“…the Provost Marshal can punish corporally, then and there, any person below the rank of NCO who in his view, or that of any of his assistants, commits any breach of good order and military discipline. Punishment not to exceed 30 lashes…and to be inflicted with the regulation cat.
Field Service Pocket Book 1914
“What are the bugles blowin’ for?” said Files-on-Parade.
“To turn you out, to turn you out,” the Color Sergeant said.
“What makes you look so white, so white?” said Files-on-Parade.
“I’m dreadin’ what I’ve got to watch!” the Color Sergeant said.
It was well into the evening and deep into the first watch when Cotta heard a knock on the fore post of his quarters. The tesserarius, responsible for guarding the Praetorium, announced Primus Pilus Petronius and Pilus Prior Carfulenus were without, requesting permission to speak.
“Very well, come,” answered Cotta with a gesture of dismissal, assuming the First Spear had more promotions to discuss.
Removing helmets, Petronius and Carfulenus entered, expressions indicating business more pressing than promotions. Cotta regarded his captains for a moment before granting permission to speak.
Halting in front of his field desk at stacio and saluting rigidly; to Cotta’s surprise, rather than standing at ease, both men shifted stiffly to parade rest, their bronze crista transversa held in the crook of the left arm, the pointed end of the vitis inside the right armpit at a ninety-degree angle, feet shoulder width apart. Cotta struggled to remain casual, something was definitely wrong.
“‘Number One,’ proceed!” Cotta remained seated at his desk, wearing a quilted jersey over his tunica and calf-high officer’s boots. Immediately behind him, a wooden stand supported pteryges kilt, muscle curraise, a crested galea helmet and his side arms. He feigned a sleepy yawn, remaining mentally on high guard.
Before Petronius could say a word, the Tesserarius returned.
“Dominus! Tribune Caius Iulius requests permission to speak.”
Tribune Caius entered, his helmet already in the crook of his arm, taking position immediately to the right of the two Centurios before saluting. Cotta gave the binding around the Tribune’s forehead a casual glance before looking, quizzically, at Petronius and Carfulenus.
“‘Number One,’ you were here first! Proceed!”
“Dominus! We must report an incident!”
“Alright! What kind of incident?”
“A brawl, Dominus! It has been broken up. No one was seriously injured, but there were serious breaches of discipline and corporal punishments are called for,” Petronius answered in staccato.
“Since Pilus Prior Carfulenus is present I must assume the 2nd Cohort was involved. Pilus Prior! How many?” Cotta began shifting papers and tablets on his field desk nonchalantly, striving mightily to collect his thought and control a mounting anger.
“Dominus! Ten, twenty – possibly a few more, 2nd Cohort men only, and all culprits are in the same Century and under arrest,” answered Carfulenus, his eyes locked on the wall behind, anything but the face of his commanding officer.
“Pilus Prior, what Century and who leads them?”
“Dominus! Second Century under Crastinus, Galbus and Vorenus.”
The contents of Cotta’s busy hands slipped back to the desk, and he looked immediately to Petronius.
“‘Number One,’ did I not this very afternoon approve Crastinus for promotion to centurio rank, advancing Galbus and Vorenus to Optio as well? Are they neglecting their responsibilities already?” he demanded.
“Dominus! Requesteth permission to speak,” asked Tribune Caius, out of habit, in Latin. “Dominus, t’was not Crastinus fault; he was not with his unit.”
“Cousin! Err – Tribune,” Cotta barked irritably. “We use a castrum vernacular here! Speak so the Centurios can understand! What was your involvement in the incident?”
“I accompanied Centurio Crastinus after he toured the mess octets to check on his men seeking treatment in the Valetudinarium. While at the camp hospital a Medico insisted on treating an injury I received during today’s training. Crastinus remained with me until treatment was finished. He could not be in two places at once! If he was not present at the time of the brawl it is I who am to blame. I take full responsibility.”
Cotta stood, looking straight and deep into those deep blue, nearly black, eyes. The sincerity in his cousin’s voice was genuine, and Cotta well knew his reputation for veracity.
