I[1arg] That it is written in the Annals of Quintus Claudius that wood smeared with alum does not burn.
THE rhetorician Antonius Julianus, besides holding forth on many other occasions, had once declaimed with marvellous charm and felicity. For such scholastic declamations generally show the characteristics of the same man and the same eloquence, but nevertheless are not every day equally happy. We friends of his therefore thronged about him on all sides and were escorting him home, when, as we were on our way up the Cispian Hill, we saw that a block of houses, built high with many stories, had caught fire, and that now all the neighbouring buildings were burning in a mighty conflagration. Then some one of Julianus' companions said: “The income from city property is great, but the dangers are far greater. But if some remedy could be devised to prevent houses in Rome from so constantly catching fire, by Jove! I would sell my country property and buy in the city.” And Julianus replied to him in his usual happy and graceful style: “If you had read the nineteenth book of the Annals of Quintus Claudius, that excellent and faithful writer, you would surely have learned from Archelaus, a praefect of king Mithridates, by what method and by what skill you might prevent fires, so that no wooden building of yours [p. 61] would burn, even though caught and penetrated by the flames.” I inquired what this marvel of Quadrigarius 1 was. He rejoined: “In that book then I found it recorded, that when Lucius Sulla attacked the Piraeus in the land of Attica, and Archelaus, praefect of king Mithridates, was defending it against him, Sulla was unable to burn a wooden tower constructed for purposes of defence, although it had been surrounded with fire on every side, because Archelaus had smeared it with alum.” The words of Quadrigarius in that book are as follows: 2 “When Sulla had exerted himself for a long time, he led out his troops in order to set fire to a single wooden tower which Archelaus had interposed. He came, he drew near, he put wood under it, he beat off the Greeks, he applied fire; though they tried for a considerable time, they were never able to set it on fire, so thoroughly had Archelaus covered all the wood with alum. Sulla and his soldiers were amazed at this, and failing in his attempt, the general led back his troops.”