Rome A.D. 64 - A Burning Tragedy
The hot summer sun was dragged through the sky by the Roman God Sol (or Helios) as he rode his chariot through the sky. Crispina woke as she felt the bright sunrays warm her skin. The light hit her closed eyelids. Her eyes now opened to something gold colored. Her soft, silk pillow that was beneath the olive toned skin of her face.
The beautiful embroidery was very difficult to make and often took a long amounts of time. Not to mention expensive. The whole bed was crafted from wood, ivory and also embroidered in gold. The gold color also covered the soft and silk damask bedding in rich and elaborate designs, beautifully threaded.
No poor or average Roman could afford such luxuries; they did not even have their own kitchens. Crispina married a former Praetorian Guard, soldier, and military leader and now, his occupation is a Provincial Senator. Lucius, although over time as he was in the Roman Army, was a very skilled ranger and was renamed Evander which means 'archer'. In fact, the current emperor was named Lucius.
Emperor Lucius Domitius Ahenbarbus was the offspring of Emperor Claudius Nero Germanicus and his fourth wife – also his niece – Agrripina the Younger. Lucius renamed himself after his father died of poisoning and was his turn to take control of Rome. His new name would be Nero Claudius Caesar, which showed his lineage from the well-known Augustus.
Nero had been in the throne since A.D. 54 when Crispina was only one year away from marriage at the age of twelve. Now, she is twenty and Evander is five years older than her and was eighteen when they married while she was a young thirteen year old. Their marriage was comfortable and resulted in two children, while another was on its way.
The first born son was Corvinus, which mean 'little raven'. He has a tan complexion that matched his dark brown eyes and black hair. He was a fast little boy at the age of six years old. Corvinus was much faster than most young boys his age and would be thought to become a brave warrior.
The younger brother is Valens, meaning 'strong and healthy'. He is a sweet dimply little two year old. Although his name is quite ironic for such a sweet young thing, Crispina was sure that Valens would grow to be just that. She knew he would be a soldier when his time came as well as Corvinus' but would surely kill herself if any harm or even death – Jupiter (Zeus) forbid – would come to them.
Evander was tall and strong. His complexion was tanned from being out in the sun. His face was strong and quite young but mature, and very handsome. His military short hair was light brown and has steel blue eyes. His deep voice made her feel safe. Evander's constant smile made Crispina feel loved, even bringing a smile to her won face. They were actually, genuinely in love; unlike most rich couples whose love was not important to the woman. Their fathers normally picked the suitors, like Crispina's father chose Evander. Someone – some man – to provide for her. A protector of some sort, someone her father could trust with his only daughter's life; Crispina only had three other older brothers.
Crispina had incredible and hypnotizing green-amber eyes. Her name means 'curly-haired' which is exactly what she has. Long, thick, raven-black tight curls spilled over her shoulders and down to her waist. Almost every man in Rome commented that she was one of the most beautiful women they had ever laid eyes on. Evander was rarely jealous; he would Crispina would never leave him. The feeling was mutual between the two.
Her normally thin waist was now rounded with her third child for about six months now. A boy named Aquilino – eagle-like – or a baby girl she would then name Aureline – breeze or breath.
Crispina finally arose from the comfortable feather-stuffed bed whilst Evander lay on his stomach snoring. She smiles in amusement as she dresses in her loose, silk purple peplo. Purple dye was expensive and normally worn by the wealthy people.
She walks down the marble steps of her two story house in order to prepare breakfast for her family. Marble. She remembered a quote once spoken by the now dead lips a famous Roman emperor.
"Verti fictilis urbe in urbem marmoream," Augustus Caesar once said. "I turned the city of brick into the city of marble."
Crispina had not attended school since the age of twelve. It was only the males who could receive a proper education until the age of sedecim (sixteen). Normally the school lessons were taught by Greek slaves. The Greeks had a long tradition of learning that the Romans admired. The young men would become merchants, warriors, teachers, cooks, engineers, farmers or even blacksmiths if they had the proper skill to meet the requirements.
