Around the 1st or early 2nd century in the Roman Empire, a man named Metilius Crispus and his traveling companions mysterious disappeared without a trace. Crispus was journeying to take up a military command in the Roman army when the mysterious event took place. The man’s disappearance was recorded by his close friend, Pliny the Younger (c. 61/62-113), a wealthy lawyer, bureaucrat and statesman, who was known to invest in the careers of up-and-coming individuals in the Roman Empire. In fact, Pliny had loaned Metilius Crispus a great deal of money before his disappearance, which gave Pliny all the more reason to be concerned for his friend’s wellbeing and whereabouts. Pliny the Younger, a prolific letter-writer, wrote about this topic of what “befell my fellow-townsman Metilius Crispus” in a letter sent to a colleague named Baebius Hispanus; he wrote: “I had obtained his promotion to the rank of centurion and had given him 40,000 sesterces for his outfit and equipment when he set out, but I never had a letter from him afterwards, nor any news of his death. Whether he was killed by his slaves or along with them, no one knows: at any rate, neither Crispus nor any of them were seen again…” (Pliny the Younger, Letters, 6.25). As he explained in his letter, Pliny, after handing over money to Crispus and watching him depart for the military, never heard from, or of, the man ever again. Pliny never discovered the truth of what happened, be it murder or some less nefarious ending, such as the man simply running away with the wealth. For his part, Pliny the Younger suspected the worst, believing the likeliest story was that Metilius Crispus possibly had been killed on the road. Whatever the case, Pliny the Younger, despite his close connections to Rome’s emperor and other government officials, never was able to locate Crispus or his traveling companions, regardless of if they were living or dead. They had vanished without a trace.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Illustration labeled Encamped Roman soldiers, by Carl Nebel (c. 1805-1855), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the NYPL Collections).
- The Letters of Pliny the Younger, translated by Betty Radice. New York: Penguin Classics, 1963, 1969.