“Tribune, you do understand mitigatio and extenuatio have no bearing what-so-ever under Legion Regulations? Do you also understand, that for better or for worse, officers do not interfere with centurios enforcement of discipline? Primus Pilus Petronius and Pilus Prior Carfulenus are simply paying me a command courtesy by coming here this evening? A command courtesy that makes me honor bound to concur and approve their decision, whatever that may be?”
Cotta addressed the centurios without acknowledging his cousin.
“Number One!’ Are there any other names I should know before punishment is carried out?” Cotta’s eyes remained locked on Tribune Caius,’ admiring the steady return. Petronius gestured for Carfulenus to answer, the latter snapping to attention, swallowing hard before he spoke.
“Dominus! There are two in the Century who started the scrap! They are assigned to the same contubernium. They have issues they refuse to resolve and cannot work together in the same unit.”
“Describe ‘cannot work together,” demanded Cotta, finally breaking eye contact with his cousin.
“Dominus, they are as two pups in a litter, fighting for the same teat! Both possess leadership potential; excellent fighting skills, and with such exceptions as we had tonight, they follow orders. Where they differ is their leadership style and both rub the other the wrong way.”
“How do they differ, Pilus Prior?” asked Cotta, knowing his advocate cousin was already preparing for a rebuttal.
“Vorenus is the more deliberate of the two although every bit as determined to succeed,” explained Carfulenus. “He thinks before he speaks, plans before he acts. He doesn’t take long to do it, but he organizes and then executes, and everything he executes works. He speaks sharply only when he needs to; the men listen to him and follow because they know he is right.”
“Carfulenus speaks the truth,” added Tribune Caius. “It was Vorenus who came up with the solution to beat the veterans today!”
“What of the other?” Cotta demanded, acknowledging his cousin’s remarks with a hand gesture.
“If Vorenus is analytical; Pullo is more brash and impulsive, prone to action first, thinking later and – eccentric remarks,” Carfulenus answered. “He is not a deep thinker! I don’t know if he thinks to clean his ass when he craps, but he draws from the hip and what happens when he acts works just as readily as whatever Vorenus takes two seconds to dream up! The men in the cohort follow him as readily as they do Vorenus, and there is the problem of the “push me pull you” effect! Myself, I would go into battle with either of them, but I would honestly send Pullo to Clinicus Cordis for mental examination were he ever to approach me with any remote resemblance of a plan!”
This description of Pullo’s leadership techniques manifested into a strong desire to kick Carfulenus in the shin; a yearning Petronius successfully resisted by interrupting to more accurately describe Pullo for their Commander.
“Dominus! It was Pullo who arrived, tied ass backwards on the horse when we mustered them in Cordoba
Cotta mused back to the not so long ago day, nodding in the affirmative.
“I remember him! The one who sings that disgusting song about masturbatio?”
“Dominus! That would be Pullo!”
Cotta returned to the seat behind his desk, indicating Carfulenus should continue.
“Dominus, I have flogged Pullo ‘spot on’ more than anyone else in the cohort, but he continues his ways and the men worship him for it,” Carfulenus extolled. “They follow Pullo because they want to see what he will do next! He can persuade anyone to do anything! Really, anything, and then convince anyone who follows him he possesses a brilliant idea! The man improvises, he adapts, and he reacts! Is Pullo as good a man as Vorenus? I cannot decide! All I know is both leadership styles work and the men follow them both. Pullo is slightly more adored because of the songs and jokes, but he is not the better man and the conflict between them will eventually tear the 2nd Cohort apart!” With nothing more to say, Carfulenus returned to parade rest.
“It was these two who started the brawl?”
“They hate each other’s guts,” confessed Petronius.
“That bad? Give it to me straight on! No more honey coating! And don’t piss on my back then tell me it is raining!” Cotta’s face wrinkled fiercely from the bridge of his nose to the middle of his forehead. Carfulenus returned to Stacio before he answered.
“Dominus! I hate to have to choose between the two, but there is no room in 2nd Cohort for both of them!”
