Province of Pannonia Superior
August 3rd, 165 CE
Artorius stood in the stable door, with the four…
Ex-students, he thought. Former graduate students. Aspiring professional historians, then, God help them; talk about nailing your career colors to the mast of a sinking ship! Now… well, we’ll see. They’re what I’ve got, so they’ll do.
… facing him; the light was bright on him, but they were more shadowed. The building was a variation on Roman cavalry stabling, but without the room behind each pen where the troopers slept next to their mounts. The Villa Lunae raised horses for the civil and military markets, but not in a really large way. The nomads who roamed the steppes just outside the Imperial frontier in what would have become eastern Hungary—someday—were known to the Empire as Iazyges, and spoke a dialect of the same language used by Sarukê’s tribe. They had that trade more or less sewn up at the wholesale level in Pannonia.
When they don’t decide killing, burning and stealing is more fun, he thought.
It wasn’t an odd place to meet by local standards. Horses were high-status; it wasn’t an accident that the Latin term for gentleman translated as horse-rider. French and German and Spanish used… or would have, much later… chevalier and Ritter and caballero in very much the same sense. Roman country gentlemen met in stables fairly often to talk horses and do other business in the course of it; even the slaves who curried and harnessed the riding beasts had a bit rub off on them, and put on airs.
“I’m the Prof, so I’m going to give you a lecture,” he said. “Now that we’re settled in and know enough not to get lost between here and the villa proper.”
“Except for Mark here,” Filipa said affectionately, nudging him with her elbow, and everyone chuckled, including the target.
“I was thinking hard,” he said, slightly sheepish. “Mind on higher things. I thought that pasture was a shortcut. Didn’t know about the bull.”
“You sure crossed in short order,” Jeremey noted.
“Olympic sprinter level,” Paula agreed. “And dove headfirst over the fence.”
Back behind him and his companions, in the gloom of the building, horses nickered; the stables smelled of them, their wastes, the hay and straw in the loft above and the mealy smell of barley and oats kept to supplement that and the fresh grass. There were flies, but not an overwhelming number, probably because of the barn-swallows flitting around snacking on them. In fact the whole thing took him back, to stables he’d known as a boy spending long summers with his grandparents. Even the heat was nostalgic, though the air wasn’t as dry.
The High Plains up in the Panhandle could be an icy waste in winter when the storms barreled down the endless flat miles from Canada, but summers… the summers were long, and they baked.
“OK, we’re trying to introduce some technical stuff here,” he said. “That’s our first success.”
He pointed at a wheelbarrow resting propped up against a pillar. It was absolutely unremarkable, and could have come from any Lowe’s or Home Depot in America. Except that it was nearly entirely wooden, ash poles and oak planks and a lathe-turned section of beechwood for the wheel, all held together with oak pegs. There was a shrunk-on tire of wrought iron on the wheel, and the pin the wheel turned on and the ring it turned in, and that was the sum of its metal parts.
None of that was anything the locals weren’t thoroughly familiar with.
“Wheelbarrows were invented about now, in China. That’s a song I’ll sing more than once. We had a model; I showed it to the carpenter and smith; they had one ready in a day; now there’s a dozen and in a year there will be hundreds all over the neighborhood. I’ll come back to why that was so easy, but think of what it does. It lets you carry three or four times the load, and faster, for short distances. They’re using that one to carry out manure and carry in fodder; anyone with a farmstead or a construction site will want them, just for starters.”
“I’ve seen guys giving their girlfriends rides in them, and parents doing it for children, the last couple of days,” McCladden said thoughtfully.
“Good point. That’s fun. So are applejack and white lightning and peach schnapps… and for that, we only needed a fire, a copper pot, yeast, and a coil of copper tubing, that was the hardest part. They’re bringing in fruit that would otherwise go to waste for the mash… and doing it in wheelbarrows. Oh, and guess what makes a really good antiseptic if you run it through the still extra times?”
The stalls on either side of the central corridor held three or four horses each, with mangers, watering-troughs and straw bedding that was changed daily; the urine drained into under-floor channels and a central trough that ran to a big square area kept full of straw and leaves that was shoveled out periodically to be used as fertilizer for the truck-gardens. Tack hung from pegs near the door, neatly kept and well-oiled. It included some hipposandals—sort of like strap-on bootees for a horse, with an iron sole, which was as close to a horseshoe as they had here and now.
