What was 1st Century Jerusalem really like?

This week; Sneak Preview returns and a brief discussion about getting historical accuracy in novels: What was 1st Century Jerusalem really like?

Sneak Preview

Today, I have a little treat for you, the first sneak preview of Ordo Lupus III:

Ordo Lupus III
Copyright © 2014 by Lazlo Ferran
All Rights Reserved.

As we climbed up the sloping streets, myself wearing a black kudra, few even glanced at us.
“Are there usually this many soldiers?” John asked, glancing at a centurion.
“No. There are more than usual, even for Passover. The City has been tense for days now.”
We walked towards Herod’s Palace in the north-west corner of the City. Every pavement and street corner was crammed full of busy traders, customers and stalls, selling food, wine, beer from Egypt, every type of cloth and garment.
“What’s that?” John asked, pointing to a tower, topped with a four-sided pyramid.
“King David’s tomb.”
John seemed to fall behind and I caught him looking at the faces of poorer citizens. A few streets later, we passed from the squalor of the Lower City into the Upper where the streets were more orderly and less busy.
“And that’s the Temple!” John exclaimed, looking enormous block of a building to the right.
“That’s right. We are near the Upper Market now. Tell me if you smell anything.”
“Smell? Oh, I see. Alright.”
The dust of the unpaved, Lower City streets was absent here. I wiped a crust of it from my mouth, just as we arrived in the Market. Roman, two-storey arcades formed three sides of an open space, which was filled with stalls. The distillers of expensive oils and perfumes; the master tailors and silk merchants; the goldsmiths and silversmiths; the dealers in ivory, incense and precious stones were all here.
While John took in the faces, my eye was caught by a pretty leg with an anklet of bells. The girls offering themselves here were not as fine as those in Athens but they were still more interesting to me than anything else for sale. I am vain, it’s true and I wear jewellery but craftsmanship can be copied while female beauty cannot.
“Where do we exchange the gold?” John whispered. I was just about to ask him why he was whispering when he added, “And I need to buy some weapons. What do you recommend?”
“Let’s get the money first.”
I led him to a goldsmith and John showed him a fine necklace, four bracelets and two rings, one set with a diamond. The goldsmith didn’t reply but announced:
“I can offer you two minas for the lot!”
He dropped the jewellery on the table without a glance and continued to work on an exquisite torque. John pulled me aside to whisper:
“How much is a mina?”
“In 2022 it would be about £50. I don’t know, in your time. I haven’t been there. About the price of a good meal for one person.
“No less than five,” John told the goldsmith, picking up his items. He put them in his pocket and the craftsman glanced up from his work.
“I can’t offer you that. Taxes are extortionate here and my wife is expecting. You are a solder, are you not?” John coughed before turning to me:
“Does it show that much?”
“The way you walk, hold yourself. I can see you have fought.”
“I could tell,” I concurred.
“If you bring me your sword, I will decorate the hilt with gold thread for free,” the goldsmith continued. It will be the finest work you have ever seen!”
“Four minas,” John replied.
“You are joking, my friend. I am the best goldsmith in Jerusalem, perhaps in Judea. I tell you what, since I need to get on with my work, three minas. That is my final offer. If that is no good, go away.”
“Three and three quarters.”
I whispered in John’s ears, “Three minas and thirty-eight shekels.”
I was quite surprised when the goldsmith said, “Three and a half,” grinning about his own currency joke. John handed the goldsmith the jewellery and the craftsman gripped his hand.
“Well done!” I told John. “Maybe he though you are rich.”
“Perhaps. Now for the weapons.”
As I led John to the armourer his gaze shifted to the rooftops.
“What sort of situation are you contemplating?”
“Close combat, some of it outside and some inside.”
“Then I suggest a sword and dagger.”
We found an armourer and he showed us a fine selection of jewelled swords and daggers. John picked up a dagger with a jewelled, gold handle but soon put it down. He selected a plain looking, straight blade and hefted it before placing it in my palm.
“Inexpensive but a serviceable blade,” I told him.
He chose a similar sword and again I approved.
The armourer was disappointed with his 50 shekels.
I followed John back to the goldsmith.
“Can you have it ready by tomorrow?” John asked, handing him the sword.
The craftsman hefted the weapon before replying:
“Come at midday.”

 

What was 1st Century Jerusalem really like?

 

I hope the above excerpt seems reasonably historically accurate. But I must admit, I found difficulties researching this and it raises the subject of historical research in my mind.

For Science Fiction there is really no problem here. There is only the  problem of verisimilitude and I have discussed that in a previous post. Even with my first Ordo Lupus book, Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate,  there was only a section on WWII, which I know a lot about anyway, a short extract from the 15th Century and some details from the 13th Century. The two latter extracts were chosen because they were well researched so I had no difficulty with accuracy there.

I had no difficulty either  with The Devil’s Own Dice because I had spent years researching my family history and spent the largest chunk of time researching events in the 13th Century. I had read a lot about Cistercian monks, Cathars and the lives of Nobility in Burgundy, all during the 13th Century. Indeed, I chose this period because I already knew a lot about it.

Now, as you can see from the extract above, I want to set my book in 1st Century Jerusalem. Set much further back in time than the other books, there is a big problem in establishing facts about this place in this  period. Jerusalem has always, and probably always will be, fought over and claimed by three of the great religions on Earth; Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Almost every bit of  research I come across has been funded by one of these religions. I am not disputing their good intention or their accuracy but in nearly every case, they differ in this findings. What to do?

Basically, I have followed my researcher’s nose. Where I can find  hard scientific facts; secular archaeology and documentary facts (especially Roman since this is the closest I can find to objective opinion in this case – the Romans were quite good at keeping records),  I have used these.  In other cases, I have  tried to stick with what seems logical, sensible or plain practical to my mind. Of course, setting a book in this place and time is going to involve guesswork so I can only hope that the result ‘feels’ right to the reader. Please let me know what you think.

If you write novels and do a lot of historical research, how would you go about doing the research for 1st Century Jerusalem?

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