- Mar 26, 2014
The Shrine of Bellona, Along the Via Flamina, Rome, 2nd of October 450C
The poor lad flinched just in time to dodge the boot that was destined for his face, the Overseer striding past him, “Out of the way, you little runt” came the harsh voice of Oppius Tursa as he strode into the shrines porch. Young, Veximius suddenly sodden as his bucket toppled over, spilling dirty water everywhere. He had been busy scrubbing hard at the long green smear of pigeon droppings, that had fallen under the eaves of the shrine.
“Fodius, get up that bloody ladder” the Overseer pointing to a very dodgy set of poles, strung together with leather, ‘clean that soot of the pillars, it looks as black as Pluto’s arse up there.’ One of the slave teams, who was obviously the man, Fodius grabbed a bucket and made for the ladder.
The Consular elections over with, Oppius Tursa was but one off half dozen contractors employed by the Senate to come out into the dawn light and clean the whole of the cities main thoroughfares ready for the days festivities. In the coming afternoon, the Senate would formally be opened for the new session, following a display of considerable pomp an pageantry, but before that could happen the filth that covered the sprawling metropolis needed to be cleaned away; already teams of soldiers were removing drunks and beggars back to their home in the slums. With a handful of slaves in toe, Oppius and his team were cleaning the Via Flamina whilst is business partners team was busy in the Forum erecting garlands across the roof-tops.
The House Off Yohsua (the Moneylender) Rome, 2nd of October 450C
“Yoshua my brother you have done it again!” Amran strode across the little courtyard, his voice joyous as he approached the table at which his brother sat, ‘every bloody time you bet the winning horse!’
‘I have not been betting on any horses’ came the curt reply, ‘you have the wrong brother, I am sure. Gambling is not my pleasure’ he peered up from his wax tablets for but a moment before he continued his etching.
Amran struck his elder brother gently on the shoulder with his fist, his face beaming, ‘Don’t play dumb, Hashem does not approve of false modesty. Publius Sempronius and Publius won you sod! And won by miles, you put your money of the winning team.’ The younger brother, had always been a buoyant spirit, today’s news lifting his mood further, for now the two most powerful men in Rome, the Consuls-elect, where indebted to his brother for a considerable sum.
‘I put my money on the only team that ever could have won or even should have won, it was a guaranteed return’ Yoshua’s usually cold, methodical mind not betraying even the slightest hint of relief or joy despite weeks funding the two senior politicians election campaign from the families purse. Failure would have meant any hope off reclaiming the funds would have cost even greater expense. Already rival financiers would be preparing their court cases, to lock their debtors, ergo the defeated candidates, into their contracts.
Plonking his backside down on the long wooden bench, Amran dragged a plate of flat bread toward him, nudging his brother jokily as he reached for the jug of olive oil to moisten the crust. ‘You can look a little happy you know’ his brother sullen demeanour suddenly dampening his own mirth. Seriousness crept into his tone, mixed with pride, ‘once again you and your funding has kept our family and our associates, in Rome’s good grace.
Yoshua snorted suddenly, ‘we will never be in those brother, make no mistake of that’ he reached for his own piece of bread, laying down his pen, ‘they still don’t trust us, regardless of how much they owe us.’ He broke of a chunk carefully, ‘We are still outsiders and foreigners to them.’ Indeed over the years, Yoshua, the elder brother had invested much time and coin in financing the various factions political schemes purely to encourage such disdain, in the hope of buying his people a peaceful life.
Dipping his bread, into a earthen bowl of crushed chickpeas Amran shrugged, ‘I do wonder if Hashem deliberately set you in a foul mood at birth, or else our mother squeezed too hard pushing you out and it has damaged your mind.’
‘You spend too much time with them’ he snapped, ‘you should spend more time with your own and remember how to speak among civilised people!’ he spat out the barb. Their mother had died near fifteen years ago now, and Yoshua still revered her like some sacred icon.
‘Forgive me brother’ Amrans tone suddenly sincere, realising he had over-stepped the mark, popping the chunk of bread, dabbed in humus and olive oil into his mouth.
The Swallows Rest Taverna, Rome, 2nd of October 450C
The stench of sour wine clogged the air and the whole tavern bustled with activity, in one far corner a band of veterans were beating the table with their fists and boisterously singing a marching tune, with twenty more curse words than it had ever had on campaign.
Smoke swirled around the rafters, rising from the fire pit at the taverns heart, the path of the serving girls twisting and coiling around tables dodging wondering hands. Under one table a foul tempered dog, snapped at an unwelcome boot.
Like many of the drinking dens of Rome it was packed full of veterans and citizens all night celebrating as the results of the Consular elections spread out across the city. Here, most voices were raised in joy, for the former General and now Consul-elect, Publius Sempronius Sophus, a hero of the Italian Wars was their man, each man believing their vote had carried the day. Few here cared for the old warhorses running mate and Co-Consul, Lucius Migellus but none would speak ill of him. Elsewhere, in other taverns no doubt, the mood would be sullen and quiet, fights erupting in the rougher sinkholes, as a waisted vote for a failed candidate meant five more years backing the wrong team; no Roman welcomed defeat warmly.
