SPAIN

~ Rome’s Gold ~

Toward Roman Spain

The ship has sailed for miles and miles, stopping in a number of ports to load and unload goods. Today the trip from Ostia to Gibraltar takes three hours by plane. In the Roman era, it is a seven-day journey by boat.

Let’s pause for a moment to consider something. By now, our journey through the empire has made one thing very clear: the sensation we have, as people of the twenty-first century, is that living and traveling in the Roman era happens in slow motion. Journeys and voyages are endless, even to get to places where now we would go for a quick weekend trip. Letters take days, weeks, even months to deliver a piece of news, and just as long to get an answer.

Needless to say, we would all find it difficult to live without our telephones and text messages, not to mention email and social networks. The same goes for heating in the winter, shampoo, showers, washing machines, local anesthesia at the dentist’s, shock absorbers on cars and other vehicles, soft leather or Vibram shoe soles, razors that don’t cut your face, gas stoves, coffee.…

Nevertheless, there is one thing that we absolutely don’t feel the need for in the Roman era: the clock. Here, all the daily rhythms of life seem to flow naturally, like it does when you’re on vacation. There’s even time to think and meditate (if you are wealthy), something increasingly rare in our frenetically paced modern society. Compared to the drumbeat tempo of our lives, antiquity seems like a real paradise. But there’s always the other side of the coin.

You can enjoy the relaxed rhythm of daily life, but not for long: life is short, as we have seen. For this a Roman man would truly envy us: today we live about twice as long as he does and three times longer than his wife. And what’s more, we arrive at old age looking much younger and healthier; in the Roman era a forty-year-old man had already lost all his teeth and a forty-year-old woman was considered elderly.

All of this comes to mind as we look out at the intense blue of the sea, which stretches out before us as far as the eye can see. A few hours ago we passed the Strait of Gibraltar, which for all the ancients, including the Romans, were known as the Pillars of Hercules: stretching out before us is the immense expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. For the ancients, this was an abyss in every sense of the word: the end of the known world, the point beyond which nobody ever ventures. Fortunately, we are sailing along the coastline; Cadiz should be coming into view very soon.

Suddenly we notice some movement aboard ship. The sailors and the few passengers all look out toward the coast, to our right. Between us and the shore we can see a veritable constellation of small boats, almost forming a ring. At its center the sea is bubbling and frothing. It’s a tuna fishery into which the fish are channeled by a maze of nets. The most famous and productive fisheries of antiquity are located right here on these coasts of the Iberian Peninsula.

As told by Oppian of Corycus (known as Anazarbus in Asia Minor, a Roman-era poet who wrote the Halieutica, a colossal work of more than 3,500 verses on fish and fishing techniques), every spring an army of tuna arrives here en masse. The fishermen wait for them with lookouts posted on top of a hill. These men are experts, capable of making a rapid calculation of the quantity of tuna and their direction. As soon as they give the alarm, the trap is sprung. The best places to fish are the inlets along the shore, neither too narrow nor too windy. The essential thing is that the coast at that point must be vertical and deep.

As soon as the tuna are sighted the fishermen throw their nets into the water. According to the poet, their arrangement “is similar to that of a city in which there are doors and rooms,” a perfect image to explain how the school of tuna gets channeled into what the poet calls the “corridors of death.” The flow of tuna is so abundant that the men can’t capture them all, and the fishing ends when the fishermen see that their maze of nets can’t hold even one more fish. At that point they close the entry doors. “The fishing is excellent and wonderful,” the poet concludes.

And then what happens? Part of the fish is eaten locally, but the rest undergoes a preservation treatment. Thanks to the abundant salt deposits in the area, a proper salting industry has developed, as observed by the historian Strabo, allowing the fish meat to be sold even in distant markets.

The fishery that we have been examining also produces another product: garum, the legendary sauce that is present at sumptuous banquets throughout the empire. With respect to price, popularity, and demand garum is comparable to our balsamic vinegar (though its taste is completely different). How is it made?

The Secrets of Garum

We have now arrived in Cadiz and our sestertius is bouncing around inside the pouch hanging from the belt of our imperial functionary. His name is Marcus Valerius Primis. Since he’s on official business for the government he’s found free lodging in an inn of thecursus publicus, and now he’s out on the streets, delivering the letters that were entrusted to him. One of them is addressed to the owner of an establishment that produces garum, just outside the city.

