The Good Life – Words by É. Cassia Trop-Longinus



Platonic, Stoic, & Epicurean Philosophy

É. Cassia Trop-Longinus

John Cabot University

Roma, Italia


All copyright is the property of E Cassia Trop Longinus

Over the centuries, many philosophers have debated, while their thoughts and theories have come and gone. From the first philosopher, Thales of Miletus,[1] to the cynics, philosophy became a figure in transforming life. However, there are three philosophies that stand out among the rest. The illustrious Stoics, the eminent Epicureans, and of course, the legendary Plato.

The Epicureans and the Stoics were the rival schools for centuries in the Greek and Roman world. However, the aim of this paper is to point out the opposite.

At first glance, Stoicism and Epicureanism are two distinct and polarized philosophies. Since Stoicism took a lot of its ideas from Plato. So, one would automatically assume that Stoicism is closer to Platonic thought than the “hedonist” Epicureans. However, this essay is to prove that these two seemingly separate schools of thought are actually closer than one would think.

The “good life” and how to live the good life are defined in three different ways according to Plato, the Stoics, and the Epicureans.

First, Plato’s idea of the good life is not directly stated, but could be extracted from his works. For Plato, the debate on living well or thinking well (i.e. contemplation versus action), resides in his dialogues. In his writings, he states that striving for excellence brings about the good life. In doing so, one must forget all material pleasures and live in rational moderation, with emotions led by the mind. The only real pleasures are those of the mind.

In Philebus, the central question is pleasure versus knowledge. First, Plato must define what he means by “good.”

Socrates: Is the good perfect or imperfect?

Protarchus: The most perfect, Socrates, of all things.

Socrates: And is the good sufficient?

Protarchus: Yes, certainly, and in a degree surpassing all other things.

Socrates: And no one can deny that all percipient beings desire and hunt after good, and are eager to catch and have the good about them, and care not for the attainment of anything which [is] not accompanied by good.

Protarchus: That is undeniable.


The “good” for Plato is an idea.

During the beginning of this dialogue, Plato states what will be answered in the coming exchange between Socrates (Plato’s “mouth”), Protarchus, and Philebus. Later in the dialogue, Plato clarifies his thoughts in this section of Philebus:

Socrates: I remember to have heard long ago certain discussions about pleasure and wisdom, whether awake or in a dream I cannot tell; they were to the effect that neither the one nor the other of them was the good, but some third thing, which was different from them, and better than either. If this be clearly established, then pleasure will lose the victory, for the good will cease to be identified with her:-Am I not right?


Plato now brings in this third kind of life, which surpasses (in the view of the good) both the first: of pleasure, and the second: of the mind. Promptly, Plato has set the question into motion and proceeds to verify his argument on his third type of life; the ideal, or the good life. Plato continues, narrowing down his argument to his final stage.

Socrates: Reflect; would you not want wisdom and intelligence and forethought, and similar qualities? [W]ould you not at any rate want sight?

Protarchus: Why should I? Having pleasure I should have all things.

Socrates: Living thus, you would always throughout your life enjoy the greatest pleasures?

Protarchus: I should.

Socrates: But if you had neither mind, nor memory, nor knowledge, nor true opinion, you would in the first place be utterly ignorant of whether you were pleased or not, because you would be entirely devoid of intelligence.

Protarchus: Certainly.

Socrates: And similarly, if you had no memory you would not recollect that you had ever been pleased, nor would the slightest recollection of the pleasure which you feel at any moment remain with you; and if you had no true opinion you would not think that you were pleased when you were; and if you had no power of calculation you would not be able to calculate on future pleasure, and your life would be the life, not of a man, but of an oyster or pulmo marinus[2]*. Could this be otherwise?

Protarchus: No.


Plato, here, has stated his stance on the life of pleasure. Plato is an advocate for intellect. His ideal life is one of understanding the “forms” of the Universe, of contemplating. The mind is used for understanding this perfect world. So when he says, “[…] if you had neither mind, nor memory, nor knowledge, nor true opinion, […] you would be completely devoid of intelligence,” Plato is asserting the kind of life that would be totally opposite of his good life.

Now, Plato goes on to his view of the life purely of the mind.

Protarchus: And what is this life of mind?

Socrates: I want to know whether any one of us would consent to live, having wisdom and mind and knowledge and memory of all things, but having no sense of pleasure or pain, and wholly unaffected by these and the like feelings?

Protarchus: Neither life, Socrates, appears eligible to me, or is likely, as I should imagine, to be chosen by any one else.

Socrates: What would you say, Protarchus, to both of these in one, or to one that was made out of the union of the two?

Protarchus: Out of the union, that is, of pleasure with mind and wisdom?

Socrates: Yes, that is the life which I mean.

Protarchus: There can be no difference of opinion; not some but all would surely choose this third rather than either of the other two, and in addition to them.


Finishing, Plato has argued that this third type of life, the mixture of pleasure and intelligence, is truly the best and is the good life.

            No matter, even if Plato does find a relationship between the mind and pleasure, Plato still remains “idealist” in his belief that passions are a vice.

Passions are a lack of self-control that ultimately leads to the destruction of oneself. Self-control is key. Since the pleasures are purely intellectual, Plato sides with the good life being one of contemplation.

Similarly, the Stoics follow Plato by saying that passions are a vice that controls a person. A passion is thought of defiance to reason. For example, reason says to face danger sometime in our life, but fear (a passion) suggests the contrary. This example suggests that emotions can hardly be rational. There are no passions, and both philosophies are about self-control and power over the body’s illogical urges.

However, the one difference is in their living of good life. Seneca makes it clear, in his On the Private Life, that the good life is both contemplation and action. He writes:

So I live according to Nature if I devote myself wholly to her, if I marvel at her and worship her. Nature wished me to do both – to act and to be free for contemplation. I am doing both. Even contemplation involves action (Nature, Contemplation, and Action, 8).


For Seneca, the way to live is to contemplate reality and then to act.


A common misconception of the Stoics for most people is that the Stoics teach a rigorous doctrine disregarding all emotions and all the pleasures of life. So, how can the Stoics live a good life and be happy?

Happiness for the Stoics is the “smooth flow of life,” to go along and accept fate. However, it should not be inferred that a Stoic is “feelingless.” The wise do not completely lack passions; instead they have eupatheiai, or “good feelings.” A good example for expressing this idea is a Stoic in a relationship, whether friendly, family, or marital.

One of the most renowned Stoics, Epictetus, in his works, describes how “good feelings” are associated with one’s friends and family. Because of this reliance on relationships, the preservation of the Stoic’s relations are necessary for their προαίρεσις – their personal identity and true moral character (i.e. the real “inner” self). Therefore, his conduct towards others is essential for his own happiness.

In this argument, the Stoics show a clear diversion from Plato. Plato, on one side, thinks that the good life is reached by one’s own contemplation – solipsism. While the Stoics believe in communication. The truth is transmitted from one person to the other through language. Meaning, involvement and communication with others is essential to the foundations of Stoic philosophy; and in order to communicate, one must have relationships with others. In brief, the importance of friends is vital to the Stoics, but not Plato.

Furthermore, Epictetus holds that the Stoic should not be “[…] unfeeling like a statue, indeed [humans are] by nature affectionate, gentle, faithful, helpful, and loving, and so is and ought to be naturally drawn to fulfill all [their] social, familial, and civic roles as a healthy, mentally attuned human being.”[3]

Epictetus writes in his Discourses:

[…] each [person] passes his life in accordance with himself without grief, without fear, and without disturbance, at the same time maintaining with his companions both the natural and acquired relationships, those of son, father, brother, citizen, husband, wife, neighbor, fellow traveller […]. [4]


One is usually tempted to think that “happiness” is about getting what you want and not just controlling one’s desires-regardless if they are satisfied or not.

Since happiness is the acceptance of fate, the Stoic sage, or wise “man” (or woman), will usually rationalize things in light of her knowledge of how the world works.[5] There will be times, however, when such circumstances arise when it is logical to select a path that is contrary to her nature. For example, Stanford’s article on Stoicism uses the example of cutting off one’s hand to thwart a tyrant.[6] But these cases are not common. For the most part, her knowledge of people and nature will help her attain what she wants. But when conditions arise and she cannot attain what she originally selected, she will not care. Unlike common thought, this represents a very positive outlook of life.

Thus, the Stoic has no physical desires, but does have wishes and indeed – feelings, which include kindness, warmth, affection, and generosity.

Lastly, Epicurus is on the opposite end of the scale when it comes to “passions.”  His teachings taught that all humans by nature pursue a pleasant life and the best way to the good life is through moderate satisfaction.

In contrast to the Stoics and Plato, Epicurus believes that the good life is obtained through living well. In his Menoeceus, he writes:

For this reason, we declare that pleasure is the beginning and end of the happy life. We are endowed by nature to recognize pleasure as the first and familiar good. Every choice and avoidance we make is guided by pleasure as our standard for judging the goodness of everything.

In this section, two parts should be mentioned. One, “[w]e are endowed by nature…,” here, this section can be compared to the Stoics in the sense of nature. Nature is a fundamental part of Stoicism,[7] in the sense that nature is the major player in human life. In contrast to Plato’s idea that nature is simply a distraction from the truth, because it is a shadow of the ideal world: Forms.

The second notable segment is “[e]very choice and avoidance we make is guided by pleasure as our standard for judging the goodness of everything.” For many opposing philosophies, this is used as the base for their “hedonism” argument against Epicurus. If everything is purely for pleasure, Epicurean philosophy is labeled with self-indulgence, debauchery, and decadence. But Epicurus also adds:

Although pleasure is the greatest good, not every pleasure is worth choosing. We may instead avoid certain pleasures when, by doing so, we avoid greater pains. We may also choose to accept pain if, by doing so, it results in greater pleasure. So while every pleasure is naturally good, not every pleasure should be chosen.[8]


Here, the differences in pleasures are static and dynamic. Static pleasures include the fundamental friendship. Friendship is of the utmost importance: it contributes, more than anything, to the good and pleasant life. It also is the force that makes society possible.[9] This section also indicates that Epicurus believed that people who enjoyed the “familiar good” to the fullest were the wise ones; the “familiar good” being pleasure.

Apart from static pleasures, the dynamic are seen as negative aspects to life for Epicurus. Dynamic “pleasures” are pleasures that can be changed; they are not constant, unlike static pleasures. Dynamic pleasures include love. Love is a changing pleasure that can cause harm to one who indulges in it. Even marriage is viewed as a cautious endeavor. No pleasure is attached to wedlock in Epicurus’ work. Lucretius, later disparages any amorous infatuation, but certifies marriage in a warmer light.

And from pleasure, one can be happy. But one cannot be happy without being virtuous and one could not help but be happy if one possessed virtue. For example, in Epicurus’ Principle Doctrine 5, he writes:

It is impossible to live pleasantly without living prudently and honorably and justly, and it is impossible to live prudently and honorably and justly without living pleasantly. Whenever any one of these is lacking (when, for instance, one is not able to live wisely, though he lives honorably and justly) it is impossible for him to live a pleasant life.[10]


The main argument here is that one must live “prudently and honorably and justly,” meaning if one lives that way, you will live pleasantly. These values are present in Plato, Stoicism, and Epicureanism as the ultimate cornerstones in the good life.

