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- Beric the Briton - 4/74 -
from the shore.
A council house and a tribunal were erected for the Roman magistrates; temples, a theatre, and baths raised. The civilian population increased rapidly. Architects, artists, and musicians, decorators, skilled artisans, and traders were attracted from the mainland to the rising city, which rapidly increased in wealth and importance. Conspicuous on the most elevated position stood a temple erected to the honour of Claudius, who was raised by the grateful legionaries to divine rank. So strong and populous was the city that the Trinobantes, during the years that had elapsed since the Romans took possession of it, remained passive under the yoke of their oppressors, and watched, without attempting to take part in them, the rising of the Iceni and Brigantes, the long and desperate war of the Silures and Ordovices under Caractacus, and the reduction of the Belgae and Dumnonii from Hampshire to Cornwall by Vespasian. Yet, had their spirit remained unbroken, there was an opportunity for revenge, for a large part of the veteran legionaries had been withdrawn to take part in the struggle against the western tribes. The tribe had, however, been disarmed, and with Camalodunum on the north, and the rising towns of London and Verulamium on the south, they were cut off from other tribes, and could not hope for final success, unless the powerful Iceni, who were still semi-independent, rose in the national cause. Whether their easy defeat of this tribe soon after the occupation of Camalodunum had rendered the Romans contemptuous of their fighting powers, or that they deemed it wiser to subdue the southwest and west of England, and to strike a heavy blow at the Brigantes to the north before interfering with a powerful tribe so close to their doors, is uncertain; but doubtless they felt that so long as Prasutagus reigned there was little fear of trouble in that quarter, as that king protested himself the friend and ally of Rome, and occupied himself wholly in acquiring wealth and adding to his personal possessions.
The scene in Camalodunum was a familiar one to Beric. The streets were thronged with people. Traders from Gaul and Italy, Roman artisans and workmen, haughty legionaries with shield and helmet, civil officials, Greek players, artists and decorators, native tribesmen, with the products of their fields or the spoils of the chase, walking with humble mien; and shopkeepers sitting at the open fronts of their houses, while their slaves called the attention of passersby to the merits of the goods. Here were the rich products of Eastern looms, there the cloths and linen of Rome, further on a smith's shop in full work, beyond that a silversmith's, next door to which was a thriving trader who sold unguents and perfumes, dyes for the ladies' cheeks and pigments for their eyebrows, dainty requisites for the toilette, and perfumed soap. Bakers and butchers, vendors of fish and game, of fruit, of Eastern spices and flavourings abounded.
Druggists and dealers in dyes for clothing and in the pigments used in wall decorations and paintings were also to be found; and, in fact, this Roman capital of a scarcely subjugated country contained all the appliances for luxury and comfort that could be found in the cities of the civilized provinces.
The only shops at which Beric paused were those of the armourers and of the scribes, at some of which were exhibited vellums with the writings of the Greek and Roman poets and historians; and Beric muttered to himself, "If I am ever present at the sack of Camalodunum these shall be my share of the spoil, and I fancy that no one is likely to dispute their possession with me."
But he did not linger long. Boduoc would be waiting for him, and he could not hurry over his visit, the first he had paid since his absence; therefore he pushed on, with scarce a glance at the stately temple of Claudius, the magnificent baths or other public buildings, until he arrived at the villa of Caius Muro, which stood somewhat beyond the more crowded part of the town.
CHAPTER II: CITY AND FOREST
The house of Caius Muro had been built six years before on the model of one owned by him in the Tuscan hills. Passing through the hall or vestibule, with its mosaic pavement, on which was the word of welcome, "Salve!" Beric entered the atrium, the principal apartment in the house. From each side, at a height of some twenty feet from the ground, extended a roof, the fall being slightly to the centre, where there was an aperture of about eight feet square. Through this light and air made their way down to the apartment, the rainfall from the roofs and opening falling into a marble tank, called the impluvium, below the level of the floor, which was paved with squares of coloured marble. On either side of the atrium were the small sleeping chambers, the bed places being raised and covered with thick mats and rugs.
The walls of the bed chambers as well as of the atrium were painted in black, with figures and landscapes in colour. On the centre of the side facing the vestibule was the tablinum, the apartment of Caius Muro himself. This formed his sitting room and study. The floor was raised about a foot above that of the atrium, and it was partly open both on that side and on the other, looking into the peristylium, so that, while at work, he commanded a view of all that was going on in the atrium and in the courtyard. In the centre of this was a fountain surrounded by plants. From the courtyard opened the triclinium, or dining room, and also rooms used as storerooms, kitchen, and the sleeping places of the slaves.
