Time on My Hands Chapter 22 - 235-239 CE: Emperor Roulette

Time on My Hands
Chapter 22: 235-239 CE: Emperor Roulette

Rome quickly discovered the warnings Raben had shared were quite apt. In April the Germanic tribes crossed the Rhine while Iazyges and Dacians crossed the Danube in hordes that even caused panic at the gates of Rome. The legions, who were already demoralized after their costly war against the Persians, were further discontented with their emperor when their homes were destroyed by the barbarian invaders.

In May Raben with the six trained scribes as well as their locally married wives and children traveled north to Barmaz with many of the manuscripts and all the equipment and supplies needed to set up what would become the main location of Corvus Scriptorium. One of the things Raben had specified for the library of the Corvus Scriptorium was the rooms be of all stone or brick with vaulted ceilings and stone shelving in order to be as fireproof as possible. A velum/parchment factory using the skins from the cattle, sheep, and goats was quickly constructed as well as an ink factory utilizing soot collected from the many chimneys throughout Barmaz. Sheets of papyrus were imported from Alexandria. Flax was added to the crops grown in Barmaz. Flax fibers would be processed into linen and linseed oil extracted from the seeds.

The Emperor headed north in the fall to confront the Germanic invaders as Raben headed south to Mazbar and later Zamrab. Over the winter the Romans prepared heavily for war, building a pontoon bridge of boats to carry an entire battalion across the Rhine. Unfortunately Alexander still knew little about being a general. He hoped his presence would bolster moral of the legions and the threat of his armies might be enough to persuade the Germanics to capitulate. Due to incurring heavy losses against the Persians and on the advice of his mother, Alexander attempted to buy the Germanic tribes off in order to gain time to rebuild the legions. At the same time the militarily inept emperor enforced strict military discipline in the already stressed Rhine troops sparking a rebellion among the heavily Germanic legions who were eager for revenge and to punish the invaders for the damages.

His decision to avoid a fight resulted in the legionaries' looking down upon Alexander. They considered him dishonorable and felt he was unfit to be Emperor. Under these circumstances the army looked to replace Alexander. General Maximinus was the next best option. He was a common soldier from Thrace who had a golden reputation of working hard to increase his military status. He was also a man with superior personal strength, who rose from peasantry to general and ultimately being the one chosen for the throne. With the Thracian's hailing came the end of the Severan Dynasty. With Alexanders' own legion turning against him, at age twenty six he was assassinated on March 19, 235 together with his mother in a mutiny of the Legio XXII Primigenia at Moguntiacum [PD Mainz] while at a meeting with his generals.

When Raben returned to Mazbar in April he learned of Alexanders fate. Still keeping a low profile he headed to Barmaz in May to relax and stay away from the inevitable political turmoil. Wisely he decided to spend two years staying out of the spotlight ensuring Corvus Scriptorium and Corvus Construction as well as all Barmaz enterprises flourished.

The assassinations secured the throne for Maximinus who hated the nobility and was ruthless towards those he suspected of plotting against him. He began by eliminating the close advisors of Alexander. The Imperial household of Alexander had contained many Christians. Hating his predecessor's household, Maximinius ordered that Christian leaders should be put to death. This persecution of 235 caused anti-Bishop of Rome Hippolytus and Bishop of Rome Pontian to separately flee Rome but were both arrested and executed. Successor Bishop of Rome Anterus fared no better being executed after 43 days in office. Maximinus also doubled the pay of soldiers which along with virtually continuous warfare, required higher taxes. Tax-collectors began to resort to violent methods and illegal confiscations, further alienating the governing class from everyone else.

During his successful campaign against the Germans a group of officers supported by influential senators plotted a coup to elect a senator emperor. The conspiracy was discovered and the conspirators executed. Securing the German frontier, Maximinus set up a winter encampment in Pannonia (PD Austria & Hungary). From that supply base he fought the Dacians and the Sarmatians during the winter of 235-236. A second overthrow plot emerged planning to elevate another senator but that too failed with the participants and their immediate families executed.

