One of the first things Milo had to do upon his enlistment in the Army…was to quickly learn… and to speak- (Though not ever to write)- a whole new dialect of English…the slang, the depthless crudities, the euphemisms, the scatological references, the slurs, the obscenities and blasphemies that went a long way toward making up the everyday language of the common soldier.

    “A Man Called Milo Morai”

      Robert Adams, The Horse Clans

The tiros adjusted to the strict Legion regimen with a routine all their own. Gaius Crastinus would already be up before first call, completed his shave, donned his lorica with side arms outside the papillon.

He acquired this habit of early rising to counter veterans who awoke them either by loudly banging bronze pots or with kicks and foul epithets. Crastinus hated this, preferring a gentle, but firm nudge to a sleeper’s feet. On this morning his mates were slow to answer, forcing him to use the latter of the veteran’s techniques.

“Alright, get up! Drop your cocks and grab your socks!”

He still didn’t understand why this was humorous. Every man in the legion had been issued two pair of these, woven from the same oily wool used to fashion their sagum cloaks. Some chose to wear them at night to ward off the chill, but for the present these and their one pair of bracae were packed away, forbidden to use until winter. Regardless, the phrase always worked, the men chuckling a bit as they arose.

The last few mornings Gaius found Pelitus and Petro sleeping together and was forced to give them special attention.

“Petro! Release his penis please. Pelitus, let go your legs from his waist! Thank you.  Now both of you get dressed!” This always brought out howls of laughter and provocative retorts from fellow occupants of the cowhide butterfly tent.

Pullo flatulated, the ripe odor wafting across the room as a pair of hob-nailed caligae caromed off his buttocks, and Bacculus suggesting he perform of a physically impossible sexual act on himself.

Cacca, Pullo! Where did you get cheese?” growled Clustinus.

Gathering their clothes and equipment the men filed out to shave and wash.

“Some of you need to wash your feet!”  Vorenus muttered.

Pullo broke wind again, even more convincingly and directly in front of Vorenus who retaliated by slapping his head. Pullo spun to land a vicious uppercut, nearly lifting Vorenus off his feet. Bacculus and Clustinus separated them before either man could land another. Crastinus was in the middle instantly.

“Knock it the fuck off!”

Gaius Crastinus rarely swore and only raised his voice when repeating the march or maneuver commands of the Centurios.

“Get out of here and get to it,” he barked, using his huge frame as a barrier.

Calone Tafoya had the remains of the last night’s meal waiting for them when they returned, and the papillon was already down; ready for the octet to fold and pack on one of their mules. Just in time for the Second Call.


Titus Pullo grimaced, road grit inside his boots had broken scabs on his heels for the third time in as many days. The pebble under his tongue wasn’t keeping his mouth moist as he had been told. He and his messmates were “Marius Mules,” each with a crucifix-shaped furca staff digging into his right shoulder, supporting eighty pounds of impedimenta and personal belongings; the scutum on his left. Already they were developing calluses on either side of the chin and forehead, these from the cheek pieces and brim of the cassis.  He looked over at Crastinus.  Like everyone else, his tunica was stained white around the armpits and shoulders, the salt sweating out of his body. His canteen, as empty as everyone else’s, banged against his hip. Many who stumbled with exhaustion through the heat and dust were not just tiros. Numbers of veterans were showing signs of wear on this forty-mile forced march. Even Centurios who weren’t riding horses, gave up their usual foul-mouthed harangue to plod alongside the column with vitis stuffed into belts, arms swinging to generate any kind of breeze against their bodies.

The rhythm of the cohort tympanistas was as ragged as the cadence the exhausted men tried to maintain. The cornicens were glad they had no reason to play, for it was difficult with cracked, dust-caked lips.

Pullo wondered how the new pink-skinned Tribune was holding up at his age. He got Carfulenus’ visual attention, and the Centurio acknowledged it.

“Primus Prior! Permission to speak?”

“Dammed Pullo, you are learning,” Carfulenus huffed.

Pullo began to sing.



















The tympani picked up the rhythm, the men choking back forbidden laughter, but the improvement in the cohort’s step was immediate. Pullo sang another verse.





















The improvement in cadence was dramatic. Unable to stand anymore, Carfulenus burst into a laughter. Other Centurios joined in, and soon the entire cohort was singing along with Pullo, who began the third verse. Even Carfulenus joined in at the chorus.





                LAST NIGHT,
















The 2nd Cohort was still thirsty, hot, and filthy, but no one thought about it anymore. Pullo continued his song, each new stanza filthier than the last but proper cadence was restored and the men’s spirits rose despite their still-croaking voices, When Pullo’s imagination finally exhausted itself Carfulenus slapped him good-naturedly on the shoulder.

“Well, finally! We find a use for that mouth of yours! You sitting privileges at supper are restored!”


Although new to the Legions, even Crastinus knew the handsome, pink-skinned, slightly-built officer with thinning hair was old for Angusticlavius Tribune. Carfulenus had ordered him to take care of the new Lieutenant Colonel, giving him Crastinus’ full name upon introduction, but the other just extended his hand with a smile and a nod of his head, and spoke in formal Latin.

“Centurion Carfulenus, is there a Legion Regulation which sayeth the men cannot call me simply ‘Tribune Caius Iulius?”

From that moment on, Tribune Caius it was. Gaius Crastinus included the man’s rank whenever answering his questions, most often in purely formal Latin about everything and anything to do with duty and service in the Legion.

When Pullo’s song ended, Gaius braced himself for the inevitable question. The timing of the Tribune’s question was predictable, but the subjects were not and answering “it is always been so,” was never satisfactory.

“Why did thine comrades hesitate to join in the song?”

“Tribune, we art not permitted to speak unless spoken to by a superior in rank! I suppose it hast been so since the Legions first organized. Talking is prohibited because the discipline of silence conditions us to listen for orders, calls of the cornicens, when we art in battle.” 

“Thou maketh sound sense. Crastinus. I hath noticed thine accent is colloquial, but thou speakest Latin most excellently. How is this when thine comrades barely speak nor understand it?”

“My Mother insisted my brother and I receive a thorough Roman education,” Crastinus replied. “But Tribune, your language is not our native tongue, which we art only allowed to speak when we are off duty.  As you have seen, there is little of that, so we art less proficient than we might be,” he added more politely.

“Crastinus, is it true thine names are Latinized when thou enlist to the standard? How dost thou pronounce thy name in thy native language?”

“Gaius Crastinus is my real name; my pater familia was Centurio Titus Crastinus, and he was a Roman citizen, while he lived.”

“I see. My given name is Caius Iulius Kaesar.”

Marching directly behind Crastinus, Bacculus and Clustinus listened in.

“So we have a ‘Gaius Major’ and a ‘Caius Minor,” whispered Clustinus.

“I have a feeling ‘Little Caius’ is more than what he seems, matey,” answered Bacculus with a wink to his messmate.


