Part 7 out of 12
no acting could be as perfect as this reality. They were drunk at last and
Agathemer paid the whole amount, for all four of us, adjured the waiter-
boy to be good to Clitellus and Summanus, gave him an extra coin, and
signalled me to rise. I lurched to my feet, swaying, almost as drunk as
our victims and beholding Agathemer swaying before me, not only because of
my blurred eyesight, but also because of his unsteadiness on his feet.
We almost fell, but not quite. Somehow we staggered to the door, where,
once outside, the cool night air made us feel almost sobered, though still
too nearly drunk to be sure of our location or direction.
More by luck than anything else we took the right turn and found the
harbor front before the night was entirely black. In the half gloom we
tried to find the pier from which we had come that morning. As we explored
we heard a cheerful hail.
"Is that you, Orontides?"
"Aye, Aye!" came back the cheery answer. "Come aboard!"
And we were met and assisted up the gang-plank and down over the bulwarks.
"I was afraid you boys were lost," the shipmaster said, "and I am to sail
at dawn, after all; everything is aboard. I'm glad to see you. You've
dined pretty liberally. Come over here and get to sleep."
And he led us to where we found something soft to sleep on.
I was asleep almost as soon as I lay down.
I awoke with a terrific headache and an annoying buzzing in my ears, awoke
only partially, not knowing where I was or why and without any distinct
recollections of recent events. My first sensation was discomfort, not
only from the pain of my headache, but also from the heat of the sunrays
beating on me, and that despite the fact that I could feel a strong cool
breeze ruffling my hair and beard.
I sat up and looked about me. Agathemer was snoring. The sun was not low;
in fact, at that time of the year, it was near its highest. I had slept
Then, all of a sudden I realized that the ship was wholly strange to me
and that it was headed not southeast, but northwest. That realization
shocked me broad awake. At the same instant I saw the shipmaster
approaching. He was not Orontides, nor was he at all like him. He had
small feet, was knock-kneed, tall, lean, had a hatchet-face and red hair.
"Awake at last!" he commented. "You lads must have dined gloriously last
night. You don't look half yourselves, yet."
He stared at me, and at Agathemer, who had waked, into much the same sort
of daze in which I had been at first.
"Neptune's trident!" the shipmaster exclaimed. "You two aren't the two
lads I was to convoy! Who are you and how did you get here?"
"We were hunting for our ship after dark," Agathemer said, "and somebody
hailed us. We asked whether it was Orontides and the answer that came back
was: 'Aye, Aye!' We were pretty thoroughly drunk and were glad to be
helped aboard and shown our beds. That's all I know."
"Kingdom of Pluto!" the shipmaster cried, "my name's Gerontides, not
Orontides. I heard your question, but you were so drunk I never knew the
difference: probably I shouldn't have known the difference if you had been
sober. I was on the lookout for two lads much like you two who had part
paid me to carry them to Genoa. They'll be in a fix."
"'Bout ship," said Agathemer, "and put back to Ostia. You can't be far on
your way yet. We'll pay you what you ask to set us ashore at Ostia."
"I wouldn't 'bout ship," said Gerontides, "for twenty gold pieces."
"We'll pay you thirty," said Agathemer.
"Don't bid any higher, son," Gerontides laughed. "If you were made of
gold, to Genoa you go. I've a bigger stake in a quick landing at Genoa
than any sum you could name would overbalance. Best be content!"
And content we had to be, no arguments, no entreaties, nothing would move
"I'll be fair with you," he said. "The lads I took you for had paid me all
I had asked them except one gold piece each on landing at Genoa. That's
all you'll have to pay me."
Nothing would budge him from his resolution. Agathemer in despair drowned
his misery in flageolet playing. It seemed to comfort him and certainly
comforted me. The crew were delighted. After a voyage as easy and pleasant
as our cruise with Maganno, we landed on the eighth day before the Ides of
September, at Genoa, paid our two gold pieces and set about getting out of
that city as quickly as might be. We avoided, of course, the posting-
station where we had changed horses while in couriers' trappings. But
there was a posting-station at each gate of Genoa and we, having talked
over all possibilities in the intervals of flageolet playing, were for
Dertona. We had little trouble in buying a used travelling-carriage.
Horses we did not have to wait long for, as hiring teams were luckily
plentiful that day and Imperial agents scarce. Off we set for Milan.
We were in haste but there was no hurrying postillions on those mountain
roads. We nooned at some nameless change-house and were glad to make the
thirty-six miles to Libarium by dusk. The next day was consumed in
covering the thirty-five miles to Dertona. From there on we travelled, in
general down hill, and so quicker, but not much quicker, so that a third
day entire was needed for making the fifty-one miles to Placentia.
Placentia, a second time, was unlucky for us. It might have been worse,
for we did not again encounter Gratillus, or anyone else who might have
recognized me. But I made a fool of myself. I am not going to tell what
happened; Agathemer never reproached me for my folly, not even in our
bitterest misery; but I reproached myself daily for nearly three years; I
am still ashamed of myself and I do not want to set down my idiotic
Let it suffice, that, through no fault of Agathemer's, but wholly through
my fault, we were suspected, interrogated, arrested, stripped, our brand-
marks and scourge-scars observed and ourselves haled before a magistrate.
To him Agathemer told the same tale he had told to Tarrutenus Spinellus.
It might have served had we been dealing with a man of like temper, for
travellers from Aneona for Aquileia regularly passed through Placentia
turning there from northwest along the road from Aneona to northeast along
the road to Aquileia.
But Stabilius Norbanus was a very different kind of man.
"Your story may be true," he said, "but it impresses me as an ingenious
lie. If I believed it I'd not send men like you, with their records
written in welts on their backs, with any convoy, no matter how strict, on
the long journey to Aquileia, on which you'd have countless opportunities
of escape. I do not believe your tale. Yet I'll pay this much attention to
it: I'll write to Vedius Aquileiensis and ask him if he owned two slaves
answering your descriptions and lost them through unexplained
disappearance or known crimping by Dalmatian pirates at about the time you
"Meantime I'll commit you to an _ergastulum_ [Footnote: See Note H.] where
you'll be herded with your kind, all safely chained, so that no escape is
possible, and all doing some good to the state by some sort of productive
labor. A winter at the flour-mills will do you two good."
Our winter at the mills may have benefited us, but it was certainly, with
its successor at similar mills, one of the two most wretched winters of my
life. And Agathemer, I think, suffered every bit as acutely as I. We were
not chained, except for a few days and about twice as many more nights; as
soon as the manager of the _ergastulum_ felt that he knew us he let us go
unchained like the rest of his charges.
This was because of the structure of the _ergastulum_. It was located in
the cellars of one of the six or more granaries of Placentia, which has,
near each city gate, an extensive public store-house. The granary under
which we were immured was that near the Cremona gate. Above ground it was
a series of rectangles about courtyards each just big enough to
accommodate four carts, all unloading or loading at once. It was
everywhere of four stories of bin-rooms, all built of coarse hard-faced
rubble concrete. The cellars were very extensive, and not all on one
level, being cunningly planned to be everywhere about the same depth
underground. Where their floor-levels altered the two were joined by short
flights of three, four or five stone steps, under a vaulted doorway, in
the thick partition walls.
Each cellar-floor was about four yards below the ground level so that a
tall man, standing on a tall man's shoulders, could barely reach with his
outstretched fingers the tip of the sill of one of the low windows. These
windows, each about a yard high and two yards broad, were heavily barred
with gratings of round iron bars as thick as a man's wrist, set too close
together for a boy's head to pass between them, and each two bars hot-
welded at each intersection, so that each grating was practically one
piece of wrought iron, made before the granary was built and with the ends
of each bar set deep in the flinty old rubble concrete. The inmates need
not be chained, as no escape was possible through the windows, though raw
night air, rain, snow at times and the icy winter blasts came in on us
Similarly no escape was possible up the one entrance to the cellars, which
was through an inner courtyard, from which led down a stone stair with
four sets of heavy doors; one at the bottom, one at each end of a landing
lighted by a heavily barred window, and one at the top. Between the inner
and outer courtyard were two sets of heavier doors and two equally heavy
were at the street entrance of the outer courtyard. On the stair-landing
was the chained-up porter-accountant seated under the window on a backless
stool by a small, heavy accountant's table on which stood a tall
_clepsydra_ by his big account-book. Checking the hours by the
_clepsydra_, he entered the name of every human being passing, up or down
that stair, even the name of the manager every time he came in or went
out. By him always stood a wild Scythian, armed with a spear, girt with a
sabre, and with a short bow and a quiver of short arrows hanging over his
back. Similar Scythians guarded the doorways, a pair of them to each door.
The slide by which the grain was lowered into the _ergastulum_, the other
slide by which the flour, coarse siftings and bran were hauled up, were
similarly guarded. Escape was made so difficult by these precautions that,
while I was there, no one escaped out of the three hundred wretches
confined in the _ergastulum_.
There we suffered sleepless nights in our hard bunks, under worn and
tattered quilts, tormented by every sort of vermin. Swarming with vermin
we toiled through the days, from the first hint of light to its last
glimmer, shivering in our ragged tunics, our bare feet numb on the chilly
pavements. We were cold, hungry, underfed on horribly revolting food,
reviled, abused, beaten and always smarting from old welts or new weals of
It was all a nightmare: the toil, the lashings, if our monotonous walk
around our mill, eight men to a mill, two to each bar, did not suit the
notions of the room-overseer; the dampness, the cold, the vermin, the pain
of our unhealed bruises, the scanty food and its disgusting uneatableness.
The food seemed the worst feature of our misery. So, in fact, it appears
to have seemed to our despicable companions. Certainly, of the food they
complained more than of the toil, the cold, the vermin, the malignity of
the overseers or even of the barbarity of the Scythian guards. Anyhow
their fury at the quality of their food brought to me and Agathemer an
alleviation of our misery. For some hotheaded wretches, goaded beyond
endurance, jerked the bars of their mill from their sockets and with them
felled, beat to death and even brained the cook and his two assistants.
After their corpses had been removed, the floor swabbed up and the
murderers turned over to the gloating Scythians to be done to death by
impalement, Scythian fashion, with all the tortures Scythian ferocity
could devise, the manager went from cellar to cellar, all through the
_ergastulum_, enquiring if any prisoner could cook. No one volunteered,
and, when he questioned more than a few, everyone denied any knowledge of
A second time he made the tour of his domain, promising any cook a warm
tunic, a bunk with a thick mattress and two heavy quilts, all the food he
could eat and two helpers; the helpers to have similar indulgences. On
this second round, in our cellar, a Lydian, nearer to being fat than any
prisoner in the _ergastulum_, admitted that he could make and bake bread,
but vowed that he could not do anything else connected with cooking.
Spurred on by his confession and tempted by the offers of better clothing
and bedding and more food, also by the memories of Agathemer's cookery the
winter before, I blurted out that Agathemer could not make bread, but
could do everything else needed in cookery. Agathemer, after one
reproachful glance at me, admitted that he was a cook of a sort, but
declared that he was almost as bad a cook as the wretch just murdered. The
overseer bade him go to the kitchen and told him he might select a helper;
the baker would have been the other helper. As helper Agathemer,
naturally, selected me.