“The tech stuff’s part of what we’re going to do, and an important part. In the long run, technical innovation is the most important part because it sets the level of what’s possible in every other field. Though in the short to medium term war and politics are crucial, which is why we’re time-constrained and have to bust our asses.”
“Detail on that, Prof?” Mark asked.
“Because the Marcomannic Wars start next year, and the Plague of Galen is already brewing out east, and unless we get some major traction fast both those will fall on our heads like a ton of bricks. And squash us just as dead as the fusion bomb that took out Vienna would have in another second or two. But the technical things will be crucial for politics and war, too.”
“That’s the turning point,” Mark said gravely.
When they looked at him: “Until the corn and potatoes and that wheelbarrow and that still turning out peach brandy, nothing we’ve done would have had much impact, unless it’s quantum-chaos butterfly-flapping stuff. But those, and what we’re planning today, it will really change things. Forever. Even a little of it.”
Jeremey cut in unexpectedly:
“And it’s where we find out if time is mutable. If you can change history or if something will somehow stop you if you try.”
They all winced a little. If time wasn’t mutable, something would happen to stop them changing events… and the simplest way for that to happen would be for them all to die and this area to be blotted out…
Say, by the Marcomanni killing everyone and burning everything to the ground.
He didn’t think that was necessarily a big risk, since Fuchs had obviously been on the mutable-time side and he was the man who’d invented time-travel, but only experience would tell.
Invented time-travel very briefly, he corrected himself. Which introduces a certain uncertainty there.
“To hell with that,” Paula said stoutly. “Changes are needed here. Far more than they were back… home… even. Our former home. The more and faster the better. So I’ll prepare my ass to be busted in a good cause!”
Artorius nodded, and also reflected wryly that the cellae where the slave families dwelled were rather similar to the stables, save for a bit more privacy, the open court in the middle, and a latrine near the kitchen.
That was probably part of what she meant, he thought. I see her point but that’s a long-term thing.
The estate had more mules than horses, housed separately; really heavy work was almost all done with oxen.
And even more by human grunt labor.
Artorius went on: “None of us are engineers, which is a pity. Scientists wouldn’t be useful here, though, because we don’t have to discover things, we just have to apply them. That’s still easier said than done; it’s going to mean work, sometimes hands-on.”
Mark shrugged and looked down at his hands and wiggled his fingers.
“I’ll do my best, sure, Prof. But I’m not… well, I’m not what you’d call manually ept. Give me a hammer and I’m as likely to hit my thumb as a nail.”
“You don’t have to be Mr. Fixit, Mark. Look, the thing to remember is that there are two types of inventions. The wheelbarrow is a Type A invention, where the idea is the crucial thing, and you can use existing skills and tools to implement it. Wheelbarrows are pure Type A, the Platonic ideal. I gave the carpenter an idea, he brought in the smith, and I showed them a model a foot long. He had one ready after a day’s work, the smith put in the ironwork, all four pieces and eight ounces, and it was ready to go; and they’ve gotten faster since. The vilicus nearly creamed his… well, his loincloth… when he saw one laborer pushing four big sacks of grain along at a fast walk with it. Because that would have taken four men without it, and longer.”
McCladden grinned. “And now the carpenter… it’s that young guy we brought from Vindobona who worked on the wheelbarrows, Quintus, his granddaddy got Roman citizenship when he mustered out of the auxiliaries… he and the smith are selling them to the tenants and neighbors at two sestertii a pop, with the vilicus taking a 20% cut. But give you odds that before the end of the month, someone else will be making them too.”
Artorius nodded and pointed to one of the Spanish saddles, currently slung across the low plastered adobe wall that separated the horses from the passageway.
“Take stirrups, and saddles like that. Important invention, right?
“Right,” Filipa said. “And it’s Type A too. There’s absolutely nothing in that saddle that a carpenter and a leatherworker here can’t make, maybe with a little help from a smith for some of the fittings.”
