The parade square in the Aventine legion barracks was one of the largest open spaces in the entire city. Today, it needed to be. Starting even before sunrise, the men of the Fifth, Seventh and Seventeenth legions had begun marching into the open shale-covered space. Every third man had a full waterskin slung on his back. The Optios and Centurions all knew the parade would last all day in the blistering heat, and none of them wanted the disgrace of one of their men collapsing. The whole process took over two hours, by which time the sun was well above the horizon.Click here to return to the book page
From the lowliest legionnaire to the senior commanders now standing facing the legions under a covered awning, none of them were looking forward to today. The central dais was empty, the Emperor not having yet arrived. So, too, were the three substantial but sharpened stakes driven into the ground, point upwards.
Today was the day, the day when the most senior legion commander in the entire Roman army was to be executed for treason, in the most painful manner possible. As soon as the Emperor took his place, they knew Crastus, his senior aide, Leander, and the primus pilus of the Fifth Legion, Maximus, would be brought out and the executions would begin.
The men grumbled, but all of them maintained their places in the massed formations, formations that had not yet been brought up to strength following the appalling losses in the recent civil war. Since the Fifth had been on the losing side, there were hard glances darted at them from the two legions on either side, but quick words from the centurions kept the peace.
After another two hours, a fanfare of trumpets sounded and a double file of Praetorian Guards marched through the open gateway.
“Did your mother buy you the uniform?”
The chorus of comments swelled for a few seconds before the centurions barked out an order.
“Silence in the ranks!”
The chants subsided, but the flushed faces of the so called elite guards showed the comments had had the desired effect. As ever, there was no love lost between the guard and the real fighting men of the Roman army.
A couple of minutes later, Decius himself entered the parade ground and strolled, almost nonchalantly, past the front ranks of the serried men and ascended the four shallow steps to the dais. The commander of the Seventh, Claudius, saluted from his place under the awning, followed a heartbeat later by Schonberg, the commander of the Germanic Seventeenth.
The more junior officers saluted in turn. Decius acknowledged them with a nod and then stepped to the front of the dais and waited for absolute silence before beginning to speak. Although still young, his voice was strong, and he pitched it to carry.
“Men… Loyal legionaries who fought for me, and you the men of the Fifth who were misled into fighting against me, you are here today to witness the final act of the civil war. My younger…”
There was a rustle of movement throughout the massed ranks and Decius waited for them to quiet down.
“My younger brother died of his wounds so is unable to answer the charges brought by the Senate of Rome for starting the war. The general who ran the campaign for him, is so able.
“Men of the Fifth, you have been spared this fate by the merciful hand of your Emperor. Now your general must pay the ultimate price for defying the rule of Roman Law. He has been found guilty of treason by the Senate. Let him now face the ultimate justice of the same, Roman, Law.”
He stepped back and Claudius stepped forward, surveying the massed ranks for several seconds before licking his lips and issuing one short command.
“Bring forth the prisoners.”