After that we suffered less. The slaves acclaimed Agathemer's cooking;
for, if their rations were still scanty by order of the watchful manager,
at least their food was edible. Far from being ultimately killed, like our
predecessors, and continually threatened and reviled, we were blessed by
our fellow-slaves. We slept better, in spite of the vermin, on our grass-
stuffed mattresses, under our foul quilts, we shivered less in our thicker
tunics. We were not too tired to discuss, at times, the oddities of our
vicissitudes, to congratulate each other on being, at least, alive, on my
not being suspected of being what I actually was, and, above all, on the
safety of our old, blackened, greasy, worthless-looking, amulet-bags, with
their precious contents. To be reduced to carrying food to three hundred
of the vilest rascals alive was a horrible fate for a man who had, two
years before, been a wealthy nobleman, but it was far better than death as
a suspected conspirator. And Agathemer was hopeful of our future, of
survival, of escape, of comfort somewhere after he had sold another
emerald, ruby, or opal. Nothing could, for any length of time, dim or
cloud the light of Agathemer's buoyancy of disposition.
Our promotion from the mills to the kitchen took place early in March of
the year when Manius Acilius Glabrio, after an interval of thirty-four
years since his first consulship, was consul for the second time and had
as nominal associate Commodus, preening himself, for the fifth time, on
the highest office in the Republic, which he had done little to deserve,
and while he held it, did less to justify himself in possessing, since he
left most of the duties of the consulship to Glabrio, as he left most of
the Principate to Perennis, his Prefect of the Praetorium. All of this, of
course, we learnt later in the year; for, inside our prison, we knew
nothing of what went on in Placentia, let alone of what went on in Italy
and in Rome itself.
We had been cooking for more than three months, when, about the middle of
June, our attention in the cellars was distracted from doling out food, as
that of the wretches we served was distracted from eating their scanty
rations, by an unusual uproar in the street outside of our windows. We
could descry, in the morning sunlight, military trappings, tattered
cloaks, ragged tunics, dingy kilt-straps, sheenless helmets, unkempt
beards, and brawny arms in the crowds which packed the narrow streets. The
mob seemed made up of rough frontier soldiery, and we marvelled at the
presence of such men in Italy.
The uproar increased and we heard it not only from the streets but from
the courtyards; we could not make out any words, but the tone of the
tumultuous growls was menacing and imperative. After no long interval the
doors at the foot of the one stair burst open and there entered to us
three centurions, indubitably from distant frontier garrisons, accompanied
by six or seven _optiones_ [Footnote: See Note F.] and a dozen or more
legionaries. The privates and corporals stood silent while one of the
three sergeants addressed us:
"No one shall be compelled to join us. Every man of you shall have his
unforced choice. All who join us shall be free. Such as prefer to remain
where they are sit down! All who select to join us stand up!"
If any man sat down I did not see him. Through the door we flowed without
jostling or crowding, for at the first appearance of a tendency to push
forward the sergeant's big voice bellowed a warning and order reigned. Up
the stair we poured, passing on the landing the mute, motionless porter-
accountant and his Scythian guard, cowed immobile between two burly
frontier centurions; out into the courtyard we streamed, more and more
following till the courtyard was packed. The whole movement was made in
silence, without a cheer or yell, for, like the porter and the Scythians,
the most unconscionable villains in our _ergastulum_ quailed before the
truculence of the frontier sergeants.
In the outer court, at the suggestion of one of those same centurions,
every man of us drank his fill at the well-curb, pairs of the legionaries
taking turns at hauling up the buckets and watering us, much as if we had
been thirsty workhorses. After they had made sure that none had missed a
chance to quench his thirst, they roughly marshalled us into some
semblance of order and out into the street we trooped, where we found
ourselves between two detachments of frontier soldiers, one filling the
street ahead of us from house-wall to house-wall, the other similarly
blocking the street behind us. Between them we were marched to the market-
square, where we had plenty of room, for we had it all to ourselves, the
soldiery having cleared it and a squad of them blocking the entrance of
each street leading into it, so that the townsfolk were kept out and we
herded among the frontier soldiery.
Their centurions, to the number of eighteen, stood together on the stone
platform from which orators were accustomed to address or harangue such
crowds as might assemble in the market-square. Before it we packed
ourselves as closely as we could, eager to hear. About us idled the
soldiery not occupied in guarding the approach to the square.
One of the sergeants made a speech to us, explaining our liberation and
their presence in Placentia. He called us "comrades" and began his
harangue with a long and virulent denunciation of Perennis, the Prefect of
the Palace. Perennis, he declared, had been a slave of the vilest origin
and had won his freedom and the favor of the Palace authorities and of the
Emperor not by merit but by rank favoritism. He maintained that Perennis,
as Prefect of the Palace, had gained such an ascendancy over Commodus that
besides his proper duties as guardian of the Emperor's personal safety,
surely a charge sufficiently heavy to burden any one man and sufficiently
honorable to satisfy any reasonable man, his master had been enticed into
entrusting to Perennis the management of the entire Empire, so that he
alone controlled promotions in and appointments to the navy, army and
treasury services. In this capacity, as sole minister and representative
of the sovereign, Perennis had enriched himself by taking bribes from all
from whom he could extort bribes. By his venality he had gone far towards
ruining the navy and army, which were by now more than half officered by
hopeless incompetents who had bought their appointments. As a result the
legionaries garrisoning the lines along the Euphrates, the Carpathians,
the Danube, the Rhine and the Wall, since they were badly led, had
suffered undeserved mishandling from the barbarians attacking them; and
even the garrisons of mountain districts like Armenia, Pisidia, and
Lusitania had been mauled by the bands of outlaws. He instanced the
rebellion of Maternus as a result of the incompetence and venality of
Worse than this, he said, Perennis was plotting the Emperor's
assassination and the elevation to the Principate of one of his two sons.
This project of his, which he was furthering by astute secret
machinations, had come to the knowledge of a loyal member of the Emperor's
retinue. He had written of it to a brother of his, Centurion [Footnote:
See Note D.] of the Thirteenth Legion, entitled "Victorious" and quartered
on the Wall, along the northern frontier of Britain, towards the
Caledonian Highlands. This letter had reached the quarters of the
Thirteenth Legion late in September. Its recipient had at once
communicated to his fellow-sergeants the horrible intimation which it
contained. They had resolved to do all in their power to save their Prince
by forestalling and foiling the treacherous Perennis. They had called a
meeting of their garrison and disclosed their information to their men.
The legionaries acclaimed their decision. Deputations set out east and
west along the Wall and roused the other cohorts of the Thirteenth Legion
and those of the Twenty-Seventh. From the Wall messengers galloped south
to the garrisons throughout Britain. In an incredibly short time, despite
the approach and onset of winter, they apprised every garrison in the
island. Messengers from every garrison reached every garrison. So rapidly
was mutual comprehension and unanimity established, so secretly did they
operate, that on the Nones of January all the garrisons in Britain
simultaneously mutinied, overpowered their unsuspecting officers,
disclosed to them the reasons for their sedition, and invited them to join
them. Of all the officers on the island only two hesitated to agree with
their men. These, after some expostulation, were killed. The rest resumed
their duties, if competent, or were relegated to civilian life, if
The three most prominent legions in Britain, the Sixth, Thirteenth and
Twentieth, each entitled, because of prowess displayed in past campaigns,
to the appellation of "Victorious," selected the equivalent of a cohort
apiece to unite into a deputation representing the soldiery of Britain
collectively, to proceed to Rome, reveal to the Emperor his danger, save
him, foil Perennis, and see to it that he was put to death. In pursuance
of this plan the six centuries chosen by the Thirteenth Legion, about five
hundred men, had set out southward from the Wall on the day before the
Ides of January. Accomplishing the march of a hundred and thirty-five
miles to Eburacum, in spite of deep snow and heavy snow-storms, in
fourteen days, there they foregathered with the main body of the Sixth
Legion and were joined by their six selected centuries. The twelve, some
thousand picked men, accomplished the march of eighty-five miles to Deva
in nine days, though hampered by terrible weather. There they were joined
by the delegates of the Twentieth Legion. Together the fifteen hundred
deputies made the march of two hundred and eighty miles to Ritupis by way
of Londinium, in twenty-eight days. At Ritupis they took part in the
festival of Isis, by which navigation was declared open for the year and
navigation blessed. Next day, on the day before the Nones of March, they
had sailed for Gaul and made the crossing in ten hours, without any
hindrance from headwinds or bad weather.
From Gessoriacum they had tramped across Gaul, inducing to join them such
kindred spirits as they encountered among the squads of recent levies
being drilled at each large town preparatory to being forwarded to
reinforce the frontier garrisons. These inexperienced recruits they had
organized into centuries under sergeants elected by the recruits
themselves from among themselves, which elective centurions had handily
learnt their novel duties from instructions given by one or two veterans
detailed to aid in drilling each new century. Before they reached Vapincum
they had associated with them fresh comrades equalling themselves in
number, equipped from town arsenals. With these they had crossed into
Italy through the Cottian Alps.
At Segusio they had been told that, under the misrule of Perennis, the
_ergastula_ of Italy were filled, not half with runaway slaves, petty
thieves, rascals, ruffians and outlaws, but mainly with honest fellows who
had committed no crime, but had been secretly arrested and consigned to
their prisons merely because they had incurred the displeasure of Perennis
or of one of his henchmen, or had been suspected, however vaguely, of
actions, words or even of unspoken opinions distasteful to him or to
anyone powerful through him. Acting on that information they had been
setting free the inmates of _ergastula_ in cities through which they had
passed, such as Turin and Milan, and had formed from these victims two
fresh centuries. They proposed that we join them and march with them to
Rome to inform and rescue our Emperor and foil and kill Perennis.
Of course the liberated riffraff accepted this suggestion with enthusiasm
and without a dissenting voice. We were divided into squads of convenient
size and marched off to the near-by bathing establishments. In that to
which Agathemer and I were led, we, with the rest of our squad, were told
by the sergeant superintending us to strip. Our worn, tattered and lousy
garments were turned over to the bath-attendants to be steamed and then
disposed of as they might. We were thoroughly steamed and scrubbed, so
that every man of us was freed from every sort of vermin. During our bath
the centurion, in charge of us unobtrusively inspected us individually and
collectively. In the dressing-room of the bathing establishments, after we
had been steamed, scrubbed, baked, and dried, we were clad in military
tunics fetched from the town arsenal or its store-houses. Also we were
provided with military boots of the coarsest and cheapest materials, made
after the pattern usual for frontier regiments.
Outside the bath the watchful sergeant divided us into two squads, a
larger and a smaller, the smaller made up of those who, like Agathemer and
me, bore brands, and scourge-marks. In the market-square we were again
herded together, surrounded by the British legionaries and now ourselves
divided into those like me and Agathemer, who were marked as runaway
slaves and the larger number who showed no marks of scourge or brand. From
among the unmarked the frontier centurions picked out thirty whom they
judged likely material for sergeants like themselves. These thirty they
bade select from among themselves three. Then they set the three, an
Umbrian and a Ligurian outlaw, and a Dalmatian pirate, along the front of
the stone platform and asked us whether we would accept those three as our
centurions. Two speakers, one a Venetian and the other an Insubrian Gaul,
objected to the pirate. In his place we were bidden to choose some other
from the twenty-seven already selected by the sergeants. A second Umbrian
outlaw was selected.
Then the centurions bade the newly-elected three to choose each one man in
rotation, until they had made up for each the nucleus of a century from
the unmarked men.
After the three new centuries were thus constituted, they asked them to
decide whether they would accept as comrades and associates the residue of
the inmates of our _ergastulum_ who were marked plainly as runaway slaves.
