The Roman Economy
Domitius, Ennius, Publius, Cassius Aurelius, Tully, Vespasian, Herod, Gallicus, Secundus, Aurelia, Severas
Rome has grown tremendously in the last century, and it's a common complaint among those who engage in trade that Ostia, Rome's sea port at the mouth of the Tiber River, is no longer adequate to the amount of traffic coming in and out of its harbors. The grain shipments alone fill most of the available docks, and other goods are often forced to land at Antium or even more distant ports and make their way overland, often doubling the price of the goods by the time they reach Rome. A consortium of leading citizens has put together a proposal to build a new harbor (with a working name of Portus) about a league north of Ostia, connected to the Tiber by a canal. Such a large project would require imperial funding and patronage, and the proposal was presented to Domitius last year. Unfortunately, the most recent series of rebellions took him away from Rome before he made any decision, and the project remains only a proposal. Meanwhile, prices in Rome continue to rise, and there is fear that even a small disaster in Ostia, such as the collapse of a pier or two, could endanger Rome's grain supplies.
Cassius Aurelius, Tully, Vespasian, Herod, Gallicus, Secundus, Aurelia, Severas
Much of Secundus's commercial success is due to his patronage by both Vespasian and Cassius Aurelius. They both helped to get him the needed permits and monopolies to trade in Rome, and in return he has helped to extend their business interests and those of their allies throughout the empire, making all of them very wealthy. For example, health regulations promulgated by Cassius Aurelius effectively limit cheese imports into Rome to cheeses manufactured by clients of Senator Vespasianus in other parts of Italy, one of Secundus's shipping companies has the contract for shipping all of that cheese, and they sell only to retailers who are clients of Cassius Aurelius. At this point Secundus has become so rich that he can no longer be described as a client of either Vespasian or Cassius Aurelius, but is almost an equal ally. The major losers in this economic growth spurt (not counting the numerous minor families and factions who were ruthlessly stamped out, what were their names?) were the Tullii and their allies. Though Secundus was careful to never oppose them on anything really major, his businesses were constantly stepping on Tullius interests, chipping away here and there and often using huge monetary gifts to steal key Tullii clients into his own patronage network. The Tullii and their allies have managed to fight back with some success, but are hard pressed to maintain their shares in the import and export markets which are the core of Secundus's enterprises.
Elsewhere in the empire, Secundus has also allied with the business interests of Gallicus (in the west) and Herod (in the east). His economic conquests have been less consistent in the provinces, and he's suffered some setbacks, including being banned from trading in any of the Nile ports two years ago, no doubt due to trading rivals who wished to maintain their monopolies there.
Herod, Cassius Aurelius, Secundus
Two years ago, Herod got accidentally screwed over in a deal with Secundus that involved cedar shipments from Palestine to Italy for ship-building. A contract that was supposed to go to one of Herod's allies in Judaea instead went instead to a stranger with a similar name. Secundus didn't even notice it for four months. When he found it, it was too late to correct the error. He's apologized to Herod and given him some lucrative concessions since.
When the cedar deal fell through, you were tremendously pissed off. You knew it was an accident, but knew that it had occurred because of Secundus's carelessness. This contract was just a drop in the bucket for him, but for you it had important political repercussions back home. In a fit of pique you turned to the emperor for revenge. You have since come to regret your hasty actions, but have never told Secundus about them.
Two years ago, Herod asked the emperor to ban all of Secundus's ships from trading in the various Nile ports. Seeing no reason not to, Domitius has his staff issue a decree to do so.
Despite your economic ties with Secundus, you have no desire to see him elected tribune. The very idea of a Jew (even a former Jew) being a Roman tribune is ludicrous! Next thing you know they'll be letting Egyptians and Greeks into the Senate! You have nothing against any of these groups in particular, it's just that they're not Roman, and the Roman empire is meant to be run by Romans, not foreigners with pretensions of grandeur, no matter how rich they may be.
The Atilii family's cheeses business has been hurt by Cassius Aurelius's administration. His health regulations have effectively, though possibly unintentionally, blocked Atilii cheese from being imported into Rome. The family has asked you to appeal to the praetor urbanus to change the regulations to fix this error.
