The October Horse

The October Horse by Colleen McCullough Read Free Book Online

Book: The October Horse by Colleen McCullough Read Free Book Online
Authors: Colleen McCullough
Tags: Fiction, General, Historical, History, Ancient, Egypt
    Most who lived inside the old walls were at best modestly well off. The wealthiest in the population, all pure Macedonians, lived in beautiful garden suburbs west of the Moon Gate outside the walls, scattered between a vast necropolis set in parklands. Wealthy foreigners like Roman merchants lived outside the walls east of the Sun Gate. Stratification, thought Caesar: no matter where I look, I see stratification.
    Social stratification was extreme and absolutely rigid—no New Men for Alexandria!
    In this place of three million souls, only three hundred thousand held the Alexandrian citizenship: these were the pure-blood descendants of the original Macedonian army settlers, and they guarded their privileges ruthlessly. The Interpreter, who was the highest official, had to be of pure Macedonian stock; so did the Recorder, the Chief Judge, the Accountant, the Night Commander. In fact, all the highest offices, commercial as well as public, belonged to the Macedonians. The layers beneath were stepped by blood too: hybrid Macedonian Greeks, then plain Greeks, then the Jews and Metics, with the hybrid Egyptian Greeks (who were a servant class) at the very bottom. One of the reasons for this, Caesar learned, lay in the food supply. Alexandria did not publicly subsidize food for its poor, as Rome had always done, and was doing more and more. No doubt this was why the Alexandrians were so aggressive, and why the mob had such power. Panem et circenses is an excellent policy. Keep the poor fed and entertained, and they do not rise. How blind these eastern rulers are!
    Two social facts fascinated Caesar most of all. One was that native Egyptians were forbidden to live in Alexandria. The other was even more bizarre. A highborn Macedonian father would deliberately castrate his cleverest, most promising son in order to qualify the adolescent boy for employment in the palace, where he had a chance to rise to the highest job of all, Lord High Chamberlain. To have a relative in the palace was tantamount to having the ear of the King and Queen. Much though the Alexandrians despise Egyptians, thought Caesar, they have absorbed so many Egyptian customs that what exists here today is the most curious muddle of East and West anywhere in the world.
    •      •      •
    Not all his time was devoted to such musings. Ignoring the growls and menacing faces, Caesar inspected the city's military installations minutely, storing every fact in his phenomenal memory. One never knew when one might need these facts. Defense was maritime, not terrestrial. Clearly modern Alexandria feared no land invasions; invasion if it came would be from the sea, and undoubtedly Roman.
    Tucked in the bottom eastern corner of the western, Eunostus, harbor, was the Cibotus—the Box—a heavily fortified inner harbor fenced off by walls as thick as those at Rhodes, its entrance barred by formidably massive chains. It was surrounded by ship sheds and bristled with artillery; room for fifty or sixty big war galleys in the sheds, Caesar judged. Not that the Cibotus sheds were the only ones; more lay around Eunostus itself.
    •      •      •
    All of which made Alexandria unique, a stunning blend of physical beauty and ingenious functional engineering. But it was not perfect. It had its fair share of slums and crime, the wide streets in the poorer Gamma-Rhakotis and Epsilon Districts were piled high with rotting refuse and animal corpses, and once away from the two avenues there was a dearth of public fountains and communal latrines. And absolutely no bathhouses.
    There was also a local insanity. Birds! Ibises. Of two kinds, the white and the black, they were sacred. To kill one was unthinkable; if an ignorant foreigner did, he was dragged off to the agora to be torn into little pieces. Well aware of their sacrosanctity, the ibises exploited it shamelessly.
    At the time Caesar arrived they were in residence, for they fled the summer rains in

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