At the back of the peristylium was the oecus, or state apartment, where Caius received distinguished guests, and where, in the lifetime of Julia, entertainments were given to the ladies of the colony. Like the triclinium, this room was also partially open at both ends, affording the guests a view of the graceful fountain on the one side and of the garden on the other. In winter wooden frames, with heavy hangings, were erected across these openings and that of the tablinum, for the Romans soon found the necessity for modifying the arrangements which, although well suited for an Italian climate, were wholly unfit for that of Britain. The opening in the centre of the atrium was then closed with an awning of oiled canvas, which admitted a certain amount of light to pass, but prevented the passage of rain and snow, and kept out much of the cold. There was a narrow passage between the atrium and the peristylium; this was called the fauces. Above the chambers round the atrium was a second story, approached by a staircase from the peristylium; here were the apartments of the ladies and of the female slaves.
As Beric entered the atrium, a man, who was reading a roll of parchment, rose to his feet.
"Welcome, Beric!" he said warmly.
"All hail, preceptor!" the lad replied. "Are all well here?"
"All well, Beric. We had looked to see you before, and Berenice has been constantly asking me when you were coming."
"I had been absent over four years, you see," Beric replied, "and it was not easy to get away from home again. Now I must speak to Caius." He crossed the apartment, and stood at the entrance to the tablinum. Caius looked up from a military treatise he was perusing.
"Ah, Beric! it is you! I am glad to see you again, though I am sorry to observe that you have abandoned our fashions and taken to the native garb again."
"It was necessary, Caius," Beric said. "I should have lost all influence with the tribe had I not laid aside my Roman dress. As it is, they regard me with some doubt, as one too enamoured of Roman customs."
"We have heard of you, Beric, and, indeed, report says that you speak well of us, and are already famous for your relations of our history."
"I thought it well that my countrymen should know your great deeds," Beric said, "and should see by what means you have come to rule the world. I received nought but kindness at your hands, and no prisoner's lot was ever made more easy than mine. To you and yours I am deeply grateful. If your people all behaved as kindly towards the natives of this country as you did to me, Britain would be conquered without need of drawing sword from scabbard."
"I know not that, Beric; to rule, one should be strong as well as kind. Still, as you know, I think that things might have been arranged far less harshly than they have been. It was needful that we should show ourselves to be masters; but I regret the harshness that has been too often used, and I would that not one of us here, from the governor down to the poorest soldier, was influenced by a desire for gain, but that each was animated, as he assuredly should be, only by a desire to uphold the glory and power of Rome. But that would be expecting too much from human nature, and even among you there are plenty ready to side against their countrymen for the sake of Roman gold. In that they have less excuse than we. Custom and habit have made our wants many, and all aim at attaining the luxuries of the rich. On the other hand, your wants are few, and I see not that the piling up of wealth adds in any way to your happiness."
"That is true, Caius. I quite agree with you that it is far more excusable for a Roman to covet wealth than for a Briton; and while I blame many officials and soldiers for the harshness with which they strive to wring all their possessions from my countrymen, I deem their conduct as worthy and honourable when compared with that of Britons who sell their country for your gold."
"We must take the world as we find it, Beric. We may regret that greed and the love of luxury should influence men, as we may grieve that they are victims of other base passions; but it is of no use quarrelling with human nature. Certain it is that all vices bring their own punishment, and that the Romans were a far nobler race when they were poor and simple, in the days of the early consuls, than they are now, with all their power, their riches, and their luxuries. Such is the history of all peoples--of Egypt, of Persia, of Greece, and Carthage; and methinks that Rome, too, will run the course of other nations, and that some day, far distant maybe, she will sink beneath the weight of her power and her luxury, and that some younger and more vigorous people will, bit by bit, wrest her dominions from her and rule in her place.
"As yet, happily, I see no signs of failing in her powers. She is still vigorous, and even in the distant outskirts of the empire the wave of conquest flows onward. Happily for us, I think, it can flow no farther this way; there is but one island beyond this to conquer, and then, as in Western Gaul and Iberia, the ocean says to Rome, 'Thou shalt go no farther.' Would that to the south, the east, and north a similar barrier checked our progress, then we
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