One angry old man against the world
In ancient Rome, slavery was the oil that kept the state moving, in fact, slaves outnumbered freedmen and citizens by a good 50 to 1. Because of this, many favoured brutal methods of slave training and control.
I, on the other hand, am different; I grew up in a ‘matriarchal’ family, my father was always away in the military, so much of my ‘teaching’ was from my mother. She believed that treating a slave with kindness was more productive than ‘whipping’ them into submission, something I always agreed with having seen the results of both methods first-hand.
Therefore I have taken to training my own slaves using my mother’s method, but this takes time, far more time than traditional ways, so I find I need to start them young. Because of this, I can pick up some real bargains at the slave auctions, let me explain: Boys, in the ‘Greek tradition’, being very popular, are bid up to high prices, trained girls, over the age of about 12 years are also at a premium, and are also in demand for general household slaves. Untrained slaves are usually purchased at around 10 because it takes about two years to break their spirit using the traditional ‘brutal’ methods.
So, there are few like me, who will take them very young, therefore I can take my pick, because investing in a slave that will take years before it becomes a productive member of a household, is not something that many will do, or could afford to do. I was an importer of grain, and as Rome could never get enough of the stuff, I made quite a good living and could therefore afford to indulge my foibles.
After a while, the slave traders would come to me first and bring their prettiest wares, because I would always give them a fair price. There were many olive skinned locals available because of the numbers of families that had fallen on hard times and had to sell their children into slavery. But I preferred those captured or offered as Tribute from the northern Imperial Provinces, their white skin, blue eyes and golden hair I found most agreeable. The traders had learned my tastes and would bring any fair skinned 5 or 6 year-old for my perusal. That way, I didn’t have to go to the noisy, smelly auction and bid in person, this arrangement suited both me and the slaver.
Because they had many more years of training, my girls would learn to be excellent courtesans and very, very good house slaves. By the time they reached the age of 12, I would sell most of them on. A few of the better house slaves I kept as replacements for the less competent, which I also sold. This eventually led to my household slaves being almost entirely white skinned, fair haired, tall beauties. Apart from my head cook who ruled the kitchen staff with a tongue like a whip and was also a great cook, plus a large Nubian who was the house night guard and great at settling any disagreements within the household.
The reputation of my girls, both as great concubines and as well trained house slaves was spreading, so much so that citizens were coming to me from outside Rome and offering large sums for them. So I set up an annual auction and discovered that I was making more money from my girls than from my import business, even taking into account the 6 or 7 years of feeding, clothing and training them. I then decided to put a manager in charge of my grain business and concentrate on producing the much more profitable slave girls.
I began to buy more girls, even those I considered to be the less pretty ones, but in the friendly atmosphere of my household, they flourished and grew into confident, pretty young things. When they first arrived, they were watched carefully to ensure they didn’t try to run away, but when they discovered that they weren’t to be chained, beaten or abused, and were treated with kindness, well fed and clothed, they soon settled in and had the free run of the house.
Slaves love to gossip and because I allowed my house slaves time off and the freedom to use it as they wished, they would often go to the market, meet and visit other slaves and freedmen, and bring back all the best gossip of the day. My kitchens became the centre for dispersal of all the juicy tit-bits to the rest of the household, and where my girls learned that some of their predecessors were doing very well indeed. One citizen was so enamoured with my girl that he dressed her in fine clothes and took her with him as his escort wherever he travelled. Another smothered his in jewels and treated her like a queen. Many were treated as lovers and no other chores were required of them. This kind of news encouraged my girls to be even more determined to be the best that they could be at whatever they did, and a very young, very eager to learn girl is a force to be reckoned with, so I employed the best literators (teachers) I could find. Now most literators are freedmen and had heard of the way I treated my slaves, plus they wanted to pass on their knowledge to their own, so they were more than willing to join my household at a greatly reduced fee.
In my mother’s time, the killing of a sick slave was the norm, but she always called in a physician to treat them. Today such killings are currently against the law, but it’s still widely practised to save money, but not by me. I employ a Greek physician (when needed,) who is widely respected in the area, he’s not the cheapest, but he is the best. The way I treat my slaves, I believe, produces far more productivity than the whip, or other ‘tortures’. I have around half the slaves of many similar sized houses I have visited, and mine seems to be cleaner and better managed. A close friend says “thats more to do with the way I train them.” Something I’d like to believe, but can never be sure of.