It doesn’t take long to get there; it’s on the coast. From a distance, the functionary can already see some boats transshipping some large tuna, probably the ones caught in the tonnara that he saw as his ship was approaching the port, a few hours ago.

He’s amazed by the acrid odor of rotten fish that he can smell even before he gets to the factory, from quite far away. It’s really unbearable. It’s no wonder that the factory has been built outside the city. It is a white stone complex of buildings at the end of an unpaved red clay road. On the last part of the road fish bones are strewn all over the place.

Marcus pronounces the name of the recipient of the letter to the slave guarding the entrance and discovers that it’s the name of the owner.

A few seconds later, a pleasingly plump and affable man arrives, and after introducing himself, he takes the letter and kisses it, his eyes looking up to the heavens. It’s a letter from his brother, who has finally responded to an earlier one of his.

He reads it in a flash, devouring the lines, and then, happy about the news he’s received, asks Marcus if he has ever seen a garum plant. Marcus has not, and the owner accompanies him to show him the production process. It’s an opportunity for us, too, to see how they make a sauce that’s practically worth its weight in gold.

It’s a fairly big factory, with its buildings arranged in a horseshoe configuration around a large courtyard. The garum is made in the left and right wings, and the middle building, facing the sea is where the fish are brought in to be processed. This particular plant doesn’t only make garum; it’s also where the salting of the fish takes place.

We go through a door to enter the middle building. It is very long and occupied by a series of long stone counters, where a number of slaves are cutting open the fish and cleaning them. The fish get a preliminary salting, inside and out, and then they’re sent along to the processing line.

What strikes Marcus, and us, is that the entrails are not discarded but are put into a bucket and taken away, amid hordes of flies. We follow one of the buckets as the owner explains to us how they make garum.

There are different methods for the various varieties of the sauce. It’s not something you want to talk about at the dinner table, but to make a long story short, the fish guts are put into a container together with a large quantity of salt. They add some very small fish, such as sand smelt—similar to miniscule sardines—or some baby red mullet. Then everything is left to steep for a long time under the sun, with frequent stirring. The heat and the sunlight will decompose the mixture, but the salt will keep it from getting really rotten. At this point, a fine-mesh wicker sieve is lowered into the container and pressed down to the bottom. The dark liquid that filters into the sieve is the most precious part. It will be bottled in little amphoras and served at table: this is garum. The sediment that remains on the bottom of the tub or container is a dense substance of lower quality, also served at table, called allec.

There are also some variations on this recipe. One calls for mixing together mackerel, anchovies, and other fish, churning them into a mush that is put into amphoras. These are left out in the sun for two or three months, with regular stirring, and then some old wine is added, in a proportion of two to one with respect to the fish mush. Finally, the amphora is closed and put in the cellar. We imagine that when it is opened the liquid will have the unusual taste of fish-flavored wine.

Now the owner takes us into the heart of his plant: the tubs where the garum has been left to steep. It looks like something out of Dante’s Inferno. We see all the tubs arranged in a line, filled to the brim with a dense purple liquid, with fish bones floating on the top. Some slaves are mixing the liquid mush with long sticks. The smell is unbearably acrid; it penetrates our nostrils and sticks to our clothes. Flies are everywhere; it really is a revolting scene. Marcus has an obvious look of disgust on his face.

Yet the owner seems to be perfectly at ease here. And he says to us, raising a finger and pointing it toward some amphoras, that this is where they produce the best variety of garum. It’s made of tuna entrails, together with the gills, serum, and blood, and salt. The whole mixture is poured into clay containers and left to steep for no more than two months. Then a hole is punched in the container and what flows out is premium-quality garum … or at least that’s what people think.

How can people like such a disgusting brew? Just think, at banquets it is poured, with the greatest ceremony, on meat and a host of other dishes. The taste? When attempts have been made to follow the recipe, the result is a liquid that tastes like very salty anchovy paste. This is the kind of flavor and taste that was loved by the Romans. It’s probably the salt that keeps this concoction from becoming toxic. The Romans use it not only as a condiment but also as a preservative, and even as medicine.

Our visit is over. Marcus is on his way back to the city and has filled his lungs with the cool ocean air. He’ll never deliver another letter to a place like this. In his arms is a small amphora of garum that the plant owner has given him as a present. It is of the highest quality.

Where Does Rome Get Its Gold?

