|Publisher:||Tyndale House Publishers|
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About the Author
Randy Singer is a critically acclaimed author and veteran trial attorney. He has penned nine legal thrillers, including his award-winning debut novel Directed Verdict. In addition to his law practice and writing, Randy serves as a teaching pastor for Trinity Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He calls it his "Jekyll and Hyde thing"--part lawyer, part pastor. He also teaches classes in advocacy and ethics at Regent Law School and serves on the school's Board of Visitors. He and his wife, Rhonda, live in Virginia Beach. They have two grown children. Visit his Web site at www.randysinger.net.
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By RANDY SINGER
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2014 Randy Singer
All rights reserved.
IN THE ELEVENTH Y EAR OF THE R EIGN OF TIBERIUS JULIUS CAESAR AUGUSTUS
I was fourteen years old when I learned what it meant to be crucified.
We hauled our own crossbeams, the twelve of us, students of Seneca the Younger, dragging them at least five miles down the cobble stones of the Appian Way. The day was hot and dry. Dust settled in our mouths and noses. I ground my teeth and felt the fine particles of dirt. I licked my dry lips, trying to moisten the thick white spit at the edge of my mouth. Sweat trickled down my face. Seneca marched ahead of us, carrying nothing but his waterskin, his sweat-soaked tunic sticking to his thick back. My own tunic was wet and grimy. My sandals squished with every step.
I had started out carrying my crossbeam, hoisting it across my thin shoulders, but I soon gave up and dragged it like most of the other students. It weighed nearly as much as me. The rough wood chafed my back, so I switched it from one shoulder to the other as I pulled it along. The only one who wasn't dragging his beam was Lucian, two years older than the rest of us and built like a gladiator. He balanced his beam on his shoulders, yet even Lucian was starting to stoop from the load.
To make it seem real, Seneca had arranged for a Roman legionnaire to bring up the rear. He was a humorless man, stocky and unshaven with nasty breath and a spiteful attitude. This was his chance to bark orders at the sons of aristocrats as if we were common slaves. If we stopped, he gave us a hard shove and cursed us. He took big gulps of water, taunting us with how refreshing it was, then spit much of it on the ground.
"When my parents learn of this, they'll have Seneca's head," Lucian said under his breath.
I was sure Seneca wasn't worried. His job was to mold us into young men fit to be Roman senators or commanders or magistrates. This was nothing compared to the military training that many of my contemporaries would be facing in a few years. Still, we were the sons of senators and equestrians, so we cast annoyed glances at each other. Who does this man think he is, humiliating us this way?
Caligula had the lightest beam to carry. Naturally. He was my age but a few inches taller, with spindly legs and a long, thin neck. His head, topped off with curly red hair, seemed oversized for his body. Caligula had a mean streak, so I generally kept my distance. There was an unwritten rule that he was never to be crossed—not because we feared the spoiled young man himself, but because we feared his family.
His full name was Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus. He had been born on the battlefield in Gaul, the son of the great general Germanicus and his wife, Agrippina. It was the soldiers who had dubbed him Caligula, which meant "little sandals." He became a good luck charm of sorts for Germanicus's troops, and they would let him march into battle with them, staying near the rear of the lines. He was the great-nephew of the emperor and might one day be emperor himself if his mother managed to poison all the right relatives.
He was also a bully.
He had been taunting my friend Marcus earlier in the walk, taking his frustrations out on the smallest among us. Now he was just plain tired.
"This is outrageous," Caligula said more than once. Unlike Lucian, he said it loud enough for Seneca to hear. Yet our teacher ignored him and kept on walking. A few times Caligula stopped, and the legionnaire pushed him, though not as hard as he shoved the rest of us.
I kept my head down and focused on each step, counting to one hundred and then starting over again. I was in my usual spot at the front of the class, not far behind Seneca.
It was nearly noon when Seneca finally stopped by an open pasture on the side of the road near a small, cool stream. I dropped my beam on the ground and bent over, hands on my knees, trying to catch my breath.
Seneca allowed us to get a drink and told us to sit on our crossbeams. He stood in the middle of our little band. The sun nearly blinded me as I looked up at him.
Seneca wiped the sweat from his eyes and began the day's lesson. The legionnaire stood next to him, arms folded across his chest, scowling.
"You have all heard of the Third Servile War," Seneca said, "when Spartacus led a two-year slave rebellion against Rome. The Senate didn't take the slave rebellion seriously until it became clear that Rome itself was under threat."
Some of my friends fidgeted on their beams, trying to get comfortable after the long walk. Not me. I could listen to Seneca all day. His curly hair, round baby face, and small blue eyes made him seem as harmless as a child. But he had a commanding voice, and I loved his wit and cynicism in the same way that I imagined Cicero's students had once loved him. Armies destroyed people, and gladiators entertained them, but orators like Cicero and Seneca inspired them. One day I would do the same.
