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The first Recess had been called. The frenzied excitement of the first title bouts had brought the crowd to the limits of their mental and emotional patience. Throats were parched from cheering and shouting; fingers aching from gripping too hard. Bets had been won and lost, friends lost and enemies made. The great magic of the Games was that they served to bleed bodies of their vital humors. Happiness, sadness, lust, anger, jealousies, the whole gamut of human emotion could be encompassed in only a few moments within the walls of the Arena. In order to prolong the day – and to allow spectators and participants alike time to recover – a helpful number of Recessions had been built into the daily programme. Her back and rear aching from the uncomfortable seat, Sestia took the occasion of the first of these to find some respite herself from the crowd by taking herself off to one of the number of exclusive bars and eateries that sat in the shadow of the arena, catering to the upper class revellers.

 

Most of the spectators would stay put. The headline acts may not be taking place at present but the organisers were paid to ensure that the activities kept coming. The breaks were traditionally used for more low-brow spectacles – loosely termed entertainments – that appealed more to the plebeian mob. Sometimes there were bawdy pantomimes. More often the time was given over to the blood-thirsty and grim despatching of criminals in a manner of imaginative ways. Wild beasts were a particular favourite of the people. If the organisers fancied themselves connoisseurs of mythology it was not unknown for them to create elaborate means of reliving traditional tales but featuring real life animals and real life people being devoured by them. Personally, none of this was much to Sestia’s taste. You could fathom the appeal of gladiators fighting one another – there, at least, was an element of mutual acquiescence in their predicament as it was, after all, their job to risk life and limb. It was completely different, however, to watch a thief try and flee from a bear or a Christian try and scramble up a column to escape a starving lion.

 

With this in mind, and anxious to escape the sea of emotion that even the senatorial stands had become, Sestia had taken the opportunity to take some air and time away from the crowd. The environs of the Arena were full of establishments like this, each catering to a different type of clientele. Cheap food and drink for the plebs; higher class (and higher price) affairs – with security staff on the door to turn away riff raff – for the higher orders of society. This bar had the added advantage of having invested in a modern rig of linen retractable awnings, allowing patrons to be able to sit outside yet out of the gaze of the weak Spring sun. Sestia had taken a table in the outer area and was currently sat, slightly hunched forwards, as her attendant, Brysias, massaged her back up and down to work out the knots of physical tension from hours of uncomfortable posture. A glass jug of watered wine sat on the table in front of her next to a small dish of untouched olives in a shining vinaigrette. A waiter had informed her, in a rather punctilious tone, that the kitchen was not yet open, despite the hour. However, as she saw several other male revellers eating at tables nearby, she assumed that what he had meant was that this was presumably a kitchen that was closed to orders from women. Unaccompanied as she was, the ass-of-a-waiter probably assumed she was a high class courtesan and he was thereby taking the supposedly moral high ground by refusing to serve her beyond the bare minimum. A table across the way of overly made-up young women with gawdy jewellery and fake hair-pieces showed that the establishment did get its fair share of such women but this made Sestia all the more cross that she – a daughter of a Proconsul – should be tarred with the same misogynistic brush.

 

As if sensing her mistress’ increasing temper, Brysias kneaded her back muscles a little harder and whispered quietly, “Please, Domina, there is no need to make a scene, we can go elsewhere.”

 

@Sharpie

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Aulus was aware that there were crowds but paid them no attention. His senatorial tunic and toga meant that people simply moved aside for him (maybe not quite as hastily as for Quintus Augustus and the Imperial family in their imperial purple but quickly enough). He paid them no heed as he led his family up to an establishment outside the Circus, with Titus and Calpurnia chattering nineteen to the dozen about the fights that they had seen and what was going to come next. He strode up to the proprietor of the place, looking neither to the right nor the left, and simply demanded service. The man nearly fell over his own feet at the sight of senatorial stripes and it was not long at all before Aulus could see where Horatia Justina had got to.