They also developed a fierce loyalty for me as their master, something that came to my notice at the great market, when I went to pay a fish trader for the credit he’d given to my head cook, when she didn’t have enough money to pay the previous day. Although my cooks and house slaves purchase most of the needs of the household and are given money to do so, it’s customary for the master of the house to show his face to the traders once in awhile so they could see who they are dealing with. The same cook accompanied me to show me the trader and confirm the amount owed. As my dwelling is on the lower slopes of the Esquiline hill, it’s just a short walk down to the great market in the valley.
My head cook led the way to a stall just inside the main square and presented me as her master to the man behind it. Though I am not a small man, I’m no Adonis, for I have never had the time or inclination to indulge in the regimen required to produce that kind of a body. But the fishmonger who confronted me was a giant; his whole body rippled with hard muscle and when he inflated the owed amount, my first inclination was to pay him. As he stepped from behind his stall and towered over me, any resolve not to pay deserted me.
To my surprise my tiny cook stepped between us, although she is around 20, many of my 12 year old’s are much taller. This giant of a man glared down at her, and then with a voice that turned every head in the square, she began to berate him for his dishonesty. I watched as the man seemed to shrink in stature. The tongue lashing she dispensed soon attracted a large cheering and jeering crowd that added to the man’s humiliation to such a degree, that he offered to drop the bill all together.
You could see and hear in this crowd that the man was not liked, but being the good business man that I am, I paid the true amount and left. A few days later I discovered via the kitchen grape vine, that the trader had become a much better man and more honest in his dealings with his customers.
This was one story that rippled through Rome with such speed, that whenever I left the house, I would receive nods of respect from even complete strangers, and vigorous hand shakes from friends and acquaintances. I learned from the kitchen, that there were two stories in circulation, the one among the slaves, servants and freedmen being the true version, while a very different one was passed by the citizens. In that one, I was the hero, and had defeated and deflated the giant with my superb oratory. Although I laughed it off, I secretly liked that version, and it gave me an idea. I made the acquaintance of a few actors, and employed a couple of the better ones to school me in the art of oratory. Both of these old actors had been excellent in tragedy, but they really shone in comedy and taught me all about timing, playing the audience and how oratory was nothing without wit. I also got them to teach the girls how to speak well, and employed others to teach them all the skills they could ever need.
By the time of the next annual auction, both I and my dozen girls were well prepared. I had conducted all the previous auctions myself and considered that I was fairly good at it, but now I would turn it into a real show. It was customary to show slaves naked, but I had employed a seamstress to dress the girls in something eye catching. The girls looked fantastic; they were dressed in simple single colour red shiny chiffon that changed its transparency and reflectiveness as they moved. The simplicity added an elegance that exuded an air that far outshone their tender age.
The square was packed and I noted with some satisfaction the swath of purple in the far corner, (purple is the colour worn by senators and the very rich.) I opened the auction and played the audience like a musician plays his instrument, I rode the waves of laughter with a new panache I didn’t know I possessed. The girls did their part and as each was called, she paraded around the stage with such authority; it caused the men to moan and the women to howl. An old literator of dance had taught them to move with a fluid, hip rolling gait that produced such lust in the eyes of the men close to the stage, that I swear I could smell it.
It was customary at such events to introduce each girl in turn, point out her most obvious attributes and then open the bidding, but instead I began listing the first girl’s skills. Now only the rich could afford a full schooling for their male offspring, some girls attended, but it was rare, except among the Senatorial Class. So when I listed fluent reading and writing in both Latin and Greek, plus a good understanding of mathematics, there were audible gasps from the crowd. I pointed out how she could be a great asset to anyone of the mercantile class and opened the bidding. It quickly rose to the best price I had received at the last auction and continued to rise. I noted how most of the bidding was now coming from the purple in the far corner of the square. She was finally sold to a prominent Senator who came to the stage in person, and paid with a heavy purse of 25 gold aureus, which was roughly equivalent to half my take at the previous auction.
