As the turning of the year speeds us onward into winter the time has come for me to actually make a post. Don’t expect this to be a regular thing mind you, it’s likely only possible because I’ve taken a week off work and hence actually have the time to think.
Anyway, this week someone on Reddit had decided to compile a list of Adeptus Astartes war cries (yes, I’m on about Warhammer again, deal with it) and helpfully posted the same to the 40kLore subreddit. When browsing through this list I noticed something a bit strange – can you spot it?
“Doom ye! Doom ye! Doom ye!”–Doom Warriors
“Skovakarah uhl zarûn!” (“Redden the earth!”)–Emperor’s Spears
“Bringers of war!”—Emperor’s Warbringers
“In too deep, against all odds brothers!”—Genesis Chapter
“”We are the hammer!” or “I am the hammer, I am the right hand of the Emperor, the instrument of His will, the gauntlet about His fist, the tip of His spear, the edge of His sword!”—Grey Knights
“Primarch-Progenitor, to your glory and the glory of Him on Earth!”—Imperial Fists
“The flesh is weak!”—Iron Hands
In case you’re not an ageing Gen-Xer and the title of this post didn’t tip you off, it’s the war cry of the Genesis Chapter, who apparently charge into battle yelling “In too deep, against all odds brother!”. What immediately startled me about this can best be summed up with the inclusion of a couple of videos…
So, we are being asked to believe that the war cry of the Genesis Chapter just happens to be built from the title of a Genesis song, and a former-lead-singer-of-Genesis-Phil-Collins song?
Now, sure, Warhammer 40k is probably the most plagiarism-guilty IP in human history. It’s cobbled together from chunks of Dune, Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, the collected works of J. R. R. Tolkien, Judge Dredd, the generalised evil of Margaret Thatcher and dozens – if not hundreds – of other sources. There’s barely an original idea in the whole thing. But directly quoting prog-rock lyrics seems a little too on the nose even for Games Workshop. So what the hell is going on?
I started digging. The oldest reference I could find to the alleged war cry is on the Genesis Chapter page on the 40k Fandom Wiki – which immediately sounded all kinds of alarm bells.
Warhammer 40,000 has been a thing since 1987, and since then an absolutely titanic amount of background lore has been generated. Organising it all into a Wiki is the obvious management solution, and as a result there are a number of 40k Wikis on the web. The big three though are Lexicanum, 1d4Chan and the 40k Fandom wiki.
Lexicanum is – in my opinion – the most reliable as it insists that all information must be properly sourced. It can be a bit dry and academic though, being very much the “just the facts ma’am” 40k wiki.
1d4Chan (when it hasn’t gone offline, which it seems to do regularly) is an obscenity laced carnival of memes that – once you scrape off all the hyperbole – is often surprisingly accurate. It’s also the only of the big three to really include meta-information – that is to say info about the history and community of 40k . If you want to understand the hate directed towards C. S. Goto, or know why Matt Ward is your spiritual liege it’s the place to go. On the downside it’s not updated that much any more, and if not tempered with more reliable sources can easily delude new 40k fans into confusing memes and jokes (usually very dated memes and jokes – like those involving Matt Ward and C. S. Goto…) with actual lore (For instance the Death Korp of Krieg are not suicidal and they do not regard shovels to be their ‘cultural weapon’, and you cannot kill Orks by pointing a gun at them and shouting ‘bang!’).
The 40k Fandom Wiki… well, to be frank, I do not like it. Its moderation and sourcing rules are extremely lax – pretty much anyone can post anything they like there and it’s up to other uses to spot and correct it. Which brings us back to the Genesis Chapter…
On February 8th 2011 – yes, that’s over a decade ago folks! – some wanderer of the digital waste decided to have a bit of fun with the Genesis Chapter Fandom Wiki page and made a series of edits to the info box, which I shall display here as a before and after screenshot…
Such wit! Such satire! Actually, to be entirely honest, it’s exactly the kind of joke I’d make, but I certainly wouldn’t go and vandalise a wiki with it!
The joker’s changes were reverted pretty quickly, but whoever did it seemingly lacked the necessary knowledge of Phil Collin’s back catalogue to recognise the war cry as part of the prank, even adding quotes around it to standardise the format. And so it has sat there unchanged for 11 years, spreading through the fan community as the accepted war cry of the Chapter!
I may try to do something about this. Or I may not. All in all I suppose we should just be glad that the Genesis Chapter don’t charge into battle yelling “Billy don’t you lose my number!”
