Ad Viarum, Camp of the I Augusta Ituraerorum sagittarii cohors, North East Iazygeia, May 248
There was a lot of time to do nothing in Ad Viarum’s cohort’s base, and none knew it better than Georgios Sprave, one of the soldiers of the I Augusta Ituraerorum sagittarii, a cohors of infantry attached to the IV Flavia Claudia legion from Arx Cubitus.
Set, as its name implied, at an important crossroad between Arx Cubitus, Arx Anconem and Porolissum, the fortress was almost equidistant from the three cities and formed the linchpin of the local defense : should any barbarian manage to take it, the road to Porolissum and the regional capital of Dacia at Napoca would be wide open for the pillaging.
The place was not as well protected by the Tisia as elsewhere due to its slow meandering ways, easily crossed, and the terrain was rather flat, idea cavalry country. Which made the fact that the I Augusta Ituraerorum sagittarii was an infantry unit even more of a weakness. Initially the cohors and been a contingent of allied archers but it had been transformed into an heavy cohors some seventy five years earlier, doubling its strength with a lot of medium infantry to become a more classical cohors milliaria.
Of course the cohors was not alone or isolated on the border, in fact two more powerful cohors equitata with around 250 horsemen in each were only a day’s walk from the camp, but it still made Ad Viarum painfully exposed to enemy raids.
Usually this was not so much of a problem because the barbarians on the other side of the river were the Cottini, a tribe similar to the Gauls and other Celtic tribes that the empire had so often vanquished. While they did sometime attempts small scale raids they were mainly farmers, and most of their army was made of infantry due to the hilly if not mountainous nature of their territory.
This led to soldiers such as Georgios Sprave having too much time on their hand. But unlike many other Sprave did not spend his free time drinking and shagging the four prostitutes of the inn near the southern gate or the three at the inn next to the bath.
His background was, as implied by his name, unusual : a greek women for mother and a german carpenter for father, he’d received his maternal grandfather’s first name and his father’s name for gentillice. Of course he was not a roman citizen and thus did not have the formal tria nomina, but he had a surname alright : artifex, often with the word insanus added to it. But while he might indeed be a tinkerer he was no mad, at least he did not feel so.
His father had taught him his woodworking skills from a tender age, but a life working wood for a few copper coins did not appeal to the young Georgios who enlisted at 16 for his 20 years of service, the piece of land and, more importantly, his citizenship at the end.
This did not mean he did not keep working wood in his free time. He built what his unit needed, looked for the bows of the unit's eponymous archers, and when he had time he looked at how to improve things.
A few months earlier his commander had brought him a broken manuballista, a small horizontal bow used mainly from horseback for hunting. It threw a larger dart than the conventional arrows shot by bows, and had much more penetrating power as shown by tests on discarded pieces of armour Sprave had been able to get his hands on for the purpose.
But the main problem with the weapon was that they were slow and awkward to reload. So George had made himself a copy of the commander’s restored hunting weapon and had then started doing what he did best, tinkering about with it. By trial and errors he’d built a new system that allowed quicker reload, at the cost of some range and penetration power, but he was still not satisfied.
He’d shown the improvements to his commander, who had been duly impressed and had given him more time to keep improving on his concept, allocating him some funds and some time of the local blacksmith so that he may . This led Sprave to another invention, that of a magazine holding seven bolts ready to fire. Combined with his already improved loading mechanism it made for a fearsome weapon…
But Sprave was not finished, truly he was on a roll for one of the unit’s archer asked him if he could fit such a system to a bow and, low and below, he did ! Calling his improvement the “instant Scythian”, he managed to create a detachable magazine and arrow guide that allowed very fast shooting of seven arrows : four arrows would already be in the air before the first hit the target.
It very soon showed a marked improvement in accuracy for the beginners of the unit, while also markedly increased the overall volume of fire of the unit as a whole. A contubernia of archers using the “instant Scythian” had been able to best all the other in the cohors in a test set up by the commander.
New of Sprave’s inventions had spread to Arx Cubitus and the legion’s tribunus machinatorum had praised the man for his inventiveness, setting him to the task of improving the fortress’ fixed ballistae, which he’d done by designing a magazine for them, although he did not yet find a way to improve the re-cocking process.
All those experimentations were now becoming very important because for once life was not boring at Ad Viarum… A horde of thousand of Scythians had come from the steppe, crashed through the Cottini territories and fallen upon the Empire’s border…
Inspiration for the “instant Scythian” : no modern technology needed !
And yes the name of today's character is a direct wink at this slightly crazy german guy