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Chapter 37 in my novel of a (former) Vestal Virgin in Ancient Rome and her friendship with Julius Caesar.

The Vix crater is a huge wine-mixing bowl found in the grave of a great lady who lived during the late 6th century BCE in what is now Burgundy. Photo: Wikimedia.

Gaius Julius Caesar to Lucia, servant of the Goddess, greetings. I pray that you continue in health and piety, and that you take care to look upon the light of the sun now and then.

I am wintering in Nearer Gallia to conduct the assizes in the larger cities; at present I am situated in Aquileia. The people of this province feel just as they ought toward Roma, and are ready to render me any service; they are worthy of the right of citizenship, as I shall urge my friends in Roma to consider. News, I hope, has come to you of my efforts to prevent the migration of the Helvetii. They crossed the river Rhodanus in great numbers, posing a threat to the stability of Gallia Across the Alps and the Domitianic Road to Hispania. I composed a detailed report and have ordered its wide distribution in Roma, with public readings, for it is essential to my plans that the name of Caesar remain current in the minds of the People.

A series of unusual events happened during this Helvetian campaign, which caused me to think of you. As my men were patrolling the shores of the Rhodanus, they found the remains of a burial mound which had been washed away by a spring flood. This mound contained a chariot, sadly deteriorated by the ravages of time and the action of the water, though the surviving parts are of singular beauty, inlaid with ivory and gems. Together with this was a huge silver vat for mixing wine, quite the greatest I have seen. It is large enough to hold thirty amphoras of liquid, and weighs as much as three men. The Gallic chieftains have a great thirst for wine, and they will trade a slave in prime condition for a single amphora of Chian red. The occupant of this magnificent tomb appeared to be female, from the ornaments which mingled with her scattered bones. I ordered these to be re-buried with due honors, but I retained possession of the great mixing-bowl.

About a week later, when I was in Genava supervising preparations to destroy the bridge over the Rhodanus and forestall the migration of the Helvetii, a woman drove just such an elaborate chariot over the bridge and presented herself to me as Briucacha, queen of the Tulingi. The creatures drawing her chariot were marvelous to see, like stags, but with only one horn protruding from the center of their foreheads. I am told that these beasts inhabit the Hercynian Forest, north of Genava, and that their young are captured and reared by hand, in order to render them tame for the use of royal men and women.  

Briucacha was dressed in a splendid tunic embroidered with gold and silver threads, tightly cinched with a belt made of large silver links. Over this she wore a wool cloak dyed purple, and her hair was braided into a sort of horsetail which hung to the backs of her knees. She stated that unlike the other Helvetii, she had not burned her towns and had no plans to participate in the migration, for she never trusted Orgetorix, the author of this project. Indeed, she said, Orgetorix’s treachery had been revealed, in that he hoped to usurp royal prerogatives for himself.

This Briucacha told me that her name meant “powerful head” and pertained to the veneration with which the Gauls treat the severed heads of their captured enemies. She further intimated that the divinatory practices of her people include speaking with such preserved heads, through whose lips the messages of their gods are delivered. Her oracle advised her that I was likely to become master of all Gallia, and therefore she wished to have sexual congress with me in order to conceive a strong son, after which she would remain installed across the river. On the other hand, she said, she was bound by ties of blood and faith to defend the Boii, who had decided to join the migration. Thus, she might have no alternative but to fight us, if the Boii were endangered. She was desirous of my opinion in the matter.

You may well imagine, Lucia, with what surprise I received this information. I thought it would be in Roma’s interests, and my own, if Briucacha formed a firm alliance with me. Unfortunately, despite my most enthusiastic efforts, she ended by joining the Boii in the battle at Bibracte and was killed; perhaps she judged it preferable to keep faith with her Gallic friends. I gave orders that she should be buried according to the customs of her people, on the other side of the Rhodanus, and I contributed the mighty silver mixing vessel in her honor.

I know that you join me in mourning our dear Fabia. She was one of my oldest friends, and the one in whom I confided most, for I told her things that even Servilia does not know. You are no doubt aware that I have entrusted my darling Julia to Pompeius Magnus as an outward sign of our mutual amity. I am reliably informed that he adores her and that she is quite fond of him. He jokes that very soon he shall have a Micro-Magnus.

Commend me to your Goddess, mea lux, for I shall need her help in Spring. If you wish to write to me, give the letter to my freedman Gaius Julius Ariston at the Royale.

Copyright 2020 by Linnet Moss

Historical note: Briucacha is fictional but her people, the Tulingi, were real. My story draws inspiration from the grave of the “Lady of Vix” which contained a chariot, gold and amber jewelry, and a fabulous wine-mixing vessel. (The Vix Lady lived centuries before Caesar so I imagine him as a kind of archaeologist, examining her tomb.) The one-horned animals who draw Briucacha’s chariot sound fanciful but Caesar reports them as living in the Hercynian Wood (= the Black Forest). He probably did not see these creatures himself, and his description sounds like an abnormal stag with one antler. Still, his is the first report of a unicorn in Western literature.