A few days have gone by. Marcus has made his way north, passing through Hispalis (Seville) and Italica (where Trajan was born). The region is called Baetica, from the name of the river Baetis, the present-day Guadalquiver. It will acquire the name Andalusia with the fall of the Roman Empire in the West.

He finally reaches his destination, in the far north, the region that in modern times is called Galicia, in the future province of Gallaecia, on the border between Spain and Portugal. This is where the gold mines are.

In fact, Marcus has been sent here, in his capacity as imperial functionary, to inspect the gold production in these open-pit mines. They are among the largest in the empire and they’re located in a true natural Eden.

Marcus got up early this morning, before dawn. The goal of the long march he set out on, escorted by a column of soldiers and some other functionaries, is the top of a steep slope at the edge of a plateau. When they reached the top, the sun came up over the horizon, unveiling the extraordinary landscape of these mines.

All around us broad waves of undulating hills, rounded and smoothed by time, seem to vanish into the distance. Their flanks are adorned by the trembling green foliage of chestnut trees. Here and there natural towers, ravines, and canyons emerge like icebergs, sculpted by the erosion of the high plateau.

Suddenly, this beautiful virgin landscape is interrupted by an apocalyptic vision: at the foot of the slope, where the column of soldiers and functionaries has stopped, an immense lunar landscape opens up for miles around, totally treeless and devoid of life. It looks like the bed of a dried-up lake, but in reality it’s more than that. It is a deep wound inflicted on the earth, a gash tearing the flesh of this harmonious landscape.

None of this is the work of the gods. It is the work of man. In this Dantean vision, thousands of microscopic human figures are moving around like so many agitated ants. They have been at work since the first light of dawn. The jumbled sound of shouts and clanking equipment arrives all the way up here. This is our first glimpse of the great gold mines of the empire.

The tall cliff that Marcus is standing on will be made to collapse into the underlying lunar valley, bringing to light the layer of gold that it’s covering. The collapse will be provoked by a devastating technique that Pliny the Elder defined as ruina montium, literally, “destruction of the mountain.” The name says it all.

Everything is just about ready for a new collapse. A few minutes ago the signal was given to evacuate the mines. At a number of points around Marcus, on the top of the cliff, you can see a lot of pits from which the first miners have started coming out in groups of two or three. They’re dirty and exhausted; their faces are tense, their eyes wide with fear. It’s not yet the moment of demolition, obviously, but they don’t know that.

Who are these men and what’s beyond that dark opening that descends vertically into the terrain just a short distance away from the edge of the cliff?

In just a few minutes a steady stream of human beings comes out of the mines. One of the miners trips and falls and is trampled by those behind him. They seem crazed. They push and shove each other to speed up the exit along an endless series of wooden stairs that lead them out of that subterranean inferno. Some of them are naked, others are dressed in rags. Their bodies are emaciated, covered with mud, scratches, and cuts. Their cheeks are hollow, and their chins bearded. Their missing teeth accentuate the look of desperation on their faces.

Our first thought is that they must be slaves. But that’s not right. Those who work here do so voluntarily; they are free men, inhabitants of the area, often in desperate straits. They are paid minimal salaries, barely enough to survive on.

It’s a situation that recalls very much what can be seen today in certain areas of the third world where gold has been discovered, such as Africa and South America. The work is extremely wearing, the conditions shocking, but we’re not talking about slaves, at least not officially. And all of them harbor in their hearts the hope of finding that great big nugget that’s going to change their lives. Something similar is going on in these Roman mines.

Under Trajan, the mines of Las Médulas are at the height of their production and it has been calculated that no fewer than eight thousand people work here. Their work is subdivided into specific roles and tasks: some dig, some carry material out of the tunnels, some sift. The shifts, needless to say, are brutal.

The last miners are coming out now. They’re holding on to some wounded coworkers. One body is carried out unconscious with a gaping head wound from which copious amounts of blood are gushing out. You can see the light color of the brain. Maybe he’s already dead. The rumor spreads that there’s been a collapse at the bottom of one of the secondary tunnels. There have probably been some fatalities. Such accidents happen frequently in these mines. But the Roman authorities have learned not to lose time over them. They can’t interrupt the production of gold for the empire to find out what happened to these miserable laborers. The orders are clear: nobody will go down to search for possible survivors, much less attempt to extract the dead bodies. Work on the demolition is already behind schedule. That’s the law of the mine. And these casualties all knew it. Their bodies will go down to the bottom, in a little while, together with the cliff. It won’t even be necessary to give them a burial.…

How to Pull Down a Mountain

Marcus goes over to the entrance of the mine. He tries to see inside, but he can’t see beyond the first few yards; the darkness and the dust seem to want to conceal this place of desperation. But we can go farther, because archaeologists and scholars have unearthed the remains of these tunnels and figured out what happened inside them.