Petronius glared in disgust, but Carfulenus had finally provided the answer he wanted to hear and so offered his own opinion.
“Dominus! Tribune! Pullo and Vorenus tried to kill each other tonight. They could have disgraced the Standard and the Legion! Given half the chance each would eat the liver of the other! I must make an example of everyone involved to prevent a reoccurrence of this breach of discipline. Then I will move Pullo out of 2nd Cohort!”
Cotta rubbed his chin for a moment.
“‘Number One!’ For the Tribune’s personal education, explain in detail what you plan to do, who will administer said punishment, and how will it be delivered?”
“Tribune, there are two types of corporal punishment in the Legions. On occasion we administer the vitis; the “spot on” correction for minor infractions, inattention- general idiocy.”
Tribune Caius nodded slightly, thoroughly familiar with Centurios and the attention gaining use of their short knobby staffs.
“The second form of punishment is reserved for more serious breaches of discipline where proof of guilt is observed and found detrimental to good order and discipline, calling for more severe action! When a perpetrator is found guilty, the entire Legion stands in a hollow square to witness punishment administered by the closest ranking superior to the culpae using facine rods. If that man doesn’t lay on hard enough the strongest drummer in the cohort will beat him!”
“‘Number One!’ Is there any medico supervision provided for this?” Tribune Caius inquired.
“Clinicus Geris Cordis will be in attendance and is authorized to stop punishment at any time!” Petronius replied. Cotta turned to his cousin.
“Tribune, if Clinicus Cordis feels he must stop punishment to preserve life, the guilty man will be taken to hospital until he recovers,” he added. “Whether in hours or in days, once the son of calamitas is healed, he will be hauled back to receive the remainder of his punishment!”
“Everyone is paraded for the punishment?” Tribune Caius asked.
“The Legion is always paraded to witness such a punishment,” Petronius spat in disgust. “It is a dreaded sight to see a man’s back reduced to bloody pudding, but it reminds his messmates to think twice before following an idiotic example!”
Tribune Caius’ face successfully disguised his horror, but his eyes gave him away.
“Tribune, there are few centurios who rise to their rank without marks of the rod or the vitis on their backs,” Carfulenus added, pointing over his own back. “Generally speaking, the average legio receives at least fifty strokes total for various reasons during their sixteen years of service!”
“‘Number One,” Cotta demanded. “What else do you plan to do?”
“Flog with facine rods all culprits from the 1st and 2nd contubernium, First Century, 2nd Cohort,” Petronius answered. “Punishment to be administered in traditional manner! After formal punishment, Pullo, the big stupid one with a mouth he is unable to keep shut, will go to whatever cohort I can convince to take him!”
“‘Number One, I have a simple question for you. Would you have Pullo on your left? What about Vorenus?” Cotta ignored both Tribune Caius and Pilus Prior Carfulenus.
“Dominus, I would have either man to my left or right in a fight.”
“What if they stood in front of you?”
“Dominus, in front, or behind! It is all the same,” Petronius answered evenly. “I don’t want them hung or thrown out of the Legion! I simply want to break them up and disabuse the 2nd Cohort from acquiring a very bad habit!”
“Carfulenus! You agree?”
“Dominus, I concur with the First Spear!”
“‘Number One,’ I have heard enough!” Cotta held up his hand indicating further debate was over. “You want them flogged and separated into different cohorts; do so, and I concur. You want their strengths and weaknesses to put to a more positive use? I agree to that as well!”
“Dominus! That is my answer to the issue! Give each of them a good taste of the rod; then separate them! Once in different units, if they can continue to compete against one another without the cacca I witnessed in the castrum tonight, I believe it is the best solution!”
“‘Number One,” said Cotta. Please inform the Tribune who will administer punishment!”
“Dominus! Tribune! Punishment will be administered by Optio Galbus and Pilus Posterior Centurio Crastinus,” answered Petronius looking directly at Tribune Caius whose face remained unfathomable. “It should be an educational moment for everyone!”
“‘Number One!’ Who issues the commands of execution?”
