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A wounded stranger comes to a Roman villa in the Rhone Valley.

Submitted: December 02, 2007

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Submitted: December 02, 2007




From the archives of the late Sir Richard Gould-Davies, MBE,

Professor of Roman History at the University of Manchester, UK

A Fantasy


James Gagiikwe 2005

Dr. Charles Goudineau,

Professor of Archaeology

McGill University

The Department of Anthropology

Leacock Building, Room 17G

855 Sherbrooke Street West

Montreal, Quebec Provence


Dear Professor Goudineau,

I am the retired chair of Roman History at the University of Manchester.Dr. Christian Ouellette, Director of the Vienne Museum, was kind enoughto supply your name when I made enquiries about future Gallo-Romandigs southeast of Vienne. I would like to bring a particular site to your

attention, as, according to the locals and Dr. Ouellette, there does notappear to have been any excavations carried out there as yet.

This past summer, while trekking along the Rhone Valley south of VienneI spent several days in the vicinity of the petit hamlet of Le Bosquet du Gal.Interspersed among various walls and foundations in the village I observedremnants of Roman stonework. I assumed that these were salvagedfrom some local site. I discussed this with the local inhabitants.

On the small plateau above the houses, in the dense copse of trees afterwhich the hamlet appears to be named, I came across some traces ofwhatI believe to be a Gallo-Roman farmstead. I was also able to trace remnantsof a water conduit. Some of the plateau is summer pasture, with an unimprovedroad running from the village through the hills to the Vienne-Grenoblemotorway. The copse, approximately 5 acres, is much wilder and denserthan the surrounding woodlands. Except for the Maquis during the war,and the occasional farmer seeking firewood or stray livestock, no oneseems to venture often into that thicket.

If you should ever organize a dig for this site I would very much appreciatebeing contacted.

Thank you very much for your time and attention.

Yours most humbly,

Sir Richard Gould-Davies, MBE

“The Oaks”

September 14, 1973

Montreal, Canada


The phone in his office rang. “Good morning, Montrl Museum of Archaeology and History. Henri Dupointe here,” he answered.

“Bon jour Henri,” the cheerful Frenchman’s voice came crackling through the international connection, “Christian Ouellette calling.”

“Christian, Hello! Good news I hope!”

“Indeed. Your submission regarding Bosquet du Gal has been approved.”

“Tremendous. Many thanks.”

“I just received the authorization myself. I’ll airmail the particulars immediately.”

“In that case I will begin making all the arrangements with the McGill University team. I’ll call you back when I’ve received your post.”

“Very well. Goodbye, Henri.”

“Goodbye Christian, and thank you.”

The curator thumbed through his Rolodex, and dialled a number.

“Professor Charles Goudineau? Henri Dupointe calling.”

“Good afternoon Director. How are you?”

“Just fine, thank you Charles. I am calling to inform you that the Montrl Museum of Archaeology and History, in cooperation with the Vienne Museum, has obtained permission for you to conduct an archaeological dig at Le Bosquet du Gal, Department du Rhone, starting this next season. I would like you to come to my office to discuss the conditions of the authorization. Can you meet me at 9am this Friday?”

“I certainly can, Director. May I bring some students with me?”

“Your field assistants?”


“Fine. See you then. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye Director.”

The professor reached out, pounded on the flimsy office partition, and shouted for his graduate assistant. “Marie! Marie! Come in here quickly!” A muffled affirmative came back through the partition. Marie Letourneau was used to the head of Archaeology at McGill University not using the intercom.


Rhone Valley

June, 1976

After two days’ orientation and discussions with Professor Christian Ouellette at the Vienne Museum, Professor Goudineau and his team took a bus to the petite hamlet of Le Bosquet du Gal, “the Grove of the Gaul”. A large pantechnicon followed them with the team’s equipment. Setting up in a field outside of the village took two days. Local residents wandered by from time to time to see these strange Canadians. Jean Duprey, defacto mayor of the hamlet, came by “officially” several times a day to see that their needs were met. Their ‘dig’ was on his farm. Arrangements were made for the local Cafto supply a daily lunch and an evening meal for the team. The Cafowner, Duprey’s cousin, looked forward to earning a year’s income in a single summer! He hoped the team would spend several summers here. Duprey benefited also. He not only received a payment for use of his land, but the trees felled to open the site would be removed and milled for him at the university’s expense.

