The Sword of Jupiter - Cover

The Sword of Jupiter

Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy

Chapter 17

While the games took up most of the afternoon, Ky’s day was far from over. The Emperor and his advisors had begun setting up meetings with some of the people that Ky would need to deal with to enact various parts of his plans.

This afternoon’s meeting had been set up by Hortensius, the businessman and blacksmith who ran the large ‘foundries’ in Devnum. Ky had not seen the foundries yet but, from the AI’s data, what the Romans described as a foundry was very different than what someone in his time would have thought of.

While important, the state of Roman metallurgy was not what today’s meeting was about. Before he could start changing that industry, and pretty much any of the others on his list, the first thing he needed was a way to pay for it. That had actually been a surprise to Ky.

When he began his plan, he had assumed that the government itself could fund everything that needed to be done. He had even accounted for the strain he assumed it would put on the government with the idea of the patents, which he could then give to the government itself to help raise funds, as well as changes in the current taxes.

While in the long run, those would be part of what the Empire would use to grow, it would not be all of it. Rome’s economy was much more advanced than Ky had imagined when he had started his plan. He originally had the idea that much of Rome’s wealth was owned by the government itself or at least pooled into the hands of local lords, who used that to govern particular regions.

Rome’s governmental system was much more centralized than that, with cities run by mayors and provinces when Rome had been large enough to have those, run by regional governors. Everyone was answerable back to the Central government, originally the Senate and now the Emperor and, to a lesser degree, the Senate. The upper classes of Rome, which included the Emperor, kept their wealth tied up in large landed estates focused almost entirely on agriculture.

Industry was almost entirely held in the hands of the equites. They would not be anything like what more modern people would consider a middle class, and many had much more wealth than the senatorial class, just without the accompanying status.

What this meant for Ky was that most of the industry he needed to change, was in the hands of private citizens. While Ky did intend to upend the society, centralizing all industry in the hands of the government was not part of that plan.

Working with private businesses would also have issues. Private industry, no matter how wealthy its merchants, was not going to be able to meet the capital requirements needed for the tasks ahead. He had spent some time thinking about how to get government resources into private industry and he thought he had a plan, but even with the AI’s databases and all the documents they had accessed, Ky still did not know enough to unilaterally make changes to how the Roman economy was going to operate. At least he did not have enough information to make those changes being confident they would not crash the Roman economy.

On the march back from the stadium, Ky called Carus to walk with him. He was still confused about the spy’s presence at the games. Carus’s detail took the third shift guarding and assisting Ky since that would be the easiest time for Carus to disappear to deal with the various assets he was putting in place as well as finding time to meet with Ky. Ky had seen him early that morning in fact, as he handed off duties to Sellic, who was in charge of the first third of each day.

“Why are you here?” Ky asked when Carus fell into step next to him.

“I wanted to see the tests, and I had some suspicions of what your performance would consist of, and I thought I might help with it.”

“We’ll get to that in a second. My first problem is that you have been awake all night. Sellic is about to hand off his detail to Strabo, meaning you’ll be on in just eight hours. We’re just getting started, I don’t need you dropping from exhaustion.”

“Eight hours is more than enough sleep, I normally get much less than that. I can promise I won’t do this normally. Your position is still very fragile and, while the Emperor clearly has the acumen to know how to get you accepted by the people, he has a lot to deal with besides you. This performance was an excellent idea, but he put too much faith in your ability to wow the crowds on your own and discounted the downsides if your performance was less than it needed to be. As it turned out, my fears were justified.”

“How so?”

“Everyone was very impressed with how you handled the first challenger since the average citizen has only heard rumors of your ability. After him, however, you started losing the crowd. Partly because the crowd could recognize these challengers wouldn’t pose a serious challenge to an average soldier or gladiator, and partly because without the sense of danger posed to you, it became boring. The mobs’ attention is fickle. I arranged for you to have challengers who the crowd would believe posed a real danger to you.”

“You didn’t feel the need to talk to me first before putting me in real danger?”

“I didn’t think I had put you in real danger, just that the crowd would believe that you were in danger. I spoke with Strabo and several of the other men who were close enough during the battle to see you in action. If even a part of what they said is true, nothing you faced today would have been a problem.”

“What if what you heard was less than half true?”

“Then you aren’t the man the Emperor believes you are and aren’t going to help save our empire from anything. I’m not sure what’s bothering you. I watched the contests, and you dealt with them efficiently.”

Ky sighed again and said, “I know I said I was giving you a wide latitude to set everything up, but next time if it involves me, even if you think your idea is perfectly safe, I want you to at least run it by me. While I managed to deal with both of your surprises, some warning would have been helpful.”