Artorius nodded. “In 3,500 BCE the Yamnaya culture, the Proto-Indo-Europeans, were riding horses in Ukraine… riding them to other places, too, eventually from Ireland to the Tien Shan and Ceylon. Riding bareback, or with just a saddle-blanket. They could have made saddles and stirrups like those. Wood instead of metal for some parts, but that’s not important. They just didn’t have the idea. That’s going to be dreamed up by some folks in China—again, China—in the next century or two… or was going to be. Or they may have copied it from the nomads north of them. It spread fast, and eventually everyone who rode horses used it, from Britain to Japan and down to Africa and India. But for going on four thousand years, it just didn’t occur to anyone.”
He pointed again, this time to a set of horse-harness hung from a peg in a wooden pillar.
“Now, that’s a horse-collar and draught harness, courtesy of Dr. Fuchs, and more remotely of the Chinese—inventive bastards, eh? They’ve got blast furnaces and cast iron right now by the way, and I’m major-league envious. With that harness, the horse or mule can use all the power of its body and haunches to push.”
He turned his arm to another set, one sound but visibly worn by use.
“See the Roman one over there? That was invented by the Indo-Europeans and it’s less efficient because it’s derived from an ox-yoke and horses just aren’t shaped like oxen. Again, four thousand years and it just didn’t occur to anyone. But they can make the good stuff immediately. Type A, pure form.”
Mark brightened until he was practically beaming. “Oh, so you mean we just have to give them ideas! Then they slap their heads, say ‘why didn’t we think of that, it’s so obvious!’, and they can make the stuff on their own.”
Artorius sighed. “No, Mark, sometimes we just have to give them the idea. And convince them that there’s a reason why grandpappy’s way isn’t good enough. Sometimes that’s easy, sometimes hard.”
“Going to be harder with the saddles,” Filipa said. “With the wheelbarrows, anyone who has to schlep dirt and manure and bricks can see it’s better right away, and anyone bossing him sees he can get more done with less. But people get emotionally attached to anything they do with horses. I certainly do!”
“Bingo,” Artorius said. “There are more and more ands as we go along. And get them through the fiddly bits until they’ve got it working. Which is not going to be easy, because among other things they don’t have a concept of technical progress as such, of research and development. They’re only vaguely aware that they do things their ancestors couldn’t; bronze weapons in the Iliad and they use iron, liburnians instead of pentekonters, that sort of thing. And that’s the easiest part of what we’re going to do.”
“Oh,” Mark said.
And then his face fell; he was so smart he knew his own weaknesses.
“Oh, shit, people-skills.”
Artorius nodded. “And then there’s the Type B inventions, where you need new techniques and tools to implement the new idea. We couldn’t just tell them how to make a steam engine, not even the crudest early types.”
“For one thing they don’t have a concept of atmospheric pressure,” Filipa said.
“That’s probably why they didn’t have the idea,” Artorius said.
The seminar-style dialogue was probably reassuring all ’round.
“But even with us supplying that, they don’t have cast iron, dammit. Or blast furnaces. Or boring engines for the cylinders… and getting those good enough to make his ideas work took James Watt over a decade and a lot of money, and he had much more to start with than we do. Like machines designed to bore out the barrels of cannon. So cannon… those not right away either. They can cast bronze here well enough but getting the bore accurate, that would be a bitch. And very expensive, as in you need a government expensive.
“But!” he went on. “Most things aren’t pure Type A or Type B. They’re on a spectrum. Fuchs apparently realized that, which is odd for a physicist, even an experimental one—”
“Or some historian did, when he consulted them in a fake-speculative bullshitting-with-a-beer way. You know, if only there was time travel, what could I do?” Jeremey McCladden said thoughtfully.
He was good at figuring out sneakiness. You could forget how sharp he was behind that Norman Rockwell aw-shucks small-town Midwestern exterior.
“Exactly. Which is why we’ve not only got books and diagrams, we’ve got a lot of scale working models which are really going to help. Even model sailing ships. So, we’ll decide what the priorities are, and go from the simple to the difficult. Succeeding with the simpler things like the wheelbarrow and the still, that’ll give people confidence in us, which will make getting through the ones where we have to try and try again and learn from our failures easier.”
He slapped his hands together and went on:
“Right! And once we do have something perfected, the fact that we’re in an advanced preindustrial culture with a huge peaceful free-trade zone and relatively good communications and literacy will help spread things.”
Paula had been thinking hard too. “The very first things we should do… they should be to free up labor here on the estate. So we can use it for other things. Things that’ll help us next year, when the Marcomanni come calling.”
