Monday, March 31, 2008

Athens (2)

This synopsis about Plato's philosophy comes from the mass
of notes I took over the many months while studying at the
Academy. Later I'll put all these notes of mine to better use.

As I have come to understand, Plato's "Forms" are considered
to be ideas that are *not* just thoughts coming from our own
minds, but rather are inborn or *a priori* patterns that are an
immutable part of the structure of Reality. For example, before
we could build square buildings or perceive triangular objects
there existed in our mind the idea (or concept) of the Square
and the Triangle.

Plato also believed the Forms--or ideal patterns--stood
behind our firmly held inclinations towards Beauty, Equality,
and Justice. We may never totally achieve these "ideals,"
but they universally constantly stand within our minds. It's
like they are both the guidepost and the goal, simultaneously.

Interesting, too, was what I came to understand as Plato's system
of knowing Reality. It fell into a five-point progression, if you will.

• BECOMING: At the beginning of our human understanding, we
explained the world in terms of stories, poems, and myths. Hence,
even today, we have all these gods of ours.

• IMAGINATION: Then we began to learn from physical objects
and human conventions. In other words, we were beginning to
learn to "know how," discovering techniques for getting along in
this world. This was the beginning of our pragmatic leanings.

• BEING: Then we moved into another dimension, in that we
came to discover the "Forms" within our minds, hence we humans
evolved mathematics and logic--and were able to engage in

• UNDERSTANDING: From Hypothesis we naturally moved into
Theory. We had begun to reach into the "knowing why." We
explored systems, ideals, ideas as cause and realities. We could
look towards the sense of an "ordering principle," which for the
teachers of Plato was Reason--and it ruled over Nature as a
singled ordered system.

After going through all this really heady material, I still managed to
hang onto my own hypothesis about "Seeding." I suppose it is all
a matter of perspective, but I looked at Plato's Forms as the primary
seeds that enabled humanity eventually to come to know. And
as the seeds prescribed, like a tree or plant, our human minds were
unfolding. Hence we have these steps towards Knowing, as put
by Plato. Fledgling at first, growing, ultimately to maturity.

The problem in all this, of course, is that our struggle to know (or grow)
remains an uneven process at the individual's level. Some people
have the advantage of becoming more developed. Others remain
disadvantaged, poor in one way or another, and thus have not
attained to higher levels of Knowing. However, collectively, humanity
moves in this direction of Knowing more and more.

As for what purpose all this Coming to Know involves, well it would
seem a natural process that is leaning towards new adventures of
BEING. Perhaps, as we continue to unfold, those "Seeds" ultimately
will see the true light of day, and we will have fulfilled our duty as
human beings!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Athens (1)

Chapter Nine. BACK TO ATHENS

Sailing back to Athens, I felt if I were the navigator that I could
do it blindfolded--after having taken this route so many times!
Interestingly, I arrived in Athens just in time to watch the festive
parade to the nearby town and great Temple of Eleusius.
The famous Mystery School of Demeter was located there.

The goddess of the Earth, Demeter intrigued me. I found out
that the rites of this school focused on "seeding," Considering
the initial reason that I had come back to Athens, this seemed
a good sign. *Apropos,* at least. As for the Eleusinian
Mysteries, they were held once a year. Being secret, those
initiated into such were fairly closed-mouthed. Still, over the
years, some information about these rites came to light.

These rites revolved around the agricultural cycles of the
seasons, about planting seeds, about growth and harvesting.
But, in the case of the Eleusinian Mysteries, this seeding was
really about the odyssey of the human soul. At the beginning,
the soul is conceived in darkness, it traverses through suffering,
it faces the terror of death, and eventually is reborn into a
divine existence.

I found even this little amount of information come from
Eleusius fascinating. This was the very kind of territory that
I wanted to study! However, not expressly from a religious
perspective. Still I had to wonder about the "intuition" that
circulates around this particular religious cult. That proposal
would have to wait for another day, when eventually I would
examine all my religious notes over the years via this very

In the meanwhile, I made inquiries at the Academy regarding
its lecture schedule. Early Spring, I happened-on just at the
right time. I was given a layout of the entire academic year,
and I was able to make my lecture selections as well as picking
a mentor for individual conversations that followed the lecture

Happily, I would have time to refine any notes I might take.
And I would also have some time to devote to the beauty of
Athens. Also, my lodgings were perfect--looking out towards
the Acropolis.

At the very beginning of my study at the Academy, I was thrust
into unknown territories. During the first lecture I attended, we
scholastics were told that Plato believed that we humans were
born with *a priori* knowledge which we could process
intellectually, through our capacity for reason.

Oooh! Deep waters already! I had absolutely zero conception
as to what *a priori* might mean. Right off I had to dig around
and work, trying to understand. Eventually I found out that we
were dealing with a philosophical term that presumes that we
humans are born with a certain knowledge base that can allow
us to access "universals" such as Plato's Forms.

Most of our knowledge is empirically derived via our observations
of the physical world, which the philosophers call *a posteriori*
knowledge. But this transcendental knowledge we possess,
that we call *a priori,* is something implanted into our soul--perhaps
even before we are born, or at least before we begin to accrue
*a posteriori* knowledge.

Being so dense, so unlearned, I had to hope that I was getting
at least a partial grip on all this new information. I had to break
it down into simple terms before I could move into more sophisticated
philosophic territories. At this point I wasn't sure that I was "right"
about anything!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Respite (4)

After many months reading through all of Marc's naturalist notes,
I made an attempt synthesizing in my mind how all these different
categories of Life somehow fit together, connected with one another.

As I saw it, the main ingredient in all this was the Sun. Its warmth,
or energy, was utterly necessary for Life. Water was yet another
absolute requirement needed for the survival of Life. Climate
was an important variable, as well as Location, when it comes to
supporting Life. And within this context of necessities, there were
secondary considerations.

Within Location, the rock and soil type played a considerable role
determining the survival of Life. Climate was about weather, about
temperature and seasons. Also, there was the issue of Food. Upon
keen observation, one could spot the food webs in which different
animals--and even plants--participated. And far from being least,
there's the condition of Water--whether salty or fresh. Interestingly,
too, I noticed that certain animals as well as certain plants thrived
in their own special places. It would seem that they staked out their
niche, where they could thrive.

There nearly seemed a Relationship, or perhaps even some kind of
special Intelligence involved in the Natural World. I had never paid
attention before; but after studying and observing this world all
around me, I couldn't help but wonder! Talking with Marc, he agreed
with my premise--and he took it all a step further.

What interested him most was the idea of "seeding." Being a Master
Gardener, he was up close with seeds, with the unfolding of plants
and trees as they seemingly were designed to be. Marc felt that
there were ingredients within seeds that disposed the plant or tree
to become what it is meant to be. He felt that his theory applied to
animal life, too! And having said this, he dropped the idea that we
humans, too, are all part and parcel of this seeding process.

Need I say that I astounded by my cousin's thinking. Yet it seemed
logical, at least from his specialized observations--and even from
my own recent observations. This idea about humans perhaps being
seeded really grabbed my imagination. I wondered aloud "how" we
might even approach such a possibility? Marc responded, mentioning
that if he weren't so involved with his landscaping business he would
take time to study Plato's philosophy.

Evidently when he was a young student in Athens, he remembered
some of the teaching he received at the Academy--a Platonic school.
Marc remembered lectures about Plato's concept of the Forms, which
he felt could be likened to "seeds" that informed our human mind. He
continued, thinking aloud that these Forms may be a ruling part that
determines who we are to become, to be, how we actually unfold.
He believed that our natural disposition, our interests, reflect this
seeding, On the other hand, our position and condition in this world
can be likened to the soil in which we grow.

