The forgotten legion, p.1
The Forgotten Legion,
Table of Contents
Chapter I: Tarquinius
Chapter II: Velvinna
Chapter III: Olenus
Chapter IV: Brennus
Chapter V: Romulus and Fabiola
Chapter VI: The Ludus Magnus
Chapter VII: The Lupanar
Chapter VIII: A Close Call
Chapter IX: Lentulus
Chapter X: Brutus
Chapter XI: Prophecy
Chapter XII: Friendship
Chapter XIII: Intrigue
Chapter XIV: Rufus Caelius
Chapter XV: The Arena
Chapter XVI: Victory
Chapter XVII: The Brawl
Chapter XVIII: Flight
Chapter XIX: Fabiola and Brutus
Chapter XX: Invasion
Chapter XXI: Parthia
Chapter XXII: Politics
Chapter XXIII: Ariamnes
Chapter XXIV: Publius and Surena
Chapter XXV: Treachery
Chapter XXVI: Retreat
Chapter XXVII: Crassus
Chapter XXVIII: Manumission
Chapter XXIX: The March
Chapter XXX: Margiana
THE FORGOTTEN LEGION
The Forgotten Legion
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Crassus at the Euphrate lost his eagles, his son and his soldiers,
And was the last himself to perish.
'Parthian, why do you rejoice?' said the goddess. 'You shall return
While there shall be an avenger who shall take vengeance for the
death of Crassus.'
In his Natural History narrative, Pliny the Elder described how Roman survivors of the battle of Carrhae in 53 BC were sent to Margiana.
Situated in modern-day Turkmenistan, this area is more than fifteen hundred miles from where the men were taken captive. Used as border guards, the ten thousand legionaries would have journeyed farther east than most Romans in history.
But their story does not end there.
In 36 BC, the Chinese historian Ban Gu recorded that soldiers in the army of Jzh-jzh, a Hun warlord and ruler of a city on the Silk Road, fought in a 'fish-scale formation'. The term used to describe their formation is unique in Chinese literature and many historians assert that it refers to a shield wall. At that time only the Macedonians and Romans fought in such a way. Greek military training would need to have endured in the area for more than a century to influence those men. Interestingly this battle took place only seventeen years after Carrhae and less than five hundred miles from the border of Margiana.
Further to the east, in China, lies the modern settlement of Liqian. The origins of its name are uncertain, but scholars consider it to have been founded between 79 BC and AD 5 under the name of Li-jien, meaning 'Rome' in ancient Chinese. An unusually large number of its present-day inhabitants have Caucasian features - blond hair, hooked noses and green eyes. DNA samples are currently being studied by a local university to see if these people are the descendants of the ten thousand legionaries who marched east from Carrhae and into history.
The Forgotten Legion.
Rome, 70 BC
It was hora undecima, the eleventh hour, and the sprawling city was bathed by the red glow of sunset. A rare breeze moved air between the densely packed buildings, passing relief from the stifling summer heat. Men emerged from their houses and flats to finish the day's business, chat outside shops and stand drinking at open-fronted street taverns. The eager cries of merchants competed for the attention of passers-by while children played on doorsteps under the watchful eyes of their mothers. From somewhere in the centre, near the Forum, came the rhythmic sound of chanting in a temple.
This was a sociable and safe hour, but shade was already lengthening in the alleyways and small courtyards. Sunlight fell away from the tall stone columns and statues of the gods, returning the streets to a darker and less friendly grey colour. The seven hills that formed Rome's heart would be the last parts to remain lit, until darkness claimed the capital once more.
Despite the time, the Forum Romanum was still thronged with people. Flanked by temples and the Senate, the basilicae, the huge covered markets, were filled with shopkeepers, soothsayers, lawyers and scribes plying their trade from little stalls. It was late in the day, but someone might want a will drawn up, a prophecy made, a writ issued against an enemy. Mobile vendors made circuits of the area, trying to sell fruit juices that had been warm for hours. Politicians who had been working late in the Senate hurried outside, only stopping to talk if an ally's eyes could not be avoided. Seeing their masters, groups of slaves jumped up from board games scratched on to the steps. Trying to avoid the blisters on their sunburnt shoulders, they swiftly lifted their litters and moved off.
