When in Rome - Cover

When in Rome

Copyright© 2023 by FantasyLover

Chapter 5

Day 73

Our three-day voyage finally found us docking in the small port town of Locri, located between two small rivers on the narrow coastal plain about twenty-five miles east of the toe of the Italian peninsula.

Originally established as a Greek colony, Locri joined with Rome at the end of the Pyrrhic Wars. The city was prosperous, even minting their own coins. They were a bit nervous about nineteen mounted men arriving, seventeen of whom were heavily armed, but calmed down when we explained that we planned to explore the mountains inland. We bought food in the forum and camped just outside the city walls.

When I visited Locri as a tourist in my time, the modern city was two miles north of this city. I had visited remnants of the wall that currently surrounded the city and remains of one of the wall’s towers. There had also been remnants of other buildings that had been unearthed. Now I was able to see the original condition of the wall, tower, and others of the city’s buildings.

When I visited modern Locri, we crossed one river to the south, really more of a stream, to reach the ruins. When we left the modern city to continue our tour, the coal mine was inland to the north, and on the north side of a second stream. I couldn’t remember the name of the stream, but it was the stream passing north of modern Locri. That meant the site of the coal mine was located two streams north of this Locri, assuming that the courses of the streams hadn’t changed drastically in the ensuing twenty-two centuries. I didn’t recognize the current name of either stream, so that didn’t help me any.

Day 74

We broke camp shortly after daybreak. The soldiers were used to rising early, as was I. The two surveyors tasked with verifying the mine, however, were used to sleeping in and having slaves waiting on them. While I enjoyed their predicament, I managed not to let them see me smirking, and didn’t actually laugh aloud.

About three miles north of our campsite, we found what I hoped was the correct stream to follow. We followed the sandy streambed that was frequently more than a hundred feet wide. I’m sure that it filled with runoff during heavy rains, but the sky on this side of the mountains held only scattered, puffy, white clouds, so there was no danger of a flash flood.

Less than two hours later, I recognized the prominent hill that lay just beyond the coal mine. The comma-shaped hill stuck out in my mind because the stream ran along the southern base of it and the mile long and quarter mile wide hill stood by itself. The coal seam had been about half a mile to the east, in a tall hill that marked the beginning of the base of the nearby mountain. The coal was originally discovered when a mudslide caused by heavy rains uncovered the deposit.

From memory, I picked a spot that I thought was near where the entrance of the coal mine had been. While two men began setting up camp at the base of the hill, two more took positions atop the hill to stand guard; the rest of us started digging, using the steel-bladed shovels packed among the supplies that we brought.

We dug for three days, starting with a trench, and then digging away the dirt along the edges of the trench to make the trench an open cut on the side of the hill. Occasionally, we had to dig away part of the dirt uphill from us, sloping that dirt so it didn’t slide down on us.

Late in the afternoon of the third day, one of the men shouted in excitement as his shovel hit the coal seam. We spent another week digging around the end of the coal seam, as well as cutting and splitting trees to brace the side of the hill, and cutting a downhill path across the front of the hill so the mules could drag the timber up to us.

Day 83

Nine days later

After taking several samples of the coal yesterday, we covered the seam with wood and piled saplings and dirt to hide it as best we could. What we had uncovered indicated that the seam ran to the east, into the main part of the mountain.

We made it back to Locri late in the afternoon. Since we had dug a hole in the wet sand at the edge of the creek near the mine early in our stay, one deep enough to bathe in, we were relatively clean when we arrived.

The two men sent to verify the deposits went to the Magister to claim an area of forty saltii of the hill and the mountain east of it, or about twenty thousand acres (30 sq. miles or 80 sq. km). It also included flat ground near the base of the hill to build lodgings for the miners and to grow food. They showed the Magister the document from the Senate which authorized them to claim as much land as they felt they needed.

We spent at least an hour at the bath in town, soaking and bathing, and then bought more food. While two of the men had used their new bows to keep us supplied with game while we were at the site, we were ready for a change of diet.

A visit to the harbor after our baths was disappointing. The harbormaster doubted that there would be a ship to the north for a week or more. Most ships from farther north conducted an east/west trade with Athens and Sparta, or Macedon and Epirus.

Day 84

With no ships expected to head north anytime soon, we restocked our supplies before heading north on horseback.

We encountered numerous small coastal villages on our journey north, buying food in each village we passed through. We noted a lot of destruction from the recent war with Carthage as Hannibal had run amok in the area and the Roman Army had engaged him repeatedly, usually unsuccessfully. Hannibal had even made it to the area around Naples that I was now calling home.