In the fall of 237 Raben traveled to Mazbar, then on to Zamrab. During the time he was in Alexandria, in the neighboring Provence of Africa extortions through false judgments in corrupt courts ignited revolt. The aged governor Gordian I and his son, Gordian II, were proclaimed co-emperors. Fed up with Maximinus’ disdain of the elite, the Senate in Rome switched allegiance, declaring both Gordian and Gordian II co-emperors. They then set about rousing the provinces in support of the pair. Maximinus, wintering at Pannonia, immediately assembled his army and advanced on Rome.

Meanwhile in Africa, the revolt failed when the governor of neighboring Numidia to the west, who had a long-standing grudge against the Gordian family, sent in the legion he controlled. Easily overwhelming the militias defending Carthage, Gordian II was killed in the fighting and Gordian I hanged himself. With the African revolt collapsed, the Senate found itself in deep crap. Having shown clear support for the Gordians, they could expect no clemency from Maximinus when he reached Rome. Having no choice but to defy Maximinus they elected two of their number as co-emperors. When the Roman mob heard that the Senate had selected two men from the patrician class they rioted. The rioters in Rome preferred Gordian's grandson, Gordian III, resulting in severe street fighting. The co-emperors had no option but to compromise sending for Gordian III whom they appointed Caesar, their heir.

Raben returned from Alexandria to Rome during this turmoil, arriving at Mazbar at the beginning of April. Wisely he kept away from the mess.

Maximinus marched on Rome, but the city of Aquileia closed its gates against him. During the unexpected siege of the city the unsupplied legions suffered from famine and disease. On May 10, 238, soldiers in his camp assassinated him and his chief ministers. Their heads were cut off, placed on poles and carried to Rome by cavalrymen. Though still unpopular with the masses, Pupienus and Balbinus then became undisputed co-emperors.

With the threat of Maximinus eliminated, Raben was able to safely travel back to Barmaz by the end of May. The pace of life at Barmaz was steady yet relaxed. Everyone worked but none overly so. Surrounded by his growing family Raben, as Fiach, recharged herself.

Amongst the manuscripts Raben collected were numerous Christian writings. The ideas they contained were often at odds. Some said that Jesus was strictly human. Others said he was a mortal who became God upon his death. Others claimed he was never human, but had been a divine being from his conception in a mortal. Some claimed the Father and the Son were the same being. Those championing these differences often came to blows as those of one belief warred against others exchanging charges of blasphemy. The fact there were simultaneous opposing Bishops of Rome for fifteen years was evidence of the differences. At the Corvus Scriptoriums in Alexandria and Rome Raben collected every writing and opinion regarding the different beliefs in the languages they were originally written. The more popular were copied, translated and sold but if any fell into disrepute they were ostentatiously publicly purged. In reality the originals were packed off to the hidden Barmaz archive tunnels. In Barmaz Raben read and cataloged the different writings, secreting but not destroying the manuscripts and letters. Wisely he heard all sides of the arguments but sided with none becoming the most knowledgeable scholar of Christianity while not adopting the much splintered emerging faith. Early Christianity roiled with fighting and intrigue rivaling that of the Empire itself.

With the main heavy construction completed in Champery, Corvus Construction began seeking and taking jobs outside the Barmaz Estate. The town of Monthey was nestled in the broadening Vieze valley where the stream joined the Rhone River. The town was at the southern end of the first portion of the upper Rhone river valley. The rich nutrient filled alluvial soil, ideal for farming, began at the east end of Lac Leman. The flat valley, at an elevation of about 370 meters at Lac Leman, was between 2 to 2 1/2 miles wide and 11 miles long. Over the next mile the valley narrowed to 200 feet wide then broadened to about a mile. The valley continued at that width upstream for 9 miles to the provincial capital of Forum Claudii Vallensium with a height of 480 meters where the Drance joined the Rhone and the route of those crossing the Poeninus Mons used to head on toward Germania. At that point the Rhone, which had been running north/south from Lac Leman At the provincial capital the Rhone made a 90° turn to the east with the valley running 10 miles at a width of about 1 1/2 miles. It then narrows to 3/4 miles wide for 21 miles. The flat land was mostly farmland with numerous small villages.

