Frequently Asked Questions

First, thanks for taking an interest in the saga of one of the largely faceless men who comprised the Legions of Rome. Rather than going through a lengthy explanation about the series and how it came about, here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the books below, the first of which is Marching With Caesar® – Conquest of Gaul.

What made you decide to write about this subject?

I became interested in Ancient Rome thanks to a class I took as a last-minute filler for my schedule when I was attending the Honors College at the University of Houston. While I was a History major, my area of focus was the American Civil War, but since no class was available during that semester, I was “forced” to take an Ancient History class, taught by Dr. Frank Holt. Dr. Holt is an expert on Alexander, but it was his vivid descriptions of Ancient Rome that ignited an interest in me that has slowly grown over time. Although I ended doing something completely out of my field, working in the software business, I pursued my new interest in my spare time, devouring the classics that covered Ancient Rome. After exhausting these, I moved to the genre of historical fiction, starting with Colleen McCullough’s excellent series. It was then I noticed something that bothered me. As great and informative as McCullough’s series was, and is, all of her books have as their protagonists the movers and shakers of the day. There was very little about the lives of the common people, and specifically, very little about the Legions. Because of my background as a career Infantry Marine, I have been very cognizant of the fact that all the great changes wrought by the First Men of Rome were done through the strong right arms of the Legions.

As I expanded my reading, I moved next to the Conn Iggulden series which, while I enjoyed them, were still focused on the same subjects. It was only after reading Simon Scarrow‘s wonderful Macro and Cato series that I found anything dedicated to the lot of the common Legionary. Thanks to my daughter and her husband living in London, every time I visited I was able to find a new author and title devoted to the Legions. However, that is when I noticed something else that I thought was lacking; all of these novels focused on the Legions were set in the period of time after the Augustan Reforms, in the period commonly known as the Empire. There was nothing out there that focused on the Legions of the Late Republican period, at least there wasn’t when I started. One day, as I was driving to work, the thought struck me; what was it like to be a Legionary in the time of Gaius Julius Caesar?

To find out, I started looking for non-fiction material on the Legions, and it was then that I came across Stephen Dando-Collins “Caesar’s Legion”, the first non-fiction work focused on an individual Legion, at least the first one published in modern times. This book provided the framework and the idea of writing a fictionalized account of life in the Legions. Then, I saw HBO’s series Rome, and all the disparate pieces floating around in my brain came together, and further, I found the character I wanted to write about.

Why did you choose to give your character the name Titus Pullus?

Originally, and up until just before publication, the character’s name was Titus Pullo. I had chosen this name for a couple of reasons. First, when I conceived of the character, I will freely admit that I was influenced by the outstanding performance of Ray Stevenson as Titus Pullo in the HBO series. In fact, I liked the idea that part of my character’s prowess came about as something of an accident, in that he was born much larger than the average Roman. Additionally, I liked the HBO Pullo’s ferocity in battle, and it was with this in mind that I created the character. Also, much like the producers of the HBO series, I drew on the fact that Titus Pullo was one of the only men from the ranks mentioned by name by Caesar. However, as my story progressed, I didn’t ever put him in juxtaposition with Lucius Vorenus, nor did I even mention Lucius in my story. The more I thought about it, the more it became something of a problem in my mind. Then when I reviewed what was known about the real Titus Pullo, I was reminded that he appears again in Caesar’s narrative, but this time on the other side. Granted, HBO ignored this when they created their Titus Pullo narrative, but knowing that at least a portion of my audience would be readers who are familiar with the original Titus Pullo, through Caesar’s Commentaries, I didn’t want to create a “Hey, that’s bullshit” moment. But I like the general form of the name a great deal, for reasons I can no more express than I can identify, so I didn’t want to stray too far from that.

What’s with the way you measure time?