Marie Letourneau, PhD candidate and Goudineau’s graduate assistant at McGill, was a master of logistics, and a mildly bossy ‘big sister’ to the other two budding archaeologists, Master’s degree candidates Martin Gudreaux and James Campbell. Letourneau and Gudreaux were both from Montreal, Campbell from Windsor. All were meticulous in the field, and made a good core team around which the undergraduate students could coalesce.

Her mental check list ticked off items….Two work tents, three sleeping tents; one for Goudineau, one for the 6 male students, one for the 4 female students, a commons tent..…..Equipment to be stored in one of Duprey’s outbuildings…..Day two, check and double-check equipment….hire & brief 3 local workers…... Day three, begin actual survey of the plateau….


The whole team, professor-grad students-undergrads, sat in the commons tent, nursing their coffee. “Today,” began Goudineau, “we will do a sweep of the woods. Each grad student has been assigned a local workman, and several undergrads as a permanent working party. See the list posted on the sitemap. Starting from the road we will move through the area to the old conduit, marking each item or area of interest with a stake. We will then alternate places, and sweep back over the area, marking anything missed. Then we will chart and measure the larger concentrations, and mark trees for removal. I hope we can complete this and the site clearing by the end of the week.”


Rhone River Valley Autumn - 357AD


Hearing noises ahead on the game trail, and catching the acrid scent of man, a doe bounds deeper into the forest. Behind her an injured man staggers half-blind through the underbrush and falls into a gravel-bedded gully. Mind drifting, feverish and regressed in a childhood memory, he appeals for aid –

Grandmother…………………………I am injured Grandmother

………….Medicine………….bad pain


A brace of rabbits slung from his belt, Brutus moved back along the game trail towards the farm. “Brutus” was neither an ‘idiot’ nor a ‘brute’, but strong, observant, intelligent, and very quiet. Because of these qualities Mistress Cornelia had called him ‘Brutus’ in friendly jest since her childhood. His given name was Appius. Only he, of all the latifundia’s slaves, had the right to call her ‘Cornelia’ to her face. Now, after checking his traps in the deep woods in the mountains above the farmstead, he sensed unease in the forest. He guessed some large animal was moving about. He was wary.

As he came to a minor junction in the paths the drone of insects and a noise in the undergrowth caught his attention. He saw that a trail of broken twigs and trampled undergrowth angled away from the Y-junction. He listened intently. Sniffing the air he smelled blood. There - low on a branch - blood - he reached out, touched, tasted – the coppery taste of human blood. Cautiously he followed the trampling into the undergrowth. More blood. The drone of flies was coming from a shallow gully. Looking down he saw a severely injured man barely covered in shredded and bloodstained garments.

There was no evidence of a weapon by the body. He moved to the man. The stranger was delirious, eyes half open, lips mangled. To Brutus’ ears he was mumbling incomprehensibly.

Was he a Barbarian! …. Goth? … Allemanni? Brutus asked himself this knowing there had recently been a battle far north on the Rhine at Argentoratum. All of the Rhone Valley basked in relief at the Legion’s victory. But that was so far away.

Flies buzzed and maggots gorged. As Brutus began to examine him the man groaned at his touch but remained unconscious. Brutus estimated the wounds to be several days old, too recent, and Argentoratum to distant, for this man to have been involved. The man’s scalp had been torn, exposing the skull; the right earlobe only mangled tissue. His skin was peppered with gashes and abrasions from shoulder to feet, which were bare and bruised. Chunks of flesh had been gouged from his arm and thigh. Brutus tore the scraps of fabric away from the man’s torso and used them as a bandage to bind the scalp wound.

Lifting him like a sack, the farmstead’s overseer carried the butchered figure the two kilometres back to the farmstead. Nearing the rear farmyard gate he shouted “Mistress! Mistress!” Jogging into the courtyard he yelled again “Mistress, help!”, and next cried out for his wife, “Lucia, come quickly!” and then for his daughter, “Fabia, hurry!”

