In my quest to find interesting things for you to read, dear reader, I unearthed this little gem in the British Museum the other day: It’s about a Briton who became a Roman citizen.
( Greek-Κοϊντόσης), Latin: Quintus Spurious Pontificatus – a.k.a Quintin the Ponce , Born Gaius Vindex., around AD 23, disappeared 26th June AD 79.
Wine taster to Emperor Vespasian, his was known for his long –winded ramblings when describing the taste a wine had he was testing for the Emperor. He rose to cult status after winning a drinking contest against tribune Ludicrus Josephus, which prevented the second battle of Dyrrhachium taking place; thus stopping civil war during the Year of the Four Emperors (AD69). Disappeared after the death of Vespasian 23rd June AD 79.
Quintus Spurious Pontificatus was in fact a Briton called Gaius Vindex and was of the Catuvellauni tribe in Kent. Little is known of his early life, it is thought he was an apprentice brewer to a Druid priestess, called by the Romans Scrubba Vulvaious.
He was, however, known to have been captured by a troop of cavalry from Vespasian’s Legio II Augusta at the little known skirmish of Milton Creek during the Roman invasion of Britain AD 43. This was when he is reported to have stopped Vespasian from necking a dodgy pint, shouting out “ Oi mate don’t drink that it’s shite, the good stuff is around the back, I’ll show ya”. So impressed was Vespasian by this barbarians honesty, in an act that stopped Vespasian from undoubtedly getting the shits, thus delaying the invasion, that he made Quintus his official wine taster. Later stories of this episode, spread by Tarquin the Piss-Head,(Tarquin Josephus, an enemy of Quintus) say that Quintus was in fact found laying face down drunk in a puddle and was taken in for questioning by the Praetorian Guard, during which he grassed-up all his mates who were getting ready for an attack on the Romans.
Life as Wine Taster
When Vespasian was fighting the length and breadth of Britain, Quintus would always have, much to Vespasian’s delight, an interesting brew, taken from a defeated tribe, waiting for him to try after the battle. Sometimes tasting notes were included to accompany the brew, which actually was bit of a waste of time seeing as Vespasian couldn’t sprechen Catuvellauni but it endeared Vespasian to the hairy Barbarian.
On his retirement from public life in AD51 Vespasian took Quintus back to Rome, which turned into a nice little earner for Quintus as he was able to opened bars all along the Via Sacra.
It was around this time that he met Tarquin, wine taster to Aggrippina , wife of Emperor Claudius. At first the two men were great friends, later they became bitter enemies. According to legend the enmity began when the boys were out on a bender celebrating Vespasian’s capture of Jerusalem in the first Roman-Jewish war AD 66-69. Miffed at Quintus for a perceived lack of not standing his round, Tarquin, using Quintus’s British name, Gaius, in an attempt to insult him ,shouted out in front of a packed taverna, ‘Oi gay-boy are you get the f***ing beers in or what?’.This resulted in Tarquin getting a broken nose from Quintus. And so the feud began.
The Year of the Four Emperors – Quintus’s time to shine.
After the death of Nero in AD68 Senator Galba took his chance and grabbed the vacant throne sharpish but he was murdered by Senator Otho who was in turn defeated by Senator Vitelius. This led to Otho’s mates, looking for another candidate to support, choosing a reluctant Vespasian.
We are lucky to have a scrap of parchment from the time still in existence, written by Centurion Raymondus Winstonii, it reads
‘So Vespasian got his boys tooled up and met Vitelius’s little firm near Dyrrhachium. Wot a bunch of muppet slags…..’ – There rest is indecipherable. (Now, be honest, how many of you knew muppet was a Roman word?)
Well tired of years of bloodshed and not wanting any more Roman blood spilt on either side Vespasian started to think of ways to avoid a battle. Remembering Quintus’s ability to drink copious amounts of alcohol he challenged Vitelius to find a champion for a drinking contest. If Vitelius’s man won, Vitelius would be Emperor and vice versa. Well needless to say it all got very messy but after three days Quintus was declared winner when his opponent Ludicrus Josephus couldn’t finish his last pint of nettle ale (although later, Tarquin was to claim that Ludicrus was in fact Quintus’s uncle Chas from Sittingbourne and had let Quintus win).
Quintus became a national hero, his statues were everywhere and he toured the empire with his drinking shows. At first all was well but as more and more drunkenness spread amongst the plebeians the Priests and the Senate demand that something be done to stop the spread of the Cult of Quintus. Nothing actually did happen until the death of Vespasian in AD 79, although it’s not known what. All references to Quintus disappear at this time. It’s believe that Tarquin seizing his opportunity led a propaganda campaign against him, certainly all status and busts, except one were destroyed. Some say Quintus accompanied Agricola back to Britain during the campaigns of expansion, then quietly slipped away and opened the first micro pub on Watling Street, near the village of Durolevum – modern day Ospringe in Kent.
He will forever be known to history however for using twenty words to describe a pint when four would have sufficed.