"Aulus, you remember Sestia Vaticana, don't you, dear? Daughter of Gaius Sestius Vaticanus - she married Lucius Afinius Gallus."

Aulus could not remember immediately, but murmured the necessary niceties while racking his memory. Lucius Afinius Gallus - one of Aulus' father's friends. He must have fought at Actium or something; he'd been twice his bride's age (easily, maybe more!) but had still fathered two children on his wife. He had managed to avoid the whole conflict over the Imperial succession, dying of old age on his estate while Quintus and his followers had been fighting various skirmishes and sorting out various messes left after the civil war.

His keen eye flicked over the table, bare of anything except a cup of watered wine and a dish of olives. Hmm.

"Would you care to join us - I am sure that there will be more than enough food for you as well?" He ignored the slightly disappointed looks on Titus' and Calpurnia's faces; it would do them good to show some politeness - and he hadn't been lying, either. The proprietor of the establishment had been far too awed at being addressed directly by a senator to do other than provide a mountain of food for him and his family.

 

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Standing up, Sestia placed the appropriate and polite kiss on each cheek of Horatia Justina, a familiar face from the time before her departure from the capital. The world of the senatorial class was often claustrophobic - it did not take a lifetime to have met most of the principle players. She gave a polite dip of her head in Aulus' direction, the proper deferential means of greeting a man of political standing.

"A pleasure to meet you and this, Horatia, must be your family? How grown they are!"

When meeting old female acquaintances from the past she knew the topic of conversation would almost certainly immediately turn to children. 

Her confidence about stating her personal independence now having been a little blunted, she felt naked without the trappings of her family about her and decided that the politely offered invitation would remedy that. "Well, providing it is no bother? My sons are not with me today and I suddenly find myself lonesome surrounded by so many families enjoying the special day."

She allowed Brysias to gather up the few items they had on their table and followed their new companions across.

"Yes, I am sure you heard that dear," here the word dear stuck in her throat, "Lucius Afinius is no longer with us." The look on the faces of Hortia and Aulus betrayed the fact that that was no surprise. In their defence most people used such an opportunity to make ribald comments about elderly men with young wives. She pressed on. "We are back from Carthage recently. Father's company in the governor's palace was perfectly fine but, for all its urban delights, Carthage is not Rome and Proconsularis is not Italia. Lucius Afinius would have wanted the boys to start on the cursus as soon as they are able so I brought them back to ensure that their education is properly Romanised before I have to bear them part the nest."

All truth - albeit there was a fair amount of gloss on it. Her father's increasingly bleak moods and heavy drinking, coupled with his determination to give his grandsons an almost Spartan style education need not be said. 

"You will have to tell me what you have been doing and all I have missed. Society in Carthage is so very insular it is as though the level of their vision does not extend beyond the shores of Africa!" 

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"This is my son, Titus, and my daughter Calpurnia Horatia," Aulus said. Titus straightened up and gave Sestia the appropriate bow of the head - he was still in his toga praetexta, an echo of his father's senatorial toga. He would be putting on his plain white adult toga in the next year or so. Calpurnia was shyer but managed a polite head-bob of her own, to Aulus' approval.

Aulus' father had written to him with the news of the death of Lucius Afinius, so it was no surprise to him. Sestia would be looking for a new husband, probably, he thought, and wondered who might be acting in the role of her guardian - surely her son was too young to stand for her in legal matters, though presumably her father were still alive (at least, he had not heard of Sestius Vaticanus' death).

The thought of guardians made him wonder how his sister would react if he tried to act on her behalf - and failed; Calpurnia Praetextata was a Vestal and even after she left that priesthood, she would have no need of a male to do her legal work for her.

"We have recently returned to Rome ourselves, only a few months back, from Raetia," he said. "The society of Augusta Vindelicorum is probably no less insular, thanks to the mountains of the area."

It was probably a good thing that the Carthaginian view did not extend past Africa; only look what they had managed when it had - Titus was still enthralled by the tales of Hannibal's war elephants.