Only the threat of imminent attack on his own capital of Carthage (part of the modern city of Tunis, Tunisia) finally motivated Hannibal to leave Roman territory. His efforts to protect his own capital were less successful than his attacks in Rome had been and Carthage eventually surrendered. Still, the damage wrought here as the two armies spent years battling back and forth across the area was readily apparent.

Day 88

Midmorning, we reached our destination. The port of Crotone was another former Greek colony. Once boasting a thriving population upwards of 80,000, six wars and even more battles, as well as rule by several different countries over the last three hundred years, had left it a shadow of its former glory.

Still, we found food and baths and rested for the remainder of the day. While not exactly saddle sore because they eschewed the saddles, the two men with us were decidedly tender after four straight days of riding. I caught several of the guards smirking at their predicament, and the guards caught me smirking.

Day 89

Once again breaking camp after an early breakfast, we rode due south, purposely not traveling right along the coast like we had on the ride north. There was no definitive marker at the modern-day site of the ancient salt mine. All they could provide modern-day tourists was a best guess as to the location of the ancient salt mine based on the description of the land around the ancient city.

The farmer who found the salt had written that he “walked straight south through the southern gate in the city wall and continued walking south along the low ridge parallel to the coast.” That gate had been unearthed and identified in the late 1990’s.

His description continued. “When the ridge turned to the east, I continued south until even with the tip of the cape to the east. From there, I walked west to a dry streambed and then halfway back to the point where I had turned west. At that point, I began digging a well.” If he had found water, his intent had been to claim and farm the barren area around the well.

Instead, he found salt three feet below the barren surface. He had initially thought that nothing was growing due to a lack of water, hence the well he tried to dig. He made considerably more money quarrying and selling blocks of salt than he could have made farming. His family had sold blocks of salt for many generations before the salt deposit played out.

To show off his newfound wealth, he had built his home from blocks of salt, as well as subsequent homes for each of his children. When the salt deposit was depleted generations later, they simply disassembled their homes and sold that salt, too.

We followed his instructions, the same as I had as a tourist in my original time and came to roughly the same location. Since the man who originally discovered the salt had arrived in Crotone right after the third Punic War, I beat him to the location by fifty years or so.

Sure enough, three feet down we reached a layer of solid salt. Moving out about three hundred yards in each direction, a distance nearly equivalent to one and a half Roman stadia, we dug again and found salt in all four locations. Moving out another stadium, we found salt to the north, south, and west. The tenth stadium found no salt to the south, even down six feet. At twenty-six stadia (almost three miles), we finally found no salt to the north. At forty-seven stadia (over five miles or 8.5 km), there was no salt to the west.

Digging more test holes, we finally found the edge of the salt to the west and to the north. The two men sent to verify my claim were alarmed that the salt was only a few inches thick along the edges.

We spent the next two days tunneling beneath the salt and found that the deposit quickly became thicker. Using picks, we broke off chunks three to ten feet thick to make it easier to dig beneath the salt. For a short time, it allowed us to shovel the dirt directly out of the angled hole rather than having to use buckets that one of the men rode into town to buy, and the ladders that we hastily built. We finally stopped thirty-five pedes from the edge of the salt when the salt was fifty pedes thick.

The east edge of the salt was one-and-a-half stadia from our original hole and our tunnel there produced the same results for the thickness. The salt was fifty pedes thick at thirty-seven pedes from the edge. The two men finally concluded that the main part of the salt was at least fifty pedes thick, and they had measurements from edge to edge so they could estimate how much salt was below the ground.

They scratched their heads as I made strange marks in the sand with a stick, and then looked at me oddly when I told them a few minutes later how many cubic stadia the deposit held. I was surprised that I so clearly remembered the advanced math I’d taken in high school.

The two men were still scratching their heads about that, sure that my calculations were wrong when they filed a claim in town in the name of the Roman Senate for four hundred saltii. That was far more land than the mine would occupy, but it left room to the north and west for housing and land along the river for gardens to provide food for the miners.

We were in luck when we reached the port. They were expecting a ship from the north any day. It usually stopped at a few larger ports on the way to Rome, and Puteoli was one of those ports.

Day 94

The ship’s captain wasn’t happy to see us because cargo would make him more profit than passengers, especially since we had our horses. Only the fact that two of the men were emissaries from Rome gained us passage.

