Part 1. Background.
Chapter 1. CATO. My character formed.
All my life I have kept a daily diary as a sort of conversation with myself. I suppose my alter ego, the recipient of these diaries, was a subconscious replacement for the parents I never really knew. By the time I was fully grown it was as natural to me as eating or sleeping. Gradually, I began to wonder who I was writing for. My descendants? The Roman people? Posterity? In my thirtieth year there came into my service two secretaries in circumstances which I shall come to in due time. For now, I would like to put on record that these two, Diodoros and Theodotos, transformed my life, not least because they took from me what had now become a chore, my nightly diary writing. Now I was able to dictate. However, they also transformed what I had already written, and these scrolls which you are now reading are the result. Written for Posterity, of course. And that, also, has meant that my records of conversations can be included.
When I came of age and assumed that symbol of maturity, the toga virilis, Sulla was just a Consul. I say ‘just’, because for three years before he had been a Dictator – the Senate could nominate a Dictator in a state of emergency, usually military, for a maximum period of six months. Until Sulla, this office had fallen into disuse for a hundred years or more. But Sulla had an army before the gates of Rome. Faced with this, the Senate revived it. Not quite the circumstances our forefathers had envisaged when they provided for the appointment. And Sulla was a vicious Dictator.
My name is Cato. Marcus Porcius Cato, Marcus to the family. My father, my grandfather, and my Great Grandfather were Cato’s too. Cato means ‘wise’, or ‘shrewd’ – not clever exactly, but close. The practice of inheriting cognomina has become quite common over the last hundred years or so amongst our leading families. My father, a Senator, died when I was very young, about two, and my mother had died before him, so I remember them only as pale shadows – even that probably by repute. I had lived since I could remember in the house of my maternal Uncle Drusus and his wife, but he too died when I was only four. My closest companions were my brother Caepio and my sisters, Porcia and Servilia. Caepio was a few years older than me. I doted on Caepio.
As with most Roman boys, we were educated primarily by our Gallic-
But Sarp was a tutor of a wholly different stamp. He didn’t just give orders, he explained the circumstances and what was required. He suggested that I do something. I learned so much from Sarpedon, not just my school curriculum, but about life. Especially I learned about the complete lack of political rights for people like him. For Sarpedon was a man of culture and education, the equal of a Roman citizen of Rome. He was superior to many Romans, perhaps to most.
‘Now, young man’, he said one day (he always called me young man) ‘You know that I come from Massilia, and that there my family are traders?’
‘Yes’ I answered, ‘you told me that yesterday’.
‘Well, Massilia was an ancient Greek trading port city, now in Transalpine Gaul. There are many Greek traders from the old Greek families like ours still there, as well as others from all over the world, and vessels trading as far afield as Britannia on the one hand and Bithynia on the other. There are quays for these vessels to moor at, and warehouses, huge warehouses. These are to store all the goods in waiting for onward transport or distribution. They belong to traders, and our family is one of the biggest’.
‘You must be very rich, then’ said I, with all the ingenuousness of my twelve years.
‘Well’, he smiled, ‘the family were able to educate me well, anyhow. But the point I want you to understand is that in Gaul (France), I am a member of an important family. We have wealth, health, and education. We pay taxes, we sit on councils, we have horses and chariots. We have a big house like this – but bigger – with servants, we entertain.... in short we are important. But here, I cannot even vote!’
‘Why not?’ I asked. Children have a knack of going straight to the point.
‘Why not, indeed? Because I am a foreigner. I am a barbarian. I am little better than a slave in the eyes of the Senate here. And I am better educated and more cultured and more wealthy than half the Senators. But the point I am coming to, young man, is not how I am treated, for Massilia is a long way away, and I have only been here for two years. It’s the fact that people like me, save that they come from only fifty miles away and speak Latin like Romans, even they are treated in exactly the same way as I am. Rome has governed their states for two hundred years now, and they are virtually indistinguishable from Romans, yet they have no rights. That is the cause of the present troubles. This you must understand’.
As I said, Sarpedon taught me much. In a way he was the father I never really had, and I respected him as such, perhaps loved him. He gave me a thorough grounding in all the classical Greek authors, and I became an accomplished Latin grammarian. Greek is the language of knowledge of course, and paradoxically of most servants. Servants were generally slaves, usually captured in some far away war, and those captured in the south-
Out of the class room, I was addicted to horsemanship, and to sports. And swimming was a passion, perhaps surpassed by riding – by the time I was twelve I could ride without reins or saddle, my hands behind my back. And already I was an orator. I knew I was an orator. Sarpedon said so.
‘I have taught you rhetoric, and you are a quick learner and a good actor. And you speak Latin and Greek – and Gaulish!’
I seemed to have a knack for leadership, or so the other boys thought. Once, as a twelve-
‘How can people put up with this?’ I asked Sarpedon as we walked home from one of these visits and had just passed the gruesome evidence of the corpses of the day’s harvest. They were being decapitated so that their heads could be displayed in the Forum. It was now high summer and very hot, and the smell given off by the said evidence was appalling. We had good reason to walk quickly.
‘I suppose a battle field after a battle must smell like that’ I commented. And then went on ‘why doesn’t someone kill this man?’
‘Because, my child,’ he replied ‘men fear him more than they hate him.’
‘Well, then,’ I responded, ‘will you give me a sword, so I can kill him and set my country free from slavery?’
I forget how he answered that, but I noticed that he always made sure I carried no weapons on visits to Sulla in future.