“Dominus! The Praefectus Castrorium or anyone you chose!”
Cotta turned to his cousin.
“Tribune Caius! You will issue the commands as acting Praefectus! You are all dismissed!” Cotta’s chest salute precluded any further discussion until they were out of the Praetorium and the hearing of officers.
“There will come a day when you and I will wish Vorenus and Pullo ended each other’s lives, but not tonight! No, not tonight!” Petronius whispered to Carfulenus.
The cohorts assembled in a three-sided hollow-square with the Commander’s rostrum at the open end. The units were formed up from right to left with the 1st through 4th Cohorts posted on the right, the 5th through 7th Cohorts were posted at the bottom center and the 8th through 10th aligned on the left with the Cornicens and Tympanista musicians to their left, everyone facing inward. The odd numbered prior centuries of each Cohort stood left of the posterior even numbered centuries to afford every man in each unit a view. Each Century was aligned to the right in ten eight man files numbered in ascending order from right to left.
The polished metal of their equipment shined under a brilliant sun just setting in a cloudless sky. Horsehair plumes attached to shining bronze helmets fluttered in a warm, gentle breeze. A Pilus Prior Centurio and Vexillarius stood in front of each Cohort.
To the immediate front of 1st Cohort, Aponius stood dutifully, holding the sacred standard, just behind Primus Pilus Marcus Petronius who grimly surveyed the assembled Legios.
Tribune Laticlavius Cotta took his place atop the rostrum and signaled to Tribune Caius Iulius standing in the very center of the hollow square to read the Legion’s regulations and the punishments for breaking them. Cotta head-gestured to Petronius, who made a similar gesture to the Musicos. The Cornicens blew a signal on their instruments followed by a drum roll.
“Infractii! Post,” barked Tribune Caius.
“Milites Procedite,” bellowed Carfulenus. Followed by Gaius Crastinus, Galbus and a file of twelve men dressed only in tunica and boots, he led them marching at right angles to the tempo of the Tympanista to the center of the hollow square.
At a previously marked spot Carfulenus ordered, “Column Left!” The twelve made a sharp turn, then continued until he ordered, “Left Face!” then, “HALT!” in Latin, and the drum roll ended at once.
“Extend to the left! Move,” Carfulenus barked again.
Each of the twelve shuffled to the left, at double arm’s distance apart.
“Arms downward move!”
Their arms slapped to their sides in preparation for the next order.
Tribune Caius Iulius read the names, the charges and the punishments for each legio. The Infractii removed their tunica and breechclouts then stood before their fellow legios, naked, but for the caligae on their feet.
“Drop!” Carfulenus ordered.
The twelve dropped to their knees, hands on the ground, heads up, so their fellow legios in the cohorts could not help but watch their faces during the ordeal.
Carfulenus pulled a rod twice the length of his forearm and as thick as his thumb from his belt and handed it to Galbus, then walked in front of the punishment line and bent to place a short wooden stick in the mouth of each man.
“Bite down hard, lads! Bite down hard, and concentrate on not fouling yourselves, and for the love of Mithras, don’t get hard!”
No one thought Carfulenus was funny.
Tribune Caius finished reading the punishment orders, and Cotta nodded his head.
“Lay on!” Tribune Caius barked the dreaded order.
The Tympanum changed their beat to a much slower tempo, setting a rhythm for the stroke of the rod.
Five of the Infractii belonged to Galbus, who performed his duty quickly and with a degree of conviction that surprised Crastinus.
Crastinus was still wondering if he could really do his duty when Galbus handed over the rod. Taking the instrument in his hand he could taste bile rising in the back of his throat then looked over his shoulder at the two drummers with rods in their hands. He spat on the ground then turned and positioned himself over the exposed backside of the first man.
Crastinus remembered Carfulenus’ earlier warning about showing any mercy.
