DAYS OF DESTINY
In every era and in every generation there are crucial moments when a significant decision has to be made, and the consequences of that choice can change the course of history. Many times the full impact of such a decision does not become clear at once, but in the long run, things will never be quite the same. In Days of Destiny I will attempt to write a dramatization of events leading up to such a judgement. The following stories are fictional, but based on historical facts.
10 JANUARY 705 or 49 BC
The baggage train of the XIII Legion trailed behind the legionnaires for several miles. These were veterans of Rome’s wars in Cisalpine Gaul, and many had been fighting since the year 696. After last year’s defeat of Vercingetorix, the bulk of the Roman army had been demobilized, but the XIII, or Legion Gemina, was the General’s personal unit, and was still active.
The Legion had reached the banks of a small river and had been ordered to halt, but no order had been given to dig in and build the walls for an overnight bivouac, so the men were resting on their shields. Tents had been pitched along the bank of the narrow, shallow river, and a small group of officers sat on camp stools around a low fire. The tent flaps shook in the brisk winter wind, and the Eagle of the XIII had been planted at the entrance.
The only man not in the uniform of the Legion was dressed in the rough travel clothes of an ordinary citizen, and he was speaking:
“Well, General, you asked me about imperium, or the right to command troops, and the law is absolutely clear. As Promagistrate of Gaul, you are not allowed to enter Metropolitan Rome at the head of armed troops. Your imperium stops here at the river Rubicon.”
The speaker was Gaius Sallustius Crispus, one of the General’s oldest and most trusted advisors, and the General nodded, indicating that he understood. He turned to Aulus Hirtius, senior centurion of the 1st Cohort, and second in command of the XIII, and asked for his thoughts. Hirtius had been with the General for the entire campaign in Gaul, and the previous December he had traveled to Rome to negotiate with Pompey and the other two consuls. Crispus paused for a moment and said,
“In light of the Pompey’s continued denial of your rightful position in the Senate, and as Consul, I think it is clear that you only have one set of options. To accept the status quo and return to private life, or to march on Rome to regain your rightful position. Further negotiations will only weaken you.”
The other officers murmured in agreement and the General said,
“A decision to return to private life certainly is in keeping with the laws and traditions of the Republic. A Roman citizen is subject to the Senate and the Consuls. If I didn’t feel that the current leadership, both in the Senate and the Consulates were intent on destroying the Republic, then I would gladly go to my farm and leave public life.”
An elderly man with a grizzled appearance spoke up and said,
“I have just left Rome and I can tell you that you are held in high esteem by many in the Senate, as well as the common citizens. If you choose to return to Rome, you will be welcomed.”
The general nodded and replied,
“Lucius Babus, I respect your opinion. There is no one who better understands our Republic than you do, but I have to be aware that any decision on my part to march on Rome will not only make me an outlaw subject to a death sentence, but that sentence would also apply to any man who followed me.”
“General, you can depend on the XIII Legion to back you to the fullest. Give the order and we’ll march with you to the Capitoline Hill.”
There were no dissenters in the tent and Hirtius commented,
“General, whatever decision you choose, we must not allow dark to fall with the Legion in marching order. We must dig in for the night, either here or on the other side of the river.”
The General stood and walked to the Legionnaire holding his horse, mounted and signaled the officers to follow him. The order to move out sounded down the entire column of the Legion, and the Legionaries stood to resume their march. When all was ready, Gaius Julius Caesar led his commanders across the river Rubicon, and when he had gained the opposite bank, he turned to Balbus and said.
“Well, Balbus, the die is cast.”
Image of Caesar is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to commons.wikimedia.org