Monday, 27 July 2009

Saint George - 1. The Oasis

When the Roman Empire had reached its greatest expansion, it lost its fancy for further growth.
Every area that promised gains had been conquered and incorporated. The rest of the world consisted of desolate waste lands not worth development, nor conquest. Still, people were living there and as no one coveted their territory, they enjoyed long stretches of peaceful existence and it showed. Unencumbered by political passions, hubris and self-assertion, characteristic of natives of great, powerful states, they took for granted that the only sense of life was to be merry and love each other much.
Of course, even they needed some level of organisation, but it never amounted to very much, because without high roads a more extended domain would readily prove hard to control and roads in those days were a monopoly of the Romans.
So, on the fringes of the Roman Empire, there existed a lot of small nations. For the greater part they were led by a headman, sometimes called a king, within the confines of natural borders, be they mountain ranges, swamps, primeval forests, tracts of water or of sand.

Lybian oasis In the Libyan desert, that stretches from Egypt to the west, there was another such little realm. It all but occupied one of the larger oases and was named Silenia after its capital and only city, Silene, where also resided its king.
That it was surrounded by walls recalled the days when at times a band of Bedouin savages or Berbers would pass by, but ever since Egypt had become a Roman province this didn't happen anymore.
The only foreigners still around were Roman border patrols and these were always welcomed with hospitality and in peace.
Any isolated, tiny realm must be able to provide for its own wants, of course, as was the case here also. Beyond the oasis' natural yields a thriving trade of sheep-farming produced meat, milk and clothing, and besides, near the capital there happened to be a big, rich fish-pond, the depth of which was still for any one to guess. As it was highly valued for its contribution to the food supply, the whole population felt a magical reverence for it as well, because they believed this pond to be the ancient origin of the oasis itself.
How much time since had passed and how many royal dynasties had ruled Silenia from its earliest days nobody knew. History books were unknown, and indeed, what else could have been on record but that they were happy and loved each other much.
That's exactly why every one did remember so well the events that will be the subject of this story and which pulled off this whole affair.

English translation by Ronald Langereis © 2009
from the Dutch, "Sint Joris" by Belcampo, 1983

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