For Epicureans, happiness does not exist for it’s own sake. Caius Cassius Longinus, a “Liberator” in the assassination of Caesar, general, and accomplished Epicurean philosopher writes in a letter to Cicero:

I hope that people will understand that for all, cruelty exists in proportion to hatred, and goodness and clemency in proportion to love, and evil men most seek out and crave the things which accrue to good men. It’s hard to persuade people that ‘the good is desirable for its own sake’; but it’s both true and credible that pleasure and tranquility are obtained by virtue, justice, and the good. Epicurus himself, from whom all your Catii and Amafinii take their leave as poor interpreters of his words, says ‘there is no living pleasantly without living a good and just life (C. Cassius L. quoted in Ad Familiares, xv. 19).


Let’s say at the earliest stages of life, a man, who we will call Eustakhios, dedicates himself to the material life. He grows up going to horseraces, trips to the country, but avoids his studies and books. When he grows up, he has a lavish house, decorated in gold, marble, and silk; eats the most expensive and exotic delicacies; and only drinks the finest wine. One would automatically want to be him, surrounded by the luxurious riches! The other man, Ferreolus, also from his early childhood, has always taken his pleasure from otium[11] and his studies, not the pleasures like Eustakhios. He does not take part in material pleasures, only the basics – he lives in a humble house, eats plainly, and dresses in common clothes. He focuses solely on enlightening his mind. Is Eustakhios better off than Ferreolus, or is Ferreolus happier than Eustakhios?

Is the good and happy life one of pure physical or intellectual inclination?

What would life be without a mind or corporeal pleasures?

The good life is indeed one of mixture. As Plato points out in his interchange, one cannot be truly happy if life is completely devoted to material or intellectual pleasures.

For without mind – like Eustakhios – one could not be able to tell if he was truly happy with all the material pleasures in the world! However, Plato says he would not be able to recall if he enjoyed anything; but quite the contrary, of course, all humans have memory, but Eustakhios would not be able to express his pleasures in a mindful and intellectual way – he would know only the materials themselves. He would only have an awareness of the sensible, and only find happiness in these inanimate objects. One might even be able to call him intellectually dull and have no true friends, for they only see him for his money and gifts – not as a smart or responsive creature: his relationships would be meaningless (and one of the most important things in life is the love, support, and consistency of friendships). The objects would serve as the only reminder of his life; his friends would mourn the loss of the gifts and extravagant parties, not Eustakhios.

The objects would be his guide in life. He would only seek out material pleasures, moving from object to object, only achieving happiness by obtaining these items. There would be no intellectual thought or emotional guidance, but only seeking these materials. He could not be happy without buying and surrounding himself with the objects.

As for the humble, but brilliant Ferreolus, his life would not be much better, although marginally enhanced. He would have unbounded “wisdom, knowledge, and memory of all things,”[12] and he would have half of the happiness in life. Separated from all physical pleasures – such as parties, games, theatre – he would not be able to experience the entertaining aspects of being human: the other half of happiness. He would not even be able to tell if he was happy because he does not know the actual feeling, he would only understand the idea of happiness.

Since he only takes gratification from his books, meditation, and his studies, he could not experience the emotional attribute of being human. He would be the perfect example of what people perceive as a “Stoic” – completely separated from any feelings at all. Conversely: the Stoics were not feeling-less at all, in fact, they frowned upon complete separation from emotion, but they strived to get rid of the “bad feelings,” and replace it with eupatheiai.[13] Along with being emotionally reserved, he would not be able to perceive his own sense of pleasure or pain. He would not be able to form friendships because one needs emotions to set a companionship – so he would ultimately be alone (like Plato’s solipsism).

Neither of these lives seem like the good or happy life. Which is why one must live in a logical mixture of these two. One should indulge in pleasures, and one should follow a life of the mind. However, pleasures should be regulated to moderate and occasional dealings, while one remains intellectually involved in what is going on. This way, one can experience both the pleasures of material and mind and live the good life and a happy life.

Friendship is of the utmost importance to a happy life: it contributes, more than anything, to the good and pleasant life. Epicurus clarifies it as the force that makes society possible.[14]

For Epicurus, friendship begins with the expectation of mutual benefit. But with time, through continuous contact and understanding, the feelings grow to genuine affection – with no expectation – ending with the sheer pleasure of having a friend. This friendship gradually elevates into the very greatest joy and pleasure in life. As Epicurus writes in his Principle Doctrine 27:

Of all things that wisdom provides for living one’s entire life in happiness, the greatest by far is the possession of friendship.


In this quote, the center of the Epicurean doctrine stands out: wisdom provides for the happiness of one’s life, the greatest being friendship.

Although the Stoics have been identified as the opposites of the Epicureans, they were not far off from Epicurus’ view. In regards to friendship, the Stoics show a clear diversion from Plato. Plato, on one side, thinks that the good life is reached by one’s own contemplation, in solitude.  Plato is solipsistic, while the Stoics give communication greater value. Communication is the way that the truth is transmitted from one person to the other through language and listening. As Epictetus writes: “We all have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”[15] This means that the involvement and communication with others is essential to the foundations of Stoic philosophy; and in order to communicate, one must have relationships with others. In brief, the importance of friends is vital to the Stoics.

The Stoic attitude is essentially positive: enjoy those who are with us while they are, but do not grieve when they go. The Stoics’ notion of love establishes that one must enjoy it while it is present. In regards to this, the goal of the Stoic philosophy is to learn how to control one’s emotions so you are never subject to painful emotions, which disrupt the inner harmony: one must remain positive, healthy, and maintain ‘rational’ feelings.

These feelings – rational emotions guided by logic– will prepare the Stoic to remain positive in the misfortunes of life.

But how can the Stoics make friendships and keep a working relationship?

Epictetus writes that tender affection is natural – it is not in our power not to feel attachment, or love. Epictetus says that fondness is a natural human emotion. Therefore, the Stoic is not supposed to be devoid of emotions, but should only ignore the over-intense emotional states.[16]

The Stoic can love others without allowing himself to be carried away by the intense emotions. Part of maintaining relationships involves easing the pain of others by providing emotional care and comfort. The Stoic who undertakes in comforting someone in sorrow sincerely wants the suffering to cease, but will not want it at all costs. They will not sacrifice their own happiness for the other’s corrupt and irrational feelings. In fact, by this logic, the Stoic does not sacrifice his own emotions in consoling. Thus, the Stoic shows sympathy, but does not feel sympathy, in order that his own soul is not subject bad feelings on account of mistaken judgment of another, brought about by an illogical judgment.

Also, Cicero writes in abundance on friendship and defines it as the greatest gift to man. In his Laelius: On Friendship, he writes:

All I, myself can do is to urge you to place friendship above every other human concern that can be imagined! Nothing else in the whole world to us so completely in harmony with nature, and nothing so utterly right, in prosperity and adversity alike.[17]


Cicero thought of himself as a follower of Plato’s philosophy and enjoyed Stoic philosophy. And in this passage, he expresses a quite Stoic thought: the harmony with nature. The founder of Stoicism, Zeno, had indicated that a good life was based on living in harmony with nature. Therefore, if friendship is in harmony with nature, friendship must be a necessary and natural occurrence that should be sought out between humans. Cicero continues by adding:

[…] how can life be ‘worth-living’ at all, […] unless it reposes on the mutual goodwill of friends? It is the most satisfying experience in the world to have someone you can speak to as freely as your own self about any and every subject upon earth.[18]


Friendship then adds to life, and according to Cicero, unites human hearts. And with no affection granted by friends, and kind feelings, life can hold no joy.[19]

Plato, on the other hand, in reversal, seems to have no interest in friendship. For him, the truth is sought out alone and understood alone. In fact, relationships would taint the truth of the soul as an external sense, which confuses the soul.

Whereas Plato does not encourage friendship as a way to the truth, he does consent to eros as an alternative method to find the truth. Eros, a form of love, is highly debated in Plato’s dialogues, especially in his Symposium.

In the Symposium, Plato concerns discusses the purpose and nature of love, and of course, the origin of what we call Platonic love. In this work, love is examined by a sequence of speeches: each speaker must deliver a speech in the praise of love. Socrates asserts that the highest form of love is to be a philosopher: a lover of wisdom. But Plato then discusses love in a way to define what it is.

According to mythology, humans were originally created with four arms, legs, and two faces, but they were too powerful and Zeus split them into two different beings; condemning them to spend their lives in search of this other half. And when these two halves meet, “[…] the pair are lost in amazement of love and friendship and intimacy and one will not be out of the other’s sight, as I may say, even for a moment […].”[20] Plato continues on:

[…] being slices of the original man, they hang about men and embrace them, and they are themselves the best of boys and youths, because they have the most manly nature. Some indeed assert that they are shameless, but this is not true; for they do not act thus from any want of shame, but because they are valiant and manly, and have a manly countenance, and they embrace that which is like them. And these when they grow up become our statesmen, and these only, which is a great proof of the truth of what I am saving. When they reach manhood they are loves of youth, and are not naturally inclined to marry or beget children, – if at all, they do so only in obedience to the law; but they are satisfied if they may be allowed to live with another unwedded; and such a nature is prone to love and ready to return love, always embracing that which is akin to them. And when one of them meets with his other half […][21], even for a moment: these are the people who pass their whole lives together; yet they could not explain what they desire of one another. For the intense yearning which each of them has towards the other does not appear to be the desire of lover’s intercourse, but of something else which the soul of either evidently desires and cannot tell, and of which she has only a dark and doubtful presentiment.[22]


In this quote, Plato quietly slips in his view of Forms, which are an ever-present theme.

He writes:

[…] yet they could not explain what they desire of one another. For the intense yearning which each of them has towards the other does not appear to be the desire of lover’s intercourse, but of something else which the soul of either evidently desires and cannot tell, and of which she has only a dark and doubtful presentiment.


In this section, the reader instantly picks up on his allusions. This “dark and doubtful” awareness of these “hazy desires,” suggests the knowledge of the immortal soul and the confusion of the body. While the body cannot make out what the desire is, the soul evidently tries to communicate this need, but the communication is vague, even though the want is apparent to both body and soul. This form of eros is promoted in Plato. Therefore, Plato is not completely against love, just a destructive form of love that is not intellectual: a damaging passion that leads one away from the truth. Nevertheless, this form of eros is the “pursuit of wholeness, for our desire to be complete.”[23] The philosopher can love, because it is within our soul and nature, but it cannot be a passionate love, it must be intellectual.

