Saturday, March 25, 2006

SoD's dates

Eeew! I've had to change my keyboard due to spilling half a cup of tea on the other one, and this one's all rattley. I took it from my old Viglen computer/warhorse. Serves me right ... At least the keys have never got worn on this old one though.

On Gabriele's blog Carla asked about when SoD was set. That's a good question and worth exploring, as it brings up pertinent questions about the chronology of this period.

SoD includes Camlann, and the founding of Bernicia. Camlann gets dated anywhere around 530-40 (and sometimes earlier) and the traditional (probably entirely bogus) founding date of Bernicia is around 547 - so sue me :-) I would of course point out dating niggles in any Author's Note, but I'm hardly likely to get shot for monkeying around with hard and fast dates, as neither of them are. Scholars can argue till their blue in the face about king lists, chronicles, interepretations, whatever, in the end there are too many variables. It's like trying to catch a sunbeam. It suits me to put those events at those dates. I'll not be actually quoting particular years in the novel, as it is.

One good example of the date free-for-all is the king lists of Deira, which have, to say the least, been fiddled with. There are several versions, one of which includes Westerfalca, who will be appearing in SoD. The starting date of the list is very uncertain, but I'm reasonably happy that the archaeology is pointing to a very strong 'kingdom' pretty early on. I'm more concerned about whether to call Falca a king so early on or not, than worrying about what some sources/myths/interpretations say happened in a particular year. This is a novel, not a history book, and in this era in particular, all bets are off regarding hard and fast dates. It is both a pleasure and a bane.

Talking of absolute dates during the 5th -6th century being a fantasy, the entry in Wikipedia is amusing/confusing, just for starters. Bernicia gets Esa at 500 for example. But where's Deira, with it's early Anglian cemeteries and settlements? Earliest 'king' Aella in 559? Hit the serious books, and it gets much, much worse.


At 11:11 am GMT, Blogger Carla said...

Hey, I did say there was so much uncertainty in the dates you could do pretty much what you liked with them! As far as I know there's not an uncontested date in the two centuries between the Rescript of Honorius in 410 and the arrival of Augustine's missionaries in 597, and precious few either side.
I think I'd misunderstood the date of SoD - it says in your side bar mid 6th C and for no good reason I'd assumed that meant it was set around 550 or later. My fault for not reading it carefully enough

At 11:57 am GMT, Blogger Alex Bordessa said...

Carla, I wasn't referring to you; I said you'd asked, but didn't say you'd queried specific dates. Perhaps I should've put a separate paragraph; I'll edit. I *know* you'll have read more than one book on the subject!

In the side bar, I suspect I've used mid 6th in a general archaeological sense, which could mean anywhere between 530s-560s.

The 'date problem' is something general to the 5th-6th century, so I thought it was worth discussing. Superficially at least (if someone has read *one* book on the subject; and I've had that before from some crits) it looks like I have conflated dates. On closer inspection, and broader reading, it's clearly a free for all.

At 1:02 pm GMT, Blogger Carla said...

I know the feeling. Read one history book on 6th century Britain and you feel you sort of understand. Read two and you get confused. Read three or more and you have to go and lie down with a wet cloth over your eyes until the world starts making sense again :-)
Someone said that scholarship in this period resembled a medieval tournament, with each new contender eager to unhorse his(her) predecessor. Which is not a bad description.

At 7:40 pm GMT, Blogger Gabriele C. said...

I have the same fun with my Dál Riatans. You get about everything from 400 to 500 AD for their first settlements in Scotland.

I think there are some arguments in favour of the earlier dates. For one, with the rise of Niall Noigiallach there was a lot of trouble in Ireland and some poeple might have thought the Picts were less uncomfortable neighbours. Second, the Dál Riata at around 500 AD often is described as "kingdom" which would point at considerable migration/settlments and those don't spring out of the blue. In The Charioteer I thus have some early settlements on a tribal basis, but not yet a kingdom.


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