Roman Dusk PART I Prologue



Text of a letter from Almericus Philetus Euppo, freedman and mercer of Ostia, to Ragoczy Germainus Sanct-Franciscus, foreigner living at Roma outside the walls.

To the noble and well-reputed foreigner, Ragoczy Germainus Sanct-Franciscus at the villa that bears his name, to the northeast of Roma, the greetings of Almericus Philetus Euppo, freedman of Ostia, with thanks again for providing half the sum of the purchase prece for the emporium on the Ostia docks where my business stores the cloth I import. May whatever god you worship show you favor, and may no other god act to your detriment.

The Coan linen has finally arrived, on the Morning Wind, and all but two of the bales are in fine condition; one of the damaged bales cannot be salvaged, but the other can be, at least two-thirds of it. I have set my slaves to cleaning and blocking the linen to restore it, and I will see to it that the best possible results are obtained, and will provide you a record of what was done.

You are fortunate to have so many of your ships reach port unscathed, and the cargos damaged by nothing more than weather. True, shipping has increased steadily over the last few years, which would ordinarily be cause for rejoicing, but with this increase in commerce has come increase in theft of all sorts. You may not be aware of how piracy has increased over these last few years, but most merchants have seen their losses to pirates and pilferage double since the end of the reign of Caracalla and the present, unpromising tenure of Macrinus. Reducing the pay of soldiers would appear to be a false economy to me in these times, but as Caesar, he has the right to do it, and those of us who must bear the brunt of his decision in loss of merchandise and higher taxes can only hope that he will not ruin us and leave us unguarded as well.

I do not mean to alarm you, but because of these changes in the Legions and the navy, I would advise you to consider carrying armed men on your merchant ships in future, to avoid losses to the pirates. I am enclosing a bid for your entire shipment, which I think you will find is more than fair in the current marketplace. I can supply you a letter of authorization, or funds in coin, as you prefer. The coins tend to attract more attention from footpads and other criminals, but there is a certainty in coins that cannot be denied.

According to my roster, you have three more ships due into port this month: the Neptune's Pride, the Northern Star, and the Song of the Waves. I have nothing to report on any of these vessels, nor any of your others not yet bound for Ostia and home from any ship arrived in Ostia in the last week. I will have my scribe copy out the account provided by your captain, Getus Palmyrion, to enclose with this letter. He says the passage was relatively easy, given the time of year and the general condition of his crew and oarsmen. Again, you are fortunate to have so worthy a captain, who is alert to the needs of his men. Two days since, a ship of Pompeianus Dritto arrived with nine oarsmen suffering from fever, and half the crew also ill. They said they had taken on bad water in Tarrraco, and that the sickness came upon them at sea. Whatever the cause of their ailment, the ship and its crew and oarsmen have been isolated, and they will remain so until all have recovered or died. No amount of bribes or favors owed will change their situation; only convicted criminals are used to take food and water to the ship.

I have a roster to send to you, from your colleague, Rugeri, from your emporia in Alexandria in Egypt, along with a sealed chest. According to what Getus Palmyrion has told me, it is a gift from a group of ancient priests who occupy some of the huge ruins near Luxor. The volumes from Rugeri are with the gift, as is his pouch of (untouched) aurei, your portion of the seasonal profits of your business in Egypt, along with his admonition to treat the carved wooden container with care. The roster is in a leather satchel and the casket from the priests is bound with lead, which will keep everyone out but those who can break or melt the lead. I have added wax and my seal to the lock on the satchel to indicate that it was undisturbed when it left my hands. If the seal is broken you will know there is a good possibility of tamperage, in which case, I recommend you notify the authorities about the crime.

It is my understanding that the spice-and-dye merchant Tercius Fortunatus Perusiano is going to send you an offer on that part of the Morning Wind's cargo. If you will be advised by me, you will wait until Petros Demetrianos has had a chance to make a bid, for he has had a recent increase in fortune and is in a position to offer you more than Perusiano will-Perusiano has a daughter about to marry, and he has had to endower her handsomely, and to take his pledged son-in-law into his business, all of which has left him with depleted funds.

Perhaps I should mention that an interesting object has arrived here, brought from a port beyond Byzantium: a very ancient sarcophagus, from the eastern crest of the Carpathian mountains. The claim is that is belongs to an ancient people, long vanished from the region, who, like the Etruscans of old, made carvings of the inhabitant of the sarcophagus as that person was in life-playing, dining, counting wealth, drinking, engaged in passion-instead of the repose of death. This particular sarcophagus depicts a man propped on his elbow and polishing a wide-bladed sword. He is smiling, and his upper leg is cocked. Knowing your interests in things from that region, I have made a bid upon it. If you wish me to pursue the matter, send me word how much you will authorize me to spend, and I will attempt to secure this object for you and have it carried to you by ox-cart, escorted, of course.

As soon as another shipment of cloth reaches my establishment here in Ostia in one of your ships, I will, as always, notify you at once, and send word by my own courier, as I have done in this instance. I intend to use my own couriers for business purposes from now on, and to send them along with at least one guard for escort. An extra expense, yes, but worth ever denarius if the messenger is protected along the way. There are many soldiers willing to hire out as escorts just now, and I recommend securing the services of a few for your couriers.

Melidulci in the lupanar has ordered nard and perfumed oils for her new establishment, and has brought in ten new girls. She has offered to receive you and any of your associates at any time you wish to call upon her. Apparently she is grateful to you for providing some medicaments to her when many of the women of the lupanar were taken with the fever of bad air, and could not work. It is always wise to have the good opinion of the women of the lupanar, is it not?

I hope you have become accustomed to Roma again, and that the demands of your move to your villa have not proven too exhausting to your body, your spirit, or your purse. There are as many drawbacks as advantages in being so close to the center of power, but, as you have lived there before, or so you said, your accommodation of Roman ways should not intrude upon you too much. Thus far, our dealings have been pleasant and profitable to us both, and I hope that they may continue to be so.

Almericus Philetus Euppo

Freedman and mercer of Ostia

by my own hand on the 7th day of March in the 971st Year since the Founding of Roma: with enclosures and parcels to accompany this
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