I have just discovered that there really were African Roman soldiers in York, and this makes me very happy.
Why? Well, one of the main characters in Echoes of Blood is exactly that – a citizen of North Africa who has joined the Roman Army and been sent, as part of the Ninth Legion, to Eboracum. His tale forms the backbone of the book, with snippets cropping up at regular intervals, and I had tremendous fun researching and writing about him.
At the time, I thought he was purely fictional. But I’ve just finished watching the first episode of a new BBC series, ‘Black and British: A Forgotten History’ and guess what? It featured a unit of African Roman soldiers stationed at a fort in what’s now Burgh-by-Sands, on Hadrian’s Wall in Cumbria – and a piece about recent excavations at two burial sites in York (Eboracum), which showed that 10% of the burials were “of African descent”.
The programme, while interesting, was a little frustrating because it was very selective with the facts, and tended to bend everything to a specific agenda. It seemed to suggest, for instance, that “everyone” thinks all Romans were white and Italian, which is nonsense, since even at school I was taught that the Roman Empire was a multi-cultural entity spanning segments of several continents.
However, it was fascinating to have such a clear spotlight shone on the specific Roman history of northern Britain – and nice to find that Vincentius Valerius wasn’t quite as much of an invention as I thought he was! If you’d like to read more of his story, you can find Echoes of Blood on Kindle – or free on Kindle Unlimited.
(Apologies for the floating book cover, by the way. I wanted to wrap the bottom paragraph round it, but the “new improved” WordPress editor won’t let me, because it makes the text huge. Sigh.)