Marc wondered if I thought him crazy. Quite the reverse! I had rarely
felt so excited over an idea as this! I had discovered "what's next."
Right then and there I decided that I would travel back to Athens and
study seriously at the Academy, especially focusing on these ideas
that Marc had raised.

Not knowing it then, but I was embarking on a new life of Learning.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Respite (3)

My friend and cousin, Marc, very good naturely invited me to
stay awhile at his parents' villa just outside Rome. Grateful, I
moved in my travel chests mainly full of the notes I had taken
about the various religious cults I had studied over the years.
Looking over these notes, I wondered if I might do something
with all this work. At least I could continue my study, considering
the various cults rampant in Rome itself. But that had to wait,
because Marc made an interesting proposal.

He had won a coup, in that he was selected as one of the
master gardeners to help work on one of the gardens at our
Emperor Hadrian's new villa at Tivoli, located some twenty
miles outside of Rome. He suggested that I might like to spend
time with him at Tivoli, amounting to perhaps a couple of
weeks. Why not! Having never planted a flower in my life,
I couldn't figure how I might be of any help--but, at least, I
could observe and just relax and maybe even see Hadrian
walking about.

One of our most traveled emperors, Hadrian had only shortly
returned from trips to the northern parts of the Empire, and it
was rumored that he would eventually be heading out to
other parts as well. However, whether at home or away, the
Emperor focused on architectural and horticultural projects.
And his Tivoli villa was one of his major endeavors!

Marc was helping to build a beautiful "sacred" garden, based
on the Alexandrian gardens in Egypt. It was just a pleasure
sitting around, watching the development of this magnificent
project. What seemed to interest me most was the understanding
of developing plants and trees. How did the seeds unfold into
a finished flower or leaf or tree? How was the sun and the soil
and the rain necessary for their growth? Marc and I got deep
into these questions during our conversations.

After returning to Aunt Eleana's villa, Marc let me ponder through
his large collection of horticultural and naturalist studies--studies
by earlier observers, such as Pliny the Elder, who wrote countless
books on botany, mineralogy, geography, zoology, etc. Having
once been a military man, commanding a Navy fleet, I was amazed
that Pliny had the time for all his observations. If he had not been
killed by the Vesuvius explosion at Pompeii, I am sure he would
have written volumes more.

So, what with my now free time, why not barrel-in and read through
Marc's collection of naturalist studies. I seemed interested enough;
and that, in itself, seemed fascinating. Taking my friend Quint's
advice, I would dip into this new interest and see where it might
take me.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Respite (2)

I was nearly quivering with excitement when we sailed into
Trajan's harbor at Ostia. Bouncing off the ship, I headed for
our family's office at the port. I knew that I would find one or
the other of my brothers there. The little gatekeeper was
at first scared, seeing my short sword slung around my
shoulder. I guess he figured a Praetorian was there to make
an arrest. Seeing me laugh, he relaxed as I told him who
I was.

Ushering me into the office, I embraced both my brothers!
Like me, they were overcome with joy. Being some fifteen and
thirteen years older than me, my two siblings didn't look much
worse for wear. I probably did, after all those rides on the camel.
Anyway, we joyfully made our way to my older brother's house
in town. Word spread quick, and soon I was surrounded by
nephews and nieces I hardly remembered or actually had
never met.

This brood of the new generation ranged in age from fine
maturity to sweet youngsters. That precious day I immersed
myself in family, utterly happy to hear all that had been
happening over the twelve years I had been away.

Much to my amusement, my brothers had enacted my early idea
about sending our company's ships forth to Alexandria. Indeed,
they went even further and had decided to stride the entire southern
coast of the Mediterranean on to Judaean ports, where they could
capitalize on the Nabetean traders who handled goods from India
and China. In fact, soon, two of my oldest nephews would be sent
to Carthage to open a company office there. That meant residing
in that city, but these two strapping fellows were raring to go!

Following a wonderful time well spent, I then went to pay my
respect to my Aunt Eleana. Like my older brothers, she also carried
her years well. We talked of Sybil. We both cried together, but
afterwards enjoyed each other's company. Fortunately my cousin
Marc came riding home as I was about to leave. Again, another
marvelous reunion with a dear family friend. He insisted I stay
over night at the villa, before I reported back to the Praetorians.
He didn't have to twist my arm.

Since the time he studied with the Egyptian gardener in Alexandria,
he did go on to Athens to study Greek gardens and eventually was
hired by the city of Rome to help plan and oversee its many parks.
Over the years, his experience and reputation grew--and eventually
he was licensed as a Master Gardener by his union. With that, he
built his own landscaping business with the financial help of his
father. His roustabout brothers had already received their share,
when they went into the property management business.

I was very pleased for Marc. Here was a gentleman who did look
into himself, decided where his natural inclinations would lead him,
and followed through. And he did it while young! I applauded him
in my mind. Than again, I knew what I wanted to do, who I wanted to
be, when young. But, now, my living the military life was drawing
to a close. Again I had to ask myself "what's next?"

In the meanwhile I was still a Praetorian. Reporting in at the Camp,
I was shown my rooms--where, relieved, I found my traveling chests
stashed in a corner. I was given deference as a senior officer with
the Speculatore unit and was assigned to their committee that
reviewed all incoming information, determining whether any of
these courier reports were of any significance to selected officials
of the Imperial Service.

The months rushed past, and suddenly the day of my retirement
had arrived. I was guaranteed a hefty pension. I was allowed to
keep the Praetorian pendent which I wore around my neck. It
was an engraved eagle standing on a round platform, symbolizing
the Roman Eagle rising forth all around the Empire. I did have to
give over all my military gear, including the short sword. At that
point I reflected that *never once*-- either with the Legion or
with the Praetorian Guard--had I ever wielded this powerful sword
against another.

Somehow that thought greatly pleased me, as I walked away into
an unknown life. I was now into my forty-second year.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Respite (1)

Chapter Eight. ROMAN RESPITE

Again I was involved in a long sea journey. Riding the
Navy vessel we stayed close to the land until we crossed
over to the Island of Cyprus. Just plain tired, I didn't
reconnoiter this island while our ship was bringing in
more supplies. I stayed at an inn near the harbor and
mainly rested in between bouts of good brew.

Off again, across open sea, we eventually reached and
weaved our way amongst a goodly number of Greek
Islands. Then there was a cry from one of the sailors,
we were approaching Cape Sounio--the very far southern
tip of the Greek mainland. At the far edge of the cape
we could see the really, really old Temple of Poseidon.
Built centuries ago, somehow miraculously still standing,
but tottering in some places, the temple remained a
spectacular sight.

It had long been a welcome view to seafarers returning to
Greece. Poseidon was the Greek god of the sea. He also
was the god of earthquakes, thought to have raised the many
Greek islands. I thanked Poseidon for allowing me to safely
traverse all the seas over my many years traveling from one
post to another. Now Poseidon was beckoning us to a safe
harbor at the port of Piraeus, just south of Athens.

Finally I showed some small disobedience, in that I decided
not to take a mandated Navy ship back to Italy. Leaving
my big travel chests with a Navy officer, who would see
that they reached the Praetorian Camp in Rome, I headed
off towards Corinth. I decided to return via the Bay of Corinth,
across to Italy, up to Naples, and on to my family in Ostia.
This meant taking a commercial passenger ship, and
essentially following the old route I took years ago, when
a young student traveling with my tutor.