“Bingo again, Paula. So, Jeremey—agriculture. We can’t just slap together a McCormick reaper, there are Type B problems there and the harvest’s about over anyway except for carting the sheaves, so maybe next year, but what’s first?”
“Planting the new seeds, but that’s all done and they’re doing fine.”
He reached out and rapped on a wooden pillar for luck before he continued:
“Right now, a threshing machine,” the Wisconsinite said confidently. “I’ve been looking through the books, and there’s a model. And I’ve been talking to the vilicus, trying to get a handle on their working calendar, and beating out the grain with flails is what the field workers do from now until next summer. About a quarter of their total annual labor-hours.”
“It’s machinery. Type B?”
“Nope, not really, I checked. The first one was built in 1786 and by hand in a farming town, no machine tools, and that’s more or less what the model is a model of. Getting the proportions of the parts right by myself would be a bitch’n bastard, but I’ve got the model, and precise measurements listed so that’s OK. And some tape-measures, and for that matter a whole bunch of measuring gauges of different sizes, but we won’t need those for this. It’ll be a simple threshing machine, nearly all wood, but miles better than doing it with lopsided nunchakus, so we can use the workers freed up for that… other stuff, the military stuff.”
“Good. That’s one bottleneck.”
If you produce. If. Last time I was that self-confident, I was a new-minted second lieutenant younger than you are now and nearly got myself and everyone else in the platoon killed. Thank God for sergeants!
“And there’s plowing and planting the fall grain, for instance, that’s a biggie, number two after the harvesting. Got a few ideas there too. We had this museum in the town I grew up in…” Jeremey went on.
Artorius nodded. “Paula?”
“Textiles for me, Prof, to start with. What the women here do is spin and weave, whenever they’re not doing something else like threshing, and that’s year-round. Even the ladies do a little now and then, sort of for symbolic virtuous-Roman-housewife slash matron cultural nostalgia reasons. So, spinning wheels, I think—spinning thread’s the big labor bottleneck, we’ve got a model, and I studied them a little while I was an undergrad, a course called The Distaff Side. It would free up labor and we might make a profit on it. Then better looms. Then fulling… we’d need fuller’s earth and some sort of machine to lift and drop wooden hammers. Is there a map of useful—”
“Useful minerals? Yeah,” Mark said. “Lots of them, in fact. With little x marks the spot crosses and pictures of the spot.”
“Most excellent,” Artorius said—then felt an inner stutter, both because he was using military slang, and because he knew it was originally a translation from Russian.
This feels more like being in uniform again than being an academic. Or some weird combination of both.
He went on: “Filipa, the horse stuff? Saddles, harness, maybe horseshoes? I’ll help you there.”
She nodded towards the hipposandals. “They’ve got the concept for horseshoes. And we’ve got eight horseshoes with us already, courtesy of Fuchs. The smith can copy those just about right away. What’ll be trickier than the wheelbarrows is that the smith will have to learn to fit them hot, and then nail them properly—you can ruin the hoof and cripple the horse if you do those wrong. But yeah, that’s fairly straightforward, I’ve seen it done lots of times and I knew a farrier when I was in high school, Anna let me help, trim hooves, clinch the nails and stuff… I’ll have the smith here practice on wooden models of a hoof. Take maybe, oh, a week tops.”
“What about the saddles?”
“Making them is straightforward. Getting the locals to see why they should use them…”
She paused for a moment and went on:
“Can I get Sarukê as assistant for all this?”
“You’re friends, right?”
Filipa nodded. “Sort of. We’re both… deeply, truly weird… from the other’s viewpoint, but we both like horses. She’s already learning to use our gear, she’s fascinated, I gave her pointers but she caught on really fast and I think she’s already better than I am. As in, learned almost uncanny fast.”
“Will anyone listen to her? She’s a woman and a barbarian and an ex-slave… though now technically a second-class Roman citizen, since Josephus is a citizen and he bought and freed her.”
“People here on the villa already know her a little, Prof, since she’s in Josephus’ household. They respect her horse-handling too. Sarmatians have mucho mojo that way, and everybody knows it. Everybody in Pannonia, at least. Josephus has sent her here and other places to buy horses on her own with his money, now and then, the last couple of years, because he trusts her eye when it comes to picking good ones.”
“Good idea; I’ll write, but I don’t think Josephus will mind. In fact, I’ll see about hiring her full-time. We’re going to need bodyguards ourselves, eventually.”
