Happy New Year! Or Sana Sayeeda as they say in Arabic! I’m back from another trip to Morocco, and this time besides staying at our usual place in the medina of Tangier, I and my wife also visited the ancient city of Lixus on Morocco’s Atlantic coast.
Like many cities of Roman Morocco, it’s been inhabited since prehistory, and became a Phoenician colony starting around the 8th century BC. The Phoenicians called Lixus Makom Shemesh (“City of the Sun”). It is believed to be their southernmost colony, but considering the many good bays and coves that stud the Atlantic coast to the south, I’m wondering if an archaeological survey might uncover more.
The ruins stand on a hill overlooking Oued Loukos estuary and the city was an important fishing port as well as a fish processing and salt panning center, the products then being shipped to the Mediterranean. Salt is still being panned in this region today.
Last week, I shared some of the Celtiberian artifacts at the newly remodeled Museo Arqueológico Nacional in Madrid. The museum also has a strong collection of Roman artifacts, reflecting Spain’s longtime importance in the Roman Empire. Most gripping are the mosaics. Spain had numerous wealthy villas both in the cities and countryside, and thankfully many of these have been discovered and preserved.
When the Romans marched into the Iberian Peninsula 218 BC, they found it to be a patchwork of small Celtic kingdoms and tribes, each with its distinct local traditions, but sharing the same overall culture.
Like with the other Celtic peoples they faced, the Romans met fierce resistance, and didn’t fully conquer the peninsula for 200 years. The last holdouts were the mountain tribes of northern Spain–the Cantabri, the Astures, and the Gallaeci. They have left their names as three of Spain’s northern provinces–Cantabria, Asturias, and Galicia. In a bitter war from 29 to 19 BC, the Emperor Augustus brought these tribes to heel and took their land for the empire.
“Cantabri” means “mountain people.” They were an isolated and independent-minded culture living a mostly pastoral lifestyle. Several of their villages and cemeteries have been excavated and the regional government has also built a reconstructed Cantabrian village. The Poblado Cántabro at Cabezón de la Sal, an hour’s train ride from the regional capital Santander, gives the visitor an insight into the lives of these ancient people.
The United Kingdom has dozens of great long-distance hiking routes. From easy country strolls to rugged treks across the Scottish Highlands, they offer it all. One of the best things about hiking in the UK for the history lover is the number of historic and archaeological sites you can see along the way. Perhaps the best route for this is the Hadrian’s Wall Path, which runs 84 miles along the entire length of the wall.
When I hiked the path, I decided to start at Newcastle upon Tyne and walk the entire way west to Bowness-on-Solway, on Solway Firth, thus crossing the country and seeing every bit of the wall. One advantage to starting in Newcastle is that you get to see the Roman fort of Segedunum to give you a taste of what’s to come. Once you get out of the urban sprawl, you have nothing but nature until Carlisle.
The idea for a role-playing game focused on playing legionaries was in my head as early as August of 2009 when I did a podcast series on playing military characters in role-playing games, and did episodes on Republican Rome, the Civil Wars and the early Empire. I had always loved Roman history and the image of the legion, and I had run games set in Imperial Rome, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, but hadn’t thought about actually designing a game for legionaries.
What’s the point, you might ask, of developing a game with such a specific focus when there are other games out there that could probably do the job? One of the reasons is because I can. The mountain climber answer never appeased anyone, so let me try this: other games might do the job, but what if one wants a game designed for the job. There’s a good chance that game will do the job better.
I spent most of my role-playing life playing with one system: Dungeons & Dragons. Why bother to learn another system when this one does what I want? And, yeah, sometimes it doesn’t do exactly what I want, but it’s close, and I can always house-rule it.
So until a little under a decade ago, I was in the thrall of D&D. Completely. It was not a bad place to be, and let me tell you, I am excited about 5E … or D&D Next … or whatever it’s going to be. I still love D&D and that’s because it does its own thing so well. It has created its own fantasy genre that is different from anything else out there. That doesn’t mean it is the perfect game for all genres.