So remembering this, it was naturally appropriate to look-up
my good friend Quint. I found him at Corinth's Stoa, where
he was now a well-known philosopher. Though Qunt's pate
was now balding, I recognized him. As for me, though brown
from all of Judaea's sun, he instantly knew who I was. After
all the years in between, we seemed like old friends who had
never been separated.

Inviting me to his home, introducing me to his wife and
family, he invited me to stay with him. I spent a lovely week
overlooking the bay. It was a stroke of luck that I had found
him in Corinth, because he was making plans soon to move to
Carthage--a great city in the Province of Africa. It seemed that
the Stoa at Carthage was seeking to expand its teaching faculty.
Now a famed Stoic philosopher, Quint had been invited to join
the Carthage Stoa.

During the visit, I talked a little about what I might do after I
retired from the Praetorian Guard. After all the assignments, all
the traveling, I had less than a year left before my contract with
the Praetorians expired and I would be allowed a pension. So
what next? I had to consider that life didn't stop at that point,
but I was at loose ends as to what I might do during the rest of
my life.

It helped talking over these personal concerns with Quint. He
was a good, wise man who carefully advised me to look within
myself, focus on my natural inclinations and interests, and then
follow their course as they may take me. This seemed quite a
task ahead of me as I headed out towards Ostia and Rome.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Judaea (4)

Preparing to head out into the Negev Desert, hopefully this
would be the last time I will have to ride atop a camel. No
matter how many times I have been astride the beast, I have
never come to love him. Oh well, at least--thus far--he has
not yet bit me!

The camel has a web-like foot, hence he doesn't sink down
into the sand as much--even with his weight. Also, as is well
known, this creature can gulp down gallons of water at one
shot and then retain it for several weeks. The camel also has
special protective eye coverings, enabling it to work through
dusty air. And if there are sand storms, a reclining animal can
protect its rider. Enough said about my nemesis, the camel.
I give credit where credit is due.

Our camels took us through the desert safely, and at last we
reached Masada and Lake Asphalt. Some of the Fretensis
legionaries immediately wanted to take a quick dip into that
oily dead sea. They bobbled around like corks. It has been
said that it is nearly impossible to drown in that water. Maybe
so, but I decided against plunging-in. I did put my hand into
the lake's water, and indeed it was oily!

Looking back at nearby Masada, it seemed a sheer high
cliff. On the lake side, the mountain rose very high; but on
another side it sheered down to a much smaller height.
And it's here that the Fretensis Legion from times past, more
than fifty years ago, painstakingly built an attack rampart in
order to scale Masada and reach the top.

The legion, then, was pursuing the remnants of the Jewish
Zealots who had led the revolt that led to the destruction
of Jerusalem and the dispersion of many Jews from the land.
It took the legion nearly three years to build this huge ramp,
slowly piling up rock and earth along the lower side of Masada.
Once the legions reached the top, where the Zealots had
withstood attack for such a long time, they stood stock still
in shock. All the Zealots and their families were dead! It
was thought that they decided to kill one another, up to the
last man, rather than be captured by the Romans.

Now little more than a half-century later, here we stood once
again. It was deadly quiet. We managed to ride carefully
up the ramp. And by foot we even more carefully walked a
slim serpetine path up to the top. Once there, I looked out
on a flat terrace where Herod the Great's Palace once stood.
There were numerous water catch-basins. Yet I could not
figure how the Zealots managed to resist for such a long time.
The catch-basins might hold water, but in that hot region I
would not imagine indefinitely. As for food, surely this was
always in short supply.

Viewing all this, thinking about the tragedy at Masada, I felt
keenly the ghosts that must still wander in this place. Upon
my leave, in a quiet corner, I raised my arm in a strong Roman
salute--giving honor to an enemy of Rome, who nonetheless
were heroic in their determination to remain a free people!

Following Masada I bade farewell to the Province of Judaea.
As my ship pushed off from Caesarea, I left behind the "Land
of Ghosts" and headed for Rome.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Judaea (3)

Into my third year, accompanied by two guardsmen, I traveled
to Lake Kinneret . On duty we planned to make our way clear
up to the border of the Province of Syria. Though I had been
down to Jerusalem, into Judea, and also into Samaria, I hadn't
done much traveling across Galilee.

Riding alongside this great lake, I was struck by the beauty of
its shoreline. Whereas the middle part of Galilee was rocky,
here we found gentle rolling hills dipping down to the shore.
The flowers and trees just made this place simply gorgeous.
The mists over the lake, as well as the rising moon and stars
at night, made this reflective lake seem almost mystical.

But it proved to be a very long journey by horseback. When
we finally reached the city of Tiberias, our small party was
very much exhausted. Nearby was the town of Hamat, well
known for its hot mineral springs. I suggested we make a stop
and heal ourselves. My two guardsmen were delighted and
thought me to be a splendid fellow! Actually my forty-year-old
body was no longer as vigorous as it once was in my younger
days. I needed a break after so much time in the saddle.

While there I got into a conversation with some citizens from
Tiberias, an old city built almost a century back by Herod Antipas.
Much to my surprise, they told me that there still remained a
fair sized Jewish population in Tiberias. After the destruction
of Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin--the court of Jewish judges--had
fled to Tiberias. Now, years later, Tiberias had become a place
of religious learning for some Jews.

For a Speculator responsible for information-gathering, I
certainly was negligent in this case! Of course my interest in
various religious cults wasn't very significant to the Imperial
Service, unless it involved revolts. Still I was astounded about
some Jews still residing in Tiberias.

After the restful baths in Hamat, we rode on up near the Syria
border--and I happened upon the small fishing village of
Capernaum. I remembered from John's little book (that I bought
in Ephesus) that the Christus once made his home here. Again
I found a few Jews still living there, as their synagogue appeared
to be in active use. Asking around about Christus, no one seemed
to know much of anything about him.

It was somewhat sad, in that this great man--worshiped by others
as a god-man--seemed not to have made much of a mark in his own
home territory. Than again, he lived and taught there almost one
hundred years ago. The years roll by, centuries pass, and we humans
have a tendency to forget. As I left Capernaum I had to consider
that even here yet another ghost was walking in this land!

Months later my replacement arrived in Caesarea. At last I was
nearing the end of my assignment in Judaea. After familiarizing the
new senior officer, I had a trick up my sleeve. Before returning to
Rome, I had one last place I wanted to see--Masada! Taking some
furlough I joined a patrol of Fretensis legionaries heading over
into the desert towards Lake Asphalt. This was the only safe way
to travel in these regions. One could not travel alone, nor even with
my two usual guardsmen. This desert was oft full of unfriendly
nomadic tribes who would as soon kill you, before they looked
at you!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Judaea (2)

Having settled in, having traveled around the Judaea Province,
having made inquiries about this long ago Jewish Revolt, I came
to the conclusion that for most of my years I had been quite
naive about Roman Rule. My hero worship as a youngster, my
proud service in the Augusta Legion, even my sense of duty
in the Praetorian Guard somehow could not square with the
sad history of this poor "Land of Ghosts."

Most of the Jews are gone now. There's obviously an effort to
"Romanize" Judaea. But it will never be a total success in
this place. Whether the Jews earlier, whether the Arabian
people now, what has always underlied this particular province
is *poverty.*

Out in the villages, in the rural areas, we have an impoverished
people--not only in terms of a lack of wealth, but also a lack of
even the most rudimental forms of education. Most of these
people are only just eking out an existence. Yet they are
expected to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor. Everything is
seen from a particular perspective. In Ephesus where most
people are flourishing these taxes are affordable. They pay
for services and other amenities, such as good roads and
way-stations. In Judaea, the taxes present a considerable
burden on people who are really, really poor.

