Prism Book Alliance® would like to thank Faith L. Justice for stopping by today.
Title: Sword of the Gladiatrix
Author: Faith L. Justice
Publisher: Self Published
Cover Artist: Todd Engle
Genre: Action/Adventure, Fiction, Gay Fiction, Historical, Lesbian Romance
From the far edges of the Empire, two women come to battle on the hot sands of the arena in Nero’s Rome. They seek to replace lost friendship, love, and family in each other’s arms; but the Roman arena offers only two futures: the Gate of Life for the victors or the Gate of Death for the losers.
Pages or Words: 260 pages, 75,000 words
Foodie Time Travel to the First Century
Faith L. Justice
Thank you for having me here at Prism Book Alliance. When you pitched the topic, “If your character could only eat ten foods for the rest of her life, what would they be and why?” I was initially stumped then delighted. Historical fiction writers are notorious for their collections of arcana regarding food, clothing, religious practices, architecture, social mores, herb lore, etc. Using such details in our narratives is one of the ways we transport our readers to another time and place. My most recent book, Sword of the Gladiatrix, takes place in the first century and features two women from the far ends of the Roman Empire: Afra, a huntress from the Kingdom of Kush, and Cinnia, a warrior-bard of the rebellious Iceni tribe in Roman Britain. Both have very different cultures and diets compared to the Romans who enslave them, so let’s time travel!
First stop: Kush (approximately the modern country of Sudan), an ancient African nation that neighbored, traded with, and once ruled Egypt. It has a rich cultural history. Afra is a huntress for the Queen of Kush and has access to a variety of foods. We’ll start with the basics: bread, butter, and beer. According to the Roman geographer Strabo, “The Aethiopians [Kushites] live on millet and barley, from which they also make a drink; but instead of olive-oil they have butter and tallow. Neither do they have fruit trees, except a few date-palms in the royal gardens…[The Kushites] use meats, blood, milk and cheese.” Archeology reveals evidence of various kinds of squash, beans, birds, cattle, sheep, goats, fish, and wild animals such as antelope in the Kushite diet.
Afra, can eat quite well on only ten foods prepared in a variety of ways. We’ll stipulate that our characters can use readily available spices such as salt (pepper is exotic and expensive) and local herbs such as parsley, mint, and rosemary. Her staple, like all of her people, is barley (1) bread which she eats with butter or cheese—milk (2) products. Barley also provides a delicious beer drunk by most Kushites and Egyptians. Nile water is filled with bacteria and parasites, so most people drink alcoholic beer and wine to avoid nasty diseases. If Afra wants something stronger she’ll drink date (3) wine. Dates are also used in a variety of desserts usually sweetened with honey (4) or eaten plain. Gotta have something sweet! For vegetables Afra prefers green squash (5)—how many hundreds of recipes are there for zucchini?—and cucumbers (6). Beans (7) are a cheap and plentiful source of protein easily available in the market for a woman of modest means. For meat, Afra hunts for antelope (8) and wild geese (9) which she can provide for herself and sell or barter the excess in the market. Finally, no Kushite living along the Nile River can give up fish (10). They are easy to catch and can be made into a lovely fish sauce (today known as fasikh) to flavor other foods.
Second stop: Roman Britain, where Cinnia and also has a wide variety of food to choose from. This shopping list from a Roman fort at Vindolanda gives a hint of the domestic and imported foods available: “…bruised beans, two modii [modius=8.73 litres], chickens, twenty, a hundred apples, if you can find nice ones, a hundred or two hundred eggs, if they are for sale at a fair price…8 sextarii [sextarius=546 ml] of fish sauce…a modius of olives…” Cinnia travels with her father, a bard, during her childhood and the people he stays with provide their best food for so important a guest. She acquires a discerning palate. She eats the same foods as her village relatives, but prefers a more varied preparation with different spices and herbs. Restricting her to ten foods will be more of a hardship, but let’s give it a go.
