A while ago I was reading an article about some letters that were found at Vindolanda sent and received by the romans stationed there at around 400AD.

Here's one:

"I hope you are well, as I am.

Please send me 200 drachmae. When Gemellus came I only had 20 staters left. Now I've non left for I've bought a mule car and that has taken all my money. Please send a driving coat, an overcoat, a jacket and a pair of cushions.

And, dear Mother, do please send me my monthly allowance. You told me you would. 'Before you go to camp', you said, 'I will send one of your brothers,' and yet you have sent me nothing. You promised you wouldn't leave me broke and yet you do. You treat me like a dog. Father came to see me and he gave me nothing at all. They all laugh at me in the barrack-room and say, 'His Father's a soldier and he doesn't give him any money.'

Father promised me, 'When I get home I'll send you all you want,' yet he hasn't sent a thing. Valerius's Mother sent him a pair of bandoliers, plenty of olive oil, a nice packet of fresh meat and 200 drachmae.Please send me some money and don't leave me like this. I've had to borrow money from one of my mates, and from my sergeant.

My brother Gemellus wrote me a letter, but only sent me a pair of pants. I'm sorry I could not manage to see my brother when he came to see me, and he was sorry too. He sent me a reproachful letter because I went somewhere else. I'm writing this so you will know the truth about this. Please answer this letter quickly.

Give my greetings to all at home; Apollonarius, Valerius, Germinus and all our friends."

And here's another:

""Paria udonum ab Sattua solearum duo et subligariorum duo." Or - socks, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants. "

You see what this means? An entrepreneur could make a killing (no pun intended) with the roman army. With between thirty to sixty legions at various times that'd be between one and two million men all needing underpants. That's a lot of sesterces and a wise man takes his wedge where he can get it.

Sort of, it reminds me of when my mate Paul wanted to put a conservatory on the back of his house but he was a bit short of the readies. My ex-wife and I had gone up to visit him and his wife. Paul had a new shotgun that he wanted to show off so the two of us took it out to his garage away from the wimminfolk. "Give it a try" says Paul "There's only blanks in it." I points it up and pulls the trigger............and blow a twelve inch hole in the roof. "If you're trying to get rid of the garage we can do that without the shotgun" I told him "Have you still got that petrol out the back?". But, petrol wouldn't have much effect on his breezeblock garage while a big hole in the roof would. All the rain would come in and it'd be unusable. And this way Paul could claim on his insurance that he didn't make the hole himself.

Which takes me on. Paul is a pretty good electrician and he had a sideline of repairing videogames machines and selling them off to pubs. He was making a good profit and had more than thirty of them in his lock up at any one time. Then I saw an article in the 'paper that video games were the big thing in Russia. People were queueing up 'round the block to give their money away. Being a skilled mathmetician I could put two and two together so I rang the russian embassy in London with a proposal.

Could they put us in touch with some entrepreneurs in Moscow? We could share the cost of renting the premises. They'd run the business, we'd supply the machines and we'd share the profits. The embassy was well pleased. They even said we could have free flights on Aeroflot to meet our business partners. Paul and I reckoned we'd take the wives too. We all had visitors visas except my wife. She only had an entry visa. Apparently they still considered her a russian citizen and wanted to keep her. "Ah well" I thought "Plenty more fish in the sea". No point in mentioning complicated stuff like this to her. It'd only confuse her. She'd find out when she got there. Well, she'd find out when she tried to leave there anyway.

A few days later I get a visit from some men in grey suits. You know the sort. 'We're from the government and we're here to help you'. It turns out the russians were desperate to get their hands on video machines so they could take the processing chip out and put it into ICBMs' and then they could blow up Washington. We were warned that if we tried to take the games machines out of the Country we'd end up sitting in a concrete room and eating porridge for the next thousand years.

So, it was back to Pauls' lock up with a can of petrol then.