Slaves did not attend school. It was mostly due to the fact that they would work almost all hours. Some slave owners were not cruel to their slaves; in fact, sometimes they set the slave free. Some on the other hand, they would all wear collars to identify who they were and who and where they belonged. If a slave was returned to their owner, a slave would be punished or even – possibly – killed. Prisoners of war were usually treated worst of all due to the fact that they went against the Romans in war. Crispina learned this from her husband, although he was not to say a word.
She pushes the depressing thoughts back as she walks to the separate garden that was only a minute or two away from the house. She picks apples, grapes, apricots, peaches and pomegranates for the juice and seeds into a weaved basket. She walks back into the house towards the kitchen and set the basket on the counter above the oven.
There was a barrel filled with salted bread, a separate barrel filled with olives and one for potatoes. Crispina gets a spoon and puts the olives in a small, decorated clay bowl, bread was cut and put in a large bronze plate and the potatoes had to be peeled with a blade. She then cuts up all of the fruits and takes the pomegranates and puts the seeds in a bowl and the juice in all of their goblets.
Crispina hears feet running down the stairs as she was just putting the final plate on the table where her seat was; she was excited that another child would be joining the family in a matter of months.
Corvinus is the first one running into the kitchen as Evander followed close behind with a smiling Valens hiked up on his shoulders. Evander makes monster noises while Corvinus is screaming, "Ah!", with a smile plastered on his face.
"Rawr!" Evander growls, "I shall eat you!"
"Never!" Corvinus yells back and at the same time, is laughing.
Crispina giggles at the sight. How adorable, she thought. Evander looks up at his wife with a large smile on his face. He walks over and takes Valens off of his shoulders and places him in his chair across from Corvinus who already has a plate of food. Crispina giggled again at how hungry the boy was. Evander walks up to Crispina and embraces her and kisses her full lips. It was a mere peck, but the love he had for her was there and she returned the feelings.
"I love you," says Evander.
"As I love you," Crispina replies. "Now sit down and eat your breakfast."
Evander did not need to be told twice. He sat down immediately at the head of the large square marble table. Crispina walked back as she remembered the ornate silver pitcher filled with the pomegranate juice to pour into each of their decorated gold goblets. As she finishes she sits across from her beloved husband with her plate of fruits.
"Mother?" Corvinus asks.
"Yes, my darling?"
"May I please go with father to the Circus Maximus; only to watch one race and then return home before lunch. Please?" Her pleading son begs.
The Circus Maximus is a colosseum designed for horse-drawn chariot races. Mostly for men but women were also welcome. It is for Romans of all ages because it is less volatile as oppose to the Colosseum for battles, gladiators and sea-battle re-enactments. Although Crispina had only been there once, she knows how violent the crowd can be at times.
She was pregnant with Corvinus at the time, unknowingly though. She remembers that she wore a green stola while Evander wore a green chiton to support that team. The crowd had turned unfriendly and pushed and shoved yelling false accusations – of what Crispina could not remember. When someone shoved her body backward harshly and fell on the cold, hard limestone steps, almost loosing Corvinus completely before he had even been born.
Evander looks at his wife now pale face and her eyes show fear. He knows that she is thinking of the time he had been so oblivious it nearly cost him his own son.
"Evander," He looks up at his wife. "You must watch him very carefully."
Corvinus cheers in victory, "Yes!"
Later, after breakfast was finished, Corvinus is dressed in a green linen colobium while Evander wore a tunica – a short woolen garment with short sleeves. They are both wearing their leather sandals that were made to endure long periods of time by the spikes at the bottom of the shoes. Corvinus' bulla – an amulet given to him by his father as a good luck charm like all of the other babies of Rome – was shining in the bright sun. The gold color of it was almost blinding and matched Valens' own bulla. They were required to wear it every day until the age of sedecim (sixteen).
The Circus Maximus was not a place to wear fancy clothing, like the Colosseum. Circus Maximus has always been welcoming even the poorest Roman to the richest socialites. Evander could race if it was not for the dangerous possibility that the chariot could fall on him.
Crispina's mind suddenly raced through all of the dangerous possible incidents. What did she agree to? She looks at Evander who is crouching, speaking to Corvinus about his safety and the rules established for it. They swore to each other they would not tell Corvinus until he was to remove his bulla about Crispina's almost fatal incident.