What I found interesting, also, was the considerable cultural
difference I have found in Judaea vis-a-vis the other provinces
where I have served. Italy, of course, along wiith Egypt and
Asia Minor, their populations display a similar culture--in this
case, Greco-Roman. In Judaea, the previous Jewish culture
proclaimed itself utterly different from our culture. We were
called "gentiles," and we were considered impure.

From what I could tell, there was diversity within the overall
Jewish culture. But what held it altogether was a "theocracy."
There were different religious groups, somehow tracing back
to different tribal connections. But by the time of the revolt,
the focus in Judaea was on the Temple in Jerusalem. The
Temple priests held the people in sway.

Learning all of this past history, I finally was able to understand
why the Christus was executed. He spoke for a greater freedom,
in that it was really about the individual's relationship with God,
beyond the rules and regulations of the Jewish theocracy. He
declared that he was the "fulfillment" of the Law (of Moses),
that he was the Way. Christus' message nearly totally conflicted
with the priests. And when he preached his words on the steps
of the Temple itself, when he attacked the coin exchange, well
that spelled his doom.

As for the Roman Governor, at that time, ordering his crucifixion,
well that still remains unclear for me. Perhaps he felt pressured
by the Temple priests, who were the "go between" with the Roman
government and the Jewish people. Crucifixion back then, too,
was employed only for a serious criminal act. What had the
Christus done that was criminal. Was it only talking against the
Temple priests, or even upsetting the coin exchange? Hardly,
from a Roman perspective! There had to be something else, at
least a hint of resistance against Rome.

Eventually I learned that there was a Jewish resistance group called
the Zealots whose total aim seemed to be driving the Romans out
of Judaea. Could Christus have been connected with this group?
I can only ask myself the question. As for the answer, we will
probably never know.

But what I do know, I have begun to form an opinion. It may not be
to our advantage to force tribal peoples, especially a theocracy,
to become a part of a Greco-Roman culture that at their point of
development seems anathema to them. As for their being a part
of the Roman Empire, that is a much more difficult situation. In the
end, it may not be as much about "expansion" as it is about "trade."

The Judaea Province is a gateway to Nabatea, now a part of the
Province of Arabia. Nabatea is important to the trade between
the Empire and India and China. *But,* Judaea is located on
the Mediterranean coast where the caravans carrying these goods
from Asia, through Nabatea, can be transferred onto ships that then
can deliver them wherever required throughout the Empire.

Judaea may be, has been, a difficult province, but it is a necessity!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Judaea (1)

Chapter Seven. JUDAEA

Yet another long sea journey to my new post. This time we
skimmed the coastline, made a supply stop at Tarsus, and at
last reached safe harbor at Caesarea Maritima--the capital
of the Province of Judaea. Tired, I looked out at what seemed
a dusty Imperial town. It had an old, but well protected harbor,
a theatre, the Governor's Palace, and other Greco-Roman
features in the midst of housing. At least it was on the
Mediterranean coast. The sea breezes would insure a
moderate climate.

I wasn't sure about the rest of the terrain in this Province. I was
told that it ranged from hilly to rocky to desert, and in much of
these territories we would be back astride those damned camels!

After settling in at the palace, I met the senior officer I was
replacing. He was as anxious to leave as I was not anxious
to arrive. But we had time together, enough for him to provide
me with a quick history of the place. I had heard things about
Judaea, but was never quite sure of the facts. The facts bared
a very sad story.

Nearly fifty years back there was a major Jewish revolt against
Rome. It was put down aggressively by legions led by both
the Emperor Vespasian and his son Titus, who later became
emperor. In the midst of this campaign Jerusalem was nearly
totally destroyed, at the cost of at least 600,000 Jewish lives.
This included not only men, but also women and children.
Now I understood the meaning of the "Land of Ghosts." All
those dead, destroyed brutally, surely must haunt the land.

But all this happened a long time ago. Though barely qualifying
as a city, Jerusalem--or at least some of its environs--is now
occupied by retired legionaries and Hellenistic peoples. And
the 10th Legion Fretensis is encamped in a surviving part of old

Following the destruction of Jerusalem, the destruction of the
Jewish Temple, most of the Jews still left alive scattered.
Some migrated to Alexandria in Egypt, and others traveled
to areas far and wide, even beyond the borders of the Empire.

My fellow officer continued this sad story. After Jerusalem was
burned to the ground, three years later a former palace of a
Tetrarch, Herod the Great, was destroyed--resulting in the suicide
of many other Jewish zealots. Out in the desert, near Lake Asphalt
(which is an oily, dead sea), this palace was atop a high mountain
called "Masada."

Now, in our own time, the Judaea Province consists of "Imperial
Cities" sparsely speckled across the map, such as Neapolis and
Sepphoris. There were still some urbanized, Greek-speaking
Jews living in these places; but, for the most part, in the smaller
towns, in the villages, out in the rural areas, this land now seems
mostly occupied by people of Arabian descent.

I began to feel as unsettled as this poor Province. But I had four
years to face in this place, so I figured that I might as well make
the best of it.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Asia Minor (4)

Considered a great wonder, I occasionally visited the Temple of
the "Artemis Ephesus" whose statue featured a many-breasted
goddess. As I had earlier figured, she represented a fertility
goddess derived from Asian sources. What was interesting is
that Ephesus' Artemis represented a synchronistic effort to blend
the Greek Artemis of the Hunt, the Lady of the Moon, with an
Earth Mother of the East.

Such an effort reminded me of Serapis, where the Egyptian
god Osiris was blended with Apis--a bull deity--that slipped into
a Greek religious cult.

Pondering over my now bulging collection of notes about these
various religious cults that I have thus far encountered, studying
them from an investigative perspective, I still remain puzzled.
My family, most of my friends and acquaintances, have rarely
been caught-up in these religious expressions that are rampant
all over the Empire. It's not that I don't believe in an overall Deity,
the Creator of the World, it's just that I don't see the necessity
dressing the Deity in all these various ways in all these various

"Faith" calls, however it will. As to whether the Creator of the
World really stands behind all these various faith systems, I
cannot say. I am just as inclined to wonder whether all these
diverse expressions, rather, reflect our own human capacities
and development. It's easy to observe that we humans live
in different conditions, one from another, and our intelligence
and talents vary one from another. Maybe all these different
religious expressions represent all these tiered levels of who
we are, what we can feel and think at a given position on the
human pyramid.

The poor, not only physically but spiritually, have their needs.
Beyond poor, there's other kinds of needs--mainly, as I see it,
to have some trust in the world, in a Creator that provides us
with some sense of meaning in this life. As for myself, I put a
lot of credence in Fate and Providence. Nonetheless, somehow
I have come to understand the necessity to respect another's
religious or spiritual expression. Perhaps this pastime of mine,
which is slowly turning into a "study" is a sign of this respect?

But now I must turn all this aside for awhile. My replacement
has arrived, and I am entering the last few months of my
assignment in Asia Minor. The years pass-by quickly! And
newly arrived, I have received my new assignment to be the
Speculatore senior officer for the Judaea Province.

My Praetorian friends at the palace really got a good laugh
over this new assignment of mine. After plush assignments
in Capri, Egypt, and Asia Minor, I was heading for what was
deemed a nasty and difficult place. One guardsman who had
spent some time in Judaea said that it was a "Land of Ghosts."
Pressing him about what he meant, he just left me confused.
He said I would come to understand once I get there.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Asia Minor (3)

When I was not engaged in my duties, nor busy learning the
extra responsibilities of a senior officer, I browsed around
Ephesus. Once again I began pursuing my pastime of looking
into the various religious cults come my way. One of the most
curious was the cult of Christus.