But to everyone’s astonishment, Sulla restored Constitutional Government and resigned a little over a year later. He dismissed his lictors and walked unprotected everywhere. That year he served as Consul, and would debate with people in the Forum, just like any other politician. In due course he retired to his villa near Puteoli – the name is derived from our word putere, meaning to stink. The nearby Volcanos stink. Actually it’s surprising how quickly you get used to that sulphurous rotten eggs smell. After an hour or so you don’t notice it at all.
It was quite a while later that I came of age, fifteen years old. My memories blend into each other as I age, but I suppose it was a couple of years later. We had 54 (I think) feast days in Rome at the time, starting with the Festival of Bona Dea two days after the Kalends of December (3rd December), with the Larentalia three weeks later dedicated to Acca Larentia who was either the mother of the Lares or the foster mother of Romulus and Remus – I forget. Romans commemorate her as the protector of Rome. Remembering them all was impossible, but today’s was always remembered by Roman youths. It was the Feast Day of Liberalia on March the seventeenth, when coming-
I dressed in a white tunic, with two broad purple stripes on it, to show that I was the son of a Senator. First there was the ceremony of the Bulla. The Bulla is a chain worn around the neck with an amulet, a gold amulet in my case, which is worn by all Roman boys from nine days after their birth when the ritual Lustratio purification ceremony was performed until the age of maturity. It’s simple enough – all I had to do was to walk to the altar in the Atrium on which were the Lares, the effigies of the Spirits who guarded our home. I was surrounded today by the rest of the family, and there had to carefully remove the Bulla and place it on the altar. It is, of course, a symbolic act. Yet I was surprised at the emotion I felt when laying down something which had almost become a part of me over the years.
We had decided to dispense with the procession to the Forum to register my age; this was done privately next day by Caepio. Likewise, the sacrifice at the Temple of Liber, since both these were normally done by the father of the boy. But we did have a great Reception. That was quite a performance. Caepio, my senior male relative, officiated. Sulla had been invited to the Reception of course, and he put in a brief appearance, much to the consternation of some of the guests. However, he was courteous, charming and flattering, and one wondered whether the scenes of only two years ago could have been just nightmares?
But more importantly from my point of view, coming-
I knew we were quite wealthy, but I was surprised to discover just how wealthy. Up to now money had always been available when I wanted it, but apart from an occasional party with friends I had never really needed it. Everything was just, well, there. Ordered by the Steward, delivered by suppliers, and dispensed by the servants as and when we wanted it. But I now discovered that my share of the patrimony was a hundred and twenty Talents. A huge sum. A Talent is the weight of silver or gold a fit man can carry on his back. I was more used to Sestercii and Denarii. A tunic, for example, would cost perhaps fifteen Sestercii, equal to sixty Denarii. But a single Talent was twenty-
‘Well, now, Magister, what kind of life do you want to live? You have often talked of the Stoics and your great-
‘Please don’t call me Magister’ I said. ‘You have been the father to me I never had for so long now.’
‘But this is your house, you are Pater Familias, surely that is right and proper?’
‘That may be’ said I, ‘but I would still prefer you to call me just Marcus, like the rest of the family. Or Cato if you insist, like everyone else.’
‘I’d like that’ said he, without actually using the name. ‘But now, what about this study of the Stoics?’
‘Well’, said I, ‘you know of Antipater the Tyrian?’
‘The philosopher? Well I know of him certainly, and have friends who would introduce us. Would you like to meet him?’
‘Yes, PLEASE!’ responded the boy in me, dignity forgotten.
And so it was arranged. The intermediary turned out to be the father of one of his pupils. Sarp had recently bought a house in Rome, and he was gradually spending more and more time there. He took in pupils, and his rhetoric classes were becoming fashionable and popular. But he still spent quite a lot of his time with us.
Caepio and I went together to see Antipater, guided by Sarpedon to the Subura. This was a part of Rome we knew more by repute than experience. Not the most salubrious area in Rome, although the Julian Caesars lived there.
Meeting Antipater was quite a surprise. For a start, he lived comfortably. He had a nice house attached to a block of apartments in the Subura, and had been heard to say that if it was good enough for Julians, it was good enough for him. It was quite a long meeting, but little was actually agreed between us at that stage. I had made my feelings on his philosophy quite clear, and he had been duly flattered to have a convert in one of Rome’s leading families. He accepted our invitation to return the visit the following week.
‘Marcus’ said Caepio to me when we got home, ‘are you really sure about this Stoic business?’ We were relaxing in my house after the climb up the Palatine.
‘In a word, No. And for the silliest of reasons’, I replied.
‘Wine. I do not have it in me to abstain from wine’ I admitted. ‘However I see some virtue, and advantage, in seeming to be a Stoic’.
‘Your crusade for the Mos Maiorum, I suppose. But don’t you see, Marcus, that after Marius and Sulla we cannot put the clock back?’
I didn’t really want to argue with him whom I loved best in all the world, so I changed tack.
‘Antipater himself was dressed simply, but well, I thought. Didn’t you?’ said I. ‘I could manage that easily. Do better than that, in fact. I am fit, I exercise a lot, I often go barefoot now – my feet are as leather!’
‘What age do you suppose he is?’
‘Antipater?’ I queried. ‘Hard to tell. Perhaps forty? But it was his mind which attracted me most. He lives, or says he lives, by precepts of total honesty and total, if rigid, justice. And total simplicity.’
‘Yes’ mused Caepio, ‘I can see why that would attract you, but it won’t make you popular.’
‘Wait and see’ I smiled.