Eros guides the way for “the one who lacks what he is looking for.” As stated in the Symposium there are two kinds of love: one has noble purpose and the second is of the body, rather than soul. The love of the mind – the “noble purpose” – is the guide to the truth. In a translation by Benjamin Jowett, Diotima said:

[…] for he who would proceed in due course should love first one fair form, and then many, and learn the [connection] of them; and from beautiful bodies he should proceed to beautiful minds, and the beauty of laws and institutions, until he perceives that all beauty is of one kindred; and from institutions he should go on to the sciences, until at last the vision is revealed to him of a single science of universal beauty, and then he will behold the everlasting nature which is the cause of all, and will be near the end. In the contemplation of that supreme being of love he will be purified of earthly leaven, and will behold beauty, not with the bodily eye, but with the eye of the mind, and will bring forth true creations of virtue and wisdom […][24]


Eros is a way to learn to see the beautiful, and in the end, one will perceive the idea of absolute beauty. One should not see beauty separately in different things, but as “absolute, simple, and everlasting, which without diminution and without increase, or any change, is imparted to the ever-growing [beauty] of all things.”[25] Diotima progresses:

He who from these ascending [steps towards the truth] under the influence of true love, begins to perceive that beauty, [and] is not far from the end. And [in] the true order of going, or being led by another, to the things of love, is to begin from the beauties of earth and mount upwards for the sake of that other beauty […] [26]


These steps, ascending to the truth, may be climbed in solitude or under the guide of an elder philosopher (ergo the love of youth). The first step is recognizing “fair forms,” from the forms to “fair practices,” and from the practices to “fair notions,” then, finally, one can arrive at the notion of absolute beauty. Through eros, Diotima concludes:

[…] in that communion only, beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be enabled to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities (for he has hold not of an image but of a reality), and bringing forth and nourishing true virtue to become the friend of God and be immortal, if mortal man may.[27]


With eros – “that communion” – one can understand beauty in “the eye of the mind,” considering, as stated earlier, that love is virtuous and true and cannot be corrupted. One will be able to see the realities of beauty, and consequently, understand what beauty really is because in these passages, the beautiful symbolizes the Forms and therefore, the truth. The power of love is represented in the Symposium as running through all nature and all being and contributing to the attainment of the highest “vision:” truth.

Now, there remains this idea of the harmful love and our nature to love is reasonably similar to the Stoic idea of love. Love is a powerful force within all of us. Epictetus writes: “The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.”[28] Love is supposed to bring out the best of both people. This “harmful love” is the endangerment of the Stoic’s own feelings for another’s. The Stoic certainly does love, because it is human nature, and that means it is undoubtedly reasonable, but one should not risk your own happiness and love in the moment.

Epicureans also comment on this idea of harmful love. As stated before, the Epicureans seek out friendship and love in order to attain a good life. But, like Plato and the Stoics, there are limits. Lucretius states:

[…] that drop of Venus’ honey that first drips into our heart, to be followed by numbing heart-ache.[29]


This quote represents the vision that Lucretius has of love and to have caution with these dynamic passions.

As a conclusion: what is the aim of friendship? For Plato, it is a revelation of the truth, and the Stoics also agree with Plato: friendship is aimed at the revelation of truth through communication. However, the Stoics also find friendship to be an aim in itself; human feelings are natural, and therefore, are not bad passions, as well as for Epicurus, friendship is an aim within itself.

In conclusion, the idea of a lonely life – like Plato’s idea – seems to be quite sad, and go against the rather social philosophies of the Epicureans and the Stoics. Instead, friendships are indeed one of life’s greater things. From friends, one can learn the differences between these ideas; eventually understand what the truth is. Without this communication, one could not be able to understand the different views of truth – whether right or wrong.

Friendship is what contributes to the good life. Without friends, life would simply not be worth living.

Finally, the issue of death is defined in three distinctive terms in the Stoics, Epicureans, and Plato.

Plato believes in the eternal soul, which brings knowledge to the body upon entering it. But the body and the senses confuse the soul with unreliable and subjective contact with the world. As Plato describes: “[…] [the soul] strays and is confused and dizzy, as if it were drunk” (Phaedo, 79c). However, the soul must be reawakened, through consciousness. Yet, when it remains “itself” its straying comes to an end and it is able to understand the truth. In accordance with this idea, the soul is the intelligible being and the body is a perishable being (reflecting Plato’s dualism theory).

In Plato’s Phaedo, Plato asserts that not only is the soul immortal, but that it also is able to contemplate the truth after the separation from the body. In fact, Plato shows that death involves the continued existence of the soul. He declares that the soul, after a period of separation, then returns to another body. In the last line of Phaedo, Plato argues that the soul is immortal because it has life itself. It can be inferred that this argument applies to all living things, animals and plants (Phaedo, 70-71d), thus animating the body: “What is it that, when present in a body, makes it living? – A soul” (105c).

The Stoics distinguish three kinds of pneuma (“breath”), an air-like compound of two, fire and air, of the four elements. The lowest kind of pneuma accounts for the character of inanimate bodies (i.e. dirt); the middle, called natural pneuma, explains the functions of plant life. The third is the human soul. The third kind accounts for the use and reception of representations and impulses (movement), or desire. The soul is made distinctively for mental functions, like cognition, intellect, and desire.  Here, the soul is no longer in charge of bodily functions, but in command of mental and psychological responsibilities.[30]

For the Epicureans, the soul is made up of two parts: one irrational, and the other, rational. The rational part, animus, as called by Lucretius, is the origin of emotion, where beliefs and opinions are formed, and where inferences are made. The irrational, called anima, is responsible for impressions, and therefore, error.[31]

Epicurus is an atomist, the soul in his view, is ultimately composed of atoms. When the body dies, the soul – also made of atoms – disintegrates with it, while the atoms continue. As Lucretius, in The Nature of Things, writes, “[the soul] perishes with us, when death dissolves it…”[32]

No reincarnation, and no immortal soul.

Therefore, the fear of death should not be a concern, because death is the end of all emotion. William Ellery Leonard translates Lucretius:

Hence, where thou seest a man to grieve because / When dead he rots with body laid away, / Or perishes in flames or jaws of beasts, / Know well: he rings not true, and that beneath / Still works an unseen sting upon his heart, / However he deny that he believes. / His shall be aught of feeling after death.[33]


Concluding that death is nothing to fear, because that is the end of feeling, passions, desires – everything.

From the immortal soul in Plato, to the “material” soul in Epicurus, the ideas of what happens after one dies vary greatly in the mind of the philosopher.

In conclusion, in accordance with these three philosophers, death should not be feared because there is nothing to fear.

In conclusion, the Stoics and the Epicureans are not so different as one would have originally thought. In all the philosophies, whether the Stoics, Epicureans, or Plato, the good life leads to a pleasant life. In all philosophies, as explained earlier, promote virtue and justice in order to achieve the good life. Virtue, justice, and of course, the good, all lead to tranquility and a pleasant life, as stated earlier.

The common thought of Plato as the Stoic’s “father” of ideas may be true. But over the centuries, Stoicism evolved into a more complex school of thought. Eventually, this change would lead the Stoics to assume a closer connection with the Epicureans than to Plato.


[1] Russell, Bertrand (1945). The History of Western Philosophy. New York: Simon and Schuster

[2] Defined from Latin as “sea lungs,” referred to usually as a jellyfish.

[Pulmo (masc.): third declension: “a lung;” but with marinus: “a lung-like marine animal; a sea-lung, jellyfish.”] ( (


[3] Epictetus, The Discourses. Book 4.1.126. Book 3.21.9.

[4] Discourses. Book 2. 14. 7-8.

[6] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Stoicism.”

[8] Epicurus, Menoeceus 128-130

[9] See “Friendship & Relations” section


[11] The Roman form of “meditation,” however, this is a rough translation, and was much more than simple meditation.

[12] Plato, Philebus.

[Socrates: I want to know whether any one of us would consent to live, having wisdom and mind and knowledge and memory of all things, but having no sense of pleasure or pain, and wholly unaffected by these and the like feelings?]

[13] “Good feelings”

[14] See “Friendship & Relations” section

[15] “Epictetus,” Brainyquote, accessed 21 October 2013,

[16] Epictetus, Handbook of Epictetus, trans. Nicholas P. White (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1983), 15.


[17] Cicero, On the Good Life, “Laelius: On Friendship,” p. 185.

[18] Ibid. p. 188.

[19] Ibid. p. 226.

[20] Plato, The Symposium, The Internet Classics Archive, accessed 21 October 2013,

[21] See quote above.

[22] –, The Symposium, The Internet Classics Archive, accessed 21 October 2013,

[23] Plato, The Symposium, The Internet Classics Archive, accessed 21 October 2013,

[24] –, The Symposium, trans. Benjamin Jowett.

[25] Plato, The Symposium, The Internet Classics Archive, accessed 21 October 2013,

[26] –, The Symposium, The Internet Classics Archive, accessed 21 October 2013,

[27] –, The Symposium, The Internet Classics Archive, accessed 21 October 2013,

[28] “Epictetus,” Brainyquote, accessed 21 October 2013,

[29] Lucretius, “De Rerum Natura,” Sensation & Sex

[30] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Theories of the Soul,” The Stoic Theory of Soul, accessed on 20 October, 2013.

[31] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Theories of the Soul,” 5.1 Epicurus’ Theory of Soul, accessed on 20 October, 2013.

[32] Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, Book I, 114.

[33] Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, Book III, “The Folly of the Fear of Death.”

St Patrick’s Day and Liberalia and the Toga Virilis – By Sarah Walton

17 March has been a good excuse for a drink since Ancient Roman times. The Liberalia was a feast that celebrated the maturation of young boys to manhood.

For the Liberalia ceremony, Roman boys (around age 14), discarded the toga praetexta, which was decorated with a broad purple border. The boys donned the clothing of adulthood, the pure white toga virilis, or ‘man’s gown.’ The garment identified him as a Roman citizen and an eligible voter.

In the novel, Rufius throws a party for Aeson’s ‘Toga Virilis’ (coming of age). And Rufius reflects on his own ‘Toga Virilis’ – how he never really upgraded to the adult toga of a magistrate or senator, never qualified to wear an adult toga with wide purple boarders that singled out a man of his class, as his sexuality had excluded him from taking up public office. As a cinaedus (and effeminate man; the insult Latin implied he was the ‘receptive’ partner) was an ‘eternal boy’.

The celebration on 17 March was meant to honor Liber Pater, an ancient god of fertility and wine (like Bacchus, the Roman version of the Greek god Dionysus). Rufius approved of the wine-glugging!

Ovid mentions the feast in his almanac entry for the festival. This ancient rustic ceremony included a procession in which the devotees carried a large phallus through the countryside to bring the blessing of fertility to the land and the people. At the end of the procession, a virtuous and respected matron placed a wreath upon the phallus.

While Liberalia is a relatively unknown event in modern times, St. Patrick’s Day is an opportunity for modern Westerners to celebrate the Patron Saint of Ireland. It is possible that the reason these festivals share the same date is an example of the Roman Catholic Church choosing an existing pagan festival for a Christian one. There is no academic research I’m aware of to support this claim, but it is certainly a pattern.

Both St. Patrick’s Day and the Liberalia share the ritual of praising Bacchus by having a jolly good drink. Having Paddy blood flowing through my veins, I’ll raise my glass to both, by Bacchus!


Rufius, Sarah Walton’s debut novel is on sale at Amazon:


READ: Chapter 11 – FIRST SPEAR RUDIMENTA – By Brent Nielsen.

Chapter Eleven

“…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.

Danny Deever,

Rudyard Kipling


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?”

“I understand!”

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!”


READ: Chapter 10 – First Spear Rudimenta – By Brent Neilsen

Chapter Ten

“Art thou officer? Or art thou base, common and popular?”

Act VI, Scene 1

 Henry V

William Shakespeare


For most of the afternoon Tribune Lucius Aurunculeius Cotta had stationed himself near First Spear Petronius to observe pugio training between the Evocatii and the tiros of the 2nd Cohort. Although he and First Spear argued on the training format, Cotta had fairly danced with delight when the outnumbered shavelings nearly broke through a cohort of veterans.

“All the Centuries of the 2nd Cohort might have defeated those fat bastards if we had allowed them reserves!  Who commanded the last Century, the one that did beat them?” Cotta asked of Petronius.

“Dominus! Pilus Prior Quintus Carfulenus commands the 2nd Cohort but possesses no other centurios.”