They voted overwhelmingly to accept us. Then the three new sergeants
proceeded to choose us also into their centuries. The choosing was
interrupted by a Ravenna Gaul, who called the attention of the assembly to
the fact that Agathemer had been cook to the _ergastulum_ and I his
helper; similarly to the baker and his assistant. After some discussion it
was unanimously voted that the baker and his helper be treated as any
others of the liberated rascals, that the three new centurions draw lots
which should have Agathemer for cook to his century and me for his helper,
and that the other two centuries appoint cooks by lot unless cooks and
helpers volunteered. Four of the brand-marked rabble at once volunteered.
After the last man had been selected and the British centurions had
marshalled, inspected and approved the three new centuries thus
constituted, we were marched off to the town arsenal and there equipped
with corselets, strap-kilts, greaves; cloaks, helmets, shields, swords and
spears; only Agathemer, I, and the four other cooks and helpers, were
given no spears, shields, helmets or body-armour, only swords, jackets and
Then, full-fledged tumultary legionaries, we were marshalled as well as
greenhorns could be ranked and we marched from the market-place the length
of the street leading to the Fidentia Gate. Outside it we found the
semblance of a camping-ground and tents ready for us to set up. Up we set
them, we new recruits, clumsily, under the jeers of the old-timers, to the
tune of taunts and curses from the disgusted veteran centurions.
When the camp was set up a fire was made for each century and we cooks and
helpers fell to our duties, with a squad of privates to cut wood, feed the
fires, fetch water and do any other rough preparatory work, such as
butchering a sheep or a goat, killing, picking and cleaning fowls, and
what not. For this welcome, if clumsy, assistance we had to thank one of
the British centurions, who admonished our newly-elected Umbrian sergeant
that camp-cookery called for any needed number of assistant helpers to the
chief cook if the men were to be fed properly and promptly.
The town officials had sent out to the camp a generous provision of wheat,
barley, lentils, pulse, sheep, goats, fowls, cheese, oil, salt and wine. I
did not learn how the volunteer cooks fared, but the barley-stew, seasoned
with minced fowls, which Agathemer concocted, was acclaimed by our
That night, in our tent, Agathemer and I, talking Greek and whispering,
discussed our situation. After two fulfillments, the prophesy of the
Aemilian Sibyl seemed in a fair way to be fulfilled a third time; we were
headed for Rome.
To Rome we went. We had, in that first consultation, in many similar
consultations later, planned to escape and hoped to escape. But we were
too carefully watched. Whether we were suspected because of our scourge-
marks and brand-marks, or were prized as cooks, or whether there was some
other reason, we could not conjecture. Certainly we were sedulously
guarded on all marches, and kept strictly within, each camp, though we
were free to wander about each camp as we pleased.
We had planned to escape in or near Parma, Mutina, Bononia, or Faventia,
any of which towns Agathemer judged a favorable locality for marketing a
gem from our amulet-bags. But in these, as everywhere else, our guards
gave us no chance of escape.
When not busy cooking I found myself greatly interested in the amazing
company among which I was cast. In my rambles about our camp, when all
were full-fed and groups sat or lay chatting about the slackening camp-
fires, I became acquainted with most of the eighteen centurions from
the legions quartered in Britain, and had talks, sometimes even long
talks, with more than half of them. These bluff, burly frontier sergeants,
like their corporals and men, treated all their volunteer associates as
welcome comrades, even welted and branded runaway slaves acting as cooks.
From them I heard again and again the story of discontent, conspiracy,
mutiny, insurrection and attempt at protest about rectification of the
evils they believed to exist, which tale we had all heard outlined by the
sergeant-orator in the Forum of Placentia.
Among the eighteen centurions there was no sergeant-major nor any
centurion of the upper rank. The highest in army rank was Sextius Baculus
of Isca, a native of Britain and lineally descended, through an original
colonist of Isca, from the celebrated sergeant-major of the Divine Julius.
He had been twelfth in rank in the Sixth Legion, being second centurion of
its second cohort. Not one of his seventeen associates had ranked so high:
the next highest being Publius Cordatus, of Lindum, who had been second
sergeant of the fourth cohort in the Twentieth Legion.
The totality of my mental impressions of what I heard from these two and
other members of this incredible deputation of insurgent mutineers and of
what I saw of the doings of the whole deputation, was vague and confused.
From the confusion emerged a predominating sense of their many
inconsistencies and of the haphazard irresponsibility and inconsequence of
their states of mind and actions. They were, indeed, entirely consistent
in one respect. Unlike Maternus and his men, not one of them blamed
Commodus for anything, not even for having appointed Perennis to his high
office and then having permitted him to arrogate to himself all the
functions of the government of the Republic and Empire. One and all they
excused the Emperor and expressed for him enthusiastic loyalty: one and
all they blamed not only the Prefect's mismanagement but also his own
appointment on Perennis. Consistent as they were in holding these opinions
or in having such feelings, the notions were inconsistent in themselves.
So likewise was their often expressed and manifestly sincere intention to
forestall the consummation of the alleged conspiracy and save the Emperor
inconsistent with their slow progress from Britain towards Borne. Never
having been in Britain and knowing little of it from such reports as I had
heard, I could not controvert their assertion that the state of the roads
and weather there had made impossible greater speed than they had achieved
from their quarters to their port, yet I suspected that men really
systematically in earnest might have accomplished in twenty days marches
which had occupied them for fifty-one days. I was certain that it was
nothing short of ridiculous for legionaries in hard fighting condition and
well fed to consume one hundred and one days in marching from their
landing-port on the coast of Gaul to Placentia: ten miles a day was
despicable marching even for lazy and soft-muscled recruits; any
legionaries should make fifteen, miles at day under any conditions,
earnest men keyed up to hurry should have made twenty and might often
march twenty-five miles between camps. These blatherskites were on fire
with high resolve, by their talk, yet had loafed along for a thousand
miles, camping early, sleeping long after sunrise, resting at midday and
gorging themselves at leisurely meals. All this was amazing.
Equally astonishing was the condition of supineness, of all governmental
officials in Gaul, local and Imperial, as their tale revealed it. Neither
the Prefect of the Rhine, nor any one of the Procurators of Gaul, had, as
far as their story indicated, made any effort to arrest them, turn them
back, stop them, check them, hinder them or even have them expostulated
with. As far as I could infer from all I heard neither had the governing
body of any city or town. For all they were interfered with by any
official they might have been full-time veterans, honorably discharged,
marching homeward under accredited officers provided with diplomas
properly made out, signed, sealed and stamped. Everywhere they had been
fed at public expense, lodged free or provided with camping-grounds and
tents; their pack-animals had been replaced if worn out, and everything
they needed had been provided on their asking for it or even before they
made any request. I could only infer that they had inspired fear by their
numbers and truculence and that each town or district had striven to keep
them in a good humor and to get rid of them as soon as possible by
entertaining them lavishly and speeding them along their chosen way.
As they told of their own behavior there had been no consistency or system
or method in their additions to their company. By their own account they
had enticed men to join them or had ignored likely recruits in the most
haphazard fashion, purely as the humor struck them. The like was true of
their emptyings of _ergastula_ in Italy. At Turin, as well as I could
gather from my chats with this or that centurion or soldier or liberated
slave, they had set free the inmates of the _ergastulum_ by the Segusio
Gate and had then turned aside to that by the Vercellae Gate, but had
ignored the larger _ergastulum_ by the Milan Gate; though they had marched
out of Turin, necessarily, by that gate. Similarly at Milan, they had
emptied two _ergastula_ and ignored the rest; as at Placentia, where they
had expended all their time and energy on the first _ergastulum_ they
happened on inside the Milan Gate and on ours, and then had ignored or
forgotten the four or five others, equally large and equally well filled.
On our progress to Rome I saw similar inconsistencies in their behavior.
They never so much as entered Fidentia, but marched round it, acquiescent
to the gentle suggestion of a trembling and incoherent alderman, quaking
with fear and barely able to enunciate some disjointed sentences. At Parma
they emptied two _ergastula_ and never so much as approached the others,
repeating this inconsistency at Mutina and Bononia. Outside of Faventia
something, I never learned what, enraged a knot of the veterans, so that
their fury communicated itself to all the soldiery from Britain and
inflamed their associates, Gallic and Italian. Whereupon we burst the
Bononia Gate of Faventia, flocked into the town, sacked some of the shops,
left a score of corpses in the market-place and some in the streets near
it, set fire to a block of buildings, and burst out of the Ariminum Gate,
tumultuous and excited, but without so much as trying the outer doors of
Yet, after this riotous performance, we did no damage at Ariminum, not
even entering the town, not even enquiring if it had an _ergastulum_, as
it must have had.
Similarly at Pisaurum, at Fanum Fortunae, at Forum Sempronii, though these
were small towns and could not have resisted us, we camped outside,
accepted gracefully the tents and food provided for us and made no move to
maltreat anyone or do any looting. But at Nuceria, at Spolitum and at
Narnia we entered the towns and liberated the inmates of two of the
_ergastula_, in each, though we never so much as threatened Interamnia.
Looking back over these proceedings I explain them to myself approximately
as follows: the eighteen centurions from Britain treated each other as if
they all felt on terms of complete mutual equality, none ever assumed any
rights of superiority, seniority, precedence, or authority, none was ever
invested with any right of permanent or temporary leadership. If some whim
prompted any one of the eighteen to take the lead in emptying an
_ergastulum_ or breaking in a town gate, or sacking a shop, not one of his
fellow-sergeants demurred or expostulated or opposed him; they all
concurred in any suggestion of any one of them. And the soldiers followed
their centurions with, apparently, implicit confidence in them, or a blind
instinct of deference. So of submission to the request of any town
decurion, that they stay outside: mostly, they were acquiescent. But if
something irritated a sergeant, or even a soldier, the entire deputation
flamed into fury and burst gates, sacked shops and even fired buildings
until their rage spent itself, after which they were civil and kindly to
all townsmen, whether officials, citizens, slaves or women and children. I
never could detect any reason for any action or inaction of theirs.
The liberations of public slaves from _ergastula_ in Turin, Milan,
Placentia, Parma, Mutina, Bononia, Nuceria, Spolitum and Narnia resulted
in the formation of eighteen tumultuary centuries, which, between Narnia
and Ocriculum, during a long noon-halt, were formed into the semblance of
three cohorts, thus we approached Rome as nine cohorts: three of the
deputies from Britain; three more of the recruits from Gaul, presumably
like the British legionaries, loyal patriots, bent on foiling Perennis,
and saving their beloved Emperor; and three more composed of the contents
of a dozen or more _ergastula_, opened as the whim took the veteran
sergeants, and assumed to contain not pilferers, runaways or evil-doers,
but innocent victims of the malignity of the understrappers of that
As we drew near Rome Agathemer and I discussed our situation and prospects
with increasing alarm. After we left Narnia the watch on us was not so
close and we might have escaped. But we had seen a score of attempts at
escape, by various rascals, foiled and ending in the butchery of the
would-be fugitives. While escape was possible the risk was very great.
Also, Agathemer argued, we were too near to Rome to be safe if we got
clear away. Between dread of death if caught and fear of we knew not what
if we escaped, we stuck to our cookery. Mixed with our projects for
bettering our prospects we talked much of our amazement at the treatment
which the deputation and its associates had met in Italy. Manifestly the
townsfolk and their officials were not only overawed, but helpless. If
there had been no Rome, no Republic, no Praetorians, no Prefect of the
Palace, no central authority whatever we could not have been more
completely free from hindrance, coercion or question, Yet Agathemer and I
could not but conjecture that the Senate, Perennis and Commodus had been
promptly and minutely informed of all our doings, of our progress, of our
approach; and had taken measures to deal with us and our instigators. We
Spouting long tirades about their loyalty to the Emperor, their hatred of
Perennis and their eagerness to foil one and save the other, our
irresponsible frontier centurions let their men and us loiter southward
through Cisalpine Gaul and Umbria as they had loitered on the other side
of the Alps, seldom marching more than ten miles a day. So that we left
Ocriculum on the tenth day before the Kalends of August and stopped
overnight at each change-station.