The day’s training schedule, or cortidianus ordo called for pila throwing for distance and accuracy, but on Cotta’s ordered an untried format put into place. The men would rotate from station to station by octets with each group afforded two opportunities to successfully meet the standard.

Cotta’s standard required each man to hit the target at least once, but six out of eight in each mess octet had to hit the targets twice. If the octet failed to meet this standard, they went back to the first station to start again.

On the first station the tiros were required to throw for distance at a circle staked out on the ground. The second station tested accuracy with a wicker shield set up as a target at close range. The third station possessed several interlocked wicker shields positioned at medium range. A fourth consisted of a single steer head perched on a pole at long range. The fifth station was a ring fixed to a pole at medium range. Station six held a ring dangling in the wind by a rope at close range.

Tribune Cotta and Primus Pilus Petronius had a lively discussion which took up most of the previous night, drawing to its climax with ‘‘Number One’’ slamming his vitis on the senior Tribune’s desk. Cotta responded by slamming a scarred fist down immediately after.

“‘Number One!’ I don’t give rat shit how it has been done before!  I command here, and it will be done my way,” shouted the Tribune.

“And I say again, we have never done it this way before,” the Senior Centurion countered. “There will be too much damned confusion! Someone will get hurt!”

“I know the fucking risks,” Cotta roared. “Use the blasted Evocatii to run them through the stations! You and your Centurios monitor safety while evaluating performance.  I will not have long lines of troops standing around doing fucking nothing!”

“You would have squads of men training at the sixth and most difficult station before they have completed the easier ones,” Petronius disputed.

“If they do well, it will be so much better,” Cotta snarled.  “If they fail their only penalty will be to do it again, Pro Denuo, at the beginning!”

When he finally surrendered, just before First Call, Petronius came to stacio, saluted, spun on his heel without waiting for acknowledgment and walked out of the Praetorium.


Petronius selected Princeps Primus Fabius and Hastatus Prior Septimus to monitor safety and evaluate the performance of the men first hand. While both men sympathized with his arguments against the Pila training as ordered, the two lacked the moral fiber to back the First Spear or argue against the innovative concepts the Tribune wished to introduce.

Despite his forebodings no one was injured. Every man in 2nd Cohort was actively engaged in the training. Those who were not actually engaged were either rooting on other octets or figuring ways to better execute Crastinus’ spinning technique. A few octets received “No Goes,” but positive and aggressive competition emerged so that neither Fabius nor Septimus previously experienced with weapons training using traditional methods. The two were discussing the complexities, but obvious merits, of the training when Fabius changed the subject.

“Forget Cotta for a moment. What are your thoughts on his new “Tribune?”

“That old man?”

“He is closer to our age!”

“When was the last time you saw a Angusticlavius Tribune in his thirties?”

“I don’t know, why? Do you know something the rest of us don’t?”

“I might!”

“Well, out with it Fabius!  Is the little wimp hiding from some scandal? No, he is paying off a huge family debt?  Tell me!”

Firstly, he is not really a tribune at all, but a high-ranking provincial official. Rumor has it he is the scion of one of a most ancient, but impoverished families in Rome. His ambitions are as high as his connections and enemies as numerous as his friends.”

“How high?”

“The connections or the ambitions?”

Septimus looked confused as usual, so Fabius explained.

“It is said in Rome he is “every woman’s man and every man’s woman!”

“You are joking,” Septimus countered.  “I admit he is not built for soldiering, but a girly man?  How do you know this is not just idle fucking gossip?”

“I have relations who reside in the Subura precinct of Rome where our elderly tribune is literally worshipped by the mob! They love him as a patron, but admit to me there is little or nothing he would refuse to do, or pay, to see his ends met or ambitions fulfilled. He has no concept of money! It is merely a means to an end! That “Tribune” there collects cameos for fucking sake! Even here in Hispania, members of the equite and Senatorial class claim that he belts his toga loosely! What real man does that?”

Septimus whistled softly through his teeth.

“Another of my cousins served with General Lucullus in Pontus and knew of this Tribune there, and I firmly trust his word. If Fabius Gerririus is to be believed, that pink-skinned little mentula negotiated a treaty for ships and wheat from King Nicomedes Philopator of Bithynia.  During the negotiations he was seen wearing proper attire for a visit to that irrumator’s court, dressed in foppish eastern clothing! After, he shared the beds of both the King and his daughter!”

Garrae! Your cousin is shitting on your shoe,” Septimus exclaimed, ignoring Fabius’ own preference for young men and pretty boys.

“My cousin says that in Rome that pink-skinned, blue-eyed “Tribune” is called Regina Nicomedia!”

Septimus whistled again, then extended an arm across Fabius’ chest, stopping their progress.

“But, wait. He marches with us; he forgoes a horse as an officer’s due, unlike so many of those preening brats they usually send us. His gladius work is well above the standard.  He even picks up tools to help with the castra fabricarium.”

“There now, Septimus,” Fabius retorted. “I didn’t say Regi liked the name. I just said there was nothing he wouldn’t do to advance himself!” And I want him!

Fabius continued to fantasize as he and Septimus continued on their way, each dwelling on this fantastic piece of gossip in their own way when Carfulenus trotted up.

“What do you think?”

“Septimus, still in shock, was deaf to Carfulenus’ question.  Fabius irritably turned away from his private fancies to reply.

“What do I think of what?”

Looking equally irritable, Carfulenus made himself clearer to the Princeps Primus.

“The training, butt boy! The concept!  It’s brilliant!  No one standing around playing with themselves instead of thinking about what they should be doing!  What in Tartarus did you think I was talking about?  And what the fuck is the matter with Septimus?”

Still stunned, Septimus walked away to find a drink.

“Maybe he was thinking the same thing I have been thinking,” Fabius replied. “What many of us might need to think about over the next few months.”

“What would that be?” rarely addressing him by his proper rank, Carfulenus despised Fabius.

“I was thinking that between now and the next elections for Primus Pilus our next ‘Number One’ should be one who has a more flexible approach to new training ideas.” Fabius answered, ignoring Carfulenus gross disrespect. “One who is more adaptable to changing times?”

“And that would be whom?” demanded Carfulenus, the question dripping with sarcasm.

“Oh, I don’t know yet,” Fabius answered.  “We’ll think of someone between now and then!”

He tapped the lesser-ranked centurio’s shoulder with the small end of his vitis. Carfulenus pushed the staff away, but the Senior Centurio trotted off to rejoin Septimus.

I wonder if ever in this life or the hereafter, I will ever figure out Fabius or his mind games?

Disgusted by Fabius’ riddles, Carfulenus made a rude gesture and turned his attention back to the training mission, just in time to see an octet fail miserably at station three. He walked toward them, careful to remain casual, no expression on his face, and spoke to them in the politest fatherly voice his inner rage could manage.

Tiros! That was as pathetic display as I have seen all day. What do you have to say for yourselves?”

The youth leading the group snapped to Stacio.

Pilus Prior! Pathetic,” answered Tiro Antonius Venture.

Tiros! Is there sand in your collective labae?”