His name is Mal-Mal-Malcador! The greatest Sigillite! No treasure too old, no psyker too bold, Who’s that!? Malcador the Sigillite!
Well hello there! I’m Malcador, the last surviving member of the Ancient Order of the Sigillites. My friends call me ‘Mal’ but you can call me First Lord of Terra and second in command of the Imperium of Man. I make sure the Emperor’s will is done – when the big E says ‘jump’ we don’t even bother asking how high! (If we get it wrong he’ll let us know!) But it’s not all work, work, work in the Emperor’s service, no siree! We know how to have a good time too – isn’t that right Horus?
Mal… M-Mal… al…
Oh don’t mind him! He’s just trying to pronounce the name of one of the Lost Primarchs. Keep at it Horus, you’ll get it one day! Yes, we inhabitants of the Imperial Palace work hard, but we also play hard! As my good friend Constatin Valdor will agree! Get over here Constantin!…
Well, the hell-year of 2021 is over and done with and we can celebrate the start of hell-year 2022. Boo! Hooray! Boo! Hooray! Call me when you’re finished.
I did have big plans to get up super early this morning, get an Uber to the Camfield and enjoy the year’s first sunrise while walking along the river to Mends Street Jetty. But when it got to 1:00am and I still hadn’t fallen asleep I decided “screw it” and turned off my alarm. I’d rather start the year at least somewhat rested rather than try to get by on only three hours, no matter how good it might be get some healthy exercise and set an example to live up to for the next twelve months.
One thing I have done today is get my votes in for the Hottest 100. Rather embarrassingly it turns out that one of my favorite tracks of the year, MØ’s Nights With You, wasn’t in fact a track of the year at all. being released all the way back in 2017, so Cloudy Day by Tones and I got promoted up to my number 10 instead of 11. I also voted for Montaigne’s MBMBaM theme song My Life is Better With You which isn’t on the official list, BUT I DON’T CARE! My track of the year is Ziggy Ramo’s Little Things, and if that makes anyone uncomfortable then (to quote Phil Jupitus) Well fucking good!
Anyway, here’s the full list, alphabetically by artist…
(What? You don’t consider how stupid our calendar is on January 1st each year? What’s wrong with you?)
It is a truth universally acknowledged by all right thinking people that the Gregorian Calendar is a hodge-podge of terrible ideas smothered in a layer of well meaning but equally as bad hacks intended to force it into some semblance of functionality. The majority of the problems stem from the irrational belief of the Ancients that the universe is (or should be) some kind of clockwork mechanism where the movements of the celestial bodies all mesh together into a grand yet simple pattern – as opposed to the reality that they’re big lumps of rock and gas that whiz around doing their own thing with no obligation to match the neat mathematical models we humans prefer.
As such, the period of rotation of our planet (a day) does not fit evenly into the rotation of our moon around our planet (a month) and neither the day nor month fit evenly into the rotation of our planet around the sun (a year). Building a calendar on the assumption that they do causes horrible problems and results in said calendar drifting away from reality until people are planting their crops in the middle of winter and starving to death.
(We correct for this kind of thing with tricks like leap days, which is where we save up all the left over bits of days at the end of a solar orbit and then shove them back into the calendar once they add up to a full day. This is actually a pretty good solution, although sticking them at the end of the second month is the kind of thing only a lunatic would consider sensible.)
The mismatch between the solar year (365.2425 days) and lunar month (29.53 days) is responsible for the horrible mess of our calendar months. Four of them are 30 days long, seven of them are 31 days and one is 28 days (or 29 when we need to shove in one of those leap days). This is stupid.
And to add to these problems we went and invented the week – a period of seven days that doesn’t match up with the month or the year. The result is sheer insanity, requiring complex calculations to figure out what day of the week a given date falls on, and making vast sums of money for the calendar printing industry.
Enough! I cry! A new calendar is desperately needed, and I – in my supreme intelligence (not to say arrogance) – am the one to create it!
As such I am pleased to here present the Wyrmworld Calendar!
The Wyrmworld Calendar (WYC) consists of 13 months – the twelve we currently use plus Hektober – each of exactly four weeks long (28 days). The first day of each month – and the first day of each year is a Monday, so you never need to buy a new calendar.
This comes to 364 days, which leaves 1.2425 days over a year. The one full day is Yearsend – a special day inserted between Sunday Hektober 28th and Monday January 1st that isn’t part of any month and doesn’t have a day of the week. The remaining 0.2425 days are saved up as per the current leap year system, and when a leap day is required it’s added as Leapday between Yearsend and January 1st.