"Marcus Licinius Crassus was the richest man in the Senate, perhaps the richest man in Roman history," Seneca continued. "He had more than five hundred slaves and was an expert in architecture. He knew how to control fires by destroying the burning buildings and curtailing the spread of flames to nearby homes. When fire struck Rome, Crassus and his men ran to the flames and offered an option to the surrounding property owners. They could sell to young Crassus on the spot at a discounted rate, or they could watch their houses go up in flames. As soon as they shook hands on the deal, Crassus's slaves would extinguish the fire, and Crassus would reap his rewards."
"Brilliant," Caligula said.
Seneca shot him a look, but I knew Caligula didn't care.
"At the height of his wealth, Crassus was worth more than 200 million sestertii. And because he had built his fortune on the backs of slaves, he had a great incentive to quash Spartacus's rebellion. Since Rome's best generals were fighting in foreign lands, Crassus raised his own army to march against Spartacus and the rebel slaves. The first several battles did not go well for Crassus. At the first sign of trouble, his men abandoned their weapons and fled. To improve morale, Crassus revived the ancient practice of decimation. Lucian, what does that mean?"
"I am sorry, Master Seneca. What does what mean?"
Seneca let a few beats of silence show his displeasure. "Decimation. What is the origin of that word?"
Lucian frowned. "I do not know."
"Anyone?" Seneca asked.
I knew the answer, but I had learned long ago that it was sometimes better to hold my tongue. I kept my eyes down while Seneca surveyed the group.
"Decimate comes from the root word decimare, which means to take or destroy one-tenth," Seneca explained. He moved closer to us, and the sun behind him seemed to make him glow. "So Crassus divided his Roman legions into groups of ten and had them draw lots. The one to whom the lot fell would be stripped of his armor and beaten to death by the other nine. The fighting spirit of his troops increased dramatically. Crassus had demonstrated that he was more dangerous to them than their enemies."
Seneca now had everyone's attention. In my mind, I imagined the twelve of us drawing lots and the loser being beaten to death by the others. I didn't think I could bring myself to do it.
"Eventually, Crassus's men cornered Spartacus and his army. Spartacus wanted to engage Crassus in battle, slaughtering his way toward the general's position. But the overwhelming numbers were too much for the slaves. Spartacus died in battle before he reached Crassus. Six thousand slaves were captured."
I had been taught for as long as I could remember to despise Spartacus and the bloody revolt he had started. The uprising was an affront to every Roman citizen. But there was always a part of me that cheered for the slaves—my natural desire to root for the disadvantaged. I secretly wished that Spartacus had been able to run the gauntlet and engage Crassus one-on-one, the way real men fight.
"Crassus wanted to make sure no slave in the empire would ever revolt again," Seneca said. "And so he perfected the art of crucifixion."
He paused for effect, and we all knew something unusual was coming. It was why our parents paid handsomely for us to attend this school. Seneca was famous for his memorable stunts.
"Even though you're not old enough to attend the games and see the live executions there, I'm sure many of you have seen criminals hanging on crosses outside the walls of the city. Still, I thought it might be interesting for Gallus to tell you how it's done."
The legionnaire named Gallus stepped forward, directly in front of where I was sitting. Why is it always me? I stared at the black hair on his legs, the worn sandals, the calloused feet.
"Stand up!" he said gruffly.
I stood, looking him squarely in the eye.
He picked up my crossbeam and placed it in the middle of the group. He pulled a hammer from his belt and a long, sharp spike from his sack.
"Lie down on the beam," he said. "Arms stretched out on the wood."
I looked at Seneca, who nodded slightly.
"Need any help?" Caligula asked the legionnaire.
"You want to take his place?" Gallus shot back.
"Then shut up."
I lay down on the beam, arms stretched wide, keeping an eye on Gallus. The legionnaire knelt beside me, hammer in one hand, spike in the other. "We use six-inch spikes," he said, pressing the point against my left wrist.
"Come here and hold this," he said to another student. It was Marcus, my skinny friend. Because he had struggled carrying his beam, he had been berated by Gallus most of the morning.
Marcus got up and held the spike over my wrist, his hand trembling.
"Nervous?" Gallus asked him.
"You've got nothing to worry about. It's your friend here who should be worried."
Gallus snorted a laugh, but I wasn't concerned. I knew Seneca would only let this go so far. Maybe the soldier would draw a little blood, but Seneca would never let him drive a spike through my wrist.
"We've found," Gallus said, eyeing the other boys, "that when we sever the nerve that runs up your wrist, it causes unbearable pain. Plus, when we put the spike here, it's lodged between two bones, so it won't just rip out of the arm."
"The pain is so severe," Seneca said helpfully, "that a new word was invented to describe it. Our word excruciatus literally means 'out of the cross.'"
Gallus went on to explain the details of the process. How the feet would be impaled. How the prisoner would literally suffocate, his body sagging under its own weight as he lost the strength to push up against the nails in order to draw breath. "We usually let 'em hang for about three days. They typically die on the second day, and then the birds have a snack on day three. Any questions?"
There were none.
