed here, with no battlements or towers. Emperors and generals had quarried the great blocks and carried them over the water to build ever more magnificent structures in Constantinople, leaving this uneven perimeter, akin to worn-down teeth. Outside, the paved coast road and the golden hinterland were speckled with frost, and a chill, clean westerly wind blew as if from Constantinople – glinting like a pearl in the pastel haze across the water. Great white gouges gaped in the nearby bluffs where more marble had been sourced, and smaller mining pits glimmered in myriad colours: waxy and lustrous cerulean and amber, night-black and blood-red where the famous and precious chalcedony had been mined.
    Colias halted when the two horsemen did. They parted. A hundred paces away stood Julius, clad in a cloak as black as his armour and plumed helm, his face in shade. With him were no wagons, just soldiers. A century of scale-clad legionaries and two of imperial sagittarii archers draped in mail. The wind licked at Colias and his men. Silence reigned.
    'Colias? What is this?' Pudulf whispered through dry lips.
    ‘Magister Militum?’ Colias called across the void, echoing Pudulf's confusion.
    Julius’ head rose a fraction, the shadow peeling away from his eyes enough for Colias to see the baleful fire in them. The Magister Militum flicked a finger. Suddenly, the two riders bolted in opposite directions, leaving Colias and his Gothic century alone on the flat ground before Chalcedon. 
   ‘Sir?’ Colias said, his voice edged with a beseeching tone now.
    The Magister Militum did not respond, other than to raise his hands either side of him, like a conjurer summoning spirits, his teeth set in a rictus. The two archer centuries spread out like wings to part-envelop  Colias and his men, then nocked and drew their bows.
    Pudulf and the others wailed in fear and confusion. All Colias could hear was the crows cawing… and the archers’ bows groaning.
    As Julius’ hand chopped down and two hundred arrows sailed through the air, Colias closed his eyes and returned to the dreams of his youth.
Hope you enjoyed the story. You can buy the full follow-on novel, Legionary: Empire of Shades, here

Smuggling the Imperial Purple and Exploring the Ancient World - Q & A with Prue Batten

posted Apr 25, 2017, 7:32 AM by Gordon Doherty   [ updated Apr 26, 2017, 3:07 AM ]

Today, I have the pleasure of speaking to Prue Batten, an award-winning author of historical fiction, fantasy and more. You can't fail to be educated and entertained by insights and anecdotes from such a friendly and knowledgeable storyteller. So grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and enjoy...

Gordon: The premise behind The Triptych Chronicle - the illegal movement of Tyrian purple - is intriguing, and I love how you've built and woven such a rich world around it. What aspect of it inspired you to make the call 'I'm going to write a book about this'?
Prue: I seem to have developed a deep interest in medieval trade over the years. The commodities being traded quite simply raised the hairs on my neck – silk, spices, precious metals and gems, essential oils, alum, timber, dyes – the list just goes on. I was fascinated by the contact between empires, the search for the ‘next big thing’ (nothing changes, does it?) and the excruciatingly venal nature of trade (nothing changes there, either!). Trade reduced men to their most base level and as an author, that gave me such scope for a good story! Not only that, trade presaged the new social order with the development of the merchant or middle class. Often, historical fiction plays out a narrative in a field of war and I wanted to write about something that turned the wheels of society as far, but in a different way.

In respect of Tyrian purple, it was completely protected by the Byzantines – attempts to smuggle it were regarded as treason against the empire. What a story I could tell by secreting it out of Constantinople to Europe! That idea became Tobias – Book One of The Triptych Chronicle. Tyrian purple then continued to run like a silk ribbon through Book Two, Guillaume, which takes place in the trading hub of Lyon. In Book Three, Michael, the story returns to Constantinople with the man who initiated the treasonous crime in the first place.

Left: a murex snail and it's treasured dye. Right: A Byzantine Emperor, draped in the imperial purple, with his retinue of guards.

Gordon: You write about colourful and evocative periods of history, including medieval Byzantium - one of my favourite eras and locations (city and empire). But how much of a challenge is it for you - based in Tasmania - to 'ground' yourself in Byzantine lands? I imagine it must be difficult to organise research trips given the distance and the cost, so how do you go about 'exploring' Byzantium and such places without visiting the places in person?

Prue: A huge challenge, you are right. I live at the bottom of the world and frequent travel is not possible financially for an indie writer. I have a stack of my own travel diaries which I use when I require a memory to be jogged, but research reading becomes even more vital when one is so far away. My sources are books, online PDF’S, virtual tours through museums, historic sites and galleries, documentaries … in fact anything I can lay my hands on. 

And because my stories are character-driven, I suck every bit of experience of life that I have had – joy, happiness, physical pain, grief, anger, fury – and mix it with my own experiences of riding, archery, lifting and swinging a sword, death, sailing, stitching, farming – anything and everything to give my stories dimension. It’s a heady recipe and it seems to work.

In grounding myself in the geographical arena of trade, I read extracts of the twelfth century traveller and geographer from Al Andalus, Ibn Jubayr, who recorded his experiences of the Middle East, Africa, the Middle Sea and the Adriatic. The way he described what he saw was wonderfully enlightening and fresh because he was seeing a twelfth century view of what I needed to see. From there I read much about my timeframe (1190’s) and located aspects of politics, of the shrinking Byzantine empire, of the Eastern Church, Byzantine food, clothing, plants, medicine and so on. I found what maps I could of the city of Constantinople as close to the twelfth century as possible but then fell into a real hole because much of Constantinople as I wanted to know it had been destroyed in the Fourth Crusade and the Ottoman Invasion. But thanks to you, Gordon, I discovered What a blessing!

Finally I felt as if I walked the stones of the streets, as if I leaned against the walls of the Theodosian Harbour, as if my characters could indeed run for their lives along the top of the Valens Aqueduct or climb the steps and gaze up at the cupolas of Sancta Sophia, seabirds wheeling overheard. Combine that with harmonies from the eastern church itself and I was there!

But most importantly, I’m lucky enough to have a very good friend of long-standing who lives in Istanbul and she took a camera and energy and set about taking videos of the unfindable.
I owe my friend, Jane, more than you can possibly imagine…

Constantinople in its pomp - a time and place beloved by many writers, including Prue and me.

Gordon: You have a time machine, but it will only take you to one place, then it'll fall apart. So you'll have to pick somewhere that both intrigues you and that you wouldn't mind remaining in! Where and when?

Prue: Goodness… let me think!
After researching so much of twelfth century Constantinople and knowing that ultimately, in a few hundred more years the Byzantine empire would collapse in a field of war, I can say I wouldn’t want to travel there in a Time Machine. But the Renaissance? Ah, that’s another thing entirely. So much cultural diversity and excitement! To watch Italy bud and flower and give largesse to the world. Trade across the seas, Venice and Genoa becoming massive trading forces, the development of the great banking houses.

If I thought trade was venal in the twelfth century, the Renaissance would prove it was a dozen times worse! And of course, if I was forced to remain there, I would have to marry a wealthy Florentine banker with links to the great artists and philosophers of the time so that I would have contact with the vast minds of the era. Or else I would become a wealthy and outspoken noblewoman who had the freedom to think and feel the way she wanted because she was related to said Florentine noble families and bankers!

The reality though, is that the thought of living anywhere but my island of Tasmania, so far removed from the dramas of our contemporary world, fills me with great sadness, so that if the Time Machine breaks down and can’t take me to the Renaissance, I won’t be at all disappointed or frustrated.
Three of the best (L-R): Tobias (Book 1 of the Triptych Chronicle), Book of Pawns (Volume 1 of the Gisborne Saga) & The Stumpwork Robe (a fantasy tale).

Gordon: What eras do you plan to explore in the future, and do you have any plans to cross into different genres (something that appeals to and frightens me!)?

Prue: My first published books were a fantasy quartet, and I plan to return to fantasy after finishing Michael, my sixth historical fiction. To be honest, I enjoy being a cross-genre writer because diversity is not only fun but prevents this writer from becoming stale. Besides, the rules are the same in each genre – credible world-building, believable characters and a plot that races one through a novel.

But having variety in my writing life is perhaps why I always enjoy being part of an anthology (one coming later this year to raise money for cancer research. Called Tales from a Car Boot Sale) and why I am in occasional collaboration with a miniature book press in the USA ( I think such ‘out of left field’ activities allow one to stretch oneself.

In respect of other timeframes, I have a collaboration coming up with an hist.fict writer in the UK in 2018-ish. We plan to write a novel about convict transportation to Australia in the 1800’s. I live right on the edge of a former penal settlement in Tasmania and am descended from a convict who was transported to what was then Van Diemens’ Land for stealing two sheep. The novelist at the UK end will write the English side of the plot and I shall write the VDL side…

Gordon: Two of the things that give me the most pleasure in writing are a) hearing that I've cheered someone up thanks to my stories or b) knowing that I've passed on a little encouragement and advice to another writer. What about you?

Prue: Good question!
Above and beyond anything else, I want to entertain. If I know I’ve done that, I am completely content. For me as a reader, entertainment is all. I want to be enthralled, to have my imagination fertilised, to see things in living breathing colour. One of the first reviews I ever received many years ago said: ‘…writes in 3D and surround sound in the very best way. There is nothing loud and obtrusive about it…’
I have tried hard to live up to those words ever since.

Gordon: And do you have any advice or aphorisms to gee up budding writers out there?

Prue: To write without fear and without expectation and ego. To enjoy what one does and to listen to those who might critique and edit because they inevitably know what they are talking about!

Gordon, thank you so much for interviewing me. I greatly appreciate the time you have taken. Best wishes to you and to your readers.

Brilliant stuff there from Prue, I'm sure you'll agree! And if you'd like to read Prue's work, get in touch with her and find out more, you can do so at the following places:



Legionary is FREE for 5 days on Amazon

posted Mar 22, 2017, 2:31 AM by Gordon Doherty

To those who haven't tried my work yet, you can hop onto Amazon and grab a copy of the first book in my Legionary series for FREE:


Offer lasts 5 days (ending 26th March 2017). Go, grab a copy... enjoy!

Land of the Sacred Fire launches in Italy

posted Mar 21, 2017, 3:45 AM by Gordon Doherty   [ updated Mar 21, 2017, 3:46 AM ]

Una vittoria per l'impero di [Doherty, Gordon]
Great news this morning: Land of the Sacred Fire, the third instalment of the Legionary series, has been translated into Italian and will launch on the 23rd March (just two days from now!)

A massive thanks to the guys at Sheil Land and Newton Compton Editori for their work on this project.

Now, check your water skin is full, don a light tunic and prepare to march through the endless sands...

And for Italian readers:

Grande novità di questa mattina: Terra del Fuoco Sacro, il terzo capitolo della serie Legionario, è stata tradotta in italiano e lancerà il 23 marzo (solo due giorni da adesso!)

Una massiccia grazie ai ragazzi di Sheil Territorio e Newton Compton Editori per il loro lavoro su questo progetto.

Ora, controllare la vostra pelle l'acqua è piena, indossare una tunica leggera e si preparano a marciare attraverso le sabbie infinite ...

An update on me, my books and all that shebang...

posted Oct 26, 2016, 7:09 AM by Gordon Doherty   [ updated Apr 2, 2017, 7:25 AM ]

You might have noticed I haven't launched a new book for a while now (some have noticed more keenly than others - slave drivers!). It's less than a year since Legionary: Gods & Emperors came out, though that feels like an age to me. I'm used to writing a book every 9 months or so - they are my babies after all - so as things stand I feel acutely conscious of every bookless day that passes beyond that span. And that's what this update is all about: to let you know where I'm at, what goodies you can expect in the future and just so you know I haven't fallen down a manhole.

The good news is I haven't been chasing squirrels in the garden since last November, or waiting for striped paint and a long stand... I have actually written the first book of a brand new Bronze Age series set in the Hittite Kingdom. You can get a taste of what it's all about here.

It's all done and dusted apart from a few tweaks here and there. "So, Doherty," I hear you ask, "if it's ready then why don't you pull your finger out and get it published?" 
Well it would be on sale right now if I had opted for the self-publishing route (as with my Legionary and Strategos books), and it might well end up on that track. But I felt that, this being the first volume of a new series, it was well worth exploring my options in the traditional market. It might come to nothing, or it might send my writing career down a new and exciting path. All I know is that, for now, it means a short, additional 'gap' between my book launches.

What will end that gap? It might be my Hittite book. More likely, though, it could be Legionary 6 - already well underway in the first draft process and likely to be ready for summer 2017. There's also the very-much-taking-shape Roman trilogy I've been working on with Simon Turney for the last year or two; already we're polishing volume two and looking at volume three. That series could be out even sooner. 
And if you need a HistFic fix in the very short term, you could always listen to the newly-released audiobook version of 'Strategos: Rise of the Golden Heart'? I've heard it's Byzan-tastic...

On that sucker pun-ch, I bid you farewell. I hope to be back soon with a new read for you all and will be sure to shout out to let you know. Until then, happy reading and don't forget about me ;-)


P.S. If you'd like to ensure you hear the latest updates on all of the above, just pop your email address into the box below and hit 'Subscribe'.

Legionary Arrives in Russia!

posted Oct 12, 2016, 6:40 AM by Gordon Doherty   [ updated Oct 12, 2016, 6:42 AM ]

Just a short update: 

It's taken a while, but the eponymous first novel in the Legionary series has been translated and published by Veche Books in Russia.
I had to dive into Google Translate to check, but yes, this is it. Huzzah!

Click on the link below or the cover image to go to the Russian product page:

And, in Russian: 

Это заняло некоторое время, но одноименный первый роман в серии легионеров был переведен и опубликован Вече книг в России.
Я должен был нырнуть в Google Translate, чтобы проверить, но да, это он. Ура!

Нажмите на ссылку ниже или изображение обложки, чтобы перейти на страницу российского продукта:

The Ancient City of Adrianople

posted Nov 19, 2015, 2:33 AM by Gordon Doherty   [ updated Jun 6, 2017, 3:05 AM ]

Above: a panoramic of Edirne (looking southwest), the modern Turkish city that sits on the site of Ancient Adrianople. Click on the image to view full size.

Earlier this year, I travelled to the northwestern (European) part of Turkey, A.K.A. Roman Thracia, in search of the site of the Battle of Adrianople, where the Goths and the Roman legions met in a clash that turned history

But before those mud-soaked exploits in the countryside, I took a trip to the nearby ancient city that gave its name to that historic battle. It felt only right; after all, in the 4th century AD, the city of Adrianople was at the epicentre of the Gothic War, and its streets and taverns would have been well-known to many of the heroes of the XI Claudia - indeed, it was Sura's old stamping ground and Zosimus' home too. Of course, the high-walled Roman metropolis of Adrianople is long gone, but the site has been constantly occupied since those times, and the present-day city of Edirne sits bang on top of the Roman site. 


Left: Gothic-occupied Roman Thracia in the 4th century AD, with the city of Adrianople at the heart of the troubles.
Right: A Map of Western/European Turkey, with modern Edirne highlighted.

And that brings me to a grave aside I wish I did not have to write: since my visit, Edirne has sadly become embroiled in the Syrian refugee crisis. I recently watched a news report, which followed swathes of hungry, frightened and homeless families trekking down the Istanbul to Edirne highway. It really brought home to me the scale of the troubles. Indeed - and I don't mean to trivialise or use this in any way to sell my books - I have spent the best part of the last decade reading about the impact upon this very same tract of land caused by the flight of the Goths into Roman Thracia in the 4th century AD. Then, it was tribesmen and their families who came in their hundreds of thousands. The Romans made an utter mess of the situation. Today, we are seeing millions of displaced and desperate families entering those lands. I truly hope that in their search for a solution, the European nations can employ wisdom and compassion and dispense with petty squabbles and talk of throwing up walls on their borders. Pragmatism is required to a degree, of course, but let us not forget the lessons of the past.

The Syrian refugees on the Istanbul to Edirne highway; a troubling sight. Let's hope the European nations get this one right.

Adrianople: A Brief History 

Legend has it that the site was first settled in the early Iron Age (roughly 1200-1100 BC) by the Odrysians, a Thracian tribe who called the place 'Odrysia'. It's easy to see why they chose the location - a sizeable tract of arable land cupped on its southern and western sides by the confluence of the River Maritsa (the ancient Hebrus) and the River Tundzha (the ancient Tonsus). The rivers would have served as a protective arm around two sides of the settlement, while providing an excellent water source and a ready-made highway for transport and merchant boats. 

The Romans first claimed the Balkan region in the 1st century AD, but it was a hundred years later when Emperor Hadrian came along and gave his name to a Romanised incarnation of the city - 'Hadrianopolis' or 'Adrianople'. By the 4th century AD, Adrianople was a thriving metropolis right at the heart of the imperial Diocese of Thracia and would have been well known to the legions embroiled in the Gothic War that raged across those lands. Despite the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West, and perilous times in the East, Adrianople remained in Roman (then Byzantine) hands until the 9th century AD, when Khan Krum of the Bulgars wrested it from imperial control. Over the centuries that followed, it slipped in and out of the hands of various conquerors - Byzantines, rebel despots, Bulgarians and Ottomans. It was in the 14th century that the Ottomans first graced the city with its modern name 'Edirne' (which is in fact an adapted Turkish form of 'Hadrianopolis').

Modern Edirne

The present-day city finds itself perched on the Turkish side of the meeting point of the Greek, Bulgarian and Turkish borders. While the Roman city occupied just the northeastern bank of the Hebrus and Tonsus confluence, Edirne spreads over onto the Tonsus' (Tundzha's) western banks, and sprawls much further eastwards than the imperial city would have - making it perhaps 6 or more times the size of the Roman-era settlement. Edirne combines an interesting mix of Turkish/eastern architecture with more practical Balkan/western structures. Parts of the city are splendorous, with the beautiful Selimiye Mosque - surely a rival of any of the Islamic wonders in Istanbul - the majestic Maritsa bridge, and the picturesque stretch of restaurants along the northern banks of the river. There's also the Balkan War Museum, the Archaeology Museum, Ottoman palace ruins and an art Museum and a bazaar (far less congested that the Istanbul equivalent, making for a more relaxed visit), so even if you're not into the Roman era of the city (which is sadly underplayed, in my opinion), there's still bucket-loads of stuff to see and do (and the delicious food on offer at the many cafes and restaurants is half the price of that in Istanbul!).

Left: the Selimiye Mosque. Click on Image to see full size. 
Right: The Maritsa Bridge. Click on Image to see full size.

Left: The Bazaar. Click on Image to see full size.
Right: Ruins of the Ottoman palace. Click on Image to see full size.

Digging a Little Deeper...

But I was here to cast a little light on the few remnants of the Adrianople of late antiquity, the Adrianople of Pavo, Gallus and Sura. In truth, there isn't a great deal to see, and as previously mentioned, the Roman era and the Battle of Adrianople itself is barely mentioned or alluded to in the city's tourist information (the same could be said for certain aspects of Istanbul - many of the Roman and Byzantine remnants there are only now being polished and shown off as the archaeological jewels that they are). But fortunately there was enough to set my imagination alight, particularly in the city's western quarter around the archaeological site containing the sturdy turret known as 'The Macedonian Tower'. This small part of the Roman-era city was excavated in 2002, and the findings are nicely laid out and well-served with plaques and diagrams.

Left: The 'Macedonian Tower'. Click on Image to see full size.
Right: The surrounding excavations (looking eastwards).

The Macedonian Tower was built in the 10th century AD and derives its name from the Byzantine ruling dynasty of the time. The tower served as the northeastern bastion of the Byzantine-era settlement, linking with the innermost curtain wall of similar, typically Byzantine style (alternating bands of white dressed stone facing and red, burnt brick masonry sealing in a rubble core). The outermost curtain wall, running just proud of the Byzantine one, belongs to Hadrian's original Roman settlement - the larger limestone blocks are certainly an indicator of more opulent times! This original wall would have remained in place till the time of Pavo, Sura and the XI Claudia in the 4th century AD. Presumably there was also a Roman precursor to the Byzantine tower on roughly the same site. In effect, it seems that the general size and shape of Adrianople did not change vastly over the Roman and Byzantine periods.

Based on the tower's location, I could see how ancient Adrianople was nestled snugly into the protective arm of the river confluence. This map should help illustrate:
Map: The two coloured polygons represent the Roman and Byzantine walls, and the outer line speculates as to the course of the moat Emperor Valens' army excavated when they set up camp outside the city immediately prior to the Battle of Adrianople.

Immediately outside the northern wall, it seems that there was a necropolis. Rather fitting, then, that Emperor Valens chose to set up a moated camp at this spot when he brought his army to the city just prior to the Battle of Adrianople...
Inside the walls, many pottery kilns have been discovered - some of which show signs of damage attributed to attacks by the Goths! The ruins of a Byzantine church lie just a little further inside the city boundaries.

Left: The remains of a pottery oven seemingly damaged or destroyed by the Goths in the 4th century AD. Click on Image to see full size.
Right: A view of the Macedonian Tower from inside the walls. Parts of Hadrian's curtain wall can be seen abutting the tower. Click on Image to see full size.

Standing in that small patch of ruins from long-lost antiquity in a gentle mizzle of rain, I couldn't help but feel detached from the working-day hustle and bustle going on in the surrounding streets. The babble and buzz of the many voices, cars and motorbikes faded into nothing, and I was in another place. Emperor Valens once brought his army to these walls  - just days before the battle that he would never return from, and one that would spell disaster for the Eastern Empire...

Hopefully the Turkish government will one day re-open and extend the excavations. There's an off-chance they might find the outline of Valens' moat. Maybe they'd find some late 4th century Roman armour - after all, the city was known to house a mighty fabrica (arms and armour workshop). Or perhaps they'd find scrolls or tablets containing evidence of some of Sura's more outlandish claims - finest javelin-thrower/fire-walker/weight-lifter/climber/orator of Adrianople? :)


Thanks for reading! If you're interested in taking a mosey back into 4th century Thracia, why not try my Legionary series?

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