"How are your boys?" Horatia asked once Aulus fell silent. "They must be, oh, about Titus' age, surely."

 

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Sestia beamed a smile - a flash of white teeth from between her lightly rouged lips - as both children were introduced. Both fine specimens of a proper Roman upbringing. "A pleasure to meet you both," she said, gracing each with a smile, then looking at the parents "what fine children you have, you should be proud! I expect they are enjoying the games? My sons will, I am sure, not talk to me for at least a week when they find out that I went without them. I did not want to disturb their studies and, perhaps badly of me, but I was keen to relish some time without having to be forever on my lookout to ensure there was no mischief!"

"They are boys of a certain age," she continued, "no matter what one does to try and ensure they are on the straight and narrow, you always find there is something you have missed or else you have overlooked the ability of a teenager to find ways to cause trouble. It is all the more funny, I suppose, if you ever knew what my late husband was like? Such a quiet, dour fellow. I am grateful that his sons are turning out to be more even tempered and outgoing even if that does mean they must try my patience now and again. Gallus is fifteen this year and it makes me feel nothing but old to think that next Liberalia he will be taking the toga and will be a man. Vaticanianus has a few years yet but sees himself as his brother's equal in all ways. I am one step away from giving them rooms at opposite ends of the domus for, more often than not, they fight like Romulus and Remus."

Sestia did not have the best of educations, it was true, but she had the sort of general but loose grasp of the provinces of the Empire. Raetia was a mountainous, forested and quite wild province to the north of Italia. In her mind dangerously close to the savage dark forests of Germania.

"Well I cannot say I have ever been to or heard of Vindelicorum, what is it like? It must have been an adventure for all of you if you took your family with you, Aulus Calpurnius? Is it not close to the Germans? Surely it must be a proper action station?"

Waving a hand airly, "oh you know Proconsularis, there has been no real trouble there save for that cooked up by Romans themselves since the days of Hannibal. Father is happy although I think he misses soldiering. The people are docile, the game is plentiful and proper Falernian can arrive in only a few days with a fair wind. He bores his staff with tales from campaigns in places far wilder than most of the delicate equites will ever have been to or would seek to go to. He is no fan of the capital, it is true, but I am sure if Caesar ever decides to call an end to his appointment he would return here and bend enough ears to try and be sent back out again."

"What do you intend to do with yourself now you have returned?"

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"You should bring your boys to visit - Titus would like some friends of his age, I'm sure," Horatia said. Titus did not look convinced, but did not demur - anyway, they might be nice enough, and there were links between the families, although it would be a good long time before he was expected to shoulder the burden of becoming paterfamilias to gens Calpurnia.

"Vindelicorum is a moderate sized town, about the same size as Pompeii, and as civilised. Raetia is, on the whole, as civilised a place as any. It does share a border with Germania Magna but most of that border is the River Danuvius. The more northern border is guarded by forts and there are two legions stationed along that border to deal with any incursions that may occur. My wife and children were as safe there as they are here. As for my plans now... Well, I don't suppose it is any secret that I am looking for my consulship."

There was a pause as the establishment's slaves bustled around them, delivering food to the table.

"He's going to build a big thermae - the biggest ever," Calpurnia declared, finding her courage suddenly. It deserted her almost as quickly, and she subsided, flushing red.

Titus took the opportunity of covering for his sister. "What do you think of Rome,  my lady?" he enquired, making Aulus have to hide a smile in his wine-cup. Titus was still conscious of being very newly returned to the Eternal City, and was perenially interested in others' opinions of the place - especially those who, like him, had spent time elsewhere. "And do they still have elephants in Carthage?"

Two questions on wildly different topics... Aulus couldn't help wondering which the lady would choose to answer, while thinking which Titus would prefer to have answered. Perhaps entertaining the lady and her sons would be a very good idea, to sate his son's curiosity; a polite boring adult conversation was unlikely to answer everything.