Vespasian, Secundus, Agricola
The merchant Secundus has loaned lots of money to prominent senators (in addition to outright gifts). Senator Vespasian and Senator Iunius Caeculus (an uncle of Caeculus Agricola, the prefect of the Praetorian Guard) both owe considerable sums. While Vespasian can pay Secundus back at any time (he's merely suffering a short term cash flow problem), Senator Iunius is having serious trouble making interest payments.
Your uncle has asked you to use whatever influence you can to intercede with Secundus and see if he's willing to allow Iunius to default on some portion of his debt, or at least the interest. This is of importance to your family's finances, so you will do what you can. Even if Secundus is unwilling, perhaps you can find someone else willing to take over the debt in exchange for certain concessions.
Ennius, Tully, Cassius Aurelius, Vespasian, Titus Flavius, Publius, Secundus
For nearly a century, Rome has been in nearly a constant state of expansion, and construction is a major business. For the past ten years, two groups have dominated the Roman construction industry, the Tully family and its allies and the recent alliance of the Ennius family and the official cults. (Of course there are many other groups in the construction business, but none on par with these two, and many of the smaller ones end up sub-contracting from one of the larger factions.) While the Ennii have a de facto monopoly on new temple construction, they have to compete for the lucrative contracts for other public building projects and for the less profitable but more steady work of housing construction. Both sides use all of their pull in other economic and political arenas to get business, and neither is above playing dirty to get what they want. In one noted instance, Ennius stole a Pulcher construction project to build a new set of baths by having the site declared sacred to the goddess Diana. The baths were canceled in favor of a new temple to Diana, which would happen to include public baths as a major component. The Tullii would love to break the Ennii monopoly on temple construction, but more importantly both sides are desperate to get the potential contracts to be had if Rome decides to build a new port.
Domitius, Agricola, Ennius, Cassius Aurelius, Tully, Vespasian, Titus Flavius, Herod, Julia, Gallicus, Secundus
Besides construction, probably the single most lucrative business in Rome is wine. While the wine trade is an empire-wide business, by far the most important market to corner is Rome, where imperial fashion is set. If the patricians of Rome drink Iberian wine, then the elites throughout the empire will drink Iberian wine. The major players in the wine business include:
The Flavii and the Vespasiani: Once bitter rivals, about thirty years ago they united their families by marriage and now work together. Between them they control almost all of the important vineyards within thirty leagues of Rome. Though connoisseurs consider central Italian wines to be of low to middling quality, their proximity allows them to beat everyone's prices, and they essentially have a monopoly on all of the wine sold in the public taverns throughout the city.
Clients of Cassius Aurelius: Iberian wines are generally considered the best in the empire, and a large fraction of those who export to Rome are clients of the city's praetor urbanus.
Clients of Tully: With wine-making clients in both Iberia and southern Italy, Tully has maintained control of a small but stable fraction of the city's wine trade.
Clients of Gallicus: Gallic wine, especially from the wine regions of Aquitania, are sometimes considered to be on par with the best from Iberia, and they're exported throughout the empire. Unfortunately, the Gallic merchants have no access to the Roman markets. While the wealthiest patricians can afford to have private shipments brought in, bypassing customs, most Romans are unable to sample these fine wines. Gallicus has tried for years to gain entry for his clients, with no success.
The East: Wine is also produced in Greece, Asia Minor, and Syria, in many different qualities, and is traded throughout the east. However, little of it reaches the western empire, though various eastern merchants would like to break that barrier.
Gallicus, Titus Flavius, Vespasian
Clients of Gallicus have been given many contracts to supply pottery for the Flavian wines. Of course, what Gallicus really wants is to sell his own wines in Rome. Since that goal doesn't conflict with their own trade (Gallic wine would be far too expensive for the tavern trade which is their own mainstay trade), it is in the interest of the Flavii and Vespasiani to help their ally Gallicus gain access to the Roman markets. Unfortunately, as long as Cassius Aurelius is praetor urbanus there is little chance of this happening, so ...