I saw a great deal of Antipater after his return visit the following week. I tried hard to adopt his way of life. But I found it was impossible. Especially his taboos, wine in particular. But – although I would never admit it – I found that some of the outward show of Stoicism, dress for example, or lack of it, gained me grudging respect among people who would never dream of following a Stoic path themselves. I was a member of the aristocracy, Consular no less, and wealthy to boot. And yet I would often appear barefoot and dressed in very little but a cloak. Crazy, they might think, and yet my speeches made sense. And they were well and professionally delivered, too. Maybe there was something in this Stoicism? Rational Reason controls everything was the Stoic cry. Live life by rational reason – this is virtuous; develop indifference to pain and pleasure, poverty and riches, sickness and health. Always do your duty. Not a bad recipe for Roman life, and pretty well in accord with the tenets of the Mos Maiorum, surely?
It was easy for me, of course, since I was already wealthy and healthy. Once home, I would luxuriate in a hot bath and eschew the frigidarium. I would enjoy a good dinner with friends. My friends knew what to expect when they came to dine with me. Not for us an obligatory visit to the vomitorium to make way for the delights to follow, for at the beginning the antecanium would be merely a small dish of radishes and pickles, followed by a promulsio of wine and honey. The main course, or prima mensa, which followed would comprise not the vast selection of meat and fish from which guests could choose which had come to be expected in Rome then, but a simple roasted fowl – or tuna fish for those who ate no meat – accompanied by some vegetables, perhaps lentils, parsnips, and broccoli. And afterwards, instead of dancing girls or jugglers to entertain. we would simply talk and drink the night away.
But I seldom smiled in public after Antipater, and spoke little, adopting a stern, cold, silent mien. People said I was too silent, too humourless, too rigid, too good. That pose, for pose I knew it to be, was very useful – people left me alone. It’s hard to make conversation with someone who never smiles and talks in monosyllables about anything except Stoic philosophy. So I never got involved in acrimonious discussions about the Government of the day. I never expounded too much my belief that we were betraying the rules by which a true Roman should live. Except when I wanted to. As time went by, the pose became less a matter of conscious dissimulation, and more a genuine persona. But an alternate persona, one which I slipped on like a cloak whenever my front door opened, either to let me out or let strangers in.
On one subject however, I was not acting. Caepio was right. The Mos Maiorum, the ancestral customs of old Rome, we were losing them. The virtues of truth and custom, the time honoured codes by which we lived, seemed to be unimportant today. Even that part of these codes which had been written into our laws, the Cursus Honorum. A Roman who wanted any part of public life had to follow the Cursus Honorum. The Cursus was the sequence of public offices in the political hierarchy, each with its own age qualification – Military Tribune (aged twenty), Quaestor (thirty), Aedile (thirty-
Of particular importance to Rome and her governance is the Consul. To be a Consul is a most prestigious and sought after position. It was also one which could only be held once in a lifetime and only for one year. That concept was sacrosanct. It lay at the very root of our ancient Republic. And it made it impossible for any one man to become too powerful. It had worked quite well – until Marius who had ridden rough shod over the law in all kinds of ways, not least in the matter of the Consulate, for he had been Consul SEVEN times. And as a child I had seen his successor Sulla in action, as I said earlier.
I talked it over with Sarpedon. Sarp, as a foreigner, would hold views unbiased by his ancestry.
‘Mos Maiorum, Sarp. How do you see my crusade for the old ways?’
‘Well’ he said slowly, ‘I suppose they must seem old, to a Roman...’
‘I’m serious, Sarp. Ok, the codes were inherited from the Greeks, I know that. But the point is that our peoples, both of them, Greek and Roman, have been democratic for centuries. Your Demos, Our Senatus Populusque Romanum, they’re essentially the same thing. Rule by people chosen by the people with the consent of the people.’
‘Very laudable, but then how do you explain Marius, or Sulla?’
‘Greeks have had their tyrants, too,’ I responded, ‘but they’ve never lasted. Democracy, eventually, wins’. So, in my innocent youth, I believed.
The last of my teenage years were spent in a mixture of intense physical activity and training for the first of the Cursus steps, the military stint. As an agonistus I was quite successful. One must be careful to distinguish between the agonistae and the Athletae. The latter were professional athletes who contended for prizes. Our sports normally included running, wrestling, boxing, and the Pentathlon. The Pentathlon was, and is still I suppose, jumping, running, throwing the discus and the spear, and wrestling.
I was more interested in physical fitness and preparedness for the army, so I devised my own regimen – riding, fencing, wrestling, javelin throwing, and swimming. Others might keep fit to play sports. I played them to keep fit. For a higher purpose.
I had been much preoccupied with affairs of the heart at the time. It happens to virtually every Roman man. I was later than most in developing this side of my life. In my teens I had been courted by various men of standing following the Spartan custom increasingly being adopted in Rome. We seem to make a habit of adopting all things Spartan, including these days that element of pederasty which seems to be finding a fertile field in which to grow here. It is not one of which I approve. So as a boy I developed my body. And as a man I met Lepida.
How to describe Lepida? Although I didn’t know it at the time, she was much more experienced in affairs of the heart than was I. She was not really a statuesque beauty. No poet would write odes to her. She was more cuddly, perhaps even a little plump. Dark haired, a flawless face, bewitching eyes....and I had been duly bewitched.
I knew that she had been engaged to be married to Metellus Scipio, no less, but the engagement had been broken off. So I courted her. And made an utter fool of myself, with the odes and letters I wrote, the songs I sang. It pains me even now to think about that episode in my life, still more to write about it. So I simply record that I thought I was in love with Lepida; that Scipio changed his mind about not marrying her; she changed her mind about me; and Scipio and Lepida were married.
