A Roman’s Day.September 14, 2008
The light was getting brighter, and the mattress was getting a little less comfortable. That same spot in the mattress always seemed to bulge, leaving the hard wood underneath to pain his shoulder. It was a great bed, better than most he had seen, the shell inlay and the linen damask mattress were certainly great buys. Sure, he’d heard of beds with gold and ivory adorning them, and had seen one being made in a carpenter shop, but it couldn’t make the darn mattress any more comfortable.
The bustle back and forth from the cucina to the triclinium was now getting hard to ignore. The slaves, no matter how quiet they tried to be, still couldn’t keep the various scrapes and shifts of their sandals from amplifying as they walked through the atrium, echoing into his cubiculum. Such a large home he lived in now, thanks to his efforts in being a good client, with good lead pipes (although not as wide as he would have liked to be able to afford), and more space than three of his family’s old apartment in the old insula. Maybe investing in those sandals for the slaves wasn’t such a good idea after all, the caligae never made such a racket, but they were decent slaves, and a delicious ientaculum on time every dawn was a decent return for putting up with such a scuffling bunch . It was dawn anyway, and there is a lot to do today.
After pulling on his tunica, and splashing his face with almost a whole sextarius of tepid water from the terra sigillata jug he kept in the cubiculum, he was startled by his Galli woman slave carrying in his toga virilis, heavy in her arms, and still slightly brightened from the chalk. The chalk, what a horrible reminder of the failed candidacy for concilium plebis. He had loved the smell of the chalk, and excited by the people that would stop him in the street to ask him about who he was client to, and what he could do, once elected, to increase the food rations. It made him feel important, and dashing, but now it just made the toga a dull reminder of failed glory. He wanted a new toga, and an image of himself donning a toga angusticlavia flashed into his fantasy laden mind before the reality of another toga virilis settled heavily in. She wrapped his failure around him, taking care to get the creases and folds just right.
Ientaculum was good this day. The freeborn girl whom he’d purchased from her denarii strapped, unwed mother knew just the right place to get the good bread. A full, round loaf sat still warm from the baker’s oven on the table, and a small dish of honey awaited the soft bread to be dipped. Some cheese, left over from a dinner several nights before would be a welcome addition. He called out to the cucina where he knew the slaves were standing around gossiping, and one came quickly with a small chunk of the delicious, dry cheese.
The life of being a client for Lucius Asinia Calvus wasn’t as easy as some of the people on the street thought. He heard some of the more boisterous poor chide him while he waited in line outside the Cornelii Domus for salutation, a mix of jealousy and contempt emanating from their emotional voice. Today he arrived late, knowing that the line would be long earlier, and he had to stay after for a bit of business, hopefully.
He stood amongst the throng of clients, patiently fretting while greeting others. Hortensius greeted him warmly, though he knew he had more favor amongst the Cornelii due to his election to the concilium plebis. He had defended him, he had heard, at the baths from some Brutii clients, who had been making light of his defeat in the election. He was a good man, Horensius, and they made a date for their families to share cena after the next market day.
He reflected after a good hour about the longer days of summer than winter–if this had been a winter month, with its short days, and shorter hours, it may have been a full two hours., but being summer it was only an hour. Strange, he thought, that the days should vary in length, and the hours with them. He pondered about whether it were Jupiter or Apollo that decided this, and if Ceres had lobbied them for longer days in the summer for the crops to grow. In any case, he couldn’t decide, and thought that an offering to each of the three was in order over the next few months—maybe he’d ask one of the priests their thoughts on the matter.
Upon reaching his patronus, Lucius remembered the task that his wife wanted from him. Would the twin boys, now eleven, be able to attend the Grammaticus that the Cornelii had built for their clients? He was almost ashamed to ask, given his failure to the Cornelii, but he had served them well, and today would be no different. After touching shoulders with both his patron, Publius Cornelius Merula, and Avitus, his closest equestrian client, Lucius listened to their requests for his service that day, and collected a larger than normal amount of denarii and food from his patonus. His slaves divided the bounty between their baskets, and Lucius tucked the coins into his pouch, mentally calculating his total on hand money.
As he walked along, the deep crimson paint on the outside of his patron’s domus made him envious of the wealth. He thought of all the things his domus lacked, the mosaics, the paint, and a peristylium in the back to enjoy a small garden. It was something to strive for, and maybe one of his sons will make good, live a long life, serve the Cornelii well, and build a peristylium. At the rate Lucius was going, maybe it wasn’t out of the question that he could build it, it had been a good past five years, and, after all, he had been able to move his family into their very own domus.
Two of the slaves took the food home, while his best one waled along behind him. It wouldn’t be long before Alcinous was wearing a phrygian cap, he was steadily making his money for Lucius, and it was almost time to replace him anyway. Freedom would be good for Alcinous, he was smart and attentive, and Lucius thought it would be good to see him raise a family, but the thought of also freeing his wife, whom he’d let Alcinous marry was a little troubling. Still, he’d made Lucius enough money by buying and selling excess fish sauce from the port for Lucius to buy twenty good slaves, so maybe they could both have their freedom as a token of appreciation.