So, that takes care of the years, days and weeks, but how do the 13 months of the Wyrmworld Calendar line up with the moon? Well, they don’t. The moon makes everything way too complicated and can go frunk itself. We are human beings, not fish!
With the cycle of days figured out we now need to set an epoch. The Gregorian Calendar Epoch – BC/AD or BCE/CE – is just terrible, You have to count backwards for anything interesting in ancient history and then you have to account for there being no year 0. How old would Cato the Elder be if he were still alive today? He was born in 234 BCE so we need to take the current year of 2022 and add 234 and then take away 1, so he’d be 2,255. What year would he have had his 724th birthday? So we take 234 away from 724, but then we need to add 1, so 491 CE? THIS IS CONFUSING!
The sensible answer is to push the epoch back beyond recorded history so all the numbers that matter are in the positive. Cesare Emiliani’s Holocene Calendar does this with the neat trick of setting the epoch to 10,001 BCE, meaning we just add 10,000 to the current CE/AD year. The Wyrmworld Calendar is not afraid to steal good ideas, so we will do the same! So the current year is 12,022 WYC and Cato the Elder was born in 9,767 WYC. Easy!
(The battle of Thermopylae was 9,521 WYC in case you were wondering…)
Finally, exactly when is the new year? We currently celebrate new year at an arbitrary point in the Earth’s orbit and this offends me. The new year should be tied to something meaningful. The logical choice is a solstice or equinox. To minimise confusion we’ll use the (Gregorian) December solstice, and for reasons of convenience reference the Gregorian 2021 solstice of December 21st. The solstice shall mark the last day of the year, with the next day January (WYC) 1st.
So, adding it all together today is Thursday January 11th 12,022 WYC. I expect the world to start using this far superior calendar immediately!
Almost ten years ago the Devastation reduced most of the City to a sea of rubble. Thousands were killed, thousands more vanished without a trace and the survivors were left scrabbling to survive in a ruined landscape of wan sunlight, no rain, moon or stars, and the ever present Fog waiting behind the walls. Buildings still intact enough to offer refuge against the things that come crawling from the rubble at night became the nuclei of new communities, which in the parlance of the City became know as ‘districts’.
A district may consist of as little as a single building, or as much as a couple of semi-intact streets. Only the very largest – if somehow transported out of the City to some kinder world – would pass muster as a village and none have a population above 300 souls, with maybe 50 being the average. They are linked by paths cleared through the rubble, wide enough for a supply cart to pass and marked by lanterns that are (theoretically) lit just before sundown when every soul with an ounce of sense retreats inside and locks the doors.
There are some small districts isolated out in the ruins. Cut off from the rest of what remains of the City these don’t tend to last very long.
No map of the City is provided, so you may create your own to serve the needs of your game.
At the heart of the City stands the Citadel. Founded centuries ago as a simple fortress it expanded with the fortunes of the city and by the Day of Devastation it had become a large – but not excessive – palace complex, home to the Duke, his family, and the small but efficient bureaucracy that saw to the day to day running of the City.
In the aftermath of the Devastation the Citadel reverted back to its original functions of fortress and prison. It is the headquarters of what remains of the City Guard, and few non-Guard who enter its gate are ever seen again – unless it be on the scaffold in the Plaza of the Just. Proclamations and announcements are still read from the gate in the name of the Duke, but no one has seen him, his wife or his children in the last six years. It is commonly supposed that they’re dead, although some suggest they might be being held captive by the Guard instead.
The most important function of the Citadel for most souls is the distribution of food. In the aftermath of the Devastation the Duke opened the Citadel’s stores – long maintained against the possibility of famine or siege – and had the Guard commence distribution to the survivors. The Guard still maintain this duty, sending out carts loaded with salt meat, coarse bread, water and dried tubers to all inhabited districts several times a week. It is this and this alone that motivates the City’s people to endure the Guards’ depredations – a life under the Guard is grim, but a life without regular food and water would be worse.
An often discussed mystery is how much food can possibly remain in the Citadel’s vaults. The surviving population of the city is small to be sure, but could the Duke have possibly laid in enough supplies to feed it for almost a decade? The farm at St Olave’s accounts for some of the food, but it produces no meat, and it is claimed that some of the meat handed out in exchange for lead labour tokens seems suspiciously fresh.
Everyone has heard the story of the flank of salt pork with the priest’s tattoos, but only the most credulous believe it. That said the food supplies must surely be running perilously low, and no one likes to think of what will happen on the day when they finally run out.