Sturdy stone defensive walls were built atop the plateaus overlooking Monthey and Agaunum. In addition, the outside slopes below the walls were cut back to form a solid stone defensive glacis of at least a 75° angle with a minimum drop of 300 feet. Along most of the plateau this meant the glacis ended at the Flat alluvial valley of the Rhone. The original switchback road leading out of Monthey into the Vieze valley was replaced by a long sloping 30 feet wide open road chiseled through the rock, cut on a 1:12 slope nearly 1500 feet long from the valley floor in Monthey to the top of the plateau. The road was tunneled for 50 feet to pass beneath the defensive wall. Walls lined the top of the cut to allow defensive fire onto the road.

On the Drance de Abondance the defensive wall was complicated by the terrain. The small village of Bonnevaux just south of the wall would be the entre point for that region. La Pointe d'Autigny [GM 46.301863, 6.702782 at 1808 meters] was the eastern anchor. An unnamed peak [GM 46.306379, 6.657469 at 1510 meters] on the west side of the valley would be the western anchor. From the east at GM 46.306407, 6.684398 the defensive wall would be built at an altitude of 1000 meters across the valley to GM 46.306644, 6.672654 on the west. Widened to 30 feet, the road into the valley was shifted west to the foot of the mountain. At GM 46.307847, 6.677132 at 920 meters the road entered a curving tunnel 1000 feet long through the mountainside and under the defenses. Upon exiting on the Barmaz side at GM 46.304990, 6.676653 at 930 meters the road passed through a gatehouse with a heavy portcullis. The road continued straight for 500 feet along the mountainside cut to create a solid rock wall 50 feet high with battlements facing the road. The opposite side was hemmed in by a massive solid stone wall 30 feet thick and 50 feet high topped by battlements facing the road. The defensive walls on both sides of the road doglegged 45° west continuing another 500 feet. At the exit the road traveled through another gatehouse with heavy portcullis.

The stream itself would be channelized into a series of side by side cut stone channels 8 inches wide by 3 feet high by 700 feet long capable of handling the spring water melt flows. In the center of and on top of the channels parallel stone walls 3 feet wide 30 feet apart were built across the valley with the area between filled with compacted rock. On both outer sides of the walls rock would be dumped to create a compacted 75° glacis a minimum of 300 feet tall. The parallel walls would become one solid battlement topped wall from 15 feet below the top of the glacis to 30 feet above the glacis. A defensive moat/lake 25 feet deep would be dug for 2000 feet along the relocated road. The lake level would be 1 foot below the road. The lake would cut northeast across the valley for 1500 feet, then follow the base of the eastern mountains 3000 feet back to the glacis. The excavated rock would go into the glacis and wall fill.

In Rome the co-emperors mistrusted each other further alienating the troops and citizens. Both were murdered on July 29 by the disgusted Praetorian Guard, making Gordian III sole surviving Emperor. At age thirteen, he became the youngest emperor the empire ever had, even younger than Alexander. Having been raised in the Roman Province of Africa far from the pulse of Roman life and politics, the orphaned youth was simply overwhelmed and fell prey to greedy ‘advisors’.

The confusion in the heart of the empire encouraged the Goths and the Carpi to attack across the Danube border. In the Danube delta by the Black Sea the former Greek colony of Histria was sacked in late 238. Other economically important commercial centers along the Danube Delta were also sacked. Legions were dispatched to repulse the invaders who wisely retreated with their booty.

In the beginning of April 239, Raben’s wanderlust once more took hold of him. This time he set off down the Rhone River around Lac Leman into Gaul to the city of Lyon. During the campaign in Caledonia Raben had accompanied the troops up the Rhone to Lyon, then along the Saone River to Cabillonum [Chalon-sur-Sane], then east overland to Boulogne on the English Channel. This time he followed the Roman road to the Bay of Biscay on the Atlantic Coast at Bordeaux. From there he followed the coast south, crossing the Pyrenees Mountains into the Iberian Peninsula.