Titus Flavius, Vespasian, Agricola, Publius, Cassius Aurelius, Domitria
When the Praetorian Guard was under the command of Flavius Piper, they had a major wine contract with the Flavian family. (The guards drink a lot of wine.) However, one of Agricola's first acts upon taking command was to transfer that contract to a client of Cassius Aurelius.
While your men currently receive only the best wine from Iberia, it's a sad truth that most of those men were not raised in patrician families, but as common plebes. Many of them don't actually like the fine Iberian wine, and complain about the "fancy" stuff they're getting. The fountain in the guard compound (which supplies all of your water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning) has also begun to receive gritty water from the aqueducts, not actually dirty but certainly not the fine spring water they used to get and still available in some other parts of the city. This is no doubt payback from the Flavians, who control the city's aqueducts and can shift water supplies as they will.
The Guard's commanders would like to find a new wine supplier, possibly even going back to the Flavii, but need to do so in a way that will not alienate the praetor urbanus and the emperor's cousin and close advisor, Cassius Aurelius.
Titus Flavius, Vespasian
When the Praetorian Guard canceled the Flavii wine contract, one of the family's first acts was to re-route the various aqueducts so as to bring gritty water to the fountain in the guard compound. The pure spring water they used to get, normally reserved for the Palatine Hill, was shifted to a random neighborhood near the Qurinal, which was pleasantly surprised by the sudden boost in their water quality.
Both Herod and Secundus have tried at various times to open the Roman market to eastern wines. A few years ago, Herod tried to attract investors to ship cheap Syrian wines. Unfortunately, all of the investors who had at first seemed interested, one of whom was Aurelia Severas, backed off at the last moment.
Herod, Secundus, Tully
Secundus tried a similar deal to ship mid-quality wines from Thrace, hoping to slip into the cracks between the monopolies set up by the Cassius Aurelius and the Flavii/Vespasiani. The shipments actually started and sales were good, when suddenly the required port permits were canceled in favor of Tully's clients in Neapolis.
Titus Flavius, Aurelia
A few years ago, Herod was trying to attract investors to import cheap Syrian wines into the Roman markets. One of those potential investors was Aurelia Severas. Not knowing much of Rome's wine markets, she decided to consult with Titus Flavius, whose family was known for its wine business. Titus Flavius advised her against the deal, and Aurelia passed that advice to the other potential investors. The plan fell through.
Gallicus and Secundus are both heavily involved in smuggling. While Gallicus's activities are confined mostly to the western Mediterranean, Secundus operates throughout the empire, though most heavily in the east. The two have often worked together and there is little rivalry -- the empire is a large place, and they have found more opportunities for mutual assistance than for conflict.
The majority of your business takes place in the provinces, since most corruption in Italy is dominated by murky senatorial power politics rather than the much clearer economics of greed.
You are aware that someone is operating a major smuggling ring in the eastern Mediterranean. You have reason to suspect that Secundus is involved, but have no evidence. You have no strong moral compunctions against this as long as it doesn't hurt your own interests, and thus have kept this information secret for use as a bargaining chip.
Possibly unrelated to this major smuggling ring, you are aware of a small but definite trade in a most horrendous form of merchandise: Roman citizens illegally sold into slavery. Someone is capturing Roman citizens (usually poor plebeians) and smuggling them into the Parthian Empire, where it is now the rage among the nobles to own Roman slaves, who are treated in the most degrading and barbarous fashion possible. You have heard from one traveler who swore that he saw Roman slaves in Ctesiphon who were forced to clean their masters' chamber pots with their tongues while the guests watched and laughed.
You are aware that Gallicus is involved in many forms of shady business, including possibly smuggling, though you have no proof. Since you work for the man you haven't seen any reason to tell anyone this information, but could use it as a bargaining chip at some point.
