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……..






















































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