Cassiodorus, as praetorian prefect, informs the provincials of Istria that a part of their due tax will be commuted in kind.
Provincialibus Histriae senator praefectus praetorio.
Expensae publicae diversa temporum varietate titubantes hac ratione se poterunt continere, si proventum locorum sequatur salubritas iussionum. Illic enim facilis est procuratio, ubi fuerit fructus uberior. Nam si indicatur quod sterilitas ieiuna denegavit, tunc et provincia laeditur et effectus optabilis non habetur. Commeantium igitur attestatione didicimus Histriam provinciam a tribus egregiis fructibus sub laude nominatam, divino munere gravidam vini, olei vel tritici, praesenti anno fecunditate gratulari. Et ideo memoratae species in tot solidos datae pro tributaria functione vobis de praesenti prima indictione reputentur: reliqua vero propter sollemnes expensas relinquimus devotae provinciae.
Sed quoniam nobis in maiore summa sunt quaerenda quae diximus, tot solidos etiam de arca nostra transmisimus, ut res necessariae sine vestro dispendio uberrime debeant congregari. Frequenter enim, dum extraneis urgemini vendere, soletis damna sentire, eo praesertim tempore, cum vobis peregrinus emptor ereptus est et rarum est aurum capere, quando mercatores cognoscitis non adesse. Quanto vero melius est parere dominis quam praestare longinquis et debita fructibus solvere quam ementum fastidia sustinere!
Prodimus etiam amore iustitiae quod nobis suggerere poteratis, quia in pretio laedere non debemus, unde naulorum praebitionibus non gravamur. Est enim proxima nobis regio supra sinum maris Ionii constituta, olivis referta, segetibus ornata, vite copiosa, ubi quasi tribus uberibus egregia ubertate largatis omnis fructus optabili fecunditate profluxit. Quae non immerito dicitur Ravennae Campania, urbis regiae cella penaria, voluptuosa nimis et deliciosa digressio. Fruitur in septentrione progressa caeli admiranda temperie.
Habet et quasdam, non absurde dixerim, Baias suas, ubi undosum mare terrenas concavitates ingrediens in faciem decoram stagni aequalitate deponitur. Haec loca et garismatia plura nutriunt et piscium ubertate gloriantur. Avernus ibi non unus est. Numerosae conspiciuntur piscinae Neptuniae, quibus etiam cessante industria passim ostrea nascuntur iniussa. Sic nec studium in nutriendis nec dubietas in capiendis probatur esse deliciis.
Praetoria longe lateque lucentia in margaritarum speciem putes esse disposita, ut hinc appareat, qualia fuerint illius provinciae maiorum iudicia, quam tantis fabricis constat ornatam. Additur etiam illi litori ordo pulcherrimus insularum, qui amabili utilitate dispositus et a periculis vindicat naves, et ditat magna ubertate cultores. Reficit plane comitatenses excubias, Italiae ornat imperium, primates deliciis, mediocres victualium pascit expensis et quod illic nascitur, paene totum in urbe regia possidetur. Praestet nunc copias suas sponte magis devota provincia: amplius pareat, dum speratur, quando gratissime faciebat, dum minime quaereretur.
Sed ne aliqua iussionibus nostris dubietas nasceretur, Laurentium virum experientissimum et magnis nobis in re publica laboribus comprobatum cum praesenti auctoritate direximus, ut secundum breves subter annexos incunctanter expediat quod sibi pro expensis publicis iniunctum esse cognoscit. Nunc procurate quae iussa sunt. Vos enim facitis devotum militem, cum libenter suscipitis iussionem.
Pretia vero vobis moderata sequenti occasione declaramus, cum nobis praesentium gerulus nativitatis modum missa relatione suggesserit. Taxari enim aliquid non potest iuste, nisi copia rei evidenter potuerit indagari. Inaequalis est quippe arbiter, qui sententiam mittit in cassum et mali sibi probatur conscius, qui est indeliberata dicturus.
Cassiodorus senator, praetorian prefect, to the provincials of Istria.
The public budget, fluctuating with seasonal conditions, can be kept in bounds by this method: if the wholesome commands of the state match the local production. For, where the crops are richer, there procurement is easy. For, if something which hungry barrenness has denied is levied, then both the province is injured, and the desired result is not obtained. Now, by travellers' report, I have learnt that the province of Istria, which owes its glorious name to the triad of noble crops, and, by divine gift, teems with wine, oil and corn, is enjoying fertility in the present year. And therefore, the aforementioned foodstuffs, paid as tax to the value of y solidi, shall be credited to you for this, the first indiction [537-8]; but the surplus I leave for official expenses to the loyal province.
But, since I have to procure greater quantities of what I mentioned, I have also sent you z solidi from my treasury, that these necessities may be collected in great quantities without cost to you. For often, when you are under pressure to sell to outsiders, you suffer loss, especially at that season when you are deprived of foreign purchasers; and it is unusual to obtain gold when, as you know, the merchants are not there. But how much better it is to obey your rulers than to provide for distant regions, and to pay your dues in victuals, rather than to endure the arrogance of purchasers.
Moreover, what I, from love of justice, am proclaiming, is something that you might propose to me, since, where I am not burdened by shipping costs, I should do no injury in the price. For yours is the nearest region to us across the Ionian [Adriatic] Sea, covered with olives, glorious for its corn, rich in vines, where all crops flow in desirable fertility, as though from three udders generous in their milk. Not undeservedly, it is called the Campania of Ravenna, the store-room of the royal city, an only too pleasant and luxurious retreat. With its northward location, it enjoys a wonderfully mild climate.
It also has certain Baiaes of its own - I am not talking nonsense – where the rough sea enters the hollows of the coast, and is calmed to the smooth and lovely surface of a lake. These places also supply many garum factories, and glory in their wealth of fish. Not one Lake Avernus is found there. Many salt-water fish-pools can be seen, in which oysters breed everywhere spontaneously, even without labour. Thus, there need evidently be no care in feeding, nor uncertainty in catching these delicacies.
Great villas shine out far and wide: you would think them sited like pearls to show the taste of your ancestors in this province, which is plainly adorned by such buildings. That coast also has a most beautiful chain of islands; arranged with charm and utility, it both shields ships from danger, and enriches the farmers by lavish harvests. Istria clearly refreshes our hard-working court; it feeds the nobles on its luxuries, lesser men on its output of foodstuffs, and almost its entire produce is enjoyed by the royal city. Now let the loyal province more willingly furnish its supplies. It should comply fully when called on, since it used to perform most lavishly when there was no request.
But, lest any hesitation should arise over my commands, I have sent to you, by this authority, the most industrious Laurentius, tested by me in great labours for the state, so that, according to the appended directives [breves], he may expedite without delay what he knows has been entrusted to him for the state budget. Now procure what you are commanded to. For you will render yourselves loyal public servants by receiving your orders with pleasure.
But I shall declare the prices regulated for you on a subsequent occasion, when the bearer of this letter has sent me a report on the state of the harvest. For it is impossible to assess anything with justice unless the resources can be clearly ascertained. Indeed, it is an unfair judge who promulgates an impossible decree, and he who would pronounce without consideration clearly has a bad conscience.
[S.J.B. Barnish (trans.), Selected Variae of Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator, Translated Texts for Historians 12 (Liverpool 1992), pp. 176-77]