An Open Letter to the Women of Italy

Dear Donne,

As I approach the last 48 hours of my month here in Rome, I’ve decided that I can’t hold back any longer, and I want to give you a piece of unsolicited advice from someone who only has your best interests at heart. Really, I swear.

After all, I DID marry an Italian woman, who gave me a beautiful half-Italian daughter, but while the mother of my daughter DID do the thing that I’ve noticed, thankfully my daughter did not.

So, here goes:

At first I thought it might be just the area of the city I’m staying in, although there’s no good reason for thinking that, but as the days turned into weeks, I finally determined that this is a trend that seems to be disturbingly frequent.

What I noticed was that there were these gorgeous women, but the guy they were with were….not so gorgeous, I guess is the nicest way to put it. No, in fact, they were what TLC called “scrubs”.

Short, bald, dumpy, sometimes all at once; the best way to describe it is that the men here are hitting WAY above their weight. Or put another way, dating above their pay grade. However you put it, I’ve seen this too often for it to be a coincidence and not to be a big trend.

And when I discreetly asked around, I think I’ve discovered what’s going on, and for this I blame the Catholic Church.

But even now, more so than in the States, women are encouraged to grab onto a man, quick. And I think what’s happening is that a lot of Italian women are settling for the first train that pulls into the station, rather than waiting for the one that will take them to the destination they really want.

Seriously, ladies. I know that Italian guys live with their moms until they get married, so if you were to use that as a disqualification like women do in the States, there would be nobody left. But at the same time, believe it or not, there are a lot more men out there who will in all likelihood be a better fit for you. Someone who is actually on your level. Not male model, but, as we say in Texas, “clean up good.”

I mentioned that my first ex-wife did this, marrying her high school sweetheart. But, although the marriage didn’t work out, I thank GOD that she did what appears to be in y’all’s DNA, since she was born in Texas and grab onto the first train.

The funny thing is that one of the few things she and I agreed on was insisting that our daughter wait and not get married right out of high school, and fortunately she listened.

But here’s the bitter truth, donne. Who you are at 19 and who you’re going to be at 30 will rarely resemble each other in a lot of ways, at least the ways that matter. So that’s one factor, but the other is that neither will Luigi, or Enzo, or whoever. And we men, especially when we’re young, have a REALLY bad habit of taking the women in our lives for granted, and I would be willing to bet that, if y’all were honest, that’s even more true here in Italy. And look it from our viewpoint; why SHOULDN’T we take you for granted? I mean, when you’re the first and only, that’s a pretty strong strategic position to be in.

I mean, do you REALLY want to spend your life with someone who never did a load of laundry, or doesn’t even know how to boil water? And, believe it or not, there are men out there who can not only do both, but they can balance a checkbook, and put the toilet seat down. I know, I know; now you’re saying “Okay, THAT is a lie.” But it’s true, I swear.

The point is that you’re really selling yourselves short here. And that’s just a shame. Because, donne of Italy, you have got it goin’ ON! I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to stop and just say, “…..DAMN….” before continuing on my way.

Too bad that it’s going to be wasted on the first guy who ever took the time to get to know you.

Random Observations From Rome

This post doesn’t really have much of a theme, other than it’s the collection of the various random thoughts and observations I’ve had since I’ve been here.

Here goes:

  • Italians seem to be obsessed with home shopping networks, because I stopped counting them at twenty. Look, it’s a common complaint we have in the States: “I’ve got 500 channels and nothing’s on!” But here, there are 500 channels, and I would bet that at least 100 of them are shopping channels.
  • If you’re like me, you like to mingle as unobtrusively as possible with the locals, especially when you’re in one spot for some time. (Which means I’ve almost stopped wearing a ball cap! Although there’s no way I’m walking around wearing a jacket and a scarf in 80 degree Fahrenheit weather) You can learn a lot about people in a grocery store, for example. You will also learn that here in Italy, there are about 4,359 more varieties of pasta than we have in the States. Word.
  • Italians like to talk. A LOT. And we like to think we’re all plugged in, but we have NOTHING on the Italians. I saw a kid no more than 5 years old walking with his parents talking on his cell phone. EVERYONE has some sort of electronic device.
    “Fabrizio, are you coming over to play Transformers today?”
  • Which reminds me of a joke my guide Giulia told me, which I will attempt not to butcher. “What do you call an Italian with one hand? Speech impaired.” *Rimshot* I’ll be here for the rest of the week ladies and gentlemen. Don’t forget to tip your wait staff!
  • They love dogs as much as we do, which is probably one reason I’m so comfortable here. But, at least for the males, they don’t believe in neutering. (I believe Italian men have the ultimate say in this.) More than anything, I’ve been surprised at the number of larger breeds I’ve seen; I’ve even seen quite a few of my beloved Yellow Labs. And when I do, I act like a complete dork and ask to take a picture.
  • They eat late…..then GO STRAIGHT TO BED. Whereas in Paris, for example, they eat late….then go to the cafe, have their coffee, smoke their Gauloise and say, “Life is shit.” Well, the Italians seem to skip this last part, but I think that’s because they do their bitching in the afternoon. And they’re saying, “Life is beautiful….for everyone else. Mine? Not so much.”
  • When I came, I had a couple dozen bottles of 5 Hour Energy in my suitcase (don’t judge), because as I learned, that product hasn’t made it over here yet. But it finally hit me why…..they call it “Espresso”. And when you think about it, they are almost identical, at least in the size of the shot and the amount of the caffeine. Duh.
  • This is a country that is extremely conflicted in some ways, and I’m looking straight at you, ladies of Italy. Seriously, this whole Catholic Madonna/Whore thing is REALLY confusing to Godless Americans like me. “Si si si…no no no.” It’s like being in high school all over again. This is most evident in their music videos, where they have no problem showing Nicki Minaj being all….Nicki Minaj (Anaconda anyone?), but then they bleep the ENGLISH curse words. Seriously?
  • Among the 500 channels is one that is trained on St. Peters Square, 24/7. You know, in case the Pope makes a surprise appearance I guess.
  • Unlike everywhere else I’ve been, including CROATIA for God’s sake, it’s impossible to find an Italian channel that speaks English, (other than the music channels, where I’ve now realized I’m all about the bass, ’bout the bass, no treble) but thanks to Giulia I know why. As she explained, they dub EVERYTHING, and it wasn’t until recently that they started teaching English in the early grades of school. So when “Friends” is in Italian, without any subtitles but in your own language, why learn English? That explained a LOT when she told me this, because for a huge tourist destination, less people here speak English than in Paris. Or London, for example (Ha! I kill me!).
  • Now comes some tough love for my Italian friends. There’s a lot of moaning and complaining about your economy and I know that a lot of Italians look at me, and without knowing anything about me other than that I’m an American, they think, “He’s got it made! And his life is so EASY.” Well, first, yes I do, I do have it made. Many, if not most people would KILL to be in my position, doing what I love and being paid very well for it. But they weren’t around for the 80 hour weeks, the one week of vacation, and all the big events that I missed that make up a life. They weren’t there for the months at a time I was gone from my family, perfecting skills that made me good at what I did, but not a great person. So, for my Italian friends, here’s a hint: When you close for two, or three hours in the middle of the day so you can go have lunch, that’s fine. But then you run the risk on missing out on the American who has a lot of money in his wallet and really can’t figure out the exchange rate and who’s willing to pay a LOT more for that knick-knack than it’s worth. And you know WHY he has that much money? Because, unlike you, my Italian friend, he doesn’t get a month of vacation; he gets, at best, 2 weeks, after he’s worked at his company for 5 years. He’s got that money because he worked weekends and missed his kids’ soccer game; he says “Yes” when the boss “asks” him if he can stay late. He works through lunch instead of going to the trattoria and having the full three-course meal, (with wine, of course) and he’s always late for dinner. THIS is what you’re “missing” out on and is one reason why your economy and your overall economic health is so anemic. While you’re sitting at the bar in the afternoon, complaining about how hard it is to make your rent, and how “easy” we Americans have it, I would simply ask you to consider what I’ve just said. But let me say this: I’m not sure what the right answer is, because the one thing you HAVE tapped into, my amici, is that our lives are NOT, or should be, centered on work, and climbing the ladder. Life is those moments sitting out on the strada, watching people like me stride by, walking quickly even when I’m on VACATION, always in a hurry to get somewhere. It’s in the little girl in the apartment next to me who lives with Nonna and Nonno, and in being surrounded by more history than any American can truly comprehend.
  • With all that said, I truly love being here, amid Italians. I guess being married to a Sicilian-American (God how I hate that hyphenation crap) rubbed off more than I thought. I suspect it has to do with the fact that I have a half-Italian child, and I actually see a lot of her in the people around me. Mainly with that talking with the hands thing. And the passion for whatever they’re discussing at the moment. It could be what they’re having for dinner, or whether or not to quit their job; if you’re observing an Italian discussing either of these, I would challenge you to decide which is which.
  • Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s after 8:00 and if I don’t hurry the restaurants will be closed.

Ciao y’all!

The Home Stretch

So, I’m entering my last week in Rome, which is bittersweet. But even more so is that today was the last day with Giulia Chapman as my guide at the Villa of Hadrian outside town, in Tivoli.

As always I’ll be posting pictures, but I want to take a minute to talk about what a great experience I’ve had, and it’s one that I will treasure for the rest of my life, the time I got to experience Rome through the eyes and viewpoint of a true Roman, whose knowledge and passion for Rome is seemingly boundless.

I mentioned it before, but it bears repeating; the most refreshing aspect of having a guide like Giulia is spending time exploring Rome with someone whose passion for the city, the people and the civilization at the very least matches my own. Sights that I’m sure to most people would be a “Meh” moment are items of huge excitement and interest for me, and having someone who feels the same way definitely makes each discovery more enjoyable, even if it’s something I might have seen before.

Whether it be trying to figure out the true purpose of what to almost anyone else is just a big pile of ruins, or marveling at the detail of a mosaic that has clearly seen better days, having someone who is just as appreciative of the fact that these artifacts were produced by people two millennia ago and they still are beautiful, or well-designed is extremely meaningful, at least to me.

In particular, I will miss Giulia’s exclamation, “Oh, this is my favorite thing!” repeated at least a hundred times over the course of our time together, but only because I know exactly how she feels; everything I’ve seen has been my favorite as well.

Still, I’m not unaware that I am extremely fortunate to take advantage of this service, because it’s not cheap, especially when it’s several days, and for several hours each day.

So what I would suggest is that for those of you who are as passionate as I am about Rome, pick ONE site where you will be escorted by a guide the caliber of Giulia, or in the case of the Vatican Museum, Paola Militerno. Because I am as close to positive as I can be that you will not regret the expense, and will come away with a much deeper, richer understanding than anything you could learn from a guidebook. Or one of the guides hanging around outside.

What I found particularly valuable is in how their knowledge helped to humanize these figures from the distant past, although I can’t really point to a specific moment that would illustrate what I’m talking about. But there would always be some small fact, or anecdote that they would mention that made me connect with Livia Drusilla, or Hadrian, or….whoever.

Except for Augustus, ’cause I still can’t stand him. 😉

The only bad part, at least for me, is that it has to come to an end, because I know there is still so much to see and do where I would love to be able to turn to my guide and ask, “What about that?” And get an answer that you know is not only accurate, but illuminating.

I don’t normally consider myself overly sentimental, but this experience has truly been one that has already made this the most remarkable trip of my life; and I still have more than a week to go!

So be ready to see and hear more about this amazing, wonderful, maddening, bewildering, sometimes infuriating place over the next few days!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some grappa to drink; I still can’t get the taste of the grilled cow’s intestine out of my mouth.


Ah, Napoli-It’s not you, it’s me

This weekend was supposed to be spent in Naples, the first day devoted to the Archaeological Museum, and wandering around Naples, which I did. Then Sunday was going to be spent doing Pompeii and Herculaneum; instead, I’m back “home” in Rome at 1:30 in the afternoon, writing this. (Which is also somewhat strange; I actually thought ‘I want to go home’, but meant here, not Washington)

So, why’s that, you may wonder?

The answer is a little complicated, but before I go into it, let me sum up my thoughts about Naples.

When I arrived at the train station, the scene was not that much different than the one at Termini, but because of my unfamiliarity with the layout, I took a cab to the Hotel Palazzo Decumani, recommended by Flaminia Chapman, sister of my guide Giulia.

This morning, I walked back to the station, but again, this is only because I had a better idea of the layout.

Naples is….busy. And it’s got a grimy feel to it that made me acutely aware of my environment, even more than normal. The streets, at least to the old center of the city, are much, much narrower, and were simply jammed with people. And along with the people came some new variations on the street hustlers. Whereas here in Rome, there are laser pointers (sort of fading out), the little blobs that make a noise when you throw them against the ground and they resume their original shape (also fading), and the hottest accessory, and one that I have to say is pure genius, the selfie taker, none of those were visible in Naples.

Instead there were guys selling lighters right outside the station, and today I saw a variation of the three card monte games, the shell game, being played on the large plaza next to the station. But perhaps the most unusual were the guys walking around with the parakeets in boxes. I was curious, but not curious enough to get sucked into it.

Then, there is the area with all the figurines, dolls, caricatures, etc., shop after shop after shop, which the tourists were gathered around in varying degrees. But I was here to see me some ancient stuff, so once I dumped my gear at the hotel (which is VERY nice), I headed off.

The museum was stunning, if only for those mosaics and frescoes taken from Pompeii. but the Farnese collection was stellar as well. I’ll be posting a more complete set of pictures now that I’m back with full-bore Wifi and my laptop, which I left behind.

Once I did that, I wandered about, and came across San Lorenzo Maggiore, and the underground museum of the ancient city market. It was also very interesting, but I think that was also based on my low expectations. Still, it was interesting to see the stalls, and the stone counters with niches carved underneath that I suppose is where they stored some of their inventory. It’s also interesting to see the size; naturally, the bakery was the largest, while there was a laundry as well along the main street.

By that time, I decided to head back to the hotel, regroup and get ready for the next day. While I didn’t find any English channels on the Sky TV box used by the hotel, I got to see X Factor Italy, which was a…treat in itself. And in all seriousness, being able to watch the qualifying for today’s F1 race was nice as well.

So about 7:30 I bounce down the stairs, go to the desk to ask for recommendations for dinner. I’m not sure if the clerk was upset at being torn from her phone call and got her subtle revenge, or if she was being sincere when she scribbled down two names, one “big” (Sorbillo’s) and one “small” di Matteo, then sent me out like a lamb to the slaughter. These were both pizza places because, well, you know why. It’s Naples.

I admit to culpability here; I should have done a bit of research on my own so that I would have had some warning for what I was about to face. Because I was somehow hurled back in time to my hometown of Houston on a Saturday night, trying to find a place to eat in one of the hot areas of the city. I had thought the streets were crowded before; they were PACKED now, and as I quickly discovered, most of those people who seemed to be just loitering about were doing so in front of a restaurant. But it wasn’t until I got to Sorbillo’s, where the crowd ballooned to not only fill the street but extend almost a half-block in both directions, that I realized I was in serious trouble. And like all crowds in Italy, it was a loud, boisterous bunch who seemed perfectly content to stand outside sweating as they waited for a table to open up.

So I went down the road to the “small” place, di Mattei’s. And, I suppose it WAS smaller, because the crowd was only about a quarter of the block.

I began coming to the realization that dinner might not be in the cards if I was unwilling to stand around trying to keep my pockets from getting cleaned out, which I wasn’t, and was heading back when I came across a place that only had about a half-dozen people outside. And then it seemed as if luck might be with me, because I was only a single, and got in at just a little after 8:00.

I finished eating my dinner at 9:30, and as anyone who knows me will attest, I am not a slow eater, very much still attuned to the “chow down and get out” school of eating, so my best guess was that I got my pizza (which I must say was really good) at about 9:00. I was actually finished by 9:15, but the next 15 minutes was spent figuring out that the only I could get out of there was to just walk up to the cashier and pay.

When I woke up this morning, things were just…off. I can’t explain it, but this is a feeling I’ve only gotten a few times in my life. And every single time, I ignored that feeling, always to my detriment. And that is because of what I call “the voice”.

It’s the voice that, when I was on a skiing vacation with my then-teenage daughter to Vail, we had finished for the day. Rather SHE had finished for the day, and I wanted to do one last run. And of course, I wanted to do a black slope, sort of as a last hurrah. And the truth is I made it all the way down to the last pitch, where I stopped and looked down. And I thought, “This is way above my head. I can just cut across through his little patch of trees and get to that blue slope I’ve done before.”

Then “the voice” piped up. “Oh, really?” it sneered. “You mean, you’re going to go down that nice, safe blue slope, get in your Trooper in the morning, and drive all the way back to Texas, knowing that this SLOPE KICKED YOUR ASS? How are you going to feel about that?”

My next conscious memory is of being on my back headfirst, hurtling down a slope underneath the lift, trying to navigate with the one pole I had left, after my left ski caught in some ice (or something) and shred my ACL. I finally managed to come to a stop, where a concerned skier used the trees to make his way down to me to ask me if I was all right. My answer was, “No, I’m pretty sure I’m not all right.”

Until the ski patrol showed up with their toboggan, and there was NO WAY I was getting in that thing. So, instead I scooted down on my butt, until I got to the level spot, then came limping up to where my daughter was seated, waiting for me. And her first words were, “That was you who I saw wipe out, wasn’t it?”

“Maybe.” I imagine I sounded a little defensive.

But the best part was that I had to drive my standard shift Trooper home in the winter, because she was too young to drive.

The other major time was even worse, in just about every conceivable way. I was on my way to a bicycle race outside Houston, and I had woken that morning feeling…off. But I drove the 60 miles out of town at 5:00 in the morning, into the dark and threatening sky. Then I saw lightning, and I distinctly remember taking the exit to go to the race, but stopping in a McDonald’s parking lot, and thinking, “There are other races, and it’s nasty out there.”

The voice showed up, “You’re going to get up this early, drive all this way, then turn around and not even TRY to race? You’re in the best shape you’ve been in at this point of the season (I had won or placed every race I had done that year, although it was early in the season), and you’re going to let that course KICK YOUR ASS while you go home and crawl back in your soft, warm bed?”

Just a couple of hours later I was hit from behind by a pickup truck driver who admitted to driving 65 mph when he hit me. It broke my back in two places, my ankle, ripped the tendons out of my right elbow, and all sorts of other odds and ends, like biting off the tip of my tongue. I was in the ICU for a few days, and in the hospital for 3 weeks. Granted, I went on to race again; actually six weeks later, albeit wearing a big back brace and a soft cast on my ankle, but I was never the same after that as far as racing. For some reason, I tended to tense up when I heard a car coming.

This morning, I was determined to put last night behind me, and had every intention of doing the second part of my trip, which was Pompeii and Herculaneum. In fact, I was so set on doing this, I didn’t stay up last night (or just get up REALLY early) to watch my beloved USC Trojans play Arizona.

But walking to the station, where I was going to catch the Circumvesuvio line that takes one to the site, something was…off.

This time, actually for the first time ever, I listened to my gut.

Now, I’m not saying that Vesuvius is going to erupt (although I’m keeping an eye on the news, you know, just in case), or something like that. Maybe I would have just taken a misstep, and broken the OTHER ankle, or maybe nothing at all would happen.

All I know is that, although it’s taken 55 years, maybe I’m starting to grow up a little bit. Of course, it helps knowing that I can just hop the train from Termini, be there in 70 minutes, and do it in a day.

I just won’t go back into Naples itself.


Oh, and you want to know the worst part? That ski vacation happened AFTER I got hit by the truck. So, yeah, I’m a slow learner.

A New Rome…..

…at least for me, the first day I was able to take advantage of a personal guide to help me find the sights that I really wanted to see on this trip. And now that I’ve had two days, that opinion has been reinforced.

Although I originally had contacted Flaminia Chapman as a personal guide, mainly because of her common roots from Texas, her newborn infant came down with a fever. Instead, I got her sister Giulia, and frankly I can’t believe that Flaminia herself would have surpassed Giulia as a guide.

As most of you can probably attest, meeting someone whose passion for Rome and its history runs as deeply as yours is always a welcome surprise. And being brutally frank, my one concern was that I would have a guide whose knowledge of the history behind the various sites was skimpier than mine.

I had no cause to worry; not only was Giulia extremely immersed in her Roman history, she has the same abiding passion for Rome and all it stands for. I am not ashamed to say that I learned a LOT today, seemingly small things in many ways, but substantial in their ability to allow me to form a better, more deeply enhanced picture of Rome than I would have had on my own.

Or, it must be said, with any other guide.

Not only that, she is EXTREMELY easy on the eye; alas, she is married with two children, not to mention that she’s four years younger than my daughter, so even if she were single, I would be footing a seriously steep therapy bill on behalf of my progeny! (Even as I type this my kid is throwing up in her mouth)

But better than that, she speaks fluent Italian (naturally), but when speaking English uses “y’all”, which automatically scores a lot of points in my book.

Besides that, having a car at one’s beck and call, then to be able to come sweeping by the hoi polloi because you not only have reservations, you have access to spots that are normally closed to the masses, well let’s just say I know how I’m going to be rolling in Rome from here on out!

Now, I know many of you are thinking, “That has to be expensive!” And it is, make no mistake about that. At least, I’m pretty sure, since I haven’t seen a bill.

But it’s because of you readers, who have been so generous and supportive, that I am able to do this, not only spend a month in Rome, but to obtain the services of a guide the quality of Giulia (and I have no doubt her sister is just as able). But it’s not all fun and games; okay, it’s a LOT of fun and games, but only because I am such a Romano-geek that I literally cannot get enough of…any of it.

During the portion of time we were being driven around, while our conversation flowed easily (meaning she listened to me blab with great patience), she would stop to point out one sight after another, but more than that, she knew the little things that I think make history so interesting.

And her depth of knowledge is such that I never thought, “Uh-oh. I know more than she does.” Yet at the same time, those few tidbits that I knew, usually about the Legions, that she had never heard before it was clear to see that she loved learning new things about Rome as much as I do.

And with her help, I have been able to reach a deeper understanding and appreciation of how intertwined the people of Rome are with their history and culture. But it’s at such a deep, unconscious level that to outsiders it comes across as indifference. What I’ve seen is that it’s not; it’s just such a part of who they are that they aren’t really conscious that we outsiders aren’t seeing anything other than the stereotypes we all bring to Rome with us.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that being in the company of a native like Giulia opens doors and smooths the way an enormous amount. Which, I would argue, is why that, if pushed to choose between a slightly better hotel and eating at better restaurants, or using that money on a REPUTABLE guide like Giulia, I would strongly urge you to do the latter.

Besides which, in the two lunches we’ve shared, I’ve had the single best two meals of my time in Rome…in total. (Although the truffle pasta I had last year was pretty damn good.)

There is a passion for Rome in every one of you who will read my blog; for some it’s buried more deeply, for others it matches mine. But as I said in a previous blog, the fact is that all roads DO lead here.

And once you’re here, you owe it to yourself to experience to its fullest. I know I sound like an ad for guides, but my eyes have been opened to the difference they can bring to a trip. Whereas before I have always been a “I want to explore on my own”, and like to go my own way, I’ve been able to access such a different level that I won’t be going without a guide in the future.

That doesn’t mean one of those folks hanging out at the Colosseum; do your homework first. And while my qualifications were hardly scientific; when I saw that there was a guide who had been born in Texas, that was all I needed, I lucked out in a big way.