Prior to the Devastation, Saint Olave’s was the City’s most esteemed burial ground. Close to twenty acres of land near the Citadel, it was laid out with avenues and terraces and spotted with ornamental lakes and groves. The most prestigious boulevards were lined with the elaborate tombs and grand mausoleums of the rich and noble, with smaller monuments for the less wealthy along the humbler paths. Even the the poor were welcome at Saint Olave’s, laid to rest in the ground for the traditional seven years before their bones were unearthed and respectfully stacked in the Grand Ossuary, freeing the earth for the next guest.
Post Devastation Saint Olave’s is no longer a place of rest. All but the largest monuments have been cleared away and the ground is tilled for the only reliable crop that still grows – the bland, starchy tubers known (with supreme irony) as dead men’s fingers. Work teams walk the fields, planting, harvesting, watering and chasing away the vermin that would eat the food so dearly needed to keep the City’s people from starvation.
The grand ossuary, its fortress like construction surviving the Day of Devastation unscathed, has been converted into a warehouse for the fingers. As carts of tubers enter at one end, the bones of the ancient dead are carted out of the other to be ground to dust and spread as fertiliser or (according to rumour) carted up the hill to the Citadel to bulk up the City’s reserve of flour.
A sunken courtyard- constructed to house the resting places of a now forgotten noble family – has been crudely waterproofed and roofed over to act as a reservoir, replenished daily by water carts from the Citadel. The water is distributed across the fields by bucket, back-breaking but essential work since the rain stopped. Occasionally some desperate or demented soul will attempt to steal water from the reservoir, almost always resulting in a trip to the dungeons of the Citadel followed by a swift execution in the Plaza of the Just.
Princes Row was the upper section of the wide processional roadway running between the Citadel and the Great Gate. It was here that the nobles – and those merchants wealthy enough to buy their way into the circles of the nobility – lived in luxurious mansions, most of them now nothing but tumbled and picked over ruins.
The surviving section of Princes Row runs for around a third of a mile, with the most intact mansions at the Citadel end. It is separated from the Citadel by another third of a mile’s worth of ruins – the wide avenue makes this area easier to traverse, and it is a regular route for the distribution carts running supplies out to further districts.
Officially no one lives in Princes Row. The surviving mansions were sealed and boarded up in the early days when a return to normality seemed possible, and it is the one district where the Guard still routinely enforce the rules against looting. Stories still circulate however about food deliveries to some of the houses and of faint lights seen glimmering through the boarded windows at night. Perhaps it’s simply the Guard on patrol, but since when have the Guard been organised and diligent to actually mount the patrols they’re charged with?
The wildest tales are those talking of debauched parties held by nobles in the weeks after the Day of Devastation, burning through hoarded supplies of fine wine, preserved game and exotic drugs. These orgies – so claim the storytellers – continue to this day in the interconnected vaults beneath the palaces, the surviving nobles having degenerated into insane cannibals, imagining their filthy rags to be the finest clothing and their carrion feasts the most exquisite delicacies. Most scoff at such claims, but few are willing to explore Princes Row for any treasures that might have been missed over the years.
On the Day of Devastation the magnificent spire, beautifully frescoed vaults and leaded roof of the Temple of All Gods collapsed, crushing the panicking masses who had fled to the building in search of sanctuary. Its thick, buttressed walls stood firm however and the tomb-filled crypt remained mostly intact, with only a few of the great oak ceiling beams smashing through the temple floor.
Most of the roof lead was collected and taken to the Citadel in the years immediately after the Devastation, and the forest of beams that once supported it have long been hauled away and burnt for fuel. Various side chapels and vestries have been roughly roofed over and the temple is now one of the larger of the City’s districts, providing a home for several hundred souls. Many workshops and specialised traders can be found, and there is even a small library of books and scrolls recovered from the ruins and carefully preserved. The cautious and circumspect visitor may even be able to obtain a few slugs of lead, recovered from the temple’s more obscure nooks and crannies – assuming they can afford the price.
While most survivors abandoned their faith in the aftermath of the Devastation a small community of believers inhabit the east end of the crypt. They preserve the old altars and – as best they can – maintain the liturgical cycle of prayers and rituals, calling upon the gods for aid that never arrives. Most consider them fools, but among their number can be found the few skilled healers remaining in the City and even the least religious souls are willing to put theological objections aside in exchange for medical treatment, despite the irony of it being administered among the tombs of the long dead.
It is a matter of much speculation – when time for speculation is available – why the Fog remains outside the City wall. Small patches of Fog manifest in the ruins from time to time, and on rare occasions these may drift close to inhabited districts, but the vast, roiling banks stay back, never approaching more than 100 paces from the ancient ramparts.
