Dear readers, tonight with me are, in a way, two women named Hannah. The modern Hannah, while on an archaeological expedition to Masada, started to see the life of the ancient Hannah Bat Avigail – a woman straight out of biblical times. Hannah saw the Great Revolt of Masada, saw the life of the times, and even fell for a Roman legionary.
She is here to tell us about life in ancient Israel.
Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?
I grew up in Jerusalem; it’s a huge city and used to be very cosmopolitan – now I’m not so sure, I expect much has changed. Of course, it was my home and all I knew; families looked out for each other and it was a very happy community. Unfortunately, tension replaced concord, political unrest led to violent clashes between pro and anti Roman supporters and my beautiful city descended into chaos.
Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?
Toys! Ha! I never played with toys, not sure we even had any in our house. If I wasn’t outside playing with my brother and his friends, I was helping my uncle in his surgery; he was a great physician you know. Far more interesting than toys! My mother would have preferred me to be more feminine — pah! Who wants that? Certainly not I – give me the sick and injured over girlish games any day.
Cherished memories? Ahh, well that’s a bit difficult. Oh dear, how can I explain this? Okay, here goes – I have a descendant, also called Hannah, whose soul connects to mine. She shares her knowledge of what will happen in order that I can save those I love from disaster (such as the slaughter on Masada, just before the Roman army re-took the fortress). Thing is, the first time our minds collided, almost everything that came before was lost. I experience the occasional flashback, but nothing of any substance. My cherished memories began on Masada.
What do you do now?
I am a physician, married to a Roman soldier — thereby hangs another tale — and a mother to four children. Thus, I am usually to be found at the hospital treating the sick and injured, or out at the village learning about traditional remedies from the local tribes people, or at home with my family. My days are full and I love it.
What can you tell us about your latest posting?
Currently we live on the northern frontier of Britannia at a fort called Magnis where my husband, Maxentius, is garrison commander. It seems to be our lot in life to be posted where unrest simmers and there are those unhappy with the Roman presence. Even the garrison is not free of resentment and a recent plot, thankfully foiled, had tragic consequences. It is a harsh environment, but somehow familiar, possibly because my future self lives close by in place (if not in time). In any case I, we, love it and have decided to remain here for the foreseeable future.
What did you first think when you arrived on Masada?
My arrival on Masada was stomach wrenching. I had, not really by choice, accompanied a gang of Zealot rebels who stormed the fortress there in search of weapons. The rebels gave no quarter to the Romans guarding the outpost, cutting them down before they were able to fight back, resulting in a massacre of horrific proportions. When I arrived, after the ambush, I thought I had walked into a nightmare; the plateau was littered with bodies. I hope you never witness such bloodshed. Surprisingly, it became my home and I was very settled there.
What was the scariest thing in your adventures?
Escaping the eruption of Vesuvius.
What is the worst thing about sharing your mind with someone who lives nearly 2000 years in the future?
I have things in my head that no one else I know can see or hope to understand. It’s very difficult concentrating on everything I say in order not to use certain words or phrases or talk about things that are common to a world none of us will ever be part of.
What is the best thing about it?
The same thing! Knowing what I know – all the things that she shares with me is a unique privilege and, although confusing, frightening and utterly mindboggling, it is also incredible, fascinating and wonderful.
Tell us a little about your friends.
I don’t have many friends; my life doesn’t really lend itself to having friends. My best friend is my husband, Maxentius – corny I know, but true. Then there’s Marcus, who is as a brother to me, and because of our shared experiences, he, Maxentius and I share a very close bond. Hmmm…definitely Petronius and Julius, soldiers also, who became dear to me, especially after what happened in Pompeii. Probably Atius – he’s the very clever young doctor here at Magnis. Oh and Senna, a local woman – she just married Marcus actually – she introduced me to Bearach, the headman of the neighbouring tribe, and Breeda – their wise woman with whom I share a love of healing. Oh – that’s actually quite a long list isn’t it? I am very lucky.
Any romantic involvement?
Ahhh, now you have me, I could talk about my love all day. Maxentius is one of the soldiers I saved on Masada. He is very tall, with black hair and the greenest eyes you’ve ever seen. He is a man of patience and understanding and has the ability to empathise with all those he meets, friend or enemy. Our love was forbidden; I was a freeborn Hebrew and he a captive Roman general, but somehow against all the odds we married and even now, over fifteen years later, I am happiest when he is by my side.
Whom (or what) do you really hate?
Injustice and prejudice, those things I really hate. People – I don’t hate, I might hate what they do – like what Tobias tried to do to me on Masada or what Gratius attempted to do here at Magnis, but hate them…no. Hate is like a festering sore and will poison you if you let it take hold, it’s so much better if you try to channel it into something more positive – that way they don’t win.
What’s your favourite drink, colour, and relaxing pastime?
My preferred drink would have to be calda; it’s usually drunk warm and I guess it would be similar to the drink you call mulled wine – very tasty. Green is my favourite colour, in all its myriad of shades. Relaxing pastime, I love riding Gemmula – she’s my horse – or messing about with herbs, but I think being with Maxentius and my family would be my absolute favourite and I treasure every single moment.
What does the future hold for you?
I have no idea! My past is the latest thing I have discovered, everything I thought lost has been recovered, memories have been revived which has been wonderful for me. The future…well we’ll just have to see. We’re here in Magnis, my future self connects almost at will these days and I am comfortable knowing that I am forever bound to her – so you never know where our journey might take us. That’s the thrill isn’t it? The unknown! If you wait around, I’d be delighted to share it with you!
Can you share a secret with us, which you’ve never told anyone else?
There is little of my life left to divulge, except that I’m terrified of spiders – no one else knows that, not even Maxentius, so don’t you dare tell him! Oh wait – just before we left Rome, we visited Aliza and Levi in Ostia and it seemed there had been some strange goings on in the thermopolium (that’s a place where you can buy hot food) along the street. Apparently there had been a suspicious death and Leonidas, the owner, was determined to solve it. Seems he is often at the centre of a mystery…he could be worth watching!
Rosie Chapel was born in England, but now lives in Perth, Australia. Abandoning her career in administration, she pursued her love of classical history. Having developed an abiding love for anything connected to Ancient Rome, she decided channel her passion into fiction, which culminated in her first novel The Pomegranate Tree. Based around the archaeological excavations on Masada, this is book one in the ‘Hannah’s Heirloom’ sequence. Its sequel Echoes and Stone and Fire takes place in Pompeii, just before the catastrophic eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. The final novel of the trilogy, Embers of Destiny, sees Hannah journeying to the recently conquered northern frontier of Roman Britain, where life may not quite be as peaceful as it seems.
You can find Hannah on the pages of all three books, collected in one volume as Hannah’s Heirloom Trilogy.
Join us next week to meet a woman who made the jump from Southern Spain to London, only to discover life’s little miracles. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right), via Twitter, or like our Facebook page to be notified when the next interview is posted.