Time on My Hands Chapter 8 - A Place in Rome

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Time on My Hands
Chapter 8: 196-198 CE: A Place in Rome

Raben identified himself and explained it was to early too give a prognosis. The elderly gentleman recognized Raben Longinus’ name and knew that despite his apparent youth he was a well respected physician. He and Raben rode back to the villa to make sure the requested preparations had been made while Ulixes oversaw sturdy estate workers as they gently carried the stretcher with the comatose severely injured teen.

By the time the stretcher arrived Raben had the impromptu surgery set up. The youth’s name was
Titus. His grandfather was Domitian Flavius, the family patriarch and a distant relatives of the Flavian emperors. They were an long esteemed Roman Senatorial family dating back to the days of the Republic. The fourteen year old, like most Roman elites, after completing their education joined the army as junior officers. Serving at least ten years in a legion was virtually required for all high government and military positions. The teen was completing his formal education and being taught the basics of military horsemanship on the family estate. While charging down a hill the horse broke a leg causing horse and rider to take the nasty spill Raben witnessed.

After transferring Titus to the cleaned and sanitized table Raben checked his vital signs. The youth’s eyes were unresponsive and his pulse shallow and irregular. A closer exam of his skull revealed a taut unyielding swelling the size of a walnut just above the hairline atop his head. The swelling had not been present during the initial examination. Immediately he shaved the hair off the swelling and surrounding area then gently washed the area with vinegar.

“This swelling is entirely too tight and was not there when I initially checked,” Raben informed the watching family. “I have to open it to relieve the pressure. There is a good chance blood or other fluid will spray out until the pressure is relieved so don’t be alarmed.”

With skill he lanced the lump. As predicted a bloody liquid squirted out quickly shrinking the bulge. Cleaning the now seeping wound with a vinegar soaked cloth he gently probed. Using a scalpel he cut a U shaped flap of skin he could lift to reveal the bone beneath. The bone was fractured in a star pattern with the center depressed. It looked like he’d impacted upon a rounded stone. With sharp probes he managed to pick the small bone slivers out of the wound. Carefully he placed the skin flap over the wound.

“The broken bone was pushing against his brain,” Raben explained. “I removed the broken bone but need to place a solid patch over the hole. I assume you have a blacksmith?”

After Domitian nodded Raben continued. “The only safe patch is gold since it won’t corrode. Soak gold coins in vinegar. Wipe the anvil and the hammer with vinegar. Have the blacksmith weld the coins together by hammering them and shaping them into a 2½ inch circle ¼ inch thick in the center with the edges tapered. Place the disk in a bowl of vinegar and bring it here. I’ll use it to patch the hole in his skull. Please rush it.”

Domitian sprang into action ordering a trusted servant to carry out Raben’s request. Then he anxiously watched as Raben cleaned and carefully cut into the victims left forearm. With great care he reassembled the shattered bone fragments, frequently rinsing with vinegar. Before sewing the wound closed he heavily rinsed it with vinegar. Once closed up he splinted the arm. The process took two hours. Next he reset the broken leg before splinting it. By then the hammered gold patch was brought in. Checking the patient’s eyes he smiled to see they responded to the light. After rinsing the wound with vinegar he lifted the skin flap, added a slit to enable the gold patch to be slipped under and centered over the hole. Once in position he sewed the wound closed.

“Now we wait,” a clearly weary Raben sighed. “I’ve done all I could do. The rest is up to him. I recommend you have someone who is familiar sit with him and talk softly to him. Tell him stories of your life or favorite stories from his childhood or just talk about life in general. Even though he is unconscious, with brain injuries patients can sometimes hear. They may not remember what was said but positive encouragement can influence his will to live. Whatever you do, DO NOT say anything negative where he can hear it. With brain injuries having seizures is a possibility. If he seizes, do your best to hold him down.”

“Please, stay,” Domitian urged. “I’ve seen many head injuries in my years as a soldier. Most were fatal. However I’ve never seen anyone treat them as you have.”