Because of my goal of being as authentic as possible, I decided to keep that pledge to myself down to how the characters describe time. While there was a concept of hours in the Roman world, depending on the time of year, what they called hours were basically divided into two big pieces, dividing the day. They further subdivided these two halves into watches of three hours apiece, so my characters habitually refer to the watch, instead of saying “At three o’clock”, since that would have no meaning for them. The exception to this is the use of midnight, but that is a more general term and denotes the dividing line between the two “hours” of day and night. Also, the concept of minutes and seconds wasn’t around yet, or at least in a manner that men in the ranks would use to describe time. My device is either to divide the watch, so that an hour becomes a third of a watch, although I rarely go deeper than this. When it comes to minutes and seconds, particularly seconds, my guess is that they measured time in different ways; the way I have chosen is in the number of heartbeats. Hopefully once the reader becomes accustomed to it, it will help to augment the narrative, not detract from it.

Why does Titus Pullus “brag” so much?

On example of this authenticity that I have tried to infuse in this story is in the lack of modesty. This concept of false humility, the “Aw, shucks, I was just lucky and had God’s help, and it was because of Him I scored the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl” is very much a modern one. In Titus’ day, there was no hiding your light under a bushel basket; one only has to read Caesar’s Commentaries, or indeed recall, “Veni, Vidi, Vici” to understand this point. Titus is a man of his times, and is not shy about stating that he is an all-around badass. The fact that he survived a 40+ year career in the Legions (and there were men who did so, though not very many) is testament to the fact that it’s not boasting.

How historically accurate is this?

Roman CaligaeAs I said in my Foreword, this story is as accurate AND authentic as I can make it. To that end, I not only spent a great deal of money on out of print books, thanks to the re-enactor community, I outfitted myself as a Late Republican Legionary, from helmet to caligae, complete with furca. Loading myself down, if not with the actual utensils, the weight that has been estimated the Legionary carried, I “humped”, as we call tramping about the countryside in the Marines, all over the most desolate parts of Big Bend National Park, which is the most remote National Park in the system, at least in the lower 48 states. This was done to replicate as closely as possible the terrain and conditions that a Legionary would face as they marched through Greece, Spain, and parts of Asia, but more importantly, so that there was no photographic evidence of my folly.

Where it was not possible for me to travel physically, I used the marvels of modern technology, in the form of Google Earth to “explore” the ground over which the Legions of Caesar marched. Using the 3D view, I could get a better idea of the terrain from a military point of view, and because of my experience in Big Bend, it was easier to imagine what it took to move across this terrain.

As far as printed material, I relied heavily on the works of T. Rice-Holmes, and by extension, a number of the sources he cited in his extensive bibliography and under-book. In “Caesar’s Conquest of Gaul”, just as an example, while the book itself numbers 199 pages, his research and citations add another 550+ pages. composed of meticulous notes and arguments supporting his conclusions. And of course, Caesar’s Commentaries themselves were perhaps the most important source, along with all of the supporting research that has been done over the ages on this seminal work.

So why are there differences between Caesar’s account and that of Titus Pullus?

Why, that’s a great question. First, most of the differences (I would like to think all of them, but I freely admit that I might have missed something) are intentional. As many critics of Caesar’s Commentaries have pointed out, this was a piece of propaganda, designed to put Caesar in the most flattering light. However, as much of Caesar’s man that Titus Pullus is, he is neither blind nor naive. He knows that Caesar is putting himself in the most flattering light, and while he has no wish to dispute the account of a man he considers the greatest Roman of all time, he also has made a vow to tell the truth in his account. So he is unwilling to offer an account of his own that he knows would differ from what he saw and experienced, simply for the sake of agreeing with Caesar. Part of that bravery comes from the knowledge that Caesar, by the time Titus writes his memoir, is long dead, but also because like many older people, Titus no longer fears death. Also, and perhaps more importantly, Titus’ perspective is radically different than that of Caesar’s, particularly when it comes to the descriptions of the battles they fought. Titus is, almost literally, on the front line of almost every desperate contest against the Gauls that Caesar fights, because he is in the 10th Legion, Caesar’s favorite and most trusted. And while Caesar portrays these battles as never being in doubt, I believe that there were moments when the exact opposite was true from the perspective of the men fighting. Gergovia is a good example; while it turns out to be nothing but a setback, instead of a real defeat, I find it hard to believe that the men who fought and saw their friends die thought the same way. Therefore, one’s perspective depends completely on one’s position, literally and figuratively, in something as chaotic as a battle in the First Century B.C.