“Centurio! No sand!”

“I disagree,” Carfulenus retorted. “Now gather your fucking weapons and get your sorry cunnii back to the end of the line! Do it again!

Finding Agrippina – By Persephone Vandegrift

Writing about women in Ancient history


Agrippina the Elder: 14BC –33AD, granddaughter of Augustus, wife of Germanicus (d 19AD). In 29 AD, she was accused of treason and sexual deviancy and was sentenced to death to the isle of Pandataria where she also lost an eye to blow from a centurion after protesting her incarceration. On the island, her mistreatment continued. She was both force-fed and starved until she died in 33AD.

I stared, mouth agape, reading the tiny index card next to the statue of the woman’s head. I reread it again, and again. I kept getting stuck on ‘lost an eye to a blow from a centurion’. The thought of it floored me. I couldn’t understand how a woman of such royal distinction was so dishonorably treated, and to then endure another four years of torment? Why?

Who was she and why had she incurred such hostile treatment? I stood there silently asking, as still as one of the nearby statues, for what seemed an eternity. I looked down at her enigmatic, resin face trying to imagine hair and eye color, a twitch of her mouth, did she have a ready smile or was it something only reserved for her closest friends and family? I read the other index cards, but none of them had anything remotely similar to Agrippina’s story. Clearly she was stubborn, passionate, and fearless; a classic tragic heroine. She was also a mother and a wife. But she was still just a woman who, despite her wealth and empirical connections, was considered nothing more than chattel.

But she was punched in the eye… I shook my head, perplexed. And then the penny dropped. Oh, I see, I smiled broadly; she must have made some enemies.

Since I was a little girl, history has been my go-to place for fueling my creative inspiration, a place to freely discover the undiscovered. I love getting lost in history, wandering around its cities, streets, hills, homes, legends, and getting to know the people. I know writing about people in ancient history is always a challenge, but it is one I’ve always been creatively ready to take.

When I stumbled upon Agrippina’s story seven years ago, I wasn’t expecting to have a multi award-winning screenplay, a miniseries in development and a documentary dedicated to her life. The day I discovered her story was a day many writers like myself can identify with; it was that day I had decided to give up pursuing writing as a career.  I was full of anguish. I was lost, confused, and feeling like a dark hole was about to swallow me any second. I knew the exhibit would cheer me up. I was only there five minutes when I found Agrippina’s index card. I walked around the rest of the exhibit, but I couldn’t get her story out of my head. I had to know who she was and what she did that caused her life to end in such a heartbreaking way. I almost left the exhibit early, as I could feel my curiosity burning a hole in the back of my head.

When I returned home, I immediately sat down and googled ‘Agrippina the Elder’ looking for reference books and anything else related. I found her Wikipedia page where I learned that her husband, Germanicus, had died under suspicious circumstances in Syria. He was only 34. Agrippina was at his side. I can’t imagine having to helplessly watch a loved one deteriorate in that way. I then read of Agrippina’s campaign to seek justice for Germanicus’ death after emperor Tiberius refused to bring the two people who Agrippina believed were responsible to justice. Tiberius’ refusal was a slap in the face to her family; a family which Tiberius himself was made a part of by his own hand, albeit at Augustus’ behest.

Germanicus was a very important man. Not only was he Tiberius’ adopted son and heir, he was also a successful general and counsel. His death left behind a grieving widow with six children to care for, and a hole in the hearts of Rome’s citizens who considered him to be  ‘a perfect Roman.’ I can understand why Agrippina felt she had no other choice but to pursue justice. She had lost her soul mate, and she was allowed no closure. In her quest for justice and to secure a legacy for her fatherless children, she pitted herself against the two most powerful men in Rome; emperor Tiberius and his right-hand man, Sejanus. Sejanus was just as ruthless as Tiberius and together they created a reign of terror in Rome. No one was safe, and no one was happy. Sejanus no doubt had eyes on succeeding Tiberius and would stop at nothing to make it happen, which meant getting Agrippina and her sons out of the way. Maybe Tiberius was aware of it, maybe not, but they found common ground in their hatred of Agrippina. Tiberius even refused to allow Agrippina to remarry, maybe due to the political protection she would gain. However, in spite of every chip stacked against her, Agrippina never backed down from her cause. For ten years.

In order to silence her forever, in 29 AD, Tiberius had Agrippina accused of treason and arrested, along with her eldest son, Nero, and sentenced to death to Pandataria. Ironically, it was the same island her mother, Julia, was sentenced to decades earlier by Augustus, but unlike Agrippina, Julia was recalled to Rome. Nero was sent to prison on Ponza where he was eventually coerced into committing suicide, and then her estranged son, Drusus, was arrested and left to rot in prison. It was on her way to Pandataria that Agrippina denounced the accusation of treason and her subsequent arrest so vehemently, that a centurion took it upon himself to punish her by slogging her in the eye. The blow was so vicious that she lost sight in that eye.

As if losing her husband and being separated from her children forever wasn’t enough, to try and completely break her, she was ordered to be both force-fed and starved. This went on for four years until she could take no more. It is believed that to end the torment, she may have starved herself to death. With her eldest sons dead, and her daughters married off, this left her youngest child, Gaius, aka Caligula, to succeed Tiberius as emperor. After he took over from Tiberius, Caligula ordered the transcripts of Agrippina’s trial to be destroyed, so we will never know the particulars of what went on in the Senate that fateful day or of her time on Pandataria.

Recently, I went back to the Wikipedia page and read Tacitus’ description of Agrippina. I had read it when I started the research but I paid no mind to it, as these derogatory scholarly opinions can too often be politically motivated. And although Tacitus prized her as a mother, he also described her as “determined and rather excitable” – “Agrippina knew no feminine weaknesses. Intolerant of rivalry, thirsting for power, she had a man’s preoccupations“. 1

Considering all that she had been through, any woman in Agrippina’s situation is allowed to be determined, and rather excitable. She is allowed to play her ‘feminine’ cards close to her chest in order to guess what move her male counterparts would make next. But intolerant of rivalry and thirsting for power? There was nothing to rival against. An unmarried woman of her standing of course would want to have some power in order to protect her family. To move around in ancient Rome as a woman, she would have had to play a man’s game. She was both praised and highly criticized for everything she did. She accompanied Germanicus on his campaigns, even giving birth along the way, and was instrumental in saving many soldiers’ lives which, of course, made her enemies froth at the mouth with jealousy and condemnation. She loved her family and was a patron for many hospitals and schools for the poor, again incurring the jealous wrath of the ambitious elite. I don’t know why Tacitus neglected to see the tribulations, trauma, and stress Agrippina had to endure in order to protect her family.

What would you have done? Finding her story changed my life that day. What would I have done if I were in her shoes? The same thing. Which is the same thing I’m doing now; back to fighting for a creative career in order to be able to share inspiring stories like Agrippina’s. She simply felt her children and her husband’s legacy deserved better. Her act of defiance was an exceptional one for her time and reflects the best of what human beings are capable of: compassion, strength, perseverance, and love. We need stories of courage, inspiration, and determination no matter what decade they come from, and regardless of race or gender.