“It’s important to keep the pressure off the brain,” Raben explained. “His unresponsive eyes told me there was a severe head injury. The lump told me where. After that it was just a matter of relieving the pressure. The fact his eyes responded before I put in the patch in proved the pressure was relieved. I can’t promise he’ll live. If he lives I can’t promise he won’t have limitations.”

“Thank you,” Domitian said. “I’ve seen soldiers with unresponsive eyes. They all died. The fact what you did alleviated the unresponsiveness is amazing. You’ve given him and my family a chance. His father, my son, was with Anullinus at the battle of Issus in May 194. While Niger was decisively defeated my son lost his life in the fighting. My grandson Titus is the only one left to carry the family name. If he dies...” The old man choked up unable to speak.

“I’ll do all I can to see he lives,” Raben reassured him.

The next day Raben had the kitchen staff make a gruel of crushed grains boiled in chicken stock. Then he trained several people to carefully spoon the thickened liquid into the unconscious teen. After each spoonful they learned to gently stroke his throat until he swallowed.

It was five very arduous days before the tough youth awoke. Once he was coherent Raben explained his injuries as well as the restrictions they engendered. Domitian reinforced the importance of following Raben’s medical orders.

Assured that at a minimum Titus would be able to continue the family line the grateful patriarch told Raben he’s give him whatever he asked for if it was in his power to do so. Raben decided to be bold.

“If Titus makes a complete recovery, except for scaring, I’d like a small portion of your estate to build a home with some fields,” Raben told him. “If there is any other outcome I want nothing, however, as the splints come off he’ll need to follow a strict exercise program.”

Domitian gratefully agreed.

As the weeks passed, Titus slowly but steadily recovered. When the splints from his leg were removed Raben set him up on a daily rehab program. While the youth protested, his grandfather bluntly informed him that he won’t even be alive if it wasn’t for Raben’s prodigious ability as a physician.

“During my time with the legions I saw hundreds of men die from injuries less severe than your’s,” Domitian declared. “I saw Raben cut open your head wound. Blood exploded from it shooting across the room. Then he picked the broken bone chunks out of the hole and off your brain. Then he had a patch made of gold coins hammered together and inserted it beneath the skin to seal the hole. In all my years I’ve NEVER seen anyone recover from a wound like you suffered. Then he worked on your arm. The bones were shattered and sticking out. My experience told me the only thing to be done was to amputate. Raben took the time to reassemble the pieces and reattach the muscles. Whatever he tells you to do to recover, you WILL do it!”

After ten weeks the splints on the left arm were removed. While the scaring was evident, the function of the arm slowly returned. At the end of six months, in March 196, other than the scars, Titus had made a remarkable recovery only needing to rebuild his strength.

The Flavius estate was located on the north side of Tiber River west of and including the toe of the 2 mile long Mons Vaticanus Ridge just north and west of Nero’s Circus. The portion Raben selected began at the base of the southeast corner of the toe located: base of SE corner/toe of 2 mile long Mons Vaticanus Ridge, W/Tiber, ½ mile west of Nero’s Circus and a mile north of the Via Aurelia {GM 41.904034, 12.442623}. The trapazoid portion ran west southwest along base of the toe down into the valley {175 feet ASL} then up a hilltop 335 feet ASL 3575 feet away. From there it ran north 2000 feet across a saddle to second 335 feet ASL hilltop. From there it turned east for 4150 feet back into the valley up across the top of 400 feet ASL Mons Vaticanus ridge dropping off the east cliff to the base. From there the boundary ran south for 1000 feet along base to the start. The dimensions of the hilltop toe of Mons Vaticanus was also trapazoid with the south 725 feet, the west 1150 feet, the north 1150 feet, and the east 1000 feet. The hilltop overlooked the Circus Neronis from the northwest.