From what I could tell, this particular religious cult began in
Judaea and eventually spread into Asia Minor via teachings
presented in certain Jewish synagogues. Over time most Jews
turned against this movement, which was about a god-man who
died and came back to life. Evidently there was a split, and
most of the followers now living in Ephesus are not Jews.

I was able to discover some small buildings called "churches"
or "assemblies" where the followers of Christus would meet.
Much of the time they meet in their homes, coming together over
a ceremonial meal and wine. This is not unusual, since these
kind of rituals are occasionally employed by other religious
cults around the Empire.

Upon inquiry, I discovered that under the Emperor Nero, some
twenty years before my birth, there was a persecution of these
people. It seems he falsely blamed and executed Christus'
followers for the burning of Rome at that time--though it was
more likely that Nero, himself, ordered the foul deed. Later he
declared these people as a danger to the Empire.

As far as I could tell, many of these followers of Christus were
either slaves or freedmen or, at most, Plebians. Easy scapegoats,
so to speak, in that they were mostly powerless people from the
lower social orders. Still I wondered why they were so attracted
by this Christus. I was in luck, in that Ephesus turned out to be
one of the major centers for these people.

It wasn't easy getting to know any of the followers of Christus.
They were dubious of any Roman asking questions. And who
could blame them? Eventually I ran into a Greek bookseller
who had a copy of a scroll written by one of the leaders of this
Christus movement. I bought the copy , which I was told was
written originally maybe about the time I was born--or a little
later--by a man called John, who claimed to be a disciple of

Reading through this small book, John told his story about this
Jewish rabbi (or teacher). It was a poignant story, tragic too!
It seems that Christus, himself, was a peaceful man. A wise man,
a healer also. He mainly taught in rural areas of Galilee, now
part of the Judaea or Syria Palaestina Provinces? His message
was about caring for one's neighbor, doing good, living generously.
His earlier Jewish disciples considered him a Messiah for the Jews,
even the Son of God. During a Jewish festival he came down to
Jerusalem, and made the mistake of speaking against the Temple
priests and upsetting the coin exchange there.

From John's story, it was not clear what the nuances of Christus'
execution were. The Jewish priests hauled him before the Roman
Governor and demanded his death. Why ever this pro-counsel
gave in to their demands seemed unclear. Anyway, Christus was
crucified under Roman Law--in that it was said that he declared
himself a "King of the Jews." All in all, this seemed a barbarous
act against a kind and probably innocent man! After his death, his
followers claimed that he was resurrected and ascended to Heaven.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Asia Minor (2)

After settling into my duties, I started receiving some letters
from my family. Being so far away, moving around, it was a
wonder I received any correspondence at all. Of course my
writing letters to them did help my receiving in kind. Alas,
after a year in Asia Minor, I received a sad letter from my
cousin Marc.

His sister Sybil had died of complications of yet a third
pregnancy. I felt dull over this news. I can't say that I was
shocked, not even surprised. Women in this world risk their
lives each time they get pregnant and move into childbirth.
Many women--especially older women--do die! My own
mother died bringing me into this world. Now Sybil was dead,
leaving behind two little boys motherless.

It was only a year later that the dam broke, so to speak. While
attending an evening party at the Governor's Palace, I was
listening to some quiet lilting music. Suddenly tears flooded
my eyes and I was near choking. Quickly I escaped into the
night, walking through the palace's parkland, weeping, nearly
convulsing over the loss of Sybil. I literally wept the whole
night through, finally escaping to my rooms at dawn. It was a
wonder I wasn't caught by the palace guard. Totally spent,
I felt frightful. I can't imagine how I might have looked to others.
But--at last--I had come to terms with the loss of my beloved

A few months later I was notified that I was being promoted to
senior officer of our Speculatore unit. The present senior officer
would be returning to Rome within the next four or five months.
So there would be time for an orderly turnover as well as time
for me to take some furlough, if I so desired. I surely did desire
some time away. But any time away would have to be spent
near. Returning to Rome was precluded, because of the distance.

Since that night in the palace gardens, weeping over the loss of
Sybil, I decided that the health resort up at nearby Pergamum
would suit me. Called the "Asclepeion," named after the god of
healing, this resort provided the best of rest and relaxation. It was
a sanctuary consisting of hot and cold baths, with masseurs, and
gardens. And the town of Pergamum, itself, was a beauty to behold.
It had a lovely Acropolis fashioned after the larger one in Athens,
as well as spectacular theatre built into a steep hillside. There was
also a large library, where one could rest and read.

Interesting, as well, was the dream-center. A part of the Asclepeion,
one could spend a night in a special room designed to help a
person sleep well and perhaps to have a luminous dream. I tried
it out, and I did have a different sort of dream. Reporting it to the
dream-guide, it went like this...

I was standing or sitting in a lecture hall, or schola, dressed in my
toga, talking with and teaching a group of people. The scene shifted
and I was attending a joyful picnic on a gentle lush green hillside
overlooking an unknown bay and city in the distance. My hair was
white. I was older, but my companions were all young people. We
laughed and laughed as we conversed with one another.

The Asclepeion's dream-guide laughed too! He said that my special
dream was about my "future." It was utterly obvious that one day I
would become a teacher. A teacher! A teacher of what? Here I was,
a Speculator in the Praetorian Guard, leading at least a quasi-military
life. If I had anything to teach, it would be about our duties. The dream
seemed more sedate than that of a soldier. I was dressed in a toga,
which I rarely wear. Whatever could I be teaching? Besides, a serious
teacher had to be a "Man of Learning." Hardly me! So I left the dream-
center, laughing off the experience, but feeling good nonetheless.
My overall furlough time had been well spent in Pergamum.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Asia Minor (1)

Chapter Six. ASIA MINOR

Once again I found myself aboard a Navy ship, sailing through
open waters. It was a long journey between Alexandria and
the Island of Rhodes, where we made a two day stop to rest
and resupply our ship. Entering the harbor, I pondered over
the once biggest statue in the world: the Colossus of Rhodes!
Built several centuries back, it was toppled by an earthquake
some fifty years later. It must have been a sight to see!

Rhodes seemed a bountiful island, with lots of vineyards, olive
groves, and wheat fields. And the port was really busy shipping
all its produce throughout the Empire. I considered writing
my brothers about this place, in terms of trade, but thought the
better of it. Our family corporation was extended enough.

Walking about I came across the ancient Stoa at Rhodes, the
famous Stoic school where Julius Caesar once attended when
he was a young student. Little did I know then, but the Stoa at
Rhodes would eventually play an important part in my life. But
for now, I had to take my leave and re-board my ship. Plowing
around a myriad of smaller islands, we headed for the port of

Again, the same Praetorian procedures applied in the Province
of Asia Minor. We were quartered at the Governor's Palace, and
once again I had to spend familiarization time with the Speculatore's
junior officer in Ephesus. We spent a number of months meeting
local contacts, observing not only the Province's capital--Ephesus--
but also two other major cities: Pergamum and Miletus.

Ephesus was a humongous city, with a population of probably
some 400,000 people. This quite surprised me. Alexandria
seemed large, but I didn't expect this on the far western borders
of Asia! Not only was Ephesus huge, it seemed a fairly happy
place as well. With a long history, it has chosen to flourish
within the Empire.

Right off it became obvious that the patron goddess of Ephesus
was Artemis (known as Diana in Rome). What intrigued me
was that the statues of the Ephesian Artemis differed incredibly
from the usual Greco-Roman imagery of Artemis as the "huntress"
armed with bow-and-arrow. The Ephesian Artemis was a strange
creature, seemingly standing as a many-breasted fertility figure.
I couldn't figure any of this for quite some time.