The girl and I then went into a well rehearsed routine; she threw both arms around my neck, kissed me on both cheeks and thanked me profusely with tears in her eyes that I didn’t remember at our rehearsals. The crowd loved it and erupted into loud cheers as I had hoped they might. I had arranged the 12 girls in ascending skill order and it certainly paid off, as the prices they sold for rose steadily and the amazement of the crowd rose with it. Until the final girl Ceria, she was the tallest of the twelve and moved with the grace and elegance of a hunting tiger. He breasts weren’t as large as some of the others, but they seemed to fit perfectly with the rest of her athletic frame. Ceria had caused much excitement among the literators; most said they had never come across such a brilliant mind. She soaked up knowledge like a sponge and retained it like parchment. When I began to list her skills, the crowd fell silent in an awe that steadily turned to disbelief. Until one man bellowed “prove it” to shouts of agreement from all over the square. I said that there must one in this vast crowd who considered himself expert in one of the fields mentioned; let him question her to your satisfaction. This produced many nods of approval and calls for an expert to come forward.
A wizened old man struggled through the throng towards the stage; I bid the crowd to part and give him passage, which they did. He was helped onto the stage, found a seat and told me he was a Greek historian visiting friends in Rome. He began to question Ceria to rapt attention from those close enough to hear clearly. Not only did she answer his every question to his complete satisfaction, she even quoted some obscure texts that even he didn’t know of. The man stood and announced loudly that her knowledge in his field was greater than he had amassed in 70 years of study; this quelled the audience to utter silence.
I asked If there were any-more objectors and received an affirmative from a barrack commander who waded through the throng carrying something. As he got closer, I saw that it was a bow and a sheath of arrows. “As one of her many attributes, you said she was good with a bow, let her prove that.” He said, offering her the items. She took them, slung the sheath across her shoulder and asked him for the target. He pointed to the roof of a house at the far end of the square. “Just below the eves, carved into the wooden support, are three circles, two adjacent and one atop, in the shape of a triangle.” She nodded. “Let me see you put an arrow in one of those circles.” He said, smugly. She took up a firm stance with the target to her left, notched an arrow, took careful aim, loosed it and fired three more in such quick succession that, if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed that such speed was possible. There was a deafening roar from the crowd that must have been heard all over Rome. I looked up to see that she had centred all three circles and put another in the small space between the three.
Now the citizens of Rome hold many things in high regard, but among the highest are military skills, this kind of skill in a man would be very impressive, but in a young girl, it was beyond belief. As she handed back the bow and sheath, she said that it was a fine weapon. The commander told her not to be so modest and that of all his men that he considered good with a bow, not one could have made such a shot. He then did something that stunned the crowd to silence, he bowed. The army was well known for its arrogance and bowed to no one, not even the Emperor, so for one of so high a rank to bestow such an honour was shocking. There was a deathly silence and the tension was palpable, so I was relieved and greatly thankful to the wit who shouted, “Is there anything she can’t do?” “Yes,” I replied quickly. ”She can’t make oatmeal, she always burns it.” It did the trick and broke the tension, it also made her look human again, but I also knew that something like that gesture from so high a rank would not be quickly forgotten.
I asked for any more objections and received none, said that she would make an excellent bodyguard and ‘fountain’ of knowledge for an educated owner, then opened the bidding. There was a shout of “200 aureus gold” from a narrow street close to the corner where the purple were. The crowd parted and in walked the commander of the palace guard with a dozen centurions, four carrying a bound box on a litter.
There had been rumours that the Emperor was interested in bidding before we started, but I had put them aside as idle gossip. There were of course no other bids; no one would dare bid against the Emperor.
Strenuuso the commander was aptly named and came straight to the stage, he could of course have put in a much lower bid, but counting hundreds of aureus coins would have taken a good deal of time, something Strenuuso was renowned for never wasting.
He took a small key from his purse, opened the large box which was less than half full, forced his fingers into the coins, brought out a fistful from the pile to prove that they were all gold, and asked if I wished them counted. I of course declined, that would be a direct insult to the Emperor. He suggested that I place the other purses from the sales in the chest for safety, locked the box and handed me the key.