The rarity of her actions, the sacrifice she was willing to make for her cause, and the passion with which she pursued it is epic. In ancient Rome, when women had no voice, here was a woman risking everything to right a wrong. All for love and her belief that Rome still offered its citizens justice. The significance of her actions, although tragic in the end, felt familiar. What human hasn’t risked everything to right a wrong or stepped into the arena of the world to fight for a just cause?

So how does a writer take on such an incredible yet unknown story? Besides doing the research, all I can do is to put myself in Agrippina’s shoes with the goal to honor the sacrifice she made and not to romance it. It’s intimidating to capture a life story and fill in gaps between action and inaction. We writers do have to take some artistic license to fill in those gaps with what seems and feels natural. I don’t want to insult the historical community because it is that same community I respect and who are the key to my project’s success. I know it will be difficult to meet everyone’s expectations.

It’s easy to be critical of films about historical figures: Alexander, Elizabeth, Agora, Nero, The Iron Lady, and Lincoln, just to name a few. Some have been extraordinarily successful and some not so much. Trying to find the balance between the entertainment side and the educational side to please everyone is so difficult. The further back you go, the harder, and more expensive it is to replicate. There are so many stories like Agrippina’s that we should not allow to slip away.

Perhaps she would have lived to a ripe old age had she just slipped silently into grief and mourning and not bothered with the idea of justice. In retrospect, millions of lives would have been different had they not stood up for themselves and let corruption rule the day.

But complacency doesn’t make history. And complacency was definitely not Agrippina.


1) Tacitus’ quote via Wikipedia.


Persephone Vandegrift is an ancient history geek, multi award-winning screenwriter, filmmaker, author, story consultant, and playwright. You can find out more about her upcoming film and theatre projects by following her on Twitter @PersephWrites. Also follow Agrippina’s journey via the DEATH OF A MORTAL WOMAN page on Facebook and message her with any questions.


READ: Chapter 6 – FIRST SPEAR RUDIMENTA – By Brent Nielsen.

Chapter Six

Forgiveness is often easier than permission.

LTC Jose “Joe” Alvarez

Lucius Aurunculeius Cotta brushed aside the Governor’s Lictors and some military sentries commanded by a junior Contubernalis.

“An ensign who should be assigned to me,” he growled. Storming through the building with the futilely protesting young ensign in his wake, he located the office of the province Quaestor and entered.

A clerk attempted to bar his passage, but Cotta pushed the unfortunate out of his way by the face. Never one to suppress his opinion, it was the reason his career had stagnated at Tribune rank, Cotta knew his mouth was about to get him in trouble once more, but his anger suppressed consideration for consequences.

“I am the commander of  VII Legion,” he shouted.  “I demand to know why my requisition has not been filled.”

Various scribes and clerks seated about the room were startled out of their work. At the far side of the room, two men conferring from opposite sides of a wide desk, looked up from their business. The elder of the two, was portly with the dark Phoenician complexion indigenous to the region. The other, wearing a very loosely belted toga was of medium height and much leaner, with stunning blue eyes, an aquiline face, and a slightly pink complexion, his extraordinarily good looks were only slightly marred by the beginnings of a receding hairline.

Although Cotta’s vitriolic entrance made both men stand abruptly, the smaller man showed no outward anger at the intrusion. The portly Phoenician defused a potentially ugly scene with a fatherly gesture of introduction in excellent, albeit, heavily accented and lisping Gadirian Latin.

“Quaestor! Doth thou know Tribune Laticlavius Lucius Aurunculeius Cotta? The Tribune doth commandeth the VIII Legion. Tribune, may I present Provincial Quaestor Caius Iulius Caesar.”

Before Balbus could complete his introductions Caius Iulius waved him off and smiled as he recognized, Cotta. Caius Iulius walked briskly around the desk his face also radiating warmth and congeniality, his smile brilliant, his hand extended.

“Senator Balbus! Thou hast no need for introductions; Lucius Aurunculeius Cotta and I are cousins! Ave, Lucius! How is your father?” Caius gripped Cotta’s hand firmly then threw his arm around the Tribune’s shoulder.

Cotta bridled slightly, returning the friendly embrace genuinely as he could.

He knows better! I was an extra son, adopted into his mother’s side of the family. Technically, we are cousins, but we are not blood and he knows it! Is he patronizing me?

“Balbus hath told me much of your VIII Legion, cousin Lucius!” continued Caius Iulius in Latin. “What problem hast thou? For what dost thou need wooden posts in a fighting Legion?”

Cotta immediately resumed a calm demeanor returning the Quaestor’s handshake firmly as Balbus answered the Quaestor’s question, again, in Latin.

“Dominus!  The posts art used by the Centurios for gladius training.  I believeth thou didst at one time serve in the marines? The classicae didst thou not train aboard ship?”

“Of course we did!  But cousin, of what use could they be but for oars?  Wouldst thou have thine Legion train to that service?”

The Quaestor’s smile and firm handshake tempered Cotta’s anger almost at once.

My cousin is no Vir Militaris, but I have a feeling it would be difficult to refuse, much less disagree with this slightly built, soft faced, soft looking, loose belted one campaign marine!

Balbus indulged the Quaestor with a short laugh and spoke for Cotta once more:

“Quaestor! Thou canst not emplace eight foot posts on the deck of a trireme! The posts art placed in the ground in rows. The men practice their fighting positions with the rudis or the gladius while not endangering each other.”

The Quaestor’s face turned serious.

“How may I be of service to thee, Tribune?” he asked.

Cotta kept away from the legion vernacular, keeping to proper Latin.

“Quaestor, what Senator Balbus sayest is true.  I submitted a written request for ‘posts, eight foot’ several weeks ago for training purposes!”

The Quaestor stood for a moment, arms folded, tapping an index finger off his nose.

“Yes, I dost now remember seeing such a request, but verily I canceled thine request in utter ignorance! Cousin, forgive me!”

“Caius Iulius! There is nothing to forgive! Thou art a Priest of Jupiter not a military man!”

“Lucius! Consider thine request filled with humblest apologies for my lack of martial knowledge!  It is a lack of such knowledge which that I wouldst correct!  May I make a request of thee?”

“Name it, Caius Iulius!”

“My duties as Provincial Quaestor will be over at the end of the year, and I returneth to Rome.  In the meanwhile, I findeth these duties too easy and tedious in the extreme, which makes them dull beyond belief.  I fear to find myself resembling good Balbus here, more and more with each passing day.”

“How may I be of service to thee cousin?”

“I wouldst train with thy men – when my duties permit, of course.”

Cotta was caught off guard again.

“I have been awarded a Corona Civica, but my military experience in Rome hath on occasion been questioned by my political adversaries in an effort to make walk me under their yoke!  I desire more knowledge of your profession. One never knows when it could be of value.”

“Thy presence wouldst be most welcome when and where ever thou wisheth, Quaestor.”