Some claim that the Fog is in some way repelled by intact structures. Others speak of powerful protective enchantments laid on the walls in ancient times. Some claim divine intervention, that the gods are still protecting the City as best they can. More cynical souls suggest the gods enjoy the people’s suffering and are holding back the Fog to prolong it as much as possible. All theories however must account for the Breach.
On the Day of Devastation a hundred foot or so long section of the City wall collapsed. Ever since, the Fog regularly crawls over the tumbled stones, penetrating into the City, then withdrawing on a seemingly random schedule of its own.
As if this is not bad enough the Fog often leaves monstrous creatures behind in its wake. These wander the ruins and inevitably find their way into inhabited districts, slaughtering souls and smashing buildings before they are brought down by the Guard or local militias.
A garrison of Guard is maintained in the closest wall bastion to the Breach, charged with intercepting any monstrosities that emerge from the Fog. Far from inhabited districts the Breach Bastion is an unpopular post and the Guard sent there are generally on disciplinary charges – which given the lax standards in what remains of the Guard should be enough to give anyone intending to rely on their protection pause. The rare inspections generally find them to be either absent, or paralytically drunk, the punishment for which is inevitably an extension of their stay at the Bastion.
Occasional attempts have been made to rebuild the wall. These have come to nothing, mostly due to the Breach’s distance from the rest of the City and the apathetic attitude of the Bastion Guards. Claims that repairs ‘anger’ the Fog and bring bad luck to those taking part can probably be discounted, nonetheless few souls seem willing to undertake another attempt.
The Plaza of the Just
The square outside the main gate of the Citadel has been known for centuries as the Plaza of the Just. The name is now considered ironic as this is where the Guard carry out amputations and executions by hanging.
A small community of beggars live in and around the plaza, retreating to the vaults beneath as night falls. They make what passes for a living pestering and pick-pocketing the small crowds that assemble for executions, and usually spend whatever they glean on alcohol.
Check back soon for more districts of the Broken City!
Strap yourselves in kids! It’s time for another one of those posts where I detail an RPG setting that my brain insisted on making despite the fact that I’ll never have the time or summon the amount of effort necessary to do anything with it. Oh, for the luxury of time! Oh, for the luxury of money! Oh, for the luxury of friends with the common decency not to have lives and interests of their own so they have no choice but to dance at my command! Dance you puppets!! Dance for me!!…
Sorry. Don’t know what happened there.
In any case someone might find this interesting or be inspired to use it to run their own game. If so, all I ask is that you drop me a line to let me know how it went. Now, welcome to the Broken City…
Once upon a time – in fact only a short nine years ago – the city was one a wonder of the world. The jewel of the Realm, home to 30,000 souls, its streets thronging with merchants and traders, its markets filled with rare and exotic goods and its harbour packed with ships from all over the globe. Scholars and mystics came from afar to study in its libraries and universities, pleasure seekers to walk its gardens, and pilgrims to pray and sacrifice at its temples. The common folk would come just to say they had seen the great houses of the Princes’ Row, or to catch a glimpse of the Duke and his family on the balconies of the Citadel, and an endless stream of wagons and carts carried in food from the surrounding provinces to fill the bellies of its people. The proud City Guard walked the turreted walls and all knew that the City would endure as long as the world endured – some claiming that not even the End of Days could end the City, for the City was Eternal.
Unfortunately they were right.
No one knows for certain what happened on that day just over nine years ago. No one can say why the sky and sun turned black, and the ground shook, and the buildings fell. No one can count how many died, or what happened to the so many who vanished without leaving as much as a hank of hair or a scrap of cloth. All that can be said is that the Devastation had come and in the space of a day and a night the world vanished, replaced by the thick banks of fog that roil just outside the city walls and sit patiently just beyond the breakwaters of the drained harbour – a fog that never surrenders any who dare to venture into it.
And – in the early days – many did thus venture, convinced that the world still existed somewhere beyond the mist. The Duke sent expeditions of his strongest, bravest and noblest warriors out into the whiteness with orders to establish contact with any other survivors, to beg for aid and supplies for his stricken city. None ever returned. The rest of his men – those less strong, those less brave, and especially those less noble – remained, enforcing harsh but fair temporary decrees that, over time, became less fair, more harsh and ever and ever less temporary.