Except that I’ve been introduced to my new form of crack; porchetta.

Piglets on the Olympic Peninsula should be sleeping with one eye open. Just sayin’.


Ciao for now!


Thoughts and Images from Rome


So I’ve decided to keep you faithful readers involved in what is turning out to be a great adventure, a month spent in Rome.  However, I also plan on making side trips, but my base of operations is an apartment on the Via Tiburtina, about a mile north of the Termini station. It is truly a perfect location for the wandering and exploring I intend on doing.

As I mentioned, I plan on doing the obligatory Pompeii side trip, but I also plan on expanding to Naples, because when I looked for sites of interest, there were a LOT there.

For those of you waiting for the last part of Titus’ adventures in Jerusalem, I haven’t forgotten you! I just ask you to be patient; it will come to you soon, I promise.

Now, back to Rome. What can be said that hasn’t already been uttered by others more eloquent than I am? I will say that every time I return, I am reminded of what a guide in Volterra told us, when I was part of a group and on my first trip to Italy in 2012.

“Rome would be great if it wasn’t filled with Romans.”

While I won’t go that far, I can see where this person was coming from, because I am always aware that I am being sized up and measured for just how many Euros they can squeeze out of me. Fortunately, I travel “poor”, meaning that if one were to look at me, they wouldn’t see someone who is, in all likelihood, going to fulfill a dream and have an Ermenegildo Zegna suit made just for him.

However, after all, is that really any different than it was two thousand years ago?

This is the big city; it is the ETERNAL City, after all, so it is only natural to assume that those who were born here look back at all of us tourists with a disdain that is probably the same one worn by their ancestors when a bunch of smelly Gauls showed up at the gates, wide-eyed and in awe of all that Rome was then.

And still is, to a point. I must admit that there is a part of me; I call it my Ugly American, that wants to point out that people flock from all over the world to look at Rome’s PAST, not its present. It doesn’t have a Times Square or a Picadilly Circus that is alive and buzzing with the pulse of the present. From what I’ve seen over the course of my trips here, it seems like a fair share of Romans are content with the idea that it’s their past that people are there for, and are willing to milk us for every Euro they can get in the process.

And I am one of those people who say it’s worth every penny. Or whatever the Euro equivalent is, because I literally can’t get enough of this place. Granted, this is my first week of a month-long stay, but I am hard-pressed to think that I will run out of sights to see.

Granted, I will say that from my perspective, Rome is NOT a great place to watch people, as opposed to Paris, where one can sit in a cafe for hours and just watch the kaleidoscope of color parade by while you sip your beverage of choice and mutter, “Life is shit.” (Spoken in your best French accent)

Yet, in my case I’m writing this while sitting at the table of a restaurant that I like here in Rome. (For those of you who haven’t been here, please set your expectations properly. This is NOT Paris, where even the vending machine sandwiches taste awesome) I’m near the Trevi Fountain, which is closed down, although it wasn’t a big item on my list, and watching the world go by in the form of tourists clutching their guidebooks as they mutter imprecations at whoever shut the fountain down,

(I am willing to bet that one of the most common refrains, spoken in God only knows how many languages, is, “I told you to check on whether or not the Trevi Fountain was open!” There are certain things that are universal, like a significant other in your life who you’re sure is around for the sole purpose of reminding you what you DIDN’T do.)

All that said, I am still in Rome. Earlier today I happened to catch a sign, on Via Cavour, that indicated where I was standing was in the Subura section of Ancient Rome. Seriously, how cool is that for a Romanogeek like me? For all I know, I could have been standing on the same spot where Gaius Julius Caesar’s apartment was located!

For someone like me, is there really anything else better in life, to be so close to touching history?

I don’t think so.

When in Rome…

….write!   I have been spending the day wandering about the Colosseum, then I decided to meander aimlessly in the direction of Nerva’s Forum.   One of the new developments since I was here last year is this addition of a set of bleachers, much like one would find at a high school football game in Texas. So I sat down, looked around and realized, write about it.   It is, after all, what I do now for a living. And considering the subject of which I write, what better place to do it than here?   One of the things that strike me about Rome is the juxtaposition of the very ancient and the new, as the inhabitants of the Eternal City try to get on with the business of living while also trying, with varying degrees of success, to tolerate we interlopers who wander about all agog with sensory overload.   I am an inveterate observer; I have been watching others and their behavior since my earliest memories, so I suppose it makes sense that when I joined the Marines, I ended up basically watching people. Then, sometimes, I’d shoot them. But mostly I watched. I suppose that has something to do with my ability as a writer, such as it is.

And as I wander through the Forum, or in the Colosseum, and I watch the gaggles of tourists shuttling about from one spot to the next, busily snapping their pictures, most of them seeming to be selfies now, I do wonder how many of them actually KNOW anything about what they are seeing.   More specifically, how many of the people who come to Rome, particularly from Western nations, really comprehend how all that we are can be traced back directly and indirectly to this one place? That, regardless of our nationalities, or even our races, we all share this one touchstone of a common past, in one way or another?   I will be the first to confess that, as steeped in the history as I may be, I have trouble keeping that in mind. But that’s why I find it important to return here, for both professional and personal reasons.   In fact, I think it can be argued with some success that I owe everything I have become to Rome. It is the reason I am here, both in the micro and macro sense.   It’s good, at least for me, to remember that.

Forum of Augustus

Titus In Jerusalem- Part I

This is the first part of the second Titus Pullus short story concerning Herod the Great. Using Josephus as my primary source, the 10th and 3rd Legions are detached by Marcus Antonius, under the titular command of Gaius Sosius, to assist the Idumean in his final thrust to solidify his claim to the throne of Judea. His rival Antigonus had invested Jerusalem, and once more this ancient city finds itself under siege. The various gates and towers mentioned were real, and were part of the pre-Herodian defensive improvements made by the Judean king once he consolidated his power.

And with that, I hope all of my readers enjoy the return of an old friend!


“What? When?”

Scribonius’ expression of shock was such that, while I felt much the same way, I could not stifle a chuckle.

“You better close that mouth,” I told him. “No telling what will fly into it.”

“Well, when you come marching in here and tell me what you just did, what do you expect?” he retorted.

That, I had to admit, was a fair question, although I could not resist pointing out one thing.

“You are in my quarters,” I teased. “Seems like you’d be a bit more appreciative seeing how you’re sucking down my wine as you waited for me.”

“And look where that got me?” he grumbled. Then, he turned serious, all levity gone. “So you’re serious.”

“I am,” I agreed, but not without regret that I had to be the bearer of bad news.

We were back in Damascus, after the abbreviated campaign helping the fat toad Herod battle Antigonus for the throne of Judea. Although, after spending time there, none of us really understood why anyone would want to rule over such a barren place, full of fractious, intractable people like the Jews had proven to be. Nevertheless, word had arrived that we were to once more march back south to help Herod finish the job that we had begun. Theoretically it was still winter, but that does not mean much in that part of the world; if anything it is more pleasant than the warmer months, although it does get cold at night. Most importantly, word had arrived from Judea that Herod once more required our assistance. This time, rather than the small town of Jericho, Herod’s rival for the throne of Judea had invested the capital of Jerusalem. And Jerusalem, being the largest city in the country, was a much tougher nut to crack than Jericho had been, which was why Herod was screaming for help. Besieging a city is a grim business, requiring a special set of skills and equipment; Herod might have gotten the equipment from us, but I knew that his men did not have the skills. Although I had not heard any names attached to the force encircling the city, I assumed that Joseph ben-Judah was there somewhere, and I thought about sending a messenger ahead to try and find out what awaited us. The only reason I decided against it was, given our orders to prepare to march immediately, the likelihood was high that we would meet the courier on the road to Jerusalem, and I would have perhaps one or two days’ warning about what to expect. And ultimately, it would not matter one way or the other; Sosius had made that much clear.

“Antonius wants Herod on the throne, not Antigonus. So we’re going to do that for him,” was how he had put it.

“And what Antonius wants…” I heard Spurius mutter, and while I was not happy, I could not stifle a grin hearing his favorite Primus Pilus grumbling.

“How soon can the 3rd and 10th be ready to march?” Sosius asked, and Spurius and I exchanged a 1

“A week,” we both answered simultaneously, prompting another chuckle.

“Then make it so,” Sosius ordered.

“Will you be accompanying us, sir?” Spurius asked.

“Yes,” he answered tersely, “the Triumvir has so ordered.”

I had to admit that he did not look any happier at the prospect of returning to Judea than I, or Spurius for that matter, felt. Which, in a perverse way, actually made me feel somewhat better.


As promised, at dawn exactly a week later, we marched from camp in Damascus, but this time with our heavy baggage. The men, having had a week to adjust to the reality that their winter of debauchery was going to be significantly shortened, while not chattering like magpies, were not completely sullen and silent. If pressed, I would say that the atmosphere was one of muted resignation; that was certainly how I felt about matters, being forced to leave Miriam behind at the villa we were renting from Uncle Tiberius. Diocles, as always, was going with me, but Agis and Eumenis were left behind to attend to her needs. She had taken the news as she always did, with a calm and quiet acceptance that, frankly, I found more unsettling than Gisela’s tantrums.

“This is the life I chose for myself, Titus Pullus,” she explained once when I asked her why she did not seem to get angry or upset when I was suddenly sent away somewhere. “I knew that this would be the way of it. But,” she gave me a shrug and the smile that I had come to love so much, “the heart wants what the heart wants. And nothing else matters. At least,” she teased me, “for a weak woman like me.”

As she always did, Miriam set my own heart to rights about my departure, but this time was made even more difficult because of who we were marching to help; I had hoped I had seen the last of Herod the king of Judea. Yet, here we were once more, eating dust and building the calluses on our feet back up, heading to what is without a doubt one of the most difficult and dangerous types of military operations; the siege of a fortified city.


One thing about besieging a city or fortification for any length of time that one might find surprising is the fact that anyone approaching smells it before ever laying eyes on the area. Whenever you have thousands of people, congregated into a small space like a walled city, there is always a stench. Even in Rome, where we have the most advanced system of waste removal in the known world, there is a foul odor emanating from the poorer areas of the city. But when this is compounded by several factors; the city itself is in turn surrounded by several thousand soldiers who cannot go anywhere and the level of sanitation is primitive, usually nothing more than deep pits that are filled with cac then covered over, it creates a smell that one never forgets. In the case of Jerusalem, we were still at least four or five miles away when a vagrant breeze informed us we were close. As was often the case, Scribonius and I were marching together, and we exchanged a glance as our noses wrinkled at the smell that one never forgets.

“By the gods that’s rank,” Scribonius spat, as if trying to rid the foul humors that had drifted into his mouth.

“And we’re going to be wallowing in it for as long as it takes,” I replied, my grim tone matching my thoughts.

Approaching from the northeast, we had traveled south along the Iordanus, and in doing so had marched within sight of Jericho and the fortress that the 10th had assaulted, only to be betrayed by Herod, who had promised us that we would be given the town to sack as a reward for our suffering and losses experienced taking the fortress that guarded the town. That treachery by Herod still rankled, and the men had been vocal about their displeasure as we marched past the town walls, which was lined with understandably nervous citizens. Fortunately for them, they were only subjected to obscene gestures and taunts as we marched by, something I normally did not allow, nor did Spurius, but this time neither of us were disposed to stop the men from voicing their frustration. The way I saw it, if that was the least the people of Jericho suffered, they should count it as a lucky day. Jerusalem itself was shielded from view by a series of low ridges; it was just the smell at first that let us know we approached. Then, topping the last of the series, we saw arrayed down the slope before us one of Herod’s camps, complete with ditch and walls. The camp wall closest to the city was perhaps a hundred paces up from the base of the slope, and across a narrow ravine rose the slope of the hill on which the eastern wall of the city ran. Naturally, Sosius had sent a courier ahead, but we could instantly see that the party trotting out to greet us did not include Herod; even from a distance there would be no mistaking the fat king. Instead, we were met by a party of what I assumed were men somehow connected to Herod in some way, either by blood or allegiance. One man in particular struck me, reminding me of someone although I could not place him directly. He was the most richly attired of the Jews, but while he was formal in his greeting, there was little of the haughty demeanor of the Judean king. Another notable absentee was ben-Judah, although the man I had been examining supplied not only the answer to two missing men, but his own identity, albeit indirectly.

“My brother and his commander are visiting the camp on Golgotha,” he said, but it took me a moment to realize the meaning.

“Thank you for coming out to greet us, Your Highness,” Sosius replied, which confused me further, until he turned to make introductions. “This is Joseph, Herod’s brother and the king’s heir should he fall.”

Indicating Spurius and I, standing side by side, he introduced us, but I am afraid I was not sure of the protocol for the proper way to greet the second in line to a throne. Consequently, I made a mess of it by bowing while he had reached down to offer his hand, in our style of greeting, and I felt the blood rush to my face, not helped by Spurius’ snickering behind me.

“Thanks for going first,” he whispered to me as he strode past me to take Joseph’s arm.

Once the pleasantries were dispensed with, Sosius asked Joseph about our disposition.

“That,” Joseph admitted, looking a bit uncomfortable, “is what my brother the king is deciding now.”

“Now?” Sosius asked incredulously. “He’s known we were coming for days! And he’s just now deciding where to settle us?”

“He has had other things on his mind,” for the first time the king’s brother flashed a sign that he was in fact related to Herod by blood, his stiff tone matching his suddenly erect posture.

Like his brother, his hair and beard were black as a crow’s wing, and like all noblemen of the East, his hair was curled and treated with some oily substance that made it gleam in the sun. Although not fat like his brother, there was a softness about him that Herod did not have, which I know sounds strange, but as heavy as Herod might have been, one only had to look at him to know that he was a man who would do anything to achieve his aims.

Oblivious to my examination, Joseph and Sosius stared at each other before Sosius finally muttered, “This isn’t going to do any good. Do you at least,” his voice carried with it his feeling of frustration, “know what we’re supposed to do while we wait for him to decide what he’s going to do with the army that is going to give him Jerusalem and his kingdom?”

At this Joseph flushed, and looked embarrassed; although I did not particularly care, I considered that it must have been difficult to be in his position at the moment.

“As you can see, there is room at the top of this hill,” he pointed back over our shoulders. “You can have your men make themselves as comfortable as possible outside the walls up there.”

Knowing there was nothing left for us to do at that moment, Sosius gave him a curt nod, then relayed his orders to us.

As Spurius and I strode up the hill to our respective Legions, we exchanged a look, and he summed it up.

“This is going to be a mess.”


It was not until sundown the next day before our dispositions were finally made, and as I had expected, we were divided up, with the 3rd sent to a new camp on the northern side of the city, while we stayed put. After much discussion; if Sosius and Herod shouting at each other in the Jewish king’s version of a praetorium could be described as such, it was decided that rather than enlarge the camp on this hill, we would create our own. It was a somewhat awkward arrangement; essentially the Porta Praetoria and constituent wall ran along a north/south axis perhaps a hundred paces below the summit of the hill, with the rest of the camp arrayed on the opposite slope from the city. Not only did it mean the camp was not pitched on level ground, most of it was out of sight of the siegeworks. We did this for a simple reason; the standard and level of sanitation in the Jewish camp was appalling, and just our brief examination of their camp when we were deciding what to do informed us that there was already the beginning of an outbreak of the bloody flux that is so common in situations such as this. Thanks to my time spent under the command of Caesar, who I would say had an obsession for cleanliness, along with my own observations of the causes of what is usually the most potent killer of men participating in a siege, sickness, it was an easy argument to make to Sosius.

“If we share this camp,” I did not soften my words at all, “we’ll lose more men because they caced themselves to death than from any swords.”

While Sosius had never served under Caesar, he saw the same things that I did, which led to the shouting match between the Judean king and Antonius’ representative. In the end, as I knew we must, we prevailed, and there was a distance of more than two hundred paces down the slope between the two camps. The hill itself was referred to as the Mount of Olives, but all that was left were the stumps of the grove of trees that gave the hill its name; as we learned, Herod had been nothing if not thorough, denuding the surrounding hills of every tree to use for his siege engines. It must be said that it was something of a chore to hold briefings; although the distance from one side of the city to the other is not all that great, because of the encircling works, Spurius and his Centurions had to make a circuitous route to come to Herod’s camp. Despite the stench and squalor, the Judean king refused to relinquish control of where our meetings were conducted, meaning that we were forced to go there several times a day, especially during the early stages of the siege. Consequently, Scribonius and I would trudge together down the hill, wondering what new idea Herod would have. I will give him this much; he was extremely industrious in coming up with ways to crack the very tough nut that was Jerusalem, even if it was not that imaginative. His plan, such as it was, involved essentially repeating the assault of Pompey, a little more than two decades before, at least in the sense of realizing that the huge building that the Jews call their Temple was the key to the city. Situated in the northeastern quadrant of Jerusalem, its eastern and most of its northern faces were part of the city walls, and they towered over the ravine below, helped by the steepness of the pitch of the hill on which it sits. Not surprisingly, this promontory is referred to as the Temple Mount, and because of its size, the thickness of its walls, and its location, even if we breached the walls at another point, if we did not take the Temple, the defenders would have it as a last redoubt. Personally, I had had enough of assaulting prepared fortifications in Judea; the experience of the small fortress outside Jericho, which had been hastily constructed, told me that assaulting the Temple was going to be bloody. If we were to assault the city from another point; say, the southern wall, we would have to breach or surmount it, then fight our way through the streets, driving Antigonus’ men into the Temple, whereupon we would essentially have to start over. However, if we were to attack either the northeast or northern walls, take the Temple, and then make our way through the streets, the only other redoubt of any strength was a small but well-situated palace, located hard up against the western wall on the opposite side of the city from the Temple. Consequently, Herod’s strategy of trying to copy Pompey’s approach made the most sense, although there were still a number of challenges facing us. Not lost on me, or Spurius I assume, was that, although Pompey had begun his siege of Jerusalem making the Temple the focus of his preparations, he was actually aided by guile, in the form of an unlocked northern gate that allowed him to gain a foothold in the city. While Herod indicated that he was pursuing a similar stratagem, smuggling in messengers to men he believed, or hoped, would be loyal to him, just from his tone I sensed that he did not place much hope in this as an outcome. Fortunately, he was not content to wait with his other preparations as he pursued this as well, and there had been some progress made by the time we had arrived. Essentially encircling the city, much as Caesar did at Alesia, the only difference was that there was not a twin set of defenses, since all of Antigonus’ forces were now contained within the city. There would be no help coming from Herod’s rival, and once Jerusalem was taken, Herod would no longer have any rival claimants to the crown. The Idumean had also begun a number of mines, strategically placing them around the perimeter of the city in such a way that it would make it difficult for defenders to cover all of them and still have enough manpower to defend the Temple outer wall. While I was forced to admit that, overall, Herod had certainly been active and not just been waiting for us to arrive to do the brute labor, there were still several things that disturbed me about what was taking place. Naturally, the sanitation problem was the foremost, but I had instituted a very strict rule about fraternization with Herod’s men in the other camp; most of this was because of the chance for disease spreading, but never far from the back of my mind was the episode with Cornuficius, when I had led the 6th for Caesar during his time in Alexandria and abbreviated campaign in Pontus. I had witnessed then the extreme sensitivity these Jews had about matters of what they considered honor; as I had once observed to Caesar, until I met them I never thought I would run into a more argumentative and contentious bunch of people than Romans. However, what concerned me the most was the fact that Herod had chosen to start constructing his siege towers, all three of them, at the bottom of the ravine, just slightly north of the northeast corner of the walls. In doing so, he was announcing to anyone with eyes and more sense than a goose where he was planning to attack, and although I understood his reasons; the ground in this part of the world is extremely rough and broken, I believed that it would be worth the effort it would take to disperse the towers more evenly. The other problem was that their location put them within a sortie from a strongly-built stone structure that guarded the northern gate. Hard up against the northwestern corner of the Temple, during our first briefing with Herod he informed us that this fortress was integrated with the Temple by way of an underground passage that allowed men and supplies to be transported without threat of interception. When I heard this, it did not take long for me to recognize the danger to the towers; what took a bit longer was deciding how I could bring it up without Herod taking offense.


“I think you just lay it out to Sosius,” Scribonius advised. “The instant you do he’s going to see you’re right. And when he does, then it’s his problem, not yours.”

It was the end of the third day, and we had finally gotten settled in enough to be given our respective tasks. While I had expected it, given where we were located on the Mount of Olives, I was still not happy about the prospect of being charged with the continued construction of the towers, along with their security. Granted, I understood the men would be happy, because Spurius’ boys were going to be responsible for the mines underneath the walls. I considered Scribonius’ advice, and as usual, I took it. The next morning I told Sosius of my concerns, which he listened to with a growing expression of concern.

“Let me ride out and take a look myself,” he told me, “then we’ll talk.”

Naturally I agreed, and when the messenger arrived to summon me to the praetorium; Sosius had made his own headquarters in our camp, since it was closer to Herod, I made haste to comply. His manner was grim, and when he opened his mouth I discovered that it was not just due to what he had seen.

“I went out there and took a look,” he began. “And you’re right. That fort is not much more than two hundred paces away, maybe two hundred-fifty from the closest tower.” He paused, and I admit I was curious why he seemed to hesitate now that it appeared the answer was clear. “But,” was his first hint that I was not going to like what I heard, “I also talked to Herod about it. And he assures me that there won’t be a sortie from the fort.”

“How can he do that?” I asked, more astonished than angry. Then I thought of something. “Does he have someone inside that can make sure they don’t?”

Sosius shifted his gaze away from me, clearly uncomfortable.

“I asked him that,” he admitted. “But he says no. He also says that it doesn’t matter, because he knows it won’t happen.”

“I still don’t know how he can be so sure,” I shot back.

Sosius shrugged, and replied, “Neither do I, but he’s adamant that there won’t be any threat coming from that fort. However, I did get him to agree to move the construction of the two towers we’re responsible for farther away.”

Understanding this was about the best I could expect, I could not resist saying bitterly, “That’s easy for him to say; it’s not going to be his fat ass bleeding in the dust.”

Silete!” Sosius commanded, his tone sharp, but I knew him well enough to understand that his heart was not in it and he was just doing what was expected of him. “We have to take him at his word, Pullus.”

Dismissing me with a wave, he did not hear as I said to myself, “You may have to, but I don’t.”


Despite my misgivings, we took up the tasks to which we had been assigned, and with the extra manpower, the pace of the progress naturally increased. Nevertheless, it was not without more recriminations and argument. Specifically, it concerned the third of the three siege towers, and who had the responsibility for it. Although it had been decided that, while the men of the 10th would use two of the towers to assault the walls, the third was reserved for Herod’s Jewish troops, which would be led by ben-Judah. However, when the detail of men I had assigned to take over the construction of the third tower, mistakenly assuming that the Jews would be thankful to allow men who could essentially do this in their sleep to step in, the Centurion in charge received a nasty shock. As usual I was standing with Balbus and Scribonius, when Metellus, the Tertius Pilus Prior came rushing up to me, his face as red as his sagum.

“Primus Pilus, you wouldn’t believe what those…those cunni did!” he stormed, completely forgetting to render a salute.

Normally I was not disposed to excuse such behavior, but I knew Metellus well, and just one look at his face was enough to tell me that there were more important matters to worry about.

“What did they do?” I asked with a sigh, trying to keep my voice mild, knowing that it was not going to do any good to get as excited as he was at that moment.

That, as I was about to discover, was not destined to last.

