Lead pipes poisoned Rome.
Slow death beneath the streets
stole a march on pushy Goths.
Cicero, sixty-three, divorced
his wife, by law her dowry repaid —
his new wife seventeen, rich and bendy.
The army no life for posh boys now:
they prefer buttery bottoms
to mountain treks with legionnaires.
Claudius ate a mushroom, turned black
and died, the kitchen girls pleading
ignorance — one, daughter of a poisoner.
Severus read the future
in sprays of chicken blood, but never
saw the dagger coming.
The Tiber, levels low in drought,
revealed a thousand skulls — a thousand
scores, settled upstream.
Commodus the tyrant, drugged by
his favourite concubine, then strangled
and good riddance.
Beyond the Danube — Dacians, five years
toe-to-toe with Trajan, their lives
a bloody indifference to death.
Lucian’s satires ridiculed the pomp
of polished order — more circumspect at
the altar of the Capitoline Jupiter.
The solemn embassies of Serapis and Isis
suppressed, the people attended
anyway, especially in besieged cities.
Sparta’s policy of pure-blood citizenry
drifted off in battle smoke — Rome less fussy,
knowing wild horses can be broken.
In Gaul, the Druids and their penchant
for human sacrifice never quite quashed —
in remote places, quietly about their business.
Roman roads, not about distances
but ideas — safe harbours, industry and law,
from Antioch to the Pillars of Hercules.

Against a pack of wily proconsuls,
Augustus countered with his Praetorians
and their habit of slaughter.
Rituals of betrothal aping older ways —
play-fighting with wooden swords, virgins
kidnapped laughing, demands for ransom.
Pertinax, now Emperor, to replenish
State coffers, auctioned gold plate, silks
and slaves of both sexes.
Caligula’s sister-wife Drusilla dies:
elevated to goddess, her temple built
for twenty priests — her likeness, Venus.
The murder of his mother arranged,
the assassin reported to Nero later, she had said
to drive the sword through her womb.
Tiberius at Capri raped an altar boy —
finding later that onlookers objected,
he had their legs broken.
Caesar at the Forum, casually
to Brutus, ‘beautiful weather for the Ides.’
Brutus to himself — Unlucky for some.

Estill Pollock

If you have any thoughts about these reflections,  Estill Pollock   would be pleased to hear them