We had had fair weather all the way from Placentia, except a heavy rain at
Ariminum and showers in the mountains between Forum Sempronii and Nuceria.
When day dawned on us at Rostrata Villa, on the eighth day before the
Kalends of August, it dawned cloudy, but not threatening. After the usual
camp breakfast of porridge and wine, we fell in, by now fairly decent
marchers, and set off for Rubrae. But before we had marched a mile, the
low clouds soaked us with such a downpour as I had seldom seen of a July
morning near Rome. So heavy and so unrelenting was the rain that we were
glad to halt at the change-house at the twentieth mile-stone, where the
road from Capena to Veii crosses the Flaminian Highway and where there is
a prosperous village as large as many a small town. There we found
quarters and food ready for us and were well entertained. Ad Vicesimum, as
the place is called, is only four miles nearer Rome than Villa Rostrata.
It was about midway of that four-mile march in the pouring rain that I saw
by the roadside three immobile horsemen, their forms swathed in horsemen's
rain-cloaks, their faces hidden under broad-brimmed rain-hats, lined up
with their horses' noses barely a horse-length from the roadway, watching
from a little knoll our column as it passed. The middle horseman of the
three looked familiar. I glanced back at him and met his eyes, intensely
watching me from under his dripping hat brim, as I trudged on the edge of
the trudging rabble. A hot qualm surged through me. It was, it certainly
was, the very same man I had seen in the very same guise on the road
below Villa Andivia as Tanno and I passed by on our way to our fatal brawl
at Vediamnum; the very man who had peered in at me and Capito during his
fatal conference with me in Nemestronia's water-garden, the man whom Tanno
had asserted that he knew for an Imperial spy. I felt recognition in his
gaze; felt that he knew me for my very self. And his nose was hooked.
At our halting place, when Agathemer and I were alone, I asked him in
Greek if he had noticed the three stationary horsemen. He at once, without
my mentioning my suspicions, declared that he also had recognized the
middle horseman precisely as I had. What his presence there might forbode,
what his apparent recognition of me might portend, we could not
conjecture. We agreed that, although both of us had been on the lookout
for Imperial emissaries all the way from Placentia, and alertly watching
from Ariminum southwards, this was the first time we had set eyes on any
man whom we could take for a secret-service man. That so much time had
elapsed since the authorities must have been warned of our approach, that
we should have advanced so near Rome and yet that this should be the first
visible indication of espionage upon us, amazed both me and Agathemer.
Next day, a cloudy but rainless day, we marched only to Rubrae, the
change-station nearest Rome. There, as at every previous halt, we found
the authorities apprised of our approach and prepared to lodge and feed
us. And, as always since we left Nuceria, we were comfortably sheltered in
a camp all ready for our occupancy and lavishly provided with varied food
and passable wine.
Next day, the sixth day before the Kalends of August, dawned exquisitely
fair and bright, with a soft steady breeze; a perfect July day, mild but
not too warm. Our elected sergeants, now quite habituated to their duties
and authority as centurions, routed us up early and, after a leisurely
camp-breakfast, we fell in and set off on the last stage of this amazing
unopposed march of fifteen hundred insurgent mutineers for nineteen
hundred miles, in making which they had so loitered that they had consumed
on the road more than half a year and along which they had added to their
company casual associates twice as numerous as themselves. We left Rubrae
an excited horde, for the veterans were keyed up to a tense pitch of
expectancy by their anticipation of they knew not what culmination to
their insane adventure and their accidental recruits were aquiver with
uneasiness and apprehension.
The Mulvian Bridge over the Tiber is not more than four miles from Rubrae
along the winding Flaminian Highway and we were crossing it before the
third hour of the day was past. Marching with the first of the three
centuries formed at Placentia I had about five-sixths of our column ahead
of me. So I did not see, did not even glimpse, did not, from far towards
the rear, so much as guess what was happening. I knew only that, as I was
more than half way across the Mulvian Bridge, a wave of cheers started far
forward in our column and ran back to my century and all the way to the
rearmost men. What had occurred we did not know, but we broke ranks and
flowed out of the road to left and right, as did the men ahead of us,
becoming almost a mob, despite the remonstrances and orders of our
disgusted sergeants. They restrained us to some extent, but we were kept
back more by the fact that the foremost men blocked the highway, the men
who had been marching next them blocked the fields to right and left of
the highway and the rest of us were checked behind them, like water above
As we stood there, packed together, with hardly a semblance of ranks kept
anywhere, craning to see over the heads of the men in front of us and to
try to see past and between the many big and tall tombs and mausoleums
which flanked the road on either side, a period of tense silence or
blurred murmurings was ended by a second great surge of cheers from front
to rear. We all cheered till we were hoarse. Again we peered and listened
and questioned each other, again came a roar of cheering like a sea
billow. Again and again alternated the half silence and the uproar. Before
we learned what was happening or had happened word came from mouth to
mouth that we were going on. The press in front of us gradually melted
away, we were able to sidle into the roadway, reform ranks and tramp on
After a very brief march we turned aside to our right into a meadow on the
west of the road and its flanking rows of tombs, between the Highway and
the Tiber, about half way from Mulvian Bridge to the Flaminian Gate of
Rome; that is, about half a mile from each. There we found a meticulously
laid-out and perfectly appointed camp, precisely suited to the forty-five
hundred of us and our requisitioned mules, wagons and what not. It
contained some four hundred and fifty tents, set on clipped grass along
rolled and gravelled streets as straight as bricklayers' guide-boards; all
about a paved square of ample size, on the rear of which was set up a
gorgeous commander's tent of the whitest canvas, striped with red almost
as deep, rich and glowing as the Imperial crimson, and manifestly meant to
imitate it as closely as such a dyestuff could. On either side of this
Praetorium were a dozen tents, smaller indeed than the Praetorium, but
much larger than tents set up for us, presumably for the commanders'
aides. In front of the Praetorium, between it and the square, was a wide,
broad and high platform of new brickwork, paved on top, railed with solid,
low, carved railings set in short carved oak posts. The comer posts, and
two others dividing the front and back of the platform equally, were tall
and supported an awning of striped canvas like that of the commander's
Goggling with curiosity we, as we deployed to our quarters, stared hard at
the magnificent tent and sumptuous platform with its gorgeous awning. Once
at our quarters, I and Agathemer, of course, must cook and serve food to
our century. Only after all were fed did we, in common with all the middle
and rear of our road-column, learn what had occurred.
While we ate, our sergeants, while they also ate somehow, held a
centurions' council, at which those of the fifty-four who had not been far
enough forward on the Highway to see and hear were informed, by those who
had, of what had happened. When our sergeant returned from this council he
told us, in a jumbled and mumbled attempt at an address.
From what he told me and from what I heard later I gather that, as the
column debouched from the bridge, its head was met and checked by a body
of mounted Praetorian Guards. Their tribune, in the name of the Emperor,
ordered the column to halt and bade its centurions deploy their men right
and left and mass them in a largish space free of big tombs. As they
deployed the Praetorians also deployed to left and right of the Highway
and the foremost mutineers descried on the roadway the splendid horses and
gorgeous trappings of the Emperor's personal staff, among whom, from the
statues, busts and painted panel-portraits of him which they had seen
daily in their own quarters and countless times on their road to Rome, the
more alert of them recognized their liege.
Then rose that unexpected wave of cheering which had first apprized us in
the rear that something unusual was toward. Commodus, as I heard from
Publius Cordatus himself, after our nap and before the Emperor's return,
was mounted on a tall sorrel such as his father had always preferred on
his frontier campaigns. Also he was garbed not only as his father had
habitually been when on frontier expeditions, but seemingly, in one of his
old outfits. For not only Cordatus, but a dozen more, declared that his
helmet, corselet and the plates of his kilt-straps, were of ungilded,
unchased, plain steel, not even bright with polishing, but tarnished, all
but rusty, with exposure to rain, mist and sun; his plume and cloak rain-
faded and sun-faded till their crimson showed almost brown; his scabbard
plain, dingy leather; his saddle of similar cheap, durable leather, his
saddle-cloth of a crimson faded as brown as his cloak and plume. This was
precisely the Spartan simplicity which Aurelius, as more than half a
Stoic, had always affected, partly from an innate tendency towards self-
restraint and modesty, partly that his example might, at first, offset the
sumptuosity of Verus and, after his death, might inculcate, by example,
economy in his lavish and self-indulgent retinue.
Whatever the motive, by this semi-histrionic effort at self-effacement the
Emperor made himself tenfold conspicuous among his staff-officers, whose
plumes, cloaks, kilts, and saddle-cloths blazed with crimson, green and
gold, blue and silver and even crimson and gold.
Commodus, in any gear, was not only a tall, well-knit, impressive figure
of a man, but, in his most negligent moods, he had something about him
dominating, masterful, princely and Imperial. The sight of him cowed all
who could then see him. Steadily he eyed them as they finished their
tumultuary deployment and pressed forward to see and hear. When they were
packed as closely as possible till no more could get within earshot he
"Fellow soldiers, what does this mean?"
All were too awed at the sight of their venerated Caesar for any man to
speak up at once and the Emperor repeated:
"Fellow-soldiers, what does this mean? Tell me, I am your fellow-soldier."
Then Sextius Baculus himself replied, choking and hesitating, quailing
before his lord:
"We are your loyal soldiers from Britain; a deputation come afoot and
afloat almost two thousand miles to warn you of what no man in Rome, for
fear of you more than of your treacherous Prefect, dares to warn you.
Perennis is no fit guardian of your safety; in fact he is of all men most
unfit. For more than two years now he has been laying his plans to have
you assassinated, and to make Emperor in your place his eldest son, the
darling of the Illyrian legionaries. We have come to save you, foil him
and see him and his dead."
"Fellow-soldiers," the Emperor spoke at once, loudly and clearly, "I
acclaim your purpose and welcome your good intentions. But I mean to prove
to you that I am in fact as well as in title Tribune and Prince of the
Republic, Emperor of its armies, Augustus and Caesar. Your solicitude I
applaud, but I feel better able to take care of myself than can any other
man save myself. I fear no man and appoint no man I distrust. I distrust
few men after appointment. You lodge a grave charge against a man I have
trusted, appointed and then trusted. I condemn few men unheard. As your
Imperator I command you to camp where my legates indicate, to eat a hearty
noon meal, to sleep, or at least rest in your tents, two full hours. About
the tenth hour of the day I shall return, my trusty guards about me and
Perennis himself in my retinue. From the platform of your camp, as a chief
commander should, I will harangue you, and from that platform, after he
has heard from me your accusation, my Prefect of the Praetorium shall make
to you his defense. After he has spoken you shall hear me deliver just and
impartial judgment, a judgment no man of you can but accept as fair and
"And now farewell, until the tenth hour."
At which word he had reined up, wheeled and spurred his mettlesome mount
and thereupon vanished with his staff in a cloud of dust, at full gallop.
According to the Emperor's behest we rested in our tents after the
centurions had each harangued his men. But if any slept, it was a marvel.
All were too excited to sleep and every tent, as far as I could learn,
talked without cessation. By the tenth hour, when the sun was visibly
declining and the warmth of the midday abating, we were all assembled in
the camp-square, the men helmeted and with their swords at their sides,
but without shields or spears.