Winded from the exertion he laid the bloodied body on a pile of fresh straw by the stable and momentarily leaned against the wall. He was tossing the brace of rabbits toward the kitchen door as Fabia rushed out. Seeing the man’s horrible injuries she screamed once and froze. Cornelia and Lucia ignored her as they ran from the spinning-shed towards Brutus and the flayed man. “He lives,” Brutus commented between winded breaths.

Cornelia made the sign of the Cross, dropped to her knees and began to examine the stranger. Compassion mixed with caution as she made her assessment. Rising, she commanded “Lucia, run to my father’s! Tell him we have a critically injured man, and would he please send us ‘the Greek’ immediately.” Lucia rushed through the house and down the road towards the villa in the valley.

“Fabia!”…Fabia, catatonic, did not respond. Cornelia faced the teenager. “Fabia!” She shook her. “Fabia, Go! Boil water! Bring clean cloths!” She clapped her hands in front of the teenager’s face. “Now Fabia!” The sound broke her stupefaction and she ran to carry out her mistress’s commands.

“Brutus, bring some unmixed wine to wash the wounds. We can move him to Justus’ bedroom after the Greek arrives.”

“Do not kill the maggots, Cornelia, they will help cleanse the wounds,” he advised as he moved to do her bidding.

“After you’ve brought the wine,” Cornelia ordered over her shoulder, “ help Fabia bring the hot water.”

Cornelia began praying as she pulled off the last remnants of the man’s bloodied clothing. “Lord Jesus, God our Healer, help us now to tend to this man as the Good Samaritan would. I ask that you preserve this man’s life. Give the Greek wisdom. Protect us from all harm. Amen”.

Brutus brought back a pitcher of wine, another of hot water, and a small bowl. He started to pick off some of the maggots and place them in the bowl. An apprehensive Fabia carried several old towels and a number of clean cloths. “Cleanse the head last of all,” Brutus advised, “it will require the most care.”


The ten-year old grimaced as his grandmother daubed the gash on his knee with her astringent natural remedy.

““Ouch!.….. Nookimis? Why do you use the sap of stinging nettles?”

“It heals the cut faster, my little fox. God gave us good medicines, in the woods, in the flowers. We should use them and be thankful. Now, go. Finish your chores in the orchard. Mishkoomis and your parents will be back soon.”

“Yes…..Thank you Nookimis.”


The injured man actually looked worse after the caked blood was removed, the wounds more apparent, and deep bruising was revealed along his legs and ribs. Cornelia and Brutus removed the temporary bandage carefully, attempting to retain as much scalp as possible. Blood flowed freshly from the flayed area. A signet ring adorned his right hand. He wore two necklaces, one a silver Cross, and the other with metal ornaments. “A Believer?” she questioned aloud. Carefully she put these possessions aside.

‘The Greek’ arrived from the villa within fifteen minutes, carrying some of his potions and ointments in a bag over his shoulder. Lucia arrived five minutes later, followed by a gaggle of women from the villa that had come to gawk at the injured stranger. Cornelia sent them into the farmhouse to prepare Justus’s bedroom.

‘The Greek’, a slave trained as a physician, was Cornelius’ most prized possession. He often ‘rented’ him to other landowners to assist with births and injuries. Being also well versed in animal husbandry made him doubly valuable. He bent down, and listened to the victim’s shallow, rapid breathing. Then he examined the head wound, giving great attention to the exposed skull. Turning to Cornelia he said, “Mistress, this man may not live. He already has a fever. All I can do is sew him up, and give you some medicines and tonics to use. He will loose the earlobe, regardless. Only God and rest can cure him.”

“And if he survives?” she asked.

“Head wounds are difficult to judge. He may recover all his abilities, or he may not.”

“What caused the wounds? A battle? An animal? A beating?”

The ‘Greek’ looked inquisitively at Brutus, who shrugged his answer. “These are not the marks of a bear or a boar. Perhaps a flagrum or a scorpion , he may be an escaped prisoner or soldier, but I cannot be sure.”

“Let’s move him now.” Cornelia commanded. “You can work on him in Justus’ room.”