But there is another area where, again, the more serious students of Roman military history will probably experience some eyebrow-raising moments, and that is in my depiction of life in the Legions. As I say in the Foreword, it is a mixed blessing that we have essentially two periods during which we have evidence that give us insight into the Legions. Thanks to Polybius, along with a number of other sources, we have a fairly developed picture of the Roman Legions in the Second Century B.C. and earlier. Then there is a period of darkness before the proverbial light shines again on the Imperial period. This poses an opportunity and a challenge, because the darkest period lies smack-dab in the period of time that the Marching With Caesar® book series covers. And there are distinct differences in a number of areas between the two illuminated periods. Therein lies the problem. For example, in the later period of the Empire, the post of Primus Pilus was held for only a year, before the Centurion goes on to the status of Camp Prefect, if they stayed in the army, or an equestrian, if they were not of that class to begin with. But that was not always the case, and in the time before the Empire, it seems pretty clear to me that a Primus Pilus could lead the same Legion for an extended period of time. The former Primus Pilus Gaius Crastinus, for example, who died at Pharsalus, is an example of someone that appears to have been in the post for longer than a year. And when one thinks about it, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that a man would spend years rising through the ranks, gaining valuable experience, and reach the pinnacle of what was available to a man from the ranks in terms of power and prestige. Why would anyone be in a hurry to lose that kind of resource from their Legion? Of course, after the civil wars, particularly the second between Octavian and Marc Antony, the Legions, and those who controlled them, were the most important political players in the game of making an Emperor. So in that context, it would make sense to keep the Primus Pilus moving around. However, it must be remembered that the idea of using the Legions as a political tool, in the days of the Late Republic, was still somewhat new. It was not that long before that Sulla had marched on Rome, and this was the first time there had been such a naked display of an individual Roman’s power. This is why I don’t have the Primus Pilus changing on an annual basis, because I don’t believe that practice had been adopted yet.

Another area, particularly for those familiar with the Legions, where I differ is in the use of Maniples. In the earlier days of the Republic, the Maniple, consisting of two Centuries, was the basic unit of maneuver for a Legion commander. However, that gradually changed, until it was the Cohort that was considered the smallest unit that could operate independently from the Legion. Consider that Caesar mentions Maniples early on in his Commentaries, but gradually they all but disappear from his writings, through the Egyptian and Spanish phases of the Civil War. While I have seen it argued that the last book in particular was not written by Caesar, the point still stands. Maniples had faded from use, and that is why they are mentioned so sparingly in the book. In fact, I only use them during what was presumably the 10th’s first campaign in Lusitania, in 61 B.C. In a similar vein, I do not use the terms Hastatus, Princeps or Triarii, other than how they were incorporated into the ranks of Centurions, because they were no longer used after the Marian reforms.

Also, the size of the Centuries is different, and while I explain why in the book, I will take a moment here to expand on it. There has been a lot of debate about the size of a Republican Century. While the composition of a Century, particularly of those belonging to the First Cohort, after the Augustan reforms is well documented, the same can’t be said about that of the Republican era. Particularly, those Legions raised by Caesar, during his conquest of Gaul and in the ensuing civil war, appear to have been constituted differently than what had become traditional. Knowing how Caesar was not bound by traditions that he thought outdated, I find it easy to believe that this is so, and while there is no hard evidence, I believe that it started with the first Legion raised by Caesar, the 10th. Part of it, I will admit, is for narrative purposes, but also, when one looks at the strength of the 10th Legion at Pharsalus, it’s hard to believe that after all the fighting they went through their numbers would still number about 3,500. That leads me to believe that they started out with more men, despite being quickly whittled down.

The Romans, while quick to adopt new ideas, were somewhat perversely slow to change those ideas once they had become accepted. That is why I believe they evolved slowly over time, with many fits and starts, and Titus Pullus and his friends are right in the middle of the period of time when this was in greatest flux.