But I had to familiarize myself with other aspects of Ephesus. It
contained marketplaces, a major forum, long colonnaded streets,
an amphitheatre, and library amongst neighborhoods of comfortable
apartments, townhouses, and outlying villas. The Library of Celsus
was a great repository of books, consisting of thousands of bound
scrolls. I was told that it had replaced the lost Library of Alexandria
in terms of importance, because of its many and significant holdings!

And I did manage to take-in a late afternoon play in the amphitheatre.
Though, as an Equestrian wearing that special gold ring, I had the
right to sit in the near front seats, I decided rather to stand atop. I
was interested in how much I might hear. Astounding! In this 25,000
seat theatre, I could literally hear clearly every word that was being
said down on the stage. The acoustics were incredible.

All I could think was that I was really going to like working in Asia Minor.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Egypt (4)

Trying to explore the Egyptian pantheon of gods proved to be
nearly an impossible task. Some of these gods must have arisen
thousands of years ago, probably first as forces of nature. The
Egyptians lived--and still live--close to the land; thus, perhaps,
this may be why some of the painting and statues of their gods
display animal characteristics attached to a human body. I
certainly could not be judgemental, in that early Greek myths
of our own Greco-Roman culture mixed up the human with
animal motifs. For us there's gods with wings, like Nike. There's
the satyr, a god that had human characteristics transposed on
horses and goats.

Eventually I was to discover a more sophisticated grouping of
Egyptian gods. There's Maat, a godddess who represented the
underlying order of the universe--somewhat aligned with Greek
philosophy's idea of the Logos, which also represents the
underlying Reason and Order of the universe. Than there's
Re/Ra, mixed with Amon, which is a sun-god--the supreme god
of-- the Egyptians. Further along, there's the son of Ra, Osiris,
who was to be the Lord of Egyptian gods. But his brother Set
killed him, and Osiris was doomed to live in the Land of the Dead.

Legend has it that Isis--a goddess of fertility--had been the wife
of Osiris. Though dead, Osiris' penis was re-fashioned by Isis;
and consequently she gave birth to a son named Horus, who
became protector of the pharaohs.

The religious cult of Isis, which I was given to understand, was
literally one of the oldest in Egypt. This fact was interesting, in
that her cult had spread to Asia Minor, Greece and Rome. As
her cult spread, Isis came to represent the symbolic journey of
death and resurrection. One could oft discover statues of her
as a mother holding her child, Horus.

Believe me, it took almost two years of listening, trying to
understand, observing, that has allowed me to make this small
synopsis of Egyptian gods. Trying to figure the entire pantheon
of the gods of Egypt would take far more than just one lifetime.
And I was to discover that soon I would be spending my life in
yet another place. My four years in Egypt were coming to an end.

Sadly, just before I was to leave Egypt, we Praetorians learned
that our Emperor Trajan had died on his way back to Rome--
following his Parthian campaign. It was said that he may have
died of a stroke. I felt a twinge of nostalgia, remembering that
day when I made the sacred oath of allegiance directly to him.
He was a great emperor! Now we had a successor, our Emperor
Hadrian who was a distant cousin to Trajan. Being so far away
we naturally did not know much about Hadrian, other than that
he had served honorably in the legions.

An assignment for a Speculator opened in the Province of
Asia Minor. Rather than returning to Rome, I decided to go
straight forth to Ephesus where I would embark on similar
duties--only in a totally new territory.

At least I will have left the camels behind.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Egypt (3)

Nearly a year into my stay at Alexandria, I received word that
my cousin Marc was coming to visit. As part of his training to
become a master gardener, it had been arranged that he would
study for a half-year with a designated master in Egypt. Romans
loved their gardens, especially if they were based on Greek or
Egyptian designs. And Alexandrian gardens were world famous,
so here comes Marc!

Upon arrival I took Marc to his designated quarters in the Egyptian
section of the city. Frankly, I was really impressed with this
training program of his--very organized, very detailed. The
Egyptian gardener, with whom Marc was staying, proudly showed
us through his own delightful garden. I could see that Marc would
be in good hands. I only hoped that between the two of us, what
with our work schedules, that we might be able to spend some
special time together.

Some evenings Marc and I managed to spend some time
enjoying the social amenities of Alexandrian taverns. My cousin
was proving to be a good companion. He did tell me right off
that his sister Sybil had delivered a second male child, though
she went through a lot of trouble during her pregnancy. The
doctors told her and her husband that it would be medically wise
for her not to try to have any more children. This circumstance
somewhat worried me, but I hoped they would take the doctors'

Shortly before Marc was to return to Rome, I took some short
furlough and reserved some space in a small caravan of tourists
off to see the Pyramids at Giza. Marc nearly went zippy viewing
these awesome creations. Being of an artistic nature, he also
had an eye for the nuances of architecture. And he certainly got
an eye-full at Giza!

Upon his leave-taking, Marc and I talked about my older brothers.
They now had sons old enough to wear the toga. I was becoming
an uncle of a brood of nephews and nieces. Our family's shipping
corporation was expanding, actually securing some larger vessels.
In father's day our ships went to Hispania, Gaul, and Greece. But
under my brothers' tutelage, the larger ships were also now sailing
to Carthage via Sicily. So I suggested to Marc that he might make
mention to them to continue sailing along the African coast to
Alexandria, where a lot of money was to be made!

Watching Marc's ship sail with the tide, slowly disappearing from sight,
I was suddenly sad. It's fortunate when one discovers a true "friend"
in the family. He was on his way in this world, sharing his talents in
such a beautiful manner, building gardens that bring pleasure. Marc
mentioned that in the coming year he would be going back to Greece,
to train with a master gardener there. I told him to be sure and look-up
Quint, my old tutor, who now was a philosopher teaching at the Stoa
in Corinth.

Leaving Alexandria's harbor, I turned back towards my duties and my
travels. Along the way, I hoped to make Egyptian acquaintances who
could help me understand better the complexities of their ancient
religious cults.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Egypt (2)

As for Speculatore information-gathering, it really turned out
to be rather mundane. Mainly the focus was on talking to the
locals and careful observation. Overall the kind of information
we collected was mostly a minor ingredient towards keeping
order in the Province and the Empire. If there was a disturbance
arising, it could be quelled or addressed before it amounted
to anything. And, actually, pre-emptive measures usually saved
lives. This rather general descriptive pretty much applied
throughout the various Provinces.

Whether working in the cities or out in the field, we never wore
our military gear--though we carried our short sword sheathed
and usually attached to a saddle satchel when astride a horse
or camel. When on foot, we did carry our sword in a body satchel
thrown over our shoulder. We also wore plain tunics. In the end
it was probably all rather laughable, in that any fool could tell
that we were Romans!

Regardless we played the game, usually pretending that we
were simple legionaries on a short furlough to sight-see. As
for the city of Alexandria, it consisted of three quarters--for the
Greeks, which was the richest part, for the Jews, which was
crowded, and for the Egyptians, which was the poorest section.

Hellenistic culture was still the prevalent culture in this city,
spread originally by its founder Alexander the Great. Consequently,
Alexandria was a beacon of learning and beauty for all of the
Mediterranean world. Not unexpected, too, there were temples
and statues all around the city that paid homage to various Greek
gods, such as Poseidon and Hephaistos. There were many more
that probably stretched across the entire Olympian Pantheon.
Just to make all this even more complex, in Alexandria some of
these Greek deities--for example, Serapis- were blended into the
even older Egyptian gods!

The Jews celebrated their own god, which for them was the One
God. Their God was the protector of their people--hence, they
considered theirselves the Chosen People of God.

