Monday, April 7, 2008

Africa (1)

Chapter Eleven. AFRICA

Ending a quick journey down the coast of Italy, with a supply
stop in Sicily, we finally saw Carthage on the horizon. We
weighed anchor in the commercial harbor, which was situated
next to a separate military harbor. The presence of the Roman
Navy seemed everywhere.

As I was to discover, Carthage was utterly different from all
the other cities I had seen during my travels. First of all, it was
Roman in character. Latin was the main language, followed
by Punic. As for Greek, mainly only merchants used it--and a
few people like us *equites.*

The language reflected the recent history of Carthage. Built
centuries ago, a colony of the Phoenicians, a Semetic people,
it was destroyed after the Punic Wars. But the city was raised
again, under the aegis of Julius Caesar and the Emperor
Augustus. Thousands of retired legionaries poured into the
new city, pensioned and claiming their land rights.

We were told that at least 100 Roman towns had been built in
the province, in the farmlands not far from Carthage. The
farms and the imperial plantations in the area provided all sorts
of foodstuffs as well as cereal and olive oil (for lighting our lamps).
They could be transported to various points in the Empire. And
our family's shipping corporation was right there, doing business!

My older brother quickly stationed himself at our Carthage office,
immediately snooping over his sons' shoulders. As for Marc,
he went to meet a gardener contact he had met earlier in Rome.
To turn a pun, he was looking to get the "lay of the land."

As for myself, I dropped by the Praetorian office at the Governor's
Palace. I had heard that one of my junior officers--years back--
was now a senior officer in the Speculatore unit. Delighted to
see me, he gave me a grand tour of the city.

I must admit that Carthage had to be one of the most gorgeous
cities I had ever seen--and I had been around to compare! A
goodly portion of the city still seemed new, and there was obvious
expansion as well. Besides the harbors, a great bath facility was
located near the water. Not much myself for using civic baths,
I had to admit this one was on a scale all by itself. There were
also temples and marketplaces and a grand amphitheatre where,
alas, bloodsports were the main event. Roman to the hilt, I guess.

But what struck me about Carthage was the natural beauty of its
environs. There were gentle highlands, all sorts of trees--such as
sea pine, cyprus, and palms. Not far, too, there were white sandy
beaches. And my Praetorian friend touted the weather, simply put:
absolutely splendid!

I spotted the great aqueduct that was near completion. Sponsored
by our Emperor Hadrian, it would soon bring water down from the
distant mountains. As for the city and the nearby farmlands, there
was well water. And being along the Mediterranean coast, there
was moisture that produced enough rain to fill the catch-basins all
around. Both the rain and the wells made it possible to irrigate the
agricultural areas, earning this Province the reputation as the
"Granary of the Empire."

Being old Praetorian chums, it was natural for my friend and I to talk
about the military in the area. It turned out that one of the Augusta
legions was stationed on the border between Africa and the Province
of Numidia. Near the Sahara, Numidia was a frontier province of
Berber kingdoms. The Berbers were the indigenous people of the
region. They were also in the Africa Province, and even some were
in Carthage. To my amazement, my friend mentioned that ancestors
of the Phoenicians were to be found in Carthage as well, hence the
Punic language alongside Latin.

So there was some diversity in Carthage, but overall it and the rest of
the Province was very much Roman As my Praetorian friend joked,
"you don't need a legion in this town, because one could find retired
centurions and legionaries in just about every house." And than there
was the Navy base! One did not have to second-guess that Carthage
was very much a "military town."

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