As he approached the warehouse Avitus owned, he remembered that he forgot to ask his patronus about Grammaticus for the twins. Maybe he hadn’t forgotten, but rather was avoiding the question, afraid of what Cornelius Merula would ask of him in return, or worse yet, if he avoided answering his request. His sons learning to read and write earlier than Lucius had would be a great advantage, and the connections with the best of the Cornelii client families would certainly give them the best chance at success. He imagined his sons speaking and writing Greek, opening up the possibilities of greater things, opening up all of the eastern provinces to them, should they chose to serve the Cornelii that way.
The work of the day was to be long, a full six hours it seemed on this day, and Lucius had to get things in order at the warehouse before he purchased the linen for Avitus, and organized the two gangs of his slaves to bring it from the wharf, and stack it in the little space that was available. He would need some more workers than just the twenty slaves, and some hiring for the day would need to be done from the awaiting freemen at the forum. He sent Alcinous out to fetch some–he had a good eye for workers, and knew some of the better freedmen that needed work. One of Avitus’ foremen always protested when Lucius sent Alcinous instead of them, but the rag tag bunch that they’d bring back always stole, and worked at half speed. Lucius hated when they’d do this, and knew they were keeping much of the money instead of using it to get good men.
When Alcinous got back, the slaves gathered the handcarts and followed Lucius down to the port, where Avitus had heard of a ship packed with linen had docked in the night. Lucius scanned the docks and found the ship, a rundown looking thing still full of activity, and a few obvious merchants negotiating with a captain. He’d worried that he’d be late, and the ship would already be unloading its cargo into the carts of some other luckier soul, but it looked like he was the lucky one today.
The captain was a rough sort, and knew how to negotiate, but Lucius was his equal in that regard (his saving grace to the Cornelii), and talked the captain down to three quarters his original asking price for a full half of his cargo of linen. Lucius would keep a good stack of denarii for the effort, and still be able to give back some money to Avitus.
The cargo loaded into the carts, then brought to the warehouse and stacked earlier than expected, allowed Lucius to return home for a light prandium, and a short nap before he sought out Avitus to tell him of his good fortune. Lucius paid the freedmen for their work, and told Alcinous to take note of two that had worked exceptionally hard, and instructed that they give Alcinous their names and where near they lived if they were needed in the future.
His twins greeted him as he slipped through the side entrance–their red hemmed tunics made them look like little senators. It wouldn’t be long before they were in their own togas, and maybe, one day they could have a thin stripe of purple on their tunics, maybe not the thick stripe of a senator, but a stripe is a stripe when it’s the right color stripe, he thought. He ate and then napped in his bed. The mattress having been fluffed by one of the house slaves, he slept soundly until Alcinous awoke him an hour later.
They met Avitus at his domus, and were quickly ushered in by one of the finest slaves Lucius had ever seen. A dark Tunisian with broad shoulders and a fine linen tunic, he looked educated and intimidating. Alcinous was shown to the back rooms by a slave the Tunisian ordered about, and he stayed by the side of Avitus. Lucius was embarrassed that his best slave was shown to the back while this Tunisian was obviously so well regarded as to stand by Avitus. Lucius decided that he wanted an educated slave like Avitus did, no matter if it took all the money Alcinous had made him over the past ten years, enough for twenty decent ones.
He returned a portion of the saved money to Avitus, and was commended for his skill. Avitus passed along the praise of Lucius from the Cornelii, and offered him the management of the warehouse and the purchasing of goods from the port on a full time basis. A good day this was turning out to be, no more need of collecting money from his patronus and taking any task they offered. A client, and now another step to joining the equestrian class, Lucius was certainly on his way. Avitus embraced Lucius, and invited him to the baths with him. An exciting proposition, to be seen with an equestrian such as Avitus at one of the best baths in Rome!
Lucius, in glee, but embarrassed at only having one slave along with him (and one so humble compared to Avitus’ titan Tunisian) , walked into the baths with Avitus, his head spinning. Everywhere he turned, he saw tunics with the thin purple stripe of the equestrians, and slaves so much finer than those at his normal bath. Alcinous too was looking around in wonder, acting more attentive than usual, trying his best to impress the others. Lucius decided then and there to grant Alcinous his freedom just as soon as he bought an educated slave–a month at the wage Avitus will be paying him, two, at most.
He rushed home afterwards, feeling cleaner than after any day at the baths he had ever had, the whole time recalling the splendor with Alcinous, who was just as giddy as Lucius. On the way he splurged on a new bolt of linen for a toga that Alcinous would have his wife tailor just right. He was a little angry at himself that he hadn’t taken one as a freebie from the captain earlier, but even the added cost of the material couldn’t hamper his spirits.
His wife was amazed at the news, the slaves talked excitedly in the back, happy for their kind owner. He looked around the plain walls, and plain, utilitarian furniture but felt no jealousy anymore for the mosaics and paint adorning other, larger domii. His was coming, it could only be a matter of time. The joy made him sleep well after a large cena of eggs, fish and fruit that he sent a slave out to get in celebration. He lay in bed satisfied, even when the bulge in the mattress made his shoulder dig into the wood beneath.