“When we showed up to the tower, not only did they refuse to allow us to step in and take over, they refused our help at all!”

“What?” I asked, more puzzled at that moment than angry. “Why would they do that?”

“Because they’re a bunch of proud cunni who’ve forgotten their place!” Metellus replied indignantly. “When I saw they didn’t want us to take over building the fucking tower, I actually offered to just lend a hand and let them keep working! Do you know what they did?”

“No,” I responded, suddenly fighting a losing battle to keep my own anger quelled.

“They started throwing rocks at us to drive us off!” Thinking of this seemed to make Metellus actually begin to shake with rage; I cannot say that I was far behind him.

“They did what?”

I was not actually the one who asked this; I had forgotten Balbus and Scribonius were there, and it was my Pilus Posterior, his scarred face twisted in shock who had spoken. Scribonius, normally the most reserved of us, let out a gasp of astonishment, while I felt the coil of anger in my gut that is always there start to unwind itself.

“Come with me,” I snapped to Metellus, but before I could stalk off and head directly to where the recalcitrant Jews were presumably waiting, Scribonius put a gentle hand on my arm.

When I whirled about to face him, he shook his head and said quietly, “Titus, don’t. I suspect that this isn’t a random event.”

I forced myself to calm down, although it took an effort, once more heeding my wise friend’s words.

“Why do you think that?” I asked him.

His face plastered with his frown, he considered for a moment, but if I was expecting one of Scribonius’ well thought-out reasons, backed with unassailable logic, I was to be disappointed.

“I don’t know, exactly,” he finally admitted.

Balbus snorted at this.

“I say you take us,” I knew Balbus was referring to the First Cohort, “and we head over there and stomp those bastards into greasy smears in the dirt.”

“Of course you do,” Scribonius shot back, clearly nettled. “But while I can’t say why this happened with any certainty, what I can say and be sure of is that you marching over there and engaging in a brawl. Or worse,” he added, shooting me a glance that carried his warning, “is a very, very bad idea. Think about it,” he insisted, ignoring Balbus and focusing on me, knowing that ultimately I would make the decision. “Put aside how much of an insult it is, or why it’s happening. How is it going to look to them,” he gestured with his head over his shoulder in the direction of the wall, where as always there were men watching everything we did, “if they watch these supposed allies rolling around in the dirt trying to kill each other?”

“We wouldn’t have to ‘roll in the dirt,’” Balbus shot back, but I saw the doubt flashing through his eyes. “I bet if we just show up they’ll change their mind. After all,” he pointed to Metellus, who had remained silent as his superiors argued, “Metellus’ boys are already there waiting. With the First, they’ll collapse like an empty wineskin. But,” he said grudgingly, “if you want to be sure, bring the Second too.”

“They’re already working on their tower,” Scribonius objected. “Which means that we’d lose time on two of the towers, not just one.” He shook his head. “No, I think that this is unfortunately something that you have to take to Sosius and let him thrash Herod.”

I felt my jaws clench from the frustration I was feeling. In temperament, I was much more aligned with Balbus, preferring to handle any problem in what I considered the most direct way, which was usually either killing it, or beating it into a pulpy submission. But my experiences as Primus Pilus for the last decade, with all the political wrangling and subtle maneuvering had forced me to recognize that there were times where brute force was not the best solution. And as much as I hated to admit it, I knew that this was one of those times.

Sighing, I told Metellus, “Pull your men back with us for now. I’m going to go talk to Sosius.”

Without waiting for his acknowledgment, knowing he would obey no matter how much he did not like it, I spun about and began stalking up the hill to find Sosius.


“He what?” Sosius’ mouth had dropped open when I told him what was taking place. “How do you know Herod is behind this?”

“Who else?” I asked, then continued, “I don’t see ben-Judah being behind this. He’s not the type to turn down help, especially with something like this.”

Sosius did not respond, but I saw he was in agreement.

Sighing, he stood up, and picked up his helmet from his desk, saying wearily, “Fine. Come with me and let’s get this sorted out.”

Somewhat to my surprise, Herod was actually in his own headquarters tent, and I got the distinct impression that he was waiting for us. Fortunately for everyone, he did not keep us standing outside his office, and the moment we entered I saw that he was not alone. ben-Judah was standing there just behind Herod’s chair, but when our eyes met he could only give a helpless shrug, which made me feel a bit better that I had not misjudged the situation.

“What can I do for my Roman friends?” Herod’s fat cheeks folded up as he gave us his version of what I suppose he thought was his winning smile.

If it was his intent to put us off our guard, he did the opposite; Herod was normally not a smiling, or friendly man, even to those to whom he owed everything. Of course, with the exception of the two men who were the ultimate founts of his authority, Antonius, then later, Octavian. For those of us under their command, he barely deigned to be polite, so this show of good humor was off-putting at the very least.

“You can explain to us,” Sosius’ tone was icy, “why your men drove mine off when they came to help construct the tower?”

If I found Herod’s smile disturbing, it was his attempt to display surprise at Sosius’ words.

“What?” he exclaimed, twisting his fat body in his chair to gaze up at ben-Judah. “Is this true, ben-Judah?”

Herod’s military commander, who I had known for more than a decade at this point, turned a deep red, and he opened his mouth to say something. However, whatever look passed between the two served to still what I was fairly certain he was going to say, which was a protest at being put in this position.

For a moment they two glared at each other, then I saw ben-Judah’s jaw clench as he muttered, “Yes, Highness. It is true that some of the men were not happy about our Roman friends coming to help.”

“Well, that is unacceptable!” Herod pounded the desk with the flat of his hand in such an obviously theatrical way that I did not know whether to burst out laughing or into applause. Facing back to Sosius, he raised his hands in a gesture of apology, oozing unctuous sincerity. “I can only offer my most humble apologies, General. That is certainly most unfortunate. I will punish those responsible, I can assure you.”

We stood there for a moment, but Herod made a point of returning his attention to whatever it was on his desk so, seeing that there would be nothing else coming from him, we turned to go. Which, as it turned out, was exactly what he wanted us to do.

“General,” he called out just as Sosius was reaching for the flap that served as the doorway into Herod’s private office. “I just had a thought.”

Uh-oh, I thought; I have been told I have a vivid imagination, but there was no place my mind could go whereby I could imagine Herod saying anything we would like. And I was right.

“Yes, Highness?” Sosius’ tone was neutral, but I knew him well enough to see that his thoughts were running parallel to my own, because he looked very much like a man who was about to thrust his hand into a beehive without any real expectation there was a honeycomb awaiting him, only angry bees.

“While I cannot condone what my men did, and they will be punished,” he hurried to cut off Sosius’ protest, “I cannot fault their ardor or desire to be involved in this siege.” He paused for a moment, clearly gauging our reaction; for our part neither of us spoke, but exchanged a glance. Seeing that we were not disposed to say anything, he continued, “To that end, I have decided that I would like my men to construct the third tower on their own, without any help from our Roman allies.”

Sosius did not reply immediately, and I could tell he was trying to do two things at once; determine what Herod’s deeper game was, and how to respond.

“Highness,” he finally began, his tone careful, “that is indeed a commendable sentiment, and I applaud both your men’s devotion to duty, and to you,” he smeared a bit more honey on the turd coming out of his mouth, “but I feel compelled to point out that they do not have the experience in these matters that mine do. I just worry that there will be…mistakes in the construction that may prove costly to not just the tower being ready, but to the mission itself.”

“I understand they are not as familiar with using hammer and nails as your men,” Herod’s words dripped with an acid condescension, “but my men are all professional warriors. And I have every confidence that they can attach some sticks together to make a tower that even a Roman would approve of,” he laughed, I suppose at his heavy-handed attempt at humor, but neither Sosius nor I found it humorous.

I glanced over at ben-Judah, trying to determine if he was involved in this, but frankly, he looked as unhappy as we felt, and I felt a pang of sympathy for this man who had chosen to follow a ruler like Herod. Sosius, I suppose sensing that this had been Herod’s goal all along, pursed his lips in a way that I had recognized was the sign he was struggling to maintain his composure. Glancing over at me, the best I could offer was a shrug, thinking not only was this a battle we could not win, but was not worth fighting; I was certain that other matters of greater importance would come up as this siege progressed. Unfortunately, I was wrong, but all I can say in hindsight is that Sosius did not see what was coming any more than I did.

“Very well, Highness,” he said this with a sharp exhalation of breath. “If that is what you want, we are here to help. So, please let us know if you change your mind.”

“Oh, I will, but I doubt it will be necessary,” Herod replied genially, then without saying anything more dismissed us with a regal wave.

“Pluto’s cock,” I muttered; Sosius was so distracted he did not admonish me.

We left Herod’s private office and exited the tent, stalking back to our own camp with its own problems, but we had only gone a few paces when I heard someone call my name. Both Sosius and I spun about, but when he saw it was ben-Judah, the Legate gave a snort of disgust.

“No doubt he was in on this,” he said bitterly, “and right now I don’t think it will do any of us any good for me to talk to him.”

“I’ll do it,” I assured Sosius, and without another word he turned and continued stomping away.

ben-Judah looked over my shoulder at Sosius departing, and I saw his mouth twist into a frown behind his beard.

“He doesn’t feel like talking right now,” I tried to make it a joke, but it was a weak jest and did not wipe his expression off his face.

“Does he think I was part of this?”

I hesitated, but realized that lying was not going to change anything, so I answered with a simple nod. He uttered an oath that, while I did not understand since it was in his own tongue, I was fairly certain I knew the sentiment behind it.

“Well, I didn’t,” he spat into the dirt, but then looked up at me to search my face. “I swear it, Pullus. I didn’t know he was going to do this.”

I returned ben-Judah’s gaze, but I saw no trace of guile there, and along with what I knew of the man I was inclined to believe him. However, there was one thing that nagged at me.

“I believe you,” I said, but when I saw him visibly relax I hurried on, “about not having anything to do with Herod’s decision to let your boys build the tower. But what about what started it all?”

His expression turned wary, and he asked, “You mean the rocks?”

“Yes, I mean the rocks,” I could not restrain myself from lacing my tone with a fair amount of sarcasm. “What else would I be talking about?”

He flushed, but did not reply in kind, saying instead, “I didn’t know about that either. But I know who did.”

“Who?” I admit I was bewildered that the commander of all the Jewish forces would not be aware that this act was going to be perpetrated, because as soon as I heard the specific details I knew it was not a spontaneous act.

“Judas bar-Levi,” he spat out the name.

“Your second?” I asked incredulously. “He did this behind your back?”

“He did,” ben-Judah assured me. “One of the rankers loyal to me overheard him giving the men who threw the rocks instructions about when to do it.”

“But why?”

I could not fathom how this kind of dissension in the ranks of Herod’s army was a good thing. For a moment, ben-Judah did not answer, and when he did it was with a weariness that informed me that this had been preying on his mind.

“Because,” he said slowly, “Herod is no longer happy with my service. He suspects my loyalty, and he does not like the fact that we are friendly. Although nobody has said it aloud, I am fairly certain that he did not tell me about what he had planned because he was afraid that I would warn you beforehand.”

I stood there absorbing that for a moment, my mind racing with the implications. Having our ally torn apart from within by internal politics was never a good thing; for an operation like a siege, when the men would be in one spot for an indeterminate amount of time, that was even worse. On campaign and on the march, men set against each other could be removed from proximity to their rivals, simply by rearranging the order of march. That was not feasible during a siege operation.

“How did you fall out of favor with Herod?” I asked him.

Once more he paused, then answered quietly, “My brother.”

“But we captured your brother,” I replied, thinking of the man who had commanded the last troops in the small blockhouse inside the fortress outside Jericho.

“We did,” ben-Judah nodded, and I did not need to know the man to see the torment there. “But when Herod ordered his execution, I intervened and asked him,” he closed his eyes, “no, I begged him to spare my brother.”

From what I knew of Herod, I could see how this would upset him, but not to the extent of thinking ben-Judah was going to betray him, and I said as much.

“Before we ever faced my brother in the field, Herod had asked me what I would do if he ordered Malachi to be executed. I told him that my brother had chosen his path, and he should suffer the consequences for resisting the true king of Judea. But,” he gave a helpless shrug, accompanied by a sad smile, “that was before.”

“Before when it was just an idea,” I finished for him.

His answer came in the form of a miserable nod of his head as he looked anywhere but at me.

“Joseph,” I said quietly, and it was enough of a rarity for me to use his praenomen that it caused him to look at me, “Believe me when I tell you that I understand and appreciate your position. While he wasn’t my brother, I once had a friend who was someone I considered to be just as close. We grew up together, we joined the Legions together.” I paused, mainly because I was surprised at the sharp stab of pain this memory caused me; I had believed I had put this matter behind me long before. “But at Pharsalus, when the 10th mutinied, my friend, Vibius Domitius was his name,” I do not know why but I felt it was important to utter his name, “chose to side with the mutineers. And I chose to remain loyal to Caesar. I almost struck my best friend down that day.”

When I stopped speaking, ben-Judah considered that for a moment, then asked, “What finally happened?”

The laugh that came from me was soaked with the sense of loss I felt.

“We served out our enlistments once I returned to the 10th,” I did not need to elaborate on that since ben-Judah was aware of my role with the 6th with Caesar in Alexandria, “and when his ended he went back home. But then, when all the ruckus with The…Liberators,” I spat between my fingers in the old sign of laying a curse on the souls of those rotten bastards, “and Octavian and Antonius took place, he re-enlisted in Brutus’ army.”

“Did you ever see him?”

Sighing, I replied, “Yes, at Philippi. I spotted him on the far side of where we were fighting. And in that moment, I decided I was going to end this…thing between us.” I made sure to look at ben-Judah when I continued, “I decided to end it the same way I’ve solved most of my problems, by killing Vibius.”

Now ben-Judah was staring at me intently, but if he thought he knew where this was headed, I am fairly certain he was wrong.

“What did you do?”

“I…” searched for the words that could best sum up all the things that I felt in the short period of time it took me to run across the rear of our lines to draw myself opposite to Vibius. “…I just couldn’t do it. When all is said and done, the truth is that when I was looking Vibius in the eye, I could no more kill him than you could go along with the execution of your brother. That’s not who I,” I amended, “we are. We’ll kill our enemies because that’s what we do. But when it comes to something like this?” I shook my head and said no more.

For a long moment we stood there side by side in silence.

Finally, ben-Judah broke it by saying, “Be that as it may, that’s the reason Herod doesn’t trust me anymore.”

“So he’d condemn you for the ‘crime’ of not wanting to see your brother executed?” Once more I could only shake my head, but then without thinking it through, as usual, I blurted out, “Why would you want to follow a man like Herod, knowing that?”

“I’ve been wondering that very thing myself,” he admitted, glancing about to make sure nobody was within eavesdropping distance.

From a distance I am sure that it looked like two senior officers conferring on some matter, but like ben-Judah I was a bit nervous about the subject matter.

“But I’ve come to the conclusion that what makes a good king does not necessarily make a good man,” he continued. “And Pullus, you have to understand how much turmoil the people of Judea have suffered over the last several years. While I may not like Herod’s methods, I still think that he’s the best man to bring some order to all this chaos.” He waved a hand about as he said this last.

“Well, at least Antonius has reached the same conclusion,” I agreed. Then, clapping him on the shoulder, I said, “And now I have to get back to building our two towers. Have fun with yours.”

Despite the somber tone of our conversation, I had to laugh at the face he made, and we parted ways.


With only two towers to build, we were at least able to increase the pace of construction, but not without attempts by the garrison to stop us. Our main camp on the Mount was at the far southern end of the section of the wall for which the 10th was responsible, so we created three smaller camps parallel to the wall which ran in a north/south direction, with the northernmost camp located at an oblique angle to the northeastern corner, where the wall turned to an east/west orientation. About halfway down that length of northern wall the original wall had been altered so that it enclosed the fortress that guarded the northern gate; our third camp was positioned in such a way that it was roughly equidistant between the eastern wall where the Temple was, and the fortress. The third tower, that Herod had essentially tricked us into allowing his men to construct, was being built farther north of the northern wall, but was positioned so that the fortress was to the right a few hundred paces. Once their tower was built, it was more or less a straight line to the northern part of the Temple wall, but the ground was extremely rough. Despite being rebuffed in our attempt to help, I did not feel right about not sending a messenger directly to ben-Judah, suggesting that he expend part of his resources and effort in smoothing the path. Unfortunately, the only way to do that properly was by constructing mantlets, at least two, preferably more, that could be used by the men assigned the task to smooth the surface while under cover. My suspicion that my suggestion would be ignored was borne out over the next several days, but I could not pay more than passing attention to what they were doing; I had problems enough of my own.


Within our section of wall there were three gates, one located at the far left of our siege line, just around the corner where the eastern and southern walls intersected, called the Essene Gate, while the second one was the Susa Gate, which led directly into the Temple Quarter. Finally, almost directly north across the city from the Essene Gate was a smaller gate, this one also leading into the Temple Quarter, named the Tadi Gate, but this one was directly in front of that fortress I mentioned earlier, making it a suicide mission to try to storm. For a general of the sort who fought their “battles” while reclining on their couches, the Susa Gate was the obvious choice for an all-out assault, as it led directly into the heart of our main objective, the Temple. But, as any experienced military man knows, what is obvious to you is equally obvious to an enemy who is even somewhat competent. Consequently, the Susa Gate was the most heavily fortified and guarded gate of the entire city. Facing the wall, the Susa Gate was flanked on either side by two towers, although the one to the left was built up, with a stone roof and a series of slits that were large enough for scorpions to fire down on anyone approaching while under complete cover. Compounding the difficulty was that someone, either the original architect or more likely another man with a keen eye, had built a parapet on the roof itself, which provided partial cover to a ballista that could lob rocks, or what was more likely, pots of Greek fire. The tower to the right was weaker, but only marginally; it lacked the roof and had only a parapet. However, it was slightly larger in diameter, so that it mounted not one, but two ballistae. The first tower, which we learned was referred to as the Ophel Tower, was strategically located at the junction of the outer wall of the Temple Quarter, and the southern boundary wall of the Quarter that was inside the city. Perhaps the best way to describe it was think of a box, and within that box is one smaller box which shares two sides of the bigger box and fills about a quarter of the first one. This was what compounded the difficulty for us; if we avoided the section of wall by the Susa Gate and instead pushed the tower farther south along the east wall, once over the wall we would be faced with assaulting the inner wall of the Temple Quarter. Theoretically, once we were on the parapet, we could use it to advance north to take the Ophel Tower from the flank, then use that as our entry into the Quarter. However, that was a choke point that would require far fewer men to hold it than it would to take it. Besides which, although the walls were too high for us to see it ourselves, we were assured that the tower’s firing slits were incised into the tower almost all the way around, so that the parapet itself could be swept by fire. And as wide as the parapet was; we were told the walls were twenty feet thick, we would have to advance so tightly packed together that just a few scorpion bolts would erase a Century as if it had never existed. All this meant that our options for assaulting the city were limited, and it did not take long for that reality to settle in with the men, whose behavior while they worked was suitably grim. This siege was going to be difficult; the assault once all was prepared would be bloody, and the men of the 10th had sufficient experience to understand this. Even if the defenders inside had been content to just stand and watch us, this was going to be a hard slog; unfortunately Antigonus and his men did not seem content to do that.


Although our main camp was still on the opposite slope of the Mount of Olives, I had begun spending my nights in one of the three camps, each of them large enough to sleep at least two Cohorts apiece. Even before we began work on the towers, Sosius had given us the orders to create these camps and the attendant siegeworks that went with it. And naturally, Herod fumed at what he believed was an excessive delay.

“The sooner the towers touch the walls, the sooner Jerusalem falls!”

If he said that once, he said it at least a hundred times. But thankfully, Sosius was either not listening to Herod’s importuning, or chose to ignore the Judean king. I endeavored to stay away from the Jewish camp unless it was absolutely necessary, but fortunately Sosius told both Spurius and I that we were needed elsewhere, and that Herod’s constant demands for information and progress reports would be handled by the Legate.

“You two do what you know needs to be done,” he had told us, and both Spurius and I were happy to comply.

That did not keep the fat man from making a nuisance of himself; at least once a day he would mount his poor horse to make an inspection of the works himself. Never shy about giving advice, the unfortunate rankers would be forced to stop their work and come to intente when he would show up. As difficult it was for the men, it was even more of a burden for whatever hapless Centurion happened to be standing there, forced to answer Herod’s questions, which were invariably accompanied by barbed comments about our seeming lack of progress. Despite how much I loathe Herod, I must admit that when he and I did interact, the questions he asked were good ones, showing not only a probing intelligence but a keen grasp of some of the more subtle aspects of siege warfare, at least as conducted by Rome. That is why it was hard for me to reconcile the fact that, as much knowledge as Herod seemed to possess, he was seemingly indifferent to the conditions in his own camp. The one happy result, albeit accidentally, that came about as a result of Herod insisting that his own men construct the third tower was that it caused ben-Judah to construct another camp, directly north of the fortress. Situated just to the south of what I suppose could be called a suburb of Jerusalem, the camp of the Jews was just a mile from the fortress, and roughly equidistant to the west of our third camp. Well out of range, but close enough that help could be summoned if the camp fell under attack. I imagine that his experience as part of Caesar’s command in Egypt rubbed off on ben-Judah, because his camp was almost an exact duplicate of one of ours, at least as far as the sanitation. With all that said, the responsibility for what happened on a night, about a week after we made our final dispositions and were well underway to building the towers, lies squarely with ben-Judah and his men.


As fortune would have it, I had chosen to spend the night in the third camp, the one closest to the fortress and more importantly, to the Tadi Gate, and I was awakened by the blast of a bucina sounding the signal that enemy troops had been sighted. Even before the sound of the horn died in the night air, there were shouts of alarm, coming from the direction of the western rampart, the one closest to the city. Because of where I was staying, when I leapt from my cot, I ran directly into another man, knocking him sprawling.

“Watch out you big oaf!”

Normally I would have knocked the man who said such a thing to their Primus Pilus out with one punch, but not only was I cognizant of the fact I was sharing quarters, it was who I was sharing with that kept me from doing so. Instead, I laughed and offered Scribonius my hand to pull him up.

“Sorry,” I grinned.

“No you’re not,” he grumbled as both of us headed out of his tent after hurriedly throwing on our armor and harness.

That made me laugh, and I admitted, “True. I do like seeing you knocked on your ass.”

Any retort he might have made was cut off by the sight of men not on watch scrambling from their tents, most of them still in one stage or another of donning their armor and harness.

“Hurry up, you lazy bastards! We’ve got company!” I yelled, as Scribonius and I trotted in the direction of the rampart.

“I was wondering when they’d make a sortie,” Scribonius commented as we ran up the ramp to where there was already the guard Century arrayed.

Even in the darkness I immediately saw the dull gleam of helmeted heads bobbing up and down in what was clearly a disorganized mass, lit by the men of the enemy carrying torches, but the fact that they were close enough that I could immediately see them caused me to unleash a string of bitter curses.

“Pluto’s cock!” I recognized Scribonius’ voice, and it was notable enough that it was my friend uttering this oath and not me that I still remember it. “How did they get this close? Don’t the Jews have sentries out there?”

“If they did, they’re either dead or are going to wish they were,” I said bitterly. Turning about, I issued a string of commands to my cornicen, who had just stumbled to his place.

“Sound the call to send Fourth through Sixth Centuries out!” I snapped, then without waiting for an answer, turned and went sprinting for the forum, which would be the first place those men would assemble. Shouting over my shoulder to Scribonius, I finished, “You take the rest out the Porta Decumana! I’m taking the others out the Sinistra to hit them from the side!”

