The City


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Although it suffered badly from the Antonine Plague a century ago, Londinium has enjoyed a renaissance in the past few decades. With the continent suffering from civil wars and widespread brigandage, a steady stream of wealthy refugees has been fleeing to the relatively safe haven of Britannia, and their gold has fueled a boom in the city's economy. Although the majority of the population still lives in whitewashed wattle-and-daub houses, opulent new stone buildings are everywhere, and trade and commerce are thriving.

The city is surrounded by a wall, twenty feet high and eight feet thick. Although the Imperial government cites this formidable edifice as a sign of their concern for the protection of the city's population, its real function has more to do with regulating trade and ensuring that Rome doesn't lose any tax revenues through smuggling. There is, in fact, very little military presence in Londinium; the Cripplegate fort hold more clerks, responsible for administering the province's legions, than it does soldiers.

Indeed, although it originally grew up around a Roman Army camp, London has never been primarily a military city. From its earliest days, its growth has been driven by merchants, moneylenders, and craftsmen. The warehouses and wharves along the banks of the Thames are crammed with goods from every corner of the Empire - olive oil, wine, grape juice, salted fish, Samian pottery, glass, lamps and millstones. When the Romans first came to Britain, the site of the future Londinium was little more than a swamp, and with few natural resources of its own, it's always needed a large class of traders to supply the necessities of a civilized Roman existence.

London's forum, basilica are the largest and most impressive north of the Alps, and its amphitheater can seat up to six thousand people - almost a third of the city's population. Its religious precinct holds a temple dedicated to Mars - identified by the Romans with the Celtic god Camulus - and others devoted to the worship of Jupiter, Minerva and Diana. About fifty years ago, a new temple opened between the forum and the governor's lavish palace. It was dedicated to the Persian soldiers' deity, Mithras. To the mortals, he was just one more god among many, but the appearance new temple heralded the outbreak of a vicious cold war in the Cult of Augurs, which shows no signs of abating.

Since 286 AD, the governor's palace on the banks of the Thames has served as the official residence of the self-proclaimed "Emperor" of Britain and northern Gaul, M. Aurelius Mausaeus Valerius Carausius. A man of humble birth who rose to the rank of Admiral in the Roman Navy, Carausius was assigned to deal with marauding gangs of Saxon sea-raiders who had been plaguing Gaul. He was sentenced to death in absentia when the Emperor discovered that he'd cut a deal with the Saxon pirates to leave them unmolested in exchange for a cut of their loot. Carausius, an opportunistic adventurer with a flair for bold, decisive actions, promptly rebelled. He bribed and suborned the legions in Britain, and took control of the province with their support. Having handily defeated a Roman fleet sent to depose him in 288, Carausius is busily consolidating his position. His pitch to the wary peoples of Britannia is simple - a return to the glory days of the Empire under the Divine Augustus, with peace, security and prosperity for all.

Carausius is no fool, and he realizes that it's only a matter of time before the Empire sends another punitive expedition to recapture Britannia. He spends a great deal of time in the Admiralty headquarters in Southwark, just across the Thames from his official residence, making plans to counter the threat.

The location of Londinium is so perfect for a port city that many Romans has wondered why the Celts never established a settlement here. Part of the explanation lies in tribal politics - the great river formed a natural dividing line between the territories of different tribes, and any attempt to establish a settlement there by any one of them would have been seen as a provocation. To some, that answer is sufficient.

Others fear that the name of the great waterway - the Thamesis, the River of Darkness in the language of the tribes - hints at a deeper and more frightening truth. They wonder why the Celts made the river a place of sacrifice, casting their most precious possessions into its depths. They wonder what powers the Celts sought to appease. They wonder how those powers must feel ,now that the Romans, having adopted the practice of sacrificing to the Thamesis as their own, are offering broken knives and craked pottery instead of magnificent suits of armor. They don't voice these fears, knowing that their compatriots will only scorn them. London has, after all, stood for more than two hundred and fifty years without any dark and ancient power emerging from the river to threaten it.

Yet.