 

@Lauren

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Sestia nodded her head and smiled. “I am sure my sons would like that, if you are kind enough to have us. It would do them good to have some company of boys their own age. Their grandfather let them run wild around the barracks of the garrison in Proconsularis.” She looked at Aulus’ son directly. “I am sure they would be very interested to hear about your time living all the way in the North. My youngest is fascinated with barbarians of all kinds – I expect you would be able to tell him all about your adventures!”

 

There were likely none. As Aulus had said, his family would have been perfectly safe, many miles behind the military frontier, with the closest they likely came to a barbarian being slaves serving at their dinner table. Still, in her experience, boys liked to be flattered by being told they had specialist knowledge so she didn’t think it would do any harm to win him over with some kind words. Besides, Vaticanianus would likely definitely be only too happy to badger the poor boy silly with all hear knew about the forests of Germania and the tribes dwelling therein.

 

The senator’s daughter spoke quickly and then retreated to shyness. This made Sestia’s heart melt. She had been that girl one. At least Aulus had the generosity of spirit to let his daughter do so. When she was the same age, her gruff father would have baulked at allowing her to come to the Games (it would spoil the fun he would have roistering with his friends) and if she dared speak to one of his companions without permission she would surely have been beaten later for her presumption to speak out of turn in the presence of adults. Never, in her opinion, had the spirit of the misogynistic laws of the Twelve Tables been as rigorously enforced as in the domus Sestii Vaticanii.

 

She leant forward so she was at eye level with the girl. “Is that so? That is fascinating! Are you going to be giving some design tips?”

 

The news was very interesting. Tallied perfectly, of course, with the comment about a hoped-for consulship. Shorn of its Republican meanings, the position was still hugely significant and prestigious as not only did it confer clear favour from Caesar but the holders of the role at the start of the year would have the year named after them. Their names, in that way, would enter history forever. In the same way his name would survive the ages if his monumental structure came to pass. What better way to curry favour with the plebs and with Caesar than providing a huge civic benefit at no cost to the state treasury? The senator seemed canny enough and comfortable enough in his proximity to Caesar not to run the risk of putting the latter’s nose out of joint by making such a big popularity gesture. Doubtless Alexander Augustus’ name would be plastered all over it, in very close proximity to Praetexatus’!

 

She straightened up and addressed the senator. “The people of Rome will thank you for it! Where do you plan to build this? I am sure Caesar must be pleased also? If you do proceed you must remember to make facilities for the women of Rome too. Most of the thermae struck up by important men such as yourself have plenty of gymnasia, bars and pleasant diversions for men but very few for the good women of Rome who tirelessly stand behind their important menfolk.”

 

She said it in a light, almost joking, way but she believed in the truth of her point. Most of the larger, public complexes were sprawling all-in-one leisure facilities but were designed primarily for the gratification of the Roman man. Women, of course, were perfectly welcome but most of the range of facilities were closed to them: men only libraries, men only reading rooms, men only lecture theatres, men only bars, the list goes on. Even the shopping facilities tended to focus on the needs of men with disposable incomes: male grooming, male clothing, status pieces and general male novelties. Give us a centre which had its share of women’s interests and earn praise from the females of Rome.

 

She laughed again at the serious, courtly comment of the young man. “How do I find Rome? Very much changed since when I left it, I think. But – do you know what? – although I have lived away for quite some time I did not stop missing it. Where-ever you go across the Empire every town and city you go to wants to be like Rome. That is because here is the Mother of all cities. That is why people like your pater may go off to govern the provinces for a short while but always come back here. Some people live here all their lives and still haven’t seen all of it.”

 

His question about the elephants made her laugh. It was a standard question often asked by those much older than the young man. The reality was that elephants could still be found in Proconsularis, Numidia and the further regions of Aegyptus. None were native to there but tended to have been driven across the vast Sand Sea from the mysterious lands that lay beyond by the semi-mythical nomadic traders who made the desert their home. There was a belief – nurtured by the literature on Hannibal and the Punic Wars – that somehow Africa teemed with great flocks of elephants in the manner that the hills of Etruria ran with goats and sheep. She had seen plenty of elephants in Africa but none had been in a natural setting. They were either in the pens of Carthage, awaiting shipping to Rome for popular enjoyment, or else seen occasionally lumbering through the streets as beasts of burden.

