Old Roman Firemen.
The first Roman fire brigade was organized by the Emperor Augustus, and consisted of seven bands, each under a captain, charged with the protection from fire of two of the fourteen municipal districts. The prelect of the watch was the chief officer of the brigade. The weapon used by the firemen was termed a lama, but what this was is doubtful, as some writers maintain that it was a water bucket, and others a pole with a hooked end. There were incendiaries in those days, as at present. One of these is referred to under the name of Aiturius. who burned down his house, and then, as was the custom after the fire, sent around and solicited the help of his friends and neighbors, obtaining gifts that proved to be thrice the value of the goods destroyed by his willful act of arson. There was another custom by which many Roman millionaires, including the elder Cato and Crassus, obtained their riches. This was a kind of speculation in fires. At the first news of a building in flames the wealthy fire-monger—as the profession has been appropriately designated—hastened to the spot well provided with money and accompanied by a train of slaves. Rapidly estimating the value of the risk upon the basis of the probable salvage obtainable from the blazing house, he then tendered a sum—frequently absurdly small in proportion to the amount at ri-k-— to the owner, who, seeing that he was powerless to save anything, generally accepted the offer.
Thereupon the purchaser’s slaves were set to work to extinguish the flames, or, failing in that, to snatch everything possible from the burning building. It is recorded that Crassus, who obtained an immense fortune by this means, employed no less than 500 trained slaves in extinguishing a single fire. At a later date the hand pump, invented by Ctesibus of Alexandria, was used in Rome, but was soon superseded by a machine devised by Apollodorus, architect to the Emperor Trojan. This consisted of a pipe or pipes to which a leather bottle was attached, forming a crude sort of syringe, which appliance continued in use for some hundreds of years, and was only replaced by more modern apparatus in the seventeenth century. _