“Those lads did very well! What Tesserarius led?”

“Dominus!” Petronius responded. “Two Tesserarii are jointly responsible for that company and each have command of forty.”

“‘Number One,’ which of them do you plan to promote?”

“Dominus, I will grant a temporary promotion to Pilus Posterior Centurio for Crastinus. It was he who drove in the attack that almost broke the evocatii. Galbus and Vorenus will serve as his Optios.”

“I agree! Keep me informed of their development and progress to permanent rank. Those young Milites are the type of leaders you want to groom for higher things!”

“Dominus! Promoveo Crastinus ad Centurio. Galbus et Vorenus promoveo ad Optio,” Petronius had answered in Latin.

“See how much cacca they can take?” Cotta had instructed.

“Dominus! Cacca,” replied Petronius.

“‘Number One,’ send Pilus Prior Carfulenus my compliments! He obviously knows how to train tiros!”

“Dominus, they drill well!” Petronius agreed with a hint of sarcasm Cotta either didn’t note or chose to ignore.


After draining, refilling, and draining the contents of their canteens once more, 2nd Cohort returned to the castrum and fell out to their mess areas. With Carfulenus nowhere to be found, on his own initiative Crastinus gave the newly promoted miles of his century permission to begin cooking their rations; stopping short of allowing them to remove their armor and side arms. Still awaiting Carfulenus’ return and wondering where Tafoya had got to, the contubernium commenced with the evening mess.

The preparation tasks for the meal rotated from night to night. This evening Gaditicus assembled a portable millstone and began grinding two different batches of flour from the frumenta ration, one fine for baking and a coarser version for porridge, flavoring the latter with salt and a few drops of their posca acetum.

Petro and Pullo added small amounts of water to the fine grind before kneading it into flat loaves, sprinkling each with salt and ground peppercorn, shaping them into small rounds before placing them in pans set out on coals tended by Bacculus. A large potera also took up space on the fire, heating water to a boil for the porridge.

Clustinus and Vorenus laid strips of salt pork across the metal pila shafts, carefully angled over the coals in a makeshift grill. Once the meat ration finished roasting it could be stirred into the porridge or seasoned and eaten separately according to individual tastes. Leftover water was saved for washing up when the meal was complete.

A slightly limping Pelitus arrived with the vinegar and water ration. By the time he doled out the posca acetum the water had come to a boil, the meat was grilled and the loaves were baked. Everyone was allowed to eat sitting. Leftover food was saved for breakfast and the next midday meal.

“Set some aside for Crastinus and Regi,” Vorenus reminded them.

“Where is he anyway?”

Vorenus grimaced at the two cracked fingers, forgotten as he wiped on his tunica and pointed toward the Via Praetoria.

“I’m sure he is still checking on the rest of the century, and Regi is with him so it will take longer.”

“So you know the man ith being hith outhaul pain in the ath!” Clustinus had a fat lip, a cut tongue, and a loose tooth.

“Why doth thine Centurio’s doith this? Why doith they that?” Pelitus mimed. His imitations made everyone laugh and helped them forget their bruises and cuts, except for Gaditicus who had three badly bruised ribs on his right side. The pain choked him, and he could only hold his breath and wipe away the tears caused by his own laughing. Bacculus laughed so hard at Gaditicus crying he forgot his messmate’s injuries and slapped him on the back, which caused more laughter. Sincerely sorry, Bacculus did his best to keep an eye-bulging Gaditicus from passing out.

While the laughter died down, Pelitus set aside covered bowls of food for both Crastinus and the Tribune.

The evening conversations never drifted far from the events of the day, their victory, their individual accomplishments and acts of courage against the veterans, and of course their promotions. Each man took turns relating how this bruise and that bruise had been acquired, forgetting how their injuries would look had the wounds been real cuts. Throughout the evening the rising leadership of Crastinus was discussed the most; however, Regi and Vorenus received due attention, much to the chagrin of Titus Pullo.

Unable to stand Vorenus’ name repeated a moment longer, Pullo finished off his posca acetum ration and stood.

“Well it was lively today! But I think you give Vorenus too much credit for our success.”

Eating left handed, Vorenus’ head snapped around, and he spat out the contents of his mouth, his eyes askance at Pullo.

“What are you talking about Pullo?”  Pelitus answered cautiously.

“It was Vorenus who came up with the idea for us to arrange ourselves for the fight,” Gaditicus added, his anger rising.

“Oh yes, he is never wrong! He always has the answers. Crastinus always takes his advice,” shouted Pullo pointing to Vorenus.

Vorenus stared into his drinking cup, exhaling through his nose to calm himself. Slowly he looked up, and his words coming out calmly if not dispassionately, the anger evident only in his eyes. No one else in the octet moved or spoke and conversations in neighboring mess fires died silent deaths.

“Crastinus trusts me because I speak the truth, and I speak when I am spoken to. In addition, I think before I speak, and my answers provide more than just a few moments of obscene humor. If he defers to me on occasion, it is because I act responsibly, and think past my next erection. Incidentally, I have enough blood for both dick and brain, so, unlike you, I don’t pass out with every hard on, ass sponge!”

Fingers snapped, Pullo responding with an obscene gesture.

“Fellator,” he roared back.

Vorenus’ left eyebrow rose slightly, his lips spreading into an evil smile at this foulest of insults.

“Irrumator,” he shot back, a double deadly affront.

With another obscene oath Pullo launched himself across a diminishing mess fire, crashing head first into Vorenus’ chest and knocking the wind out of him. No one interfered while the two grappled and gouged, exchanging blows while rolling back and forth on the ground.


Gambling was illegal in the army as it was in the streets of Rome herself. However, Legios and citizens alike made ingenious use of the technicalities in the law and bent the rules to escape punishment. Wagering on chariot races was a crime only if money changed hands in public, so winnings were collected privately, preferably behind closed doors. In the Legions there were few things available to bet on other than the men themselves, but it was done the same way and Pilus Prior Quintus Carfulenus was a happy man.

“Reversing the order of battle was a stroke of genius! I tripled my take when Crastinus and his bunch beat the veterans!  The lads made us lots of money, Tafoya!”

“We lost heavy on the first five Centuries,” replied the calone, “but worth it in the long run,”

Carfulenus smiled broadly at the steady stream of Centurios stopping in to pay up in cash, leave a chit, or an IOU while Tafoya stacked their winnings, making allowance for Petronius’ cut.

“They are no longer trainees,” Tafoya added with satisfaction. “Not only that! Our tiros’ beating the evocatii in a stand up fight and being promoted ahead of the rest of the cohorts added dignitas to your name! They still have a lot to learn, but when they make mistakes they are no longer subject to a beating from anyone but you!”

“No one beats them but me anyway!”

“You truly have put your mark on them, and I don’t mean with your vitis. They belong only to you now, Carfulenus!” Tafoya affirmed, completing the counting of the take for his Centurio.

When all bets were collected, more paper and chits remained piled on the field desk than actual hard cash.

“Carfulenus, you are not exactly rolling in silver, but the accumulated chits and the script could take years for some of these Centurios and Optios to make good on what they owe you!”

“Tafoya, I will probably never see payment in cash on most of these paper debts. I plan to bank them as a very different form of currency, against the day when they need a favor! You’ve been around long enough to know being owed is the real currency around here! I like to call it the principle of favors verses daggers!”

“What do the Romans call that?  The Latin phrase they use to explain it?” asked Tafoya when he failed to remember it himself.

“Quid pro quo. It is a sort of mutual back scratching.  I’ve been paid enough in coin to provide for my present needs. Those who paid with a note? Quid Pro Quo!  It will be favors or daggers!” Carfulenus said with satisfaction.

“I still don’t understand.”

“I, Quintus Carfulenus, am very rich in a currency much more valuable than actual money! The time may come when I will require the loyalty of certain Centurios, and it will be very important they pay up when I call for it. They will not like me very much if they do not!”

“Why would that be important? Next to the Prime Ordines in 1st Cohort, you are the most senior Centurio in the Legion!”

“If Petronius is wounded or burnt down, Fabius will be next in line for ‘First Spear.”

“Fabius as First Spear?” Tafoya exclaimed. “It would be too revolting! I don’t want to imagine such a scenario! Even Petronius, looking down on us from Mithras’ kingdom would not want that to happen!”

“There is a worse possibility, Tafoya.” Carfulenus poured a cup of posca acetum for himself. “How would you like to be taking orders from Fabius? Fabius right here in the 2nd Cohort! How would you like to answer to him as the Pilus Prior on a daily basis?”

Tafoya’s face took on a horrified expression.

“Stranger things have happened than demote a man to a lower ranking cohort,” he said.  “My guess, ‘Number One’ is very irritated with Fabius’ handling of the 1st Cohort today!”

“I agree, Tafoya! My sincere hope is Petronius will be so angry he will demote Fabius to any cohort but mine! I am next in line for promotion to 1st Cohort. If that happens I will need lots of clout to insure Fabius does not come here! And don’t forget, there is always the possibility I could be passed over!”

“You, passed over?” Tafoya exclaimed. “Carfulenus! How can you say that? You worked your entire career for the opportunity to serve in 1st Cohort! I thought that was the reason Petronius brought you with him from I Legion?”

“My next promotion will come in its own time! The bull is with me!”

“We protect the worthy,” replied Tafoya.

“But I will not see what I have built destroyed by that piece of CAC, irrumator Fabius!” Carfulenus made the Mithratic sign of invocation.

“Mithras protect us!” Tafoya answered with the equally secret sign of benediction.

“Crastinus did well today, leading the first Century. He took to it and they to him as naturally as I have ever seen. Maybe I will let him do it permanently?”

Carfulenus absently picking up a pair of denarii and holding the coins out.

“Tafoya, I could use a drink of decent wine. See to it for me will you?”

“Consider it done, Carfulenus!”


Tribune Caius Iulius accompanied Tesserarius Crastinus while the latter visited and chatted with every octet in the Century then went to the Valetudinarium to insure the men who needed medical attention were accounted for and taken care of by the medicos. On arrival, Medico Monacus noticed a blackening around Crastinus’ eyes and the dried blood from a cut on the bridge of his nose.

“Sure sign of a break or a deviated septum,” he diagnosed.

“What do you mean?” Crastinus asked.

“Thine nose! It bleedeth from across the top here!” Tribune Caius explained in his formal Latin, pointing to the bridge of his own nose.

“I never noticed it,” Crastinus replied. “Tribune, you do know you are bleeding too?”

“I did, but thou didst not complain!”

Monacus cleaned Crastinus’ face and placed a poultice of poppy head skin in his mouth.

“It will relieve the pain, but be sure to spit rather than swallow while the poultice is inside your lip!”

“Why? Will it make me sick?”

“Sick, well no Crastinus, not sick. Let’s just say swallowing that stuff could get to be a habit!”

The minor blunt force trauma on the Tribune Caius’ forehead was cleaned and treated with a bluish-looking substance Monacus called woad.

“Tribune, this blue stuff is very expensive; Clinicus Cordis buys it at his own expense; all the way from the ‘Tin Islands’ far to the north. It will protect the cut from a fester.” Monacus spread the goo over the cleaned wound and wrapped the Tribune’s head in clean linen.


Tafoya returned with the wine and miraculously, with change. Carfulenus gifted him with both a drink and the spare coin, then pulled long and deeply from the leather bag not bothering to mix the contents with water. After several draughts the Centurio was feeling relaxed and benevolent.

