Saturday, September 11, 2010

Geography, 2000 Years Ago

Some musings about writing a historical novel:

One of the most difficult things to figure out in an ancient setting is the geography. The further back you go, the more things change. Seas rise and fall, rivers change course, beaches erode, hills get carved up by miners...stuff happens.

Of course, the good part about that is the further back you go, the less likely it is that someone may call you out on a mistake. ("You idiot! That lake is manmade--no one would have stopped there before 1972!")

My novel is set in France, 2000 years ago. France is unique in that it--more than most countries--has tamed its rivers. Who knows how the Loire ambled along in the BC era?  Well, there may be a few scholars of the esoteric who know, but not many. How about the beaches near Carnac? What were they like? And the fields, what sort of flowers would have grown wild there?

I did as much research as I could. Maybe I over-researched, but I think that's better than not doing enough. I even found a little book in a university library that was written for American soldiers in WWI, explaining in general terms the lay of the land in France. What a jewel that was! 

One thing I did learn was that the seas have risen over the past two milennia. Archaeologists know it. The many islands off France and other countries in Northern Europe have higher shorelines than they used to. Some disappear entirely, and yet there are carvings and structures that indicated they were used once, maybe 3000 years ago when the seas were lower.

An annotation on Caesar's Conquest of Gaul clued me into the fact that the Netherlands and Belgium and other coastal areas were more marshy than they are today.

The bottom line is that you do your best, which is the bottom line for almost everything in writing, isn't it?

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