She thought she would playfully tease. “Of course we still have these in Carthage! No family of quality is complete without at least one! Why, people ride them about as freely as people ride horses here in Italia. There are elephant races instead of horse ones!”

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"It wasn't all that far north," Titus said, unwilling to let the lady think he'd meant something he hadn't. "Pater's been all the way north to Britannia, though he didn't take any of us."

"That was a while ago," Aulus said, reaching for some bread and dipping into the saucer of olive oil. "Some of the barbarians can be quite civilised. Some of the others, though..." He let his words trail off; there were stories, but they would be much more suitable to tell the the lady's sons than the lady herself.

Calpurnia seemed unwilling to be drawn, merely going pink and looking as if she would like to hide her face in her mother's stola if she were younger, though her eyes widened at the description of elephants being ridden like horses.

"I think she would like dolphins somewhere in the decoration of the women's baths - and I certainly mean to include a separate women's area," Aulus said. It was one of the things he had decided on from the moment the idea had occurred to him. Whatever other details would be hashed out with the architect (when he found someone suitable), a separate women's only area was non-negotiable.

Why should they have to cut their time short simply because they could only bathe in the morning while the men were conducting their business elsewhere, after all?

"Have you ridden an elephant, then? It must be like looking down from the roof of a house," Titus said, fascinated, and wishing that he had got some stories of northern barbarians, to have anything to hold up to the stories this lady's sons might be able to tell. He had at least seen an elephant; they had them in Rome for some of the games sometimes, though he didn't think they had any on today's programme, which was a shame. He couldn't help the swell of pride at the thought that his father might help rule the greatest city in the entire world, if he became consul. It would only be for a year, but it would be enormously prestigious - though probably very hard to live up to. But Grandfather had been a consul too, once, and Father didn't seem to have a problem living up to that, so maybe it was only Titus himself?

 

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"Now that is a very wise and liberal decision," Sestia said with a smile. It was admirable that a man with the vision to create something so imposing and grand should decide to give over considerable space solely for the benefit of women. Many would have just doubled the facilities for the men on the basis that it was believed theirs was the only opinion that mattered. "And what" she added "baths would be complete without a dolphin or three? You know you can also see those in Africa too. I remember on the boat back from Carthage a whole group of them swam alongside the boat and leaped about in front of it. You could almost think they were playing with the boat, it was really quite amazing!" She remembered she had been far more captivated by the strange beauty and behavior of these creatures than her sons had been. They had stood on deck next to several of the sailors and discussed whether they could lance any of them and how they might taste. Boorish behavior she had been ashamed of but was too much drunk on the first draughts of freedom to take much notice.

"Will you have to have space cleared for it or have you already selected a site? I imagine it must be almost impossible to find the space although parts of the city would do well to be demolished to make room for something besides slums!"

She turned to smile back at young Titus. As expected, she had been taken literally at her word. At least his parents were indulgent. In point of fact she had ridden an elephant. It was a distinctly uncomfortable experience. There were a gaggle of docile beasts kept in the Proconsular menagerie. As treats for distinguished guests from Rome, these beasts would be girded with replicas of the howdahs used by the Carthaginians of old and would be taken out on a tour of the city. In her opinion, travel by such beasts was a sure fire means by which to bring ones lunch back up. 

"I have ridden them, yes, but they are very uncomfortable. They lurch so it is like you are at sea. Their beast handlers who I met, though, told me that they have an amazing memory and can recognise individual people even after decades, isnt that amazing?"

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Calpurnia's eyes had grown wide at the description of dolphins, real, actual dolphins swimming in the Mare Nostrum. Maybe she would be able to see some for herself when they went down to Grandfather's villa at Baiae - that was near the sea, after all, though maybe it was the wrong sort of sensor something? 