I suppose I went a little mad then, and might well have murdered them both if my dear brother Caepio had not taken me in hand. He found Atilia who was the opposite of Lepida in every way, especially in the article of brains. Lepida had nothing but guile in her head. But Atilia was clever. I think now that Caepio married me to Atilia ‘on the rebound’ as they say. She was a good girl. Too good for me really. I never seemed to have the time which a wife both deserves and needs. But she understood my situation and my needs far better than I myself could explain them. I have often thought that maybe Caepio explained them to her? She was only seventeen years old. And she was as inexperienced as was I, but better taught in the matter of bedding. I was in fact totally inexperienced. And untaught. For the last five years or so I had successfully hidden my natural extreme shyness behind my Stoic carapace, and exhausted my energies in sport.
Marriage for us Romans is a very ceremonious event. It has changed little down the centuries. Normally there is a long engagement and a nuptial contract is drawn up. It is mainly financial, and in it are detailed various things – most notably the dowry if there is to be one, and whether or not the wife had the right to inherit wealth from her father when he dies. The marriage date is then fixed, and the event takes place on the appointed day. For us there was to be a feast of course, but before that a ceremony in which we stood before ten witnesses (the legal minimum) and a priest, and in which we ostentatiously held hands, a sign of commitment. Normally one never holds hands in public. Then Atilia consented to be married with the ritual chant Quando tu Gaius, ego Gaia. After that the priest made an offering to Jupiter – cake nowadays; long ago it was a pig! We both ate a piece of the cake, and were thus married. After that there was the feast, and then the procession to our own house followed by noisy revellers singing bawdy songs.
Atilia, still following custom, said rather demurely I thought, ‘Please excuse me, Marcus, while I go to our chamber first and change. Why don’t you come on up in about ten minutes?’
Naturally I did as asked, and so hid behind my stoic face answering questions in monosyllables. ‘First time, then, Marcus?’ was the general tone, and I answered ‘yes’ and ‘no’ alternately, until they gave up their game and retired chatting and occasionally sniggering behind their hands. I soon went to our bedroom, and there I found Atilia, bed covers pulled right up to her chin, with a look of shy embarrassment on her face. I smiled at her, itself unusual enough for her to relax a little, undressed and dropping my clothes on the floor – also unusual – and climbed into that huge bed, lying stiffly on the side nearest to me. Did I not say earlier that she was better educated in the matter of bedding than was I? Now she proved it. She cuddled up against me, gave me a long lingering kiss, and eight hours later I awoke. I may have been uneducated, but my body seemed to have acquired a life of its own that night.
Normally there would now have been a period of holiday, relaxation and happiness which should have been ours, but out of the blue Caepio announced that he had been appointed a Military Tribune. At more or less the same time the Servile War broke out. Our world would change just one week exactly after our wedding. But what a week! It took us a day to come down from the bedroom, and then we went to a small villa we had kept on the coast for years. We swam in the sea, we ate fish from the sea which Atticus had somehow acquired and from which he prepared dishes fit for a King! All very un-
The Servile War! What a grand name for a slave revolt! It was actually a symptom of the decaying decrepitude into which our Government had fallen. It should have been little more than a law enforcement exercise. And it would have been, had not the Senate, in their infinite wisdom, appointed an incompetent Military Praetor named Glaber to lead three thousand men with instructions to put down the slaves and capture the leader. It should have been enough. But not under Gaius Claudius Glaber. A Plebeian. I could go on and on about Glaber. Suffice it to say that he should never have been put in charge.
Perhaps more important was the slave leader, a slave Gladiator, named Spartacus. He was a Thracian, the name we apply to a fairly diverse set of tribes from South Eastern Europe, and as it turned out he was a very intelligent Thracian. But, critically, he had also served as a Mercenary Officer in our Legions. My own involvement was not, thanks be to all the Gods, under Glaber at the early stage of the ‘War’.
Glaber and his three thousand men had trapped Spartacus and his few hundred on Mount Vesuvius. They camped at the foot of the mountain, intending to climb it at dawn and exterminate the servile rabble, but the rabble didn’t wait. They climbed down the side of the mountain on ropes made of vines, surprised our troops in the rear, and killed most of them. Another Praetor with another Militia was sent, but this was also defeated, the Praetor nearly killed and his lieutenants comprehensively so.
These successes brought a huge number of volunteers in to Spartacus’ ranks, and he spent the winter drilling and training and in effect turning his seventy thousand into an army to be reckoned with. This was war, and the Senate now sent the two Consuls, each with separate hastily raised forces, and my brother Caepio was posted as a Military Tribune to one of them, that of Publicola, Lucius Gellius Publicola. The other force was under the command of Consul Cornelius Lentulus Clodianus, Publicola’s junior consular partner. For both Consuls to be involved in a war of any sort at the same time was virtually unheard of, and speaks volumes about the gravity with which the Senate considered the affair.
Needless to say, Caepio and I went over these extraordinary events again and again as each fresh snippet of news came in.
‘I wonder if I should volunteer?’ I enquired after a complete flagon of neat Falernian. The last, too. After this we would move to a lesser vintage, watered, largely because Falernian was so strong that it would catch fire if it came in contact with flame.
‘Why?’ answered Caepio. ‘You have to wait another year before you can be a Tribune, surely?’
‘That’s true. But unlike most of the empty heads in my position, I intend to do the job properly. In a sense I’ve been training for it since that Troy Games affair. So now that you’ve been appointed, I think I’ll have a go at volunteering.’