“I need to go down the Via Praetoria, find Titus, CAC, Gaius! I need to find Gaius Crastinus and his bunch!  Need to congratulate the lads for a job well done! Maybe even share out a bit of the purse?”

“Excellent idea! I will go with you!” Tafoya agreed.

Carfulenus rose from his field stool using one of the support poles of his papillon to steady himself. Jamming his crista transversa on his head, he tied the cheek pieces together then retrieved his vitis.  Walking at somewhat of an angle, he made his weaving way down the Via Praetoria in the general direction of the mess fires of First Century, 2nd Cohort.


The wrap on Tribune Caius’ forehead prevented him from wearing his boiled leather galea with its horsehair comb and bronze visor.

Unfortunately, the wound isn’t serious enough to slow his usual volley of questions.

Patiently trying to cooperate with the Tribune, Crastinus was dog-tired exhausted and distracted by the large number of injuries he’d seen this night, so his answers were uncharacteristically brusque. Tribune Caius soon noticed.

“Thou art unusually short this night, Tesserarius! ‘Tis most unusual! What troubles thee?” he asked.

Busted, thought Crastinus, dodging the question and changing the subject in proper Latin.

“Classime!  Today didst thou talk as a Legio!  Where didst such language come from?”

“Tesserarius!  I possess a gift for speech that is well known in Rome!”

“I believest thou,” replied Crastinus, honestly surprised.

“I also possesseth a reputation for my ability to listen!”

Crastinus’ patience finally broke. He liked the Tribune but was too tired and switched to camp Latin.

“Dominus, would it be so bad if you were to drop that ‘hoity toity’ Roman when you speak with us?” Crastinus said without rancor. “Most of the men are plain, simple country boys mixed in with some equally ignorant city fellows. All would be much more impressed if you spoke to them in camp Latin or, even better, our own language.”

“Crastinus! I apologize. But I have been listening to you and your messmates! I do want to learn your Hispania.”

“Baetica,” corrected Crastinus with a wry grin. He was tired and his nose hurt, but he remained civil.

“Baetica? Is that how you say it?  Crastinus, you have my word. I will learn to speak your language and to speak to thine ranks in camp Latin. How do you Baeticans say it? As ya’ll do?”

“As all ya all!” Crastinus replied, his weary smile still in place.

“The Tesserarius on our left today? His name is Galbus?”

“Galbus is his name, Dominus,” Crastinus answered. It was not for the last time he would be amazed at Tribune Caius’ uncanny ability to remember names of people he met only once.  “Galbus. He doesn’t look very fierce but had he not, we would have taken that licking you mentioned earlier!”

“Galbus and his forty did well! Gaius Crastinus – I may call you Gaius? I know thee are exhausted, but there is something else in thy demeanor tonight. What’s broiling in thee – you?”

Crastinus drew a deep breath before he answered.

“Dominus, when we were at the mess fires in the Valetudinarium, did you did hear the Tiros, I mean the Miles, from the other Centuries of our cohort bragging about so called ‘wounds’ they took today even though they had their heads handed to them by the Evocatii?”

“Bragging? They were bragging! What about them?”

“Did you noticed their injuries would have been permanent had this been a real fight?  CAC!”  For some reason it didn’t seem much like swearing to Crastinus’ ears when he cursed in Latin.

“Dominus, I have a broken nose and no idea how or when I got it; but someone got through my guard.  If it had been a real fight…I would most likely be dead. Dead!  I don’t care how unlucky it is to say the word. That is where most of us would have been in the real thing – dead.  Bacculus, Clustinus and Gaditicus as well!  All dead! Vorenus maimed!  Pelitus crippled! Petro and Pullo the only survivors out of eight men! There are the fifteen we visited tonight in the hospital, fifteen who are still with the medicos and should be getting an amputation or a cauterization. After a real fight we will not get stitched or poulticed!” Crastinus spit out the poppy treatment even though the swelling at his nose was beginning to obscure his vision.

Tribune Caius Iulius regarded Crastinus for a moment but said nothing. Crastinus didn’t wait for permission to continue.

“Dominus, the Primus Pilus did not just declare First Century the winner! He told the entire Legion that 2nd Cohort won today when he promoted us all! I am not sure it was a good idea! A real fight?  Do the math, Tribune! We would not be visiting injured sword mates; we would be burning their bodies and burying the ashes. Right now I don’t know what to say to them; they are so full of themselves I don’t think they will listen to me!”

Tribune Caius switched his galea from one arm to another, then clapped a hand on the larger man’s shoulder.

“I have a feeling that before anyone stops listening to you, you will be well on your way to Tartarus or perhaps the kingdom of Mithras?”

Crastinus snorted, unconvinced.

“In my youth I was, per the wishes of my maternal uncle, to be trained as a priest of Jupiter,” the tribune continued. “Acolytes are not permitted to ride, even handling weapons is forbidden, so I received none of the martial training my contemporaries received. Ultimately I gained release from my holy vows when I was not much older than you are now. While traveling in the eastern provinces I was captured by pirates who insulted my dignitas by offering a paltry sum for my freedom. When they told me I was horrified! It was an insult, and I made them double the amount! I swore to them, once I was free I would see them crucified!  When I was finally exchanged, at the amount I set, I made my way to Rhodes, raised a company of veterans, arranged for ships to carry them and hunted my kidnappers down until I had fulfilled my vow!”

“Incredible!” Crastinus exclaimed.

“Since that time I served on my required campaigns, but on someone’s staff with precious little actual time spent in the cohorts. While training with you and your comrades, I have gained an invaluable skills and experience as well as an understanding for what you men feel, need and must endure! Your cohort will be fine! There is no doubt in my mind you and your comrades will soar to glorious heights sooner than you think. Is my camp Latin improving?”

Crastinus never answered, for the sounds of a fight could be heard close by and as they got closer to the 2nd Cohort area it grew more distinct. Excusing himself from the Tribune, he ran to investigate.


“You would think they got enough of that today!” Balventius exclaimed.

“Balventius, they are immature,” Aponius commented without looking up from his meal. “One day, octets like Sextus’, it is Sextus’ octet isn’t it? One day they will learn to mind their own business and stay out when a fight irrupts in another mess area!”

“Definitely not a good idea to take sides!” Lucanius agreed.

“Especially when the disturbance smells of Pullo and Vorenus!” Aponius agreed.

“They are not veterans like we are; they have only a few months into their first sixteen and are still getting to know one another. They still possess that naive sense of justice that tramps all, over good common sense, the kind of common sense that grows only when it is liberally dosed with experience. How many seasons have they spent sleeping under leather tents? How many extended marches to a fight? They will learn to let their real enemies take the place of their imagined ones!”

“Aponius, you are right of course,” Balventius affirmed. “Frequent dances with death sap one’s inclination to jump into a fight without thinking or, worse yet, just for the joy of it.”

He and Lucanius eyed the brawl but remained seated.

“Those miles certainly wasted no time investigating facts,” Lucanius drawled. “No thought given to consequence enters those with apricots for brains!”

“There was a time when we didn’t either,” Aponius asked. “No! We didn’t care who started it or who deserved it! It looks like these bloodthirsty little scuts are the same; all they see is the funny one. What’s his name? Their favorite? The one who makes everyone laugh with his dirty road-march songs?”

“He is Pullo from Crastinus’ contubernium!” Balventius answered.

“Why is Pullo under attack by his octet leader?” Aponius looked up this time.

“Because Balventius, Crastinus is no longer the octet leader! You are right about who deserves it and such! Personally I no longer give a fig for justice; I just want quiet!”

Lucanius spooned the last of his dinner into his mouth.


Bacculus and Gaditicus, bad ribs and all, strove desperately to get Vorenus off Pullo while Clustinus, Petro and Pelitus struggled to prevent Pullo from drawing his pugio.

Other First Century octets were gathering, their anger mounting as they came to the erroneous conclusion it was an eight against one brawl with their hero Pullo getting the worst of it.

“Galbus is not around,” said Ussurus. “Let’s help him!”

“It is undisciplined,” added Ussurus Secundus, his brother.

“It’s stupid,” said Toparius.

“It’s ridiculous!” one of the Fultus brothers added.

“They are holding him down,” shouted Venture.

The five dove in.


Making his unsteady way along the Via Praetoria with Tafoya trailing respectfully behind, neither heard the telltale sounds of a fight until they rounded a corner.  When he did, Carfulenus dropped his vitis at the scene before him!  With an oath of his own Tafoya bounded past the Centurio to do what he could as the members of Sextus’ contubernium crashed into their neighbors, sending them flying in all directions and breaking the main antagonists’ grip on one another. Vorenus was able to get in a punch, crying out in pain when his fist smashed into Pullo’s jawbone, breaking his already injured fingers. Spitting blood and howling with rage, Pullo drew his pugio.

With his good hand Vorenus wrenched Pullo’s dagger hand up and away using his shoulder to throw him sprawling to his back as the members of both octets about them pushed, punched, and choked one another other in total disregard for the discipline Carfulenus believed had been beaten into them.

From other cohort mess fires, a large crowd began to gather and a few joined the mayhem, but most were content to cheer the recalcitrant pair while remaining safely neutral.

In the center of the melee, Vorenus had Pullo by the throat with his left hand and the dagger in his damaged right at high thrust aimed directly for the point between the collarbone and the neck, a death stroke. Vorenus’ left knee was on Pullo’s right arm, the right foot pinioned Pullo’s left wrist to the ground.

The injury to Vorenus’ hand made it difficult to hold the weapon. He hesitated a moment to get a better grip on the blade when suddenly he heard a shouted cry.

“Lucius! No!”

A massive form hit hard enough to knock Vorenus off Pullo; it caught his right wrist in a vise-like grip, forcing it behind his head. An excruciating pressure on the knuckle above his already injured fingers allowed the weapon to be twisted away easily.

“No, Lucius,”  he heard again.

Thick arms held Vorenus’ head close enough to the chest to cut off his oxygen. The latter heard a rasping whisper close to his ear.

“They will hang you! Stop it! Stop it now!”

Vorenus stopped struggling. His unabated anger turning to tears, welling up not just in his own eyes but also from the pair belonging to Gaius Crastinus.


Recovering his sobriety,  a cursing Carfulenus waded into the fight, his brick like body making a hole in the crowd, with his vitis indiscriminately raining blows on anyone foolish enough to remain within reach. He stopped briefly over the forms of Crastinus and Vorenus, stopped himself from striking either, but continued flailing away on everyone else until the crowd dispersed and a voice bellowed up from the darkness.

“As you were! Fall in! Stacio!”

The twenty odd Legios remaining on the ground, and failed to get away from Carfulenus, instantly sprang to attention.

Favoring the good leg, Primus Pilus Marcus Petronius appeared, his expression homicidal, his complexion a deep shade of crimson. Nearly, but not completely speechless with anger, he began spewing oaths in command voice.

“You fatherless sons of fucking whores! Worthless patches of dog squeeze! Brainless pieces of shit,” bellowed the peg-legged centurio, stumping in amongst them, daring anyone to eye him back.

“Fuck you, you fucking fucks! I will see all of you scum flogged! Which one of you dog flowers is senior?”

Crastinus took a step forward, saying nothing.

“This is how you maintain discipline? What in the great blue fuck is going on here? Did you not get enough of this shit today? Is this how you thank me for promoting you?” Before Crastinus could answer, Vorenus stepped forward.

