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Caesar Dies   By: (1879-1940)

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by Talbot Mundy


Golden Antioch lay like a jewel at a mountain's throat. Wide, intersecting streets, each nearly four miles long, granite paved, and marble colonnaded, swarmed with fashionable loiterers. The gay Antiochenes, whom nothing except frequent earthquakes interrupted from pursuit of pleasure, were taking the air in chariots, in litters, and on foot; their linen clothes were as riotously picturesque as was the fruit displayed in open shop fronts under the colonnades, or as the blossom on the trees in public gardens, which made of the city, as seen from the height of the citadel, a mosaic of green and white.

The crowd on the main thoroughfares was aristocratic; opulence was accented by groups of slaves in close attendance on their owners; but the aristocracy was sharply differentiated. The Romans, frequently less wealthy (because those who had made money went to Rome to spend it) frequently less educated and, in general, not less dissolute despised the Antiochenes, although the Romans loved Antioch. The cosmopolitan Antiochenes returned the compliment, regarding Romans as mere duffers in depravity, philistines in art, but capable in war and government, and consequently to be feared, if not respected. So there was not much mingling of the groups, whose slaves took example from their masters, affecting in public a scorn that they did not feel but were careful to assert. The Romans were intensely dignified and wore the toga, pallium and tunic; the Antiochenes affected to think dignity was stupid and its trappings (forbidden to them) hideous; so they carried the contrary pose to extremes. Patterning herself on Alexandria, the city had become to all intents and purposes the eastern capital of Roman empire. North, south, east and west, the trade routes intersected, entering the city through the ornate gates in crenelated limestone walls. From miles away the approaching caravans were overlooked by legionaries brought from Gaul and Britain, quartered in the capitol on Mount Silpius at the city's southern limit. The riches of the East, and of Egypt, flowed through, leaving their deposit as a river drops its silt; were ever increasing. One quarter, walled off, hummed with foreign traders from as far away as India, who lodged at the travelers' inns or haunted the temples, the wine shops and the lupanars. In that quarter, too, there were barracks, with compounds and open fronted booths, where slaves were exposed for sale; and there, also, were the caravanserais within whose walls the kneeling camels grumbled and the blossomy spring air grew fetid with the reek of dung. There was a market place for elephants and other oriental beasts.

Each of Antioch's four divisions had its own wall, pierced by arched gates. Those were necessary. No more turbulent and fickle population lived in the known world not even in Alexandria. Whenever an earthquake shook down blocks of buildings and that happened nearly as frequently as the hysterical racial riots the Romans rebuilt with a view to making communications easier from the citadel, where the great temple of Jupiter Capitolinus frowned over the gridironed streets.

Roman officials and the wealthier Macedonian Antiochenes lived on an island, formed by a curve of the River Orontes at the northern end within the city wall. The never neglected problem of administration was to keep a clear route along which troops could move from citadel to island when the rioting began.

On the island was the palace, glittering with gilt and marble, gay with colored awnings, where kings had lived magnificently until Romans saved the city from them, substituting a proconsular paternal kind of tyranny originating in the Roman patria potestas. There was not much sentiment about it. Rome became the foster parent, the possessor of authority. There was duty, principally exacted from the governed in the form of taxes and obedience; and there were privileges, mostly reserved for the rulers and their parasites, who were much more numerous than anybody liked... Continue reading book >>

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