"Do you think it's possible to ride a dolphin? Actaeon did, in the story," she managed, quietly, though the lady was so nice to speak to her earlier and not right over her head as a lot of adults did.

Titus was still fascinated by the elephants and Hannibal, but decided that it probably wasn't politic to talk about an enemy of Rome to someone from Carthage - Hannibal had been defeated, after all, and it might not be nice to remind her of that. 

"Papa says there were elephants with the legions when they conquered Britannia," he said. "The boats must be awfully big to carry an elephant!"

"Just one," Aulus put in at this point. "It didn't really take part in the battles, though, it was there more to rattle the British tribesmen than anything. And it fit perfectly well on the deck of a galley, though that meant we couldn't load that galley with soldiers or the weight would have sunk it."

 

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"You know, I haven't actually tried," Sestia giggled, pleased the young girl was coming out of her shell a little more. "My son, though, would have liked to try but I imagine all he would achieve would be needing to be fished out like some sort of giant turbot. I imagine dolphins are not as pliant as elephants and so wouldn't take too kindly to being saddled up."

"Oh, you were with the Divine Claudius?" Sestia asked, genuinely interested. His comments suggested that he had taken part in the celebrated campaign which, exceeding the Divine Julius, had not only set foot on the shrouded island but had actually taken it too. Her father had served briefly in that campaign, as had most of the leading generals and soldiers of the age. As befitted a conquest of a new province, especially one as mysterious as the frozen north, the majority of the military might of the Empire had been summoned up. Yet, from what she had learned second hand, Sestius Vaticanus had not long remained in the cold land with the painted savages. His military career had instead been in the scorched lands of the East, against the Hellenised and Persianate successor kingdoms which dotted the peripheries of the Empire's porous eastern flank - sometime friend, sometime foe. 

She could not help but ask. "Have you ever had any dealings with my father? The Proconsul Sestius Vaticanus? I know he has long been away from Rome but I fancied you military types all had interlocking webs of acquaintance in the same manner that old widows of the capital are someone inconceivably somehow related to everyone else, no matter how distantly!" Praetextatus had mentioned that he had fought in the civil war alongside Alexander Augustus. Her father had too and, for his reward, had been appointed the Emperor's trusted lieutenant of Africa and its vital grain. That said, Sestia now wondered whether the canny Augustus, perhaps realising the foibles of his erstwhile friend, had decided it was politically expedient to shunt him off (willingly) to a quiet backwater. An old warhorse put out to pasture. She definitely couldn't imagine her father being as proactive as this senator - making grand political and physical plans. When it came to the civic structures and the prospect of his legacy in Proconsularis, Sestius Vaticanus' motto seemed to be: if it's not broken, don't fix it. Unless, of course, what was broken was an amphorae of wine, in which case he would weep for its loss and buy several others to attend its funeral. 

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"Myself? Oh, no," Aulus said, realising where he had misspoken. "My cousin was, I'm so used to hearing him speak about it, and I was there rather later, during the skirmishes with the Brigantes about ten years ago. I initially went as one of Quintus Caesar's envoys before it devolved in outright fighting. Touchy people, the British, though I wasn't an envoy to the Brigantes,at least."

He himself had been serving in his first military role as tribune under Quintus Flavius Alexander.

"No, I don't think so - the year of his consulship was the year I took up my post as propraetor in Raetia, though I understand he was a good consul - and he does not have to deal with any troublesome uprisings in Carthage, at least."

 

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“He would probably not complain if there were,” Sestia joked.

 

“All the time we were there he would go on about his stories from active service in the past. I also think the poor garrison troops would no be sorry to see him go for he is forever putting them through drills and manoeuvres. Constant readiness is one thing but I think it is another when you are secretly yearning for a return to the busy days of one’s youth!”

 

She meant it all in jest, of course, but there was some truth to it. Her father would not admit it but he surely felt as though he were an old horse put out to pasture. Proconsularis was an easy posting. The borders along which there may be disturbances by native tribes fell to the lot of the governors of Tripolitania and Mauretania to deal with. Proconsularis was in many ways well shielded from being at the cutting edge of the frontier. It had centuries’ worth now of exposure to Rome and now was thoroughly civilised – set against the mental yardstick that Roman’s carried with them for such things. Food was rarely scarce. Raids almost non-existent. The garrison troops were plump, well fed and rarely fractious. They had stayed out of the most recent set of political problems. They had not decided to cloak someone in the purple and run amok.

 

There was, in truth, very little for a governor to do. The administration ran itself peacefully – they being the unchanging ones, the governor in theory changing regularly at the whim of Caesar or in terms of set allocation period. Her father was not one to enjoy a round of state dinners, making public appearances to open new buildings, or spend hours in the basilica pontificating on fine points of property law or inheritance issues in the Princep’s stead. Unlike many other provincial governors, her father did not bombard Alexander Augustus with letter after letter seeking his opinion on this or that. Whether he should actually do so was another issue. This may be why the Augustus was so willing to keep him there – he was quiet. She had often thought that he would be better served by having a seal made with the words “Refer on to Rome” embossed on it, as this was mostly what he did with any decision which came his way – fob it off to the Praetorian Prefect to decide whether to action it or run up the chain.

 

Criminal claiming right to appeal? Ship him off to Rome. Can we have funds to restore the aqueduct to Utica? That is a matter for the Imperial Treasury, ship it off to Rome. Thapsus wishes to erect statues to the Imperial family, can you attend to cut the ribbon? The Imperial Image is the sole property of the Augustus, send on to Rome and they can decide. So on and so forth. The biggest decision he probably took daily was which wine to accompany his dinner.

 

“Yes, the posting is a quiet one. There are not many issues. The heat of the Sun makes people pliant, as does ample food, clean water and an appropriate number of ludes and munera. That said, those followers of that Judean sect do cause some trouble. Apparently they insist on being so public in their refusal to be anything other than they are which is the problem. Are there any of those types in Rhaetia? I don’t quite get what it is all about if I am honest!”

 

Most had gone over her head when she had been there but she remembered her father actually being quite perturbed by this because there was no set procedure. These fanaticists would not sacrifice to the Deified Caesars or the Imperial Genius. This made them traitors and liable for arrest. Yet these people would embrace that and use it as an excuse to grandstand. There was seemingly some judicial issues with what to do with them although the letter of the law was clear. She only remembered it because it had made her father so uneasy – the way he normally was about new things and ideas he didn’t understand.

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"How long has he been proconsul there?" Aulus asked. If it had been longer than a couple of years or so, he could surely request a posting to somewhere more lively - probably not Raetia because his own replacement had only been there a matter of months, and probably not somewhere as active as Britannia, Dacia or Judea.

"There is a danger with becoming inactive, of course. I can understand why he keeps his men active with drills and manoeuvres. It's far different from sitting in judgement every time a case comes up that requires his personal attention, and yet that is important, too."

He helped himself to some olives before pushing the dish across the table to the ladies. "I did have one or two of them to deal with, but the sect is not a great deal of trouble in Raetia, or at least there are not very many who practice it, that I am aware of." To his knowledge, the Raetians who followed the strange teachings (one god! He had never understood the Jews' paucity in the area of the divine!) were Jews who had a dispensation to follow their one god, or slaves. And there were not such vast numbers of Jews in that province as there were elsewhere.

 

@Lauren

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How long had he been there? Gods, a long time now, she thought. How funny that a decade could both be a long time and a seemingly short one in the same breath? Ten years or so previously her late husband had still been alive. In a manner that was later highly fortunate, they had been living in one of his country estates in Campania then, ostensibly for the recovery of her husband’s health although how one was supposed to recover from a terminal condition without a miracle none of the physicians could say. This, at least, spared them being present in Rome during the bloody tumults that had resulted in riots and the temporary accession of the Praetorian Prefect to the purple before he in turn was killed and civil war had convulsed the Empire. Her father had been in the East, a legate of the forces under the general command of Flavius Alexander. He had fought with him in the numerous actions that had taken place against the other contenders which had resulted in him clearing the field and being the last man standing. He had stayed in Rome with him immediately thereafter in the wake of victory, as the new Alexander Augustus solidified his rule. It was perhaps a year or two after that that the Augustus had helped sway the ballot in the Senate which resulted in Vaticanus (who had been given a suffect consulship as part of his reward) drawing Africa and taking up station there.

 

“Oh, I’d say almost ten years or so now. A very long stint by all accounts, I think. He keeps having his position being renewed. I cannot speak for him but I think perhaps he fears that after so long he would feel it awkward to ask the Augustus for a change of post?”

 

A thought slipped through to the forefront of her mind. A little mental calculation took place in her mind’s eye. At present her father was across the Mare Nostrum but only barely so. His letters arrived with annoying promptness and regularity. If called upon to do so, he could return to Rome in maybe a little over a week, if all went well and the winds were favourable. His governorship may be steady but even the Augustus would not let one man linger in one province for too long. There was a risk that he could be called home. Then he would be here. Very much in her life. As he hated Rome he was unlikely to be pleased and would probably channel his discontent into being a thoroughly difficult paterfamilias. With her eldest son coming of age soon, she might well find herself between a rock and a hard place.

 

But what if she could find a means of having him posted further away? Follow the train of thought, if you will. Her father was vegetating in Carthage. He longed for a more active posting. Those provinces under direct senatorial control were the “safe” ones. Proconsularis, Graecia, Corsica et Sardinia, the Spains, etc. The ones which were under the Augustus’ control and subject to his appointments, however, were the “hot” ones. Syria, the Rhine and Danube frontiers, Britannia. Setting aside those provinces which were reserved for procurator and prefect equites, there were a range of military and civil posts in the gift of the Princeps that would be to her father’s liking. Now, take it further. If he were, say, to be posted to Syria he would be a great deal further away than he was now. Re-enlivened by being in the action again he would have less time to micro-manage/repress his daughter. Now, go further still. If she were to somehow bring this about then she would look like (a) a pious and faithful daughter whilst (b) achieving her result of having more distance placed between them.

 

The question was how. A petition of her own to the Augustus would be too forthright. However, there could surely be a more tactical way of doing something? The Senate, of course, had little real power these days but good and traditionalist Princeps like Alexander Augustus did make great shows of listening to the venerable opinions of the Conscript Fathers. The matter of Imperial governorships was an important item indeed. As the venerable senator before her had just said, there was the risk of long term postings of men and legions leading to a certain chance of vegetation and softness. That was not in keeping with Roman ethos or the mos maiorum. Would it not be beneficial for the State as a whole to have a suggested re-ordering? Give legions resting on their laurels some activity. Work the fat off the bones of complacent governors? Inject fresh blood into stale regions. But, oh, if only there were someone who could make such a carefully thought through suggestion? Someone who wanted to make a name for themselves – make it clear he was a friend of the State and of the Princeps, someone who could actually get excited about administrative reform? Oh, but wait! Maybe there was…

 

The seed had now been planted in her mind. Watered with a gulp of wine, its tendrils were now too deep to be easily unrooted. She had decided what she was going to try and do.

 

“Forgive me if you think this is presumptuous of a woman to suggest but I am hoping that you will be able to enlighten me on something? Surely there is a risk that long stationing of governors and troops in one place can be a bad thing? My father, I think, runs the risk of losing the ardour that helped him make his mark in his earlier days. Maybe the same would be true of legions? Does the Senate really think such long stationings are right? Has anyone considered a reshuffle? Oh, I know there are yearly ballots but these have been honoured more in the exception than the observance haven’t they?”

@Sharpie

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