I turned to Ceria and raised one eyebrow slightly, the signal to go into our little routine, but instead of throwing her arms around my neck, she knelt down, bent forwards and kissed my feet one at a time. I saw tears in the eyes of the women and admiration in the eyes of the men, and I knew that this act would enhance my reputation as a slave trainer far more than anything that had gone before.
I reached down, lifted her to her feet and hugged her to me, before she was escorted away between two large centurions. Strenuuso said he would escort me and my gold home and post a guard. When I began to say that a guard was unnecessary, he informed me that he had orders to do so.
Late that evening I went to the kitchen, took my place at the head of the table, and received my nightly hot drink from a grinning cook. The large kitchen was very crowded, even with the dozen gone and the 5 to 8’s abed, something I had noted awhile ago. I had been thinking for sometime that I needed a larger house and now I had the funds to make that idea a possibility. I informed the older girls that they should ask around for a larger house, something at least twice the size of this one that was available at a good price.
A few days later, a general house slave said that she had heard of a large villa on the lower slopes of Palatine hill that was asking a low price of just 200 aureus. It was a recent inheritance to 2 brothers who could not stand the sight of each other and wished to sell it quickly for gold. When I viewed it, I was very pleasantly surprised, it was a good deal larger than I had envisaged and set in grounds with a lake and a small wood. It must have been worth more than twice the asking price, so I quickly settled the sale with the brother’s agent.
We set about moving early the following day, many neighbours sent their slaves to help. A large horse and cart, two donkey carts, and 4 smelly burros were produced, but even with all this transport and many slaves carrying things, it still took two trips. Strenuuso sent an escort for the gold and the whole affair took on the semblance of a procession of someone famous, with people cheering and waving.
After moving everything into the villa, my girls rushed excitedly throughout the place, squealing with delight at each new discovery. On my previous inspection, I had been so impressed with the outside that I barely looked inside in my rush to close the deal. Therefore the excitement was beginning to rub off on me as I toured my new home. There was a large sunny central court yard with a fountain, fruit trees and a large vegetable patch, surrounded by my excited cooks pointing out the produce and the dishes they could make. One of them told me excitedly that the kitchen had running water, another that it was larger that the whole ground floor of our previous dwelling. I bid them prepare food and refreshment for our band of helpers and the centurions resting in the shade of the trees outside.
One of the cooks returned to tell me they had found a cool cellar with a good many amphora’s full of fine wine. I told her to give a drinking cup of the wine to each of our helpers and the centurions, but only one cup, the last thing I wanted was drunken marauding centurions to deal with. The gesture was very well received, particularly by the centurions who said that, as they had been given no further orders, they would stay and guard my house until told otherwise. I wasn’t sure what brought on this generous offer, the food or the wine, but having served in the army in my younger years, I’m inclined to the latter. I told the cooks to look after their needs, and to see that they were well fed, but only given one cup of wine a day, also to ensure they did not get into the cellar.
It took three days for Strenuuso to miss them and he sent another centurion to tell them they were ordered back to barracks. I went to the cellar, found a small amphora of wine and gave it to them as a parting gift. One of them said he would return in his free time to take up again as my guard, the others said they would too. The one who had delivered the message looked puzzled, the first one said that once it was explained how generous I had been, he and probably many others would use their free time in such a manner.
From then on, there was always at least one guard day and night by my front door, often more. Sometime later I discovered why they were so keen to protect me and my property, it seems the house slaves had taken my edict ‘to look after them’ to include all their bodily needs. When I thought about it, I realised that the house slaves received very little sexual attention, and would therefore be somewhat frustrated. Therefore I gave my accord, but warned them to try to avoid pregnancy. I knew that sooner or later it would happen and reasoned that any girls could be put through full training and boys could concentrate on military skills, as there were always centurions to teach them.
When the male offspring began to arrive, as no centurion could be sure it wasn’t his, they were all very eager to give them the best instruction that they could. I had warned any slave that got pregnant to be as vague as they could as to the father to foster this idea. It worked very well and by the time the first batch were almost ready for auction; they were well developed in all the military as well as a good basic academic education. It was about this time that I received a worrying rumour circulating among the more powerful families that I was building my own private army.