As for the Egyptians, well their gods emerge from the depths of
their archaic history. When finding the time, I decided that I would
concentrate mostly on these ancient Egyptian gods. At some point
I had developed a curiosity about all these religious cults come my

Now I must make mention that once one steps out of the environs
of Alexandria, we have nearly instantly moved into those famous
"sands of Egypt." It was desert as far as the eye could see, and
the camel was the major mode of transportation. In our work, out
in the field, we traveled to Memphis--also a large city surrounded
by desert and oases of palm groves. And not faraway, there was
the now fairly deserted Heliopolis--the "City of the Sun"--once famous
for its great learning. It has been said that the Greek Pythagoras
studied there, sitting at the feet of Egyptian priests. And then in
southern Egypt, down the Nile, through the desert, there stood
Thebes--the once great city of the Pharaohs.

Best of all, thunderstruck, I stood before the Pyramids of Giza.
Taller than the Lighthouse of Alexandria, I was awed by the fact
that these massive monuments or tombs were built thousands of
years ago!

I was glad that I was going to have four years here in Egypt. For now,
Speculatore information-gathering excluded, I was very much a rather
unknowledgeable tourist. But even I intuited that I was sitting on a
mother lode of a different kind of information, something that could be
very precious!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Egypt (1)

Chapter Five. EGYPT

After a few days traversing across Italy, we arrived at the port
of Bari located on the Adriatic Sea. From there we were in for
some rather long open-sea voyages. First to the island of Crete,
and then on to Egypt. Again we were aboard Navy ships that
we were mandated to use. But there was no getting around
that they were safer to sail across large stretches of open water.

We enjoyed a two-day break at Crete. I visited the old ruins of
a civilization supposedly older than the Greeks. We climbed
atop a hefty hill and explored the ruined Palace of Minos at
Knossos. Supposedly a half man-half bull called the "Minotaur"
roamed a labyrinth below the palace, and was killed by the
Athenian hero Theseus. More interesting for me was the
breathtaking beauty of Crete and the striking blue waters of
the Aegean Sea. Good old King Minos had a great view!

Once again taking to our ship we entered the Mediterranean
and slowly made our way to Egypt. Approaching the coastline,
I spotted the great Lighthouse of Alexandria. Never in my life
have I ever seen such a tall man-made building. Measured
against a hill, it would hold its own! Drawing close we entered
the port of Alexandria, and with this began yet another phase
of my education--a "worldly" education.

Named after Alexander the Great, the city of Alexandria seemed
an enormous place full of not only the diversity of people but
also cultures. As I was to discover, the major groups who lived
in this city were Egyptians, Greeks, and Jews. After the destruction
of Jerusalem years before I was born, many Jews migrated to
Alexandria. The Greeks, of course, historically came with Alexander.
As for the Egyptians, well I can only presume they have been in
place forever. Upon first encounter, I was really excited to explore
this nearly mythical city.

But my excitement had to wait. We had to report to the Praetorian
detachment at the governor's palace. There were about twenty
Praetorians, most there to guard the pro-counsel. This was always
the case in all of Rome's Provinces. As for the Speculatore unit,
there were five Praetorians attached to it--two officers, one senior,
one junior, and three guardsmen. On patrol, one officer and two
guardsmen would go out into the field. In terms of protection,
three men are better than one. Also, the third guardsman was
available as a courier if any information was deemed critical
enough to be brought back immediately to the pro-counsel or even
back to the Imperial Service in Rome. While one officer was on patrol,
the other officer always remained at the governor's palace. These
Speculatore units had this set routine throughout all the Provinces
of the Empire.

I was also informed that two Army legions were stationed in Egypt,
with one situated near Alexandria. There had been a minor Jewish
revolt a short time back in the city, so the legion came in handy!
Mainly, however, Egypt was a peaceful place, content to be a part
of the Roman Empire. In turn, Rome was content receiving wheat
and other food staples grown along the rich irrigated land that lay
on either side of the Nile River.

The junior officer I was to replace would be in charge of my training.
After I had become adept out in the field, he would move to his next
assignment. Right off I expected a tour of the city or even a trip to
the pyramids. No, not quite yet. My first business was learning how
to ride a camel. Need I say, I was somewhat floored in more ways
than one. Approaching the very first camel I have ever seen, it looked
to be a mangy beast nearly as tall as the Lighthouse. My training
officer noted that not only was the camel mangy, but usually was
also mean--given to biting at every opportunity.

Climbing upon the hump of that camel seemed an incredible feat.
I can't count the times I precariously slid down the backside of that
animal, fortunately caught by an Egyptian camel-driver most of the
time. At first I was embarrassed being saved by this Egyptian peasant,
but eventually I was grateful. This poor man saved me from breaking
my neck ten-fold.

Eventually I mastered "sitting" the camel and left the stables behind.
Now I would begin to encounter the backside of Alexandria!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Praetorian (4)

It seems that the *Speculatore* is a small, but special unit within
the Praetorian Guard, and I was to learn that historically it has
had a rather checkered reputation. Maybe fifty years back, this
unit was about spying and even assassinations! But nowadays,
what with the Empire far more settled, the Speculatore engages
more in the collection of information throughout the various
Provinces, mainly to support the Emperor or his governor, the
pro-counsel. The Imperial Service needs ever forthcoming
information in order to help keep the peace.

So! Would I be interested in joining the Speculatore? It would
mean being assigned to a Province for at least four years, since
one year was devoted to training, traveling, meeting local
contacts. And it's quite possible that a "Speculator" could be
away from Rome as long as twelve years, since assignments
abroad oft flowed into one another consecutively.

Well I was tempted, though this business of assassination
disturbed me. I wanted none of that. My superior officer noted
that though rare, it could be an imperial mandate--but, as an
officer, I would only give the order to a guardsman to carry out
this unsavory duty. Rare or not, I really had to think over this
business carefully. My superior was willing to give me some
time to make any decision.

At this point, I received a message from my oldest brother that
my father had died of a heart attack. The Praetorians gave me
a month's leave to help with my father's funeral and take care
of other family affairs.

Shocked first, then intensely saddened, I truly loved my father.
He had been kind, devoted to my well-being, all without the help
of a mother. And he handled it so as not to cause jealousy
amongst my older brothers. A good man was gone, and I knew
that I would miss him immensely.

Following the funeral, placing my father's ashes in our family
mausoleum just outside Ostia, we brothers attended to our
father's will. My two older brothers literally ran the corporation,
so my father wisely left only a small corporate share to me.
Rather he left me his house in Ostia--since my brothers and
their families had their own homes--along with a considerable
amount of money banked in a safe place.

I left some of this money in the bank, but most of it I handed
over to my brothers to invest in our family's shipping corporation.
Also, I turned over the Ostia house. They could sell it, if they
wished, and invest the proceeds of sale back into the corporation.
Need I say that my brothers were quite pleased with these actions
of mine. Having done all of this, they left no doubt in my mind that
I would remain a "silent partner" in our shipping firm. And this
situation, too, gave me a sense of financial security along with
my Praetorian pay and pension when I retired. Best of all, I felt
very much a contributor in my family's corporation.

During this period I had hoped to see Sybil. She had delivered
a male child while I was down in Capri; but, now, I was told she
was again heavily pregnant and not feeling well. So I stayed
away. I did see my cousin Marc, who had just begun engaging
in a most unique venture. Artistic, he decided to go into gardening!
He had begun training with some master gardeners who were in
charge of Rome's city parks. I was pleased for him.

