Cassiodorus, as praetorian prefect, orders the tribunes of the coast to be prepared to transfer the victuals from Istria to Ravenna by sea.
Tribunis maritimorum senator praefectus praetorio.
Data quid iussione censuimus ut Histria vini, olei vel tritici species, quarum presenti anno copia indulta perfruitur, ad Ravennatem feliciter dirigeret mansionem. Sed vos, qui numerosa navigia in eius confìnio possidetis, pari devotionis gratia providete, ut quod illa parata est tradere, vos studeatis sub celeritate portare. Similis erit quippe utrisque gratia perfectìonis, quando unum ex his dissociatum implori non permittit effectum. Estote ergo promptissimi ad vicina, qui sepe spaciaa transmittitis infinita.
Per hospicia quodammodo vestra discurritis, qui per patriam navigatis. Accedit eciam commodis vestris, quod vobis aliud iter aperitur perpetua securitate tranquillum. Nam cum ventis sevientibus mare fuerit clausum, via vobis panditur per amenissima fluviorum. Carine vestre flatus asperos non pavescunt: terram cum summa felicitate contingunt et perire nesciunt, que frequenter inpingunt. Putantur eminus quasi per prata ferri, cum eorum contingit alveum non videri. Tracte funibus ambulant, que stare rudentibus consuerunt et condicione mutata pedibus iuvant homines naves suas: vectrices sine labore trahunt et pro pavore velorum utuntur passu prosperiore nautarum.
Iuvat referre quemadmodum habitationes vestras sitas respeximusb. Venecie predicabiles quondam plene moribusc ab austro Ravennam Padumque ab oriente contingunt iucunditate Ionii litoris perfruuntur: ubi alternus estus egrediens modo claudit, modo aperit faciem reciproca inundatione camporum. Hic vobis aquatilium avium more domus est. Nam qui nunc terrestris, modo cernitur insularis, ut illic magis estimes esse Cycladas, ubi subito locorum facies respicis immutatas.
Earum quippe similitudine per equora longe patencia domicilia videntur sparsa, que natura protulit, sed hominum cura fundavit. Viminibus enim flexibilibus illigatis terrena illic soliditas aggregatur et marino fluctui tam fragilis municio non dubitatur opponi, scilicet quando vadosum litus moles eicere nescit undarum et sine viribus fertur quod altitudinis auxilio non iuvatur.
Habitatoribus igitur una copia est, ut solis piscibus expleantur. Paupertas ibi cum divitibus sub equalitate convivit. Unus cibus omnes reficit, habitacio similis universa concludit, nesciunt de penatibus invidere et, sub hac mensura degentes evadunt vitium, cui mundum constat esse obnoxium.
In salinis autem exercendis tota contentio est: pro aratris, pro falcibus chilindros volvitis: inde vobis fructus onmis enascitur, quando in ipsis et que non facitis possidetis. Moneta illic quodammodo percutitur victualis. Arti vestre omnis fluctus addictus est. Potest aurum minus aliquis querere, nemo est qui salem non desideret invenire, merito, quando isti debet omnis cibus quod potest esse gratissimus.
Proinde naves, quas more animalium vestrisd parietibus illigatis, diligenti cura reficite, ut, cum vos vir experientissimus Laurentius, qui ad procurandas species directus est, commonere temptaverit, festinetis excurrere, quatenus expensas necessarias nulla difficultate tardetis, qui pro qualitate aeris compendium vobis eligere potestis itineris.
a) apatia ed. Mommsen. b) esse perspeximus ed. Mommsen. c) nobilibus ed. Mommsen. d) tuis sup. l. add. al. man.
Cassiodorus senator, praetorian prefect, to the tribunes of the coasts.
I previously ordered that Istria should send to the court at Ravenna the commodities of wine, oil and corn, of which, this year, it enjoys a lavish quantity. But do you, who have many ships on its borders, provide with equally obliging loyalty, and take pains to transport speedily what that region is ready to supply. Indeed, the favour of accomplishment is alike for both parties, since the one without the other cannot complete the work. Be prepared, then, for a voyage to neighbouring parts, you who often cross vast distances.
You are, in a way, traversing your own guest-rooms, as you sail through your country. Among your advantages, moreover, another route is available to you, forever safe and calm. For, when the sea is closed by the raging of the winds, a path through pleasant river country is opened to you. Your keels do not fear the storm blasts; in their great good fortune, they hug the land and often run aground but are never lost. From a distance, when their channel cannot be seen, it looks as if they are moving through the fields. They were kept still by ropes, but they move drawn by cables; the course of things is changed, and men help their ships on with their own feet. Without effort, they pull their carriers; and, instead of the risks of sailing, the ships employ the more fortunate footsteps of the crew.
It is a pleasure to mention how I have seen your dwellings to be sited. The Venetian districts, famous and filled with noblemen from of old, touch Ravenna and the Po on the south. On the east, they enjoy the pleasures of the Adriatic coasts, where alternate tides in their movement now cover, now expose the face of the land, by their ebb and flow. Here you have your homes like sea-birds. For a man is seen now as a mainlander, now as an islander, so that you might think that here, instead, are the Cyclades, where you suddenly see the shapes of places changed.
Indeed, like those islands, houses can be seen stretching far away among the waters, not the work of nature, but built by human labour. For there, solid ground is heaped together by wattling flexible withies, and there is no hesitation in opposing so frail a bulwark to the sea's flood, since the shallows of that coast are unable to throw up a great weight of waters, and, unaided by depth, the waves have no force.
Now the inhabitants have one source of supply: they cram themselves with fish alone. There, rich and poor feed together on equal terms. One food keeps all alive; a similar dwelling houses everyone; they know no envy over their homes; and, living under this rule, they avoid a vice to which all the world is plainly subject.
All your rivalry, though, is in the salt-works. Instead of using ploughs and sickles, you roll grinding cylinders. Thence all your harvest is produced, since in them you have a resource you do not make. A food-stuff currency is coined there, so to speak. Every wave is the servant of your art. A man may have small interest in seeking gold, but there is no one who does not wish to acquire salt - rightly so, since all kinds of food owe to it the pleasure that they give.
So then, diligently refit the ships which you tie up to your walls like animals. Thus, when the most industrious Laurentius, who has been sent to obtain these victuals, shall remind you of your orders, you shall make all haste, and not delay the necessary supplies by any difficulty, since you have the advantage of being able to choose your route to fit the weather.
[S.J.B. Barnish (trans.), Selected Variae of Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator, Translated Texts for Historians 12 (Liverpool 1992), pp. 178-79]
A part of the series of letters regarding the agricultural situation in 6th-century Ostrogothic Istria. See more here.
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