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New Tacitus Papyrus Found

an after action report of the game of Conquest of the Empire, played 19 May 2007


by Eric Hall


The remarkable discovery of three pages of a second century Roman papyrus preserved in an old Chinese military latrine in Dun Huang has opened an unknown page in the bloody history of early Imperial Rome.


The text appears to be lost "secret" chapters of Tacitus's Annals, for the eyes of the Emperor only. How such a large wad got there and survived can only be speculation but a scrawled dog latin graffiti nearby declaiming "Huntus s****m sit, Victoria Est a ban! (sic)", and similar finds of papyrus lacunae found in the dry detritus of former legionary latrines in Dura Europos point to an answer.   


Professor Joseph Needsitalot, (Cam, retired, aged 124), author of the definitive history of Chinese Science (Oxford press, 1953, 15 pages with illustrations) and the exhaustive history of Chinese tantric Taoism (Playboy press, 1967, 38 vols, with considerably more illustrations) has kindly provided a quick translation for this newspaper. The translation follows:


"Had Vespasian, resting at last in Narbonensis with the Imperial Purple almost in his grasp, thought his victory was complete after Vitellius' death, he was wrong. As the Dog Star days fry the plains of Campania yet harbour in stinking pools the blood-sucking mosquito's larvae, so did a final group of rebels across the Empire hatch plots to be Caesar and, as one, sent out their dogs of war just after the Saturnine feast.


Closest in Napoli, Petrus, the "Hunter", broke his bond and marched his green troops towards the eternal city just as Vespasian started his triumphal process towards Rome. In Spain, Herbertus of the honeyed words but barbed tongue bided his time and built his strength. In Sicily, syphilitic and mad but adored by his men, Linus Frankus, "the Capo di Crappo" launched his galleys on a mad dash the wrong way. In Asia Minor, loaded and corrupted with gold, the Greek pretender Nikephoros sat bloated with troops and supplies, but ignorant as yet of the ambitions of Kennus "Cunctator", nicknamed Top Cu** (text missing) by his long suffering eastern legions.


Woe is the people's lot when, in the western sky . . . blah, blah, blah (lots of metaphorical text mercifully missing) . . .

. . . and Petrus disgracefully refused to withdraw his legions south along the Appian way, offering the hand of friendship as he honed the knife of betrayal. Forced into a compromise which his noble character abhorred, Vespasian offered the purple vintages and ripe feminae of Narbonensis to Linus, would he only withdraw his own troops from Italia, whence they had apeared after losing their way en route to North Africa.


As the ram which greedily consumes the overripe fruit ends up "salamandus sicut inebriatum"   so did the mad Capo fill his boots in Gaul yet kept his foot in Rome. Vespasian, calling on the Gods, led his legions against Linus only to find the massed rebels of Petrus armed and barbed for war against him as well.


As the noble Jupiter grasps his purple rod and stands astride ... (lots of text cut from the papyrus here) . . . so was Vespasian stuffed and hung out to dry. Linus's men, foolishly fighting in the frontline, were decimated and the garish green standards of Petrus, known by his troops as "Petrus's Smalls", were left waving over Rome.


Now were the dogs set free as the Greek, the Spaniard, and the Parthian slavered over the prospects before them. Nikephoros, self satisifed with his Asian wealth, made a dash for Italy, fulminating a friendship that Petrus saw clear through but fostered anyway. It was the Greek's greatest error, and when at last he asked his companions to take his life after Vespasian's final victory in the years to come, they said he declaimed that no blow from behind would be so hard as the attack in the rear from the Cunctator, whose black legions poured over Asia in his absence.


Vespasian, noble of thought and swift of hand, yet could do nothing as the feeble senators dropped away, refusing him men and money as the bribes and threats of Petrus cut them away. The Purple was almost in the hand of the Hunter when Herbertus, sick of inaction and inexhaustible supplies of orange juice, slipped his legions through Italy and snatched too many tokens of victory, leaving the imminent Imperator Petrus as no more than another double-dealt Dux, green with anger and envy.


But, as the great pachyderms of Africa will stand on the cliff edge and stretch their trunks far out into the gulf to snatch at a juicy leaf, their young herds straining to blah blah blah blah . . . (text is badly stained here) . . . so did the Spaniard overreach.  With godlike sense of strategy and timing, Vespasian sent legions west and south, and finally managed to get Linus to understand that it was Herbertus he should be attacking, and not Vespasian himself.


So did the great civil war end. Vespasian was left with enough resource to complete his final victory. Huntus, his armies and treasuries stuffed with men and money and the senate stuffed with both, found power but little pleasure, and no purple. 


Herbertus had made a march too far. Unable to properly enjoy the fruits of war before him, he retreated back to the orange groves and dreamed of a good Falernian wine.


Of Nikephoros, we have spoken.  Ken Cunctator had outwaited them all and set up his Imperial throne in the East, but a poor shadow of Rome it was and destined to fall.


Of Capo di Crappo, the fates are strange and they weave their strangest robes for the mad. Linus finally lost all reason. Cutting the noble suffix off his name, he pronounced himself the Emperor Li of the West, prepared a last mighty invasion fleet and led it off into the great ocean, declaring that he would sail around the circle of the World and take Cunctator from the rear in Asia. The Gods prepare the way for those they choose.


And, as the light of Apollo decays and the song of the Samnium swallow twirtles huffingly on the breeze that says the second watch is ending, the weary ploughman snaffs his grabble and packs his chuff into his breeches, holding aloft the . . . (text has been burned badly from here on) . . .


Joseph Needitalot, Littletodo-in-the-Marsh, Cambridge.


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