I get asked often about the research I do for my novels. Even when I’m not asked, I volunteer information…
Besides reading proper history books (mostly by modern historians, but the occasional translated original source as well), I particularly like what might be termed “experimental archaeology”. These are people with a keen interest, that review original sources (surviving literature, archaeological finds etc.) and experiment to attempt to recreate life back in the day.
Outside of historical circles, it is often not understood just how patchy our knowledge of the past is. When an historian speaks of how things “were”, they are giving the most plausible explanation that accounts for all available data. Experimental archaeology is an attempt to fill in some of the huge gaps, by trying to understand what was possible with the tools and technologies of the time. It gives us a richer understanding of how things might have looked like and worked at the ground level.
I am particularly partial to watching videos of such ‘experiments’, as they often bring to life those smaller aspects that concerned the daily lives of ordinary people. This is not about the strategy of Caesar in conquering Gaul, this is about when the legionaries used in combat, used in the camp, what they ate and what they carried to make their life on campaign bearable.
Granted, most often watch videos about army tactics and sword-fighting for gladiators. But every so often, I come across something else. Something different. The following article is about the hair styles that can be seen on many statues. There is always research going on into the daily lives of the people in any era, and fashion is a major aspect of human society. It can teach us a lot about the various roles genders and social classes play at a given time. It’s also very entertaining to watch someone recreate both the hairstyles and the tools that were used in their creation (bone needles and horn combs, for example).
Follow this link for the full article, which links to the videos about recreating the hairdos: http://nymag.com/thecut/2015/12/ancient-roman-hair-janet-stephens.html
Watch this video as a sample:
Not all of this information makes it into the novels in full, of course. But having an better understanding of these small aspects of life, helps create a richer world. Yes, the murder trial is in progress – but just look at the daring stola and hairstyle of the bereaved widow!
And now back to our regular scheduling of exciting sword fights 🙂
Oh – and watch how they use the shields! That will explain a lot in the pirate scene.