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Interviewing the AH Community: Alison Morton

"So the Roman Empire survives."

AH fans: "Yay!"

"But it's the size of Luxembourg."

AH fans: "Huh?"

When I drafted the first Roma Nova story, I had no idea it was in the alternate history genre, or even what that was. It was just the story I wanted to write. I’ve been a Roman nut since I was eleven when I was captivated by my first mosaic in Spain.
I'd like to know, who else in our community came to AH by way of a fondness for a given historical place and era? Personally I was into early 20th century China before I became a fan of AH.
I'd like to know, who else in our community came to AH by way of a fondness for a given historical place and era? Personally I was into early 20th century China before I became a fan of AH.

I would say it came for me in parallel rather than in sequence. I was always interested in tiny states and did a little school project on Andorra, Monaco, Liechtenstein, San Marino and the Vatican City. I had a brief fascination with Albania. I guess it then went into alternate history, I especially remember an imaginary state I called Trotronia located in various enclaves in South-Eastern France, I imagine influenced by Papal Avignon and the Comtat Venaissin. I drew maps of it and included various historic details about its development, not particularly rooted in actual history.
In my case it was a fondness for Ancient Greece and Rome, from the age of eight or so, added to by an imaginative leap after reading the children's magazine 'Look and Learn's sci-fi 'Rome-like civilization on a distant planet, updated to the space age' series 'The Trigan Empire' when I was ten. I was into other historical eras and civilizations too, incl China (after going round the neo-'Chinese' decorated Brighton Royal Pavilion near where we lived) and Ethiopia (after seeing the BBC 'Blue Peter's royal safari there with Princess Anne and presenter Valerie Singleton), but Rome had wider possibilities.

On surviving Roman micro-states, I remember seeing a (repeated) TV episode of the very old, 1950s Arthurian adventure series 'Sir Lancelot' around 1970 that featured the knight and his friends helping out a surviving Roman enclave in a remote area of Britain, which gave me ideas for a Roman survival in Britain after the end of Roman rule in 410 as a possibility. (The episode was a bit visually mixed-up, as it was set in the Arthurian era around 500 but had the King and his court in the costumes and with the weapons of the fifteenth century, ie the time of the main medieval Arthurian literary work 'Morte d'Arthur' by Sir Thomas Malory. The later 1970s 'Arthur of the Britons' series, with Brian Blessed, did go back to 'authentic' C5th costumes, swords, and wooden huts.) But given the relatively patchy levels of 'Romanization' achieved in real life Britain by the C5th, I could soon see that it would be difficult to provide a large enough and culturally cohesive politico-social grouping wedded to Roman ways in Britain for them to keep going for centuries - even in a raid-free isolated hilly region or a remote island. Possibly this would be easier if Roman rule and socio-political adaptation to Roman manners had kept going for another few centuries before a collapse of the main Empire, eg broken up into a series of feuding states by the combined assaults of the Arabs and the steppe nomads in the seventh century?

I find Alison Morton's scenario intriguing and very well thought out, though - and there were nearly some real Roman successor-states in the West, eg the kingdom of Aegidius and Syagrius in northern Gaul, until they were bulldozed aside by the numerically greater Merovingian Franks (in this case in 486). A lowland state would always have problems in an era of mobile nomad peoples , but a mountain state might hold out - as in the Alps. A Syagrius-style successor-kingdom based on bits of the local Roman army cut off from home plus local nobles could have held out in a remote area of Spain until the Reconquista, had the Visigoths been weaker and failed to mop up various Iberian sub-states eg the Suevi tribe (German migrants in the C5th who crossed the Rhine and moved on to Spain) in Galicia/ N Portugal. The Arabs never reached that far North, so a Galician state could have lasted after the 711 invasion and then linked up by marriage as an ally to the Christian kingdom of Leon. And even in Britain, there were chances for post-Roman British kingdoms to survive the Anglo-Saxon migrations with better military luck - and they could have been more Romanised given a longer period of Roman govt, plus more Roman settlers or surviving Roman garrisons. My best bet is on 'Rheged' in Cumbria, using the Hadrians Wall garrisons, which was not defeated by the incoming Angles until c.600 and had vigorous and successful C6th warlords (Urbgen and Owain), or the survival of bits of the old Roman army centred on the east end of the Wall and York.