The City is Eternal. Its citizens – perhaps as few as 3,000 souls – endure, clinging to those streets and districts that still stand, traveling fearfully along the twisting paths cleared through the debris of those that don’t, subsisting on the supplies distributed daily from the Citadel and always, always retreating inside before dark. No one has seen the Duke or his family in over six years – some doubt he still lives or claim he has gone mad, certainly the ever harsher decrees from the Citadel publicly posted each day by the the ignoble and thuggish remnants of the Guard seem increasingly at odds with the generosity and mercy for which he was once famed.
Stamped lead tokens and paper permits are exchanged in place of the gold and silver that once flowed through the merchants’ hands. The scholars and mystics, the few that remain, have no answers to offer. What pleasures can be found are crude and base, and the gods are silent, answering no prayers and refusing to respond to even the most extreme of sacrifices. The common folk suffer and the only things to enter the city are the horrifying monstrosities that stagger in – rarely but not rarely enough – from the fog.
This is your home. This is your world. This is the Broken City.
Stay tuned for further information on this delightful place shortly!
The Battle of the Tamesis Ford Author: Gareth C. Worth First published May 2017 in Volume 12, Issue 6 of ‘Roman Transactions’
The ‘Tamesis Ford Letter’ was discovered among the notes of the late Professor Arthur J. Cline of the College of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester following his death at the age of 77 in 1998. Although undated, context places it between 1947 and 1953 when Professor Cline undertook several research trips to Orthodox monasteries in Turkey and Romania.
Professor Cline’s notebooks from this period contain numerous hand written copies of historical documents presumably located in monastery libraries. Few however are annotated with dates or locations, making determination of their origins virtually impossible. A number were referenced with full details in the Professor’s published work suggesting that he maintained some form of index, but searches of his papers have failed to uncover any such document.
The text, located in notebook seven of the Cline archive, exists in two forms, a classical Latin original and Professor Cline’s English translation. The Latin contains several lacunae speculatively filled in the English version. Both versions end suddenly suggesting that the original document was similarly truncated, or that Professor Cline was interrupted in his transcription.
The letter purports to be an eyewitness account of the battle between the forces of British Chief Cassivellaunus and Julius Caesar at a ford on the river Thames during the latter’s second invasion of Britain in 54 BCE. We have Caesar’s own, typically terse, account of this battle in book five of his Commentarii de Bello Gallico, but the letter – while consistent with the Commentarii – includes far more detail, even featuring the war elephant otherwise first mentioned in works from the 2nd century CE. The Latin is typical for an educated Roman of the period, suggesting that the author (one Titus Magius) may have been an officer. No mention of him in other documents has been found, however this is hardly unexpected given the fragmentary nature of surviving records from the period.
If genuine, the letter is a remarkable and important new source of information on Caesar’s campaigns, and it is curious that Professor Cline never shared it with other researchers. It seems likely that the more unusual features of the account – including the use of quicksilver and a mysterious spear bought from the Temple of Saturn – led him to doubt its authenticity. It also cannot be ruled out that the letter is a work of fiction composed by the Professor himself, although it would be inappropriate to speculate for what purpose such a work would be intended.
Research on the origin of the letter continues. Even if the truth of the matter remains unresolved it is an intriguing document that raises questions about the accuracy of Caesar’s accounts of his campaigns, and the social structures and methods of warfare employed by the Britons of the first century BCE.
The Tamesis Ford Letter as translated from the Latin by Professor Arthur J. Cline c.1950
Letter to Lucius Magius Petronax in Rome from his brother Titus Magius in Britiania, a.d. XI Kal. Oct. DCC A.U.C. (19th September 54 BC)
Good health to you my brother. Be assured that your news was received with great joy by myself and my comrades and much wine has been consumed [to your honour]. You ask for an account of our assault on the ford and I am pleased to supply one thus.
We came upon the river called Tamesis from the south, the ford lying where its course turns from the north towards the west, the width being beyond the shot of a sling. The forces of the Britons with many horses and chariots were assembled on the far bank and saluted our [arrival] with a great tumult of taunting calls and many blasts upon bronze trumpets the sound of which was most discordant. Our enemy had placed many sharpened stakes beneath the waters of the ford but forewarned by the prisoners captured during our advance we did not charge the waters.
Caesar commanded forward two Centuria of the [second?] Legion and cavalry to shield them and they entered the waters until only their heads stood free, the waters of the ford being deep. At this came forth from the Britons a tall warrior clad in robes and breeches of fine patterned cloth and bearing a heavy ring of gold around his neck in the manner of the Gauls. He bore a shield of polished bronze set with red glass and a tall spear, and his clothes and arms with much gold were adorned. The Britons paid him much obeisance and many fell to the ground [at his feet]. The warrior strode forth and raised his spear over the waters and the river leapt upwards, rising as in spate, and [some] men of the Legion were washed from their feet and drowned.