A handful of determined beggars remained on the temple steps, hoping for alms. Several were crippled but proud veterans of the legions, the invincible army which had provided the Republic's wealth and status. They wore tattered remnants of uniform – mail shirts more rust than rings of iron, brown tunics held together by patches. For a copper coin they would recount their martial stories – the blood shed, limbs lost, comrades buried in foreign lands.
All for the glory of Rome.
Despite dwindling light, the Forum Boarium, where beasts were traded, was also full of citizens. Unsold cattle bellowed with thirst after a day in constant sunshine. Sheep and goats huddled together, terrified by the smell of blood from the butchers' blocks only a few steps away. Their owners, small farmers from the surrounding countryside, prepared to drive them to night pasture beyond the walls. On the Forum Olitorium too, stalls selling foodstuffs were bustling with customers. Ripe melons, peaches and plums added their aromas to spices from the Orient, fresh fis
But away from these open spaces, anyone who was still out scuttled faster to reach the safety of their houses. No decent Roman wanted to be outside after sunset, especially in the dismal alleyways between the insulae, the cramped blocks of flats in which most citizens lived. By night the unlit streets were populated by thieves and murderers.
Chapter I: Tarquinius
Northern Italy, 70 BC
The raven hopped on to the dead lamb's head and stared at Tarquinius. He was still more than fifty paces away. It croaked scornfully and pecked at the staring eyeball with its powerful beak. The lamb was no more than three days old, its meagre flesh already devoured by mountain wolves.
Tarquinius stooped, picked up a small rock and fitted it to his sling. A slight figure with blond hair, he wore a loose thigh-length tunic, belted at the waist. Sturdy sandals clad his feet.
'Spare the bird. He did not kill the lamb.' Olenus Aesar adjusted his worn leather hat, flattening the blunt peak. 'Corvus is only taking what remains.'
'I don't like it eating the eyes.' Preparing to release, Tarquinius swung the hide strap in a slow circle.
The old man fell silent, shielding his eyes from the sun. He spent a long time gazing at the broad wingtips of buzzards hanging on the warm thermals and the clouds further above.
Tarquinius watched intently, holding back the stone. Since the soothsayer had picked him as a student years before, the young Etruscan had learned to pay attention to everything he said and did.
Olenus shrugged bony shoulders under his rough woollen cloak. 'Not a good day to kill a sacred bird.'
'Why not?' With a sigh, he let the sling drop to his side. 'What is it now?'
'Go right ahead, boy.' Olenus smiled, infuriating Tarquinius. 'Do what you want.' He waved expansively at the raven. 'Your path is your own.'
'I am not a boy.' Tarquinius scowled and let the rock fall. 'I'm twentyfive!'
He scowled briefly, then let out a piercing whistle and gestured with one arm. A black and white dog lying close by sprinted off in a wide arc up the steep hillside, eyes fixed on a group of sheep and goats nibbling short grass far above. They spotted him immediately and began moving further up.
The raven finished its meal and flapped off.
Tarquinius gazed after it balefully. 'Why shouldn't I have killed that damn bird?'
'We are standing above what was the temple of Tinia. The most powerful of our gods . . .' Olenus paused for effect.
Looking down, Tarquinius noticed a red clay tile protruding from the soil.
'And the number of buzzards above is twelve.'
Tarquinius' eyes searched the sky, counting. 'Why do you always speak in riddles?'
Olenus tapped his lituus, a small crooked staff, on the broken tile. 'Not the first time today, is it?'
'I know twelve is our people 's sacred number, but . . .' Tarquinius watched the dog, which had begun herding the flock towards them as he wished. 'What has that got to do with the raven?'
'That lamb was the twelfth this morning.'