The disembowelment of the high plateau went on for generations with astounding precision. Think about when you cut a piece of cake and you rest the knife on it as a way of estimating the size of each slice. That’s exactly what the Roman engineers did. They dug holes in the high plateau at a certain distance from the edge of the slope, determining how much of it to cut. Then the miners dug the inclined tunnels by hand. These tunnels (called arrugiae) went down at an angle and, at regular intervals, they split off into other lateral corridors a little more than a yard wide, where a person could barely stand up.

Their tools were very simple: shovels, picks, spades, hammers, and wedges. Imagine the working conditions. They worked in the dark, illuminating the area to be dug with simple oil lamps, and the residual material was put in baskets and dragged outside. There was very little air, lots of dust that filled their lungs, and the heat was suffocating.

And then what happened? How did they manage to pull down whole pieces of the high plateau at one time? Today the only system we use is dynamite. But at the time of the Roman Empire it didn’t exist. So the Roman engineers came up with a truly ingenious solution, using a force they knew how to manipulate very well: water.

They succeeded in using water as an explosive. Now we’re going to see how.

Everything is ready. Marcus has been staring constantly at a large artificial lake of water, built in a very short time, close to the entrance to the tunnel. It looks like a small mountain lake. White clouds hover silently above it like cotton balls. Hardly anybody knows that to fill it with water it was necessary to build a true masterpiece of hydraulic engineering: an aqueduct almost fifty miles long that captures the water from faraway rivers and brings it all the way here by way of channels called corrugi (still partly visible today).

Our attention is attracted by the waving of some colored flags: it’s the signal that all personnel and miners have been evacuated from the valley. The mine is empty too (except for the bodies of the dead or dying miners). The men in charge of the dams of the artificial lake are waiting for the signal to begin the operation.

The procurator metallorum, who represents the emperor, slowly stands up, with one edge of his toga draped over his forearm. He raises his other arm theatrically. Pronouncing a phrase that refers to the emperor, he lowers it brusquely.

That’s the signal. The trumpets blare. And, as though in a relay race of sounds, the shouts and orders follow, all the way up to the decisive one, who yells at the top of his lungs to a group of bare-chested miners, positioned at precise points of the dams, who start hammering with heavy wooden mallets. Suddenly, with a domino effect, the dam opens and lets the immense mass of water that it held back for months go free. Like a wild beast in search of its prey, the water comes spilling out into a specially dug canal and charges toward the main entrance to the tunnels.

Everyone holds his breath. Marcus with his eyes wide open, his colleagues with their mouths agape—even the procurator metallorum looks on spellbound by the power of that wave, which is about to plummet into its target. From a distance the eyes of the miners follow the mass of water with trepidation. Now they’ll know if their superhuman efforts and the dead victims have served some purpose.

Water Used as Dynamite

The water spews thunderously into the downward-sloping tunnels, the force of the wave shatters the walls, wipes them out like a sand castle. Whole sections of the tunnel collapse. Deep rumbling noises pour out of the tunnel entrance, powerful, almost a cry of pain from the earth as it is broken apart and lacerated. This is the moment when water becomes explosive.

The water compresses the air that’s left in the corridors, exactly the way a bicycle pump does when you keep the air hole plugged with a finger. And when the air pressure becomes excessive the corridors explode, blowing away the rock.

Now the earth is shaking under everybody’s feet. Marcus and his colleagues look around and then lower their eyes to the ground. They can feel perfectly the shocks from the fragmenting tunnels. A geyser of steam mixed with dust comes spewing out of the main entrance to the tunnel.

A violent roar shakes the air; a gash has opened up in the side of the cliff. Then another one next to it, and still another. There it is, the chain reaction that the engineers and miners were waiting for has been set off. As though some immense water pipes had exploded, the tunnels pour out into the open air the water that was compressing them, creating so many spectacular waterfalls that cascade down into the valley. But that’s not enough. The cliff begins to tremble, emitting a sinister, somber noise. And like a giant struck by a mortal blow, it sways back and forth and crumbles to the ground.

