Two for the Lions (Marcus Didius Falco Series #10)by Lindsey Davis
Marcus Didiu Falco has hit upon the perfect plan. He'll offer his services to Vespasian and Titus in conducting the "great Census" of AD 73 as a tax collector. If he does well, his fees will allow him to join the middle ranks and wed his long-suffering companion, Helena Justina. When a star gladiator ends up dead, Falco investigates.See more details below
Marcus Didiu Falco has hit upon the perfect plan. He'll offer his services to Vespasian and Titus in conducting the "great Census" of AD 73 as a tax collector. If he does well, his fees will allow him to join the middle ranks and wed his long-suffering companion, Helena Justina. When a star gladiator ends up dead, Falco investigates.
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My partner and I had been well set up to earn our fortunes until we were told about the corpse.
Death, it has to be said, was ever-present in those surroundings. Anacrites and I were working among the suppliers of wild beasts and gladiators for the arena Games in Rome; every time we took our auditing note tablets on a site visit, we spent the day surrounded by those who were destined to die in the near future and those who would only escape being killed if they killed someone else first. Life, the victors' main prize, would be in most cases temporary.
But there amongst the fighters' barracks and the big cats' cages, death was commonplace. Our own victims, the fat businessmen whose financial affairs we were so delicately probing as part of our new career, were themselves looking forwards to long, comfortable lives-yet the formal description of their business was Slaughter. Their stock-in-trade was measured as units of mass murder; their success would depend upon those units satisfying the crowd in straightforward volume terms, and upon their devising ever more sophisticated ways to deliver the blood.
We knew there must be big money in it. The suppliers and trainers were free men-a prerequisite of engaging in commerce, however sordid-and so they had presented themselves with the rest of Roman society in the Great Census. This had been decreed by the Emperor on his accession, and it was not simply intended to count heads. When Vespasian assumed power in a bankrupt Empire after the chaos of Nero's reign, he famously declared that he would need four hundred million sesterces to restore the Roman world. Lacking apersonal fortune, he set out to find funding in the way that seemed most attractive to a man with middle-class origins. He named himself and his elder son, Titus, as Censors, then called up the rest of us to give an account of ourselves and of everything we owned. Then we were swingeingly taxed on the latter, which was the real point of the exercise.
The shrewd amongst you will deduce that some heads of household found themselves excited by the challenge; foolish fellows tried to minimize the figures when declaring the value of their property. Only those who can afford extremely cute financial advisers ever get away with this, and since the Great Census was intended to rake in four hundred million it was madness to attempt a bluff. The target was too high; evasion would be tackled head-on-by an Emperor who had tax farmers in his recent family pedigree.
The machinery for extortion already existed. The Census traditionally used the first principle of fiscal administration: the Censors had the right to say: we don't believe a word of what you're telling us. Then they made their own assessment, and the victim had to pay up accordingly. There was no appeal.
No; that's a lie. Free men always have the right to petition the Emperor. And it's a perk of being Emperor that he can twitch his purple robe and augustly tell them to get lost.
While the Emperor and his son were acting as Censors, it would in any case be a waste of time to ask them to overrule themselves. But first they had to make the hard-hitting reassessments, and for that they needed help. To save Vespasian and Titus from being forced personally to measure the boundaries of estates, interrogate sweaty Forum bankers, or pore over ledgers with an abacus-given that they were simultaneously trying to run the tattered Empire after all-they were now employing my partner and me. The Censors needed to identify cases where they could clamp down. No emperor wants to be accused of cruelty. Somebody had to spot the cheats who could be reassessed without causing an outcry, so Falco & Partner had been hired-at my own suggestion and on an extremely attractive fee basis-to investigate low declarations.
We had hoped this would entail a cozy life scanning columns of neat sums on best quality parchment in rich men's luxurious studies: no such luck. I for one was known to be tough, and as an informer I was probably thought to have slightly grubby origins. So Vespasian and Titus had thwarted me by deciding that they wanted the best value for hiring Falco & Partner (the specific identity of my Partner had not been revealed, for good reasons). They ordered us to forget the easy life and to investigate the gray economy. Hence the arena. It was thought that the trainers and suppliers were lying through their teeth-as they undoubtedly were, and so was everybody. Anyway their shifty looks had caught the attention of our imperial masters, and that was what we were probing on that seemingly ordinary morning, when we were unexpectedly invited to look at a corpse.
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