Mark Findlemann had been in a brown study. “Paper and books,” he said.
That was related to his special field of study, which had been the how of Classical literature; how books were made and how they diffused.
“And printing. It’s longer-term, but if we cut the cost of written stuff, so every book doesn’t have to be hand-written on expensive material, it would have a major impact on how information diffuses… and I think it could be a profit center in the shorter term. That’s how we lost so much of Graeco-Roman literature, just not enough copies. And we can print books on technical stuff, eventually. That means translating the ones Fuchs sent with us… that’s not straightforward either, but it’s possible. Sorta.”
Artorius’ brows went up and he motioned the younger man to continue:
“Paper is almost exactly like papyrus from a user’s point of view, except it’s better and you don’t have to be in Egypt to make it. I talked books a bit with Josephus on the way here, and he said sort of as an aside he knows a couple of guys who buy papyrus from further south and sell it around. Ready-made market we could plug into. The merchants won’t care except about their margins which will be better, and the clerks and whatnot don’t have to learn any new methods to use paper. Pulp from straw and reeds, maybe hemp and flax, or old linen rags. Biggest problem is the wire screens we’ll need, but there’s one in the baggage, so I can point to it and say make more like that. Fuchs again.”
Artorius grinned. “Well, double-dip me.”
“That’s just it—you dip the screen, it’s on a pole, into the mash. Over and over and that produces a sheet of paper. Then sort of squeeze them in a press and hang them up to dry, like laundry in a 50’s sitcom.”
“Do that. Money we can always use, and after we get proof of concept Josephus will do the work for a reasonable cut. The guy’s mentally flexible to a fault.”
“And for printing, I’ll need a seal-cutter, that would be the ideal thing to make stamps to make molds for casting lead type. There’s a book on it in one of the bundles, I’m reading it now. And a felt press like they use here is most of the business part of a printing press. We could use a cut-off stone pillar mounted on wheels, something like a kid’s toy wagon, as the bed. Books cost the earth here, but they’re high-status. If we cut the cost, lots of people who can’t quite afford it would buy because it puts them one up on the neighbors.”
“Go for it. And you’re going to get started on translations.”
There was a pause, and they all looked at him, wondering what his pet project would be. He took a deep breath:
“Besides coordination, I’m going to be handling the 75-15-10 side—”
That was a cross between a joke and a code; those were the proportions of saltpeter, charcoal and sulfur in gunpowder.
“—because a lot of my West Point courses were relevant. I’ve got the materials with me, the saltpeter and sulfur are used for medicines and half a dozen other things, and they make charcoal on this property in a biggish way. But scaling up is going to be a stone bitch for half a dozen reasons. Even a little gunpowder could be useful, but a lot would be very, very… significant.”
Everyone was silent for a long moment. Introducing stirrups and paper, or maize and potatoes, would change things. Slowly at first, then massively in the end.
“But gunpowder…” Jeremey said quietly, voicing their common thought. “Gunpowder will change things with a bang. Fast. Faster than in our history, because we know how to use it, too.”
Artorius nodded. “Changes, and how. Remember what I said: the Marcomannic Wars are about to start. These Romans are no angels, the only ‘law of war’ here is don’t lose, but the barbarians are barbarians. What they’ve picked up from the Romans just makes them more dangerous ones.”
Paula hissed, and then said a little reluctantly:
“I’ve heard the slaves here talking about them. It scares them stiff when they think about raiding parties—apparently they make human sacrifices and chop off lots of heads and play spear-catch with babies and barricade doors shut and burn the houses and everyone in them. Plus they rape everything that moves and if it doesn’t move they shake it. I don’t think… that they’re exaggerating much.”
“No, they’re not,” Artorius said grimly. “We were Americans; now we have to be Romans. We’ll meet every day or two to brief the group on what we’re doing and what problems we’re hitting, brainstorm ideas, and help each other out as needed.”
“Sounds like a graduate research seminar,” Paula said, and they all chuckled.
Artorius finished: “The harvest’s over, we’ve got all the authority we need here—let’s go out and save the world!”
That got smiles, nods, apparent enthusiasm… and Mark Findlemann doing his superhero stance again, going whoosh and adding a cry of:
“Behold! Iudaeo-puer qui iter in tempore!”
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