She feels someone pull on her purple dress. She looks down to see Valens.
"Why can't I go Mama?" he pouted his small lips.
Crispina kneels down to her son's level, all the while minding her somewhat large baby bump. "Nate (my son), you are too young. Someday; when you come of age, you will go. I swear to you." She promises as she kisses her son's dark, warm hair; it is as if his hair is cooking in the intense heat of the sun.
Crispina picks him up in her arms and walks over to Evander, whose hand is on Corvinus' back. Evander and Crispina have never seen their son so happy since he was told he had a brother.
Crispina moves Valens over to her left arm that now holds him, while Crispina's right hand goes to cup Evander's cheek, "Look after each other," She says as she kisses his lips.
"I will." Evander says. Though, it does not reassure Crispina. She felt danger approaching somehow; a bad feeling.
They all kiss and give their goodbyes to one another as Evander sets his son and himself on their Chestnut horse, Noble, and leave to the Circus Maximus. Crispina leaves to the stable with Valens holding her hand as they bring their other brown horse – Alma – to the market to hold the food for their upcoming lunch and dinner.
Valens and his mother, sitting side-saddle, are on the horse as it trots slowly to the main market.
Crispina quickly made purchases with the Denair in her leather satchel from the multiple markets available buying lamb meat wrapped in cloths, cheese, onions, celery, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and green, red and yellow peppers and even more. Dinner took quite a while to fully complete, what with three courses of the first course, meats and deserts. The desert was sweet, honey-drenched baklava; something the Romans learned from the Greeks, and something the Greeks learned from the Phoenicians – Middle-Eastern traders.
As Crispina and Valens are heading to their home they hear someone calling Crispina.
"Crispina! Crispina!" A familiar voice called. She and Valens are on the back of the horse as they turn their heads to see Crispina's older brother, Marcus, run towards them. She and Valens smile and Crispina slowly dismounts the horse bringing her son with her with the help of Marcus. Marcus is a dashing and kind man yet he could be fierce and dangerous in battle.
"I see my nephew has grown." Marcus says as he ruffles Valens' hair with his hand. Valens laughs while dimpling, something he inherited from Crispina's oldest brother, Arsenius.
"Have you heard, soror mea (my sister)?" Marcus asks.
"What would that be, frater (brother)?"
"The Emperor, he had big plans for a temple in his honor. Though, how he plans to make it I do not know. He says it shall be made of solid gold. Could you imagine that, sister – a large temple of gold? I cannot – It's impossible. It seems as though he's more insane by the moment." Marcus throws his back in laughter. Valens chuckles but Crispina does not join in the amusement.
Emperor Nero is known to be odd for the things he does. Like when he placed restrictions on all Roman Christians two years ago – people who did not believe in the Roman Gods.
"Do not underestimate him, brother. He just may do it." She said with an underling of warning in her voice.
"Crispina, Crispina, Crispina," Marcus shook his head as he said her name three times in disappointment. "I love you, truly, I do, though, sometimes you are too serious. Are you sure you even have the ability to laugh?" he teases his sister. She ignores her brother but still rolls her eyes and smiles at him.
"There is the smile we all know and love. Now, I must go. Lunch is about to be prepared and you know how much I adore my wife's cooking."
Elena is Marcus' wife. She has long dark brown hair up to the middle of her back and eyes to match it. She is very kind and caring like Crispina but is a mid-wife. She still helps Crispina with her children and checks up on her weekly. Elena is usually happy and thinks positive. She constantly reminds Crispina not to try to overwork herself with cooking, cleaning, buying groceries and not to be alone. As you can see, Crispina rarely listens but the two women still maintain a great friendship.
I should at least invite them to dinner to repay them, after all, it's the least I could do for them, Crispina thought and did just that. But she knew that Elena would insist on cooking in her place.
"Alright, it sounds like a wonderful idea. I'm looking forward to seeing my brother-in-law and my other nephew. Remember," Crispina knew he was about to recite Elena's words, so they say together, "do not over work yourself, it's not healthy!"