“We’ve only got two sections on guard at the tower!” he reminded me, although I did not need it.

This tower, the only one Herod allowed us to move to a safer location, was being constructed just behind the camp, so that the camp was between it and the enemy. Under normal circumstances we would have been alerted well before the enemy had gotten so close, meaning that we could have easily blocked any sortie, but because of some sort of failure, the circumstances of which I was currently unaware but was determined to find out, we were now on the back foot. Now I could only hope that those two sections could hold off this sortie long enough for the rest of us to come help. Making matters even more serious was that we only had the framework of the tower built, and that only partially, which meant that it was still bare wood. The green hides that are stretched around the frame of the tower are the last part of the construction, and then only after they had been soaking in water barrels for at least a full day. If the enemy raiding carried pots of Greek fire, and there was no reason to believe they did not, it would be almost impossible to keep them from destroying what we had built. Ultimately, it was going to be a race, one that depended on those two sections of men holding them off.


There is no way to accurately measure time in such moments, but my experience told me that the Centuries I was taking command of formed up as quickly as it was possible for them to do, so that it was not long after the bucina call that we were moving at the double time towards the Porta Sinistra, the left-hand gate of a Roman camp. Helping our cause was the size of the camp itself, since it was the only one built to handle three Cohorts, although there were only two currently there. The slightly larger size was in anticipation of the need for more men in that camp, since it was the closest to the fortress. While I did not know at the time, my assumption was that this force was coming from the fortress; it was only after the fact that I learned differently. Making our way out the gate, there was the inevitable pause that comes from a large body of men forced to squeeze together to exit a gate, but the Centurions quickly got their Centuries back into order. Normally at this point I would have called for a quick counsel with the three Centurions, but I could hear men shouting in our tongue, outside the walls of the camp, and although the walls blocked our view around the corner, the lurid light of torches made a glow that only added to the urgency. Although there was no way to tell with any certainty, it did not appear that the tower itself was on fire, but I knew there were just a handful of moments before that became the case.

Consequently, my only order was to bellow, “Follow me!”

Without waiting for any acknowledgement, I began sprinting for the corner of the camp, but even over the sound of my own breathing I could hear the clatter of equipment as the men followed closely behind. Turning the corner, the sudden flare of light from what appeared to be at least three dozen torches momentarily caused me to slow as my eyes tried to adjust to the sudden change in light. Taking in the scene before me, what I saw was a single thin line of our men, arranged in a semicircle around the tower, but even as I watched, the attackers were skirting around the last man on the far side of the tower. To my left, Scribonius and the first three Centuries were in much the same condition as we had been a moment before, disorganized and trying to shake out into a line of Centuries. Ideally, I would wait so that we could hit the raiding party simultaneously, but even as I watched, I saw an arc of fire, trailing sparks and droplets of flame, flying through the air in the direction of the tower. The pot of Greek fire landed short, splattering in a brief explosion of flame, in between the tower and the line of Legionaries, with some of the globs of sticky fire hitting the base of the tower, where they guttered for a moment before flickering out. Almost simultaneously, I heard one of our men shout in pain as apparently one of the shards of the pot that carry the Greek fire struck him, and I was vaguely aware of the sight of some of the sticky substance clinging to the back of the man’s calf.

“Someone help him,” I roared, although I did not break stride, skirting the puddle of flame on the ground to reach the thin line of Legionaries.

Without waiting, I leapt forward through one of the gaps between men of the defending section, barely having time to bring my sword to the first position in preparation for an attack by the leader of the sortie. Wearing a high conical helmet, with dangling flaps that told me he had not tied the helmet on, he was a heavily bearded, squat man, younger than me, wearing the scale armor that is favored by Jewish warriors, as well as those of the other Eastern nations. It has the advantage of being lighter than our heavier mail, allowing its wearer to move with more ease and agility; however, it is lighter, making it easier to poke a hole through. Which is what I attempted to do, launching a thrust underneath the man’s own blade that was slashing down at me at the same time. And that is when I remembered something that I had forgotten to do, and that was grab a shield from someone; all I had to defend myself was my vitus.


This particular fight marks the first, and only, time that I used my vitus on someone other than my own men. Somehow, in the eyeblink of time I had as his blade came flashing down, I understood that if I just raised the vitus to try and block my attacker’s blade, at the most it would absorb some of the force, but I was reasonably sure that before he began his sortie, he had sharpened his blade. And as thick as a vitus may be, a keen blade would slice through it with ease, and still hit me; it looked as if he was aiming for my right shoulder area. That made his angle of attack slightly awkward, as he had to twist his body to accommodate his aim. Consequently, without any thought, I swept my vitus across my own body, mimicking at least the angle of his attack, raising my vitus just above shoulder level so that the twisted vine hit his blade from the side. The power of my countermove, aided as always by my bulk and strength, was such that I knocked his blade from its intended path enough that it barely missed my head and came slashing down just a hand’s breadth away from my own right arm. At the same time, my own blade was punching forward in a first position thrust, and between my own power and his momentum, he essentially ran himself through on my blade. While a normal first position thrust would bury about a foot of my blade into a man’s gut, this time I felt my right fist, wrapped around the hilt of my sword, punch him in the stomach, bringing his face just inches from mine, blasting me with what would be one of his final breaths right in the face. The odor of wine, rotten teeth and the gods know what else was almost overwhelming, but I was more intent on trying to withdraw my sword, hampered by what had just become his dead weight, sagging against my body. Thankfully, I heard the sound of the Centuries I was leading arriving, and out of the corner of my eye saw their dark shapes hurtling forward, the noise suddenly overwhelming as they shouted their own battle cries. Despite having seen and caused so much death, it was extremely disconcerting to have this man’s face inches from mine, the blood now pouring out of his mouth to soak his beard. But it was not that, or even the low moan that was rattling me; it was his eyes, which despite having only the flickering light of the flames from the Greek fire, even now slowly guttering out on the ground behind me, were boring into mine in a silent plea. Normally I would twist the blade when I withdrew it, both to inflict more damage and to break the suction that is caused by the bodily fluids, but my sword was buried too deeply into his body for even someone as strong as I was. Pointedly refusing to meet his gaze, I shoved the man away with my left hand, still clutching the vitus, and withdrew my blade. Without the support of my sword, he collapsed onto the ground with a moan only slighter louder than the one that had been issuing from him for the last few heartbeats. Now that I was free, I stepped over him to catch up with the rest of the men. But not before pausing, and with one hard thrust, ending the man’s misery.


The sight that met my eyes was of a horribly disorganized mess of a fight, where, from a combination of our headlong charge, the darkness and the fact that our enemy was in nothing resembling any kind of order, there was not even a hint of a formation. The combatants from both sides were inextricably mixed together, composed of small knots of men, some bashing with their shields, others countering with a thrust or slash. Pausing for a moment, I tried to determine where I was most needed, but even as I did, a Jew behind the leading edge of fighters launched another one of those damned pots, and I watched it arc over the fight, my heart suddenly seizing in my chest as I saw that it was going to come perilously close to the tower. But, although it was far enough, his aim was off sufficiently that the pot shattered a few feet to the left of the tower, the momentum of the vessel sending the globules of flame spattering forward from its impact point. While it was a good thing that it missed, it also informed me that they were in range.

“Push these bastards back!” I began roaring, over and over, but before I added my own body to the task, I turned and spotted the last of the Centuries I had led out the gate just then arriving. Shouting to the Centurion, Aulus Glabius, I pointed in the direction of the tower. “You stand by over there, and be ready to smother any flames that come close. But by the gods, if any of you get burned, I’m going to skin you!”

Without waiting for a reply, I hurried forward.


By the time the fight was done, while we had saved the tower, it was a close-run thing, with the two vertical supports closest to the attack suffering some charring on the surface of the heavy, square timbers used for the base of the tower. Additionally, we suffered some casualties; a half-dozen men were dead, while twice that many were wounded, of which at least two severely enough that they would be out of action for most of this siege. Fortunately the casualties suffered by Antigonus’ sortie were much, much higher; there were at least two hundred men left behind, all of them dead. At least, once the men were done looting and stripping the bodies of all valuables, but not before making sure none of the enemy still had a breath of life in them. Scribonius’ force had turned the tide, slamming into the attackers from behind, and he was standing next to me as we both waited for the casualty reports from the other Centurions of the Second Cohort.

He turned to me and asked, “How did they get so close without any kind of alarm being raised by ben-Judah’s men?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted, but I added, “But I’m going to find out, first thing in the morning.”

Although I was fairly confident that there would not be another attempt, I increased the guard around the tower to a full Century, as the rest of us retired to get what sleep we could. Which, as I knew from long experience, would be next to impossible, at least for me. While I knew some men who were able to jump from a sound sleep, participate in this kind of hot, frenzied action, then return to their slumber just as quickly, not only were they a minority, I was not one of them. Scribonius, on the other hand, was one of those, and I was consigned to lying next to him, grinding my teeth as I listened to his snoring. As usual, my mind was the part that kept me from sleeping, as it ran through the battle again, and I critiqued every decision I had made, and tried to determine if the inevitable mistakes were unavoidable. I cannot say that being this way is easy, but I believe that my relentless drive to correct my mistakes played a large role in why I managed to not only rise through the ranks, but to survive. Naturally, luck plays a large part, but I will cross over in Charon’s Boat with the deep-seated belief that along with the luck, my self-critique played a large role in my success.


Not surprisingly, when I rose the next morning, I was not in the best frame of mind for a conversation with ben-Judah, but I was grimly determined to get to the bottom of the matter. Deciding it would be prudent not to go alone, as always I chose my closest friend, and the man who was the only one able to save me from myself. When I asked Scribonius to accompany, not only did he not hesitate, but he was clearly not surprised that I had asked him. Being frank, I would have liked to bring Balbus along, in the event that diplomacy did not work, but he was with the rest of the First in the middle camp.

“Let me guess,” Scribonius said as we strode out of our camp, using the back gate on the opposite side from the walls, which was a slightly longer but safer trek. “You need me to keep you from doing something stupid.”

“Something like that,” I admitted with a laugh, not without some chagrin.

When we came within sight of the Jewish camp, we stopped just out of range of their slingers, allowing them to notice our presence. There was a series of shouts, followed by a flurry of movement as one of the men on guard duty disappeared. A few moments later, we were beckoned forward by the remaining sentry. Taking a deep breath, I resumed striding towards the gate, where I was met by ben-Judah himself. Just from his manner I could see that he knew why I had come; his posture was rigid, his expression wary, although his tone was genial as he greeted me.

Once the formalities were observed, he said grimly, “I am guessing I know why you are here.”

“If you think it’s to find out how a force of about four hundred men could slip past you from that fortress, then you’re right,” I confirmed.

His face flushed, but he kept his tone the same as he replied, “As I thought. But that force did not come from the fortress.”

I frowned as I tried to determine the meaning behind his words. And as always, Scribonius arrived at the truth first.

“Wait,” he gasped. “Are you saying they came from here?”

ben-Judah shifted his feet, but I have to give him credit, he did not flinch as he confirmed Scribonius’ guess.

“Yes,” he admitted. “It turns out one of my sub-commanders was in the pay of Antigonus. He was commander of the guard last night, and the men he used for his sortie were supposed to be the relief for the men at the outposts.”

He was referring to the small fortified positions that were arranged parallel to the northern wall from the east corner to the west.

“Wait,” I shook my head as I attempted to make sense of what he was telling us. “It wasn’t that bastard who had your men throw rocks at us, was it? What’s his name?”

“bar-Levi?” Joseph shook his head. “No, it was not him. It was another man.”

Frankly, that did not make me feel any better knowing that there was more than one officer of his command who was suspect.

“But how did all those men follow him?” Scribonius asked. “Surely they couldn’t have all been on Antigonus’ payroll! How would he have known that the men selected for the guard duty would obey him?”

Now ben-Judah looked thoroughly miserable, and if I am correct in interpreting his expression, if the ground swallowed him right then he would not have been all that upset.

“Because he was the man who created the guard roster,” ben-Judah admitted.

Which at least told me why he looked so uncomfortable. Although I cannot know for sure, what I do know is that the overall commander, at least in the Legions, is the man responsible for selecting the guards for each shift. Of course, in our case that means nothing more complicated than which Century or Cohort, depending on the size of the camp. But since the Jews did not have that level of organization, it was likely that the overall commander had to choose each man. At least, judging from the embarrassment of ben-Judah, that appeared likely. As bad as this was, I could not discount a possibility, but it was not one I was willing to voice, at least in front of Joseph ben-Judah.

Instead, I asked him, “How do you know if he was the only one?”

ben-Judah sighed, and admitted, “I don’t. Not really. But,” he shrugged, “only time will tell.”

This was not a satisfactory answer, at the very least. But for the first time I got a glimmer of an idea that, perhaps, Herod was aware of this possibility, which is why he insisted that these men be segregated from mine. Seeing that there was nothing that could be done, we departed back to our camp, leaving ben-Judah looking disconsolate; at least, that was what he wanted us to see. Yet, now that the seed of suspicion had been planted, it was destined to take root and grow. The hard part of the siege had yet to begin, and now I had to worry about whether or not ben-Judah and his men, at the moment of the actual assault, would be fighting with us, or against us.









Titus and Herod: Conclusion- A Marching With Caesar® Story

This is the final part of the short story featuring Titus Pullus and Herod. At least, for this episode; stay tuned for more adventures when the 10th Legion is forced to return to Judea to help Herod besiege Jerusalem!

What the others and I were staring at was a well-built, albeit small fortress, made of closely-fitted and dressed stone and mortar perched atop the opposite side of the ravine. In and of themselves the walls were not particularly high; perhaps ten feet of wall, plus another three feet of parapet to provide partial cover for the defenders. In fact, if the structure were located out in the middle of a plain, or even atop a hill, it would be short work for my Legion to overwhelm, and the dimensions of the fortress were such that I was sure it could not hold more than a thousand men, and that was if they lined the four walls shoulder to shoulder, all the way around. But unfortunately for me, my men and those of ben-Judah, this was not the case. Whoever had built this had placed it in about as perfect a position as it is possible to do; from what I could see, the base of the wall was placed no more than two feet from the edge of the sheer precipice that towered over the opposite side of the ravine. The slope of the far side was not truly vertical, but it was close enough that for all practical purposes the only way it could be ascended was by a ladder. However, the rocky face was sufficiently jagged, with outcroppings and the like that would make placing ladders extremely difficult; under fire from overhead, it would be suicidal. The fortress was located in the elbow of a bend in the ravine, the floor of the dry wash disappearing to the right.

“The ravine empties out right outside the city walls,” Joseph informed me, although that was not particularly helpful at the moment, and I was not shy about pointing that out.

“That town might as well be on the moon if we can’t figure out a way to get past that,” I pointed to the fortress, the wall facing us blending in with the precipice below, informing me that it was native rock, probably carved out of a makeshift quarry.

Joseph only gave a grim nod in reply as he continued to study the obstacle.

Finally, he turned to me, a grim smile on his face as he asked, “I do not suppose you have any ideas?”

The truth was that I did not, other than a straightforward and therefore extremely bloody assault, and I will admit that for the first time I actually was willing for a Legion other than the 10th to take all the glory of reducing this fortress, knowing that the cost would be higher than one I was willing to pay. Especially because it helped Herod; ally of Antonius he may have been, but that did not mean any of my men needed to die because of the fat bastard.

Realizing that Joseph was in fact expecting an answer, I finally sighed and shook my head, saying, “Unless there’s a way to get behind that thing, I’m afraid that it has to be up and over. And that,” I finished, my tone matching his expression, “is going to be costly.”

Although I could tell I was just confirming his fears, he looked disappointed nonetheless, and without saying anything more, we began crawling backward away from the rocks that had been our observation point.


On our return to the command group, we informed Sosius and Herod of what we had seen. When we were finished, I saw Herod open his mouth, looking very much like he was disposed to make an issue of our assessment, but Joseph caught his eye, and although I did not see it, I assume gave him some sort of warning look, because Herod’s mouth snapped shut like a fish grabbing onto a baited hook. Clearly oblivious, Sosius sat his horse, silently musing over the problem.

“And you don’t see any other way than coming up the ravine?” he asked finally.

“It’s going to be a matter of trying to decide what will cost us less casualties,” I explained. “If we come from the opposite side, although I couldn’t see that well, what I did see was nothing but open rock. Although,” I added as a thought occurred to me, “I will say that the wall on that side doesn’t have the added height from the face of the ravine. So our ten-foot ladders would be more than enough to get over the wall. The only problem is that we would have to cover what looks like at least two hundred paces of completely bare ground to get there.”

“And I promise you that Antigonus has a very able complement of slingers,” Joseph pointed out.

That, I knew, was something of an understatement. Now that I had marched with Jewish soldiers on multiple occasions, I had had several opportunities to watch their slingers in action, and being truthful I would put them behind only the troops from the Balearics when it came to skill and marksmanship. This was made even more true by virtue of the fact that, ever since we had marched with Aulus Ventidius, any slingers who marched in our ranks used the lead missile that he developed for use against the Parthian cataphracts. And I had to assume the possibility that word of the lethality of those lead missiles had spread among those men who used the sling as their weapon.

“What’s the possibility that some or all of those slingers are using lead shot?” I asked Joseph.

I got the answer before he opened his mouth, just by his expression. I would not say he looked guilty, but the flush that came over his dark features indicated an awareness of something that he knew I would not like.

To his credit he did not hesitate in saying, “Very likely,” he admitted. “I know that some of the men who were with us in Parthia are fighting for Antigonus.”

“Who?” Herod cut in, his face matching ben-Judah’s in hue. “I want their names! I will cut down those traitorous dogs as soon as I defeat the usurper!”

I was not alone in staring in open contempt at the fat Judean king who seemed more concerned with personal matters than the cost to the lives of not just his men, but those who were in all likelihood going to be bearing the brunt of the casualties. Glancing over at Sosius, I saw that he was as coldly furious as I was, but while Herod seemed oblivious, it was clear that Joseph was not.

“Highness,” his tone was as sharp as I imagine he thought he could get away with, “that is really not the concern at this moment. We need to determine the best way to overcome this fortress. Getting even can wait, can it not?”

Only then did Herod seem to sense the eyes on him, but I could see that he really did not like the manner in which Joseph addressed him.

However, neither could he ignore it, and he gritted his teeth as he muttered, “Very well. You are…correct, Joseph. We need to crush this position,” he waved a dismissive hand in the direction of the fortified position, his tone suggesting that this was nothing more consequential than stepping on a beetle. “The real prize is in Jericho.”

Ironically enough, for one of the few times Herod was actually saying something that I knew the men would agree with, even if he was referring to something very different from what they had in mind. Behind those walls was his rival Antigonus, for whom none of us could give a rotten fig. As far as the men were concerned, there was money, in the form of the loot that whoever took the town would be able to carry off, and not all of the valuables would be in the form of coins, jewelry or statues made of precious metals. In fact, I well knew that much of what would be carried away from the town of Jericho would be kicking and screaming. If these trophies were lucky, they would live to see another day, but while most did, I also knew there was a small minority of men who harbored a darkness within themselves that would only be quenched in blood. First, however, we had to get past this fortress, and as proud as I was, and still am of the 10th, I can say in all honesty that this was one task that I did not want for my men, because I knew it would be a bloody business taking that pile of rock, and with precious little to show for it.

Then, Herod had to open his big mouth and change everything.

“General,” he addressed Sosius, “I believe that whichever of your Legions takes this fortress should be the one that enjoys the spoils from Jericho. Do you agree?”

Sosius looked surprised, as did Spurius, neither of them any less than I, even as I inwardly cursed the Judean king for a cunning bastard.

Sosius only hesitated for a moment before replying, “I do, Your Highness. I think that’s an excellent suggestion.” He turned to look down at Spurius and I standing side by side, a small smile on his face, and it reminded me that, Roman or not, the highborn always look out for each other. “Well?” he asked us, “Who wants to have the honor of taking this fortress in order to enjoy the spoils afterward?”

I glanced over at Spurius, who like most men was several inches shorter than me, but I was pleased to see that he looked as unhappy as I felt.

Suddenly, I turned to the mounted officers and as politely as I could, addressed Sosius and ignored Herod, asking, “Sir, do you mind if Primus Pilus Spurius and I walk off a bit to discuss this between us?”

Although Sosius did not look upset, out of the corner of my eye I saw Herod’s face, his mouth opening in what I assume would be a protest, but Sosius beat him to it by saying, “Of course. Take your time.” He gave us a twisted smile, finishing, “They’re not going anywhere.”

Spurius and I walked far enough away that we could not be overheard. For a moment neither of us spoke before I finally sighed and asked, “Well? How are we going to settle this?”

“Fuck all if I know,” he said bitterly. “That fat cunnus did us neatly, I’ll give him that. I don’t know how you feel about it, but I wasn’t looking forward to taking that fucking place.” He gave me a sidelong glance, but I did not hold it against him when he continued, “Being honest, I was hoping your boys would get the filthy end of the sponge on this one, and mine would go over the wall and take the loot.”

“Great minds must think alike,” I joked, “because that’s exactly what I was thinking.” I sighed again, making sure my back was turned to the mounted officers. “I don’t suppose there’s any way that the men won’t hear about this.”

“With that fucking Jew?” Spurius spat, his mouth twisting into a bitter grimace. “No chance of that. He’d be sure to have some of his boys spread the word that we were given the choice of taking the fortress in return for the loot in that town.”

Again, that was exactly what I had been thinking, sure as I could be that Herod would ensure that the men of both Legions would learn that we had been presented with this choice.

“Of course,” I was speaking almost to myself, “none of those ungrateful bastards will care that we’re trying to keep them alive because we’ve seen that fucking thing, and they haven’t.”

“No, they won’t,” Spurius agreed. “Especially since whoever sits out won’t have seen it. Then there will be no end to the moaning on how their Primus Pilus fucked them out of the loot in that town.”

“And you know that by the time they’re through that town will have been stuffed full of riches beyond imagining,” I put in, although I am sure I was just finishing his thought for him. “no matter how much of a cachole it is.” Realizing that, as accurate as it may have been, this was not productive, so I asked with a shrug, “You want to flip for it?”

Spurius did not look surprised at all, which I took to mean that he had been thinking the same thing.

“Might as well,” he agreed, whereupon we both started fumbling for our respective coin purses.

I was the first one to produce one, but when I pulled it out, it was one of those issued by Marcus Antonius that had his face on one side, and Cleopatra’s on the other. Although I had not yet run into the trouble with the Egyptian queen that would turn me against her forever, Spurius was not shy.

“I’m not flipping a coin with that bitch on it,” he declared, and began rummaging in his own purse again.

I realized that made sense; Spurius was one of Antonius’ men through and through, and although I questioned his judgment of character, I respected him because he made no secret of that fact, much the same way I had been with Caesar. And if men like me who did not feel that warmly towards Antonius had ambivalence towards Cleopatra for her perceived emasculation of the Triumvir of the East, I could only imagine how much Spurius hated her. Finally, he withdrew a coin that was acceptable, having Antonius on one side and Pietas on the other holding a turibulum in one hand and a cornucopia in the other.

“That will work,” I assured him.

“And since it’s my coin, I call it,” he said immediately, and I had a suspicion that his objection to Cleopatra had been more about that than any feelings towards the queen.