Raben found the differences between the native populations interesting since all had emerged from a Celtic base. Before 200 BCE nearly all the peoples of Europe south and west of a rough line formed by the Weser River, the Harz Mountains and the Ore Mountains in Germany as well as north and east of the Apennines Mountains in Italy and north of Greece and Macedonia had been Celts. Greek traders settled and brought Greek culture to narrow strips of the Mediterranean coasts of France and Spain. Carthage had done the same to the southeast third of Spain. With the exception of Caledonia, Ireland, and Wales the rest of the Celtic areas were conquered by Rome and subsumed into Roman culture. Raben had been born in Germany where the Celts had been overwhelmed and absorbed by the Germans. The blending of the cultures was geographically unique.

As usual Raben traveled as an itinerant Ianuarian. Due to his small size he was usually able to travel freely, treating any who needed his skills, sharing his knowledge with local healers and absorbing theirs. It was not unusual to spend a week or two in a town or city learning how to prepare potions, food and other unique skills. With his wide range of experience and knowledge he amazed the locals as he learned and shared. If he discovered a unique tool or object or food he’d write up a description with drawings. Other times he collected tools, objects or seeds to package and send to Barmaz with his writings. That almost idyllic existence was all about to change.

In Iberia he heard of a troubled, polluted area, the silver/lead mines at Riotinto, the largest mine complex in the empire. Curious, he decided to visit, arriving in the middle of September. What he found horrified him. The area was clearly devastated. The Tinto and Odiel rivers, whose headwaters were within two miles of each other with the mines between and around them, were poisoned with arsenic and heavy metals tinting the water red. With no aquatic life, neither the local population nor animals drank the water in the streams. The smell of sulfur was omnipresent. There was little remaining of the natural terrain as the heights had been mined and mounds of slag dotted the raped landscape. All trees within twenty miles had been cut down for mining timbers and fuel for the smelting furnaces in addition to normal societal uses.

Raben was fascinated by the mines which were dug up to 450 feet deep requiring elaborate ventilation and drainage systems. Special sump chambers had to be excavated in the mine to hold huge wheels. Counter-rotating pairs of wheels, which reduced the turbulence, were prefabricated on the surface before being reassembled in a mine. The wheels were between thirteen to eighteen feet in diameter able to raise water nine to thirteen feet. The dual rims were continuous with dividers forming twenty to twenty four water compartments with holes for the water to flow in and out. On the outside of the compartments were wooden cleats to allow the wheels to be turned by men treading it. Near the top, the water discharged into an adjacent trough. The deeper the mine, the greater the series of wheels needed to remove the water.

To get the valuable metals, the sulfide ores were burned in large furnaces that released sulfur-rich gases. Anyone with respiratory issues had a short life. The slag heaps leached pollutants and poisons into the ground and runoff ruining the area. Due to the importance of silver and lead the Romans tightly controlled the area. Rome leased the mines to individuals who paid fifty percent commission on the ore they excavated. To insure the mines kept producing there were strict rules on mine safety, the treatment of slaves as well as the granting of concessions to barbers, auctioneers, and cobblers. Bathhouse owners bought franchises and had to keep the water heated year-round, polish the metalwork every month, and admit women and men at specific hours. Raben could do little to help the chronic coughing of the miners and furnace workers. Few locals reached age forty. In the local center of government, the town of Nerva, Raben managed to get a late afternoon appointment with the regional magistrate to discuss the situation. The magistrate was the head of the local government, overseer of the mines with command of the local troops guarding the mines and enforcing local laws and edicts.

The magistrate was clearly surprised when Raben was announced and entered his office. The resume’ Raben had presented to gain the interview had been impressive, but was impossible for a child! “I demand to know who has put you up to this outrage,” the pompous man snarled as he sneered at Raben. “Speak child, or I’ll have you whipped and jailed!”