Caepio left the next day to join his unit, and a little later I volunteered, in spite of having to leave Atilia earlier than either of us would have liked. I was of course accepted. I was called a Staff Officer, purely on account of my social standing, like all volunteers of Senatorial rank. There was no specific job attached to the rank, so you could make what you liked of it.
Most made nothing at all of it, treating the Officers’ Mess like a gentleman’s club, dicing and drinking and so on into the small hours.
It was about this time that I first came across Julius Caesar, although we didn’t actually meet more than once during the Servile War, and that only while waiting to see Publicola. I was twenty-
Back to ‘the war’. It took two years for two Consuls to defeat the slave, two years and a display of shameful barbarism unprecedented so far as I am aware. Let’s forget about it. It did however give me a chance to demonstrate my Stoic talents, the physical side of them, for I found I could exercise with – and outperform – the soldiers. That gained me a deal of respect from the said soldiers, and promotion from Publicola to whom I was nominally attached as a Junior Staff Officer. He made me an acting Tribune. I still needed to be elected to a Tribuneship, though – all steps on the Cursus require election. Votes are usually bought these days, but refusing all advice that I needed to bribe my way to winning nomination for this first rung of the Cursus, that of Military Tribune, I relied on the soldiers – and I was elected.
Back in Rome, before going on my first official posting which was to Macedonia, Caepio and I were able to meet with Sarpedon again, and to dine with him. For now, Caepio was to remain in Italy, or so we thought at the time. In fact, he was to join Pompey’s expeditionary force to Pontus. So we were to be split, for the first time in our lives. And as it turned out, the last. We could see our breath as we panted up the hill to Sarp’s house, for it was the coldest end to the winter anyone could remember. Sarp’s modern hypocaust in his new house was still an unusual luxury, and the warm Atrium was much appreciated. Sarp, who kept an excellent table in the Greek style, long on fruit, fish, and cakes, was talking:
‘I must be getting old, for here I am entertaining two young men who used to be my pupils, and whom I love like a father. So tell me now, quo vadis, Cato? Where are you going?’
I was rapidly becoming rather pompous, especially if I really knew what I was talking about, and on this occasion I did, because I had been to some trouble to learn about my new posting.
‘Well, Sarp, you know of course that we were rather active in Cilicia, near Macedonia, a couple of years ago?’
‘Indeed. Lucullus could have made a great name for himself after that, but somehow seems to have gone quiet if half of the letters I receive are right.’
I went on: ‘I think they are, from what I’ve been told. I know the family, respectable, Consular, but the ones I’ve met are perhaps sometimes a little slow. This one, Lucius Licinius Lucullus, was Consul the year before the slave revolt of course, and his Grandfather was also Consul before him, what, seventy years or so ago? It’s important because the legions under our Lucullus are refusing to obey orders they say, on the verge of mutiny. And that’s where I’m going.’
‘Hardly a plumb posting, what?’ interjected Caepio.
‘Perhaps they want to make him or break him?’ smiled Sarpedon.
‘They won’t break me’, I responded.
So it was that some weeks later I found myself on a ship bound for Macedonia, taking advantage of the welcome light airs of spring. It was now five years since I first joined the legions, and I was twenty-
I arrived in the Macedonian city of Apollonia in the spring, delighted to find myself in the home of one of the great Schools of Philosophy. The urban structure of the city lay on a hilly plateau, with a view towards the fertile plain of Musacchia as well as the Sea. The city hosted a number of Roman buildings, buildings like the Buleterion (the seat of the city council), an imitation of the Roman temple architecture; the Odeon, a combination of Greek and Roman construction techniques; the Library; the Arch of Triumph; the Temple of Diana and the Prytaneion (the seat of government). These appeared to blend easily with the older Greek structures like the retaining walls of the sacred area of Temenos, two Stoas (walkways or porticos), a Greek theatre and a Nymphaeum (a monument consecrated to nymphs). The city was linked to the coast was enabled by the Aoos River, where we were anchored. However, I put all that to the back of my mind that day, because the first order of business was clearly to find the unit to which I had been posted.
It turned out that I was to serve under a Praetor named Rubrius – General Rubrius. He was noble of course, but I had never previously come across him, although I knew others of the gens. He seemed pleasant enough though. I reported to his quarters, a tent at the top of a small rise above the main fort and camp, and he welcomed me with the words,
‘Marcus Porcius Cato? You must be related to that great Consul of the last age, the Censor?’
‘I have that honour, Sir, yes’ I replied, ‘he was my grandfather, and I do my best to emulate him.’
‘You should have an interesting career, then. I wish you luck. Rome needs an injection of sanity. What is your age?’ This last was added in an official tone, and so I stiffened to attention.
‘Mmm’ (he was reading, clearly, my record of service. ‘Gellius speaks well of you here’. I think we will give you the Third, Legio III Macedonica, as Tribunus Laticlavius. You have followers, no doubt, horses, servants, and so on?’
I was surprised, although there was no reason why I should have been. But hitherto I had never held formal command. As a noble and ‘of age’ I was entitled to Laticlavian rank. The word actually means, in this context, ‘noble’, but surprisingly few realise it. The rank is usually shortened to Triblat in everyday speech. But it is not a rank to rate command of a complete legion in normal circumstances. Obviously there was no Legatus, so they must be short of senior officers.
‘I appreciate your confidence, Sir, and will do my utmost to justify it. And yes, I have fifteen slaves, two freedmen, and four friends, all mounted.’
‘That’s fine for a Triblat. I act as Legatus Legionis’ he continued, ‘but only nominally. We have four legions here.’ He glanced at his Secretary who was waiting, apparently for this order. ‘Ask Aulus to come in, please, Decimus’. And to me, ‘Aulus is your senior Tribunus Angusticlavius’. That was in essence a similar rank to my own, but held – normally – by an Equestrian. Promotion in our army is primarily, though not wholly, based on birth.