There would be no buildings on Mons Vaticanus which would have an olive grove and grazing on top. The west slope would be terraced for a vineyard. The north, west and southern boundary would be demarcated by a sturdy stone wall with a foundation 3 feet deep by 4 feet wide built to a height of 4 feet above ground level. The north foundation and wall would be cemented and plastered to form a water tight wall. All structures would be built against the north boundary wall and touching it’s neighbors forming a solid line of structures along that boundary to totally prevent traffic from passing down the valley. Each floor would be 12 feet in height and 40 feet in depth. A three story stone manor home 60 feet long would be built on the hilltop. Adjacent to and below the home a large six story scriptorium would be built on and into the slope with each having a ground level entrance. The largest floor would be the 210 feet long 6th floor since it would extend over the tops of the lower floors as they descended the hill. The 6th and the 180 feet long 5th floor would be where the copying took place. The 150 feet long 4th floor would be the dormitory for workers. The 120 feet long 3rd floor would be split for kitchens/dining and for storage of paper, papyrus, parchment and vellum. The 90 feet long 2nd floor would be for selling and viewing writings as well as storage for completed writings. The 60 feet long 1st floor would be for preparing parchment and vellum making it suitable for writing. The next building would be a two story 60 feet long butcher shop. The 2nd floor would be level with the 1st floor of the scriptorium and perform the same function. Then would be a single story 60 feet long blacksmith shop, then a 90 feet long dairy for milk and cheese, a single story 90 feet long winery, a 30 feet long chicken house, then a series of two story barns, the first floors for animal and vehicle shelter with the upper for grain, hay and straw storage. Goats, sheep, cattle, horses and chickens would be in the open fields.

The north watertight boundary wall would be considerably higher and thicker in the lowest portion of the valley tapering from the standard 4 feet high to a center height of 25 feet over a length of 500 feet. An overflow and stream would be made at the center to create a pond 4875 feet long This would act as a dam to catch and retain rain that flowed down the roughly 9000 feet long by 3000 feet wide valley. A terra cotta siphon pipe would allow the water to be tapped out for farm use.

While Raben didn’t agree with slavery, it was an accepted, customary, and vital part of all life, even amongst the barbarians. Everyone with a solid income owned slaves. As a prosperous physician it would look out of place and draw negative attention if he didn’t own slaves. Since societal expectations forced him to become a slave owner he decided to treat his slaves with humanely. They would not be whipped or chained, they would have decent food, shelter and clothing. They would have ready available medical treatments. They would be allowed to marry with the spouses kept together and their children would be born free. When they became too old to work they would be freed and provided with all they needed.

Raben decided to name his small farm/estate/scriptorium ‘Mazbar’, a variant on Barmaz. Raben hired a builder and bought twelve slaves to do most of the labor in building the estate. Additional hired laborers built the boundary walls. They cleared every rock and stone from the land stacking them in the foundation of the wall. Raben had no problem getting wagons loads of rock delivered to the property as payment for his medical skills. Once the walls were built a small herd of goats, sheep, cattle and chickens were released onto the grassy slopes of the hills. By then the manor house was built. Ulixes had married the Minius widow and adopted her family so they moved in to tend the animals. The vineyard and olive trees were also planted. Raben’s small estate had a steady supply of meat, milk, cheese, and eggs.

By January 197 the home was ready for occupation. Hiring a few scribes he set them to work making copies of manuscripts and began spreading the word about Corvus Scriptorium. The initial stated purpose was to collect medical scrolls and sell copies, some of which were his own medical treatises. As the buildings were completed he moved into them hiring people who knew the skilled jobs. The major construction on Mazbar was completed by September 197. The slaves were spread out between the various aspects of the growing operation.

Raben did his best to respect other’s beliefs. However, the way Roman Emperors often declared themselves Gods simply rubbed him the wrong way. He’d met the goddess Ianuaria but wasn’t sure if it had been a dream. Waking up with the wolves inferred it had been real. As far as Christianity was concerned, Raben knew his Curse came from Jesus. But the infighting and disagreements that seemed endemic amongst the different Bishops left a lot to be desired. The idea of people fighting amongst themselves about a faith that preached love simply didn’t make sense. If the Jewish/Christian God cared for their followers why did they let their faith be twisted and used to further the goals of greedy humans?