It was perfectly in keeping with the inconsistency of the mutineers that
the crowd of men in the camp-square, instead of being marshalled by
centuries under their sergeants, was allowed to assemble mob-fashion as
each man came and pushed. Thus Agathemer and I, who should have been
preparing to cook our company's evening meal, were not only in the throng,
but well forward among the men and, in fact, pressed legs and chests
against the legs and backs of two veterans not far from the rearmost
centurions of the gathering of sergeants, not sixty feet from the
platform, and nearly opposite its middle, though a little to the left. Few
veteran privates heard and saw better than we.
When the Imperial cortege arrived and the platform began to fill, we two,
like the men around us and like, I feel sure, the entire gathering, were
amazed to see among the men four women, and Agathemer and I were doubly
amazed to recognize one as Marcia. Agathemer, who knew the former slaves
and present freedwomen of the Palace far better than I, whispered that the
others were the sister and wife of Perennis and the wife of Cleander, like
him a former slave and pampered freedman, and for long his rival.
The platform, of course, was lined and partly filled with aides, lictors,
equerries, pages, and other Imperial satellites before the Emperor rode
up, dismounted and appeared among his retinue. He strode springily to the
front and seated himself on the crimson cushion of the ivory curule seat
which a lictor placed for him. Marcia, to my tenfold amazement, then
seated herself on a not dissimilar maple folding-seat, spread for her by a
page. She was placed at the very front of the platform, next him on his
right. Next her was Cleander's wife, also, to my still greater amazement,
similarly seated, as were the two almost as ornately clad ladies with
Perennis, who sat on his left, he standing to the left of the Emperor, who
was set only a short yard in advance of the row of officials and intimates
who lined the front of the platform.
Until all who had a right to places on the platform had mounted it and
each had stationed himself in his proper position, the Emperor sat quietly
regarding the mob of men facing him, eyeing us keenly and steadily. An
equerry leaned over and whispered to him and he stood up. I could feel the
men thrill, even more positively than they had thrilled when he appeared
from among his retinue. I conjectured, instantly, that he had felt, if not
an actual dread of the mutineers, at least a doubt as to his ability to
quell them and a need for all possible adventitious aids. Thus I explained
to myself his having donned, that morning, trappings such as his father
had worn on frontier campaigns, apparently with the purpose of eliciting
the sympathies of the men.
He now wore a gilded helmet, elaborately chased, and its crest a carved
Chimaera spouting golden flames, which golden spout of flames, with the
Chimaera's wings, formed the support from which waved his crimson plume,
all of brilliantly dyed ostrich feathers. His corselet was similarly
gilded or, perhaps, like the helmet, even of pure gold hammered and
chased, adorned with depictions of the battles of the gods and giants
above, and below with Trajan's victories over the Parthians. His kilt-
straps were of crimson leather, plated with gilt or gold overlapping
scales. His cloak was of the newest and most brilliant Imperial crimson.
The platform was so high that I could clearly see his shapely calves and
the gold eagles embroidered on the sky-blue soft leather of his half-
boots. In his hand, he held a short baton or truncheon, such as all field-
commanders carry as an emblem of independent command, such as I had seen
at Tegulata in the hand of Pescennius Niger. It was gilded or gold-plated
and its ends were chased pine-cones. Manifestly every detail of his
habiting had been meticulously considered and the total effect carefully
calculated. Certainly he was not only handsome and winsome, but dignified
and imposing, truly a princely and Imperial figure. Evidently he had
calculatingly arrayed himself so as to appear at one and the same time as
Emperor and as a field-commander. The effect on the men, if I could judge,
was all he had wished, all he could have hoped for. He dominated the mob
of men as he dominated the platform.
There was no need of his wave of the arm enjoining silence. The silence,
from his first movement as he rose, was as complete as possible.
"Fellow-soldiers," he said, and he spoke as well as the most practiced
orator, audibly to all, smoothly and charmingly, "you have come from
Britain across the sea, across Gaul, across the Alps, and half the length
of Italy, with the best intentions, with the sincerest hearts, to apprize
me of danger to me in my own Palace, danger unsuspected by me, as you
believe. Your loyalty, your good intentions, your sincerity I realize and
rejoice over. But I find it hard to believe that any soldiers in distant
frontier garrisons can be better informed than the Prince himself of what
goes on in Italy, in Rome, in the very Palace. You have lodged the gravest
accusations against one of my most important and most trusted officials. I
shall now state your charges, that the accused man may hear them now for
the first time from my own lips and may here and now make his defence to
you and to me."
He paused. My eyes had been on Commodus and now shifted to Perennis.
Perennis was a handsome man, but in spite of, rather than because of, his
build and features. Even through the splendid trappings of Prefect of the
Praetorium he appeared too tall and too thin, his neck was too long, his
face too long, his ears too big, his long nose overhung his upper lip. He
was impressive and capable looking but appeared too crafty, too foxy. I
felt sure that he had not the least suspicion of what was coming. He
looked all vanity, self-satisfaction and vainglorious self-sufficiency.
"Fellow-soldiers," the Emperor went on, "you charge that my Prefect of the
Praetorium is not loyal, but is most treacherous; that he has been, for
more than two years, plotting my death and the elevation to the
Principiate of his eldest son, now Procurator of Illyricum. As he has now
heard the charge, so you shall now hear the defense of my Prefect of the
I must say that Perennis, though manifestly thunderstruck, kept his
senses, kept his self-command and, after a brief instant in which he
paled, swayed and seemed utterly dazed, rose to the occasion. For that
brief instant he appeared as overcome as his horrified wife and sister,
who all but fainted on their seats; as his horrified sons, who stood,
agape, dead-pale, one by his white-faced mother, and the other by his
Perennis, certainly, gathered himself together promptly, got himself under
full control, had all his wits about him and made a perfectly conceived,
finely delivered, coherent, logical, telling speech in his own defence. It
was long, but nowhere diffuse, and it held the attention manifestly, not
only of the mutineers, but of the Emperor himself, and of all his retinue,
even the most vacuous of the mere courtiers. As he ended it, it was plain
that Perennis believed he had cleared himself completely and had not only
vindicated himself before his master, but had convinced the mutineers of
his guiltlessness and loyalty. His expression of face, as he wound up his
eloquent peroration, was that of a man who, unexpectedly to himself,
transmounts insuperable difficulties and triumphs.
Confidently he turned to Commodus; smiling and at ease, he awaited his
decision. The Emperor stood up, more dominating, if possible, than before.
"Fellow-soldiers," he said, "watch me closely and listen carefully. What I
do shall be as significant as what I say. I have pondered your charges
since you made them this morning. In my mind I have run over all that I
knew of this man's doings and sayings since I made him the guardian of my
personal safety. I have let him hear your charges from my own lips and,
like you, I have listened patiently to his brilliant and able speech in
his own defence. I am Prince of the Republic and Emperor of its armies, to
favor no man, to do and speak impartial justice to all men alike.
"You know what happens to the shirker who sleeps on his post when on
sentry-duty about a camp at night in the face of the enemy. If guilty of
what you charge any Prefect of the Praetorium deserves not otherwise than
such a traitor. I have heard all this man has to say. I did not believe
you this morning. I do not disbelieve you now. I do not believe this man,
I believe he has been treacherous and that in his dexterous defence just
now he lied. Watch me! I turn him over to you."
And, with a really magnificent gesture, he stepped half a pace away from
Perennis, stretched out his left arm, the golden baton in his hand, and,
with that fatal truncheon, touched him on the shoulder.
The roar that rose was the roar of wild beasts ravening for their prey.
The men, packed as they were, somehow surged forward. On the shoulders of
their fellow-centurions, a sort of billow of the foremost sergeants rose
like surf against a rock; like surf breaking against a rock a sort of foam
of them overflowed the front of the platform. For the twinkling of an eye
I beheld above this rising tide of executioners the imperious dignity of
the Emperor, master of the scene, self-confident and certain that all men
would approve of his decision, magnificent in his military trappings; the
incredulous amazement of Perennis, his pale, watery blue eyes bleared in
his lead-colored, bloodless face, as he stood dazed and numb; the horror
of his bedizened wife and sister, both fleshy women, dark-skinned and
normally red-cheeked, now gray with despair, like the two wretched lads
beside them; the cruelly feminine relish, as upon the successful fruition
of long and tortuous intrigues, blazoned on the faces of Marcia and of
Cleander's wife, a very showy woman with golden hair, violet eyes and a
delicately pink and white complexion: a similar expression of relished
triumph on the broad, fat, ruddy face of her big husband, who looked just
what he had been; a man who had started life as a slave; whose master had
thought him likely to be most profitably employed as a street porter, in
which capacity he had for years carried packs, crates, bales, chests,
rafters and such like immensely heavy loads long distances and had thriven
on his exertions; who, whatever brains he had since displayed, however
much character and merit had contributed to his dazzling rise in life, had
retained and still possessed a hearty appetite, a perfect digestion,
mighty muscles, hard and solid, all over his hulking frame, and the vast
strength of his early prime; all these chief actors framed against a
background of gaudily caparisoned officers and courtiers.
In scarcely more than the twinkling of an eye Perennis. was seized by four
brawny frontier sergeants and hurled down among the men, among whom he
vanished like a lynx under a pack of dogs. I caught no afterglimpse of him
nor of his frayed corpse; I descried only a sort of whirlpool of active
men about the spot where he had, as it were, sunk into their vortex.
When the flailing arms ceased flailing and the panting executioners stood
quiet, the Emperor stretched out his right hand for silence; the rumbling
snarls and growls of the mob abated till silence reigned. Into it he
"You know the custom of our fathers since Numa. The family of a traitor is
abolished with him."
There came a second roar of the ravening, ferocious men, a second surge of
the foremost up the face of the platform, and, instantly, the sons, wife
and sister of Perennis were pushed from it, cast down among the mob, and
never reappeared. After the mob quieted a second time Commodus again
raised his hand for silence. Quicker than before the men were still. He
spoke loud and clear: "You have saved me from a treacherous Prefect of
the Praetorium. I have meditated whom to appoint to his vacant post. I
have considered well. I now present him to you; my faithful henchman,
Cleander of Mazaca, who, by his own deserts, has won citizenship in the
Republic, equestrian rank and my favor and gratitude."
The mob cheered.
Retrospectively, Cleander is talked of, if at all, chiefly as having been
brutish, dull, stupid, venal, avaricious and cruel. Cruel and avaricious
he certainly became; venal and brutish he certainly seemed; but dull or
stupid I cannot admit that he ever was. Indubitably, at the time of his
appointment to be Prefect of the Praetorium, he possessed some qualities
fitting him, as he later was, to be entrusted by his self-indulgent master
with the administration of the whole Empire. Certainly he was quick-
thinking, prompt, ingenious, incredibly persuasive, resolute and ruthless,
which qualities go far towards equipping a ruler. Without these
characteristics he could not have conceived or adopted the plan which he
Commodus caught Cleander's eye, nodded to him and sat down. Confident and
smiling, Oleander stepped forward to the platform's railing and addressed
"As Prefect of the Praetorium, I am charged with the care of the personal
safety of our Prince in his Palace, in the City and wherever he may be.
Among measures for his personal safety I rate high the maintenance of
discipline and loyalty among his frontier garrisons or their
reestablishment if impaired. By his command you are to return speedily
whence you came and tell your fellows of the complete success of your
mission. I must be sure that your report will satisfy them, that you set
out on your return fully satisfied yourselves. Are you satisfied? I ask
your senior sergeant to act as spokesman. After he has spoken I shall give
all who desire it the opportunity to speak."
Sextius Baculus at once replied that they were not satisfied while the
post of Procurator of Illyricum was held by the eldest son of Perennis, or
while he held any office, or, in fact, while he was alive.