Aulus came in as he was speaking, and stood at attention. ‘You summoned me, Sir?’
‘I did, Trib, yes’ said Rubrius. ‘The Legionary Commander I spoke to you about last week has arrived. I present Tribunus Laticlavius Marcus Porcius Cato.’ I smiled at the man, who looked to be about my own age. ‘This is Tribune Aulus Caecina Severus, who has been standing in for you.’
I looked at the young man, expecting some reserve in view of the fact that he would no longer be in charge. ‘I expect you must see me as a bit of an interloper’ I smiled diffidently, ‘taking your job away?’
‘Not at all, Sir. In fact, I’m vastly relieved!’
‘Really,’ I said. ‘Why is that?’
‘I’d better tell you’ interrupted Rubrius. ‘The fact of the matter is that the Third is verging on mutiny. Not that it would ever come to that of course, in a Roman Legion. But there is a tangible uneasiness in the air. They are mostly Thracians, so are close to home here, and they have been fazed by the Spartacus troubles. The man was one of the Medi, a Thracian tribe just across the border to the north of this Province who have been independent for generations, and there will be friends of the slave in the ranks, maybe even relations. So you will need to tread carefully.’
With that Aulus and I were dismissed. As we went out, he said to me
‘May I suggest, Sir, that I first show you were to put your people and your horses?’
‘Yes, thank you’ I responded. By now we had reached the HQ horse lines, and a groom was holding the reins of his horse for him. My own people were nearby, all twenty-
‘I seldom use one’ I said. Perhaps I was overdoing the stern, cold, silent, Stoic routine, and I would need this man’s friendship, I thought. So I added ‘I find walking pays in all kinds of ways, not least that it helps to keep me fit. But you’d better stay mounted’ I added, as he made to dismount. ‘My people are all mounted, and you will need to go ahead with them and show them where to stow their gear and horses. Oh, and by the way, fifteen of them are technically slaves, but it doesn’t show. Please treat them as freedmen. I’ll follow, and you can get back to me before I reach camp.’
My followers had been listening to all this, looking bored. They had heard it all before, or versions of it. But Aulus was clearly surprised, although he made a valiant effort not to show it. He gave me directions, and set off with his tail of my followers, saying
‘Very good, Sir. The sentries are expecting you and no doubt will recognise you if you should get there before me.’
Not much doubt about being recognised, I thought, with those two great red stripes on my toga. I must admit to a touch of selfishness as well as of showmanship, but it worked well enough under Gellius, and the soldiers in the unit to which I was attached seemed to react very well to my odd ways. I suspected it would be much more important here. Although I can ride, and ride very well indeed, I much prefer walking. My years of Stoic physical training had left me with the constitution of a mule. I could walk or run all day, with a full soldier’s load, live off hard biscuit and the occasional piece of dried meat and actually enjoy it, and sleep anywhere. Would that I still could!
The camp was a standard Permanent Legionary Castra, a castra stativa. The word castra has undergone change since its roots hundreds of years ago. Today it is a strictly military word, and used with different additives like ‘Permanent Legionary’ at one end of the scale or ‘Marching’ at the other. It’s one of the secrets of our military success, the fact that we never stop at night without a castra of some sort. The marching camp is a tented encampment with a palisade which the soldiers themselves erect in one or two hours.
A Permanent Legionary camp like the one at Apollonia is more like a town, divided into two unequal divisions by a straight road, the principal thoroughfare of the camp, called the main road (via principalis), 100 feet wide, running parallel with the front and rear of the camp. At each extremity of this road is a gate, respectively the main right gate (Porta Principalis Dextra), and the main left gate (Porta Principalis Sinistra). Then there is the Pretorian Way (Via Praetoria), and the Via Quintana (or ‘way of the fifth’, so called because it lies between the fifth and sixth companies). At the front is the Porta Praetoria, and opposite it the Porta Decuamana. Its general form is square, each side two thousand and seventeen Roman feet in length, the whole surrounded by a ditch (fossa), the earth dug out being thrown inwards, so as to form an embankment (agger), on top of which was a palisade (vallum) of wooden stakes, one of which was carried by each soldier when marching. So with just spades and skill and one stake per soldier, a legion could create a fortified camp in about an hour, depending on the soils.
There is a forum and the other paraphernalia of a town centre, observation turrets at strategic intervals along the palisades, and stables and workshops for repairs. Every castra, whether a simple overnight camp or a permanent one like the one I was now approaching, are laid out on exactly the same pattern, so that soldiers and officers all know exactly where everything is. There could be six thousand men in a legion, and permanent camps like this one often had officers’ wives in them, and hordes of camp followers outside the camp in villages which seemed to spring up overnight.
I suppose I was a couple of hundred paces away from the Praetorian Gate when Aulus came out at a gallop, returning with me so that we went the rest of the way together. It was only when the Centurion at the gate heard Aulus calling the man walking beside him ‘Sir’ that he looked more closely at me, and realised from the broad stripes on my toga who I must be. There followed an instant bellowing of orders and the entire gate guard turned out and stood at attention before us. The Centurion saluted and introduced himself, if that is how one would describe his bark.
‘Primuspilus Quintus Valerius, SIR!’ shouted he, and then lapsed into total silence. A Primus Pilus is a very important person, the senior Centurion in the legion, and a good one can make a legion. Or a bad one, break it. Aulus, who had dismounted by this time, came to his rescue.