“Legion musicos are prepared to take over should either of you fail to demonstrate the proper enthusiasm for your duty,” his voice grim with a scarred hand on Crastinus’ wide shoulder. “You won’t be doing your messmates any favors if you don’t lay it on proper! If you are relieved, the punishment will go on, carried out properly by someone that doesn’t give a cac about ‘em! Worse, the mentula who takes over could be someone who enjoys it but ain’t so careful where the rod lands! Believe you me it’s sort of comfortin’, having a friend do it! I can’t say it any better ‘n that!”
Crastinus later had difficulty in remembering the sounds and comments Sextus and his messmates had made each time Galbus brought the flexible green rod down on them, striking hard across their backs while carefully avoiding their buttocks.
Crastinus knew the names of the men in Sextus’ contubernium, and watching them had been difficult enough; But now, standing over Pelitus, drawing the rod up over his head, he hesitated and his arm wouldn’t move. He could not strike his sword mate.
“Just do it, Gaius!” Pelitus begged through teeth tightly clenched on a piece of wood.
“Pelitus, I’m sorry!” Crastinus brought the rod down hard.
The first blow left a weal from Pelitus’ right shoulder to his short rib. Four more followed, the last leaving a trail of blood, but Pelitus did not cry out.
Bacculus was next.
“Get it over with, Gaius,” he gritted between his teeth.
Bacculus farted wetly on the last stoke.
“My last word on the subject,” he said, spitting the stick out of his mouth.
Clustinus took his five also without uttering a sound.
Gaditicus followed an equally silent Petro.
Crastinus tried to avoid his messmate’s injured ribs, but the combination of that pain and the rod was more than Gaditicus could take. Though he didn’t cry out, on the fifth stroke Gaditicus collapsed in a puddle of his own urine.
Bathed in his own sweat and tears running down his face, Crastinus saw his hands and knees were trembling and swallowed his own vomit to avoid that shame when Gaditicus’ bladder failed him.
The last two were the most difficult – fifteen each for the two men who caused this parade in the first place, Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus.
Pullo ignored Crastinus’ apology and challenged Vorenus again.
“Fuck it, Vorenus! You will cry out before I do!”
“Pullo! Eat shit,” Vorenus growled.
Astounded by their behavior at such a time, Crastinus held the rod above his head for a moment.
“Now would be a good time for both of you to end this stupid bullshit!”
“Fuck you too, Gaius Crastinus! Five denarii say fellator here pisses in the sand like Gaditicus!”
Crastinus’ vision clouded red; instantly the sickness in his stomach, the trembling in his hands and legs vanished.
“Gaditicus has broken ribs and wouldn’t have had to piss in the sand; cacca, this wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for that mouth of yours!”
Only Crastinus’ lips were moving, his teeth remained clenched. “And you already owe me five denarii!”
Making no attempt to keep rhythm with the Tympanum, in his fury Crastinus threw every bit of strength into the fifteen blows to Pullo’s back, drawing blood with each stroke, forcing Galbus and Carfulenus to wrestle the rod from his hand before striking a sixteenth time. His anger unabated, Crastinus turned to Vorenus, who barked, “Pullo! Fuck you,” every time the rod crashed against his own back.
Nearly blind with rage at these obstinacies, Crastinus failed to hear 2nd Cohort’s discreet finger snapping as he, just as viciously, laid into Vorenus.
Princeps Primus Centurio Gaius Lucco, formerly of I Legion, found the VIII Legion Castrum empty but for a few vigile standing sentry duty behind vexellum stakes tied together into giant caltrops along the top of the agger, some sick call and profiles lounging around the Valetudinarium, and some calones tending mess fires. His mount was tired, but he reined the horse about and urged the travel- weary beast toward the sound of an all too familiar drumbeat outside the castrum. He kneed his animal through the same gate he’d entered and out to the Campus Martius.
He knew he was too late to hear the reading of the crimes, the breaches in the regulations, and naming of the Infractii, but he did want to get there in time to see the faces of those receiving punishment.
Urging his horse to a gallop down the slope the camp had been constructed upon, he saw a significant number of Legios being punished all at once.
“Petronius hasn’t changed a bit!” he thought to himself. “He needs me worse than he admitted in his letters!”