“The fractured mountain comes down with a roar and a movement of air that the human mind cannot conceive,” Pliny the Elder recounts. An entire portion of the front wall of the high plateau collapses, generating an apocalyptic roar; the shock wave slams into everyone. And in their eyes is written just one thing: fear.

Now a salmon-colored cloud rises up, mixed with water vapor, hiding from our view both the valley and the sky. The sun, as though it were afraid, has momentarily disappeared behind that wall of suspended dust and dirt. Like a silk veil, the dust settles into place on everything: trees, blades of grass, togas, faces.…

Rivers of mud and rock continue to pour out of the disemboweled mountainside, spreading out like oil stains on the lunar plain. Over the next few months they’ll be channeled into a network of artificial canals, leading them all into large collection basins where the gold will be separated from the sediment with sieves. The rest will be pushed down below, extending the lifeless area of the landscape.

Why Gold Makes the Empire Go Round

So a landscape that looks like it came right out of Dante’s inferno is where the lifeblood of the Roman economy gushes forth.

There can be no doubt that these mines are of enormous strategic importance for Rome; they are the equivalent of modern oil wells. Gold has always been important for all civilizations, but it became even more important, essential really, for Rome after Augustus created a monetary system based on a gold coin: the aureus.

Just as Europe today has the euro or the United States the dollar, the Roman Empire had the aureus and all of its denominations.

We should add that over time things changed, and the gold content of an aureus gradually diminished, unhinging and weakening the system, provoking price increases, inflation, and so on. It may seem strange to talk of inflation in Roman times, but in a world that was so much like our own, its problems of economics and finance were also like ours.

So it is interesting to discover still another analogy between Roman society and ours, a resemblance determined by one simple and fundamental rule: in order to make a large-scale economy work it has to have a currency that is strong, stable, and universally accepted. And if you think of how the euro and the dollar are currencies of reference in today’s world, well beyond the borders of Europe or the United States, it is easy to imagine the importance of the aureus even beyond the borders of the empire.

This is precisely one of the problems for Rome’s finances. An enormous quantity of gold coins disappear beyond the frontiers of the empire to pay for all kinds of goods, especially the most costly and precious goods, such as silk. And they don’t come back into the system, depriving it of some of its wealth. It is a constant financial hemorrhage.

The case of silk is emblematic. As is well known, silk is produced in China and comes to the west along various routes, the most famous being the Silk Road. But between China and Rome lies the homeland of the Parthians, fierce enemies of Rome, who are the middlemen of the silk trade. So not only do immense quantities of gold leave the empire, diminishing the coffers of the state, but they end up in the hands of its most dangerous enemies to the east. In a very real way, the vanity of Roman high society, of the patricians and their matrons, helps the enemy. As a result, over the course of the centuries, the Roman Senate enacted a number of provisions aimed at limiting the purchase and use of silk.

But they don’t appear to have worked.

This constant hemorrhage is not the only problem. Gold is needed to maintain three fundamental mechanisms without which the empire would collapse: the gold coins are needed to pay the legions so that they’ll keep the barbarians out, to finance the public administration to make the huge empire more efficient, and to fuel finance and commerce to keep the Roman economy running.

The need to have a continuous supply of gold, in ever-greater quantities, was the impetus behind entire military campaigns of conquest. Making a comparison with our own time, it would be like starting a war to possess and control oil fields, in order to ensure a steady supply. Like what happened in the war in Iraq.

At the time of our journey through the Roman Empire, something very similar in concept has just happened. Trajan has recently conquered Dacia, present-day Romania, which is very rich in gold mines. To be sure, the reasons behind this war were strategic: the elimination of a dangerous enemy on the frontiers of the empire, the Daci, led by their charismatic king, Decebalus. The Romans also wanted to expunge the disgrace of the defeats suffered in those lands by Domitian, which culminated in a peace treaty that was humiliating for the Romans and intolerable for the Roman spirit. But one of the most convincing reasons for going off to war, in the eyes of many present-day historians (and perhaps also in the minds of many imperial financial administrators back then) was Rome’s hunger for gold. When he came to power Trajan found the coffers empty, and his conquest of Dacia resolved all of his financial problems. Rome did have to go through a terrible war, which lasted for years and is described in the famous bas-relief on Trajan’s column in Rome. But afterward it entered a new golden age of prosperity and wealth, wealth that Hadrian then proceeded to “sit on,” presiding over one of the most extraordinary periods in history or Western civilization.

