Centurion Gaius Cornelius Antony of the Thundering Twelfth Legion is part of the largest Roman army fielded in over a hundred years, with a mission to take Jerusalem and crush the dying embers of the Jewish rebellion after three years of war. Known as a man of honour, Gaius' skill and leadership in battle is exemplary, yet his intuition to see its bloody outcome always haunts him. As the struggle for Jerusalem commences and crosses fill the landscape, he will lead his men boldly forward for the glory of Rome.
Judah ben Yosef is a Jewish man consumed by hate and bitterness at the murder of his betrothed; he will stop at nothing until the Roman responsible is dead, a man simply known as Capito. Judah's faith and desire for God to fill him with peace in the midst of war always stands before him and yet seems impossible. Thus, entangled in a city of starvation, disease, inner fighting, and competing warlords, Judah's loyalty, allegiance, and service will be tested as he yearns to fulfill his vengeance while Jerusalem is threatened by the fury of the legions.
Soon, Gaius and Judah, Roman and Jew, will meet and the survival of Jerusalem could be at stake.
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70 A.D.A War of the Jews
By PETER J. FAST
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Peter J. Fast
All right reserved.
Chapter One"For who is so worthless or indolent as not to wish to know by what means and under what system of polity the Romans in less than fifty-three years have succeeded in subjecting nearly the whole inhabited world to their sole government—a thing unique in history? Or who again is there so passionately devoted to other spectacles or studies as to regard anything as of greater moment than the acquisition of this knowledge?" ~Polybius, 200-118 B.C. 'The Histories'~
5th Day before the Ides of July Anno Domini 69
"Hail Imperator! Hail Imperator!" The thunder of voices rose up in unison from the walled camps causing horses penned inside a corral to toss their heads and back up uneasily. One such horse, a stallion, had heard the shouts of war before. This horse was accustomed to hardened years in the field and the chaos of battle. Standing sixteen hands high with muscular flanks, he had been bred in the hills of Spain to carry the iron fist of Rome to Germania, Britannia, and now to the ancient lands of the Jews. Adrenalin raced madly through his veins with the image of a reinforced and solid legionary charge clear within his mind's eye. The wall of red scuta would slam home, and the chopping sound of gladii biting into flesh would mix with the din of fighting men. These were all common sights and sounds for the stallion, as war was all it had ever known. The horse snorted loudly and turned around in its separate pen swishing his black tail at the flies. As his ears twitched, a stable boy grabbed the halter and soothed the stallion by rubbing his forehead and whispering to him quietly. The war equestrian thumped his hooves upon the earth while breathing heavily and then was calmed by the boy's warm voice as he whispered in Hebrew, "You want to charge into battle, ol' boy? Hey, Prometheus, what do you think?"
The boy glanced around as he listened to the voices which continued shouting beyond the canvas army tents around him. A Roman sentry on patrol slowly walked by with his scutum firmly pulled up against his left side; the shield bore golden lightning bolts of the Twelfth Legion which were emblazed upon the stretched linen cover. His pila rested against his scaled armour and his steel helmet concealed much of his face with the cheek guards firmly tied under his whiskery chin. The stable boy watched the guard stop between two tents and slowly turn to stare first at the horse and then into the young, tanned face of the boy.
"Hear that, lad?" The soldier beckoned to the shouting by jerking his head in the general direction. "He's earned it. The old man has earned it. Perhaps we'll see this through and go home to Roma." The man looked weary as he slowly turned and trudged on, disappearing behind the tents.
The boy slowly exhaled and stared back at the stallion which had calmed down despite the continued chanting. "Home, what is home?"
Primus Pilus Centurion Gaius Cornelius Antony led a detail squad through the rows of tents towards the stables. Much of the camp had been emptied in great anticipation of Vespasian's speech. They passed a legionary guard standing post, as their hobnailed sandals pounded the earth and shook the metal joints of their bulky chest armour. Gaius, however, did not wear the lorica segmentata armour that the regular legionaries wore, and he was thankful for that. Since he was a centurion of senior status, and a veteran of the First Cohort of the Twelfth Legion, he wore a fine, oiled cuirass strapped over his standard Roman tunic.
Covering his cuirass was a leather harness held by large brass rings. It was his harness which supported his decorations, phalerae, and torques. These had been awarded to him through the campaigns he had served under Vespasian long before his deployment to the Fulminata prior to the outbreak of the Jewish war. After the disastrous defeat of the Twelfth at Jerusalem in the first months of the rebellion, Gaius had been attached to the Fifteenth for a number of years as a centurion with veteran experience.
It had been during this time that he had received another dona for organizing a cohort of troops who had been ambushed in the town of Gamla in the Galilee region. They would surely have suffered higher casualties had not Gaius come to their aid by slaying three Sicarii and holding a tightly packed formation which had given enough time for the retreating soldiers to stumble past them. It was this action which had repelled the Jewish attack. Vespasian had commended him in front of his senior staff, calling Gaius by his clan name, Cornelius. It was of a personal, genuine likeness of Gaius that Vespasian called him by this name. It made the centurion proud to serve such a man, even after he was sent back to Antioch for the rebuilding of the Twelfth to prepare for the final stages of the war. Since popularity of Vespasian had grown and with the political rumblings in Rome, the Twelfth had received its marching orders to meet up with the Judean Army and bask in the glory of electing a new emperor.