The maggots Brutus had set aside feasted that morning on the remaining dead tissue. Cornelia removed them once the wounds were cleansed. The Greek, with Cornelia and Lucia’s help, severed the shredded earlobe, cauterised it and several smaller wounds, and begin sewing. The scalp wound he left to last. “The maggots have prepared this well,” he observed as he examined the exposed section of cranium. Removing several small flakes of bone he told Cornelia, “He probably has a fractured skull…” he pulled some skin aside “….see where it is gouged? Whatever hit him did not chop, but scraped along. Otherwise he’d be dead, or paralysed.I won’t have to perform a trephining.” At the Greek’s suggestion, Cornelia put lavender in the room to freshen the air, and made a poultice of mouldy cheese and crushed juniper berries for the head wound. When finished, they clad him in a loincloth and covered him with a thin blanket.

The ‘Greek’ had prepared soporifics for the patient. Mixed with wine, Cornelia administered it every time the man stirred toward consciousness. Over the following four days the stranger lingered in the twilight of a fevered semi-coma. Cornelia rarely left the bedside. Brutus carried a divan to Justus’ bedroom for her to recline upon. She continually prayed. Several times, after she had administered the medication, he would yawn and mutter what sounded like gibberish to her. Daily she daubed her patient with a solution made from the juice of crushed laurel leaves and the oil ofChamomile. She had often used this to heal wounds and reduce inflammation on people and animals. As per the physician’s instructions, she renewed the cheese-mould poultice every two days.


Her sister “Cornelia the Elder”, four years her senior, lived in Vienne near Cornelius’ magnificent town house, with Claudius, her wealthy wine merchant husband. “Cornelia the Younger” had married his younger brother, Tiberius, when she was sixteen. Her father had given them the smallholding on the plateau as a wedding gift, knowing that Cornelia the Younger loved it so. Justus was four, and she twenty-two when Tiberius died of a fever upon his return from a trip to Rome. Never for a moment had she thought of giving up the management of the Upper Farm. She had always disliked Vienne. The pigs, sheep, goats, fields of wheat, an orchard, a late fruiting vineyard, the aqueduct, the forest and its firewood, herbs and animals. All these absorbed her and filled her with pleasure. In all these things she could honour God.

She was a good steward. She’s had had her pick of her father’s slaves, and had chosen her childhood minder, Appius – Brutus, and his wife Lucia, as the overseer. Fabia, their daughter, she mentored as her personal household slave. A goatherd and his family already lived at the end of the plateau. Seasonal field workers came up from the villa as needed. Her husband had brought one manservant, sent back after Tiberius died. Cornelia, from the first, joined in manual tasks, as she always had at the villa. Making cloth, though tedious, was her special craft. She had all these things, and especially her faith in Christ Jesus, to fall back on when her husband died.


Often delirious, the stranger muttered incomprehensibly. Once he awoke, momentarily clear-headed, looked straight at Cornelia, and said something in his native language. The admiring look and the tone were unmistakable, and she blushed. After a draft of the soporific he went back to sleep. That night, as she sat next to his bed praying aloud, he used a scolding tone in a febrile conversation with some phantom of memory.

By the fourth day the fever began to abate.

As the swelling in his face and scalp lowered, his features, though now permanently marred, became more identifiable. His irregular stubble beard could be shaved when the cuts healed some more. His head was long with high cheekbones; a strong chin, an aquiline nose, dark brown eyes and closely cut dark hair now becoming unkempt. He looked about her age. Underneath the wounds his muscles were taut, his skin tan all over, and his hands knew work. He was certainly not Gallo-Roman. He was unlike any of the Germans or Goths in the Legions she had seen. Nor of any of the foreign wine merchants she’d met in Vienne.

On the fifth morning he stirred, slowly opened his eyes and spoke briefly in a sleepy voice.Falling back when he tried to sit up, he put his hand on his bandaged head and groaned. Then he smiled painfully at Cornelia and looked around the room. He raised his eyebrows in puzzlement and pain.

Fabia brought some lentil soup, and a piece of bread dipped in honey. He ate ravenously, and motioning for more, held out the bowl. When he had finished two bowlfuls he rested, but was awake again by midday. That afternoon she brought him a new tunic she had made herself. Walking into the room, Cornelia found her patient sitting on the edge of the bed tangled in his coverlet. Instinctively she made the sign of the Cross and thanked God aloud as she untangled him. The man watched her closely, knotting his brows. She helped him put on the tunic, and he smiled. Then, exhausted by the effort, he lay back down and was soon asleep again.


End of Part 1

© Copyright 2018 James Gagiikwe. All rights reserved.

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