“Classime! It was a legio’s fight!”


“Don’t hand me that pigshit! There is no such thing! A legio’s fight, my virgin aunt! A legio’s fight gets a legio flogged!”

Petronius stumped to the discarded pugio, noting that only one man missing one – Pullo.

Swinging around on his prosthesis, he passed Pullo, hawked a wad of phlegm on the ground and recovered the weapon, then limped over to stand nose to nose, eyeball to eyeball with Crastinus.

“You know the fucking penalty for permitting a fucking fight?  Fighting with skinned weapons?” Pullo took a step forward.

“Classime! Tesserarius Crastinus was not present when the fight broke out!”

Petronius stumped back over to Pullo.

“Pullo! When I want some lip out of you I will untie my breech-clout! It doesn’t matter whether this asshole was fucking present or not! He is responsible for everything you ‘dog flowers’ do or don’t do, pass, fail, win, or fucking lose!”

Pullo’s mind raced, but he maintained his rigid posture and a static eye. He liked and admired Crastinus as much as he hated Vorenus and knew that anything more he might say in the former’s defense would only do more damage.

“Pullo! You piece of shit! Are you responsible for this weapon?”

Before Pullo could answer, Petronius slammed the blade into its proper sheath. “The penalty for not being in possession of issued side-arms is death!”

Eyes closed and throats gulped dry air. Corporal punishment went beyond the daily thrashings dispensed by angry Centurios and was conducted during Tribune Cotta’s weekly Commander’s Call.

“You are all familiar with Commander’s Call?  The formation where the regulations and the penalties for breaking them are read aloud to everyone in the Legion? Where corporal punishment is meted out to transgressors of those regulations? Where most punishments are a mixture of floggings, reductions in grade, and forfeitures of pay? There had been as yet no death penalties carried out, but there is a first time for everything!”

Petronius resumed his stumping stroll, stopping once more in front of Crastinus.

“The penalty for allowing a side are to be taken from your person is?” he roared.

“Classime! Ten strokes!” Crastinus replied. Closed eyes opened, everyone breathed easier.

“The penalty for breaches in discipline, fighting, is?”

Petronius leaned forward and held his hand to one ear, cueing the soldiers standing before him to answer altogether as they had been drilled to.

“Classime! Five strokes!”

“Five strokes for fighting! So everyone here can expect at least five lashes at next Commander’s Call!”

Petronius’ peg leg was painful against the stump. It always hurt when he felt stressed. He ignored it to swing it over to stand in front of Pullo, Crastinus, and Vorenus.

“Pullo! Vorenus! Five lashes each for breach of discipline!”

“Five to Pullo for allowing his side arm to be taken, and five more to Vorenus for improper use of side arm, and five more for skinning a side arm without orders. Fifteen lashes each!”

“Classime,” Crastinus spoke up. “I assume full responsibility! If you flog them, I demand you punish me as well!”

Petronius eyed Crastinus malevolently.

“Say you so? Well, I have news my young want-to-be-Centurio! You will suffer! Not as they do! But you will suffer!” Petronius stumped closer, put his finger in the younger man’s chest, speaking low so only Crastinus could hear.

“Tesserarius! I realize you cannot be everywhere at once, so I expect you to take this like a man! I will know once and for all if you are truly Titus Crastinus’ son. You will administer punishment. You will flog every one of these assholes, and rest assured if you lay off, the strongest drummers of the Tympanere will hand you the same beating you are going to give your men, then you will spend the next sixteen years taking orders from the lowest calone of the most posterior cohort, sweeping out the latrine and cleaning the ass-sponges of your former sword mates, from now to the day you burn in Tartarus! Do I make myself clear?”

“Classime,” Crastinus replied. “Clear!”









READ: Chapter Nine – FIRST SPEAR RUDIMENTA – By Brent Neilsen

The veterans were drawn up in a dense mob.

“Mob is right,” exclaimed Gaditicus with a whistle. There was no other word for it.

As far as Crastinus could see there was absolutely no resemblance to the precisely ordered and disciplined formation the tiros had witnessed the day they were sworn in. It was the third, and rumor had it, the last month of their training. To his still-inexperienced eyes, there was no formation at all, no order, and no discipline to the formation the veterans had put together for the exercise.

More disturbing, the evocatii were jumping up and down like apes, shouting obscene epithets, exposing themselves or both.  For the most part the insults referenced lower intelligence, dubious parentage and deviant sexual preferences of the trainees. Every act was contrary to all the exemplary behaviors they had helped the Centurios beat into the tiros since the first day of their service.

Most of them had outrageously decorated and ornamented their armor, but many were bareheaded, but with fake beards and hair spiked like a rooster’s comb. Others used their horsehair helmet plumes to make ridiculously long mustachios or intricately woven coifs. A large number had used mess fire charcoal to draw intricate but obscene tattoos on their naked chests and faces. Still others had bird wings or curved fangs grotesquely attached to the sides of their bronze cassia.

The 1st Cohort Signa and Vexellae, which always accompanied them wherever or whenever they traveled, were conspicuously absent, substituted by staffs decorated with facsimiles of various priapic animals mounting the figure of a Legio bent at the waist or on his hands and knees. Most were not carrying them but several evocate shields bore the crude chalk renderings of broken bones, and everyone was armed with a rudis twice longer than the wooden side arm carried by the tiros.

The effect was exactly what First Spear Petronius desired.

“Intimidation, confusion, shock and awe!”

“‘Number One!’ Don’t forget treachery,” added Aponius. “They are commanded by Fabius.”

“For once I’ve convinced Tribune Cotta to allow a tried and true method for pugnatio training,” replied Petronius. “The Tribune employed the same arguments I used against him on the pila training. When he realized that I had him, he went red in the face but conceded. Is 1st Cohort organized as I instructed?”

“Classime, the five Centuries are divided into three groups which will rotate to the front at each iteration of tiros. First Century is double strength and will rotate in alone.”

“Excellent,” exclaimed Petronius. “The tiros have been drilling with the rudis against wooden posts, man to man against each other, octet-to-octet, century against century, even cohort verses cohort! What they have NOT encountered is a survivor of a life or death fight who can make them pay for their mistakes without actually killing them! This should be good, but I have another reason for elevating the level of training.”

“Another reason?” replied Aponius.

“The evocatii have grown soft simply supervising tiros,” confessed Petronius. “Tartarus! I noticed a roll of flab half the thickness of my little finger around my own waist a few days ago! That was why you and I teach pugnatio to the Cornicens and Tympanistas; we needed the exercise!”

“I enjoyed that ‘Number One,” Aponius affirmed. “What they lack in musical talent, they more than make up for with enthusiasm for weapons training!”

“It is the veterans I’m concerned about,” the First Spear declared. “Too many abuse their status to slack off fitness training. Today we will see a shake up for more than just the tiros.”


First Century, 2nd Cohort, stood at parade rest in open Manipulos Laxare battle order waiting their turn in the training lane. Tesserarius Crastinus walked across their front one last time, ensuring the ranks were still properly dressed to the right, five octets across and eight ranks deep. Each tiro was extended to the left, double arms distance apart, odd numbers two steps off to the left with five feet of distance between each, fore and aft, left and right.

Sixth Century went in first, Crastinus visually gauged the width of the marked out “lane” of white rocks set a few feet apart in line to simulate the flanking centuries during a real fight. Centurios and Optios stood ready to beat anyone who stepped outside these lines.

“Regardless what Carfulenus drilled into us about balance, timing and distance,” said Vorenus standing in the ranks, “you all know that when we get scutum-to-scutum with the veterans, we are going to compact on ourselves. Everyone is going to drift to the right for the overlapping protection of his nearest companion’s scutum. It’s already happened too many times when we scrimmaged against ourselves!”

“So what do we do?” demanded Galbus, joining the impromptu war council.

“The only thing left! Attitude and momentum – we put that to work for us,” replied Vorenus, watching Sixth Century get their collective asses handed to them.

As Vorenus predicted, the Fifth, and later Fourth Century stepped off with properly dressed and spaced ranks but very soon were closing down to the right, the formation degenerating into a pushing match against veterans out numbering them two to one. Time and again the more numerous and experienced evocatii turned the tiro’s left flank. Each and every time the tiros ultimately were pressed in so tightly they could no longer use their weapons to defend themselves, and the veterans used their longer weapons to give the youngsters a good thrashing.

“I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to be trapped like that,” said Galbus.

“We are about to find out if we don’t figure a better way,” answered a grim Crastinus.

“They won’t really hurt us seriously,” exclaimed Gaditicus hopefully.

“I agree with Gaditicus. The worst they will do is bruise us up a little and humiliate us a lot,” added Bacculus.

“I have a deep feeling in my gut there will be a lot of both!” declared Vorenus, joining Crastinus scanning the maneuver lane. “Gaius, no 1st Cohort Centurios are participating; they have no leaders to tell them to do anything different.”

“You noticed that too.” whispered Crastinus. “Once we engage, our peripheral vision will be obstructed to the left.  It will be up to you and I in the center and Galbus on the far left to keep it together. You have to be ready to take over if someone thumps me with one of those clubs!”

“No worries!” answered Vorenus as discretely.  “I just wish I knew Galbus better! You know what I mean? I wish I had a feel what he may or might not do!”

“I trust Carfulenus’ choice. Galbus will be fine!” Crastinus whispered back, still observing the training and reviewing in his mind the mistakes of the previous four clashes. Third Century, finished with their turn in the lane, was limping past. “Our biggest problem is too many of our mess have seen the beating the others are taking and not a few being carried from the lane!”

“Those lads in there now are getting creamed too! I would say the veterans know their business with or without a Centurio!” said Gaditicus.

“I wonder; why did Carfulenus put us in last?” declared Bacculus irritably. “We should have gone first!”

Vorenus nudged Crastinus.

“Are you seeing what I am seeing?” he whispered. “Bacculus may be on to something. Look over there! I see the reason we are last!”

Fast and furious was the betting between the centurios standing outside of the rock line boundary, and large amounts of money were being exchanged over the performance of 2nd Cohort’s Second Century, fighting against the veterans now.

“I don’t understand! What’s the betting got to do with it?” Galbus demanded.

“So far no Century from ours or any other cohort has managed better than a draw against the Evocatii.” Vorenus explained. “Carfulenus is setting them all up. All the big money is against us!  I figure the odds are high against us, and we are last because the old bastard has something under his tunic! Carfulenus gets them to keep betting by offering slightly longer odds!”

“Now he bets on us at terrifically long odds?” Clustinus asked.

“Not exactly,” Crastinus declared. “More likely, he is counting on us to figure a way to win when no one else has!”

“Have you noticed that the boundaries for the drill extend only as far as our century’s extended flanks?” said Vorenus.

“It means that although the veterans out number us and have greater depth, they cannot engage any more men to their front than we can,” Crastinus added. “Petronius ordered the drill to be conducted with the utmost realism. Those rock lines are supposed to be flanking Centuries in a Legion formation.”

“So what? They rotate their files from front to back, same as we can,” said Gaditicus.

Vorenus suddenly grabbed Crastinus’ arm.

“Crastinus! Notice how many of the Evocatii are sweating enough to stop and wipe away the blue stuff running down their faces?”

“I do!”

“Have you noticed the jumping and the hooting slacked off and most of the Evocatii, especially the flabbier ones on our left, took the last of the water from their canteens before the whistle kicked off the last drill?”

“How do you know this?” asked Bacculus.