‘Quintus Valerius only joined us this week’ said Aulus. ‘The General thought you would find him useful’.
‘Where are you from, Primus?’ I asked.
‘From Thrace, Sir, the south.’
‘We’ll talk more in the morning. Please report to my quarters at the end of the first hour.’
That was how I took up my first command. It would be interesting to see what the next day would bring, I mused.
Quintus turned up exactly on time at the end of the first hour, just as I was finishing my morning exercises. It was a warm morning and I was dressed in a simple toga with no commander’s stripes. I slipped on my sandals.
‘Let’s talk as we walk’ I said to Quintus. ‘Now tell me, and don’t misunderstand the question, I intend no suspicion of your loyalty, but I need to understand why you were appointed to this legion. You said yesterday you were from the south of Thrace. Are you one of the Medi people by any chance, and did you know Spartacus?’
‘Guilty, Sir, on both counts’ he laughed. Laughed! I might get on with this chap, I thought. Quite different from yesterday’s automaton. He went on, ‘Spartacus was like a brother to me, and we served together in the legions until I was promoted. I think he would have gone far, too, if he hadn’t assaulted a senior officer. Stupid of him, but he always had a quick temper. That officer was a right bastard, though, if I may say so, Sir. Anyhow Spartacus was dishonourably discharged and after a series of adventures he was taken up in a around up of non-
‘Well, Sir, I had a few drinks with your followers when I went off duty, and they described to me your approach to life and advised me not to hide behind my armour, if you understand me. Behave normally, they said. So I took them at their word. I trust I do not give offence?’
‘Far from it,’ I said, ‘when we are on our own. But you’ll need that armour in front of others.’
‘Of course, Sir. Now, where would you like to go first?’
We were in the forum, deserted at this hour, by an empty stall belonging to one of the stallholders who would be along later – the forum in a Roman camp is primarily a market place.
‘Nowhere, yet’ I said. ‘Let’s just sit here awhile, and talk. It’s certainly warm enough.’ Indeed, it was even though summer had not really arrived.
‘There are certain things you need to understand about me, and things I need to understand about this legion,’ I went on, ‘which on the surface looks to be in apple-
‘To start with, I will explain myself and where I am coming from and where we are going together. You know my name of course, and the fact that an accident of birth has made me a noble and wealthy. That much my friends will have told you last night. I have been in the army just five years, but for the previous five years I studied, both to improve my brain and my body. As a result, I am probably fitter than you are. I make a point of working with the men from time to time, eating and sleeping with them when not in camp, leading from the front, and generally getting to know them. I can ride a horse with the best, but never do so unless as part of a cavalry unit. I walk, and in general never ask men to do anything I cannot do myself, only better. That said, I am a firm disciplinarian, but am generous with rewards. I am no lover of the lash, which brutalises men unnecessarily, and perhaps the man administering it even more. But it can be necessary. Are you with me so far?’
‘Indeed, Sir. And spellbound’.
‘OK. Now as to where we are going. In my experience there is nothing so bad for a legion’s morale as idleness. But soldiers are men, often very intelligent men, and here in Macedonia in a locally raised legion, most are in the army by choice. They need to understand why they are being told to do whatever they are doing, and especially what the reasons are for the various rules and regulations they must obey. If they wilfully disobey, then punishment must follow, and rightfully so. But if ‘disobedience’ is caused by ignorance for whatever reason, then the fault is rightfully with the offender’s commander. With me so far?’
‘Yes, Sir. Very much so.’
‘Right. So today, we’ll meet the people. Talking to five thousand men all at once is not practicable. They can’t hear me, I can’t hear their questions, and there will be far too many questions anyhow. So we’ll meet them by cohorts. Meet them, not inspect them. And tomorrow we go on patrol, for not less than three days and maybe three weeks. Depends on my meeting with the General this evening. Comments?’
I had made careful notes of all this soon afterwards, which is how I am able to relate this conversation. The Primus’ comments were enthusiastic, and the rest of the day went according to that simple plan. We met the cohorts individually, as planned, and said much the same thing to all of them – starting by asking them why they, and I, were here. ‘Orders’ encapsulates how virtually all of them replied, so I explained as best I could why those orders required a Roman legion to be here in Macedonia.
The Province of Macedonia was a settled Roman Province, I explained to them, and had been for almost a hundred years. However, the Kingdom of Pontus, on the far side of Thrace, has been fighting us for over twenty years. At this moment a major Roman expeditionary force is going to face the King there, Mithridates. It’s commanded by Pompey the Great, so the chances are it will succeed. So we need to be available near the Thracian borders in case they need our help if fighting looks like spilling over into their territory.
‘Therefore we are off on patrol tomorrow, in that general direction. We’ll treat it as an exercise, we will march in tunics and Loricae, mantles and gladii. Any questions?’
Questions were predictable, mostly connected with the Thracians – would we be fighting them? Of course not, most of you are Thracian anyhow, but we could be fighting with them – that sort of thing. The trouble, it seemed to me, was that nobody had ever explained what they were going to do to them before. They had just been ordered to march, and so they marched.
We finished earlier than I had expected, so I decided to go and see the General straight away and explain what I was proposing. There might well be factors beyond the health of The Third, and I’d best find out what they might be, I thought. Back at his quarters where I had met him the day before, I found him just at the end of a quartermaster’s meeting, and he invited me to be seated.
‘So, Triblat, you want to leave us already?’ he asked, a twinkle in his eye, or so it seemed to me.