Like Afra, Cinnia’s staple is barley (1) which she will eat as bread, porridge, gruel, barley cakes, and beer. She also likes milk (2) which she drinks and eats as butter and cheese. Grapes (3) are imported and more expensive, but as a child she loves popping them in her mouth fresh or sweetening her porridge with dried raisins during the long winter months. As an adult, Cinnia cultivates a fondness for wine, which she drinks undiluted in the barbarian style. She can’t pass an orchard without plucking a fresh apple (4), which can be dried for winter or cooked down into a sweet sauce. Leeks (5) flavor salads of cress (6) and cabbage (7) as well as stews and braised meats such as lamb (8) and pork (9). Of course, pork is wonderfully versatile. It’s made into bacon, ham, suckling pig, pork scratching (pig skin), and rendered for its fat and lard (all mentioned in the Vindolanda Tablets). When she can, Cinnia feasts on British oysters (10) but the Romans love them so much, they are sometimes scarce, making them a special treat.
Stop three: the gladiator training school (ludus). Enslaved and forced to train and fight for the Romans, Afra and Cinnia have no choice in their plentiful, but monotonous, food. Gladiators eat a strict diet high in carbohydrates with a calcium supplement. The prime ingredient? You guessed it: barley (1). Contemporaries writing about gladiators call them hordearii—barley men—because their main mean is always barley and beans (2) cooked together to make a thick soup or potage, probably seasoned with onions (3), leeks (4), and local herbs. They have all the barley bread they can eat, but the Romans haven’t caught on to brewing beer, so Afra and Cinnia drink a well-watered, vinegar-like, sour wine (5). The result of this diet of simple carbs is…fat. Gladiators pack on the pounds of lard to protect muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. They take shallow cuts and survive—also a crowd pleaser. The calcium boost comes from disgusting brews of charred wood (I refuse to count this as a food) or bone ash (6) which results in much higher levels of bone calcium than in the general population. Afra misses meat in this diet, and Cinnia misses variety.
The only time Afra and Cinnia eat anything else is at the feasts given the night before they fight. The editor—person who pays for the games—throws a feast for “those who are about to die.” All their favorite dishes, plus lots of exotic Roman ones are served, but Afra and Cinnia eat and drink lightly. Citizens and bookies make the rounds of the feast and take note of the gladiators who over-indulge. They don’t want to bet on a gladiator with a hangover!
I hope you’ve enjoyed our foodie time travel in the first century. If you want to explore more exotic Roman meals I recommend checking out Cooking and Dining in Imperial Rome by Apicius, Roman recipes collected over several centuries. Here’s an easy one for home-made sweets, if you want to give it a try:
“Take the stone from palm dates or ordinary dates and stuff them with nuts or pine nuts or ground pepper. Roll in salt, fry them in cooked honey and serve.”
Vestra frui prandium! (Enjoy your meal!)
Copyright © 2015 Faith L. Justice
A slave wraps my lower legs with felted wool and straps a gilded greave to my left shin, because I fight as myrmilla. He smells of sour sweat, as do I. I’ve already fought once today, tested fate, and won. The gold sand that Nero favors in the arena still crusts my hair and rasps the skin under my sweat-soaked breast band. I will go again before the ravenous crowds to satisfy their bloodlust. For what? An emperor’s whim? The crowd’s passing fancy? A sacrifice to their gods?
I swallow the bitter gall that surges into my mouth.
Across the room, another slave straps armor on Cinnia, my beloved. She looks at me with pride in her eyes and a brief smile on her lips. We said our goodbyes last night, clasped breast to breast, thigh to thigh, a stolen moment before being sent to our lonely cells. My heart beats an irregular rhythm.
My love. Light to my dark. Fire to my ice.
Cinnia is goddess-given to me; from a land of mists and forests, so different from my country of desert and blistering sun. Without her, I would be dead. Without me, so would she. We have suffered, struggled, lived, and loved. Now we go out upon the sands of the great arena to die. One by her lover’s hands, the other by her own.
It is not the life or death I chose for myself, but it is the one the gods gave me.
About the Author
About the author:
FAITH L. JUSTICE writes award-winning novels, short stories, and articles in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in Salon.com, Writer’s Digest, The Copperfield Review, the Circles in the Hair anthology, and many more. She is a frequent contributor to Strange Horizons, Associate Editor for Space and Time Magazine, and co-founded a writer’s workshop many more years ago than she likes to admit. For fun, she digs in the dirt—her garden and various archaeological sites.
Where to find the author:
Author website: https://www.faithljustice.com
Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3268206.Faith_L_Justice
Copy of ‘Sword of the Gladiatrix’ by Faith L. Justice
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