missi ad hospitium cum Marco medico
faciendum structores numero xxx
ad lapidem flammandum numero xviiii
ad lutum uiminibus castrorum faciendum traces…
The next morning saw Marcus and his men lined up in front of their tents while a skinny centurion whose helmet kept slipping forwards over his eyes waved yet another of the flimsy wooden tablets at them.
“These are your orders dated for the seventh of March and delivered to our Praefectus by the medical orderly. They are for the building of a hospitium, a roadside staging post. Stone and timber have already been delivered and are stacked up to the west of the camp. We have begun making tiles so that you will not be held up. The ground floor is to be constructed of dressed stone with a course of tiles at regular intervals. Meanwhile your carpenters can fashion the framework for an upper floor. Thirty of you, these instructions are very specific, will burn limestone for the making of lime mortar. Nineteen of you will be producing clay for the wattle fences of the camp. You will begin at once.”
Across the road from the camp was the vicus, an untidy cluster of round houses with tall, conical, thatched roofs, occupied by native hangers on, camp followers and dodgy tradesmen, an inevitable accompaniment to any Roman fort. Whilst work began on the construction of the hostelry an ox was commandeered from the locals along with a small child, the only person that could get it to perform as required. In a shallow pit it trod the local mud into a quagmire, mixing it with its own dung to make daub. This would be pressed by hand through the woven willows of wattle panels. Wattle walls, backed by a sturdy earth rampart were to replace the palisade of the fort. Once the outer coating of daub had been smoothed, scored in imitation of stonework and whitewashed it would look impressive enough to the casual viewer. When the building work required, wattle and daub would also provide the infill between the timbers for the upper story of the hospitium.
After barely surviving his first week in a tent Marcus did a deal with the local blacksmith and moved into one of the disgusting thatched hovels across the road from the camp. He shared it with the smith’s family, four adults whose relationship was obscure and a horde of grubby children. He also shared with an assortment of livestock, but he was warm enough to sleep through the night without waking. Each day he held a surgery for the army, but much of his time was taken up with the natives. He pulled teeth, sewed up innumerable head wounds and lanced boils. They all had boils. Mostly he was repaid with gifts of chickens that he traded with the garrison quartermaster. There had on one occasion been a duck, which he had kept. It was a good layer and the children looked after it.