“There is one more thing, Tribune. Governor General Vetus would not be happy were he to find me playing at soldiering, even your troops knowledge of my presence, well, it wouldst be best if they didst not know who I am!”

Cotta rendered the legion salute, demonstrating his appreciation of the Quaestor’s request by departing without another word.


By the time he caught up with Cotta just outside the building Balbus’ lungs were heaving.

“Tribune!  If it pleases thee, a moment?”

Cotta slowed his pace, shoving his leather and horse hair galea onto his head, but stopped and turned at Balbus’ shout, tying off the thongs beneath the cheek pieces.

Balbus’ effort and his paunch made him breath heavier than in younger days. He stretched a hand out, the younger man catching it, allowing the Spaniard’s meaty palm to rest on the shoulder strap of his boiled leather musculata curraise.

Cotta assisted Balbus to a nearby bench and both took a seat. When Balbus regained his breath, he patted Cotta’s chest, then straightened his posture.

“I wished to thank you for your patience with my bureaucratic friend in there,” Balbus gasped, his camp-latin spoken with a heavily lisping accent common to Gadirians. “He means well, really does take his duties seriously, unlike so many others.”

“Senator! You know him well?” Cotta replied, noticing the lisp.

Of course they would call him Balbus, his accent and the lisp would earn anyone such a nick-name!  Cotta, politely, kept the thought to himself.

“We are but recently acquainted,” continued Balbus, in creditable Legion vernacular. “But I know of him. The Quaestor is from a very ancient and respected, but impoverished family with excellent connections. He is an accomplished diplomat, orator and lawyer; very ambitious, though I am surprised to see one such as he posted so far from Rome.”

Balbus looked around then whispered conspiratorially.

“He likes the ladies you see, and they like him. Not the type you would expect to take, well, so rustic a posting as my country.”

Cotta made no reply as Balbus pulled him closer, his manner ever more conspiratorial.

“He could be good for your men and influential for your career. When he returns to Rome he plans to be elected to the lifetime office of Pontificus Maximus, then Praetor or Pro-Consul to this Province – if he can garner enough silver to make the necessary bribes! It is my wish to groom him to run this province without impoverishing our people! That would be a blessing for us all! The gods know the current Governor will do well enough for himself!”

Cotta winced at the slander and looked around to insure that no one was close enough to hear them.

“I don’t understand how this could affect me or my men.”

“If he returns as Governor, he will need Legates familiar with the country, the people, the men and the units they belong to. You are a Tribune of the senior rank, but you are older than most I have seen in your grade!”

Cotta’s face grew hard. Balbus smiled, slyly.

“Oh come now, Tribune, you are from a decent family. Do you wish to remain a simple tribune your entire career?”

Cotta looked away, dwelling on the man’s words.

“Allow him to train with your men anonymously as he has requested.  Let him gain an understanding of them and their ways. He has a remarkable talent for names!”

Cotta’s eyes returned to Balbus.

“Meanwhile I have been introducing him to the right people here in Cordoba as well as Gadir. These are people who will hopefully make his tour a little more profitable than it might have been! From what I have seen, he is cut from a different cloth than the average Roman sent here; present company accepted of course!  There are issues and conditions here in Baetica that need addressing, and if the Romans won’t send us one to do it, we will teach, train and mold one who will!  He will be grateful to you and return the favor. This I guarantee!”

“He has always been loyal to my family, but has never given me much notice,” insisted Cotta, as his eyes remaining fixed on Balbus’.

“Some men will surprise you,” whispered Balbus.  “Do not judge the scroll by the worth of the wax of the seal. I see no hay on his horns!”

“You sound like you have seen service in the Legions.”

“I have, Tribune!  Five years an engineer with the I Legion, several of them spent on campaign with the Magnus and Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius against Quintus Sertorius and his rebels!”


2nd Cohort stood at Parade Rest, double arms distance apart, odd numbered Prior Centuries in front, even numbered posteriors to their rear.

“Marching down the road is not all there is to it!” Carfulenus bawled, strolling across the Cohort front. “To be effective in battle you must master unit drill! The Greeks of Laconia first introduced unit drill and made good use of it at a place called Thermopylae. Alexander Magnus perfected it and used unit drill to conquer his great Empire!”

“When you have mastered the art of drilling you will begin to work as a unit.” Carfulenus’ voice carried to the rear of the formation. “The purpose, to instill discipline into the individual as well as the unit, has not changed since Alexander. Teamwork, confidence, pride and discipline are all acquired through relentless drill!”

“Drill and that stick he carries,” Pullo muttered under his breath.

“Drill consists of a series of movements by which a unit or units are moved in an orderly manner from one point to another either to engage the enemy, to maneuver into a position to engage, to take advantage of the changing tactical situation, or to relieve a unit in contact. Are there any questions?” Carfulenus demanded.

The veteran Prorsus roamed about making slight adjustments to the eight man files one arm’s length apart, and Balaenus checked the even numbered Centuries drawn up in identical order directly behind.

“Elements! Each of you is an element in your Contubernium!” Carfulenus put his hand on the top of Crastinus’ cassis.

“Each contubernium is an element of the century,” he said, spreading his arms wide to designate the octet.  “The files are like a column with a front of one. Each file consists of eight men. Ten octets make a century of eighty men.”

“Each century is an element of the cohort!”

He stood in front of the formation and used his arms to simulate encompassing the entire century. When he was sure they understood this concept, he returned to the front of the formation and pointed to the right and the left.

“The space from one side or flank to the other side or opposite flank of the formation is called your front!”

Carfulenus began walking through the formation waving his vitis back and forth over his head. “The space between elements is referred to as the distance between units.”

When he reached the last row, Carfulenus stopped.

“The area behind you is your rear. You want to make sure it is covered at all times.”

Sniggering and a few giggles pervaded the formation.

“Not for Pelitus,” some wit whispered.

“Attack from the rear, you waste of semen,” growled Carfulenus, rounding the corner of the square formation to approach the front from the right flank.

“This space from the front to the rear is the unit depth,” he said while tapping the helmeted head of each man as he walked back to the rear of the formation

“Each rank is only one element in depth, and the man to the far right in the front rank is called the right guide.”

Carfulenus returned to the right front of the formation where Pelitus held a signum staff with an extended hand mounted at the top.

“You will guide your movement on the Signifer. He is responsible for maintaining the prescribed direction and rate of march, everyone to his left and rear guides on him.”

“Better move Petro further up in line!” muttered the same voice, slightly louder, and the reaction to the wit this time was more pronounced. Scanning the formation for the culprit, Carfulenus eyes grew flinty.

“The Signifer is also the base around which all movement is planned or regulated,” as he resumed strolling through the formation. “Drill commands are the oral orders given by the commander or leader, directing the unit in its movements. The order comes in two parts – a command of preparation, which states the movement to be carried out and prepares you to execute the order.” Out the corner of his eye Carfulenus caught sight of a tiro whose face he could not see turning his head and whispering to Vettius. To his credit Vettius endeavored to ignore him.