The oarsmen were rowing from the moment the mooring lines were cast off. I finally approached the captain and suggested that he reset his sail. Naturally, he thought I was crazy. I offered him a hundred denarii if I was wrong, and he grudgingly agreed to try it, but only after I showed him that I had a hundred denarii.

Since the wind was blowing from the northwest, sailing southwest with his sail in its original configuration was impossible. Instead, we set the sail at an angle and raised it, after I warned the captain that he had to steer to his right to counter the wind pushing the ship to the left. When the wind caught the sail, the oarsmen raised their oars out of the water and cheered.

I even convinced him to sail straight rather than hugging the coast when he reached the cape near our salt discovery.

Day 95

The first light of dawn brought the sight of the coast, greatly relieving the captain. Several hours later, he swung his ship into port. “You saved me nearly an entire day of sailing on that leg of the trip,” he exclaimed excitedly.

Day 96

We sailed just after dawn. The men had to row into the wind before midday and we reached Messina on the island of Sicily by nightfall. Shortly after dark, the wind stopped. The captain sniffed the air as we sat on deck eating prepared food that I had purchased in town and brought aboard for our group and shared with the captain.

“I think tomorrow will be a good day,” he said, grinning.

Seeing the confusion on my face, he explained. “The wind stopped because the wind from the south will start soon. I can tell because the air just became much drier than normal. This new wind blows from the deserts of North Africa. That wind usually blows for three to five days. With that wind, in just over one day of sailing, you will be home. One day after I leave Puteoli, I will be in Rome. The winds should shift again by the time I’m ready to leave Rome.”

Day 97

“We will sail the way you showed me and sail straight to where I think the port is,” the captain told me as the sun rose. True to his prediction, a strong wind was blowing from the southeast. Once we were underway, I could tell that we were sailing faster on the way north than I’d sailed so far in this time. That the wind was stronger and blowing from directly behind us made the difference.

Day 98

The captain was right, both about the direction that he steered us and the timing of our arrival. We debarked in Puteoli before noon, bidding the happy captain adieu as men began unloading the lumber, ropes, and nails he’d brought to sell to me.

The two emissaries went with us to report to Theodocio--if he was still here. He was, and had anxiously been awaiting word about our trip.

“We had to dig to find both the coal and the salt, but both were right where he said they would be,” they told Theodocio.

Theodocio didn’t waste any time, insisting that the two men return with him immediately to the Magister in Cumae to have them verify the transfer of the latifundium of twenty saltii to me. He’d had enough confidence in me that he had already described the boundaries of the latifundium to the Magister, and reminded me that I was still owed another ten saltii. I was considering using it for the land for the mines on Sardinia.

On our way to see the Magister, we met Antia and the girls who were in town today to wrestle. Antia went with us to the Magister, beaming proudly the entire time. From the time we left the villa until I was the proud owner of the biggest latifundium in the area was less than two hours. Even the Magister reminded me that I was still owed ten more saltii.

We reached the forum just in time to lead the girls to the baths. While they bathed, I talked to Celsus and Theodocio about the new ship they intended to buy or build. Since each of my other ideas had worked, they agreed to build the ship with two masts and to use triangular sails. I would need to be there when they made and installed both the masts and the sails and show them how to rig the sails, as well as how to operate the ship. They still insisted on having oars but agreed to limit the ship to only one bank.

Leaving Antia to return to the villa with Celsus, Theodocio, and their guards, along with the wrestlers and their guards, I headed for the quarry. I barely recognized the place when I arrived.

There was a line of carts by the fishing lake that were loading half crates. There was a longer line of carts at the quarry loading pozzolana. Easily more than a hundred filled crates were already waiting. Most of the filled crates had a black top. What at first looked like several stacks of lumber turned out to be the already finished tops, bases, and sides of crates waiting to be assembled. Altogether, there must have been almost two hundred men, as well as thirty or so women, all hard at work.

Janus grinned and waved when he saw me but let me come to him since I was still mounted on Boots. “You won’t believe how busy we are,” he exclaimed. “We sell at least twenty-five crates a day. Once, we sold a hundred and seven crates. Thracius filled his entire ship with eighty crates. I asked him to fill his ship with wood, rope, and nails when he returned. We now have six ships that regularly take full or partial loads of pozzolana and pavers. We’re using half crates for the pavers because full crates are too heavy.

“We even have captains buying empty crates, and any crates of pozzolana or pavers that go to Rome stay there to be reused for other things,” he exclaimed excitedly.

“The women found that they can easily make the pozzolana mixture and fill the molds for the pavers and side stones, as well as smooth the tops. Some of them even help fill the crates with pavers.

