My dearest Flavianus,
I have just finished reading your letter. I was surprised you couldnt find more to write—I remember Emerita as rife with rumour and scandal when I left. I hope youre not holding back on me, old friend.
Thank you for the news of Claudia. I am pleased that she is well, and I return the message of love she sent. Tell her I will write soon.
I have been here a month now, and Im beginning to learn the routine, although at first, I seemed to be on fatigues every other day for some transgression or other. The route march from Emerita was hard work—even with most of our kit in the wagons, our armour, pilum, gladius, and shield seemed to grow heavier by the day. The heat was intense as well, although it lessened as we marched north. We were fortunate to have a kindly centurion, who allowed us plenty of breaks to take water. I have heard of men dying on these marches.
Britannia is a dull country. Most of it is wooded and, although the greenery is pleasing to the eye, it is so often blurred with mist or darkened by grey skies and rain, it is rare to get the chance to appreciate it.
Our first stop was Camulodonum, a medium-sized town which serves as the Provincial Headquarters. If we had been stationed here, I would have been pleased. Although it is nothing compared to Emerita in size, it still has theatres and shops and taverns. When I asked the centurion if this was where wed be staying, he laughed.
Were going to the Wall, boy, he said. I didnt like the way he said it.
After a short stop, we marched north, and though I understood Britannia was a small country, the march seemed to go on forever. The road north was busy, troops marching in both directions, wagons of army supplies, Britons with their pack animals loaded down with grain and vegetables and that foul beer they drink. We exchanged shouts with passing soldiers, and a frequent exchange went thus:
Where are you going?
Well, wrap up warm, then. And then their laughter coming back to us as we marched off.
Eventually, we arrived at the Wall, and it was an amazing sight. This structure, which was to become my prison, must rank with the greatest in the world. The temples and amphitheatres of Emerita pale into insignificance, nothing that I have heard you describe in Rome itself could match it.
It almost surprised me when we came upon it. One minute we were marching through the hilly countryside, the next we had crested the brow of a hill, and there it was. Huge, imposing, stretching over the horizon in both directions.
We marched along the military supply road which parallels the Wall, and though we kept expecting it to come to an end, it never did. Every mile, there was a fortification, called a milecastle, manned by a handful of soldiers. There were gates in these, and we often saw the soldiers checking the wagons passing through, and occasionally commandeering a nice piece of fruit or loaf of bread. Since the natives were already paying a toll to pass through, there was a lot of grumbling about this, but there was nothing they could do. There is no way round the Wall.
Eventually, we arrived at the fort which was to be our permanent base, a place called Banna. A busy, bustling place, with soldiers, auxiliaries and regular legionaries, drilling marching, eating, sleeping, arguing and, when off duty, drinking and dicing.
Banna has everything we need for life, albeit the harsh, uncomfortable one we live here. There are dormitories, a granary with enough food to supply the garrison for a year, toilets, and a large covered basilica which serves as an exercise-hall.
I share my dormitory with a Gaul named Victrix, a huge, blonde-haired fellow with no sense of humour. When I hid a spider in one of his caligae, I thought he would beat me to a jelly. He is actually frightened of the things!
We have more recently started to get on with each other better, though. He is a bit slow, and I have been helping him with the Latin in his letters to and from home. In return he has done good service protecting me from the bullying which seems to dog the lives of many new recruits.
I have now had a month of training and abuse by the decurions and centurions, and am now due to join the duty list for manning the milecastles. It will be nice to be on proper army business, but I fear life will be even harder.
I will write again soon. Convey my love to Claudia.
My dearest Flavianus,
Thank you for your most recent letter. Emerita still seems quiet. I was pleased that Claudia sent a message of love with you. Her last letter to me seemed somewhat distant, not as full of the familiarities and intimacies with which she normally writes. I do miss her. The women here are so rude and uncultured. There is an occasional pretty face, but with no sense of proper hairstyle, make-up or dress. I have availed myself of their company only infrequently. They are nothing to Claudia.
I am now sequestered to a milecastle called Poltross Burn, where, with thirty-one other auxiliaries, I control a border crossing. To sum it up in one word? Cold. In the autumn it rained frequently. Now it rains and snows. The high ground is permanently white, and the wind blows relentlessly through the cracks in the walls.
There are advantages. We supplement our income by putting an additional tax onto what the locals and merchants have to pay to pass through. They complain, but what choice do they have?
Victrix is here, too, and we still share a dormitory, though with two others. Amazingly, these forts are designed to house twice as many; that would be very crowded. Victrix, too, has a girl waiting at home. We both dream of marriage, but unless the army discharges us early, we may have to wait out our 25 years of service.
Im sure Claudia will keep herself for me, though. Our love is strong.
Next week I am going to Carlisle to spend some of my savings. Hopefully, some strong wine and a warm girl will heat my bones.
My dearest Flavianus,
Thank you for your last letter. Are you sure Claudia still sends her love? Her last letter was very cold. She seemed to have the idea that I had forgotten her, and was losing myself in wining and women. I dont know who could have told her that.
Its still cold, although not as bad as midwinter. The surgeons were busy then, taking off frost-bitten fingers and toes. Victrix, who is used to cold weather, showed me how to keep the blood flowing, and what to avoid touching, such as the iron of the gladius, which seems to suck the heat out of your fingers. There were numerous times, though, when my extremities were numb, and forgetting decorum, Victrix and I would cuddle close to share body heat.
Last month we had some excitement. The Celts from the north sent down a small raiding party, burnt a couple of farms and rounded up some sheep and cattle. Alerted by the smoke, our commander sent out a century of us. The Celts were trying to storm a milecastle, about fifty of them, and were being held off by about twenty Romans in the fort. We descended on them and slaughtered them. I wounded one, fatally, I think, since it was a chest wound, but I did not have the heart to finish it. It was Victrix who administered the death blow. We took the sheep back with us, and ate mutton for a week.
Please convey my love to Claudia, and assure her that there is no other who has my heart.
How could you? You know what Claudia meant to me. And I counted you a friend. Claudia has obviously lowered her standards, to prefer you, a freedman and a stewards clerk, to me, a Roman auxiliary and future Roman citizen. To say it was unfair to make her wait for me is absurd. She made no comment about my leaving when I informed her of it.
I now plan to settle in Britannia, and find myself a wife here. The women are, after all, more naturally beautiful than Roman women, who have to hide behind all that decoration. And Victrix is a truer friend than you ever were.
This will be my last letter to you, Flavianus. I wish you and Claudia well in your future together.