“I tell you Caius this is the start of something special” a heavy hand landing on Caius’ shoulder, as Varus continued his lengthy speech, anyone would think he had been a candidate. ‘From now on we veterans will get the recognition we deserve and those soft-arsed scum who voted for Lucius and Gnaeus can have five years of being used as a piss-pot.’
Caius smiled, sipping his wine deeply rather than answer, listening to his old friend using the other candidates fore-names one would assume he knew them personally as associates. He had to agree in part with his companion, that indeed the last five years had been hard for his ilk, veterans who had fought long and hard during the first Italian war had essentially been put out to pasture without any form off support from the state, despite the growing wealth of the merchants of the city.
Varus waved at a young, mousey looking girl with dark hair and eyes to match, seventeen summers old at the most, ‘MORE WINE GIRL!’ he bellowed across the din before turning back to his speech. ‘Give it six months and I tell you all will be to the good, you mark my words! On Jupiter’s stone Marcus will set everything to rights!’
Lucca jumped in, a young man and friend to both of them, ‘I was thinking of joining up!’ he stated flatly, ‘when they begin recruiting again, like they said they would!’ During the campaign, Publius had pledged to raise two new legions, a chance for the cities young men to have employment, coin and purpose.
‘Ha, ha! A fine idea lad!’ Varus beamed, ‘you will make decent sword fodder! You have a good arm’ Varus laughed, squeezing the younger man’s bicep. He suddenly shifted, elbowing Caius in the ribs, ‘Those Etruscans won’t know what hit them aye my friend’ he winked, ‘when this one decides to play the new Achilles’ he winked to his companion, as the slave girl returned with more wine.
‘Lets just wait and see’ Caius voice hushed, ‘we are less than a day in to their term, everyone can make promises, getting them through the Senate will be a different matter entirely! Publius speaks of war, but that’s not entirely up to him!’ The middleman, having an interest in politics, understood the complex web that under-pinned the Consular elections, promises made to win votes with the citizen tribes did not always sit as comfortably with the nobility. Publius Sempronius was a fine man and yes he was a veteran himself, but he was every bit a member of Rome’s ruling elite.
Varus suddenly scoffed, gulping down a full cup of wine in one go, clearly mumbling insults into his cup, Lucca sipping his own drink carefully. ‘You mark my words’ came the firm reply, ‘he promised jobs! He promised a new legion! He promised glory to Rome!’ Varus took on a nearly mindless mantra as he listed these few promises without thought, ‘I served the General during the last war, if he said we would win, we won! If he said we would fight, we fought! He says he will make Rome glorious, and he will!’ There would be no dissuading the elder veteran; loyal to a fault, he trusted his former commander implicitly and thus for him and many others like him, the notion that the dogs of war where already loose and the Etruscans would be the target was fact not simply possibility.
The House of Senator Atticus Hilarius (Cloth-merchant), Rome, 2nd of October 450C
Laelia leaned against the door of the atrium, her husband sat on a little stone bench feeding a handful off birds fluttering about his feet for the crumbs he offered. She was resplendent in the finest robe she could have found, made from her husband’s own cloth companies’ stock and hand embroidered with beautiful needlework by her servant. Her hair was pinned high, in the fashion, and a scattering of tiny pearl-headed pins held it in place. She looked radiant yet reserved as befitting the moment.
Atticus sat in his brilliant white toga, the red-trim and careful pleating looking very fine, his balding head trimmed even further back than nature intended, added to his dignity. “You look nice” he offered, from but a glancing look.
“Are you ready?” she replied impatiently, the dumb expression returned by her husband, raising her hackles slightly, ‘We have to go, whether you want to or not we have to go’ she moved into the atrium, taking his hand gently. Having backed the loosing candidates in the election, Atticus was naturally feeling deflated and an invitation to celebrate amongst his rivals was not one the top of his to-do list. ‘Publius has had the decency to extend a invitation to us, see it as the opportunity it is and let us make the most off it.’
‘All he wants is to deepen the humiliation of his opponents and feed his own ego with false friendship’ he spoke more to the birds than to his wife.
Shrewd as ever, Laelia had her answer ready before he had even finished speaking, ‘False friendship has its uses, better an uneasy amnesty than open hostility…’ she sighed, ‘now come on! I am told they have spent a small fortune on food and if nothing else we can line our stomachs from Publius purse’ she sighed again, irritation creeping in as her husband failed to respond, ‘Gnaeus Flavius is going and he lost the bloody election, not you! We should at least go and show our faces.’
Clapping his hands and brushing away the crumbs, the little birds fluttered of in sudden surprise, ‘FINE! Lets get on with it, if only to give my ears some peace.’
As a member of the Populist faction of Senators, Atticus had hoped that victory in the elections would guarantee them trade protections, new opportunities and the chance for real political power, defeat however, meant a quiet different outcome. Publius Sempronius and his colleague, had won the vote promising military intervention in the north, paid for with new taxes raised from the merchant classes and financial incentives for freemen and citizens which would open up fresh competition amid the trading companies and commercial guilds, contracts after all would likely be awarded to their own friends. Such was the nature of Roman politics, it was not simply a matter of high statecraft and grand politics, it was at times much more petty than that, and the benefits of the Consulship offered the chance to dispense favours, largesse, contracts and minor benefits to those loyal associates who had staked their fortune on the winning side.