Despite feeling I had been tricked, I could also feel the eyes of the officers on us, so I waved a hand at him in irritated acceptance.

“And I bet you’re calling heads, aren’t you?” I asked sourly.

His only response was a grin, just before he tossed the coin in the air. I watched it tumbling over and over in the sky, winking in the sunlight as I was struck by the fact that this was quite a ridiculous way to settle such an important matter. Nevertheless, I had agreed to it, and I watched as the coin landed on the ground, but instead of hitting the dusty ground, it bounced off a rock, which made it flip over from how it was originally going to land. We both stared down at it for a moment.

“Fuck me.”

I honestly do not know whether it was Spurius or me who uttered this, but in fact either way the coin landed was going to pose as much of a problem for both winner and loser, albeit in different ways.


Walking back towards the command group, we had not even reached them before Herod burst out, “Well? Which Legion is going to carry out the assault on this nuisance and reap the rewards?”

I cannot say that if he had not uttered these words I would not have had the same reaction, but it did not help, and I felt the coiling knot of my anger tighten as I touched Spurius on the arm in a silent signal, counting on him to follow my lead.

“Actually, King Herod,” I knew he liked being called Highness, but there was nothing he could fault about me referring to him by his official title, although I was rewarded with him stiffening in the saddle. “Primus Pilus and I discussed it, and we were wondering; why aren’t your men taking this fortress? Shouldn’t they be the ones climbing those ladders?”

I do not believe I could have had a stronger effect on Herod than if I had punched him in the genitals.

“Because my men are not…trained to storm positions that strong,” he finally managed.

I was sure that their training was not the first thing that came to Herod’s mind, and knowing him enough to have gotten an idea of how his mind worked, I was also sure that it had more to do with sparing his men so that they could be around to do his bidding and enforce his will, after Rome won his country for him. However, as much as it pained me to admit it, he was speaking the truth, something that of all the Romans there I perhaps knew better than anyone else. After all, I had been the de facto Primus Pilus of the 6th Legion when Caesar had been besieged in Alexandria for close to a year, and when we finally broke out, it was with the help of a contingent of five thousand Jewish soldiers. They had been present at the final battle along the Nile where the boy king Ptolemy’s army had been overwhelmed, and he had drowned. While I could not fault their bravery; they are, in truth, fierce fighters, they are also completely lacking in the kind of discipline and unschooled in the kind of teamwork that taking such a strong position as this fortress would require. At least, if one wanted to take it and have an army left. It was true they had assaulted the heavily fortified camp right alongside my men of the 6rh, throwing their ladders against the walls. But not only had those been made of turf, and was built on relatively level ground, I had witnessed firsthand how they had actually made their job harder than it had to be.

Regardless of this, I was not disposed to let Herod off the hook that easily, and I pressed, “What does your field commander say to that?” I looked over at Joseph, and I admit I felt a bit badly about pulling him into the midst of this.

And he looked about as happy as I felt at being put in such a position; no leader of fighting men wants to admit that those he leads are deficient in any way, but after a tense moment of silence, Joseph finally shook his head.

“I am afraid that His Highness is speaking the truth, Pullus. My men are willing to fight, and I know they would throw themselves at those walls without hesitating, but there are not many of them left who were in Egypt and assaulted that fort. And,” he added, shooting a glance that I thought bore some reproach in it at Herod, “we have not had the opportunity to train for such things as this.”

Sighing, I finally gave in, waving a hand at Joseph as I thanked him for his honesty.

Turning to Sosius, I rendered a salute and used my professional tone when I told him, “General, the 10th is ready to carry out the orders to assault this fortress.”

Sosius glanced over at Spurius, who did not say anything but gave a slight nod in agreement that, in fact, it would be my Legion that would be assailing this pile of rocks.

Turning back to me, he asked, “Do you have any thoughts on how to go about it, Pullus?”

“The only way that we can,” I replied grimly. “Across that open ground on the opposite side from the ravine.”

“And how do you propose to get there?” Herod asked, and it was a fair question.”

“We’re going to have to climb that ridge. At least,” I said, “that’s the only way I can think of doing it, unless anyone else has a better suggestion.”

There was a silence, telling me that in fact, there was not; or they were as unable as I was to think of one.

It took so long for us to get into position, maneuvering over the extremely rough terrain, approaching from the northwest, that the sun was no more than a hand’s width above the horizon by the time we got where we needed to be. Using one of the dry watercourses, we marched in a southeasterly direction until we were at a point where only a low hill was between us and the fortress. I say it was low, and it was, but it was also steep. But as arduous as the initial approach had been, once we crested that hill it was going to be even worse, because although we had a slight advantage in height, with the walls of the fort probably about fifty feet lower than the crest of the hill, there was an expanse of more than two hundred paces between crest and wall that was completely denuded of any cover. From what I could see, if there had been vegetation on these hills, it had long since been grazed away, if in fact Jericho was as old as Joseph had told me that it was. Or perhaps these hills have never had any kind of growth on them; all I cared about was that moment, and there was not even a blade of grass to provide any kind of protection for my men. The size of the fortress also was something of a problem, simply because the walls were perhaps two hundred paces by one hundred, and while we would be assaulting one of the long sides, it meant that I could not bring my entire Legion to bear. In reality, it was going to be a job for no more than four Cohorts, but while there was no question about the First being involved, I decided to spare the Third and Fourth, but not the Second. The truth is that I wanted the Second involved for selfish reasons; in an assault like this I wanted Scribonius at my side. However, it also meant that Gaius would be involved as well, and I thought long and hard about making him my runner, or finding some other way to keep him from danger. It was with great reluctance that I decided that I could not do such; besides, if he was going to share in the spoils from Jericho, he would have to be one of those assaulting the walls, at least if he wanted a larger share. I had decided that while the 10th would in fact share in the spoils from Jericho, whatever they may have been, it was not fair to give equal portions to each Cohort, even if they had not participated in taking the fortress. That was also a factor in my thinking about which Cohorts would participate, so I decided that the best compromise was to take one Cohort from each of the second and third lines. Consequently, I chose the Sixth, and the Ninth Cohorts, led by Servius Gellius and Marcus Glaxus respectively. I had thought about using the Eighth, since that was led by Cyclops, but having Scribonius with me meant that including Cyclops would cause some questions. These were the Cohorts leading the way up the watercourse, and we stopped briefly, but I was worried about the daylight, not wanting to waste any of it. Until, that is, Scribonius came to talk to me while the men rested.

“Why are you in such a hurry?” he asked me, in his usual way that told me he was asking for a reason.

Rather than go through a lengthy back and forth, I simply asked him, “What do you have in mind, Sextus?”

His face showed surprise that I had not behaved in my usual manner, but otherwise he did not hesitate, saying, “If we have to cross all this open ground, why are we doing it in daylight?”

I opened my mouth to argue, but fortunately before any words came out my mind caught up with my erstwhile friend. It was true that under normal circumstances, trying to perform a night assault on a position that had not been thoroughly scouted was not something that recommended itself, at least not without a thorough scouting job of the entire position. Although I could see what had been the far side of this position, and was now the ground we were about to cross, from a distance, I could plainly see that it was bare rock. I supposed it was possible that there were some sort of traps, but I did not think it very likely. Additionally, I remembered that it was not quite a full moon, but was close to it, and with the light-colored rock, whatever light there was reflected even more brightly than normal. Of course, this worked both ways; if the moonlight was strengthened by virtue of the rocky ground that meant we as targets would be visible. Nevertheless, I also knew that there is more to judging distance than just having enough light; there is some quality in the light of the moon that makes it very tricky. All this and more flashed through my mind in the time it took me to consider what Scribonius had said.

“You’re right,” I told him with a grin. “We’re going to wait.”


It was perhaps a third of a watch after the sun had completely set before I gave the order to the Pili Priores to rouse the men. Mostly I wanted the eyes of the men fully adjusted, and for the moon to rise a bit before we began. Because of our proximity, I had ordered the corniceni to remain silent, so the Pili Priores sent runners to their respective Centuries, passing the word. Like specters from the ground, as I looked down the wash the men rose from where they had been sitting or lying down, catching up on their sleep, and I was proud at how quietly they moved. Needless to say it is impossible for almost two thousand men not to make any noise at all, but I knew from experience that the sound would not carry up and over the hill to reach the ears of the enemy. I seriously doubted they were unaware of our presence; even as rocky as the footing was, there was still a fair amount of dust raised on our march into position. Before we began ascending the slope up from the wash, I walked down my Cohort, making sure that the men carrying the ladders knew what they were supposed to do, and exchanging a quiet word with the older men like Vellusius. We would essentially be in a line of Cohorts, climbing the slope side by side so that when we crested it, we would already be in position to move into testudo as smoothly as possible. Hopefully we would not have to get into the protective formation until we were very close to the walls; there is nothing quite as tiring as marching in testudo because it is taxing to both the legs and the arm holding the shield. My own runner returned, panting that the rest of the Cohorts were ready, then I had Valerius, my aquilifer raise the eagle on high, counting on the moonbeams to catch the gilt silver of the eagle enough so that each Century in turn could see. Giving the verbal command, my Century began the march up the slope, and this was one time that I did not mind that our ascent started in such a ragged fashion, as each Centurion counted on the Century to his right to signal that it was time to move. We climbed the slope fairly quickly, but I could tell that it was steeper than any of us thought just by the harsh panting of the men, which thankfully drowned out the sound of my own. Just below the crest I called the halt, more quietly this time, although the men came to a stop smoothly, mainly because they were expecting it. I waited a moment for the entire line to come to a halt before, taking a deep breath, I had Valerius repeat his signal with the eagle. Then, up and over the crest we marched.


Despite it being my most fervent hope, I must say I was extremely surprised that we had gone down the slope more than a hundred paces before there was a cry of alarm from the walls. Every step we took without being under fire was a victory of sorts, but once we were detected, I will say that there was very little time to savor the idea we had essentially sneaked up on the fortress before I heard the sound I had been dreading.

“Slingers!” I bellowed, the need for quiet gone, following it with, “Form testudo!”

Immediately men began the movements they practice over and over, not just in winter, but whenever we have time that is not filled with other activities. And I will say that as much as every Legion trained for the testudo, the men of the 10th roundly hated me because if the other Legions did it ten times, I demanded that they do it twenty. But now it paid off, and if I had not been more concerned with not taking a sling bullet in the face I would have taken a moment to savor how smoothly not just the men of my Century, but the entire Cohort suddenly contracted, becoming a solid wall of shields. However, I did congratulate myself for thinking to draw a shield in preparation for what was happening now, as the air filled with what the uninitiated would swear was a swarm of angry bees buzzing past their heads. Although I was happy that we had gotten into testudo, and that I had my own shield, the news was not all good; I could tell not just by the sound the missiles made as they slashed through the air but by the sound the ones that hit something made that they were indeed the lead bullets I had worried about. Fortunately, at least for the first several paces, the racket that assailed our ears was that of the heavy metal striking the wood of our shields, but this was not bound to last. I estimate that we were perhaps fifty paces from the wall when I heard the first shrill scream, coming not from my Century but from farther down in the Second.

“I told you dozy bastards to keep your shields up!” I heard the roar of a familiar voice, recognizing Balbus, confirming my guess that it had been the Second who suffered the first casualty. “And if any more of you drop your shield so much as an inch, by the gods I’ll flay you myself! You won’t have to worry about a fucking piddling slinger!”

It may seem strange, but I assure you that men can laugh at moments like this, and I heard several of the men of my Century chuckle at my Pilus Posterior.

“I’m glad you think it’s funny,” I snapped. “What do you think Im going to do if you let the Second show us up, eh?”

Nobody laughed, but I heard some mumbling, which I chose to ignore. At that moment my left arm shuddered from the impact of a lead missile smashing into my shield, issuing a slightly higher-pitched cracking sound when compared to stone sling bullets. Almost immediately after that, another one slammed into my shield, this one on the opposite side of the boss and lower down. It was probably at the same instant that there was the distinct whirring sound and puff of air on my right cheek, all of this informing me that I had now become the target. This is not unusual; just because it is not, that makes it no less disconcerting, and while I continued forward I began angling closer to the Century seeking the extra cover provided by their shields. I must say that the silvery light of the moon gave the whole event an otherworldly quality, where shadows were so much more distinct and a deeper black than they are in sunlight. In practical terms it meant that it was tricky judging just how close we were to the walls and how much more we had to endure, but out of the corner of my eye, when I looked over the upraised shields of the First, I could now actually make out the motion of the slingers’ arms as they whirled about rapidly just before they released them. By this point I had heard several shouts, screams and a few curses of a quality that I knew meant men had been hit by a missile, but there was nothing that could be done about it except get to the wall and raise the ladders. Within each testudo men carried two ladders, each man of the file assigned that task holding onto their portion of it.

“Ladder men, make ready!” I shouted, the racket of sling bullets hitting shields or bouncing off the metal bosses and rocks such that I had to use most of my vocal power. “Rear two ranks, ready javelins!”

This was how we would be able to raise the ladders without having scorpions forcing the defenders to keep their heads down; any enemy warrior willing to lean out and over the wall to try and fling his own javelin or spear down into our midst would be getting the same weapon in the face, while the slingers were now helpless because you cannot loose a sling straight down. In preparation for this, I had the men carrying the ladders pass their javelins to the men of the two rear ranks. It meant that those men were carrying at least four, which is awkward, especially in testudo, but it was for a good reason; bearing the responsibility for the lives of your friends and comrades tends to quell even the most vociferous of complainers. The shouted commands of both Roman and foe were doing their own type of battle, as the commanders in the fortress shouted out in the Jewish tongue, which I believe is called Aramaic, their own instructions to repel us. It seemed to take longer than it should have, which told me that I had in fact misjudged the distance because of the moonlight, but I finally reached the base of the wall, followed instantly by my men. Without any orders from either me or my Optio Mallius, my Century broke out of the testudo, with the two rearmost ranks quickly dropping their shields from above their heads to show their right arms already pulled back, ready to hurl their missiles at any target presented itself. Because of my position immediately underneath the wall, it was easier for me to see that there was in fact a handful of Antigonus’ men brave or foolish enough to try to stop what was happening by observing my own men. The arms of an even half-dozen of them swept forward, their javelins streaking upward so quickly I could not have turned my head to follow their flight if I wanted. We were rewarded by the muffled screams of at least two men, but that was all the time I could spend on this aspect of the assault, already moving between the files of my Century, made more difficult because they were still in close order from the testudo, to take my place at the base of the ladder. As I did so I spotted Vellusius; in this second enlistment of the 10th he was now a member of the fifth section instead of the last, where we had been tiros together.

“Vellusius! There’s nobody I want sniffing my ass more than you! You’re going to follow me up the ladder!”

As I had hoped there were some sniggering at this, and even in the dim light I saw Vellusius grin back at me. While I had made something of a joke about it, the truth was that there was nobody I trusted more of the rankers to protect my back than Vellusius, and I suspect he knew that.

The men designated to raise the ladder began doing so, and even with several of them they grunted with the strain; siege ladders are by necessity very heavy, both to support several men but also to make it difficult for an enemy to push them off the wall. I knew from experience that with my bulk it would be next to impossible, but there is also security in numbers, not to mention the matter of timing it so that almost the instant the top of the ladder touches the wall whoever is going up first is already on the first rung and climbing, which is what I did now.

“Follow me boys! The only way you get the loot and women in the town is to kill these bastards!” I shouted, and was rewarded by an answering roar of my men behind me.

Glancing over, I saw that the ladder that Mallius was going to climb was only then about halfway raised, and I cursed my eagerness; another useful lesson I had learned from experience was that coordinating the raising of the ladders was important as well, because it is distracting for an enemy lining a wall to see more than one Roman’s head popping up. I hesitated, debating for a moment about pausing on my climb to allow Mallius and his group to catch up, but if there is one thing that can be said about me, it is that patience is not my strong suit. Once I commit to a course of action, I do not like stopping for any reason until it is done, and whether that is sharpening my blade or climbing a ladder to take a fortress makes no difference. Therefore, I resumed my upward climb, only vaguely aware that several more javelins came whistling by just over my head to scour the parapet of men who were even then preparing to meet me.


Nearing the top of the parapet, I paused only to draw my sword, cursing as I always did at the awkwardness of fumbling with both shield and sword, while at the same time trying to peek around the edge of the shield to see what awaited me and not lose my balance on the ladder. By this point in my career, I imagine that I had been first up a ladder an even dozen times, and just climbed a ladder more than twice that number of times. Yet, every single time I did it I distinctly remember thinking essentially the same thing; there has to be a better way to scale a ladder while armed. However, if there is, I have never heard of it, and in many ways this time was no different than the first time I had done so all those years before in Hispania. Except for the fact that I never forgot to draw my sword like I had that first time, and in fact was why I had gotten into the habit of pausing to do so just before I reached the rung that put me within striking distance of my enemies above. With my sword drawn, I stepped up one more rung, and immediately there was a tremendous blow to my shield, and while it was powerful what made it even more of a problem was the angle of the strike. I do not know if it was intended, but whatever weapon was used struck close to the left-hand edge of my shield, which twisted it so violently in my hand I almost lost my hold on it. But in turning in that direction, I got a quick glimpse of what was immediately above me and well within arm’s reach, and even as I pulled my shield back into position I leaned against the ladder so that I could give a short but very hard upward thrust. My reward was the sudden jolt when the point of my Gallic-forged blade met resistance, in the form of a man’s face, and punched through it, followed in close succession by a muffled scream, and what seemed like a sudden cloudburst that drenched my hand and forearm. As red as blood is in the light of day, even with an almost full moon it looks black; in fact, as I think about it, I realize now that it is almost impossible to determine colors of any kind at night. Things are either black, or they are white or whitish-silver, and now my arm was covered in what could have been black ink, except for the warmth. Best of all there was now a gap directly above me on the parapet, and I did not hesitate, crouching slightly before pushing off with both legs to essentially jump up and over the parapet. I have tried to envision what it must look like from a foe’s perspective, but the best I can come up with is the image where one instant I am not there, the next I am. And when I, and my fellow Romans, come, we bring only defeat and death. Such was the case this night; my feet had barely settled on the parapet, landing with one foot immediately against the body of the man I had just made a corpse while my blade was snaking out, seeking the nearest target, a heavily bearded Jew wearing a coat covered in metal ringlets and armed with a spear and shield. As is common with the warriors in this part of the world, his shield was made of wicker, which is surprisingly strong and makes a good defensive weapon. Conversely, because of its light weight it is almost useless for any kind of offensive maneuvers, meaning that I only had to worry about the man’s spear. My first thrust he managed to block, and for an instant the point of my blade caught in the wicker, but instead of taking advantage of my temporary disability he seemed to be as concerned with recovering his shield as I was extracting my sword. But as he quickly learned to his demise, my shield was a devastating offensive weapon in its own right, as I twisted my body with as much force as I could muster, flexing my hips as I essentially threw a punch with my left hand. The fact that there was a heavy wooden shield with a large iron boss on it, added to my own weight and strength, meant that his feeble attempt to parry my blow with his spear barely slowed it down. My iron boss slammed into the side of his head with terrific force, and I not only felt his skull crushed beneath the blow, but his helmet flew off his head, tumbling high in the air out over where my men were waiting below. Although I do not know because I did not stop to admire my work, I think the Jew was still standing upright by the time I had pivoted completely around to my left in order to present my shield to what had been my rear less than a heartbeat before, taking another heavy blow to it. This one came from a warrior who had been just to the left of the ladder, stopped momentarily because he had to step over the first body; in fact it is entirely possible that my first kill had been a friend or even a relative, and he had paused to check to see if there was any life left in him. If that was indeed the case, it cost him his own life because it gave me just enough time to turn and face him squarely and absorb the first of his thrusts. Like the man I had just dispatched, he was armed with a spear and shield, but even in the dimmer light I could see he was very young. In the back of my mind, the detached observer noticed this and commented that this might be his first battle, always the hardest to survive. It is impossible to say, but I suspect that this was behind what happened next, because instead of answering his thrust with one of my own, I again used my shield, albeit in a slightly different manner. His thrust had been low, landing below the boss, which pushed the bottom of the shield inward a bit; more accurately, I did not exert my strength to keep my shield perfectly vertical in the way we are trained. As he withdrew his spear, I essentially followed behind it with my left arm, but using the metal rim instead of the boss, I shoved my shield directly into his face, the top of it striking him in the middle of his nose because of its outward tilt. Once more I was showered in blood, and proving that if this was not his first battle it was close to it, all thoughts of defending himself, let alone continuing to try and kill me obviously fled from his mind, because he dropped his spear and shield to clutch his face, screaming shrilly. Now I used my sword, or at least the flat of it, swinging it in a backhand manner to slam into him and send him flying off the parapet, and I was vaguely aware that after his body slammed into the ground, his screams continued, so he was not dead. Titus, you’re getting soft, I remember thinking. But the result was the same; I had now cleared enough space on the parapet, and I could sense someone joining me, and it made me feel better knowing it was Vellusius.


With one of my longest and most experienced comrades at my back, I gave no more thought to the space to the left of my ladder, concentrating instead on clearing the parapet to my right. Although it was true that this fortress, springing up as it did seemingly overnight, was in fact something of a marvel, it still suffered from the hasty nature of its construction. One way that was most apparent was in the width of the parapet, because although it was more than wide enough for one man to stand with his hip against the wall and have perhaps two feet of space to his left, that was all. This was more than wide enough for one man, but not quite wide enough for two men to stand side by side; the best that a man could do was to stand behind and to the side of a comrade and jab his weapon over the man’s shoulder, and that gave an attacker a bit more maneuvering room. There was no way that they could lock shields, and in the handful of heartbeats I had as I faced back to my right I saw this. Without hesitating more than that, I feinted as if I was going to use my shield offensively, but coming from even farther from the left than normal, as if my target was the man with the spear just behind the leading warrior. I also tilted my shield again, but this time at an even greater angle, rotating my wrist downward to its fullest extent, trying to convince the pair that I was trying to use the top edge of my shield to break the second man’s nose. As I hoped, the leading Jew moved his shield even farther across his body than normal in an attempt to block my feint, the instinctive move of a warrior trying to protect a comrade who is in a weaker position. In doing so he brought on his own death, the point of my blade shooting into the gap just between the left edge of his shield and his arm. Because I was in a somewhat awkward position, with my left arm still partially extended and the shield in an unusual posture, I was unable to use the force of my body by twisting my hips. Nevertheless, I possessed enough strength in my arm so that there was only a fraction of an eyeblink’s worth of resistance as my point struck the scales of his armor before pushing through, then sliding between his ribs and into his chest. However, rather than withdrawing my blade, I instead pushed even harder, ignoring the gurgling scream that communicated an unbearable agony, and in doing so moved the bulk of his body backward into his companion. Using my sword as a grisly handle, now I was able to use the leverage created by the greater bulk of my body, steering the mortally wounded warrior with enough force that his own weight forced the man at his shoulder to stumble backward. This was not enough; instead of withdrawing my blade, I continued shoving my victim backward, thankful that his cries had almost stopped, his eyes rolling back in his head and his mouth hanging open as blood issued from it in great, frothy gouts. Despite his best attempt to do so, I gave the second enemy no chance to recover his footing, and he kept stumbling backward, until he fell against the men behind him. In the space of perhaps three or four heartbeats, I had managed to kill one man and temporarily incapacitate two others by pressing them together with sufficient pressure that they could not bring their weapons to bear on me. However, that was where the advantage ended; now I had to withdraw my sword, but even as I began doing so I felt a hand suddenly grab hold of my harness, bracing me from behind. Bolstered by this extra support, I managed to withdraw my blade, allowing the dead man to collapse at my feet. Instead of recovering back into the first position, I launched another immediate attack, although this was less of a feint and more of a probing attack. Aiming for the face of the warrior who had been just behind the one I had just dispatched, the point of my blade punched at him, and as I hoped he recoiled, not just from the idea of a sword being thrust into his face but from the spattering of blood and gore that still coated my blade, courtesy of the man that I assumed had been a friend up until a moment before. In doing so, he leaned backward and over to his right, away from my sword but directly into the path of my shield, and I did not hesitate. Thrusting my arm forward, the boss caught him in the forehead, and I did not even have to follow up with a thrust from my sword as he took one stumbling step to his right, then disappeared off the parapet. I was only vaguely aware of the sound of his body crashing into the ground, but unlike the youth I had struck, there was no sound. The third Jew had just managed to recover his balance, but events had happened so quickly that I could see, if not by his face but by the way his body moved that he was still dazed from the sudden onslaught of movement and fury that is a key to success in taking a position like this one. Consequently it did not take me more than one single thrust to end his life, and once he was dispatched, I pressed forward, intent on creating space on the parapet. That is the key to taking a fortified position, feeding as many men as quickly as possible into a breach in order to overwhelm the defenders, and in this we were successful.


