Nevio

No podía faltar “una de romanos” en la serie de relatos de “La isla coronada”. La foto es de agosto del 2014, en los restos del campamento romano de Housesteads. Esta línea de piedra pertenecía al muro de Adriano.

 

La madera de las escaleras crujió bajo sus botas. Llegó hasta la cima de la torreta; el soldado de guardia lo afrontó e, instintivamente, se movió hacia él, pero se relajó al reconocer al pretoriano. Aunque ni él ni ninguno de sus camaradas habían visto uno antes, sabían perfectamente qué aspecto tenía un guardia personal del emperador. Y además éste, que había llegado hace unos días al fuerte, tenía que ser alguien importante, ya que gozaba de acceso ilimitado a cualquier estancia del campamento, incluído el principia en el que se conservaban los estandartes y el dinero.

“¡Señor!” – dijo el soldado, cuadrándose. “Soldado” – replicó el pretoriano al pasar junto al guardia, reconociendo su mirada aunque la noche fuese cerrada y la única fuente de luz unas antorchas dentro del fuerte, varios metros por debajo de ellos. La mayor parte de los soldados auxiliares con los que se había encontrado durante su visita a las guarniciones del norte de Britania envidiaban su posición; otros lo despreciaban, ya que estaban convencidos de que los pretorianos eran un hatajo de privilegiados, vagos y avariciosos, dispuestos a venderse al mejor postor apenas un general ambicioso quisiese comprarse el trono. Pero de vez en cuando, Nevio Varo, el pretoriano, se encontraba con una mirada en la que lucía una chispa especial, la misma que tenía él hace casi dieciocho años, una mirada que quería decir “un día seré uno de vosotros”.

Nevio dirigió su mirada al Norte, inspirando el aire helado mientras se arropaba mejor con su capa azul oscuro. Parecía que la primavera ignorase aquella tierra, aunque estuviesen ya a mitad del mes de abril. Probablemente en Roma los frutales habían florecido; seguro que lo habían hecho ya en el pequeño trozo de tierra que poseía en Hispania. Lo había comprado con el premio que Adriano había otorgado a los pretorianos al subir al trono; se trataba de una tradición, ya que habían pasado muchos años desde la última vez que el cuerpo se vio directamente involucrado en la proclamación de un nuevo emperador. Ésta sería su última misión en nombre de Adriano y de Roma, después se retiraría a su tranquila villa a orillas del Mediterráneo, bañada durante todo el año por la luz del sol. Quizás fuese solo, o no. Sinceramente, nunca le habían importado demasiado las mujeres. Quizás lo hiciese con la graciosa bailarina de Gades[1] con la que dormía cuando estaba en Roma. A pesar de todas sus dudas tenía muy claro qué tipo de mujer no se llevaría nunca, una como la esposa del comandante del fuerte, aburrida y estúpida como una oca. Durante las tres últimas cenas había devorado insaciablemente los últimos cotilleos de la ciudad, preguntado una serie infinita de dudas sobre cual sería la moda entre las damas sofisticadas y tenía una curiosidad ilimitada sobre cómo se peinaba la emperatriz. Debido a que su conocimiento de la materia era escaso, ya que en Roma había frecuentado muchas más mujeres en la Subura que en el Palatino, dibujó un retrato de supuesta elegancia femenina que habría escandalizado a Vibia Sabina, la mujer de Adriano. Aunque la joven Valeria era muy bella, no era desde luego el tipo de mujer que tenía en la mente cual hipotética compañera en su buen retiro. Sonrió al recordar a la chica de pelo rojo que había conocido aquella tarde al volver al fuerte con sus hombres.