‘Oh no, Sir, quite the opposite. I want to take the whole legion on patrol. I’ve spent the morning talking to them, answering questions and generally getting a feel for the men. I find no evidence of mutiny, Sir, but perhaps some of boredom, and a certain amount of petty tyranny, overfull punishment books, no noticeable rewards and so on. The Primus you sent me is sorting all that out. An excellent man by the way, Sir.’
‘Well, Gellius said you were unusual. Where do you propose patrolling?’
‘The Thracian border, Sir. Two reasons, one private and one for public consumption. Privately, I want to see how reliable the men are so close to their homeland, and how they put up with the rugged territory on the way.
Officially, it seems possible that with General Pompey’s imminent arrival in the region to finish off Mithridates, a show of force in the area might be helpful and dissuade Mithridates’ troops from any incursion into Thrace.’
‘That’s a lot of marching, Triblat. Three weeks at least, I’d have thought.’
‘Can you spare the legion for a month, Sir? When we get back they should be more use than they are at the moment. I get the impression they have done more parading than fighting of late.’
‘Give it a go, then, Triblat. When would you propose leaving?’
‘At dawn tomorrow, Sir, with your permission.’
And at dawn we left. I marched with a different cohort each day, wearing normal legionary uniform and carrying normal legionary kit. We marched in light armour, and for a patrol such as this we also carried our camping gear. This included a dolabra – half pick, half axe; a wicker basket, for carrying turf when we were building the overnight camp; and a set of cooking utensils including a patera – a bronze saucepan. All this extra equipment weighed almost as much as our fighting gear – body armour, a pair of light spears, sword, dagger and helmet, and we all wore the same military boots. In addition, each soldier carried a wooden stake – all these stakes were used to make the palisade on top of the agger, the earth wall surrounding the camp which was built every night if need be. All this gear is carried on a cunningly made harness on our backs, so that the weight comes on the shoulders. It sounds a lot, and in point of fact it was quite a lot when I set out that morning with the Legio III Macedonica, their Triblat marching with the men attired as they were and carrying the same load. But the Roman Army lives by its preparedness to fight, night or day, and a necessary consequence is a defensible camp at night. Only the tents are carried on mules, one for every eight man contubernium, the unit accommodated in the big leather tent, with two slaves to manage.
It took a week for the men to get used to seeing me march with them as I did, instead of being perched on a horse like the Tribunes. I needn’t have worried about their fitness – these were mostly mountain men, bred to hard labour from their childhood, and they took to the march as to the manner born. As for me, I thoroughly enjoyed the hike, although I shuddered to think what Antipater would have had to say about actually enjoying something. Treat pleasure and pain with indifference, he would have said, and he always appeared to do just that. I was quite capable of giving the outward appearance of doing so, and indeed I had the reputation of being a dull dog for just that reason. But I felt pain and I felt pleasure, and in private reacted just as another would. I very much fear that my reputation as a Stoic is undeserved. Perhaps I would have been a good actor?
That week was strenuous, even for a Stoic. We would never have been able to cover half the distance if it wasn’t for the amazing road built a hundred years or so ago, the Via Egnatia. We joined it three days’ march along the link from Apollonia and spent the first night near a Mansio, those overnight stopping places Rome maintains along the main highways. This one was called Mansio Scampa – Scampa means a rocky place, and it was well named. These Mansiones are fine for a normal party of thirty or so, but a legion of five thousand odd men obviously has to build its own. From there we headed up into the Candaviae mountains, higher I am sure than I had ever been before. I was panting for air; but most of the men, bred to these heights, seemed unaffected. Interesting.
From there we went to a highland region surrounding a beautiful lake named in Greek (for this has been a Greek area of influence for centuries) Lacus Lychnidos, due to its clear blue waters. Nobody knows how deep it is, but it is very, very deep. There is a city there by the same name, with a good amphitheatre and all the trappings of a Roman Provincial capital, but none of this was of interest to me at that point, though it was to my men. All this was taking longer than I expected, and in any case there was no sign of anyone needing our presence in Thrace, the ostensible reason for our presence, nor was there the slightest intimation that my Thracians wanted to go back to Thrace. So from Lychnidos we retraced our steps and returned to Apollonia, arriving there three weeks to the day after my first arrival in the spring.
I am spending far too much time writing about a relatively minor segment of my life. The rest of my year with the Third Macedonica was, by comparison, routine. It had been a happy time for me, but like all good things it drew to an end. My stint with the Legion was up, and it was time to take my leave in the usual manner dictated by military ceremonial. I was entering the corridor formed by an Honour Guard on foot, and not astride my horse as would be normal for a Commander, when to my astonishment and embarrassment the soldiers threw down their cloaks for me to walk on! Not content with that unprecedented display of ... what, affection? Respect? Whatever. Anyhow, then they broke ranks and with tears in their eyes grasped my hands and kissed them, something very rarely done in the army, and then only to a much loved and successful Imperator.
But as I emerged from that throng and completed my farewells, a messenger from General Rubrius who was waiting asked me to please call on him at my earliest convenience. In the army that means immediately, or sooner, so I hastened up the hill to the Praetorium. The General received me and considerately asked me to take a seat. I had assumed he wished to talk to me about the Legion’s display, but instead he handed me a letter. It was from the army commander in Aenus in South Eastern Thrace. From it I learned for the first time that my brother Caepio had not stayed in Rome with Crassus as I had assumed he would, but had gone with Pompey’s expeditionary force to Pontus, and on his way there had fallen sick in nearby Aenus. He was gravely ill and was asking for me. A ship was considered both faster and safer than the route I had used at the beginning of the year, and one had been provided by General Pompey and was waiting for me. So I left, my companions and slaves with me. Little did I realise what was in store.