Unfortunately, clearing the parapet was not enough in this case. What I discovered by the light of the moon was that, whoever it was that designed this fortress had not as much neglected to make the parapet wide enough for two men as he made a choice. That choice was to use his time and materials on creating a second set of inner defenses in the form of a squat, fortified building, completely made of stone, in the middle of the fortress. From what I could see, if there were timbers used for the roof, they were covered by slabs of stone, making it impossible to fire, while incised into the walls at regular intervals were slits that were slightly larger than those used by archers, in order to accommodate slingers. It was roughly square in construction, and of a size that would house perhaps three hundred men, if every slit, each of which was wide enough for two men with a man behind each one. It would be cramped surely enough, but this was a building not made for comfort but to be a last bastion of defense. What I did not know was how many Jews had made it into the building, but unfortunately there was only one way to find out. The only consolation, at least at that moment was that whoever was in the building was content to hold their fire. I hoped that meant their supply of sling bullets was running low, but it was more likely that they were just waiting for us to descend onto the floor of the fortress. Because of our position up on the parapet, the angle was such that, while not impossible, it was a difficult shot for a slinger to make. As the last of the defenders who had chosen to stay behind on the parapet to give their comrades the time to make it to the parlous safety of the building, I sent runners to the other Centuries ordering a butcher’s bill. Honestly, it also gave me an opportunity to catch my breath; I had not exerted myself in this manner for some time, and no matter how much one trains, or how fit one is from marching, actual combat is another matter entirely. Besides, I reminded myself sourly, you’re old. That is when I became aware of someone standing next to me, and I turned to see Vellusius, and I must say that I was happy to see that he was breathing as hard as I was, perhaps even more so. Of course, he was also older than I was, but it still made me feel somewhat better.

“So?” I asked him, pointing down to the blockhouse. “Any suggestions about how to get those bastards out of there?”

Normally I did not solicit opinions from rankers, but Vellusius was a special case. Despite the fact he was still a Gregarius by rank, and he had no special skill; at least if one did not consider fighting to be a special skill, I trusted his judgment as much as my Centurions and Optios, with the exception of Scribonius, Balbus and a couple others. In fact, he was paid as an Immune, despite not having one of the skills that are traditionally required for that status. But I regarded, and still do, the ability to survive the kind of fighting the 10th had seen to that point as perhaps the greatest skill a man could possess, and I accordingly had “promoted” him, one of my original tent section from years before, to the grade of pay that an Immunes commands. Now, I will admit that there were other men who would have been qualified for the pay using that criteria, but I also acknowledge that I was rewarding Vellusius because of who he was as much as for his abilities in battle. Staring down at the building, he spoke slowly, which was not unusual, as his mind was not the swiftest under the best of circumstances.

“I would have said to fire it, but they covered the timbers of the roof with stone,” he began, and I bit back the sharp retort that came to mind about pointing out the obvious, knowing that if I was patient, I would hear something useful.

At least, so I hoped, but finally he shrugged helplessly and said, “From what I can see Primus Pilus, there’s only one way. We go through that door.” He pointed to the single, almost square door that sat in the middle of one side of the structure. “It’s too dark to tell, but I’m betting that door is nothing to sneeze at. It’s likely to be several inches thick and iron-banded to boot.”

Stifling a curse, I forced myself to thank Vellusius for confirming my fears. He had seen the same thing I had, and come to the same conclusion, that we would have to batter our way into the building.

Sighing, I clapped him on the back and said, “Well, let’s not waste any more time. The only way to the loot in Jericho is through that door.”


Working as quickly as possible, we fashioned a ram, using one of the large wooden supports that held up a roof used as shelter for the garrison. This was made more difficult because, now that we were on the floor of the fortress, we were in range of the slingers, meaning that I had to order a makeshift testudo, men forming a solid wall of shields consisting of two levels, one shield stacked on another. Although it offered protection as the men using the axes quickly chopped down the stoutest column, the racket of the lead missiles slamming into the shields made nothing but shouting possible. Finally, the post was down, the two men designated for the task leaping away as the corner of the roof came crashing down. There was a slight delay brought on by the need to muscle the part of the roof out of the way to drag out the downed column, then using their axes, the pair of rankers quickly carved notches that would hold the ropes the men on the ram would use as handles. Using my Century, we formed up in testudo, but instead of ladders, only the ram was carried forward, and this time I did not hesitate to integrate myself into the formation. I had no desire to take my chances with just my single shield for protection, seeking instead the protection of the rest of my Century. The only blessing was that, because of the door and how much space it took along one wall, there were only two slits for slingers on that wall, while at the beginning of our approach, because of the angle we were coming from one slit on the contiguous wall could loose their missiles at us, and that was only until we reached a point where the angle was too great. My biggest worry was that whoever was commanding inside would pull all his slingers from the other firing slits to work in relays at the two on either side of the door, so to forestall that, I had the other Cohorts surround the building on the other three sides, and make a demonstration that let the enemy know that if they stripped those slits, my men would rush forward to fling their javelins into the buildings. I would only know if this worked when we began our approach by the number of sling bullets coming our way. Knowing that there was nothing to be gained by waiting, I gave the order, the shields of the men moving smoothly into position as I stepped into the spot on the front right. Naturally this created some shuffling, but it did not take long.

“All right boys!” I bellowed, forgetting that because of the shields and the wall they formed, there was no need to yell, and even I winced at myself, my ears ringing. “Let’s get this done! Forward…march!”

Again, my Century moved as one, starting the approach without the jerking kind of start that is a symptom of inexperienced or poorly trained Legionaries. It was at moments like this, small and at seemingly incongruent times like this where I was the proudest of not just the men, but myself, and I always allowed myself a moment of satisfaction before returning my attention back to the task at hand. We had gone less than a half-dozen paces before the first missile slammed into a shield; mine as it happened, and it bucked in my hand as if in protest at being struck. Within a heartbeat the spattering of missiles striking shields made the sound I had produced yelling our orders to seem inconsequential as the racket became almost unbearable. The best way I can describe it is to tell you to place yourself in a wooden box, then have your friends bang away on the walls of the box with metal mallets. In many ways it sounded like we had been caught in a hailstorm, but any of us who were struck would be more than stung by pellets made of lead and not ice. Because of my posture, I could not risk taking a peek to see if the other Cohorts had been presented with an opportunity, but my guess was that, as bad as it was in that moment, it would have been much worse if the enemy commander had pulled every slinger to the two slits that were now all that was within range of us. Although the fire was mostly continuous, telling me that the Jews inside were in fact working in shifts, each man rotating through to fling a missile then step aside to reload, the volume of it was not what would be expected if there were more than a couple of slingers loosing at any given moment. Nevertheless, it was enough that any lapse on our part meant that one of my men got hurt, and I suppose it was inevitable that, from behind me somewhere in the middle of the formation I heard an anguished shout.

That was bad enough, but suddenly there was a shuddering in the movement behind me, and someone shouted, “It’s Glabius! He’s down!”

“Halt!” I roared immediately.

I was extraordinarily thankful that we managed to do so without it opening up a gap in the shields more than what had caused Glabius to be hit, but as much as the casualty itself it was the identity that made this the only decision I could make. Normally we do not stop when a man falls from the testudo, hoping only that he is not injured so badly that he cannot pull himself under his shield, since a lone man lying in the wake of a marching testudo makes for a tempting target. However, Glabius was one of the men carrying the ram, and he had to be replaced before moving forward, and I heard Mallius give the necessary commands, shifting men about, still under the shelter of their comrades’ upraised shields, while the front of our testudo was lashed by lead shot. My shield in particular was jerking about as if it had a mind of its own, and it was only because of the darkness that I could not see the light streaming through the handful of small puncture holes where the jagged edge of the lead shot had punched through the wood of my shield. It was at times like these that I did not particularly care for being as large as I am, but as much punishment as my shield took, the stiff horsehair of my transverse crest was ripped to shreds. The impact from the shot aimed at my head, where only my crest was showing, meant that I felt as if an invisible giant had grasped my head and was making it move back and forth whenever a missile caught at the crest. Later it would be a great source of amusement; as Scribonius gleefully pointed out, I looked like a bedraggled peacock, but in that moment I was more concerned with making sure it was just my crest that was damaged and not my head. While it seemed much longer, I knew it was just a matter of heartbeats before I heard Mallius call to me, informing me that we could move forward again, and we resumed our march. The door was now less than twenty paces away, which meant that the impact of the missiles was at its most potent, and I suppose it was inevitable that one of the men in the front rank suffered the failure of his shield. It was signaled by a splintering, cracking sound first, and even in the moonlight the Jewish slingers saw it and without any command that I heard, focused their fire on the doomed Legionary whose shield had finally given way. Since it was to my immediate left, albeit three men down, I could not see but I clearly heard the wet, sodden thudding of at least three lead missiles slamming into the man’s body. Although I could not see, I knew just by the sound that it was the third or fourth man of the front rank, meaning I had just lost one of my best fighters, either a man named Maxentius, or Poplicola. Neither was a loss that I could afford, but my hope that whoever it was had suffered just a wound was dashed when I heard the low, gurgling moan that I knew from bitter experience meant his lung was punctured. Even so, the man of the second rank had quickly shifted his posture from holding his shield above his head to his front as he stepped into the front rank, leaving his dying comrade at his feet. Adding to what was a tragedy for my Century was the fact that now the men behind the fallen Legionary had to watch their step, while maintaining their shields in their proper position. Now within ten paces, ironically the front of the testudo was the safest place to be, the angle being such that the only way the slingers could still lash us with their missiles was by leaning out of the slit and exposing themselves. Consequently, the noise of the barrage subsided as the enemy shifted its focus onto first the rear of my Century, then the Second who was following closely behind. While they were doing this, we reached the door, and just as Vellusius had predicted, I could see that battering it down was not going to be an easy proposition. Unfortunately, we had no other option but to batter down this door.


In moments such as these it is extremely difficult to determine how much time passes, but my estimate is that it took a sixth part of a watch of slow but steady pounding against the door before, with a resounding cracking, splintering sound, it finally gave way. Because it was a single door, it meant that we had to wrench it loose from the hinges and break the blocking bar, but we were only partially successful in this as, at last, the bar splintered and the door sagged inward, still attached by one hinge. Immediately the cracking sound of the door giving way was replaced by the buzzing song of lead missiles, but we were prepared, the men with the ram protected by their comrades’ shields. I was standing just to the right of the now open doorway, but was forced to press my back against the stone wall of the blockhouse in order to avoid first the slings, then a small salvo of javelins. I heard at least one of my men shriek in agony, but most of the enemy missiles were blocked. A bigger problem, at least from our point of view, was that the commander inside had ordered all light sources to be doused, so that the only light was coming in through the slits and the now-open door. In short, it was as close to pitch-black as it was possible for it to be, and although it meant that his men would inevitably stab a friend in the dark, it nevertheless made our task much more difficult. I bitterly saluted the cunning and ruthlessness of whoever it was in command, but I realized that our options were severely limited. In theory we could wait until daylight, but if we did so there was no way that the fact we had taken the fortress could be hidden any longer, meaning that it was likely that not only would the troops of Antigonus bottled up in Jericho be prepared for our coming, they might very well sally forth and fall on us as we continued fighting. True, the 3rd and the rest of the 10th was in position to block such a move, but I could not discount that, given the many folds and dips in the terrain, Antigonus’ men who were familiar with the ground knew of a way to slip past Spurius and my men. It was not extremely likely that this would happen, but I had not lived as long as I had by that point ignoring possibilities, no matter how unlikely. This was what prompted my decision to not delay, but I could not in good conscience order my men to go into that darkness without me leading the way; this is what it means to be a leader. Speaking honestly, this was one of those moments when command was truly a burden, because while I did not like the darkness overmuch, I truly could not, and cannot stand enclosed spaces, and dark, enclosed spaces are at the top of my list. And that was not even when the dark enclosed space was full of men intent on killing me. Nevertheless, this was the path for myself that I had chosen, so there was no point in delaying any longer. Hefting my shield, I shouted something, but it was not memorable enough that I remember it now, then with it hard against my body and my sword low in the first position, I charged into the darkness. Just inside the doorway I could barely make out the bulk of what I thought were two men standing side by side, their own wicker shields up in front of them, and I sensed more than saw the dull silvery-gray flash that made me bring my shield up in time to block the thrust from a spear wielded by one of the two men. It was too dark to tell which one did so, and in the instant it happened I recognized that this fight would be one where I had to stop thinking, to let my body react to every threat. And even then it might not be enough. Before whichever Jew made the thrust could recover, I made a thrust of my own, aiming for a spot where I hoped there would be a gap between his outthrust arm and his shield. Relying on the countless times I had performed this counter move when I could see what I was doing, I was rewarded by the sudden jolt up my arm as the tip of my sword struck his body. He let out an explosive gasp, telling me that I had probably punched him hard just underneath his breastbone, since this is the most likely way to knock the wind from a man. Accompanying the sound was the sensation of something falling away but I barely noticed as the other man, with a roar that made my ears ring, plunged his sword at me. At least I assume it was a sword from the long scar it made on my shield when I blocked his attempt to gut me, and I responded with a thrust of my own. Instead of the sound of a solid strike, I heard a crackling sound that told me he had managed to block my sword with his wicker shield. Instantly I lashed out with my shield, more or less aiming for where I thought his head was, but although I was close, it was not a clean blow; I think I hit him in the shoulder. Regardless, it was enough to cause him to cry out in pain, and once more I had the sensation of movement, except instead of him disappearing completely from view, his bulk just grew dimmer as he staggered back a step. Shuffling forward, I slid my left foot along the dirt floor of the blockhouse, and as I did I felt a hand grab the back of my harness, while someone grazed my hip as he moved beside me. Reassured that I was not completely alone, I tried to concentrate on the fight, but it was hard to do so because of the noise of what sounded like at least a hundred voices, packed inside the blockhouse, all of them baying for Roman blood. It was the most confused and confusing fight I had been in to that point, one composed of shadows and shapes, and I found myself just lunging, recovering, and essentially going through my forms, as if I was at the stakes and not in actual battle. Luckily for me the Jews inside were at as much of a handicap as I was, but even so I felt my shield shudder from absorbing an attempt to kill me, as my left arm moved my shield first to the left, then across my body, as if it had a mind of its own. Perhaps it did; after all, an appendage is attached to the body, and if the body dies, so does the appendage. I know how this sounds, particularly after Diocles has read it back to me, but that is really the only way I can explain how I managed to avoid being at the least severely wounded, if not killed because even as I relived the fight later, my mind’s eye could only recall the slightest suggestion of shapes and outlines that marked the warriors we were facing. Thankfully, the noise from my immediate left was totally Roman, as I heard familiar voices shouting their own challenges into the darkness, punctuated as always by the sounds of blade on blade, or blade on wood or wicker. There would be an occasional shower of sparks when two pieces of iron clashed together, providing just the briefest instant of illumination, where I could see the contorted faces of the Jews of Antigonus, all of them bearded and looking much like demons from the underworld. I had moved in such a way that the wall of the blockhouse was directly behind me, less than a full pace so that nobody could maneuver behind me, and I sidled to the right, my intent on reaching the intersection of the wall at my back and the one to my right. It would give me less room to maneuver, I knew, but it would also mean that I would be safe from someone attempting to flank me. Before I reached the right-hand wall, however, at the very corner of my vision I sensed a flurry of movement, or perhaps it was the rush of disturbed air that puffed against my face. Whatever it was, instead of trying to bring my shield around and across my body, I dropped to a knee, and in less than an eyeblink after that, for an instant lights came on, except they were inside my head as the point of some weapon struck a glancing blow off the crown of my helmet. If I had been standing erect, the point of whatever it was would have plunged deep into my chest, but not taking any time to savor the close escape, I swung my sword in a wild backhand arc, the edge of the blade suddenly slicing into something solid and meaty. The scream that issued from the man I had just struck was such that it drowned out the other noise for an instant, but there was a tug on my sword as the body of the man toppled over and away from me, followed by only a low moaning. Resuming my movement, I slid my right foot along the dirt until it struck something solid, which elicited a pained gasp from my victim and an instantaneous reaction from me, in the form of a hard downward thrust. The sword vibrated violently for a moment as I twisted the blade before recovering it, and I heard a gurgling sound that told me I had punctured the enemy’s lung, or lungs. Edging my way cautiously around the bulk of his body, I only stopped when I reached out and touched the far wall, telling me I had arrived at that point. Tucked away in a corner, for a moment I was safe and out of harm’s way, and I paused to catch my breath and take stock. Judging from the sound, my men had pushed their way more than a dozen paces into the blockhouse, but while I had heard multiple cries and screams of stricken men, most of them shouting their last in the tongue of the Jews, what I could not determine was whether or not the enemy was just falling back into a more tightly packed mass of men. I believe this had as much to do with my decision as anything, and I filled my lungs to bellow out.

“Who commands the Jews? Who is in charge? I call for a truce!”

I had to shout this several times before there was even the slightest slackening of noise. Finally, though, men stopped trying to kill each other and the only sound was the harsh panting of gods only knows how many men, and the moans of the wounded and occasional cry for help. Some of these were in Latin, which caused a twinge in my gut, but also fueled my resolve.

“What do you want Roman?”

The fact that the voice came from just a half-dozen paces away was disturbing enough, but I jerked back in surprise as much from the quality of the voice as its location. There was something familiar about the voice but in a way that I could not place.

“I want to talk to you about surrendering your men so that you’re not slaughtered to the last man,” I told him, trying to keep my voice calm.

The laugh that came from the darkness was undeniably bitter.

“So you want us to throw down our weapons to live as slaves?” I heard him spit onto the dirt floor. “No, we would rather die as men than live as slaves!”

I realized that he did not understand the situation, and I replied, “We wouldn’t make you slaves,” I promised him, although I had no business in doing so. “We’re acting in support of Herod, and he would….” I got no further.

“That fat pig would absolutely make us his slaves,” the man I took to be the commander shot back. “Oh, we might not wear chains, but I know that Idumean dog very well. And I know he can charm the birds out of the trees to come hopping into his pot. And he requires a lot of birds,” he added.

Despite the gravity of the moment, I could not stop a chuckle as I agreed, “He is a man who likes his food. But I will intercede; rather,” I corrected myself, “I will ask our Legate Gaius Sosius to intercede with Herod to spare your lives. Herod is a lot of things, but stupid isn’t one of them. He’ll understand that it’s not a request.”

“And who is this Roman who would be our benefactor? And why would he help us?” he asked, and it was a reasonable question.

“Because I don’t want to lose more men to Herod’s ambition any more than you do,” I replied evenly. “As far as who I am, my name is Titus Pullus, and I’m…”

“Titus Pullus,” he cut me off, and for a moment I thought the mention of my name would end the possibility of ending this, because he suddenly sounded even angrier, although I did not know why.

Oblivious to my surprise, he continued, “I know who you are Titus Pullus. You are the First Spear Centurion of the 10th Legion, the ones who were Caesar’s favorites.”

“It’s Primus Pilus,” I corrected him automatically, then winced, thinking that I might anger him even more. “And yes, of the 10th Legion, the Equestrians.” I made no attempt to hide my pride; in fact, I wanted to emphasize who was facing him in this blockhouse, if only to impress upon this unseen commander the futility of his continued resistance.

“So you would know a man named Joseph ben-Judah,” he said, this more quietly, and with a tone I had not heard from him before during our short conversation.

I believe that may have been when the first piece of the puzzle in my head of why he sounded familiar fell into place.

“Yes,” I replied slowly, while my mind raced. It was a guess, but I said, “And your brother wouldn’t want to see you die here in this blockhouse.”

“I have no brother,” the voice shot back, but through the anger I could hear the hurt, and the sadness.

I recognized it because I am sure my own voice had sounded like that, back when Vibius Domitius, my longest and best friend, and I had fallen out.

“Be that as it may,” I said quietly, “I am sure that the man who’s not your brother wouldn’t want to see you die here tonight. Or any of your men.”

The silence lasted for an eternity, but instead of a reply in words, what I heard was the sound of first one, then dozens of other weapons falling to the dirt floor of the blockhouse.


It was dawn by the time we had finished securing the survivors from the blockhouse, searching each man thoroughly. Despite my assurances, I was also taking no chances, and I ordered the Jews bound together in the normal manner, looping rope around each man’s neck so that if one of them tried to escape, they would all have to do so. I did not have to ask who their commander was; by the budding light of the new day it was easy to spot Joseph’s brother, because they resembled each other closely enough that they could have been twins. Which, as I found out, was exactly what they were.

Approaching him, I signaled to my man nearest him to unbind him.

“You  know who I am,” I began, “but I don’t know who you are.”

“Yes you do,” he sad bitterly.

“Not,” I replied softly, “your first name.”

Searching my face, evidently looking for some sign of guile there, he finally shrugged and looked away.

“It is Malachi” he said tonelessly. “Malachi ben-Judah.”

“Well, Malachi,” I assured him, “I meant what I said about having Sosius intercede with Herod to spare your lives.”

That was when he finally turned to look up at me, staring me with a direct gaze, but there was less anger in his tone as much as resignation when he asked, “And do you truly think Herod is going to listen to your Legate?”

“He will if he knows what’s in his best interest,” I retorted.

Malachi continued to stare at me, then finally gave an almost imperceptible shrug.

“We shall see,” was all he said.

When I determined he was done speaking, I turned on my heel to go attend to the other details that needed my attention.


“Kill them,” Herod said flatly, without the slightest hesitation.

It was just past dawn, and I had returned to where the command group was waiting where I had left them. They had of course dismounted, and stools had been brought; at least, stools for Sosius and the rest of the Roman contingent, along with ben-Judah and the other Jewish sub-commanders. But from somewhere what I suppose was Herod’s traveling throne had been dragged, along with a table and it was already groaning under the dishes that I assumed constituted Herod’s breaking of his nightly fast. Meanwhile, Sosius and Spurius were content to munch some bread, along with some hard cheese and olives, and the contrast could not have been more plainly illustrated between Romans and the Jewish king in the form of that repast. I had just delivered my report, pointedly ignoring Herod, which in retrospect was probably a factor in his own reaction.