Una carreta cargada de toneles se había atascado en el barro, bloqueando la estrecha calle que conducía desde el poblado hasta la puerta sur. Un hombre anciano y gordo estaba sentado en el pescante, azotando un par de enormes bueyes blancos que permanecían inmóviles e indiferentes al chasquido del látigo o a los esfuerzos de una mujer joven que mientras tanto tiraba de ellos. “¿Va para rato?” – preguntó Nevio. “Depende de lo que quieras beber en la cena. Si te quedas ahí pasmado sin ayudarnos beberás agua, pero si quieres vino es mejor que vengas y me eches una mano” – replicó la mujer, que jadeaba por el esfuerzo si molestarse siquiera en levantar la cabeza y saber quien estaba tan ansioso de entrar en el fuerte. El hombre del carro se giró y su rostro palideció al ver al pretoriano. “¡Perdone a mi hija señor!” – dijo el hombre, balbuceando mientras Nevio bajaba de su caballo y se acercaba. Mientras tanto, el centurión al mando de la puerta vio horrorizado cómo el enviado del emperador estaba a punto de empujar un carro atascado en el barro, por lo que llamó a algunos hombres y en pocos instantes las ruedas se liberaron, los bueyes emprendieron su marcha y todos pudieron entrar en el fuerte. “Espero que el vino sea bueno, muchaha” – le dijo a la chica cuando el carro giró a la izquierda para entrar en el almacén de la guarnición. Ella se dio la vuelta y se sonrojó avergonzada al darse cuenta de que el hombre alto con el uniforme azul y el casco adornado con una vistosa cresta roja que caminaba al lado de su caballo blanco, no era uno de los soldados del fuerte.

Nevio se despertó de su ensueño. Estaba de pie en una esquina de la torreta norte, pensando en lo que le tendría que hacer el día siguiente y en lo que había dejado atrás. A pesar de lo que pudiesen pensar los auxiliares, su vida como pretoriano no había sido fácil. Se unió al cuerpo el año precedente a la campaña definitiva contra los dacios, entró con el emperador en la capital conquistada, Sarmizegetusa. Le sirvió con lealtad durante trece años, había peleado en bosques frondosos, en la arena hirviente, bajo la lluvia helada y el sol abrasador, para acabar dándose cuenta de que los enemigos más peligrosos se escondían entre las blancas columnas del foro. Estaba con Trajano cuando murió en Cilicia[2] y fue leído su testamento, en el que adoptaba a Adriano como hijo y heredero. Habían pasado cinco años desde aquel día, y ahora tenía que llevar a cabo esta misión, la última. Adriano quería construir un muro en Britania, que la dividiese de este a oeste, y estaba recogiendo la información necesaria para que tal proyecto pudiese llevarse a cabo. Había que preocuparse de multitud de detalles: el muro lo construirían tres legiones. Casi veinte mil hombres a los que había que dar un alojamiento, alimentar y proveer de material. Había que establecer además contactos con las tribus locales para asegurar la seguridad del emperador, y proponer un trazado definitivo para el muro.

Todo estaba tranquilo, los únicos sonidos que llegaban a sus oidos eran el murmullo del agua que corría en un pequeño valle al este y el castañear de los dientes del soldado que estaba de pie en la esquina opuesta. Suspiró aliviado; él también se estaba helando, provenía de la templada Valentia, en Hispania, mientras que todos los habitantes del fuerte eran originarios de Batavia[3], una tierra situada justo al otro lado del estrecho canal de agua que dividía Britania del continente. También hizo mucho frío esa mañana, cuando cabalgó con sus hombres hacia el norte para explorar el territorio. El sol se estaba alzando sobre la niebla, en un amplio valle, y no lograba distinguir la cima de la colina por la que estaban subiendo. Azuzó a su caballo, que casi resbaló debido al terreno helado; cuando finalmente logró llegar a la cima perdió el aliento. Una cadena de altas colinas, extendiéndose de este a oeste, se asomaba sobre un horizonte infinito de niebla. Las montañas parecían proas de galeras rompiendo un mar blanquecino. A medida que la luz del sol cobraba fuerza, iba deshilachando la niebla, revelando una vasta llanura de hierba helada y, algunas millas más allá, la espesa linea verde oscura de un bosque infinito.