The three laugh and part ways with their "goodbyes".
Valens is asleep in his room taking a nap from the early afternoon. The poor little thing was absolutely worn out. Crispina takes the opportunity to water the garden that is separated from the house.
She thinks about what her brother has told her from this afternoon. It is impossible, her brother is right. Where on earth would he find that much gold – enough to build a temple and his statue? How would be construct it anyway? Gold was a rather hard material and molding it is hard enough. The project would well take a century or more to fully complete.
Who would he have to build it? The Christians? Every single slave in Rome? All of the Romans?
Crispina smells oil hanging in the air, the smell is almost suffocating – a very heavy oil at that. She turns from the orchid tree to her house which was a few minutes away, but still clearly visible. Soldiers are covering her house in oil from large canteens. She doesn't understand and the soldiers don't pay attention to her as if she was as invisible as the air that surrounds them.
Then, she watches as all of the ten men pull something out of their matching satchels. Crispina takes notice as all of the men were wearing silver armor, silver greaves and red colobiums underneath their armor – Praetorian Guards. They all have wooden clubs in their hand.
The Guards have something else in their hands . . . she watches as one flicks his wrist against something else. They have matches. Matches, wood and oil. . .
Fear shook Crispina's body as she came to the horrible realization; the fear is so strong it froze her in place while tears well up in her eyes and spill over.
The Guards take notice of the woman standing by the trees. They all feel guilt at what they were about to do . . . but they had to do it. Their lives were on the line the moment Nero threatened to kill them if the job was not carried out. The men hang their heads down in shame as they see the woman's tears. But they have to . . . they have to. They throw the clubs down towards the oil and throw multiple matches that soon rose into flames.
Crispina thinks about Valens just then, sleeping in his room while all this raged on.
"NO!" Crispina screams a bloodcurdling scream. She runs full speed to the house.
The Praetorian Guards flinch and wince at the sound as they stand aside, helpless, as they see the black haired woman enter the burning house. They leave the woman to her unfortunate fate.
Crispina notices that the Guards don't make a move to stop her. She didn't care. Her son was about to be burned alive and keeping him safe was all that matters to her now. The black smoke surrounds her but she knows her way around the house and makes her way quickly to Valens' bedroom, coughing the entire way.
Crispina sees her son coughing hard and goes to hold him.
"Mama," –cough – "what's," Valens could not finish his sentence with the smoke suffocating his lungs. Crispina did not say a word – there was nothing she could say now. The fire was at his doorway and they were trapped. Crispina feels her son being oddly still.
Valens is dead. He dies from the poisonous air filling his small lungs. Crispina cries wildly and kisses the top of his head multiple times. As the fire continues to burn the house to ashes, Crispina dies with her son and her unborn baby.
As she dies it does not get darker, only brighter.
As the fires burn, Nero walks out to the bridge that overlooks the Noble houses. He is holding his lyre, a musical instrument almost like a harp, and starts strumming it and singing and laughing as he is happy that many men, women and children are dead.
For years, a conspiracy was planned to replace Nero with Calpurnius Piso. Men would sneak into the palace and kill Nero for the crime he committed. Evander and Marcus were among these men. They, Corvinus and Elena survived the burnings. Evander wanted to be the one to take Nero's head for his wife and children.
They failed when they found Nero had committed suicide and Evander feels pain, guilt, anger and failure.
Corvinus grows over the years under the careful eye of his father. His father had changed ever since that fateful day of their burning home. Evander never looked at another woman; he still loves Crispina and believes that he will be reunited with her in the afterlife. He cherishes his only son as he continues his job as a governor but under Trajan's rule and they rebuild the destroyed house they lived in.
Elena, Marcus and their two surviving children live with Evander and Corvinus as well to stay together.
Many years later as Corvinus grows into a young man, he removes his bulla and marries a noble woman who also lost her mother to the burnings, Ilithyia. She has long, straight ash brown hair and sweet chocolate eyes. Ilithyia gives Corvinus five children. He names them Valens, Antonio, Leo, Aureline and his last child, Crispina. After the beloved mother and after a brother he would carry in his heart forever.