Because of his curse, Raben was curious about Jesus and his followers known as Christians. Having grown up in polytheistic Celtic/Germanic religion he was accustomed to worshiping in consecrated woods or groves to dedicated to individual gods of their pantheon. The use of divination and auguries was commonplace. Sacrifices of animals and sometimes humans was practiced. The gods were all about them with no need for temples which the Germanic people deemed unsuitable for the gods. All in all the Celtic/Germanic religion consisted of interlocking and closely interrelated gods and practices rather than as one indivisible religion. As such it consisted of individual worshipers, family traditions and regional cults within a broadly consistent framework.

Roman pantheistic religion was controlled by the elite and quite public. The triumphal marches of conquering generals had massive religious overtones with large portions of the captured wealth dedicated to the gods as the victorious general demonstrated his piety. Roman Religion depended on knowledge and the correct public practice of prayer, ritual, and sacrifice, not on faith or dogma.

The answers Raben got from subtle inquiries about Christianity gave him a feeling of disquiet. The refusal of Christians to participate in public religion was problematic to most of the populace as it was to the elites and contributed to a general hostility toward Christians. Much of the non-Christian populace maintained a sense that bad things would happen if the established gods were not respected and worshiped properly. Due to the rumored secret Christian practices of eating the "blood and body" of Christ and referring to each other as "brothers" and "sisters" many thought them to be cannibals and incestuous. Christian beliefs did not endear the believers to Roman officials: they worshiped a convicted and executed criminal, refused to swear allegiance to the Emperor, harshly criticized Rome in their Holy books and suspiciously conducted their rites in private. However the concerns and fears about Christianity didn’t seem to ring true to the inquisitive Ianuarian.

Raben’s subtle questions about Christianity mixed in with other questions about Roman culture succeeded in keeping the elite unaware of his true curiosity. They assumed that as a barbarian, abet a knowledgeable physician, he was simply trying to learn about his adopted home, Rome. However, those who were secretly Christian realized his questions were more than cursory. During February 197 Raben was invited to a private diner with a prominent Roman. One of the other guests was the Bishop of Rome, Pope Victor I.

Pope Victor I was the first who tried to assert that Rome was the ultimate authority in the early Christian church. Most notably, he tried to force overall acceptance of the Roman date for Easter over that celebrated by the Bishops of Asia Minor. The last supper occurred on Thursday night, 14 Nisan on the Jewish calendar, the eve of Passover. Those Bishops insisted Easter be celebrated on 14 Nisan, regardless of what day of the week it occurred. Other Bishops, including the Bishop of Rome, felt the days of the week were more important thus Easter should be the Sunday following 14 Nisan. Victor threatened the bishops of Asia Minor with excommunication if they did not abandon their practice. When they defied him he went through the motions of carrying out the sentence. The sentence was apparently withdrawn later, since the Asian churches remained in communion with Rome and their practices in fact continued in Asia Minor for several centuries. Still, Victor’s threat was reputedly the first papal act to influence the ecclesiastical affairs of the Eastern patriarchs. He is also believed to have been the first pope to have dealings with the imperial household. Under Victor, Latin replaced Greek as the official language of the Roman church and Victor himself wrote in Latin.

Raben met with Pope Victor I several times learning about and discussing Christianity. While he felt the idea of helping your fellow man was good, the continually growing rules and rituals as well as trying to force one interpretation over another, was off putting. The faith of Christianity seemed good... the religion however seemed to be bogging that faith down into ritual. While Raben didn’t join the new religion, he was friendly with it.

Thanks to Raben’s planning Mazbar was nearly self sufficient. The Corvus Scriptorium was busy and the demand for medical scrolls booming turning a tidy profit. With his connections to the Bishop of Rome Raben offered to have his scribes make copies of the many letters from disciples, apostles, and others making commentaries on Christ’s teachings to explain aspects of the faith that circulated amongst Christians. Naturally he kept copies of each for his growing personal library. However, he was well aware that reading scrolls was difficult and unwieldy and storage was at best awkward. Most merchants used codexes, flat sheets of parchment or paper bound together that could be leafed through much like modern books. The codex came into popular use in the first century CE and would achieve parity with scrolls by 300. Raben’s personal library consisted entirely of codexes.