I admit with shame that at the sight of this my heart quailed, as did that of many of my comrades who stepped back, [crying out in] agitation. Caesar commanded us to stand firm and sent forward the elephant named Magnus with archers upon its back and as it entered [the river] they emptied great vessels of Hispanian quicksilver and ordure into the waters. At the sight of this the Britons let forth a great cry of woe and the warrior cried out in a rage and ran into the river, and as his feet entered the waters they rose up in confusion as if struck by a storm, and several score Britons followed in his train.
Caesar ordered [the Centuria] from the ford and sent his personal guard to meet the Britons, and among them was borne a great spear of cold-forged iron, fully tall as a man and bound to a greenwood haft. It was said by many that this spear was bought across the sea from Rome at Caesar’s instruction and said some that it had first come from Dacia to the Temple of Saturn in the time of Aulus Postumius and any that touched [its metal?] would fall [to the ground] as if struck dead. The guard stood ready at the ford and met the charge of the warrior who in his fury outstripped his fellows, seeming as in flight to run across the water.
In a great rage the warrior cut down four men, but erelong was surrounded and disarmed by the press of the guards who swiftly pierced him with the great spear and dragged him up the bank. At this sight the Britons cried out and fell into a great confusion with many entering the ford but twice their number taking to their chariots [and fleeing].
Caesar ordered us forwards to meet the Britons and his guards fell upon the warrior, fixing his flesh to the ground with hastae of [cold-forged] iron. The strength of the warrior was indeed great for despite these grievous wounds he swooned not, loosing cries of agony with each piercing. Caesar himself then approached the warrior, drawing his sword and shouting much encouragement [to the men at] the ford. Then he struck with a single blow the warrior’s head [from his neck] and taking it by the hair held it aloft crying out “Thus for my boats!”.
The Britons, their champion slain, let forth a great and despairing groan and made to flee [back across the ford]. Many score fell to our slings and we swept forward calling upon the Salian Mars to destroy [our foes?]
So I was thinking, why not share some wild speculation about the Old Man – Genius Loci of the River Thames – in Ben Aaronovitch’s PC Grant/Rivers of London series?
The Old Man – AKA Father Thames – was originally a Romano-British priest named Tiberius Claudius Verica who made a deal with the River Thames while standing on the original bridge of Roman London. And when we say original bridge we mean original. When Peter pays a second visit to the memory of Roman London in Lies Sleeping he notes that the bridge stands on pontoons, making it the temporary one the Romans put up after their invasion in AD 43. They replaced it with a pile bridge around AD 50, so there’s maybe a period of 10 years when Verica could have made his deal.
His ‘sons’ on the other hand – the Genii Locorum of the Thames’ tributaries – clearly predate the Romans. Familial relationships between river gods are unnecessarily complicated, but both the old Beverly Brook and Tyburn are at the very least Celtic Britons. Assuming they updated with the times (which we certainly know Sir William of Tyburn did) they could conceivably date back to the first peopling of Britain way back in the paleolithic.
Whenever exactly Tyburn and Beverly (or should that be Beaver-Lea?) were adopted by their water courses, it certainly preceded the adoption of Verica. Which seems pretty odd. How is it that (comparatively) minor rivers would have their own deities, while the Thames didn’t?
One answer is obvious. It used to have a god, but then it didn’t. The Old Man is not the original Genius Loci of the Thames!
We have seen several examples of rivers losing their gods then acquiring new ones. The most prominent is of course is the abandonment of the lower Thames by the Old Man after the Great Stink and the deaths of his sons in 1858. The tideway remained godless for a century until the adoption of Mamma Thames circa 1958. But there’s also the example of the Mosel, whose Genius Loci was murdered by the Ahnenerbe during World War II. A new goddess spontaneously appeared around 2010, seventy or so years later.
In 2013 During the events of Foxglove Summer Peter and Beverly were involved in the potential creation of a new Genius Loci for the River Lugg, the previous god having been killed by Welsh Methodists. While Methodism started spreading through Wales in the 1730s it doesn’t seem unreasonable to presume that attempts at river-murder would require some kind of organisational backing – the official Presbyterian Church of Wales being established in 1811 suggests the attack may have taken place after that date.
(Edit: A reread of Foxglove Summer has supplied the fact that the Lugg was done in during the Victorian era, which gives us a limit of 112 to 176 years before 2013)
So these examples give us rivers waiting for between 70 and 200 176 years to choose a new god.