Cassius Aurelius, Agricola, Tully, Domitius, Secundus, Gallicus, Vespasian, Herod, Aurelia, Severas
Smuggling has become a major problem in some parts of the empire. Though there are few contraband items (with the exception of arms shipments to troublesome provinces), the imperial economy rests not on free trade but on the ties of contracts and favors established between patrons and clients. In such an environment, free trade is actually a threat to economic stability, bypassing alliances and connections which have been painstakingly made and maintained by families over decades. Furthermore, smuggling avoids trade taxation, often an important part of local and imperial tax revenues.
Unfortunately smugglers don't operate like the pirates of the last century, who were hunted to extermination by Pompey the Great. They don't travel in packs or operate from hidden bases which can be found and wiped out. Instead they often operate on perfectly legitimate ships which bribe port officials to look the other way while unregistered goods are loaded or unloaded. Though there is little smuggling in Italy, where imperial and senatorial officials are present to keep an eye on things, its nearly endemic in the provinces, where provincial bureaucrats, often locals with little or no loyalty to Roman values, are more than willing to let such criminal activities occur. There has been some attempt to increase the number of imperial inspectors, but with over 60 legions in the field there is little money in the treasury for such things.
Senator Vespasianus is aware that his colleague Gallicus has contacts with men who deal in illegal activities, specifically smuggling. He's been willing to overlook this as long as it work in his favor and doesn't get out of hand. Vespasian has taken advantage of this arrangement on a few occasions to get shipments through where the proper permits were unavailable, and is regularly supplied with the best Gallic wines. In the past, Gallicus has also shipped Vespasian nubile young slave boys from Egypt and Armenia, slaves which Vespasian has passed on as gifts to an unknown client. Vespasian is careful to keep any information about these activities from his nephew, Titus Flavius.
For the past three years, Secundus has been smuggling high quality Iberian weapons into Sicilia, enough weapons to arm half the military age men of the island. Gallicus knew of this activity and had qualms about it, even requesting that Secundus stop, for he was surely stoking the embers of revolt. However, the Sicilians were paying well for the weapons, and Secundus cut Gallicus in for a share of the proceeds.
You are truly worried about Secundus's arms shipments. Though you care nothing for the people of Sicilia, you have no desire to see the empire riven by the flames of war, and will try to do what you can to stop such activities without incriminating yourself.
Through your Iberian clients, you are aware that the famed Iberian blacksmiths have been churning out huge quantities of weapons and armor for the past few years. Of course, most of this is being sold to the legions where it should be going. However, some of your clients have mentioned that not all of the shipments are going to Rome, but are being loaded onto unmarked ships bound for unknown ports. You have sent investigators to look into the matter, and they have provided you with a report (which you have back in your villa) proving that someone is running a large-scale smuggling ring dealing in high-quality arms, though you have no idea where they could be going. Considering the import of this matter, you hope to report your findings confidentially to the emperor at the first chance possible.
Herod, Gallicus, Secundus
A client of Herod known as Simon of Damascus has been operating a small but profitable slave trade in Roman citizens. Mostly poor plebes who are shanghaied at sea or picked up from remote villages, the unlucky fools are thrown in chains, hidden in the bowels of trusted ships, and sent to the eastern frontier or the Sahara Desert, where Parthian noblemen and Berber nomad leaders pay a hefty premium for these "exotic" slaves. Of course the higher the purported rank of the slave, the higher price that will be payed. There are standing orders worth many thousands of sesterces for the procurement of a senator, though no one has had the gall (or the chance) to take advantage of these offers.
Both Secundus and Gallicus have connections to this business. Much of the actual transport takes place on Secundus's ships, while Gallicus has served as a provider, identifying likely candidates such as villages that have no protection. Gallicus has also used the system once or twice to get rid of enemies he particularly dislikes, including a large group of Romanized Celts back in 57.
Cassius Aurelius, Publius
You have heard rumors that enemies of Gallicus are known to disappear. Not killed, for no bodies are ever found. Instead mysterious men show up in the night and hustle the enemy out of his bed and into the darkness. The victims are never seen again. Even his own nephew Tibullus, apparently an ambitious young man whose reach exceeded his grasp and was suspected of plotting against his uncle, disappeared in this manner last year.