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Emitió una sonora carcajada, mientras nubes blancas salían de su boca. “Aquí. El muro pasará por aquí” – dijo mientras movía los brazos abrazando las sinuosas colinas. “Pero sería más fácil construirlo allí abajo” – replicaba uno de los hombres de su compañía señalando el valle a sur por el que habían venido. Nevio replicó: “el emperador quiere algo más que un simple muro. Claudio” – dijo el pretoriano, mirando con entusiasmo a los ojos de su compañero, hablando en voz alta y rotunda – “imagina el efecto que hará a esos bárbaros cubiertos por pieles de oveja y la piel pintada de azul, que viven en chozas fabricadas con estiercol de vaca y paja. El mensaje que queremos que entiendan es sencillo: ‘aquí estamos, venid si os atrevéis’”.

Sí, había mucho trabajo por hacer antes del verano, cuando viniera el emperador. Debería irse a la cama, e intentar dormir. Entró en su habitación, en la residencia del comandante. Tenía un pequeño recibidor con unas baldas de madera en las que apoyar el casco y las armas; al lado de la cama había un brasero encendido. Cerró la puerta y oyó un sonido casi imperceptible, una respiración. Su mano aferró la empuñadura de su espada, pero al oir un ligero tintineo y advertir una sutil fragrancia a bergamoto la soltó, sonriendo mientras se despojaba de las armas y la capa. “¿Qué estás haciendo aquí Valeria?” – dijo, girándose hacia la cama. Vio a la mujer tumbada, desnuda, cubierta sólo por una piel de oso, con sus grandes ojos verdes que recorrían su cuerpo de la cabeza a los pies, con una sonrisa lasciva dibujada en el rostro. Sí, quizás no fuese la mujer más inteligente que hubiese conocido nunca, pero estaba ahí, tentadora. Un regalo de Venus, la diosa del amor, en carne y hueso. Aunque no era un hombre demasiado religioso, pensó que rechazar tal regalo podría considerarse incluso un sacrilegio. Sin lugar a dudas, rechazarla hubiese sido un gesto muy grosero, se dijo a sí mismo mientras se acercaba sonriendo a la cama.

[1] Cádiz

[2] Una zona de la actual Turquía

[3] Una zona entre el viejo curso del Rin y el río Waal, en la actual Nijmegen (Holanda)

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When in Rome… Early walks

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Castel Sant’Angelo
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L’Altare della Patria
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A surprise on the other side of Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II – A wreck
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The Tiber and Ponte Principe Amedeo Savoia Aosta

When visiting Rome, a friendly advise. Dedicate one morning to an early walk, from 6 to 7 am

When in Rome… Journey through Ancient Rome (Caesar’s Forum)

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The visit begins in Trajan’s forum. This is the view from Via dei Fori Imperiali
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Visitors gather in Trajan’s forum.
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Another view of Trajan’s forum, with the monumental column built by Apollodorus to celebrate the triumph of Trajan in Dacia. The column is as high as the hill that was demolished to make room for the forum.
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View of Trajan’s market from the forum. The semicircular form of market and its buildings was created as a buttress to sustain the part of the hill that was not demolished for the forum
After crossing via Dei Fori Imperiali through a subterranean passage open only recently to the public, the interactive visit begin. The remaining wall of Venus Genitrix’s temple opens and offers the visitors a glance to Ceasar’s forum as it was.
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The forum’s colonnade hosted many different activities. This is a recreation of the “argentarius” (money lender) shop
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Not only money lenders, but also school lessons were held under this portico. These are the reproductions of several graffities discovered in the walls made by students. Some are in cursive latin. Checking my notes I have identified the abecedary and… a sentence upside down..
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a b c d e f g i
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I am able to read this fragment only upside down: aeneas et aaa (?)
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Thanks to the lights and 3D projections, a fountain comes to life
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The colonnades of the forum. These are the actual remains in one side…

 

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… and in the other, the projection of how it looked… During a rainy day. The spots on the ground were raindrops, such a pity that the camera has not captured this perfectly
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The walks ends in front of the curia, the old Senate. As all the remaining Roman buildings it stands still because it was used as a church. A projection of the empire under Caesar.
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How the curia was during the empire.
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After the visit, a walk up to the colosseum. Still magnificent.