“I watched them holding their water bottles over their mouths and nothing but a few drops spilling out,” answered Vorenus.

Crastinus turned around to face the tiros behind him.

“They’re tired! They’ve been at this all day, and they’re out of shape!”

“You’re right,” Bacculus agreed, “they are wasted.”

“They have no centurios to tell them different, so they do the same thing every time,” said Crastinus loudly enough for the rear ranks to hear. “When we strike, we must drive into them low and on their left! Keep going in low! Drive in and up with your scuta, but we must drive to the left!”

He was rewarded with growls of agreement and finger snapping from his messmates.

Venture lowered his scutum and turned his head slightly towards Crastinus.

“They are twenty files across and sixteen deep,” he whispered. “We don’t have a chance in a push against them!”

“We do if we assemble in a way they won’t expect.” Vorenus suggested. “Crastinus, what would you say to aligning sixteen across and five deep?”

“What? Are you insane?” exclaimed Venture.

“Vorenus is right,” said Crastinus. “We are in better shape, and they have been doing this all day! They are tired, and we are fresh!  If we hit them hard enough they will break!”

“We can load up with our largest mates on the left and drive hard into them from that side,” added Vorenus.

“We roll them up!” said Crastinus with a rare, but contagious smile.

“Crastinus, what about this?” Vorenus suggested. “Keep Galbus on the far left; you and I remain in the center with Pelitus directly behind. Pullo and Petro can follow with Clustinus, Gaditicus, and Bacculus pushing all of us from the rear. Sextus and his eight can be immediately to our left while Munatius and Venture here take the far right.”

As the plan came together Crastinus’ face grew fiercer; he turned and faced the rest of the Century.

“Galbus, you and everyone on the left must knock the first three ranks to your immediate front down on their backs! Make them fall on top of their rear ranks to create as much confusion as you can. Venture! Galbus! You and yours don’t have to push as hard, but make them think you are while you keep them from closing us down to the right! Those of us in the center will knock down as many of them as we can, but we must concentrate on the push through the fat boys in the center. Everyone in the rearmost ranks adds their weight to the push! Those of you in the rear ranks must go in low at our backs and help us keep the momentum going for as long as we can! If you get the chance, go for their feet or their legs with your rudis or your scutum!”

Crastinus was suddenly interrupted by a new voice.

“Get in low, stay close and push, but cover down to the left.”

Crastinus’ face turned from stern resolve to pleasant surprise. Tribune Caius joined them wearing a common Legio cassis on his head, armed with a scutum and a wooden rudis.

“Keep pushing,” he continued in near perfect Legion vernacular. “Crastinus is correct. Those people are experienced, but they are thirsty and tired! Strike only if they expose themselves!  Stab or bash quickly at the knees and the shoulders! Make it hurt! But keep pushing on the left! Venture! You and your men on the right just fight them! Give them something of a push, but whatever you do don’t allow them to spin us! Their right can’t be allowed to flank us, and if we push hard enough against the left they won’t be able to swing the longer weapons!  We can push them into their own rear ranks! Crash into them!  Keep driving! Go hard at them to your left! They are no longer able to sustain a prolonged shoving match. They want to beat you up and get to their bath! You can, you must, knock them down!”

“Legios!” Crastinus harangued, “you heard him! Make their front ranks on the left fall back on the rear ranks! If you have to cover down, then close to your left and drive them as hard as you can! Try to stay in formation, but don’t worry about it as long as you are driving them! We will force them to open in the center and drive through! Galbus Vorenus, Pullo Sextus, Venture! Everyone! Get into position!”

They had just enough time to rearrange their formation before First Spear Petronius gestured to Aponius to announce the task, conditions and standards for the training exercise.

Fabius noted the modified formation of the advancing tiros and made his own adjustments prior to the first signal.

“Only the first eight ranks need to counter-charge. The remaining ranks can hang back and relax,” he ordered confidently. “One-hundred sixty and experienced veterans ought to be enough to deal with eighty green tiros ranked only five deep!”

Taking that as a cue, Septimus rushed to add more money on an already heavy wager.

“Experience and treachery will defeat youth and speed,” he exclaimed to Carfulenus, who took the bet with a smile and silence.

“The Task,” the Aquilifer shouted in Latin. “Conferre! Close attack!”

“Conditions; in daylight, under variable weather conditions, against a hostile force with an odds ratio of not less than two, not to exceed four to one. Hostile force is partially equipped with defensive equipment. Friendly force projectiles have been thrown. No Centurio in command.  Side arms: training weapons only.” Aponius paused slightly between each training condition to make sure the tiros understood what was expected.

“Standard; engage and defeat the opposing force. Maintain proper discipline and individual spacing. Penetrate or push the opposing force until it breaks, collapses or retreats.”

The standards disseminated, Aponius blew his whistle.

“Milites! Procedite,” commanded Crastinus as First Century stepped off from the left foot. Half the intervening distance passed under their boots before he shouted the order to advance at the rush.

In accordance with the prearranged rules imposed by Petronius, when the third signal was given the veterans counter-charged with Gallic screams and whoops.

“Signa Infere!”

The nervous tiros picked up the pace to double time, getting faster as they cut the distance to one third and heard the final whistle signal.

“Signa Conferre!”  Crastinus bellowed.

At a dead run, the tiros closed the final distance, crashing into the Evocatii, as planned, heavily on the left.  t was a resounding collision. The crunching wicker, the clang of bronze on bronze, the thump of bone and muscle, screams and the air forced out of lungs. Crastinus led the way with Vorenus, Pullo Gaditicus Bacculus and Clustinus forming an elongated wedge behind, Pelitus and Petro filling in next to Tribune Caius Iulius who urged everyone on from the center. Sextus and his octet followed on Crastinus’ immediate left adding weight to the wedge when it speared into the veteran’s line just off of the center.

Six big veterans were, on impact, knocked off their feet into the following rank. Follow up ranks of veterans collided with those driven backward; the effect rippling rearward as the younger, fresher, and fitter tiros came in low and hard, smashing with scuta into the arms, legs, and faces of veterans. A few tiros attempted rudis strikes, but most adhered to the plan, going in low and pushing.

A miracle! More veterans on the ground than us!

Crastinus and his comrades drove forward, pushing, digging in with their feet and using lower legs to maintain momentum, gaining more leverage and advantage against the larger and more numerous evocatii.

With no idea how Galbus was doing on the left or what Venture and Munatius were doing on the right, Crastinus and his followers began overlapping their scuta as the more numerous veterans forced them more closely together. Keeping low on the push the tiros followed Crastinus’ example, hob-nailed caligae digging into the rocky ground, driving with their legs and locking out the knees in short steps as Pelitus and Petro barked out a cadence to keep the momentum. Not a small man, Sextus and two of his larger messmates added their weight to the ruck while Tribune Caius, inescapably locked in the wedge pushed as hard as anyone else, thoroughly enjoying every minute of the sweat, dirt and exertion.

Surprised to be thrown off their footing, falling backward on top of one another, and with no one telling them what to do, the veterans were powerless to stop Crastinus and his mates adding attitude and momentum to Carfulenus’ dictum of balance, position, timing and distance.

The third through fifth rank Tiros in the files added more weight to the drive by pressing their shields directly into the backs of the first rank men.  Driving with short chopping steps, Crastinus stepped on several veterans without touching them with his sidearm.  Pelitus and Petro took care of that particular chore, making vicious little “kill” strokes with the blunt tips of their rudis on the veterans knocked to the ground by their larger sword mates. The fourth and fifth ranked tiros to either side of the two diminutive Legios delightedly followed their example or stomped at solar plexus, or kicked in the groin any veteran attempting to rise.

Grinning wolfishly, Carfulenus turned to a suddenly crestfallen Septimus.

“They have been paying attention,” he exclaimed to Septimus, who had by now decided not to increase his already large wager.

As planned, the momentum on right flank remained a stagnant brawl, but Crastinus’ drive created a five to six rank salient deep in the center. Galbus had successfully knocked down several ranks of veterans on the left and created enough confusion to guarantee little if any pressure from that side, but failed to make any more progress forward. With progress easier in the center, more and more rear ranked tiros drifted there, adding more and more momentum to the drive, aiding the wedge to grow wider and deeper with each chopping step.

“It isn’t going exactly the way we planned,” Vorenus grunted.

“No, but we aren’t getting our asses kicked either,” Crastinus answered with a rare oath.

Desperate to regain their footing some veterans grabbed at the edges of the younger Legio’s shields, but sharp cracks on the knuckles with a rudis loosed their grip, forcing more and more to fall backward on top of their comrades.

Crastinus’ wedge penetrated deeper and deeper into the exhausted veteran’s eighth and ninth ranks. He could see his right flank was no longer pressing forward, but were holding along the rock boundary. Vision to his far left was obscured, but he could feel the men on that flank were still driving forward albeit much more slowly.

Raging at their imminent financial ruin, centurios and optios from all cohorts cracked their vita on the heads and backs of veterans driven out of bounds by Crastinus and his fellow tiros. Balventius and Lucanius rushed to the rear of the 1st Cohort where their vita staffs drove the unengaged veterans to assist their exhausted sword brothers on the verge of a collapse and disgrace. Whether from sharp blows, barks of command, or shrill notes blown on whistles, the uncommitted evocatii recovered their side arms and joined in.

Crastinus’ wedge had driven in deep enough to see the open ground between the engaged and unengaged veterans.

“Only a short way to go,” he urged.

“Keep pushing,” Caius shouted, “keep moving!” Crastinus smiled at the Tribune’s ferocity.

Perhaps they will stop calling him ‘Regi’ behind his back, he thought.

The previously unengaged evocatii crashed into the rear of the melee finally bringing Crastinus and his men to a halt and sealing the gap in their line. It was a well-intended but fatal blunder for those veterans already in the fight.

“Put your side arms to work.” shouted Tribune Caius, forcing his way to the very front rank where he could thrust into faces and chests with his rudis.

“He’s pretty good, for an older man,” shouted Vorenus to Crastinus.

Unlike the sharp, pointed gladius, the heavier, blunt-tipped rudis was a bone-crusher which the “shavelings,” and “dog flowers” were soon applying to the veterans in ways that brought a smile to the only Centurio still in good humor, at four to one odds.

“Carfulenus! You bastard,” Septimus screamed. “You set us up!”

“Septimus!” Carfulenus growled.0” You of all people should know that experience and treachery will defeat youth and speed! At four to one it should be so always! But not today you dog squeeze!”


It seemed an eternity before Petronius’ hand signal to the cornicens put an end to the disgraceful brawl.

When whistles and trumpets failed to stop the carnage it remained for Centurios to restore order in the tried and true manner. In their rage, vita staffs came down equally on evocatii veterans and tiros responsible for the poverty they were now forced to endure until next payday.

Once the men returned to their proper places in respective unit formations standing at stacio, Primus Pilus Petronius stumped to the center of the field, halted with his arms akimbo, alternately facing the larger cohort of Evocatii and the smaller Century of tiros, fiercely scrutinizing all.

Injured veterans, in various stages of consciousness, were littered away by calones. Many tiros had sustained minor injuries and a few were bleeding slightly, but every member of First Century, 2nd Cohort was still on his feet.

“I am quickly losing count of the numbers of eyes swollen shut, broken noses and the fat lips I am seeing,” he exclaimed. “A large percentage of you Evocatii are putting an excessive amount of weight on one leg or another!” Petronius turned to the tiros, his smile sanguineous.