“Celsus had two female slaves who were good at handling money and brought them here. One collects the money for the pozzolana, and the other collects it for the pavers. Caelia keeps track of the combined amounts, as well as what we spend each day for supplies and wages. That frees Marius, Atilius, Gnaeus, and me to supervise things,” he explained.

Then he showed me the tar covered containers. “One of the captains suggested tarring the tops to help keep the pozzolana dry if it rains on the crate or spray from a wave hits it,” he explained.

“Celsus sends troops down every evening to escort the women and the profit back to the villa, although I have to use some of the money to buy the supplies from the ships,” he warned.

“Good thinking,” I replied, shaking his hand. “This is now part of my latifundium,” I said, motioning to the entire area around us.

“You have your own latifundium?” he gasped.

“The trip I just undertook was to show two men assigned by the Senate the location of a large deposit of coal and then a large deposit of salt. The Senate agreed to exchange them for thirty saltii of land, a large villa for myself, and a villa rustica.”

A villa rustica was a building complex with housing for the slaves and other employees, as well as enclosures to keep the animals in at night. The center of the compound was usually a large, open courtyard.

“They will also give me eighty male and forty female slaves and provide the animals for my latifundium, as well as four crates filled with coal and four filled with salt each week,” I told him. His mouth was agape.

“What do you plan to grow or raise?” he asked.

“We will have olive trees, as well as three new types of fruit trees. We’ll have lots of grapes, as well as cotton, which grows on a plant and is like soft wool. We’ll grow wheat and oats, along with a new type of grain called rice and a new vegetable called tomatoes.”

I know, I know, technically tomatoes are fruit.

“We’ll also have cows for milk and butter, as well as for meat. We’ll have pigs for pork and chickens for meat and eggs. We’ll grow the usual vegetables for the people on the latifundium to eat. I’m sure there will be other things, too, once we have all that started.”

I headed for home since the guards would come and escort the women and the profit. Antia was jumping in excitement when I arrived since Celsus had invited the two of us to dinner tonight. We were to go over as soon as I arrived home. I took time to hug and kiss each of the women and washed myself to eliminate the dust from the road and the pozzolana quarry. After changing into a clean tunic, we headed for the villa. First, I checked my tomatoes and found two small ones that were ripe. While they were small, I knew how big the slices I’d eaten had been and was sure these were so small because of the weather. I took them with us.

“Quintus welcome,” Theodocio greeted me when we entered. “I know this is short notice, but I think you should return to Rome with me. The Senate is going to want to meet the man with so many unique ideas and who knows where to find valuable deposits to mine even before digging. Moreover, you have the two poor men who went with you totally puzzled.

“They say that you made scratches in the dirt for a short time and told them how much salt there was underground. They finally contacted a mathematician here this afternoon. He did the calculations and his figures matched yours, but he took much longer to figure it out. They don’t know what to make of you,” he laughed.

“Rome?” Antia asked excitedly as she looked up at me expectantly.

“Are we sailing on the ship that we arrived on today?” I asked hopefully.

“Yes, I already arranged for you and Antia to accompany me, hoping that you would agree to go,” he explained.

I agreed and the way Antia looked at me told me that I wasn’t going to be sleeping much until we were aboard and the ship underway, not that I’d expected to sleep much the night after returning from being gone for three weeks.

Then I showed them the tomatoes. Once I cut them up and scraped out the seeds, I gave everyone a slice. “These are excellent,” Celsus exclaimed. I asked him to make sure he saved the seeds from any tomatoes that ripened while I was gone. Tomatoes would definitely be one of the crops grown on my new latifundium.

Now that the first two deposits had been verified, I started to bargain with Theodocio and Celsus. That they allowed the wives to listen was a surprise to me as well as to their wives since most Roman wives were excluded from business discussions. Using a piece of charcoal and a small board, I sketched a rough outline of the rectangular island of Sardinia. Next, I made a small circle where the main ports were and a small square for a coastal village we could use.

“I think the best place to start is close to the port of Neapolis (there was one on Sardinia, too!),” I said, pointing to a port city on the west coast of Sardinia. “It is a busy city with a good port. With a good road, we could go from there to any of sixteen mining sites within one day on horseback. Those sites include four locations to mine gold, three locations with coal, and two with silver. There are also two with copper and two with iron, as well as one with lead. There is even one each with tin, and zinc,” I explained.

Everyone’s jaw dropped. “I thought that you might know about one of each type of mine,” Theodocio gasped.

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