Breaking Coins in Half

Marcus Valerius Primis, our functionary, remained in the area for a few days to gather all the information possible on the gold production of the mines for his superiors. Then he left for his journey home.

This time, however, he didn’t leave from Cadiz but from Tarraco (Tarragona), a city located about sixty miles from Barcelona. His itinerary is dictated by more official business in Saragossa. (It’s curious to discover that this strange name for a city is nothing but a garbled version, evolved over the centuries, of its Roman name, Caesaraugusta.)

Marcus’s journey from Cadiz was a long trip on the cursus publicus and, since his food and lodging were free (he was traveling on business of the imperial administration), his expenses were minimal and our sestertius is still with him. But now the two are about to separate.

It all happens in a grocery shop in Tarragona. Marcus is buying some fruit for his voyage home. And when he pays, our sestertius changes owners. The grocer takes it into his hands, sticky from the fruit he’s been handling. He glances at it distractedly and passes it along to his wife of the perennial beady-eyed gaze, in charge of the cash box in the back room. All we hear is the clink of the coin as it falls into the wooden box and the sound of the key turning in the lock.

Marcus bids farewell and walks off toward the harbor, with a growing and pressing desire to see his family again. He’s been away too long. But by now he’s got just a few more days before he’ll be home.

The grocer is called by his colleague from the shop next door. He has to make change for a man who has bought some fruit but doesn’t have any small change. So he asks his colleague if he can give him two sesterces or some smaller coins for a silver denarius. It’s a scene that we are accustomed to seeing all the time in the markets or on the streets of our cities. But here we’re going to see something we’re not used to.

The mean wife in the back room reopens the cash box with a frown of impatience, choosing the coins carefully with her pointy fingers. They look like the tentacles of a spider grabbing its prey. Then she holds out a handful of small change to her husband, the cold look on her face unchanged.

Her husband hands them over to his colleague with a smile. The colleague thanks him, opens his hand to count the coins, and makes change for his customer. In his open hand, however, we notice something unusual: some of coins are broken. They are sesterces that have been broken in half and mixed together with smaller coins like asses, semisses, and so on. Why are they broken in half? And are they still legal tender?

The practice is odd but there is a logic to it. The farther you get from Rome and the major trade routes, the fewer coins there are in circulation, so small change is harder to come by. In the absence of smaller denominations, sesterces are broken in half and used to make change.

These broken coins in the Roman era remind us of the mini-checks that circulated a lot in Italy in the 1970s for the same reason: there was a shortage of small change. In those years shop owners gave their customers candy, stamps, or telephone tokens as change in a kind of barter system that was surprising for a western country, and we imagine that the same thing happened in the Roman era, with shop owners making change in kind.

Today, if a shopkeeper broke a two-euro coin in half to give you a euro in change, he would be breaking the law. In the Roman era, however, it’s perfectly legal. The reason is that today’s coins have value for what they represent symbolically (the nation’s wealth, its gold deposits, etc.). Roman coins are worth what they weigh, depending on the metal they’re made of (gold, silver, bronze, copper). If you were to assess the value of the metals used today to make a one-euro coin, you’d come up with a figure of about 15 cents.

In a lot of museums you can sometimes see these half coins on display without explanation: look out for them the next time. They’re usually mistaken for broken coins. In reality, they conceal a world that is seldom described: the world of daily purchases in the remote areas of the empire. Actually, a coin worth half a sestertius exists; it’s called the dupondius, but it’s almost impossible to find in these areas. The practical Roman spirit figured out another solution.

Let’s return to our grocers. Tarragona actually has a flourishing market, but every once in a while some of these half coins arrive from the hinterland and the shopkeepers try to get rid of them as soon as they can. Just as the grocer’s wife has done now.

The customer pockets his change and leaves, tossing the apple he just bought from hand to hand like a juggler. In his purse, however, along with the broken coin, he also has our sestertius.

This man is the assistant to a haruspex, a priest whose job it is to interpret the will and the messages of the gods—by examining the entrails of sacrificed animals, for example. He is waiting for him on a wagon. Their journey will be a long one and will take us to the land that in modern times is called Provence, in the south of France.

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