“I assure you, Magistrate, the resume’ I presented is mine,” Raben calmly declared. “Granted, I do appear to be too young to have been active in the Caladonian campaign, but I assure you I was not only there, my wife and I were the head physicians for the legions. I’m Cursed with small stature and seeming eternal youth. I was attending Severus in Eboracum when he died.”

The Magistrate squinted his eyes as he intently peered at Raben. Then he shivered. “I was there too, a twenty three year old officer in the cavalry. I do recall seeing the head physician standing by Caracalla when he announced his fathers death. He was small and young, but that was twenty eight years ago. You’d have to be in your late fifties if not older. Surely you can’t be the same person!”

“Actually I’m seventy eight years old,” Raben declared with all seriousness. “When I said I was Cursed with eternal youth, I was telling the truth.”

“You can not be that old,” the Magistrate frowned.

“You were at Eboracum,” Raben declared. “Ask me what you will of that time. My answers will prove I was there.”

For the next half hour the Magistrate asked question after question, each of which Raben answered with alacrity. With each prompt correct answer The magistrate’s incredulousness increased until he had to admit Raben was indeed the person he claimed to be which clearly frightened him.

As a physician Raben laid out his health concerns for the people of area because of the massive pollution.

The Magistrate nodded his head. “I agree with your concerns. However, it is beyond my power to do anything to alleviate the issues you raised. Rome has only one concern about this area and that is the continued production of silver and lead. To take the steps you suggest would disrupt that production and would never be allowed. Troops would be sent to execute me and increase production. Neither the Senate nor the Emperor give a damn what happens here as long as they get the silver and lead. Unless the order comes from Rome, I can do nothing.”

Raben sighed. “That’s what I suspected but I had to try. I’ll take my concerns to the senate even though I expect that to be fruitless. I thank you for your time.”

The duo shook hands and Raben headed out to begin gathering evidence to present to the senate. The magistrate had Raben followed and sent for the local military captain. When he arrived the magistrate explained he’d just been visited by a demon he’d first seen twenty eight years before when the hell spawn had killed emperor Septimus Severus in Eboracum.

Raben sensed the magistrate was more unsettled than he let on. Both by Rabens age and appearance as well as his desire to clean up the pollution which would upset his lucrative set-up. The tail dispatched to follow him was easily detected. Raben sighed knowing a serious assassination attempt was coming.

The captain of the troops ordered fifty troops to hunt down and kill a dangerous demon in human disguise. The troops were to surround and annihilate the demon. If the demon escaped their comfortable and lucrative lives would be seriously compromised.

As soon as he returned to his room at an inn, Raben blocked the door to his room on the second floor, packed his belongings and prepared his weapons. As darkness fell he heard the sounds of soldiers climbing the stairs to his second floor room. Silently he slipped out the window climbing to the roof. From there he carefully scanned the street and alley around the building. It wasn’t difficult to see the soldiers manning checkpoints that had been established around the inn with more soldiers marching in to take up positions. By morning he’d be facing overwhelming force. Hearing blows against the door to his abandoned room he wisely decided to slip away over the roof tops.

With his agility skills Raben was able to leap across the alley to another building. What he couldn’t avoid was a loose roof tile that loudly shattered when it hit the alleyway. Soldiers charged from both ends of the alley but saw no one. They did find the broken roof tile and the alarm was raised. The escapee didn’t wait around. Even before the tile hit the ground he was up and moving away.

Over the next few minutes the troops raced through the streets and alleys with torches searching for their elusive prey. Raben went from roof top to roof top until he could go no further, then he dropped to the ground, fortunately in front of his pursuers and ran. A shout quickly rang out and the chase was on. With his superior speed he quickly outran the torchlight, then began moving sideways heading for the northern edge of town. Upon reaching the end of the town he sprinted into the ruined hills and slag heaps with the troops on foot and horseback in hot pursuit.



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