“I know the feeling,” he shouted, tapping his vitis against his wooden prosthetic. “A few of you are hiding bruised, if not cracked, ribs and smashed genitals, and I suspect many of you are missing teeth!”

Petronius stumped across the 1st Cohort’s front.

“Such injuries in drills like this are to be expected! What pisses me off is the number of you injured is totally out of proportion to the number of tiros!”

Inwardly, Crastinus cringed.

“Petronius commands 1st Cohort,” he muttered to Vorenus, “and we shamed his unit!”

“Cac,” answered the latter. “We are screwed!”

Petronius stopped his pacing and put his hands behind his back; resting his weight on the good leg, he faced the younger men.

“Stand at ease! State.”

Both formations obeyed instantly and Petronius barked once again.

“1st Cohort! As you were! Fabius! Septimus! Front and center! Post!”

The pair double-timed to the center of the drill field, where Petronius returned their salutes then turned to face the tiros once again.

“Fabius! Your evaluation!”

“Classime! No go!”

“No go? Your reasons!”

“Classime!  Failure to maintain formation discipline!”

Maintaining eye contact with the tiros in front of him, Petronius responded to Fabius’ assessment.

“Cacca! Complete bullshit! I saw adaptation to the situation and tactical improvisation to accomplish the mission!”

He wasn’t smiling, but to Fabius’ discomfiture, Petronius eyes twinkled with delight.

“Septimus! Your evaluation!”

He hesitated for an instant but Septimus managed to answer with a similar degree of conviction.

“Classime!  No go!”

“No go! Your reasons?”

“Classime, he replied. “Failure to maintain proper intervals between ranks! Improper alignment of files! Total disregard for individual discipline. Talking in the ranks!”

“Cacca! I saw initiative, both at the unit and the individual level!”

Petronius slowly turned to face Balventius and Lucanius, now standing in front of 1st Cohort.

“And I saw a better understanding for the concept of teamwork than you and those fat fucks standing behind you will ever know! It is a subject I will address with all of you very, very soon!”

Petronius turned to face the tiros once again.

“2nd Cohort! You have completed your rudimenta training! After today you will no longer be referred to as Tirocinnii! From this day forth you are eligible to wear your horse hair plume on your Cassis! You are legios, and promoted to Miles Gregarius permanent grade, effective immediately!”

There were weary smiles on the faces of the younger men.

“Stacio!” Petronius barked.

Crastinus and his men snapped to attention.


Without another glance at the departing 2nd Cohort, Petronius turned to face Fabius, Septimus, Balventius and Lucanius.

“Gentlemen!  I have a few words for you and these miserable excuses for Evocatii!”








READ: Chapter 8 – FIRST SPEAR RUDIMENTA – Brent Neilsen.

Chapter Eight

To be struck, to be threatened, to be called indecent names, to be drilled by yourself in front of the squad in order to make a fool of you…to have your ear spat into, to be marched across the parade ground under escort, to be falsely accused in front of an officer and silenced when you try to speak in defense—all these things take down your pride, make you feel small, and in some ways, fit you to accept the role of cannon fodder on the battle ground. A good deal of it could be defended on the grounds of usefulness. But of course it doesn’t make a Christian army, and its hell for the poor British soldier.

Private Stephan Graham, gentleman ranker,

Scots Guards, 1914-1918,

Mr. Kipling’s Army,

Byron Farwell  


First Spear Petronius ordered all Cohorts to stand by for a lay out of all individual and Contubernium equipment. The inspection was to be conducted one hour after the final meal of the day. No one knew which cohort would actually be inspected, and a walk through of just one could take all night.

This was particularly inconvenient for 2nd Cohort, standing Vigilum for the night.  Everything would have to be done in shifts. Eating, equipment cleaning and personal hygiene accomplished in rotation, or the First, Second and Third watch were going to be a disorganized mess.

Fortunately, Carfulenus split the cohort into thirds with even-numbered Centuries standing a watch while the odd-numbered Centuries stood for inspection.

He also called in a favor from Decurion Gaetulus. The Alae screen around the castrum was in place as much to stop desertions as to warn the camp from possible attackers.  These mounted patrols might be doubled up if he agreed to it. The increase in manpower would make up for the shortage on the palisade during the inspection.

As it turned out the dark skinned Numidian was glad to oblige and said as much in his heavily Numidian accented camp Latin.

“Arrogant rich boy tyros’ heads being in rectal defilade during afternoon trainings,” exclaimed Gaetulus, who jerked a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the castrum picket line. “I will be giving remedial drillings while ‘Number One’ be abusing you and yours! HA! HA! Good luck!

“I owe you one, Gaetulus,” replied Carfulenus as he and the Numidian exchanged Mithratic handshakes before trotting off to prepare their respective units.


Exempt from the inspection Tafoya, Medus, Stomachus and the rest of the Cohort calones were instructed to “get somewhere!”  Bronze oil lamps hanging off the wooden poles of the papillion illuminated the interior’s tall center but left the lower vertical sides in shadow.

Crastinus’ octet was aligned in two ranks of four each including himself, facing inward. He walked down the center of the tent making a final check to assure himself everything was laid out per the diagram Carfulenus had provided every squad.

Rehearsing for the real thing, he stopped in front of each pair of sword mates who snapped to stacio. Crastinus started his inspection from the left side, as Carfulenus had instructed him the First Spear would, stopping in front of Petro.

“Pullo, did you know you nicked Petro when you shaved him?”

“Gaius! I put pressure on the wound as Carfulenus taught us, but he must be swallowing too much of Pelitus’ throat yogurt; it wouldn’t stop bleeding.”

This garnered chuckles from five of them; even Crastinus couldn’t resist a small grin at the visual before speaking. “Petro, lick your finger and clean that crust of blood off. Other than that you and Pullo look squared away, err, agmen quadratum.”

He moved on to Vorenus and Clustinus, both of whom snapped smartly to stacio.

Crastinus began by inspecting the oiling of the caligae on their feet, checking the trim of their toenails, then moved up to the oil on the belt, shine of the buckle and the bronze fittings on the leather-covered wooden scabbards which, according to Carfulenus, the Romans called a vagina. The scabbards encased the issued steel gladius and pugio each man wore as a side arm, on pain of a flogging with rods, only removed during personal hygiene, latrine use or sleep.

Again satisfied, Crastinus looked over the vinegar and sand shine to their chain mail lorica hamata.

“Clustinus! Retie your neck cloth. Yours is too loose.”

Crastinus took a quick look at each man’s shave and haircut, feet, caligae and side arms. Both men were satisfactory, and he moved on to look over, but not touch their personal gear laid out on a smelly, oil-soaked, but very waterproof sagum, doubling as a blanket for sleeping and a cloak during cold or adverse weather.

Aloud he inventoried the items laid out in precise order and drew smiles when he imitated inexpertly the toneless drone of Carfulenus’ instructional voice, usually mimicked by Pelitus. Crastinus’ use of humor on duty was a rare thing.

“Two pair socks wool, winter only, extra caligae, displayed soles up, extra tunica red, and leather bracae worn over subucula breech clout, winter use only.”

Crastinus checked their highly polished, felt-lined bronze helmets. For the purpose of the inspection, the long ceremonial plumes of yellow horsehair attached to the ring and cork wedge atop each cassis were brushed out and washed to a flaxen-like shine.

He moved on to Bacculus and Gaditicus.

“Gaditicus, your laces are loose,” he said quietly, continuing his inspection of equipment, but dropping the impersonation of Carfulenus.

“Personal cooking gear, a bronze potera for boiling water, smaller eating bowl, wooden eating utensils – yours are still damp from after-supper washing, canvas ration bag, leather equipment bag, oiled.”

Crastinus ordered his squad from Stacio to State. The octet relaxed while he completed his last visual check silently.

Personal non-issue items like his mother’s wooden spoon were stored under the side arm belt or out of sight under each man’s sagum cloak. At the head of each man’s sleeping position the oiled leather scutum cover, protecting the shield from the wet, was rolled and used as a pillow while the contubernium scuta were lined up in a row leaning against a pila imbedded in the ground for easier retrieval in an emergency. Oval in shape, curved slightly so as to partially wrap around the body in battle, the scutum came with an oiled leather strap for carrying over the shoulder on the march.

Each shield was painted red with a Roman Eagle in silver over the boss. Aries, the Ram was the only other exterior adornment.  The inside of the scutum bore its owner’s name, number, unit assignment – the identical information carried on the signaculum worn from a leather thong around each man’s neck.

When Crastinus stopped in front of his own sword mate Pelitus, short even by Legion standards, he had to bend slightly to whisper in his mate’s ear.

“Pelitus, they wouldn’t rag you and Petro if you weren’t so open about it!  Better for everyone if you stopped it all together.”

Crastinus completed his final inspection of Pelitus and his own impedimenta.

Down the street of the castrum, ten tents away, Crastinus and his mates could hear the all too familiar voice of Petronius, raging as he began his inspection of the 2nd Cohort from the opposite direction predicted by Carfulenus. With a note of calm, he didn’t feel, Crastinus returned to his imitation of Carfulenus in its most frequently used tone and vocabulary.

“Alright, let’s do it again!”

“Crastinus! Pro Denuo,” Pelitus corrected.

“Stacio!”  Seven hob-nailed caligae crashed to the ground together.

“Gladium!” Crastinus barked the command of preparation.

As one, each man’s right hand grasped, palm outward, the grip of the gladius on his right hip, rotating the handle of the still-undrawn weapon pommel forward, so the scabbard pointed rearward at a forty-five-degree angle.

“It reminds me of my dick, swinging back and forth by its own length!”

“Pullo! Wrong angle! Wrong length!”

“You would know Pelitus!”

“All of you, shut it,” Crastinus barked. He could hear Petronius further down the cohort street but getting closer; throwing things around in someone’s papillon, accompanied by a string of unintelligible oaths. Crastinus gave the command of execution.


Eight blades scraped free of their protective leather and wood to swash against the chest of their owners, point inclined towards the shoulder.

“Now comes the hard part! Gladium!” Crastinus barked.

In a fluid motion, practiced nightly since their issue, eight blades swashed back, rotated by the round balancing pommel in the hand to point vertically over the vagina on the right hip.


Without looking down, the eight weapons slammed home with a uniform snap.

“State!” The octet returned to parade rest.

Petronius was getting closer and louder. Crastinus walked to the center of the tent.

“What is the watch word for the day? The tessera? The password?” he asked aloud, irritated by their inability to master the small amount of Latin required by now.

“Bread!” they answered.

“Password?” he demanded.

“Oil!” they chimed.

Crastinus could hear “Number One” entering Galbus’ adjacent tent and called his messmates back to stacio.

They stood rock still hearing cooking utensils, helmets, caligae and Luna only knew what else being flung about, crashing into heads, bodies, or missing an intended target to roll out into the cohort street. The night air was filled with an unbroken stream of curses, oaths and insults to the fathers, mothers and various four-legged creatures guilty of bringing such worthless material for soldiers into the Eight Legion.

Vorenus looked at Crastinus.

“Galbus and Sextus are catching it good!”

As he resumed his place in front of his gear, Crastinus felt a tingle of sweat run down the back of his tunic.

“The havoc ‘Number One’ is inflicting in there!  I wouldn’t be surprised if Sextus comes over looking to buy some salt from us,” Gaditicus winked to Pullo who grinned back.




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.