“As you say, Consul.”

Ky had the distinct impression that Carus had absolutely no plans to follow through with that agreement, but he let it drop, instead sending the spymaster off to get some much-needed rest.

Ky broke from the Emperor’s entourage, making a brief stop back at his assigned quarters to let Sellic’s detail switch off with Strabo’s. It was during the changing of the guards that Ky realized how useful the lictores were going to be. Hortensius had sent word the night before that he had arranged for this meeting after the games, but Ky had been so wrapped up in what he would have to do during the games that he had not thought to find out where, exactly, he was meeting the businessman.

Thankfully, Strabo had kept it in mind. The Emperor had said the lictores were going to be as much adjutants as actual guards. It had not occurred to Ky what that would entail, but with everything that he had lined up before him, having someone to help manage the details was going to be useful.

Ky followed Strabo into one of the imperial meeting rooms, finding Hortensius along with several men he did not recognize already gathered around a set of stools. That was one thing Ky found unusual about Roman customs. While they kept tables for eating and when required, like looking over maps, most business was done sitting on stools, lounging on reclined couches, or in the bathhouses.

While Ky realized he would have to forgo the luxury of conference rooms filled with tables lined by projection screens and built-in terminals, he had not thought the table itself would be one of the things he would have to forgo.

“Consul, I hear good things about your performance in the games,” Hortensius said.

While he sat up straighter, the Roman did not come towards Ky or extend his hand. He had noticed this a few times before and had queried the AI about it. In his time, handshakes were one of the more common forms of casual greetings. The same was apparently not true of this era. He was not clear on the rules for when a handshake was appropriate, but it seemed something more common among soldiers or close friends. It was not found at business meetings, as the AI’s research suggested it would be seen as somewhat strange behavior.

“Let me introduce you to some of my colleagues,” Hortensius continued. “This is Paulus Rutilius Laetinianus, the chief mensarii, and Sisenna Viducius Planta, one of the more prolific argentarii in Devnum. When it comes to the flow of money through Rome, Laetinianus and Planta are the two most influential men in Devnum.”

Ky had spent a fair amount of time with the AI puzzling over the Roman banking system. While it was more advanced than he would have first guessed with banks, the sale of portions of a business for capital, and a set system of loans, it was also incredibly confusing. From his understanding, the mensarii and the argentarii were two sides of the same coin. Both ran what counted as banks in the Roman world and provided services such as changing currency, holding deposits, and lending money. The main difference was the mensarii were lenders employed and funded by the state, while argentarii were private citizens.

Ky was leery of the argentarii, who regularly forced those who could not repay their loans into slavery. From what Ky could tell, the practice was disturbingly common.

“Good to meet you both. Has Hortensius told you anything about what I’ve already discussed with him?”

“A little,” Laetinianus said.

“There wasn’t much I could tell them,” Hortensius added. “I explained to them that you were looking at strategies to grow our manufacturing base, but beyond that, we never discussed details. My understanding is that, aside from the changes to taxes you mentioned, there would be a need to find capital to do some of this expansion.”

“That is exactly what we need. From what I’ve seen, Rome has two large financial roadblocks, one on the ability to distribute capital and the other on the amount of capital available to distribute. Both of these problems can be solved by one solution, which involves a change in the way money lending is done. You actually already have the basic practices in place, all that’s needed is to expand them. While I can give you the ideas needed to change the current system, I need your help in turning these ideas into a reality, and your acceptance of these changes.”

All three men leaned forward on their stools, interested.

“I’ll take the second problem first. Am I correct that the amount of money you have to lend is limited by the amount of money you have personally, or that’s made available by the treasury in Laetinianus’s case, and what money’s given to you by citizens to hold?”

“Yes,” Laetinianus said. “Although we mostly lend out money from our own reserves, since current law does not allow us to pay interest to people who deposit money with us, something the argentarii are still allowed to do.”

“On the other hand,” Planta added, “There have been enough less than forthright argentarii to make many citizens wary of giving us their money to control, for fear of their money being stolen from them, or lost in unwise lending. That has sent many of the depositors back to the mensarii and forced us to raise the interest we pay out to retain clients.”

“While I’m not going to address that today,” Ky said. “There are things that can be done there, such as the Empire guaranteeing deposits held by argentarii in exchange for agreements on restrictions on what could be done with that money and regular inspections of the argentarii records. It would probably become involved enough that it would require the Senate to pass legislation to fund and maintain it, but there are options.”

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