“The command of execution tells you when the movement is to be carried out. When you are given the order to march Milites is the command of preparation and Procedite is the command of execution. Notice the inflection of my voice on the execution order.”

The tiro whispered something to Vettius once again.

Like circling birds of prey, Prorsus and Balaenus attacked with their vita, one to the head, the second to the solar plexus. The silenced trainee dropped like a stone and remained where he fell.

“All commands are given and executed from the position of Stacio which, by now, all of you know means attention!” Carfulenus continued. “Some commands combine both preparation and execution.”

The centurio stopped when he stood over the oxygen-starved tiro long enough to note his name and octet before grasping the man’s sword belt and lifting his torso from the ground enough to get his lungs full of air once more.

Ad Signum, or Fall in, State, At Ease, and Rest are commands given without inflection and at a uniform pitch to a normal command of execution.”

Carfulenus r


Chapter Five

“Speaking roughly, you must employ either blackguards or gentlemen or, best of all blackguards commanded by gentlemen, to do butcher’s work with efficiency and dispatch.”



“That was pathetic! Stand at ease! Take a knee!  Pro Denuo!  We review it all over again!”

Carfulenus grabbed the nearest tiro, once again Bacculus. The remainder of the cohort was spread out, down on one knee.

“Tiros! It is all about attitude and commitment! You must possess the attitude that you will defeat your opponent, every opponent! You must commit to hit continuously with whatever it takes to drive him to the ground, and as the officers say: end his resistance!  If you can’t kill him, stun him. You will have three to seven seconds to finish him off and advance to the next podex, the next asshole!”

Carfulenus looked around at the young faces surrounding him and took a knee signaling Bacculus to do so as well.

“Lads! Do not think like gladiators,” he continued. “Not even for a moment. There is only us and those like us. Our opponents are not like us! Cacca! Gladiators are not like us!  We do not fight in games like those cunnii, always mucking about with rules and arbiters refereeing matched pairs! In our arena there is no raised right hand when you’ve had enough! Nowhere near the money is invested in us as in gladiators, who have a ninety percent chance of survival in the arena because they are too expensive to be killed!”

Carfulenus looked around again.

“You doubt what I say? There is money, real money, invested in gladiators,” said Carfulenus. “If one gladiator kills another, the patron of the games puts up the money to replace him! Expensive gladiators can get out of a match with just a scratch! Your chances aren’t nearly so good! What happens when you are dead? I guarantee no rich patron is going to replace you! Cacca no! Half of those bastards are not even slaves! A quarter of them sign away their freedom to pay off debts! The rest do the same for real money, real pussy and real fame! We sign on for the SPQR, sixteen years, forty acres and a mule!”

The old centurion looked into the eyes of the tiros kneeling around him.

“One of us gets “burnt down” and the rest fight short! Gladiators, who fight once every market day, sign on to get fed, bed, fucked and pampered and to die well when they screw up! There is no audience to grant us mercy just because we fought well!  We are sworn – sworn – to kill each other before we lose! Cacca on that! I am going to teach you, and you will learn to survive and win! You must survive and you must win above all else! The prospect of losing cannot enter your mind; Mithras be with us!”

Carfulenus returned to his feet.

“Everybody up! Tiro Bacculus! Hand me your scutum and attack me as a hostile! We will simulate that your shield has been taken out by a pilum. If they were deployed correctly, you will have discarded yours! “Vos Servate!”

Bacculus snapped into a low vos servate crouch, his feet shoulder width apart, right foot slightly to the rear of the left.  His shield-less left arm was out, his rudis held close and parallel to the ground at ninety degrees, and the wooden blade was held flat in the classic “first position.” He struck the edge of an invisible scutum in his left hand, signaling he was ready. Carfulenus spoke in his training voice.

“Most of the opponents you will face, whether Gaul, Iberian, or Lusitanii, all are hack and slash fighters armed with either a long, broad-bladed sword or a shorter, single-edged, but wickedly curved falcata. The former can deliver a catastrophic trauma to the body or an exposed limb. The concave shaped falcata can easily stab around your defense.”

Carfulenus looked around, insuring his words held their attention before continuing.

“Timing is everything! Moving into an attack position is nothing without a clear perception of timing!”

Carfulenus stood and began demonstrating in slow motion using his vitis staff as a rudis with Bacculus acting as a shield-less attacker.

“You must instantly determine when to move to an advantageous attack position. Move too soon, your opponent will anticipate you and adjust his attack.”

Carfulenus parried Bacculus’ premature attack and made a slow thrust of his own.

“Move too late and your opponent will make a successful strike. You must launch your attack at the critical instant when your opponent is most vulnerable.”

Carfulenus feinted then slipped under Bacculus’ guard for a successful thrust.

“Distance! You must put the space between you and your opponent to your advantage. Get too close and your thrust has insufficient power! Too far and your thrust dissipates leaving an exploitable opening!”

Carfulenus demonstrated both of his examples by first grappling close in, then backing off and striking ineffectually from an extreme stretch.

“Momentum! The tendency to continue in a direction of motion unless acted upon by another force! Body mass in motion develops momentum; the greater the mass, your size or speed of movement, the greater your momentum! Vorenus! What are the effects of this principle, and how can it be applied to your advantage?”

“Pilus Prior,” replied Vorenus. “The fighter can maneuver an opponent in a vulnerable position and use his momentum against him.”

“Correct!  Venture!”

“Pilus Prior,” the tiro answered. “Momentum can be used to take away an opponent’s balance!”

“Good! Gaditicus! Another!”

“Pilus Prior! Forcing an opponent to extend farther than he expects so that he must stop and change direction to continue his attack. The change is exploitable!”

“Very good! Pelitus! Your turn!”

“Pilus Prior! Using an opponent’s momentum to add power to our own attack or counter attack by combination body mass in motion.”


“Pilus Prior! At all times be aware that an opponent can also take advantage of the principles of momentum.”

Before Petro could finish Carfulenus signaled to the entire cohort to recite the remainder of the maxim.

“The fighter must avoid placing himself in an awkward or vulnerable position!”

“And?” Carfulenus harangued.

“He must not allow himself to extend too far!”

“Good! Bacculus! Vos Servate! Pullo! Put your mouth to some real use! Tell me about leverage!”

“Pilus Prior! Leverage is the use of the natural movement of our body to place an opponent’s body in a position of unnatural movement.”

“Good! Munatius,” growled Carfulenus as he threw out a leg and tripped the taller and heavier Bacculus. “What else?”

“Pilus Prior! The fighter uses his body or parts of his body to create a natural mechanical advantage over parts of the opponents,” answered Munatius as Bacculus landed on the ground but rolled and recovered.

“Crastinus,” he shouted as Bacculus closed in with a crash. Both began a shoving match that appeared to have no advantage for either man.

“Pilus Prior! Never get drawn into a direct contest of strength, use leverage to defeat a larger, stronger or equal opponent.”