Gallus swung his hammer. I closed my eyes and cringed. He stopped it a few inches from the spike and laughed. He allowed me to get up and return on wobbly knees to my original spot as he described all the configurations he and his fellow soldiers had used to crucify prisoners.
"Okay," Seneca finally said, "I think they've got the picture."
Gallus stepped back, and Seneca continued the lesson. "Crassus still holds the record," Seneca said. "He put six thousand men on crosses, every one of the slaves he had captured, and lined the Appian Way with them—from here all the way back to Rome."
The teacher paused and let the enormity of that sink in. We had been walking for miles. At one time this entire distance had been lined with dying men.
"Crassus and his men rode through the gauntlet of the crucified, while the slaves cried out for mercy, begging to be thrust through with a spear. Cheering crowds greeted Crassus in Rome, where he was crowned with a laurel wreath and hailed as a triumphator. He sacrificed a white bull at the temple of Jupiter, and the entire city celebrated for days. It was said that three days after the slaves' bodies were discarded, you could still smell the stench."
Seneca looked over our heads, down the Appian Way, as if he could imagine the scene. "And so I have a question for you," he said, his voice lower. "Should Romans crucify people? Is this the type of conduct befitting the most advanced civilization the world has ever known?"
I was looking at Seneca, but I noticed Gallus out of the corner of my eye. He seemed to stiffen at the very suggestion that his cherished method of execution might be open to question.
I hoped Seneca wouldn't call on me. Everything inside me said that crucifixion was not worthy of the glory of Rome. How could we inflict such torture on our enemies? What separated us from the barbarians when we committed such acts? And what about the innocent men condemned to die for something they didn't do? Our system of justice wasn't perfect.
But I didn't want to seem weak in front of my classmates. Seneca's little display, complete with Gallus as a prop, was designed to show us how horrible it was to die this way. Yet we were Romans. We weren't supposed to flinch in the face of death, no matter how horrible. One sign of manhood was being able to stomach this kind of gore, even relish it.
"I'll answer that," Caligula said, standing.
"Very well, Gaius," Seneca replied. He never used his pupil's nickname.
"Have there been any slave revolts since the triumph of Crassus over Spartacus?" Caligula asked. The question, of course, was a rhetorical one, a method of argumentation that Seneca had taught us.
"I was born on a battlefield," Caligula continued. "I have seen wars. Men die. Their heads are cut off and their guts are ripped out. Only the strong survive. There is nothing pretty about it and nothing philosophical to debate."
That last comment was a dig at Seneca, and I wondered what he would do about it. As usual, our teacher didn't flinch.
"The only criticism I have of Crassus," Caligula continued, "is that he wasted a lot of good wood on a bunch of slaves."
He stood there for a moment, proud of his wit. He smirked and sat down.
Seneca scanned the young faces before him. "Does anybody disagree?" he asked.
I knew I should stay seated. Nothing would be gained from picking a fight with Caligula. Lucian would undoubtedly come to Caligula's defense—if not now, then later, when Seneca wasn't looking. Others would join them because they were intimidated by them. The only student who might agree with me would be little Marcus, and having him on my side was sometimes more trouble than it was worth.
But I couldn't be silent, could I? If I held my tongue now, what would I do when the stakes really mattered?
I stood, certain that Caligula was rolling his eyes. "I disagree," I said as forcefully as possible.
"For some reason, Theophilus," Seneca said, "I am not the least bit surprised."CHAPTER 2
I faced Seneca, trying to block the other boys out of my peripheral vision. I knew I should be careful because Caligula was petulant and didn't like to be made the fool. But when I had an audience, I couldn't resist showing off a little.
I stood to my full height and spoke using my orator's voice, as Seneca had taught me.
"'Let us not listen to those who think we ought to be angry with our enemies and who believe this to be great and manly,'" I said. "'Nothing is so praiseworthy, nothing so clearly shows a great and noble soul, as clemency and readiness to forgive.'"
A few of my classmates groaned at my eloquence. No matter; Seneca had taught me not to be distracted by a hostile audience.
"Those are the words of Cicero, and those are also words of truth and reason," I said proudly. "Roman virtues should include not only justice and courage but forgiveness and mercy."
"Spoken like someone who has never seen a battle, never seen a friend decapitated by a barbarian," Seneca countered. He paced a little, gauging the expressions of the students. "Cicero, not coincidentally, had never seen the battlefield either. So doesn't young Gaius have a point? Rome did not conquer the world with etiquette and Senate resolutions. We extended our civilization, including our cherished adherence to Roman law, by brutal force."
Seneca locked his eyes on me. "How can one claim to honor the law yet not support the forms of punishment that ensure others will follow it?" He pointed behind me to the Appian Way. "Roads like that do not appear from thin air. They are built. Built by slaves, as was your father's estate, Theophilus. There can be no advance without civilization, no civilization without order, and no order without punishment."
Excerpted from THE ADVOCATE by RANDY SINGER. Copyright © 2014 Randy Singer. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
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