 

When in Rome… Palazzo Massimo alle Terme

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“The boxer” – Museo Nazionale Romano (Palazzo Massimo alle Terme). IV cent B.C. My pic

For a lover of Ancient Rome entering this museum is like opening the gates of paradise. Furthermore, of an uncrowded one. As I wrote in the previous post I’m quite fond of peaceful spots and this is one indeed. Palazzo Massimo alle Terme hosts an extraordinary collection of Roman statues, mosaics and frescoes discovered from the XIXth century during works in the city.

The boxer

My favourite statue is “the boxer”, a greek bronze from the IV century B.C., probably work of Lisipo, and discovered in the Quirinal Hill when excavating the Therms of Constantine.

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In this close-up you can see the details (check out this vid for more close-ups) with which the artist has portrayed the fighter. The wounds (the blood is represented using copper) in his face, the swollen eyes, the broken lip, the mashed ears. The athlete is resting, it is not the usual image of victory; maybe he’s gathering his strength to continue the fight, or has been defeated and turns to an unknown referee, waiting for mercy or the victory veredict. Waiting, as the statue had for hundreds of years. This picture, taken when the statue was discovered in the XIXth century, touches me deeply.

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Livia’s triclinium

In the third floor of the museum you can see the frescoes and mosaics that decorated the rooms in some patrician villas. My favourite place is the reconstruction of the “summer dinner room” in the Villa of Livia Drusilla, wife of the first Roman Emperor, Augustus.

The villa was in the Flaminian road, ad gallinas albas (“where the white chickens”). When Livia married Octavian, a prodigy occurred. An eagle dropped a white chicken in her lap; the bird had a twig of laurel with berries in its beak. Following the soothsayers advice, the chicken and its offspring were raised in the villa, and a forest of laurel oaks was planted around its perimetre. The leaves of these trees were used as crowns in the imperial triumphs, and the withering of the plants was considered an ill omen. It is said that before the death of Nero, the whole forest and all the chickens in the villa died.

It has always fascinated me how superstitious the romans were. The days were divided in favourable and ill-fated ones. No public activity could take place during the second ones and a serious military defeat or a disastrous event turned some days from fasti to nefasti. For instance, July 18th was the day of the Clades Gallica (the Gallian disaster), to commemorate the defeat, near the river Allia, of the Roman army against the gauls in the year 387 BC.

Soldiers are an extraordinary race of men: tough as shield leather, superstitious as egyptians, and as sentimental as Sabine grandmothers.

Robert Graves, “I, Claudius”

To come back to the Museum, what makes this room special (I usually sit for half an hour in the central couch and I like to hear the Ah! and Oh! of people entering) is the illumination.

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Lights increase and decrease in intensity to reproduce the real light during different hours of the day, from dawn to sunset, that Livia’s dinner guests witnessed a couple of thousands years ago. The effect is absolutely marvellous; the paintings in the dining room were ripped off from the original walls, transferred and reconstructed in this area. Although I have seen several times the process of tearing off frescoes it keeps son sounding like magic to me.DSCN1605 DSCN1602DSCN1603There are many other masterpieces in the Museum. The remaining bronzes of Nemi’s ships, reproductions of famous greek sculptures…DSCN1655

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Yes, the Discobolo himself, for instance…

A beautiful Antinous…

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An edition I made a couple of years ago of the above pictures to celebrate the anniversary of Hadrian’s death (July 10th 138 AD)

… and some quite known mosaics, as these one representing the four teams of the chariot races: green, red, white and blue. The charioteers conducted the horses with the reins, not only with the hands, but also with the movement of their body check this relief. They were taller and bulkier than nowadays jockeys, for instance. One of the main dangers during the races was to remain trapped under the horses or the chariot while tied to them, that’s why they had a knife between the leather strips of the bodice. If they were quick enough they could save themselves cutting the reins, but it’s no wonder that charioteers, even if well paid and adored by the masses as modern football players, often died very young.