Realizing the writings regarding Christianity and a few other subjects could be quite controversial, Raben purchased a few more slaves. These he used to dig a level tunnel from the 4th floor of the Scriptorium beneath the basement of the manor home. Digging into the tufo, the soft volcanic rock underlying much of the Tiber River valley around Rome, was not difficult as attested to by the rambling multi-miled catacombs tunnels and tombs under Rome. Everything was carved out to a height of 7 feet. As the 6 feet wide access tunnel was cut into the hillside between the buildings a side room 8 by 10 feet was cut deeper into the hill to be used as a cold cellar. Behind that a deeper room twelve feet by eight feet was dug for use as a wine cellar. A hidden stone door was placed off the center in the back wall. The tunnel continued deep into the hill with shelves cut into the walls of both sides to hold sealed terra cotta boxes containing codexes. The temperature was a near constant 62 degrees and the humidity was above 90 percent.

Raben commissioned a potter to make the thin walled waterproof terra cotta boxes with a resin coating inside and a glaze exterior. The fitted lid would be sealed with beeswax. They were specifically designed to hold codexes. He had two codex copies of each document made, each sealed inside a separate terra cotta boxes and stored in the hidden rear catacomb. The title of the document was written on the exterior of the box.

In the spring of 198 Raben set out with eight slaves, six men and two women, to return to Barmaz. They had twenty pack mules and four donkeys carrying trade goods, tools and supplies for Barmaz and sealed codex laden terra cotta boxes. A special light weight but strong pack was constructed to safely carry and protect the boxed documents. The trip went smoothly. Raben made a brief stop in the provincial capital to ensure his ownership of Barmaz was still properly recorded. Meeting with a lawyer and the priests of the largest temple he set up accounts for Barmaz. By the time they arrived in Barmaz he’d sold off the trade goods as well as the no longer needed mules. The Bricius family was a bit surprised to see Raben.

The dynamics of the family had changed. The great grandmother had died a year before, the forty six year old man was now head of the family. His forty two year old wife, twenty six year old son with his twenty two year old wife, their sons were eight and two, their daughters six and four. The patriarch’s eighteen year old son had joined the Roman army and sixteen year old daughter had married and moved down valley. With the reduced manpower the workload was a bit heavier.

The Bricius family was a bit leery about the arrival of the slaves, afraid they might be evicted. Raben disabused them of that idea and gave a chest of coins to the patriarch. The family could then purchase any food or goods the farm couldn’t produce due to the increased population. Two of the male slaves had hooked up with the two female slaves during the trip so Raben decided they could take vows of marriage. Raben explained the slaves were to assist with the farm when needed but their main function was to work on his hideaway. Naturally they would have to learn how to help on the farm and learn how to live in the alpine environment. Money was provided so that the slaves could travel down valley once a month for a night of pleasure. The Bricius family could join them if they so desired. The slaves were to be allowed to accompany the weekly market trips.

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Worldliness and morality... all in one.

Beoca's picture

Raben is pulling off making a niche for himself in the outside world. Good for him. The Bricius family and slaves are - if I had to guess - still thinking that there will be a price to pay for this at some point. The dramatic irony of this story is amusing.

Fitting In

joannebarbarella's picture

The politics and sociology need very careful negotiation. Raben is demonstrating his skill at doing this without drawing too much attention to himself. One day he will need bolt-holes and hiding places.

Looks like he

Wendy Jean's picture

ia waiting for the printing press to be invented.

Seems Like a Long Wait...

We're within a few decades of woodblock printing in China, but centuries away from movable/reusable type. There are libraries like Raben's, but they all consist of hand-copied scrolls and codices like his.

Of course, since he's immortal, he has the time...