Suddenly Carfulenus shoved Bacculus up, then ducked and went in low with a shoulder to the midriff. Carfulenus rose slightly, rolling his shoulder and sending Bacculus flying, head down, feet up over onto his back. Carfulenus twirled backward three hundred and sixty degrees, stopping directly over Bacculus who received a simulated death thrust to the throat.

“Now, back to pairs! Even numbers drop scutum,” he commanded while taking Bacculus’ hand and heaved him back to his feet. Vos Servate!

“Everybody! What is the first and most vital target area on the body?”

“Pilus Prior,” was the massed response. “Torso!”

“First Position! Torso Attack! Thrust!”

On Carfulenus’ order the entire Cohort made a thrust at a partner with their wooden rudis.

“Keep the blade flat, palm down! The tip of your side arm should trace a straight line from the knuckle of your index finger through your wrist and forearm, down through the elbow all the way to your shoulder. Twist your hips slightly to give power to the thrust!  Jab, but do not over extend or lean forward, and don’t stick it too deep! Two inches is more than enough for a lethal strike! Twice the length of your dicks! Hit your target and keep it there for at least a tenth of a second! Produce a fluid shock wave that travels into the affected tissue! Wiggle your side arm back and forth; cause the maximum amount of damage before you twist the wrist and draw your blade free. Hit and Stick!”

Bacculus winced slightly as Carfulenus’ vitis dug deep despite the extra layer of chain mail his hauberk provided at the shoulders.

“If you miss on the thrust, you do all the damage you can on the…” Carfulenus signaled for a massed answer.

“Pilus Prior! Draw Cut!”

“The draw cut! All of you! Call off the primary targets for first position thrusts to the middle section,” Carfulenus demanded.

“Pilus Prior! Front shoulder muscle! Neck! Armpit! Heart! Solar Plexus! Diaphragm! Floating ribs! Abdomen! Arms!”

Carfulenus used his vitis as a pointer on Bacculus making stabbing, twisting and slicing motions at every point as the Cohort shouted the targets.

Bacculus recalled how he and others made jokes about Carfulenus’ bent left arm.

Now the “old sweat” is perspiring, but it’s the only way anyone would know he’s exerting himself! Bacculus wondered. Shit! I’m taller and far more powerful than that crusty bastard, but the thrusts he delivers are fast, very fast, nearly invisible. I felt the rush of air next to my face and body as his staff slashed in and out! I wondered if ever, in my life time, I could get as fast as this “crook armed” old cripple?’

“What’s the matter with you lad?  Don’t you trust me?” Carfulenus teased, inwardly amused that he was clearly intimidating the younger, much larger man with nothing more lethal than his wooden vitis.

“Pilus Prior! Trust…you!”

“Are you sweating and tired or just pissing your leg, Drusilla? Take five, get some water and get back in the ranks! Give me another!”

Crastinus moved forward.

“Another big one! Good! Let’s see if you can control your body functions! Take his place!”

Crastinus, an even number, snapped into Vos Servate without his scutum.

“Ready, Tiro?”

“Pilus Prior! Ready,” nodded Crastinus, his jaw set.

“Second Position!  Stance the same as First Position! The target?”

“Pilus Prior,” Crastinus shouted. “Low section!”

“We start with the scutum strike, then the thrust…where?”

“Pilus Prior,” shouted the cohort. “Low attack! Groin! Outside of thigh! Inside of thigh! Hamstring! Knee! Calf! Shin! Achilles tendon! Ankle! Instep!”

“Groin! On the withdrawal give a twist; spill his intestines; I guarantee when he is tripping over those he won’t want to dance for long!”

Carfulenus’ scutum and vitis slashed in and out and Crastinus resisted the urge to blink his eyes as he made high slashing and cutting attacks, all the while being tripped, faked, and leveraged to the ground with the same principles of momentum tricks used against Bacculus!

After several minutes of abuse, Crastinus declined the offer for a break.

I forgot how tough this one is! I like his attitude, thought Carfulenus, his smile undetectable from inside the cheek pieces of his crista transversa.

“Third position,” he demanded. “Crouch slightly and a what?”

“Pilus Prior,” responded Crastinus and the rest of the cohort. “Upper cut, Pilus Prior!”

“Good Lads! Same targets as the middle and low attacks!  Scutum strike, then go in low, but now with an upper cut into the groin, the abdomen, the arm pit, the throat, into the head from under the jaw and out the back!  Keep the elbow bent and your blade flat with a curling-in motion at the wrist! Less of a twist in the hips! More roll in the shoulder! If you get a strike keep it there for a tenth of a second, give a sharp wiggle and twist outward on the draw cut! Take away his manhood and his intestines on the same stroke here! Penetrate his stomach and the heart or a lung here. Destroy his windpipe and his brains striking here.”

Carfulenus broke away from an unflinching Crastinus, whose own manhood had shrunk by the time Carfulenus completed the demonstration.

“I like to look ‘em in the eye,” he added. “You always know if you did it right! Fourth Position! High attack! To where?”

“Pilus Prior! High section! Head or face! Mouth! Temple! Nose and under the nose! Jaw! Throat!”

“What are you going for on the draw cut?”

“Pilus Prior! Ears! Back of the ears. Base of the skull! Side of the neck! Back of the neck,” came the massed answers. Crastinus went through the motions of attacking while Carfulenus demonstrated the various methods of killing or being maimed.

“Crastinus! Stand at ease,” commanded the centurio. “Last attack, fourth position modified! Scutum strike while twirling your weapon by the pommel ball and stabbing down is preferred!  Those of you, like Toparius, who can’t seem to get that, can rotate the wrist outward striking the same way! Both are acceptable, but you get much less thrust power! Either way your sidearm rotates over your head and is driven blade-down past the clavicle to penetrate a lung, the heart, or both. If you hang it up on a rib or the shoulder blade, your sidearm has been tempered and will bend enough to perform your draw cut without snapping the blade!  Hold for the standard amount of time and stir things around a bit before you recover! If you miss, go for the draw cut targets on the withdraw!”

Carfulenus acknowledged Crastinus’ fortitude with a wink of an eye and the ghost of a grin as he slapped the younger, but very much larger man’s helmeted head, rocking the tiro, but not causing a loss of balance.

“Crastinus! Good job! Tomorrow’s dinner and supper seated! Are there any questions?” Carfulenus sheathed his gladius. Pelitus’ hand came up, and the Pilus Prior acknowledged him.

“Pilus Prior! What do we do if our opponent has a shield?”

“He shouldn’t have one if you have already taken it out with your pila! But you are correct to ask. That is what makes the basic principles of balance, position, timing, distance and momentum all the more important! You may have to slash it out with opponents nine, ten, or eleven, and even deeper ranks in their formation who still have a scutum or a round parma.”

“So what do we do Pilus Prior?” Gaditicus asked, suddenly shutting his eyes as he too slowly realized – he had spoken without permission.

