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How to run a latifundium – a short

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How to run a latifundium – A short story

Marcus Aelius Pacutus looked out over his latifundium with a professional, practiced eye and nodded to himself.

The huge estate that covered the lower slopes of the mountains above the city of Carsulae in central Italia rolled off over the slopes, revealing seemingly endless rows of vines, each tended lovingly and carefully and renowned for their produce that went on to make some of the finest wine exported across the Empire.

The devotion of this great estate to wine had been the work of Pacutus’ grandfather, a man of blinding and astounding luck who had not only survived the reign of Nero unscathed despite his noted opposition to the Emperor’s policies, but had even managed to come out of it with land, money and title and the respect and support of the new Emperor.

Two and a half generations was all it had taken to turn a new vineyard into a wine variety sought after by the noble classes and sold in bars and thermopolia from Gaul to Syria. It was largely down to the soil, of course. As Columella had noted, the soil was at the heart of it all, and the soil here high in the valley in the centre of the country was rich and dark, perfect for the vine.

Some of it, of course, had come down from his father and grandfather’s financial acumen. Too many latifundia had failed and been sold away because the owners invested too heavily and landed themselves in deep debt, or overstretched, or hired too many freedmen workers.

Not so on the Pacutus estate. Marcus’ forefathers had been astute and wise and had carefully balanced the coffers with income and expenditure to make sure that the latter never outweighed the former.

The estates finances and income had, in fact, been in such a strong position that his father, after serving briefly as a decurion in Carsulae, had retired from public life entirely at a surprisingly young age, to live on the estate and the fortune it made.

It had come as a surprise to no one then, when his father died six years ago, that Marcus had immediately discarded his cuirass and abandoned the military tribunate to return to the estate and take control.

Marcus had new ideas, though. His father and grandfather were financially astute, yes, but they had also been weak and sympathetic people. The estate made more than enough for a nobleman to live a comfortable life, but Marcus knew it could be better still. Working the figures himself, he passed them before a friend who had worked in the treasury and who was a genius with an abacus. The simple fact was that, though the latifundium had made a fortune, it could easily have made twice as much with a little less softness and sympathy.

His nose itched, but that would go away in its own time. An itchy nose was a sign of something, he remembered hearing tell. Was it that he was coming into money? Hopefully, it would take him that inch closer to his dream of actually rolling in golden coins. He smiled.

Rubus had been the main cutback. Not the only one, but the main one. The middle-aged Gaul had begun as a slave on the farm, freed by his grandfather toward the end of his life and installed as the overseer for the estate. His grandfather and father both had prized the Gaul for his knowledge and efficiency, but they had paid him a small fortune for his work.

Stupid, given that they were both present permanently at the villa and knew damn well how to run things themselves. What a waste of money. Totting up how much money he’d saved in the five years since he drove Rubus from the estate made his palm tingle. Enough to buy a new caravan of wagons, or to perhaps put down a payment on a barge; all things that would expand the growing empire of Pacutus.

Personal attention had changed everything. The money had started to pile up so rapidly he couldn’t have spent it if he’d tried. He didn’t, of course. He was too busy making the money to spend any of it.

Of course, there were days when the work was harder than others, such as today. Some days the slaves were especially lazy and stupid and he had to expend precious energy with the whip, or even use his own, soft, white hands to labour on the estate. After all, it was better to do some things oneself than to rely on unreliable wasters like the Numidian carpenter or the other slaves that had been given the task of building the arbour across the patio outside the villa.

It would be lovely when complete. The beautiful, decorative patio claimed an unrivalled view of the estate with its rolling slopes, and of the majestic peaks that towered over it. He smiled as he took it in once again. It was nice now, but when he could look at it from this very spot shaded by the timber structure with vines growing across it, laden with succulent grapes.

He would have to start thinking about a wife soon. He would need a son, of course, to pass the estate to. It certainly wasn’t going to that soft, podgy cousin of his that talked endlessly of the new Jewish religion that Nero had forbidden and urged him at every social engagement to free his slaves and hire free workers. The moron.

No. A son it would have to be. Then his son could sit on this very patio under the arbour, surrounded by the finest grapes in central Italia and watching his slaves work.

No sign of the slaves now, though, as the sun began to descend. His arms ached, but then they would, after such a day. He sighed as he scanned the vineyards once more from the patio viewpoint.

He wondered whether he’d spent more of the afternoon beating the damn wastrels or hammering the nails himself? Probably beating. He did seem to have beaten them a lot today; more than usual, and he would be the first to admit that he beat them a lot anyway.

But they were slaves. More slaves could always be found cheaply. They didn’t have to be clever or powerful to dig a hole or pick grapes. Slaves were worth less than the soil they worked. Beating them was natural; the very order of things.

That, of course, was why it had come as such a shock when they had turned on him. The Judean girl had been the first to use the whip. He’d been so surprised at the turn of events while the two Numidians held him down, that he’d barely noticed the pain as they flayed the skin from his back with the barbed lash. He’d not screamed. Why would he? They were only slaves.

He really wished he could scratch his nose, but his arms were tied fast to the crossbar of the hastily manufactured crucifix. There had been some intelligent irony among them, in the end. They’d crucified him using the very timber and nails he’d been beating them for misusing.

A raven cawed in a nearby tree, watching him with anticipation. He could swear it was almost drooling as it watched its meal start to sag and fade.

Marcus Aelius Pacutus looked out over his latifundium with a professional, practiced eye and nodded to himself.

Time was up.


Written by SJAT

October 6, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Posted in Short Story

Tagged with , , , , ,

5 Responses

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  1. I liked this fable (?) Certainly provides a lesson to be learned……..


    Terri T.

    October 6, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    • I hadn’t realised before that it might be vaguely Aesopian! Cool



      October 7, 2011 at 12:33 pm

  2. You really know how to flip a turn, don’t you? What an amazing revelation. Remind me never to set up the north-facing slopes (Australia) of our farm as a vineyard!


    prue batten

    October 6, 2011 at 10:34 pm

    • I can’t imagine you beating farm workers, anyway. Perhaps making them a yummy dessert, but not beating them!



      October 7, 2011 at 12:33 pm

  3. I love these short stories you do on daily Roman life, ending with the Turney Twist. Sometimes I think I could use a little help around here (my horses understand cursing better than English), but I believe I’ll find some way to manage…


    Red Sonja

    December 27, 2011 at 3:38 am

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