Cleander, in a loud, far-carrying voice, apprized the entire assemblage of
what Baculus had said, and replied to him:
"From now on I am in charge of all matters pertaining to the personal
safety of Caesar, including the apprehension and execution of all traitors
and potential traitors. You may rely implicitly on me without suggestions
from anyone to take all measures which may be necessary in all such cases.
In this case you may feel assured that I have already initiated measures
which will infallibly lead to the traitor's return to Italy, without any
unsettlement of the loyalty of the Illyrian garrisons, to his being
quietly arrested and as quietly executed. Are you satisfied?"
The answer was a roar of cheers, roar after roar. When the cheering
subsided Cleander, three separate times, urged anyone who wished to speak
up. No man spoke. Then he said:
"I am commissioned by Caesar to repeat to you explicitly what he has
himself partly expressed to you twice today: his appreciation of your
fealty and good intentions, his thanks for your good order on your march
from Britain and for your having saved him from unsuspected peril, and his
gratitude. But please take note and remember that Caesar specially
commissions me to say to you that no similar deputation from Britain or
from anywhere else will ever be permitted to reach Rome, to enter Italy or
even to set out from the posts assigned to its members. Any attempt at
such a deputation will be treated, not as well-meant effort to help our
Sovereign, but as sacrilegious rebellion against him.
"Also please note that, whereas he has accepted your advice and acted upon
it, any further expression of advice from any of you or any future attempt
of any legionaries to advise the Emperor will be regarded as an unbearable
act of insolence and presumption and dealt with as such. Caesar commands
you to be silent and obey.
"Through me he notifies you that your stay at Rome is to be short, that
you are, within a few days, under officers appointed by him, to set out on
your return march to your Gallic port, there to reembark for Britain,
there to guard the frontier or keep order in the provinces. As a
preparation, for your return march he bids you rest and feast; and, that
all may feast, he has lavishly provided food and wine, which you will find
ready at your quarters, and with that provision an ample force of cooks
and servitors to prepare and distribute your banquet. Caesar now goes to
dine and bids you disperse to dine. I have spoken for Caesar. Obey!"
Less heartily, perhaps, but universally, this haughty speech was responded
to by loud, tumultuous and long-lasting cheers. More cheers saluted the
Emperor when he stood up and followed him till he had vanished with his
retinue, at full gallop. The men even continued to cheer until Cleander's
wife and Marcia had entered their gilded carriages and been driven off in
the wake of the Imperial cortege.
Our evening meal was truly, as Cleander had called it, a feast and a
banquet. When we reached our quarters the food was ready and just ready
and our repast began at once. It was calculated, in every particular, to
induce gluttonous gorging and guzzling. Before our hunger was really
satisfied, before we had more than barely begun to drink the temptingly
excellent wine, Agathemer whispered in Greek:
"This banquet is an attempt to make all of us sleep far too soundly. Every
man of us will be surfeited with food and fuddled with wine. You and I
must be exceptions. Be sure to eat less than you want and to make a mere
show of drinking. We must keep awake."
We did, and, in our tent, discussed in whispers our situation.
"North of Nuceria," Agathemer said, "I judged that we should be safer by
ourselves than with these fools and rabble, but they kept such close watch
on us that the risks of escape were too great. South of Narnia I have
judged us better off where we were than if wandering alone. Now whatever
the risks of an attempt to escape, whatever the perils we may encounter if
we escape, try to escape we must. I have an intuition that this camp is,
tonight, the most dangerous spot in all Italy."
We peered out of the tent at intervals; without hindrance or danger, for
our tent-mates were utterly asleep. The night was windless and warm. A
moon, more than half full, rose about midnight and, as it climbed the sky,
shed a pearly light through a veil of mist which deepened and thickened.
Near the ground the mist was so thick that it made escape easy, though
We tried to judge our time so as to start a full hour before the first
streak of dawn. We traversed unhindered a camp sunk in sleep, where we
heard no sound but crapulous snorings. Northward, towards the Mulvian
Bridge, we sneaked out into the tomb-lined meadows. Through or above the
dense fog we could spy the pinnacles of several vast and ambitious
mausoleums glittering in the moon-rays.
We were not a hundred yards from the camp when I dimly perceived ahead of
us through the fog something like a wall or stockade about two yards high.
A step or two further, at the same moment at which I made out that it was
a serried rank of helmetted men, a challenge rang out, sharp and
Instantaneously we dropped on our hands and knees and crawled back to
"I told you I had a suspicion that this was a dangerous locality,"
Agathemer whispered when we had stood up and gotten our breath. "Those
were regular infantry of some sort. We can only hope that they are on that
side only. Let's try towards Rome."
There, at about the same distance we were similarly challenged.
In camp again Agathemer said:
"Those were Praetorian infantrymen, and they were standing shoulder to
shoulder. This looks bad. But I believe in taking every possible chance.
Let's try towards the road."
Eastwards also we encountered the like obstacle.
Back we crawled unpursued. As we skurried through the snoring camp,
unperceived by the sodden sleepers, Agathemer said, aloud:
"This looks increasingly bad. The Praetorians are standing with
interlocked elbows; they look unpleasantly like samples of a complete
cordon round the camp. The mounted Praetorians are behind them not two
horse-lengths and less than that apart. I divined some sort of troops
massed behind the cavalrymen. I feel frightened."
Out we raced towards the broad Tiber, towards it we crept through fog
across the meadow. Again we were challenged. The cordon was, apparently,
As we regained the camp Agathemer said:
"If we are to escape alive we need all our craft, and we must be quick."
We sprinted, not to our quarters, but to those of the British veterans.
Into each tent we peered.
Every tent was empty!
Agathemer, plainly, felt in a desperate hurry, yet he took time to glance
into the most of the hundred and fifty tents, tearing along past the lines
of them. He also took time, after our brief inspection was finished, to
pause, get his breath and say:
"This looks worse than bad. I miss my guess if many of these slumberers
wake alive. Strip!"
We stripped of everything except our amulet bags.
Then, at full run, stark naked, our unsheathed sheath-knives in our hands,
we raced through the fog, now glimmering with the first forehint of coming
dawn, along the inner edge of the veterans' tents, till we were opposite
the quarters of the tumultuary century formed from the outpourings of the
_ergastulum_, at Nuceria.
Into one of the veterans' tents we went.
"Knife in teeth!" said Agathemer.
The tents were lavishly provided with unsoldierly comforts, a double
allowance of blankets and mattresses stuffed with dried reeds or sedge.
Motioning me to help, Agathemer doubled a mattress and pressed on it till
it lay so. Then he doubled another and set it so that the two were about a
yard apart, with their folds towards each other. Another pair he set
similarly so that the interval between the folds was over two yards long.
Then we roofed the interval, so to speak, with two mattresses laid flat,
and laid two more on each of these. Not yet satisfied Agathemer led me out
four times to drag in, from the near-by tents, mattresses, two of which we
laid lengthwise over the triple mattress-roof, the others we heaped over
the end of the roofed tunnel furthest from the opening of the tent.
Then we went outside yet again and cut the ropes of the two adjacent tents
and of the one above the pile of mattresses. We threw our knives far away
and bunched up the collapsed canvas of that tent so that it formed a sort
of continuation of the mattress-roofed tunnel. Then we crawled, feet
first, into the tunnel, taking with us two full water-bottles which
Agathemer had found in one of the tents and a quarter loaf of bread, left
over from the banquet. It smelt appetizing.
We wriggled into the tunnel side by side, until our heads were well under
the mattress-roof. We could see out under the huddled, crumpled canvas.
Full in our limited view lay, in the middle of the camp street, a fat
Nucerian, the outline of his big chest and prominent paunch dimly visible
in the increasing light. His gurgling snores were plainly audible.
Agathemer broke off two fragments of the bread and we munched
We had hardly swallowed three mouthfuls when Agathemer exclaimed:
"Just in time! I can hear the arrows already! Listen!"
We listened. I could hear a sound as of hail on roofs. And, just above us,
I could hear the arrows plunge into our protecting mound with a swishing,
"We ought to be safe," Agathemer whispered. "But we may get skewered even
as we are. Volleyed arrows drive deep."
I heard many a volley and, after the first, since I was listening for it,
I heard faintly before each volley the deep boom of thousands of powerful
bows, twanging all at the same instant.
As the light increased I could see the drunken Nucerian with his hummocky
outline emphasized by five feathered arrows planted in his body. He must
have been killed by any of the five.
When we saw living men pass across our outlook, their legs looked like
those of some sort of foreign auxiliaries. I made the conjecture, from
their movements, that they were killing the merely wounded. Certainly, one
of them drove his long sword through the prostrate, arrow-skewered
Nucerian; and, sometime later, another, with quite a different type of
leg-coverings, did the like.
After daylight we saw pass by the legs of many Praetorian infantrymen and
of some cavalrymen. From the second hour we saw only legs of some novel
sort of regular soldiery whose trappings neither of us could recognize.
It grew hot in our hiding place. We talked in whispers; while talking we
seemed more indifferent to the heat.
"All this must have been planned beforehand and carefully and very
skillfully carried out. It took ingenuity, minutely detailed arrangements
and great skill to arrange that banquet so as to get all the tumultuary
additions to the deputation surfeited and dead drunk and yet keep the
veteran legionaries near enough to being sober to be waked up, marshalled
and marched out. And it took amazing eloquence to wheedle their centurions
into abandoning their invited associates. The whole thing is a miracle. I
can't see through it."
I may interpolate here, what I learned more than four years later, after
Cleander's downfall and death and after my return from Africa, that
Agathemer's conjectures, as we talked the matter over in our nook, were
correct. Perennis had formulated the plan and had prepared for it and
given the preliminary orders. His was the policy of allowing the mutineers
to march all the way to Rome unhindered. He, without consulting the
Emperor and with every care to prevent him from suspecting what was afoot,
imported a thousand archers from Crete, and as many mounted bowmen from
Numidia, from Mauretania and from Gaetulia. He planned the banquet-feast,
he made arrangements for the cordon of Praetorians. The massacre was his
Cleander must have known of all this; he could not, like Commodus, be kept
in ignorance. Either before he came to our camp, or, perhaps, in his
elation at his rival's ruin and his own success, he adopted the ready
plan. Most likely the separation from their fellows of the veteran
mutineers was all his own idea; Perennis was not the man to carry out so
bold a stroke nor so much as to conceive of it. Indubitably, after dark,
the eighteen veteran sergeants were secretly called to a meeting with
Cleander. The fellow must have possessed superhuman powers of persuasion.
Certainly he made a long speech in which he convinced the leaders of the
mutineers that their having associated with themselves tumultuary recruits
in Gaul and the liberated inmates of _ergastula_ in Italy was inconsistent
with their expressed loyalty to Caesar and the Commonwealth; that by such
action, they had gravely imperilled the very existence of the Republic and
the safety of their Emperor. He won them over so completely that they
acceded, without hesitation, to his dictum that they ought to do all in
their power to repair the ill effects of their error of judgment; that the
only way was to abandon their associates, to leave them for him to deal
with and to march with all speed back to Britain to reassure their fellow-
insurgents and reclaim Britain to effective loyalty.
So completely were they under his spell that they returned to their camp,
roused their men without waking any of their tumultuary associates, and
marched the whole body of veterans, in the night, across the Mulvian
Bridge and on all day to a prepared camp near Careiae, where they spent
the night. From there they marched in two days the forty-six miles to
Cosa; whence they followed the Aurelian road to Marseilles, as we had
ridden it, and from there marched across Gaul to Gessoriacum and shipped
for Britain, all in half the time in which they had come.