Tarquinius did a quick calculation. 'But I didn't tell you about the one in the gully earlier,' he said with amazement.
'And Corvus wanted to feed right where sacrifices used to take place,' the haruspex added enigmatically. 'Best leave him in peace, eh?'
Tarquinius frowned, frustrated that he had not noticed the buzzards first and made the link with the location. He had been too busy thinking about killing wolves.
It was time to hunt some down. Rufus Caelius, his evil-tempered master, tolerated these excursions only because he could question Tarquinius afterwards about Olenus and the state of his flocks. The noble would be displeased to hear about further losses and Tarquinius was already dreading his return to the latifundium, Caelius' huge estate at the foot of the mountain.
'How did you know about the lamb in the gully?'
'What have I spent all these years teaching you? Observe everything!' Olenus turned around, seeing what was no longer there. 'This was the centre of the mighty city of Falerii. Tarchun, the founder of Etruria, marked out its sacred borders with a bronze plough, over a mile from here. Four hundred years ago, where we are standing would have been thronged with Etruscan people going about their daily business.'
Tarquinius tried to imagine the scene as the haruspex had described it so many times – the magnificent buildings and temples dedicated to the Vestal Virgins, the wide streets paved with lava blocks. He pictured the cheering crowds at boxing contests, racing and gladiator fights. Nobles presenting wreaths to victorious contestants, presiding over banquets in great feasting halls.
His eyes cleared. All that remained of Falerii, one of the jewels of Etruria, were a few fallen pillars and innumerable pieces of broken tile.
The depth of its decline was brought home to him all over again. Long association with the haruspex meant that his people 's history was everpainful.
'They took our whole way of life, didn't they?' Tarquinius spat angrily. 'Roman civilisation has completely copied the Etruscan.'
'Right down to the trumpets announcing the start of ceremonies and battle manoeuvres,' Olenus added wryly. 'They stole it all. After destroying us.'
'Sons of whores! What gives them the right?'
'It was pre-ordained in the heavens, Tarquinius. You know all this.' Olenus stared at the young man before taking in the view that fell away to the east and south. A lake at the bottom of the mountain glistened, reflecting the sun's rays with blinding intensity. 'Here we are in the heartland of ancient Etruria.' Olenus smiled. 'Lake Vadimon at our feet, the foundations of the sacred city below.'
'We are almost the last pure-bred Etruscans on earth,' said Tarquinius bitterly. Defeated and then assimilated by the Romans, few families had continued to marry only others of their kind. His had. And generation after generation, the ancient secrets and rituals had been handed from one haruspex to another. Olenus was one of a long line stretching back to the heyday of Etruscan power.
'It was our destiny to be conquered,' Olenus replied. 'Remember that when the foundation stone of the temple was laid many centuries ago . . .'
'A bleeding head was found in the soil.'
'My predecessor, Calenus Olenus Aesar, stated it foretold that the people would rule all of Italy.'
'And he was wrong. Look at us now!' cried Tarquinius. 'Little better than slaves.' There were almost no Etruscans left with any political power or influence. Instead they were poor farmers, or like Tarquinius and his family, workers on large estates.
'Calenus was the best haruspex in our history. He could read the liver like no other!' Olenus waved his gnarled hands excitedly. 'That man knew what the Etruscans could not – or would not – understand at the time. Our cities never unified and so when Rome grew powerful enough, they were defeated one by one. Although it took over a hundred and fifty years, Calenus' prediction proved correct.'
'He meant those who crushed us.'
'Bastard Romans.' Tarquinius flung a stone after the raven, now long gone.
Little did he know the haruspex secretly admired his speed and power. The rock flew fast enough to kill any man it struck.
'A hard thing to accept, even for me,' sighed Olenus.
'Especially the way they lord over us.' The young Etruscan swigged from a leather water bag and passed it to his mentor. 'Where is the cave from here?'
'Not far.' The haruspex drank deeply. 'Today is not the day, however.'