This was a momentous day and Gaius had been called on to run a simple errand which would be the making of a man-now-turned-god in the minds of his troops. Vespasian would sit atop of his powerful war horse arrayed in splendour, like the triumph of Gaius Julius Caesar from the Temple of Jupiter, and accept the men's title that they bestowed upon him. And why should he not accept the title Imperator?
The prefect of Egypt, Tiberius Julius Alexander, had hailed him emperor, compelling the legions of Africa to do the same. Gaius Licinius Mucianus, Governor of Syria, had also pledged loyalty and service to Vespasian, as would the troops on the Danube when they caught wind of what was happening. Everyone wanted change and the last year had been particularly testing for the empire. It had left everyone speechless and tense at the labour pains of an empire stricken with civil war and reckless murder. All could count the names of the year's emperors upon the fingers of a single hand: Nero, Galba, Otho, and now Vitellius. Yet, the tide would turn to Vespasian, who alone the troops believed could end the inner chaos, restore the empire from the scoundrel Vitellius, and sit proudly upon her throne.
The soldiers knew one or two more battles would be all that it would take to usurp the throne from Vitellius and see him brought low, but it was in the omens and the oracles of Carmel and Delphi which pointed to the Flavian line and her time to rule. Another rumour had circulated the legions, spoken by a captured Jewish general, who was considered to be a prophet by many Romans. The man had declared over a year ago that Vespasian would become emperor, and now it looked as if his prophecy would come to pass. Finally, the time had come. With the troops of Judea in support, nobody could stop Vespasian now, for there laid the real power in the emperor of Rome: the flexing of the military arm.
Gaius moved with perfect military parade skills as his hobnailed sandals rapped upon the level streets that ran throughout every standard Roman camp. He could not count the amount of times he had supervised setting up or breaking camp as they all seemed to blend together. However, the methodology was all the same and every man knew his part. When a legion first approached the spot to set up camp, there waving in the wind would be the white consular flag dictating to everyone where the camp was to be. Gaius would oversee his centuria hard at work as men would disperse to set the defences, erect the blocks of tents and lay the streets.
The troops knew by heart where the quarters of the commander, legionary tribunes, and officers would be. The locations of the stables, blacksmith forge, and hospital were always in the same place, and the soldiers' own personal quarters which they shared with eight to ten men from their centuria were always mapped out in the exact format from their last camp. It was this proficient military system that caused the Romans to rise above everyone else in the world as the single dominant power to reckon with. History had always known armies and wars, but the Romans were meticulous and efficient, professional and deadly. All this could be seen in the way they applied themselves to the dedication of the campsite which would strike anyone with awe who witnessed it unfold before them.
"There he is." Gaius scowled at the stable boy and exhaled loudly. "Marcus, inform the boy!" Gaius observed Vespasian's war horse snort and then whinny with anticipation at the sight of the soldiers standing before him. He glanced casually as the trooper named Marcus brushed past him and approached the boy. "I trust this won't take long," Gaius said to himself and looked up at the sky.
The sun was at its zenith and it was heating up, yet the sea breeze always seemed to cool the sweat upon his neck, a relief he thanked the gods for. Gaius removed his helmet and one of the soldiers behind him stepped forward and took it. Titus the younger, Vespasian's son and second-in-command of the Judean campaign, had called on Gaius personally to fetch Prometheus and make the horse ready for his father's speech. Carrying the standards of Rome he would approach the backside of Vespasian's tent and the general would mount there to be presented to his troops who had all gathered in the front.
"Do as I say, boy!" Marcus shoved the boy against the horse pen and raised his hand, intending to slap him. "We don't have all day, slave, and I will teach you Roman manners if you do not listen." The boy's eyes were wide with fear and he quickly shook his head indicating he did not understand the soldier. Marcus brought his hand down swiftly against the side of the boy's face and the light body of the slave spun to the side, hit the beams of the pen, and collapsed into the straw.
"The lad obviously doesn't understand you, Marcus, so help him with saddling Prometheus and he will soon catch on and quit wasting our time." Gaius sighed and rolled his eyes as Marcus straightened and stared at his officer in frustrated bewilderment at having to do a slave's work. "Hurry it up, Marcus, you fool, or else you will feel the sting of a whip, I promise you."
Marcus snapped out of his temporary stupor, swore quietly to himself, bent over, grabbed the boy by his filthy brown tunic, and hoisted him to his feet. He clutched the sobbing slave's throat and pointed a sharp finger into the boy's face while glaring at him. "Now look what you did, pig shit. Come and help me."
A few of the soldiers behind Gaius chuckled as Marcus and the red-faced slave saddled the stallion, tightened the straps, fixed the bridle, and quickly combed the horse's mane and swishing tail. The reins were made of red-dyed leather and were studded with gold rivets. The saddle's pommel was decorated with ivory and small gems; its quality was the finest in the world. The blanket draped over Prometheus' back was deep purple and trimmed in silver. Vespasian's family insignia was embroidered upon the blanket which was visible underneath the heavy saddle Marcus had just hoisted on top of the war horse.