Lucky for me that I had become a good friend of the local camp commander, we had a great many passions in common, including a love of card games and he spent much of his free time at my house. He sent one of his cohort commanders to tell me that the palace had heard of the rumours and sent word to him to “keep an eye on me” and that it would be advisable to have my auction very soon. Normally I would have my annual auction in Maius (May), because the weather was almost guaranteed to be fine, but this being early Aprilis (April), the weather was apt to be unpredictable. Plus, the festival of Cybele was in full swing, ending on the 10th with the festival of Cerealia beginning on the 12th, meant it would have to be the 11th. This was a market day, so I would have to get permission from the pontiff, but this being the 6th, at least I had a few days to prepare.
The use of a couple of my girls for the night made sure that I got my ‘permission’ and some monetary incentives to the other traders, insured I had the whole square for my ‘show.’
The morning of the 11th proved to be a bright sunny day, so the Gods were with me. I had decided to sell the boys first and defeat all the rumours. They were a well developed bunch, in all senses of the word, and as I had reverted to the tradition of displaying them naked, women were elbowing their way to the edge of the stage for a better view.
I used the same method as I had with the girls, and began by listing the first boys accomplishments. But the women seemed to be much more interested in the boys sexual prowess and said so, loudly, to great cheers from the men. Now a man in my position knows only too well the needs of women and I knew that the women of my household, would get their satisfaction where they could. So I knew for a fact that the boys were very well trained in that area.
An idea struck me, – that although risky – if it worked, would no doubt inflate the bidding. I said that ‘one woman from the audience should ‘test the boy’, this caused a massive surge forward and a great clamour of ‘volunteers’. I suddenly realised that I shouldn’t do the choosing, but leave it to the boy to do. When I announced this, the crowd hushed, and all eyes turned to the boy who walked slowly around the edge of the stage. The pleading eyes of the lustful women assured me that I had made a wise decision, the choice was not an easy one.
His choice was a surprise to not just me, but also the many onlookers. Rome was famous for it’s beautiful women, and there were many here to see, but he chose a plain, sad looking example. She was ushered onto the stage, a high couch was produced from one of the houses on the square and passed over the heads of the crowd.
He began by undressing her very slowly, with kisses and caresses that had the audience moaning much louder than the recipient. He then spread her legs over each side of the couch and begun to administer cunnilingus with such skill that it made me jealous and had the woman screaming so loud that it stunned the onlookers into silence. By the time he mounted her, she was already screaming through a continuous climax and I didn’t think she could scream any louder, but she did, oh how she did.
When I started the bidding, it was ferocious, quickly rising to well in excess of the price of any boy slave sold on this market, or any other to my knowledge. It finally settled to 35 gold aureus, a unheard of amount for a 12 year old boy. I noticed that I was receiving bids from a number of the better class of Leno (male) and lena (female) lupanar (brothel keeper) which was helping to inflate the price. A well trained, good looking boy to service upper-class women and trained in military skills, who could therefore deal with drunk and disruptive clients would be a great asset.
I was more than certain that I had a winning formula, and used the same method for the remaining boys. The bids they sold at were very satisfying, most higher than the first, a couple even above 50, but most gratifying of all for me was that; I knew I had killed the rumours of my private army.
When I started the girls auction, a few of the male ‘wits’ asked if they could test them, as the women had ‘tested’ the boys. I recognised one of them as a well known jeweller who specialised in gold and fine gems, and asked him what he would say to someone who asked him for a free-sample of his wares? His long stream of profanities put an end to any further claims on my girls.
By the end of the auction, I found that I did even better with the girls, the lowest was 45 and two exceeded the 100 mark, but I had nothing as exceptional as Ceria this time. Even so, with the boys, my gross take exceeded that auction by well over 200 gold aureus, so I was well satisfied.
The freedman I had installed as the manager of my grain imports, had done very well and more than doubled my business. Therefore, with my reputation soaring, and two sources of sizeable income, I was becoming a very rich and well respected citizen of Rome.
(I can but dream, and my dreams are very much more satisfying than my reality.)