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All this and many more in my favourite museum in Rome. Another of my favourite pieces is this ivory mask. The pic is not mine (click for source) as it is very delicate is held in very particular light conditions. It was recovered by the Carabinieri group specialized on Art smuggling.

Time travelling

Roma DobretaeThis is a extraordinary tool developed by Stanford University: Orbis. Select place of origin, destination and season of the year and you will know how many days were necessary, and the cost, to make an specific travel during the Roman Empire. Needless to say that I am using it when writing my long and neverending Roman times fanfic.

http://orbis.stanford.edu/

 

The Eagle of the Ninth

Mark Strong looking a bit too much Al Pacino
Mark Strong as Guern in “The Eagle”

They looked back when they have gone a few paces, and saw him standing as they had left him, already dimmed with mist, and outlined against the drifting mist beyond. A half-naked, wild-haired tribesman, with a savage dog against his knee; but the wide, well-drilled movement of his arm as he raised it in greeting and farewell was all Rome. It was the parade-ground and the clipped voice of trumpets, the iron discipline and the pride. In that instant Marcus seemed to see, not the barbarian hunter, but the young centurion, proud in his first command, before ever the shadow of the doomed legion fell on him. It was to that centurion that he saluted in reply

Rosemary Sutcliff – The Eagle of the Ninth

I will write just a very quick note about my reading of “The Eagle of the Ninth”: it is a very good book and I cannot but ask myself why the movie based on it had so little to do with the original story. In the book, as Servetus commented in my post regarding the film, all those things that look absurd and difficult to understand in the movie are clear, starting with the relationship between Marcus and Esca. Their relationship has been absurdely twisted for the sake of I have not understood very well what. The story makes much more sense as written by Rosemary Sutcliff, who was a superb writer. One more consideration: in 1954 this was considered “children’s literature”.

Like Scarlett in front of a tray of sweets

3721657_stdHubby has told me that, even if he will understand one word out of ten (an optimistic guess), he would like to see a theatre play in London and that next year we could spend a weekend there on that purpose.

I feel like Scarlett O’hara in her honeymoon, when she’s trying to hush the hunger she has suffered during the years of the civil war eating everything the waiter brings.

Preparations begin, I’m following now more than twelve different twitter accounts of London theatres. Therefore, next spring I will go back to London to watch a play and to see the the remains of the Roman amphitheatre (in May I arrived there ten minutes after the closure) and other Londinium sites.

Nevius

When I was thinking about my next post about my Northumberland trip’s impressions, an image came from my mind. A praetorian sent by Hadrian shocked as I was by the absolute beauty of the Whin Sill. This is what that praetorian may have thought, or lived. The date: mid April AD 122, the year the wall was built. Thanks to my friend Tanja for making this intelligible. You can find the version in Spanish here 

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The wood of the stairs cracked under his boots. He reached the top of the turret; the soldier on guard faced him and, instinctively, moved his spear towards him, but he relaxed on recognising the praetorian. Although neither he nor any of his comrades have ever seen one before, they knew perfectly well how the emperor’s personal guard looked like. And, moreover, the one that arrived to the fort some days before should be also someone important, as he was granted unlimited access everywhere, even to the principia, where the banners and the garrison’s money was kept.

“Sir!” – said the soldier, standing at attention. “Soldier” – replied the praetorian, passing by the guard, recognising the look in his eyes despite the night being sable black with the only source of light coming from the torches inside the fort, several meters below them. Most of the auxiliary soldiers he had met during his visit to the north garrisons of Britannia envied his position; others despised him as they considered the praetorians a group of privileged, lazy and greed good-for-nothing, ready to sell themselves for the best price when some general wanted to buy the throne. But a few times, Nevius Varus, the praetorian, saw a different spark reflected in the eyes in front of him, the same he had almost eighteen years ago, meaning “I will be one of you”.