"Let's move now. The standards and the eagle should be at Vespasian's quarters where the others are. Marcus, lead the horse and keep a tight formation, men. Let's show the general how professionals do it." Gaius stepped back as the gate to the pen was opened and Prometheus was led out tossing his head up in the air with anticipation for what would come next. Gaius pointed sternly at the horse. "You have him, Marcus?"
"Yes, Centurion!" Marcus responded, wrapping the reins tightly around his hands and rubbing under the horse's chin.
Gaius nodded, turned, and then ordered, "Helmet!" The soldier who had waited patiently holding his officer's helmet carefully handed it over and then retrieved his own pilum from one of his other comrades. Gaius gave the steel helm a quick inspection to make sure it had not gotten dirty and that the blond, transverse horse hair crest was still finely straight as his servant had combed it earlier that morning. Slipping the heavy war helmet upon his head, he tied the leather cords from the metal cheek straps under his chin, rested his left hand on the pommel of his gladius, and marched away as the detail squad along with Prometheus fell in step behind him.
* * *
"Cornelius is taking his time, my son. We can barely hold back the troops," Vespasian said comically as he carefully drew back the tent flap for a brief moment and caught sight of the hundreds of cheering soldiers which filled the grounds before his quarters. One legionary in the front of the great host thought he had seen the tent flap quiver, and he lifted his spear into the air and hollered Vespasian's family name with exultation and tears streaming down his face.
"He will be here, Father. I have never doubted Gaius." Titus stepped forward and shook his head in amazement. "They truly love you."
"They have fought admirably for me while losing many brothers, Titus. I will be forever in their debt." A moment of reflection crossed the aged general's face of fifty years, until he exhaled loudly and added, "I sometimes wonder if listening to Mucianus will get us all killed for treason." Vespasian chuckled to himself and let the flap go and walked to the center of his tent.
"You believe something will happen, Father?" Titus appeared slightly worried and glanced at the entry way to make sure none of the guards were listening. "Have there been threats?"
"My dear son, Titus. No threats, no wolves, and no bastard senators have said anything. We are quite safe and true power for our family lies outside," he said with a gesture towards the front of the tent. He then glanced upward at a hanging oil lamp coated in silver and burning with a low flame. "This is history in the making, my boy, and all we have done here has proven to me the validity of our calling in life. Mars has been with us from the beginning as have the oriental gods of Egypt. The omens haven't always been what we want, but that is how the gods play. The cost of goats and bulls is a trivial matter to ensure a successful campaign. Alas, it keeps the gods in their rightful place."
Titus nodded in agreement and replied, "The bribes to the priests are what cost the most, but I sometimes wonder if the gods have ever cared at all."
Vespasian shook his finger at Titus gently and smiled. "They don't care about us in the way of affection, but we do our duty to stifle any jealousy or rage they might impose on us. First, they give you confidence and then when you are on top, they love to topple your walls. That is why the priests say to honour them and they will eventually respect what we do here." He relieved an itch on his neck and hurriedly stated, "The gods have been quite good for Rome, my dear son, Titus. Continue to offer the regular sacrifices and pay the priests their due amount. I wonder sometimes how the gods truly feel about me."
"The Alexandrians seem to show their exultation to you, Father, and don't forget the omens of Serapis or the signs of the eagles, dog and the ox." Titus lowered his voice and uttered, "You were like a god in the Hippodrome when they donned you with garlands and the boughs of one as victorious as you, and where they called you a Son of Amun Re. Your Prefect Alexander declared it in his speeches and so did the masses. You're blessed by the titles of the pharaohs and the wealth of the Ptolemies as past kings, Father. When I consulted the oracle at the shrine of Aphrodite at Paphos, both predictions pointed to you, my Father, as Caesar. Do you remember what the oracle of Carmel said?"
Vespasian nodded seriously and sighed, "That I would be the master of a mighty seat: possess vast properties and have an abundance of men." He rubbed his chin and looked up at his son. "At the shrine of Serapis I saw a radiant man who appeared to me named Basilides, Son of the Monarch. He presented to me palm branches, garlands, and cakes. I have done everything correctly and consulted astrologers concerning this future of mine. The gods seem to point down from the sky to me. Many a bull has spilled its blood as an offering; I must show the gods I am worthy and strong."
"Father, even upon your arrival in Egypt you must recall the priest of Amun Re at Montou and his response at the Temple of Peace." Vespasian nodded and Titus continued, "He offered you the fertile flood of the Nile and the quartz statue of his sixteen children. The gods of the orient are with you, and it even appears as if the Jewish God honours your destiny. Remember Yosef ben Matityahu or Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai? This shows heaven's support of you, Father." Titus paused for a moment to collect his thoughts and then said with passion, "I swear to you now that when this is all done I shall observe the consecration rites to the Apis bull in Memphis. I will do this to honour you and honour the gods for seeing this campaign brought to a swift end." Titus nodded firmly.
Excerpted from 70 A.D. by PETER J. FAST Copyright © 2012 by Peter J. Fast. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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