I kept my attention on Sosius, and it was him I addressed when I protested, “But I gave my word that they would at least be allowed to live!”

“Which was not your place to do Centurion,” Herod shot back, sufficiently agitated that he dropped the leg of chicken that he had been gnawing.

I refused to acknowledge the Judean king, understanding that ultimately Sosius would be the ultimate arbiter of the captured Jews’ fate, no matter what Herod said. My heart sank when I saw his expression.

“Unfortunately, Herod is correct, Pullus,” Sosius said. “We should have been consulted before you made the decision.”

“If I had, we’d still be fighting,” I pointed out. “They weren’t disposed to give up and the men in that blockhouse still had a lot of fight in them.”

“Which is your job,” Herod interjected, but because of his position he was facing in the same direction as Sosius and did not bother to look over to see that my Legate had been about to speak.

I saw his face flush with anger, and I took a risk by essentially doing the same thing that Herod had in cutting him off, retorting, “Our job is to fight for Rome. And die, if necessary. Not for a dispute between two Jews who claim to be king.”

I heard more than one sharply indrawn breath, and it sounded very much like Herod might choke on his food, but I kept my eyes on Sosius. I was rewarded by the grim smile, accompanied by a slight nod in my direction.

“What Primus Pilus says is accurate, in all respects,” Sosius finally spoke. “And since it was a Roman Legion who suffered and bled to take this fortress, then I claim as their commander the right to decide what to do with those captives that we took in the process.”

If Herod had been angered before, now he was turning purple with rage, but somehow he managed to keep his voice under control.

“This is not just,” he croaked, his voice sounding like one of those chicken bones had gotten caught. “These are my subjects!”

“And Judea is a kingdom only because Rome allows it,” Sosius replied icily. “Need I remind you that if it weren’t for us, for men like Pullus and Sosius here,” he indicated both of us with his head, “that your chances of reclaiming your throne is nonexistent?”

I must say I enjoyed watching Herod sitting there, mouth opening and closing but nothing coming out, until he finally managed a disgusted grunt, accompanied by a wave of his hand signaling his defeat. Even better was the fact that from every appearance I had managed to ruin his appetite, as he not just shoved the plate in front of him, he hurled it away from him, the contents and plate striking an unfortunate servant. With some difficulty he pushed himself from his throne, and stalked off with as much dignity as I imagine he could muster. My watching his retreating back was interrupted by the sound of Sosius’ voice.

“But Pullus, in the future, make sure you consult with me before you make any promises. Understand?”

I turned and was happy to render a salute, along with my assurance that I would do just that.

I am not sure what I was expecting from Joseph ben-Judah, but his reaction at the news that his brother was spared, even if he was currently a prisoner, did not seem to please him at all.

In fact, his response was such that I felt moved to tell him, “Well next time I’ll make sure I kill him.”

His face flushed, but his tone was apologetic as he replied, “I am sorry Pullus. You’re right, I should be grateful. And I am,” he shook his head. “But I’m afraid that Malachi won’t be very grateful, and if I am being honest, it does not really change the issues between us.”

“But at least he’s alive, which means there’s a chance you can work things out,” I pointed out.

Although he agreed, I could see his doubt, but frankly their reconciliation was not a large concern for me.


I should have known better than to think that Herod would take being thwarted in this manner without coming up with a retaliation of his own. But I must admit that he did so, and in a way that put me in a difficult position with the men of the 10th. With the aid of our artillery, Joseph led his men up and over the walls of Jericho, and within two watches, the town was taken. It was not a complete success; in between our taking of the fortress and the ladders going up, Antigonus managed to slip out of Jericho, escaping to points unknown. While it is true that this development did not help Herod’s frame of mind any, I do not think it would have changed what happened once the town fell, as he turned his wrath not on the townspeople, but on us. No, he did not do anything as stupid as having his men fire at us once they took the walls; it was more subtle than that. Although knowing the rankers, they would have rather taken their chances dodging a few missiles than what happened. Once word came that the town was fallen and had been secured, Herod naturally insisted on being the first to enter the city. This was expected; what was not expected was that immediately after that he would order the gates slammed shut, almost literally in our faces. I had been at the head of the 10th, marching the men into the town in order to fulfill what we had been promised in the first pick of all the loot in the city, and while we were in formation, it was very much a festival atmosphere as men laughed and joked with each other about what fortunes awaited them inside the walls of Jericho. By my estimate I was less than fifty paces away when the two massive gates to the town suddenly swung shut, slamming closed with a tremendous, dusty crash. At first I was not angered; if anything I was bemused, thinking that perhaps Joseph was playing some sort of prank, although I could not really imagine the dour Jewish commander doing something of this nature. I was still standing there, and I am sure my mouth was hanging open when I heard hoofbeats from behind, then Sosius pulled up beside me.

“Why did you stop?” he demanded.

In answer I only pointed, and as I glanced over I was sure that his expression was an identical match to mine.

“What…why?” Sosius muttered.

Naturally I did not answer because I had no more idea than he did about what was happening. At least, until Herod suddenly appeared on the parapet of the wall above the gate. Even from where I was standing there was no missing the malevolent smile on his face.

“Highness?” Sosius glared up at the Judean, “Would you care to explain why you closed the gates?”

“Of course,” Herod replied happily. “It’s just that, on further reflection, I do not believe that it’s in the best interest of my subjects that I turn a battle-hardened Roman Legion loose on the town.”

Sosius and I exchanged a glance, the shock on his face a mirror to what I am sure was on mine.

“Are you mad?” Sosius asked incredulously. “Do you realize what you’re doing in breaking a promise to me? To Pullus here?” I appreciated the inclusion but I knew I was not the consideration, and Sosius went on to name the one who would truly be angered. “To Antonius?”

“I did not promise Antonius anything,” Herod said carelessly. “I certainly did not promise him that I would allow his men to commit rape and plunder of one of my towns.”

“But you did promise us,” Sosius hissed. “And I am Antonius’ representative here! And by breaking your promise, you have broken faith not just with these men, but with Rome itself, in the form of the Triumvir of the East, Marcus Antonius!”

If this shook Herod, he hid it well, for his tone did not change.

“That may,” he replied, “or may not be the case. We will just have to see. In the meantime I would just inform you that the only way you’re getting anything out of this town is by taking it by force. And that,” he pointed down at Sosius, “is something that I am sure the Triumvir would not countenance. Now,” he turned as if to go, dismissing us with a wave. “I must leave you here to make camp outside the walls. There are many things I must attend to.”

And he left us standing there, with a very bewildered and angry Legion at my back.


It still angers, and in some ways saddens me that Herod knew Marcus Antonius as well as he did, because he was exactly right about the Triumvir. Nothing was ever said officially or unofficially about Herod’s betrayal. That was bad enough, but what made matters even more infuriating was that, with Jericho taken and Antigonus escaping to Jerusalem, the end of the campaign season had come. Rather than settling matters, the 3rd and 10th were ordered to march back to Damascus for the winter, and Herod was told that he was on his own to finish off Antigonus. As so many matters involving Herod, and Antonius for that matter, what was promised and what was the actual case were two vastly different propositions, meaning that we found ourselves under the command of the fat toad once more, this time with a much larger nut to crack in the form of the city of Jerusalem.


But that is a story for another time.

Titus and Herod: Part I- A Marching With Caesar® Story

This short story is the first part of a two-part story that I wrote for fans who miss Titus Pullus as much as I do. Over time, I plan on adding such short stories that cover parts of his story where I did not go into any detail, or mentioned in passing (as few as they may be!).

Titus and Herod covers the period during the civil war between Marcus Antonius and Gaius Octavianus Caesar, when the Legions were largely idle while Antonius was contending politically with his rival. It was during this period that Antonius lent Herod two Legions, commanded by Gaius Sosius; while the identity of one is known as the 3rd Gallica, the other is not. Therefore, voilà! Titus and the 10th Legion are now in Judea, helping Herod become king of Judea, on the way to becoming known as Herod the Great.


Hence, here is “Titus and Herod: Part I”

As much as I loathe Herod for being the fat toad that he is, it is with more than a little surprise when I am forced to acknowledge that, despite his girth and obvious love of wine, he is a formidable warrior in his own right. I know this because I have seen him in action, firsthand, when the 10th was sent along with the 3rd Gallica to assist him in retrieving his throne from Antigonus, who had managed to usurp it while Herod was away out of the country. At least that was the story Herod told Antonius; whether or not that was actually the case was another story, because in my observation of Herod, one never knew the real truth. Consequently, the man Antonius had appointed as Praetor of both Damascus, and the part of the army stationed there, Gaius Sosius, received a plea for help from Herod. After sending word to Antony for instructions, Spurius and I were called to the Praetorium.

“We’ve been ordered to assist Herod in his fight with Antigonus for the throne of Judaea,” Sosius informed us, adding, superfluously in my mind, “Although why anyone would want that gods-forsaken patch of sand and rock is beyond me.” He gave a shrug and finished with, “But as you know, Herod has been a friend to Antonius, so we’re going to help him.”

And with that, he gave us our orders to move out, scheduling our departure for three days later, which would be a tight fit but would work. Provided, of course, the men worked through the watches.

As Spurius put it, “The men are not going to like being roused from their debauching, especially to go help that fat bastard.”

“No, they won’t,” I agreed. “But they’ll do it even if it’s with my foot up their ass.”


We were ready as scheduled, so that on dawn on the third day, both Legions were formed up outside the camp, ready to march. I was leaving Miriam, but it was not like I was going on a full-blown campaign, and although I did not like being pressed, I did assure her that I seriously doubted it would be more than six weeks apart, two months at the most. Gaius was as unhappy to be leaving as Miriam was to see me leave, and for much the same reason, since he had struck up a relationship with a girl in the city. Despite my best, and almost constant efforts, I could not get any details from him about the maiden, for which I imagine she was eternally grateful, given how jealously guarded feminine virtue is by the men of those parts. As expected, the first day on the march was the hardest, particularly because this was the height of the summer immediately after our reduction of Samosata, which had come to its conclusion early in the year. While we had kept up a training regimen of sorts, the men had become soft again from their riotous living in Damascus, and there was much suffering along the road during that first day, and the second. Not helping matters was the heat and dusty dryness of the country through which we had to pass, and I am afraid that I suffered at least as much as the men, mainly because I dared not show that I was doing so. I think in some ways that makes matters worse, knowing that you can’t show your fatigue, or complain about it. The one small blessing was that Sosius had ordered us to spend at least the first few days not wearing our armor, at least until we crossed the border. As was usual, couriers were galloping back and forth, some from the direction of Alexandria, where Antonius had retired to after essentially stealing the credit for the fall of Samosata from Aulus Ventidius, who had been in command and would turn out to be, at least in my lifetime, the only Roman general to defeat the Parthians and receive a triumph for his efforts. But it was from Judaea, where agents of Herod kept bringing messages informing us of the overall situation that we learned information that was of most value to us.

“Antigonus just crushed a force of Jews led by Herod’s brother,” Sosius told us grimly after summoning Spurius and I from our respective spots in the column. “What’s worse, Herod’s brother, his name was Joseph, was captured, and Antigonus cut off his head.”

Spurius let out a low whistle.

“So this is now a blood feud,” he remarked, and I could tell from his voice he did not like the idea of us being involved in the least.

Frankly, neither did I, but our opinions were irrelevant.

“It gets worse,” Sosius continued, his face grim as he stared down at the wax tablet that he had been handed by the courier.

He was still on horseback, and it was forcing me to shield my eyes as I looked up at him, which was quite irritating. Of course, all I had to do was walk to the other side of his mount so the sun was at my back, but it did not occur to me in the moment; it was just easier to complain, even if it was entirely internal.

“Joseph’s force was wiped out to the man,” Sosius informed us, oblivious to a disgruntled Centurion.

When he said no more than that, Spurius and I exchanged a glance, and I saw he was as unsure as I was why this was significant. Granted, it would mean there were less men allied to our cause, but if Spurius was like me, he was under no illusion that we would not be doing most, if not all the fighting.

Finally, Spurius cleared his throat, regaining Sosius’ attention, and the commander gave a short laugh.

“Sorry, I didn’t tell you why that’s important.” He took a breath, then plunged ahead. “The men that were slaughtered were special troops, funded by Herod but armed and trained in our ways and tactics. They were also organized along Century and Cohort line, and were led by retired Centurions, hired by Herod. So essentially, from Antigonus’ viewpoint at least, he won a victory over troops trained like us.”

“How many Cohorts?” I asked.

“Five,” was his answer.

Once more, Spurius and I glanced at each other.

“So, this Antigonus beats a half-Legion’s worth of men. So what?” Spurius asked. “Just because they’re organized like us it doesn’t mean they’re us.”

Sosius nodded, but in a pensive manner that told me he was still worried.

“That’s true, Spurius,” he admitted. “But it also means that in all likelihood Antigonus is going to have men flocking to his banners for the chance at beating an army of Rome. How many men do you think would jump at the chance to have a crack at us now that they think we’re not invincible?”

When put that way, it was hard to argue, and the pair of us resumed our places in a more thoughtful mood.

On the fourth day after we left, we entered the region of Judaea known as Galilee, the central feature of which is a small inland sea. While it is a scenic and picturesque area, it is also exceedingly poor, which of course led to much questioning around the fires as to why anyone would actually want to rule it. Nevertheless, this was where we joined forces with Herod, if a command of two Roman Legions combining with what I was sure was no more than eight hundred Jewish men could be called that. In fact, from everything we had seen to that point, to most of the rankers, and the Centurions, the smart money seemed to be that this Antigonus character was the likely victor. That is, at least until we showed up. I will say that one thing about Herod is that he wastes no time; we spent a night in camp, where he closeted himself with Sosius, while neither Spurius nor I were invited. The next morning, we broke camp and began this campaign, if that is what it could be called, by marching a short distance to the south, until we reached a medium-sized village. Immediately, the cornu of the command group summoned all first-grade Centurions, so Scribonius and I, naturally, trotted up side by side.

“Well?” he asked me, “What have you heard through Diocles?”

As much as I hated to admit it, I was forced to say, “Not much. According to Philo,” this was one of Diocles’ friends who was permanently assigned to the praetorium, “Herod is bent on making sure that he leaves no doubt about who’s in charge. Apparently he loved his brother a great deal.”

“Heh,” Scribonius scoffed. “Herod doesn’t love anyone but Herod.”

Before I could think of something to say, made more difficult because I agreed with Scribonius, we had reached where Sosius, Herod, and the various hangers-on lucky enough to be born with noble blood sat their horses. The truth is I felt a great deal of sympathy for any horse that Herod chose to ride; at that time it was simply because of his massive weight. But after I had gotten Ocelus, and learned the true value of a good horse, I felt even more because Herod ruled his horses like his people, with a very heavy hand.

“We’re going to sweep this village clean,” Sosius announced, and I distinctly remember taking notice that, for all his faults, Herod was careful not to give Romans a direct order, ever. “The king has informed me that this is a hotbed of traitorous scum who have taken up the cause of the usurper Antigonus. We’re going to show them the folly of defying the Triumvir and fighting the man he chooses to run Judaea.”

Although I normally despised the language of the courtier, I had to admit that I was impressed with the way Sosius worded his order. By bringing Antonius into it, and linking these people’s defiance of his choice in Herod, he made this a purely Roman matter. For his part, Herod sat there silently, his oiled ringlets and beard gleaming in the sun, while his eyes never left the village itself, which he stared at with undisguised hatred, as if his very gaze could cause the collection of adobe and stone buildings to burst into flame.

As I recall, the name of the village was Chorisia (Kursi) on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, and it never stood a chance against us. Even if there had been a sizable garrison there, Herod was in no mood to be merciful. My assumption was that he felt betrayed by the people of this village who had backed Antigonus; in my experience civilians very rarely have any choice in the matter. If an army shows up on your doorstep and demands to be fed and sheltered, it is a very brave, or very foolhardy village elder who says no. That did not seem to enter into Herod’s reasoning as, through Sosius of course, we were ordered to array in a front with both Legions, the 3rd to the left and the 10th to the right, then essentially sweep into the town. The first line Cohorts had the orders to kill anyone that was too slow to run, while the second and third line put every single building to the torch. Nothing was spared, either being butchered, put to the torch or taken for our own needs, or amusement, in the case of the thirty or forty women who were unlucky enough to be captured. At first I was worried that Herod would make an issue of this, thinking again of how the people of that region view their women, but he did not seem to mind in the slightest. The pitifully small garrison was slaughtered to a man, with the exception of one, who was given a message to carry to Antigonus from Herod, to inform him of the fate of Chorisia, and let him know what to expect from Herod. We were there a day, and when we marched away the next morning, the ruins of the town were still smoldering, the smoke drifting into the sky. That smoke was the only thing that marred the otherwise perfect blue, and very quickly the men, now that they were in full armor, began to complain mightily about the heat.  The only saving grace was that as we continued south, we could follow the Iordanus (Jordan) River, which would keep us supplied with fresh water.


On the day after we destroyed the first village, the First Cohort happened to be in the vanguard, and I had sent Balbus’ Century out ahead for security. We were still skirting the lake when just south of the larger town of Hippos, which Herod had ordered us to bypass, where the Hieromyces (Yarmouk) River feeds into the Jordan near the village of Emmatha, we were attacked. Naturally, over time rivers carve through rocky terrain so that they are generally at the bottom of what can be anything between a wide, broad valley, to a narrow ravine. In this case, it was not exceedingly narrow, but where the Hieromyces meets the Jordan, on the east side of the river there is a relatively steep slope that leads up to a ridge that runs parallel to the river for a few miles. And while the side of the ridge was not heavily forested, there was enough undergrowth to hide a sizable force. Balbus was the “lucky” one to find it, as we would say; rather, he sensed that the enemy was waiting, and was able to raise the warning. I was alerted by a series of shouts, followed almost instantly by the blast of the cornicen attached to Balbus’ Century, but there was precious little time for me to turn about and bellow at the top of my lungs.

“Ambush! From the left!”

Honestly, the direction was unneeded, since any enemy trying to ambush us from the opposite side would have had to hold their breath under the water of the river for quite some time. All I cared about at the moment was that my call was echoed, not just by the other Centurions behind me, but by Valerius, my personal cornicen as well. If I had had the time, I would have stopped to appreciate the swift, sure movement of the men, not just of my own First Century, but all along the column. As we had practiced over and over, the men nearest to the threat pivoted a half-turn to their left, raising their shields, while their comrades in the next three files did the same, except they raised their shields above their heads, and it was just in time. The air filled with a flurry of missiles of all sorts and shapes, raining down on the column and instantly creating a racket of noise that made any kind of conversation below a shout impossible. Fortunately, the predominant sound was one of metal striking wood, although there was the occasional metallic clanging sound when the iron head of a javelin or arrow met the boss of a shield. Within the span of perhaps a half-dozen heartbeats, we had gone from marching along to stopped and hunkering behind our shields, each man doing his best to cover not just himself but his nearest comrade. In the case of the men of the second rank this was especially important, because they had to hold their shields above the heads of the men of the first rank, while the men of the third held theirs over the second. It may sound surprising when I said that only the first four files nearest the contact turned to face it, but that is how we are trained. Until I could determine whether or not this was the main threat, or if it was a diversion to draw our attention away from the real attack, the next four files remained facing their original direction, although they did bring their shields up.

I say that it was my job to assess matters, and it was, but I must admit that being out in front of my men, without a shield, meant that it was hard for me to concentrate on anything other than getting skewered by a flying missile. Once I gave the first command that got us into the right posture, my next few moments were spent not thinking at all and letting my body take command as I moved first one way, then hopped another. I was waiting for what I knew was coming, the inevitable letup when men either run out of their first sheaf of javelins, or they have to pause a moment to rest their arms. It was during this period that I heard the first cry from somewhere farther down the column, but still in my Century, a shout of pain that told me either an enemy had gotten lucky, or one of my men had gotten careless. Unfortunately, that first cry was quickly echoed, this time closer to me. Moving backwards a few steps I risked a glance to see one of the men of the front rank of the marching column lying, writhing on the ground as he clutched what I saw was the shaft of one of the shorter throwing javelins that was embedded in his shoulder. Blood was seeping through his fingers, and his face was white, but he was a veteran, and without being told he began scooting on his backside toward the side farthest away from the ridge.

“Primus Pilus!”

The man who had been in the second rank, as he was trained to do, had just sidestepped to his right to take the wounded Legionary’s place, but as he did so he quickly bent down and with his free hand picked up the first man’s discarded shied.

“It looks like you can use this!” he called out, giving me a grin as he heaved the shield in my direction.

It landed in a spray of dirt no more than three steps away from me, but now I had the problem of risking bending down myself to pick it up. Using my momentum from dodging another javelin, I shuffled to my left as I felt the puff of air as the javelin flashed by, and I remember thinking that this was the closest they had come to that point, which meant they were finding the range. Quickly I bent down, but clearly someone up on the slope had anticipated what I was going to do, and although they were just a fraction too late, just as I lifted the shield in front of me, it was almost knocked from my hands with terrific force, and it sounded like someone struck the thing with a mallet. Glancing down, I saw the entire iron head of a javelin sticking through the wood of the shield, which also made it awkward to handle. That was when I thought to draw my sword, and trusting my Gallic blade to hold its edge despite the fact I had not gone through the ritual sharpening the night before, I was rewarded when it sliced through the thick shaft, sending it flying.

“All right ladies!” I bellowed. “We’ve taken enough of this! It’s time to give them a taste of their own medicine!”

Even over the steady racket of impacting missiles there was no mistaking the tone of my men when they replied.

As I expected, this bunch of cowards were brave enough to ambush us, but when I led my boys up the slope, they ran like rabbits. And when I say like rabbits I am only slightly exaggerating, since most of them were swift enough to escape before we could put a sword in their back. It was the kind of engagement that leaves men frustrated and thirsting for retribution, despite the fact that our casualties were light, with no men dead and a half-dozen wounded. The ranker who had taken a javelin through the shoulder was the most seriously wounded, but he refused to ride in the wagon, and although he could not carry his own load, he was thought of well enough by his comrades that they split it between themselves. Not without the usual cheerful complaining and mockery of him for being unable to carry his weight, which he bore with good grace. Barely a full watch elapsed from the ambush to when we were back on the march, except now that this enemy had drawn some blood, the boys were eager to get stuck in, so they needed no extra urging. However, although they, and I expected that we would head for the nearest village, Emmatha, which was just a few miles away to the east, instead we continued south for the rest of the day, then made camp along the banks of the Iordanus. Once the camp was erected, we were summoned to the praetorium, where Sosius and Herod were waiting. Despite it being a bit early for the evening meal, Herod apparently could not wait, and was seated at the table that serves as both the Legate’s dining table and where larger conferences are held and used for maps and reports. This evening Herod, while still dressed in his armor, was busy consuming what looked to me like a whole roast chicken, making no attempt to keep the grease from dripping down his beard, making it glisten even more. That was bad enough, but he was also making a show of smacking his lips, chewing the meat in such a manner that it was easily visible. In short, he was acting like an animal and not a king, and my loathing for the man only increased further, which surprised me since I did not think it was possible.

“We’ve received information that Antigonus’ forces have withdrawn south, and are in the vicinity of Jericho,” Sosius announced. “They’re consolidating their strength, and we’ve decided that we will do the same. There are men marching for Herod south of here, which works well because we can meet up with them before we reach Jericho.”