Nevius faced the North, filling his lungs with frozen air as he wrapped tightly the deep blue cloak around him. Spring seemed to be ignoring that land, although it was mid April. The fruit trees in Rome have probably started to bloom by now and they surely had in the small piece of land he possessed in Hispania. He paid for it with the prize money Hadrian conceded the praetorian guard on ascending to the throne; it had become an entrenched tradition, although many years had passed since the last time they were directly involved in the proclamation of the new emperor. This would be his last mission in Hadrian and Rome’s name, and then he would retire to his quiet villa in front of the Mediterranean sea, bathed in sunshine all year long. Maybe he would go alone, or maybe not. He had not cared much for women in his life, to be honest. Perhaps he will ask the gracious Gades’ dancer he slept with when he was in Rome. Albeit all his doubts he was sure what kind of woman he would not take with him, someone like the garrison commander’s wife, dull and stupid like a goose. During the last three dinners she devoured insatiably the latest city gossip, asked infinite questions about what was the fashion among the sophisticated ladies and was infinitely curious about the ways the empress combed her hair. As his knowledge on the matter was scarce, given that the women he had frequented in Rome were more likely to live in the Subura than in the Palatine, he depicted a portrait of elegance that would have scandalised Vibia Sabina, Hadrian’s wife. Pretty as young Valeria was, she was not definitely the kind of woman he had in mind as an hypothetical companion for his retirement. He smirked and smiled remembering the girl with the red hair he met that afternoon as he was returning to the fort with his men.

A cart loaded with barrels was stuck in the mud, blocking the narrow street that lead from the outskirts of the civilian village to the South Gate. A fat old man sat in the vehicle, whipping a couple of white and bulky oxen that remained still and indifferent to the sound of the lash or the efforts of a young woman who in the meantime pulled the animals. “Will it take too long?” – asked Nevius. “It depends on what you’d like to drink with dinner. If you stay there like a stick in the mud without helping us you will drink water, but if you want wine you’d better come here and help me” – replied the woman panting without rising her head nor bothering to find out who was so anxious to enter the fort. The man in the cart turned and he became white on seeing the praetorian. “Excuse my daughter, sir!” – said the man, stammering while Nevius got down from his horse and approached them. When the centurion in command of the gate saw, in horror, how an emperor’s representative was about to pull a cart stuck in mud, he immediately called some men and in a few moments the wheels were unblocked, the oxen moved and they all entered the fort. “I hope the wine is good”  – he told the girl when the cart turned left to enter the garrison’s warehouse. She looked back and blushed embarrassed when she realised that the tall man in a blue uniform and a red-crested helmet walking beside his white horse was not definitely one of the cavalry soldiers she thought she had talked to before.

Reconstruction of a fort in timber, as Vindolanda was in AD 122. Click for source

Nevius awoke from his reveries. He was standing in a corner of the north turret, thinking about what he will have to do the following day and what he had left behind. Despite what some auxiliaries may think, his life in the praetorian guard has not been an easy one. He joined them the year before the definitive campaign against the Dacians, he entered the conquered capital, Sarmizegetusa, alongside the emperor. He served him loyally for thirteen years, he had fought enough in deep forests, in the burning sand, under the hot sun and in the cold rain to know that the most dangerous enemies always hid among the white columns of the forum. He was with Trajan when he died in Cilicia and his testament was read, adopting Hadrian as son and heir. Five years have passed since that day, and now he had to accomplish this mission, the last one. Hadrian wanted to build a wall in Britannia, dividing it from east to west, and he was collecting the necessary information and intelligence to make it happen. There were thousands of details which needed to be taken care of: three legions will be building the wall, almost twenty thousand men that had to be lodged, fed and supplied. It was necessary also to establish contacts with local tribes to ensure the emperor’s safety, and propose a definitive route for the wall.

All was quiet, the only noises arriving at his ears were the whisper of the water running down the small valley in the east and the rattling of the soldier’s teeth, standing in the opposite corner. He felt relieved; he was also freezing, but he came from the mild Valentia, in Hispania, whereas all the inhabitants of the fort were from Batavia, a land just on the other side of the narrow strait of water that divided Britannia from the continent. It was also very cold that morning when he rode with his men north to explore the terrain. The sun was rising above the misty wide valley, and he could not see the top of the hill they were climbing. He stirred his horse, that almost slipped due to the frozen ground; when he finally arrived to the top of the hill the view took his breath away. A chain of steep hills, from east to west,  were facing an endless, misty horizon. The mountains were like the prows of galleys breaking a milky sea. As the light of the sun gained strength, the mist dissolved, revealing vast fields of icy grass and a thick, deep green line of a boundless forest spreading for several miles behind them.