The month's leave over, I made my decision. Nothing really was
keeping me in Rome. Though not quite "military," a Speculator
certainly could hope for a lot of adventure! So why not? If this
business of assassination ever came up, I would have to deal
with it. Either I would avoid it, or I would quit the Praetorians--if
they didn't hang me first! As for information gathering, well that's
a business about which I knew next to nothing--but I would learn.

My superior was pleased. The Speculatore already had an opening.
I was headed for Egypt.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Praetorian (3)

I set sail aboard a Navy ship, a galley with slave oarsmen.
Again, yet another exposure to an institution that I was
finding more and more distasteful. When living and working
at Ostia I had met imperial slaves, and there were slaves in
our households, but I always felt people there dealt somewhat
kindly with these poor hard-working slaves. Well, my eyes
were opened when I encountered the galley slaves. Told that
they were criminals actually judged and sent to the galleys,
they had to be treated with tough discipline. But what I saw
was more like "mistreatment." These galley slaves were
worked unto exhaustion, and many didn't survive more than
a few years enslaved in these military ships.

It's hard when young and idealistic, slowly, sometimes
suddenly, seeing the injustices that always accompany
human society. Protesting in my world might put you in
the galley, even if one is privileged! One had to be careful,
maybe working slowly towards some sense of decency and
justice. At the time, that's all I felt that I could do. Meet a
man or woman, be civil and respectful as possible--no
matter their position.

Once again I was sailing the same route I once traveled
from Ostia down to Naples. The Island of Capri was situated
in the Bay of Naples. Approaching the island via a small
craft, up close I could see it consisted of rising dolomite
rocks. And atop was the Emperor's villa, old, built by the
Emperor Tiberius long ago. From a distance it looked

But upon close inspection, the Emperor's villa seemed
seedy. Parts of it was in a severe state of decline. I know
that various emperors had escaped Rome's oppressive
summer heat for the sea breezes of Capri. But over time
they also found new places to cool off. For example,
Northern Italy is abundant with natural beauty, gorgeous
to the eye, cooler to the skin.

Yet, here I was, in a declining paradise, prowling around a
decaying villa, with few imperial inhabitants. Hence there
was little to do. I explored the island, discovered its almost
magical grottos, and spent a lot of my time sun-bathing and
swimming. I didn't complain, but it was hardly the "military"
life I had intended.

While I was still stationed at Capri our Emperor Trajan
embarked upon yet another military campaign, against the
King of Parthia on the far eastern edges of the Roman
Empire. Knowing that some Praetorian units traveled along
with Trajan, I wasn't to be part of such. Too junior, I still
found myself luxuriating at Capri.

Happily my assignment on that island rock was short, in that
it lasted only some two years instead of the usual three.
I guess my earlier Praetorian training counted for some time
included in this first assignment. Quickly, I made haste back
to Rome where I would await my next call of duty. Was I ever
in for a surprise!

Upon return, my immediate senior officer asked if I knew very
much about the *Speculatore.* Not much, hardly a thing in
fact. I was ultimately enlightened and astounded.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Praetorian (2)

After receiving the news that I had been accepted as an officer
of the Praetorian Guard, I reported to the large Praetorian
encampment just inside Rome's wall. It was located on the
far northeast side of the city. Unlike the Army's legions, the
Praetorians were allowed a camp inside the city--though a
number of Praetorian units were also stationed in parts of
Italy. And much later I was to learn that Praetorian guard
units were stationed throughout the Provinces, serving as
personal protectors to our pro-counsels who governed these
parts of the Empire.

Right off we new officers were equipped with our Praetorian
military dress and equipment, which really didn't differ much
from those of the legions. The one difference I did note was that
our shield was oval-shaped compared to the legion's rectangular
shield. We were also told that Praetorians were *not* allowed to
wear our military uniforms while walking around in the city; thus
we would wear only our tunics with just our short sword, or during
special occasions we would wear our toga with a weapon hidden
underneath. Somehow I thought this kind of ungainly, if you will!

Dressed in our Equestrian togas with the narrow stripe, we were
ushered into the Imperial Palace situated on the Palatine Hill.
It's a small hill, but allows for a broad view of the Forum on one
side--and on the other, there was a good view of the Circus
Maximus. Walking through the palace, I gawked right and left.
Later, as part of our "familiarization" training, we would traverse
the entirety of the palace, which ranged from party rooms, to
living rooms, to rooms where important trials might be held, to
the Emperor's quarters. It was surely an impressive place!

But on this certain day, we new Praetorian officers would make
a solemn oath of allegiance to our Emperor, himself. Trajan
looked to be a fairly handsome middle-aged man of a sturdy
build. I knew that he had been a military general when his
predecessor Nerva was emperor. And as Emperor, Trajan
also had through his military victory annexed Dacia as one
of Rome's provinces. Looking upon him, I felt that he was like
one of those military heros that I admired when a youngster.
Trajan was a real man, not one to manipulate. I liked him
and felt glad to be a member of his personal military service.

But that day was the first and last time I would ever lay eyes
on Trajan. Of course I didn't know that, back then. We continued
our familiarization training for another month or so. Essentially
we received extensive tours of the Imperial Palace, as I already
mentioned, as well as the Flavian Amphitheatre, and two
racetracks--the Circus Maximus and a smaller circus just outside
Rome. We also had to visit the Senate House in the Forum.
The Forum, itself, was an incredibly busy place that was not only
a marketplace but also the center for temples and law courts.
As told, it was necessary to become familiar with all these places,
because of the Emperor's visits to such. Even before he arrived,
Praetorians would go beforehand to a designated visit site and
make sure all was rendered safe for the Emperor.

Next on the agenda was some more military training. Much of
it was similar to the training I received from those retired
centurions down in Beneventum. Of course I had honed this
military training while with the Augusta up on the Rhine Frontier.
This was duly noted by the Praetorians, but they insisted upon
further training in some new techniques acquired from the
gladiatorial schools. I felt this somewhat of an irony, in that
I really did not approve of the bloodsport held not only in the
Flavian Amphitheatre, but also in amphitheatres all over the
Roman Empire. In my mind bloodsport was ignoble, even if
some of the participants were criminals. And I disliked the
practice of killing innocent animals for entertainment. Put
again, bloodsport was ignoble.

In the military there are times that blood must be spilled, but
more than often it is not ignoble. We defend the Empire, quell
disorder, expand our Greco-Roman civilization for the benefit
of our citizens. And other than some flares here and there,
nowadays there's little resistance and more a happy acceptance.
Most people are now content to live a peaceful life and flourish,
and that's due to the *Pax Romana.*

Oh well, enough of my thoughts on this! My mind turned towards
what might be my first official assignment with the Praetorians.

Perhaps I was due one of the plums after my rough time up on
the Rhine Frontier, because I nearly dropped when I heard that
I would be assigned to the Emperor's villa on the Island of Capri.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Praetorian (1)


Upon return home, I quickly submitted my application to join
the Praetorian Guard. While waiting for any news, I took the
time to rest, to visit family, and enjoy friends.

My father was excited, because the family corporation was
adding several new ships to the fleet. This was due to the
fact that our Emperor Trajan saw fit to build a new artificial
harbor at Ostia, hence more ships could be accommodated.
If our corporate expansion continues, the family will soon
boast of an "empire" within the Empire!

I also paid my respects to my Aunt Eleana. She seemed fit.
Her two oldest sons--the roustabouts--wangled into the
bureaucracy, in an office that manages Imperial properties
within the city of Rome. They both secured large apartments
near their work, living near the Forum. They were already
talking about buying properties of their own, building-up a
land corporation with their father's money. Well, at least they
weren't wasting their time.

However, during this time, I started getting to know better
Aunt Eleana's youngest son--born some seven years after
me. Having recently returned from his student sojourn in
Athens, