Being A Historical Novelist In The UK, by Ben Kane
In Ireland, where I come from, people are not generally that interested in ancient Rome. Perhaps it’s because, like Australia, the place was never conquered by the legions and there was no subsequent massive cultural influence as there was here in the UK. I have no idea why but I’ve always had a fascination with Rome’s history. Nine years ago, there was an interesting and amusing difference in the reactions of friends and family when told that I was beginning to write a book about Roman soldiers. To a person, British people said things such as, ‘Wow. That’s interesting.’ The vast majority of Irish people, however, reacted with a comment like, ‘Why would you write about Rome?’
It’s not surprising that British people identify with Rome. The history of this island is intimately linked with that of ancient Rome. Julius Caesar invaded the place twice, and a full-scale invasion took place in the middle of the first century AD, during the rule of the emperor Claudius. Over several decades, most of the island was conquered and settled by Romans. Britain remained part of the Empire for more than three hundred years, leaving a rich legacy culturally, politically and archaeologically. The country is littered with the ruins and remains of villas, houses and forts, all the way from southern Scotland to Cornwall in the far southwest.
Even in 2012, regular archaeological finds are made of buildings, roads, coins, helmets and even footprints or human remains. In my opinion, it’s impossible to live in such a country and not be influenced by such a wealth of material. Two years ago, not 20 kilometres from where I live, a vast hoard of more than 50,000 Roman coins was discovered. Many were of a type rarely found before. Research on finds like this can increase our knowledge of a long gone civilisation, as well as raise interest in the general population through TV, social media, blogs, etc. It’s not just archaeology that keeps the idea of ancient Rome current in the UK. Documentaries about the Romans are very common on British TV channels. Romans feature in comedy sketches, in films and other programmes. They even appeared in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics! The same is true of other periods of history. Castles and museums are everywhere, and re-enactment events are hugely popular during the summer months.
History oozes from the fabric of this small island. Let’s be honest, England’s/Britain’s impact on the world has (historically) punched above its size. The Romans, Saxons, Vikings and Normans all invaded and had their time in the sun. In the 12th century, England’s monarchs led crusades to the Holy Land. After that, they engaged in a war with France for more than a hundred years. The nation spent much of the second millennium at war with other European countries or powers. That was before it began empire building in the nineteenth century ― on a truly global scale. My point is that in Britain, two thousand years of rich history exist. The earliest times sadly offer us much less than we’d like to know, but much more information survives from about 1066 AD. The impact of that cannot be underestimated. In a country such as Australia, where most of the population have a social history that goes back less than two centuries, it’s entirely natural that a lot of people will have no interest in what went on in Europe more than two millennia before.
Ben Kane’s author website: www.benkane.net
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