Mist around the Whin Sil and the wall. Click for source

 He laughed out loud, sending puffs of white smoke from his mouth. “Here. The wall will pass here” – he moved his arms embracing the cliffs that went up and down. “But it would be easier to build it down there” argued one of the men in the company pointing to the southern valley they just left behind. Nevius replied: “The emperor wants something more than a simple wall. Claudius” – he said, looking at him straight in the eyes, keenly, with a loud roaring voice – “imagine the effect it will have on those barbarians covered in sheep skin and painted in blue, living in huts made of straw and cow’s dung. The message we want to send is simple, ‘here we are. Come if you dare’.”

Yes, still so much work left to be done before summer, when the emperor arrives. He should go to bed, and try to sleep. He entered his room in the commander’s quarters. It had a small entrance with wooden shelves for the helmet and the arms; a brazier was lit beside the bed. He closed the door and heard an almost imperceptible sound, a breath. His hand grasped the hilt of his sword, but on hearing a weak tinkling and perceiving a faint fragrance of bergamot he released it, smiling while he was taking off his arms and the cloak. “What are you doing here, Valeria?” – he said, turning towards the bed. He saw a woman lying in it, naked, covered only with a bear’s skin, her wide green eyes examining his body from tip to toe, with a lascivious smile on her face. Yes, maybe she was not the wittiest woman he had ever met, but she was there, tempting. A gift from Venus, the goddess of love. Although not a religious man, he thought that refusing such a gift would be a sacrilege. To reject her would be something very rude indeed, he told himself as he approached the bed, smiling.

Notes: I have used the contemporary terms for objects as sword, spear, and so on in order not to result “indigest”. Geographical terms: Gades (Cádiz – Spain), Cilicia (a territory nowadays in Turkey), Batavia (corresponds to the dutch city of Nijmegen). The Subura in Rome was where the poor, criminals and prostitutes thrive whereas the Palatine was the hill where the Royal Palace stood.

Real life

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The crest of a centurion’s helmet. The only one that has survived until our days. It was found in the Vindolanda site and is currently exhibited in the Roman Army Museum

What thrills me more when visiting museums exihibiting pieces coming from the Roman Empire times are the everyday objects.

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A female slipper and a soldier boot. Vindolanda.

For instance that beautiful woman’s slipper, belonging probably to the wife of the prefect of Vindolanda’s camp.

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Boots and shoes found in Vindolanda
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Fragment of a crystal cup decorated with a gladiator’s scene

How many nights the commander of the fort held this cup in his hands while yearning for the sun of his native land during the cold northern winter nights?

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And how dissapointed his wife was when opening the wooden boxes containing this pottery service from Gaul that arrived to destination broken to pieces?

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Who combed their hair with these?

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How many wounds were healed with these surgical instruments?

IMG_1733The particular chemical composition of Vindolanda’s soil, very poor in oxigen, has allowed the conservation of objects in leather and wood. I am sorry that the picture does not render the idea, but the leather bag above has a very modern design and is quite functional. You can see also an absolute up-to-date backpack below.

IMG_2116Maybe one of the Vindolanda letters were written with one of these. You can read them here

For instance, the famous letter of Claudia Severa to Sulpicia Lepidina

“Claudia Severa to her Lepidina greetings. On 11 September, sister, for the day of the celebration of my birthday, I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us, to make the day more enjoyable for me by your arrival, if you are present (?). Give my greetings to your Cerialis. My Aelius and my little son send him (?) their greetings. (2nd hand) I shall expect you, sister. Farewell, sister, my dearest soul, as I hope to prosper, and hail. (Back, 1st hand) To Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of Cerialis, from Severa.”