Agathemer and I spent the whole day in our hiding place, suffering
terribly from the heat, for the day was hot, muggy and breezeless, so that
the still sultry air was stifling. We spared our water-bottles and made
their contents last. Our bread we munched relishingly after noon.
Before sunset we were discovered and unearthed by some of the infantry
whose trappings were unknown to us. We found out later that they belonged
to the newly-enlisted Viarii, cohorts created from picked young men judged
agile, alert, intelligent and loyal, to act as a special road-constabulary
to deal with robbers and especially with the bands obeying the King of the
Highwaymen and with him.
Our captors did not treat us roughly, though they bound our hands behind
us effectually. They laughed over our device for escaping the arrows and
commented on our cleverness. Our amulet-bags they ignored, being more
interested in our brand-marks and scourge-scars. Their sergeant asked us
where we were from.
"Do you think it likely," Agathemer laughed, "that we would tell you;
can't you read on our backs that, wherever we came from it is the last
place on earth we want to go back to?"
The sergeant laughed genially.
"Mark 'em 'unidentified'," he ordered.
They clothed us in tunics innocent of any blood-stains, but which, we felt
sure, had been taken from the corpses of our late associates.
"Put 'em with the rest," the sergeant ordered.
With the rest, some three hundred survivors out of more than three
thousand tumultuaries, we were herded inside a convoy of constabulary and
marched in the dusk and dark to our former camp at Rubrae. There we were
liberally fed on what was, apparently, the leavings from the entertainment
afforded the mutineers there on their down-march.
Next morning we were lined up and inspected by a superior officer with two
orderlies and two secretaries. As he passed down the rank in which
Agathemer and I stood he eyed us keenly. After a time he returned and
"These two rascals are trying to keep together. Separate them!"
Thereafter I saw no more of Agathemer for over four years.
I do not wish to dwell on my wretchedness, after we were parted. Alone
among riffraff, I was very miserable. I mourned for the faithful fellow
and knew he mourned for me. I longed for him as keenly as if he had been
I and my fellows were marched on under close convoy, up the Flaminian
Highway and the batch among which I was, was cast into the _ergastulum_ at
There I passed a miserable winter. Our prison was not unlike the
_ergastulum_ at Placentia; ill-designed, damp, cold, filthy, swarming with
vermin and crowded with wretches like myself. I was despondent in my
loneliness and found harder to bear my shiverings, my fitful half-sleep in
my foul infested bunk, the horrible food, the grinding labor, the stripes
and blows and insults of the guards and overseers and the jeers of my
inhuman fellow-sufferers. This time I had no chance of becoming cook's-
helper or of easing my circumstances in any other manner. I spent the
entire winter haggard for sleep, underclad, underfed, overworked,
shivering, beaten and abused.
Conditions in that _ergastulum_ were more than amazing. It was so utterly
mismanaged that, in fact, very little effective work was done, though the
inmates were roused early, set to their tasks before they could really
see, lashed all day, given but a very brief rest at noon and released only
after dusk. Half the prisoners judiciously directed could have ground
twice as much grain. As it was, the superintendent and overseers had far
less real authority than a sort of dictator elected or selected or
tolerated by the rabble. He had a sort of senate of the six most ruffianly
of the prisoners. These seven ruled the _ergastulum_ and their power was
effective for overworking and underfeeding, even more than the generality,
those whom they disliked, and for diminishing the labors and increasing
the rations of their favorites. The existence of this secret government
among the rabble was in itself astonishing, its methods yet more so.
Unlike the _ergastulum_ at Placentia the watch at the _ergastulum_ at
Nuceria was very lax and haphazard. It was effective at keeping us in;
there were but three escapes all winter. But communication with the
outside world was fairly easy and was kept up unceasingly. Many of the
inmates had friends among the slaves of Nuceria. The gate-guards were so
remiss that, daily, one or more outsiders entered our prison and left when
they pleased. The henchmen of the dictator even managed to slip out and
spend an hour or more where they pleased in the city. This, however, was
possible only if they returned soon, for the superintendent was keen on
calling us over three times a day.
Through the activities of those inmates who arranged to get out and
return, and of their friends who entered and left, since the weighers of
the grain and flour were careless and their inspectors negligent, the
dictator and his friends drove a regular and profitable trade in stolen
flour, which they exchanged for wine, oil, dainties, stolen clothing and
such other articles as they desired; they even sold much of it for cash,
and not only the dictator but each of the six senators had a hoard of
coins, not merely coppers, but broad silver pieces.
In this traffic and its advantages I had no share. In fact, of all his
fellows, I think the dictator hated me most; certainly he bullied me, made
my lot harder in countless petty ways, and abused and insulted me
After mid-winter I became aware of a traffic not only in dainties and
wine, but in implements and weapons. Many daggers and knives were smuggled
into the _ergastulum_, not a few files. The senators had a small arsenal
of old swords, regular infantry swords, rusty but dangerous. Gradually I
heard whispers of a plot. The conspirators were to file through the bars
of more than one window, plastering up the filed places with filth and
earth to conceal the filing, leaving a thread of metal to hold the filed
bars in place. Then, when all was ready, they planned to murder the
guards, overseers and superintendent, break out, sack the town-arsenal,
loot shops and mansions, and then, well-clad and fully armed, take to the
mountains and join the bands of the King of the Highwaymen. Two of the
senators claimed to have been men of his before their incarceration and
promised to lead the rest to the haunts of his brigands.
The date set for their attempt was the fourteenth day before the Kalends
of April, a few days before the Vernal Equinox. My gorge rose at the idea
of the burning and sacking of Nuceria, even at the slaughter of our cruel
guards, overseers and superintendent. The more I thought the matter over
the less I liked the prospect. I had every reason to hate the dictator and
senators. I saw no likelihood of betterment for myself if I were carried
off with these riffraff as one of a band of looters, murderers and
outlaws, loose in the forests.
I contrived to disclose the plot to the prison authorities. As a result
the _ergastulum_ was entered by the town guards, rigorously searched by
the aldermen and their apparitors, under the aldermen's eyes, all the sawn
bars, files, knives, daggers and swords discovered, the suspected men
tortured till the ring-leaders were identified, the dictator and his
senators flogged and manacled, and the management of the _ergastulum_
I was conducted from the prison, given a bath, clothed in a clean, warm
tunic and cloak, provided with good shoes, abundantly fed and put to sleep
in a clean bed in the house of a freedman who watched closely that I did
not escape, but did everything to make me comfortable.
The next day the chief alderman of Nuceria interrogated me at the town
hall, praised me, declared that I had saved the town many horrors and much
damage and loss, and asked me what reward I craved.
I answered, boldly, that what I craved was what all slaves craved:
He replied that, in his opinion, I had merited manumission; but that I was
not the property of the municipality of Nuceria, but of the _fiscus_;
[Footnote: See Note B.] I was, in short, part of the personal property of
the Emperor and could be manumitted only by the Emperor, or by one of his
legal representatives. Such a manumission would be difficult to arrange
and its arrangement would take a long time. He would set to work to try to
arrange for it. Meantime, could I not ask some reward within their power
I at once replied that I desired above all things never to be returned to
This he promised immediately, saying that recommitment there would be
equivalent to a sentence of torture and death, since my late associates,
infuriated at my treachery, as they named it, would certainly inflict on
me all the torments their malignity could suggest and keep on till I died.
He added that he and the other aldermen had never meant to recommit me;
deliverance from that _ergastulum_. they considered part of my reward and
that the least part of it. What else did I desire?
"If," said I, "I must remain a slave and, remaining the property of
Caesar, must be employed as the administration of the _fiscus_ direct, at
least try to arrange that I be employed out of doors far from any town, on
a slave farm, or at herding or wood-cutting or charcoal-burning. I have
heard that many of Caesar's slave-gangs are busy afield, on farms, or
pasture-lands or in the forests."
"That," said the alderman, "will be easy. Afield you shall go--even far
afield. Do you like horses? Can you manage horses?"
"I love all animals," I said, "and most particularly horses."
"Then," said the alderman, "I have already in mind the very place for you,
where none of your rancorous late associates can ever find you, on an
Imperial stock-farm or breeding-ranch in the uplands, among the forested
mountains. Would you consider it a reward, would you consider it the
fulfillment of your wish to be transferred from our town _ergastulum_,
where you were as an Imperial slave rented out to our city, to such an
Imperial estate, where you will be directly under the employees of the
"I certainly should feel rewarded," I said, "by such a transfer."
"In addition," he concluded, "we shall present you with a new tunic and
cloak and new shoes, also an extra tunic, and with a purse containing ten
THE OPEN COUNTRY
After some days of rest, abundant food and leisurely hot-baths in the
freedman's house, I left Nuceria under convoy of three genial road-
constables and journeyed deliberately northward along the Flaminian
Highway to the Imperial estate which was to be my abode. I am not going to
locate it precisely nor to name the villages nearest it nor the
neighboring towns. It will be quite sufficient to set down that it was
near the Flaminian Highway and approximately half way between Nuceria and
My reasons for vagueness are mandatory, to my mind. Feuds in the Umbrian
mountains differ greatly from feuds in the Sabine hills; but, like
Sabinum, Umbria is afflicted with feuds. Now I anticipate that this book
will not only be widely read among our nobility and gentry and much
discussed by them, but also that it will be talked of by more than half
Rome and that copies of it and talk about it will spread all over Italy
and even into the provinces. Talk of it may trickle into the Umbrian
mountains. Umbrian mountaineers live long. Some of those who loved me and
befriended me or loved and befriended those who loved and befriended me,
may still be alive and hearty and likely to live many years yet. So also
may be some of those who hated me. I do not want anyone holding a grudge,
or nursing the grudge of a dead kinsman or friend, to learn through me of
any secret kindness to me which he might regard as treachery to his kin
and so feel impelled to avenge on those who befriended me or their
children or grandchildren. Umbrian enmities ramify incredibly and endure
from generation to generation. I remember with gratitude many Umbrians who
were kind to me; I would not, however, indirectly cause any trouble to
them in their old age, or to their descendants.
The Imperial estate was large and I learned its history. It was made up of
three adjacent properties confiscated at different periods by different
Emperors. One had fallen to the _fiscus_ under Nero, a second under
Domitian, and a third under Trajan, each as the result of its owner being
implicated in a conspiracy against the Emperor. The administration of the
resultant large estate was a perfect sample of the excellent management in
detail and stupid misjudgment in general so common under the _fiscus_. The
estate was hilly, some of it mountainous, and quite unfitted for horse-
breeding, which is best engaged in, as everybody knows, on estates
composed chiefly of wide-spreading plains or gently rolling country with
broad, flat meadows. Good judgment would have put this estate chiefly in
forest, with a few cattle, some sheep and more goats, but no horses. As I
found it, it had, to be sure, many goats, but almost as many sheep and
cattle, and horses almost as numerous as the cattle and far more
important, for to their breeding most of the efforts of the overseer were
The overseer's house was the best of the three original villas. About it
were ample, commodious and scrupulously clean quarters for slaves like me.
Also it had yards for fowls, ducks, geese, guinea-fowls, and peacocks,
arranged before the confiscation and allowed since to run down, but still
productive and fairly well-filled with birds, as were the big dovecotes.
Besides, there were fish ponds and a rabbit-warren, left from the former
villa. There were extensive stables, cattle-sheds and pens, sheep-folds,
goat-runs and pig-sties adjoining the house. In the quarters I found a
goodly company of hearty, healthy, contented slaves, sty-wards, goatherds,
shepherds, cowmen and horse-wranglers. These were friendly from my first
arrival among them, seemed to look me over deliberately and appraise me,
and appeared to like me.
