Historical errors

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Research is an ongoing process. As a historical fiction writer learns ever more about their settings, historical errors are guaranteed to come up.

I recently bought a new book Weavers, Scribes and Kings, by Professor Amanda Podany. I heard about this book through the The Ancients podcast. In the podcast, Professor Podany talked about the way old Babylonians showed who was a slave.

I had just finished Saviour of Babylon, and it was too late to make changes before publication. Unfortunately, it turned out I had made an inadvertent historical error.

My previous research had indicated slaves had a small tattoo on their foreheads, above the hairline. They shaved their hair back to show the mark. If they were able to pay off their debts and end their slave status, they could let the hair grow back over their foreheads, and/or cut the skin to remove the ink.

In Saviour of Babylon, this is how two of Bani’s slaves, Mylitta and her father Ersa, are marked. Ersa has to shave his hair back before they can go to the market, so he does not get into trouble.

In Amanda’s book, she explains that actually, slaves shaved their whole heads, leaving a lock of hair at the front to show their status. If they were able to escape their slave status, they shaved the lock off and let their hair grow out.

In the rest of the series, I will try to show other slaves marked in the way Professor Podany outlines in her book.

Missed opportunities

Finding historical errors is not the only way research can frustrate an author. I recently found research from 2022 by Dr Rients de Boer which showed the possible members of Hammurabi’s family tree.

A sister of Hammurabi, called Samsu-nittum, is identified as marrying Zaziya of the Turrukkeans. Zaziya is a minor character in Son of Babylon, and the reader will meet him in the third novel of the Babylon series, Protector of Babylon, due in early 2025.

This sister of Hammurabi could have provided a potential place to escape for Bani during the events of Saviour of Babylon. Her existence will certainly change the structure of the next book. I certainly intend to have Bani meet her during Protector of Babylon!


As a historical fiction author, new research is always coming through for whatever settings you have chosen for your books. Historical errors and missed opportunities are unavoidable. It is really important to be creative and adapt to the new information, as well as to stay up to date as much as possible.

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