THERE SEEMED NO END to the blood, battles, armies, emperors, swords and navies. Strange how the teaching of Latin always began with 'amos, amas, amat', as if love were the cardinal impulse of all that language and empire.

The Last Of The Latin Masters knew something of this, having sailed with a different fleet where the Imperial galleys had once applied their mastery. This time it was fire and metal and death from the sky. The screaming heads of sailors in a burning sea of oil.

A couple of days in the sea, he said, turned bodies green and fat. And when you reached down to haul them in, their flesh came off in your hands.