I was first sent out as one of two assistants to an experienced herder in
charge of a rather large herd of beef-steers. We drove them up the
mountains to a grassy glade and, when they had eaten down the grass there,
to another. Our duties were light, as the steers were not very wild or
fierce and were easy to keep together, to keep in motion by day and to
keep stationary by night. Each night two of us slept by a smouldering fire
and the third circled about the herd as the steers lay sleeping or chewing
their cuds. The circling was done at the horse's slowest walk. Our horses
were good, our food good, and my two companions genial, though reticent.
Only once did any of our charges bolt. Then, when we missed three steers,
our senior asked me:
"Do you think you could find them and fetch them back?"
On my affirming confidence that I could he smiled doubtfully, and shook
his head, but drawled:
"I'll give you the chance, just to try you out."
I found the runaways with no trouble whatever, for their trail was nowhere
faint, turned them easily and brought them back, manifestly, much sooner
than he had hoped. He appeared pleased, but merely grunted.
Yet he must have spoken well of me to the superintendent, for after a
day's rest in the slave-quarters I was assigned the sole care of a small
bunch of young cows with their first calves. It seemed to be assumed that
I would make no attempt to escape. As I had been given a good horse and a
serviceable rain-cloak, I had thoroughly enjoyed my life from the start.
The landscape was charming, the climate agreeable, spring was approaching,
I was out in the open air, camping at night by a fire wherever my charges
lay down to sleep, eating what I chose of the ample supply of good food
which I carried in my saddle-bags. I was happy, thoroughly happy, and I
throve from my arrival. I still mourned for Agathemer, but I did not miss
him as acutely as I had in the _ergastulum_.
After about ten days in the woodland glades I brought my charges back to
the villa for inspection, according to orders. The inspector was pleased
with their condition and commended me. Some of the fellow-herdsmen, off
duty, stood or sat about and they seemed to approve.
One of them asked:
"Have much trouble, Greenhorn?"
"Not a bit," I answered.
"How'd you like to try to milk one of those cows?" another enquired.
"I can milk any one of them," I replied. "I have milked most of them. I've
been drinking all the milk I could hold all the while I was out with
"That's the silliest lie I ever heard," they chorused. "Why, if you tried
to handle any one of those cows she'd gore you to death. You couldn't get
near enough to the udder of any one of them to get your hand on her teats.
Invent a lie we can swallow, or quit bragging. You can't fool us."
I kept my temper, scaled the enclosure of the cow-pen, being careful not
to make any sudden movement, strolled to the nearest cow, stroked her
nose, pulled her ears, walked down her flank, patting her as I went and
handled her udder.
"What have you to say now?" I called to the gaping yokels.
"Try that on another," they shouted back.
I did the like with two more.
They were dumb.
"Hand me a crock," I called, "and I'll get a quart or so of milk, if the
calves have left any."
When, one handed me a small _olla_ I milked it more than half-full from a
dozen cows. I exhibited the milk, offered it to them, and, on their
laughingly replying that they were no milk-sops, they preferred wine, I
drank most of it. Then I went to the nearest calf, gentled it, picked it
up, lifted it onto my back, its legs sticking out in front of me across my
shoulders, and paced back and forth along the inside of the fence, the
mother following me, licking the calf and lowing, but mild and with no
show of anger, let alone any threat of attack on me.
Before I put the calf down the superintendent came along.
"What's all this?" he queried.
"Felix here," he was answered, "is a sort of wizard. He can gentle these
cows, he can milk them, and he has been showing off how one will let him
carry her calf and yet not get excited."
"Can you do as well with bulls, too?" the _Villicus_ enquired.
"I think so," I replied. I had put down the calf and climbed out of the
"Come along!" the _Villicus_ commanded.
We trooped off to a pen where there was a fine breeding-bull all alone.
"Get inside, lad!" said the _Villicus_; "that is, if you dare. But be sure
you are ready to vault out again, and entirely able to clear the pen."
I climbed into the pen and stood. The bull gazed at me, but made no
threatening movement and his demeanor was placid. I walked up to him, a
pace at a time, patted his nose, pulled his ears, walked round him,
stroking him, took hold of the ring in his nose and led him over toward
the awestruck gapers:
When I climbed out of the pen one man said:
"Try him on old Scrofa."
We trooped off to the hog-pens and there was a six or eight-year-old sow
with a young litter. She was a huge beast, as ugly a sow as ever I saw. I
got into her pen, miring half to my knees in its filth, but keeping my
feet. She made no move to attack me, but grunted enquiringly. I picked up
one of her pigs, it hardly squealed and she grunted scarcely more than she
had already. I dangled the piglet before her, and she only smelt it and
kept on grunting, with no sign of wrath.
"Come out, Felix," the _Villicus_ drawled, "you are sow-proof. But how do
you do it?"
"I don't know," I replied, "but I have always been able to gentle fierce
animals of any kind. No animal ever attacks me."
Thereupon he tried me with three rams famous for butting, two he-goats of
even worse reputation and half a score of watch-dogs. I came unscathed
from close companionship with the goats and rams, and the dogs behaved as
if they had been my pets from their puppyhood.
"Can you do as well with horses?" the _Villicus_ enquired.
"I believe so," I replied; "give me a chance."
"I shall," he asserted. "I'll round up all our colts fit for breaking and
try you on them. I'll get in most of the boys to watch the fun. It'll take
about ten days to get ready. Meanwhile you can take out another bunch of
heifers with new calves. It seems to suit you and the calves and the
When I returned from my third outing, hard and fit and happy, the
_Villicus_ asked me how soon I would be ready for colt-breaking.
"Tomorrow," I said.
The next day was made a sort of festival, with all the horse-herders at
the villa paddocks.
First of all four experienced horse-wranglers roped a filly, threw her,
bitted and bridled her while one sat on her head, let her get on her feet,
hobbled her, held her so while two more saddled her and then held her
while one mounted her. When they let her go she reared, bucked, dashed
about, bucked again and again, and continued till exhaustion forced her to
quiet down and obey her rider, who had kept his seat from the first.
"What do you think of that, Felix?" the _Villicus_ asked me.
"As good horse-wrangling as can be seen anywhere," I replied. "Up to
standard and even above normal. But I can do better."
"Bold words," said the _Villicus_; "we'll give you a chance to prove
Another filly was roped, bitted, bridled, and saddled, and her captors
invited me to mount.
"Pooh!" said I. "Let some one else ride her. I don't need all those
preliminaries. I can walk right out into that bunch of colts, catch any
young stallion you point out, hold him by the nose, gentle him without any
rope or thong on him, mount him by vaulting onto his back, and ride him
about unbitted, unbridled, bareback, and as I please, without his rearing
or backing or kicking."
"Son," said the _Villicus_, "you are either a lunatic or a demigod. Go in
and try what you boast you can do. Show us."
"Point out your stallion," I suggested.
He indicated a beautiful bay with a white face. He let me approach him at
my first attempt, let me take him by the nose, let me lead him close to my
dumbfounded audience, let me mount him. I rode him about, turning him to
right or left as the _Villicus_ ordered, at my suggestion. When I got off
I lifted each of his hoofs in succession, crawled under his belly, crawled
between his fore-legs, and then between his hind-legs, while the onlookers
held their breath; finally I stood behind him, slapped his rump and pulled
"Is he broken?" I queried.
"Apparently he is gentle as a lamb to you," the _Villicus_ admitted, "but
how about the rest of us?"
"Bring in a saddle and bridle," I suggested, "and I'll bit him and hold
him while two of you saddle him and until one of you mounts him. He should
be no more dangerous than a roped filly."
They did as I suggested and I then rode him about until he appeared used
to the saddle and bit and already, at once, bridle-wise. Then one of the
wranglers rode him.
I gentled colt after colt all that day till sunset, with a very brief
pause for food and rest. Also I kept it up next day until mid-afternoon,
when the last colt had been tamed.
Then, as we stood breathing, one of the horse-wranglers suggested:
"Try him on Selinus."
"That would be plain murder," one of the others cried.
"I am not so sure," the _Villicus_ ruminated. "I am almost ready to feel
that he might even tame Selinus."
Off we trooped to the stable of the choice breeding-stallions. There, in a
darkened box-stall, I was shown a beautiful demon of a horse, four years
old, a sorrel, with a white face and white forefeet. He certainly looked
"Will you try him?" the _Villicus_ asked me.
"Of course," I said. "Let him out into the yard or the paddock."
Into the paddock he was let out, by means of a door in his stall worked by
winches from above. In the afternoon sunlight he pranced and curvetted
about, a joy to see.
"Let me show Felix what he is like," one of the younger horse-wranglers
"You can," the _Villicus_ agreed. "We all know how agile you are and how
quick at vaulting a fence."
The fellow vaulted into the paddock when Selinus was at its further
corner. The moment the beast saw him he charged at full-run, screaming
like an angry gander, the picture of a man-killer, ears laid back,
nostrils wide and red, mouth open, teeth bared, forehoofs lashing out high
in front, an equine fury. The lad vaulted the fence handily when Selinus
was not three yards from him and the brute pawed angrily at the palings
and bit them viciously.
"Want to try, Felix?" the _Villicus_ asked me again.
Without a word I vaulted the enclosure within two yards of Selinus. He
stood, ears cocked forward, nostrils quiet, mouth shut, all four hoofs on
the ground, quivering all over.
Inch by inch I neared him till my hand touched him. He trembled like an
aspen-leaf, but did not attack me.
"Hercules be good to us all!" exclaimed one of the men.
After that I did with Selinus all I had done with the first stallion-colt,
gentling him, leading him by the nose, mounting him, riding him, crawling
under his belly, between his fore-legs and hind-legs, pulling his tail,
slapping him liberally all over. Then, timidly, urged by their comrades'
jeers, the two wranglers whom I invited brought me a saddle and bridle and
I bitted him and held him while they saddled. Then I rode him.
Afterwards, with much misgiving, but shamed into boldness, the chief
horse-wrangler mounted him and rode him.
Selinus was tamed!
"Felix," said the _Villicus_, "you are too valuable to set to herding
cattle. You are henceforward chief horse-wrangler of this estate. I'll
give you a house all to yourself and a girl to keep house for you. When
not horse taming here or wherever I lend you out, you can spend your time
as you please."
The onlookers acclaimed his award and the displaced chief horse-wrangler
shook hands with me and declared that he was proud to be second to such a
wonder as "Felix the Wizard."
After that I lived a life of ease. My dwelling was a neat cottage well
shaded with fine trees and bowered in climbing vines, with a tiny
courtyard, a not too tiny atrium with a hearth, a kitchen, a store-room
and two bed-rooms. It was as clean as possible and well furnished for a
slave's quarters. The girl and I liked each other at first sight. I am not
going to tell her name, but a jest we had between us led me to call her by
the pet name of Septima. If she had been a free-woman, she would have been
described as a young widow. Her former mate, one of the horse-wranglers,
had been killed by Selinus the previous autumn. Their child, not a year
old, had died before his father. Septima had recovered from her grief
during the winter and had become normally cheerful before she was assigned
to me. I found her constitutionally merry, very good company, always
diligent, a surpassing cook, magical with the garden, especially with her
beloved flowers, a capable needle-woman, always neat, and very good-
looking. We got on famously together.
With her beehives only, Septima had trouble. She understood bees
perfectly, but was afraid of them, and with reason, for she was manifestly
obnoxious to bees and was far too often stung. Of course, bees, like all