If we apply this range to the date of Tiberius Claudius Verica’s elevation to Genius Loci we get a date for the death of the previous Father Thames somewhere between 130 and 20 BC. So the question is, what happened around the Thames in this period that could have killed a Genius Loci?
I’ll tell you what happened – three words – Gaius Julius Caesar!
Caesar’s first invasion of Britain in 55 BC was a bit of a fizzer. He turned up on the beach, made camp, lost a bunch of boats to unexpected high tides then turned around and went home. But the following year he came back and (despite further tidal problems) ended up chasing the Britons all the way to the Thames and parts beyond. He even sent a war elephant stomping into the river. We know that the Romans knew how to make gods (cf. Mr Punch), isn’t it possible they knew how to kill them too?
If we want to speculate further, perhaps it wasn’t tides that damaged Caesar’s boats? A ticked off Genius Loci in control of the Thames Estuary could do a lot of damage. And anyone – god or man – who struck at Julius Caesar usually came to regret it.
So in 45 BC Caesar’s legions killed the god of the Thames. Ninety-five years later the river chose a new god, a young Briton who’d seen which way the wind was blowing and hitched his chariot to the incoming Romans.
(Of course none of this explains why the Walbrook had no god 11 years later, but I can’t solve all these issues at once!)
Some years back (about 6 I think?) I spent a fair bit of time putting together a map of the post-apocalyptic Moscow Metro system of Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro 2033 series. While this was received pretty well by both the cartographic and Metro communities I was never 100% happy with it – in particular the way it echoed the inaccurate depiction of interchanges from the official map – and I always intended to go back and revise it.
So now I have.
After many hours of studying Moscow’s geography and trawling my way through the Russian Metro wikia (with the assistance of Google Translate) I have redrafted and updated my map to produce what is undoubtedly (by which I mean ‘doubtedly’) the best English map of the Metro ever produced!
As is my wont I’ve included some information from the expanded “Universe of Metro 2033” books by other authors, despite some of them being a bit silly (I’m still not quite over there being Skaven on the Serpukhovsko–Timiryazevskaya line). I’ve also used some content from the Metro computer game series, which is based on the books but takes a number of serious liberties with them (any version of Metro 2033 where Artyom doesn’t spend a week being forced to shovel human waste out of toilet pits simply isn’t Metro 2033!).
My next insane project is a redraft of the regional Moscow map I found on the Russian wiki, which is highly deficient in various areas. I will take some time off first however – at least until I stop waking up in the morning with the names metro stations echoing in my head (Театральная… Театральная… Театральная…)
Here’s another idea for an RPG campaign that I’ll never get around to running, partially because organising even a single gaming session – let alone a campaign – when you get to my age requires a major effort, and partially because it touches on some tricky issues that I’m nowhere near good enough to handle in a suitably respectable fashion. Oh, and also because I’m explaining it here and my players are a bunch of dirty cheats who’d read this post in its entirety and spoil the whole thing.
So, it starts out as your standard fantasy RPG game, although the players would notice a few non-standard features of the setting. The PCs are all resistance fighters on the run, living rough in the wilderness while fighting back against the evil empire that has conquered the once prosperous realm. Sort of Robin Hood meets John Connor’s guys from The Terminator.
They need to sneak around, gathering resources to survive, making alliances with groups and individuals who may or may not be trustworthy and launching risky strikes against the foe whenever they can manage it. It’s a highly uneven battle – the enemy holds all the cards while the PCs have little but their determination and belief to keep them going.
While the warriors of the enemy are tough, the greatest threat to the PCs are the mind-bending magics of their sorcerers, capable of rewriting memories and personalities and turning trusted friends and allies to the side of evil. Being captured and subjected to mind-magic is the thing of nightmares and to be avoided by the PCs at all costs.
As the campaign progresses it should gradually become clear to the players that things aren’t all that they seem. As evidence mounts up it should slowly dawn on them that the PCs are not fantasy heroes valiantly fighting evil…
…they’re mentally ill homeless people living rough on the streets of a modern day city. The evil forces ranked against them are cops trying to maintain order and the terrifying mind-wiping sorcerers are social workers trying to get them into treatment.
As I said I could never pull this off in a way that firstly works, and secondly doesn’t make a mockery of the very serious issues of homelessness and mental health. But someone else might be able to manage, so have at it!
(Inspirations for this concept include the Tube Station scene in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and Dirt Merchant Games’ extremely messed up – and extremely funny – “LARP” Freebase, which is well worth looking up.)