Carfulenus’ left eyebrow rose – a warning signal that such a breach of discipline will not be tolerated a second time, then groped for a new way to answer a question he thought he’d already answered – several times.

“You should all pray to Mithras that does not happen! The rear rankers are not normally their best men! Gallicus in particular puts his best men to the very front! But you and Pelitus have asked a vital question! What if all pila miss and we end up in a shoving match scutum-to-scutum, breast- to- breast and face-to-face?  Gaditicus! Stand! The rest of you take a knee! Gaditicus! Come up here! Vos Servate!”

Gaditicus obeyed, snapping into “Vos Servate, first position” just as the other two had previously, but unlike Bacculus and Crastinus, he retained his wicker scutum up and forward, his rudis close in.

“I am about to pay for speaking without permission,” he said to himself as Carfulenus began strolling casually about the circle created by his kneeling men.

“The hostiles’ weapons are usually going to be longer than ours! As I said before, they are mainly used for cutting, hacking, and slashing. Your normal opponent in Gaul will have an advantage of reach on you! Your opponents in Iberia and Lusitania will have a shorter curved weapon that can be thrusted around the edge of your scutum. Whichever weapon he carries you must take the advantage away! You can do this with the pugio on your left hip!”

Carfulenus took up a scutum, tucked his vitis in his belt behind his back and drew his smaller side arm.

“You draw your pugio instead of your gladius! When you engage and it gets really close, use your scutum to lever, pry, wedge, and push; work out any opening you can, then thrust stab or cut. Draw out; make any connection you can. Just hit flesh!”

Carfulenus put his borrowed scutum to good use to push against Gaditicus. The younger man’s size and strength was approximately the same and of no use against Carfulenus’ experience and treachery! When the scarred veteran found the opening he wanted, his eight-inch long, three-inch wide dagger slashed in and out, neatly slicing off a miniscule piece of Gaditicus’ lower lip! The wound was minor but very bloody! Gaditicus kept his feet, but resisted the urge to scream in pain or curse as blood poured down his tunic and lorica.

Crastinus knew Carfulenus held back but was aghast at the target and the nature of the wound, awash with a black feeling he couldn’t explain.

“I know I don’t want to go ‘go out’ that way,” he said to Vorenus later.

“Messy isn’t it, tiro?” said Carfulenus as he grabbed the wooden rudis then took Gaditicus’ hand and slapped it to his bleeding lip.

“Tiro! Pressure on the wound! Does anyone else wish to speak without permission?”


The severed head of a slaughtered camp steer seemed to stare mockingly at everyone as Crastinus drew his pilum over his shoulder into the throwing position. The target, one of dozens in various stages of decomposition, was attached to wooden vallum stakes of the castrum palisade.

The head was only thirty feet away, but to Carfulenus’ disgust, no one had hit it – yet.

Those tiros Bacculus, Pullo, Petro and Vorenus are the best marksmen so far, but they haven’t struck dead center; they only grazed it. Galbus, Sextus and Clustinus show better ability in throwing on the known distance range. I supposed I should thank Mithras the rest of these assholes threw theirs in the correct direction! Crastinus performed well at the known distance range, thought Carfulenus to himself.

Crastinus wished he could wipe the perspiration from his face as he leaned back, keeping his feet planted, digging them into the loosely graveled red earth.

“No running a few steps to get a momentum going on this close target range!” Carfulenus had announced.

Arching his sweat-drenched arm further backward; then rocking his torso back, Crastinus whipped his entire body forward in the throw with a slight twist in the hips. Because of the spin Crastinus’ fingers put on the haft just as he released the pilum, the weapon whistled as it flew through the air. The missile flew across the intervening distance, smashing tip first, dead center, and through the skull and out the rear, the wooden haft shivering slightly.

“Now there is a tiro with promise,” shouted Carfulenus with a slap of the vita staff against his thigh.

“Tiro,” he demanded. “Who taught you to do that?”

“Pilus Prior,” Crastinus answered, snapping to stacio. “No one! It just came to me.”

“It just came to you, eh? You are promoted! I want you to make it just come to everyone else in your contubernium, as well as that of Galbus, Sextus and their entire little band of salt thieves! Afterward the sixteen of you will train the rest of the cohort to do the same!”


After training his own and Galbus’ eight men individually, those sixteen began training the rest of the 2nd Cohort on Crastinus’ pilum spinning technique.  Just as everyone in the Legion was introduced to throwing in massed volleys, the 2nd Cohort targeted hay bales and wicker shields stacked and aligned to resemble a band of hostiles phalanxed into a wedge formation. The three Prior Centuries on line and eight deep, immediately in front of the three Posterior Centuries, each man armed with his battle scutum and two pila. Whistle to his lips, Carfulenus blew a series of notes.

“Milites! Parare Iace!” Carfulenus’ voice thundered the preparatory command following his whistle signal.

The 2nd Cohort, standing at the position of stacio, snapped from attention to “Prepare to throw.” Carfulenus’ whistle screeched again before he thundered out the command of execution.

“Milites! Iace Prime!”

Two hundred and forty men sent the first of two pila spinning audibly down range. The instant the missiles were released Carfulenus blew his whistle and another two hundred forty men threw their pila.

“Milites! Iace Duo!”  he shouted, ordering a third volley loosed before the first landed; the infamous whistle sounding again while the third volley was still in the air.

“Milites! Procedite!”  Carfulenus’ 2nd Cohort stepped off to the order “Forward March” and closed half the distance. Again the whistle was blown.

“Sistere!” Carfulenus smiled with satisfaction as the 2nd Cohort slammed to a halt with four hundred and eighty disciplined left feet crashed to the ground simultaneously.

“Crastinus!  What have we just done?” Carfulenus demanded from behind and center of the cohort. It was easier to make himself heard from here, and he would not obstruct their next maneuver.

“Pilus Prior” Crastinus answered. “We were simulating countering the advance of the enemy with our own volley and advance!”

“Very good!  Vorenus! Is there another technique?”

“Pilus Prior! The prior centuries remain in place and the posterior centuries advance through them, then halt and loose our pila!”

“Excellent Bacculus! Under what circumstances would we use that tactic?”

“Pilus Prior! When we hear the order coitere,” Bacculus smiled wolfishly at his use of the Latin.

“Bacculus! You are beginning to learn what ears and brains are for! Crastinus! Vorenus and Bacculus! You may recline when taking your meal tonight! Unless, of course, you fuck up something else between now and then,” said Carfulenus, smiling fiercely.

“Your weapons are marked with your names, so don’t think about cheating!  If your weapon is not in a target, you will recover it and fall to the rear of the formation! If it is in a target, wait until you have been checked, fall out for water!”

When the check was completed, Crastinus and all of his “sixteen” had been on target, but they were in the rear rank anyway. Carfulenus noted the result, but said nothing.

The boy is hard! Like everything I ever heard about his father! Carfulenus brought his whistle to his lips and blew the signal notes.

“Milites Posterior! Parare Iacte,” he shouted. “Pro denuo!”

The rear centuries prepared to throw their weapons, again.