As Sosius was talking, I watched Herod, busily chomping away as he tore every morsel of meat from a leg bone before tossing it carelessly on the floor. Sosius shot Herod a furious glance, but did not stop talking, while the king for whom we were doing this looked completely bored by the whole process. Sosius finished his briefing with some minor details, then I gave him my report on the day’s proceedings, including the number of wounded and their general condition.

“Enemy casualties?” Sosius asked.

“Not many,” I admitted. “We found three of theirs dead and a dozen blood trails, but that’s all.”

“If you Legionaries weren’t weighed down by so much armor and carrying that huge shield, you probably could have killed them all,” Herod chose that moment to contribute.

I heard Spurius mutter a curse under his breath, while Sosius looked as if Herod had slapped him in the face. As for myself, I felt that beast within me uncoil itself, I suppose in much the same way a slumbering dragon will, and I felt the rush of words coming up my throat.

Although I was able to stop from saying what I really wanted to, I did manage to keep control of myself as I gave Herod a bow that was as mocking as I could manage as I asked, “Indeed, Your Highness. Perhaps you could show us sometimes how fleet of foot you are yourself. In order to inspire the men, you understand.”

The sound of Spurius choking back a laugh made me feel better, and I could see that Sosius was trying to fight a grin. Herod, on the other hand, did not appear to be amused at all.

“I do not need to be fleet of foot, Centurion,” he spat back. “I have men at my bidding who would lay down their lives for me! They are the ones who will run down every one of my enemies!”

I glanced at Sosius, but he did not seem disposed to intervene, and I imagine this emboldened me to reply, “First, it’s Primus Pilus, Your Highness. Second, that’s wonderful to hear that you have such brave and willing men. That means we can go back to Damascus then?” I gave Sosius an inquiring look and finished, “Do you want me to pass the word, sir? We pack up and leave for home now?”

“That’s enough, Pullus,” Sosius muttered. “You know that we’re not doing anything of the sort.” Waving a hand at us, he said, “You’re dismissed, and you have your orders.”

As I walked out of the room, I could almost feel the knife headed for my back, but I must admit that I felt quite happy.


At the end of the next day, as we continued south, we approached a small town called Asophon, which is located just three miles north of the Iabakchos (Zariq) River. This was where the remaining men of Herod’s own forces were waiting. They had been under the command of Herod’s brother Joseph, who had managed to get his head cut off, and these were the men who had managed to escape, disproving what we had been told that they had all been slaughtered. Normally I would not have put much faith in such men; my experience had been that those who managed to escape from difficult circumstances did so because their first concern was their own skin, making them the most likely to flee if the fighting got tough. However, in this particular case I was of an easier mind, at least once I saw who was leading these men. They were waiting for us as we marched up, and since the 10th was the second Legion that day, I naturally did not see the assembly of Herod’s men who were waiting to greet their king. That meant it was not until later in the day, after the camp had been erected outside the town, and Sosius called once more for Spurius and I that I learned the identity of the commander of this remaining force. He was already there, seated and waiting for Spurius and I, along with Herod and a couple of his sub-commanders, and his back was turned to me. However, when we entered the room, the same as the day before, he stood and turned to allow formal introductions. Honestly, at that moment my mind was more focused on the fact that Herod was not stuffing his face, thankful that I would not have to watch another display of his gluttony, so it took me a moment for my mind to catch up to who it was that was smiling at me as if he was seeing an old comrade.

I came to a stop for a moment as my mind raced, then I gasped, “Joseph ben-Judah?”

“I was wondering if you’d remember me,” he laughed as he offered his hand first, then swept me into a quick embrace. “Of course, you’re impossible to forget. The giant Roman!”

I felt a flush come to my face, absurdly pleased that he would remember, while at the same time my mind was flooded with memories.

“How long has it been?” I asked him, not quite able to calculate.

“Almost ten years!” he exclaimed, then we were silent for a moment as we examined each other, oblivious to the others in the room.

“You know this…Primus Pilus?” Herod made no attempt to disguise that he was not using my title in a complimentary manner, and I saw Joseph lift an eyebrow.

“I’ll explain later,” I whispered.

“Yes, Highness,” Joseph assured Herod. “We fought together at…” He cocked his head as he tried to remember.

“When we defeated Ptolemy,” I answered for him, happy that I remembered first.

“Yes, that’s right,” he agreed, then turned and repeated the answer to Herod.

“I’m not deaf,” the fat man said sourly. “Well, this is very endearing, but may we begin our plans now?”

With that, I took a seat next to Joseph, and we listened as once again Sosius did most of the talking. This time, however, I noticed that Herod was more talkative, and I wondered how much it had to do with the presence of his own men, and him wanting to give them the impression that he had some sort of control over this endeavor. Which I suppose he did, in a way; after all, we were there, but as fat as Herod may be, he is no fool, and he knew that it was the iron men of the Legions who would be doing the work. And in turn, that meant that Sosius would be the one doing most of the talking.


Once the briefing was finished, I invited Joseph to my tent for refreshment, and he happily accepted. As we walked, I gave him a surreptitious examination, looking for signs of aging and wear. At least, so I thought, but then we caught ourselves eyeing each other like a side of beef, and both burst out laughing.

“You look older,” he said, but as a mere statement of fact.

“You don’t look any younger,” I retorted, and he laughed again.

I pointed to a long scar on his arm that, from the look of it, was still fairly new, being quite pink.

He rubbed it absently and grunted, “That was last year. Some bandits up in the hills by Jericho.”

“Jericho?” I repeated. “That’s where we’re headed.”

“I know,” he replied, but there was a dryness to his tone that caused me to examine his face more closely.

I could not help noticing that at that moment he was more interested in a pair of rankers grinding the wheat for the evening meal. Suddenly I did not feel quite so happy.

“Is there something we should know about this Jericho?” I asked him.

At first he did not reply, then giving a quick glance about to make sure nobody was paying obvious attention to us, said softly, “I think that’s a topic that’s best discussed in your tent.”

There did not seem to be much to say after that, and we finished our walk to my quarters in silence.


“So what do I need to know about this Jericho?” I asked Joseph after we had settled ourselves in my quarters and chatted about inconsequential matters for a bit.

He did not answer immediately, choosing to stare down into his cup with a thoughtful frown, which reminded me of Scribonius. Normally he would have been included in my talk with ben-Judah, but I had met the Jewish commander during that period of time immediately after Pharsalus, when Caesar had deemed it the wisest course for me to accompany him in pursuit of Pompey. Therefore, I did not want ben-Judah in a suspicious or cautious frame of mind when we were talking. Fortunately, the bad blood between us over the Cornuficius affair was sufficiently in the past that he did not seem to hold any rancor against me for my role, such as it was.

Finally, he looked up and said, “It’s just that it’s the one area of Judea where Antigonus has the strongest support. We can expect little cooperation from the people who live there. And even if they do hate Antigonus, he has enough men there that it would be dangerous for anyone to do something that would tip them off that a person favors Herod.” He seemed to consider something before continuing, “Many of our people do not accept Herod as king because he is not one of us.”

I was not sure I understood, so I asked, “But he’s from Judea, isn’t he? So how is he not one of you?”

In my mind that would be akin to a man from Umbria declaring that an Etrurian was not a Roman, but I was about to learn that the people of Judea, at least the Jewish majority did not see it that way.

“He is from a region that has not been part of Judea that long,” Joseph replied carefully. “He is an Idumean, and to many of the people of my country, that means he is not a true Judean.”

“Well,” I thought for a moment, “I suppose I can understand if it’s as you say, that this Idumea hasn’t been part of Judea for a long time.” I shrugged, and finished, “But he’s the one that Antonius wants on the throne, so that’s where we’ll put him.”

As soon as I said it, I saw that I had offended ben-Judah, although he did not say anything, but I knew the sudden flush of his face was not from the wine. It is something that I have often had to remind myself about; the fact that we control most of the known world may be a fact, and in the long run it is usually to the benefit of those countries that we control, yet I could see how they would not view it in the same light. I could imagine easily enough my reaction if someone made an offhand remark from a foreigner about who they would be installing as a Consul of Rome, and I remonstrated with myself for being so thoughtless.

Consequently, I tried to move the conversation back to the main topic, and asked him, “So these men who march for Antigonus; are they any good?”

He did not immediately answer, and I worried that I had offended him so deeply that he would not want to continue any kind of conversation, but then he said, “Some of them aren’t bad.” He gave what sounded like a bark, but I assume it was a laugh, which I did not understand at first, until he added, “My brother’s with Antigonus, and he’s a very good soldier. A very tough soldier.”

I may have been mistaken, but I believe I heard a hint of pride in his voice as he said this, but now my curiosity was aroused.

“I don’t mean to pry,” I began, but while I did not look in his direction, I could feel him regarding me warily. “But how did that happen? Or rather,” I amended, “what was the reason?”

Ben-Judah sighed, and shook his head, “Remember that I said Herod was an Idumean?”

“Yes, despite my advanced age I think I can remember back that far,” I said dryly, and as I hoped it prompted a quiet laugh.

“Well, that’s not the worst part, at least for some of our people,” he explained. “The biggest problem is that Herod isn’t truly Jewish.”

That did not make sense to me, so I asked him, “What do you mean he’s not Jewish? If Idumea is part of Judea, then he’s Jewish, isn’t he?” Before he could answer I realized the source of the confusion, and hurried to add, “Wait. You’re talking about the religious aspect of being Jewish, aren’t you?”

He regarded me with quiet amusement, and he replied, “They are one and the same thing, Pullus. Being Jewish is not a matter of where one is born, but under what religion. Jews can be born in any country, and they are still Jewish.”

That is when I remembered something.

“That’s right,” I nodded as the pieces fell into place, “you Jews only believe that there’s one god, don’t you?”

“There is only one God,” he replied evenly, “and we are His chosen people.”

To my way of thinking, there were so many things wrong with that statement that I did not even know where to begin, but I decided to let it lie. Besides, the fact that these people only believe there is one god does not make it so, nor did it have any real bearing on what we were there to do.

“So whatever the reason, there’s a segment of your people who don’t accept Herod. And your brother is one of these.”

“Yes,” Joseph replied, and I could easily read the sadness there.

“And the reason they don’t accept him is because he’s not a true member of your…religion,” it felt odd mouthing the word used to describe a system of belief that is so far removed from our Roman pantheon of gods that I almost did not utter it.

“Again, yes,” Joseph said.

I noticed that he was now looking at me steadily, and I suppose I knew then he was prepared for my next question.

“If your brother doesn’t think Herod is worthy of following and fighting for, why do you?”

His gaze did not waver, but his tone of voice suggested he was a bit uncomfortable as he replied, “It’s…complicated.” He took a sip from his cup before continuing, “While my brother and I were raised to observe all the rituals and customs that are required of us by God, it was never as important to me as it was to him. Especially once I started associating with you Romans and all of your gods.” He shrugged and gave me a twisted smile. “The truth is that I like your many gods better than our one, because your gods don’t make many demands on you, other than to sacrifice to them.”

Equal parts puzzled and intrigued, I asked him, “What other demands could there be other than we offer them sacrifices in exchange for them helping us?”

“The God of the Jews also demands that we behave in a certain manner, that we obey certain laws pertaining to the way we deal with others. And you know as well as I do that many times the way a soldier deals with a problem is…”

“…By killing it,” I finished for him, and he raised his cup in a salute.

I still could not see where the conflict lay, but I at least had a glimmering of the difference between our gods and the single one of the Jews. From everything I could tell, our gods did not give a brass obol how we treated each other, as long as we made obeisance to them, and offered them part of our wealth, either in the form of food or by building a temple to them. Yet, from what I could gather, there was much, much more involved when it came to what their god required of them, and I must admit that it made me happy at the time to think I was protected by gods who did not ask for that much when all things were considered. Now that all that has happened in my life has occurred, I am no longer so sure. Joseph and I talked for just a bit longer as he gave me more tidbits of information about what we could expect. Then it was time for the bucina to sound the call to retire, and he departed me tent, leaving me in a thoughtful mood.


Continuing to march south along the Iordanus, it was not hard to see the signs that we were now entering territory where a fair number of the people there did not view Herod favorably. Frankly this was nothing new to any of us; the way we viewed it, this was what came with marching for Rome. And if the truth were known, I for one would much rather be respected from fear than not respected at all, and I believe most of my comrades felt the same way. None of the civilians did anything overt, mostly just turning away from our column as we marched by, although I saw more than one shabbily dressed woman make a sign that I knew only because of Miriam, who often made the same one to ward off evil. The other change was in the type of terrain; the Iordanus is not much of a river, meaning that the valley through which it runs is not very wide, but just south of Galilee the surrounding hills still had a fair amount of green. Not so any longer; the hills rising up, particularly those to the east, are almost white and besides Parthia, was the most barren landscape I had seen. An almost constant refrain that I heard up and down the ranks as we marched, the dust getting thicker and more choking with every mile, was on why anybody would choose this place in which to live. But the one thing that Joseph ben-Judah had told me that stuck in my mind was that Jericho was even more ancient than the pyramids that I had seen when traveling with Caesar and Cleopatra. I found, and still find this hard to believe, but something that I had noticed about Joseph in particular and the other Jews I knew in general was in their deep knowledge about their past. When I asked him why this was, Joseph had muttered something about a book that apparently all Jews are supposed to learn by heart, but when I pressed him on it, he refused to say more. As long as we followed the river, the going was fairly easy, but once we got within perhaps ten miles from Jericho, the column was halted, and Spurius and I were called to where the command group sat their horses. As I approached, I saw that it was not as much an argument as a tense discussion, and ben-Judah in particular was making animated gestures in our direction of march. Reaching the group, I heard the end of ben-Judah’s argument.

“…if we come directly from the east, they’ll see us coming for miles. There’s no way to hide our dust trail out that way.”

Sosius, seeing both Spurius and I were present, wasted no time, announcing, “It appears we have a decision to make. His Highness,” he accompanied this with a perfunctory nod in Herod’s direction, who clearly did not like what I suppose he thought of as a lack of respect, while Sosius pointedly ignored the glare the fat man gave him as he continued, “favors continuing along the river, since we can travel faster, then approach Jericho directly from the east. But,” he actually gestured in ben-Judah’s direction, and it was clear to me that our Legate had more respect for him than he did for Herod, something that the king did not miss either, “ben-Judah here makes a compelling argument. If we head west right now, we can use the cover of the broken ground that’s north of the town.”

“But that ground is much more difficult to traverse,” Herod interjected. “It will take longer for us to make our approach!”

“Longer, but safer,” ben-Judah countered.

If he was cowed by Herod he gave no signs of it, despite the fact the fat man glared at him. I suppose that part of Joseph’s disdain for Herod’s wrath stemmed from the fact that Herod needed every experienced fighting man he could get, and I had seen enough of Joseph to know that he was exactly that. I also had seen the men who followed him did so not only willingly, but with a fervor and dedication that is the best sign of a good leader.

“Not necessarily,” Herod argued. “I know this part of the country well, and there are so many folds and wadis that the enemy could hide ten thousand men there and we would not know until they fall on us!”

I must admit that, when he said this, it was with so much conviction and certainty that I saw that Sosius suddenly looked doubtful. Salvation came from an unexpected source.

“Maybe for someone else, but not for us,” Spurius spoke up. “My boys,” he nodded in my direction, “and Pullus’ are the most experienced fighting men in the known world. We’re not likely to be caught like a bunch of tiros.”

While I agreed completely with what Spurius was saying, I was a bit nervous, especially when I saw that for the first time Herod and ben-Judah had identical expressions on their faces. But whether he liked it or not, Joseph could not turn his back on men who agreed with him, even if the manner in which Spurius did it was hard for him to swallow. I actually opened my mouth to say something that I hoped would assuage the Jewish commander’s feelings, because I recognized that Spurius had not had as much experience with Jewish fighting men as I had.

“I agree,” if Joseph hesitated it was unnoticeable. “It would be very hard, if not impossible, for the enemy to surprise us. Provided,” he added, “we have someone who knows this stretch of ground well to guide us.”

I do not know if he intended it that way, but it was completely natural for all eyes to turn to the one man who had claimed intimate knowledge of the ground, but Herod did not appear to be tempted in the slightest to live up to his boast.

“I will find a dozen men to act as scouts,” he answered.

If he did not have so many chins, I would have said that his teeth were clenched, but truly it was impossible to tell.


I will say that Herod was accurate in his description of the ground, which was a seemingly endless series of cuts that are dry watercourses that intersected at odd angles. It became clear very quickly that, while more dangerous, we had little choice but to follow one of the wider ravines that took us in a westerly direction. It was not far; by Joseph’s estimate we would only have to go about three miles before we could climb up to a point overlooking Jericho, but that distance was deceiving. Not only was the ground extremely rugged, because of all the intersecting cuts and ravines that provided opportunities for ambush, our progress was slow. Making matters even worse, the bone-white rock that surrounded us reflected the heat, and because we were down on the ravine floor, there was no breeze, making it suffocating, especially because of our armor and helmets. The sun has a way of making metal hotter, although I do not know why, but our helmets were the worst for doing so, to the point that you would be sure that your brains would cook. Not surprisingly, we increased the frequency of our rest stops, and every time we did every man in the ranks was sure to remove their helmet and squeeze out the felt liner, which was always soaking as much as if it had been dipped into a bucket of water.

It was during one of those breaks, when Scribonius came to chat that, as he looked around, he commented, “I think at one point this place was under the sea.”

This made me laugh, and I teased him, “I think the sun has cooked your brains! This is one of the driest places we’ve ever been. In some ways it’s as bad as Parthia.” Then, curious because I knew that my friend was not just making idle chat, I asked, “But just to humor you, why do you say that?”

He did not respond, at least verbally, instead pointing to the side of the nearest ravine wall. At first I did not see what it was he was indicating, but finally I saw what were clearly shells of the kind you find on the seashore, embedded in the rock. I walked over to examine the shells more closely, and I must admit that I was intrigued; I had long since become accustomed to my closest friend noticing things that others did not, or understanding matters that were unclear to others, including me.

Edepol,” I exclaimed, “you’re right!” I looked about a bit more, and suddenly I saw shells everywhere. “It’s hard to believe that this place ever had a drop of water, let alone was underwater.”

Before we could discuss this further, the signal sounded to resume the march, but we had not gone far when we stopped again. This time, however, it was because our scouts had come galloping back to the head of the column. In a matter of a few dozen heartbeats a runner came trotting back from where the command group was, panting in the heat, and I felt sorry for the youngster as he came to a stop, the sweat streaming down his face.

“Primus Pilus, the Legate needs you.”

I nodded in reply, but inwardly I cursed, knowing there was a reason that there had been no horn command, which in turn meant I needed to move quickly myself. It may not seem like much, but trotting up and down a column composed of two Legions and about 5,000 of Herod’s auxiliaries is a tiring business. Normally the auxiliaries would have been marching in the rear, but because of the circumstances Herod’s men were leading the way, and the thought crossed my mind that perhaps one of their scouts was seeing shadows. I quickly was disabused of that by the conversation, if it could be called that, taking place as I arrived. Sosius had dismounted, but when I saw Herod had done so as well, I knew this was not a good sign, since Herod was so fat that getting him on and off his horse was a major ordeal, mainly for the poor bastard who served as his footstool.

“I thought you said that it was nothing more than a pile of rocks!”

This was the first thing I heard clearly, and it was Sosius who was clearly very angry with the Judeans, both Herod, Joseph, and the other sub-commanders.

“It was,” Herod protested, “I saw it with my own eyes no more than a month ago!”

“Well, it’s a lot more than that now,” this came from Joseph, and his face was grim. Seeing that I had arrived; Spurius was already there, he explained for my benefit. “There’s a strong fortification at the end of this, where it opens out and we would be able to see the town.”

“I take it that it’s stronger than expected?” I asked.

“Much stronger,” Joseph said glumly.”

“But it is impossible that Antigonus could muster enough support to provide the kind of labor that it would take to turn what we saw into what’s there now!” Herod was adamant, but frankly, I did not care.

“Apparently he has more support than we were led to believe,” Sosius said coolly, and even in the heat I saw Herod’s face flush darker.

He opened his mouth as if to issue some sort of rebuke, but I think that the look he was being given by Spurius, me and the other Romans, even if they were Tribunes, was enough to convince him his best course was to keep his mouth shut.

“At this moment, it does not really matter how it happened,” Joseph spoke up, and he was correct. “Now we have to decide the best way to take that position.”

“How experienced is the man who saw it?” Spurius asked, his voice hopeful as he finished, “Maybe it’s not that bad.”

“He’s one of my best,” Joseph replied, his tone short. Then he inclined his head in recognition of Spurius’ point. “But I think it’s best that we take a look ourselves.”

Herod turned and beckoned to the poor boy who had been holding his horse, pointing to the ground in a clear command that he was about to waddle over and once more torture the boy and the horse with his weight.

“I don’t think approaching mounted is a good idea, Highness,” Joseph said. “It will raise too much dust. We will need to approach carefully. Especially if they have artillery.”

For the briefest of instants I thought that Herod was going to actually act like both king and commander and accompany us, but then he gave a dismissive wave of his hand.

“We will wait here then.”

Neither Spurius nor I waited for a royal dismissal, neither of us caring much how rude Herod might view it, and we had gone several paces before Joseph caught up with us.

“Thanks for waiting,” he said sourly, but we both just laughed.

“We don’t have to beg a king to go do our jobs,” I grinned.

“I wish I didn’t either, sometimes,” the Judean grumbled.

We continued in silence, until we reached a spot where the ravine curved out of sight. I had noticed that we had been moving uphill, but it was not until we stopped, just before the bend that I realized with surprise that I was more out of breath than normal. Standing in a small group on the left hand side of the ravine were three of Joseph’s men.

“They’re going to guide us the rest of the way,” Joseph informed us after a short conversation with one of the men. “We will have to be careful to keep from being observed, but there’s a cut that we can take that will put us in the best position to get a good look.” There was another exchange with his man, and Joseph nodded, then relayed to us, “There will be a moment, immediately after we go around this bend that we will be in sight before we can take the way to the left. He says it’s only about a dozen paces. We’ll go one at a time, and the first man across will signal that it’s safe.”

I was not particularly happy with this, but it appeared it could not be helped, so we quickly lined up, then the first of Joseph’s men darted out of sight. Perhaps twenty heartbeats later, we heard a whistle, then Joseph followed, until it was just me and the Judean who would be bringing up the rear. I was just about to step around the bend when, on an impulse I removed my helmet; between the crest and my height I did not want to present any more of a target than I had to, but I crossed the distance without anyone shouting. Naturally I could not linger to get a good look, yet just the impression I got in a quick glance made my heart pound a bit harder. We followed the guide up what was an extremely narrow cut in the rock, almost more of a crevice than anything else, and I could feel both my shoulders brushing against the rock wall. Nevertheless, it provided excellent cover, although it was quite steep, and we clambered up it until we reached a spot where we were more or less on top of the narrow ridge that formed one wall of the ravine we had been following.

“Now we crawl,” Joseph whispered, “and we must be quiet. There’s something about the rock here that makes voices echo and carry much farther than normal.”

With that pleasant thought, I gritted my teeth as the sharp rock surface cut into my knees, following behind in the same order we had crossed, until the lead scout dropped flat behind two large boulders and a series of smaller rocks. Joining him, we paused to catch our breath, then, since I had kept my helmet off, I slowly raised my head to look across the ravine to where the fortification was located. I did not have to look very long.

“Pluto’s cock,” I did remember to whisper, but just barely. “That’s a fucking fortress!”


To be continued……..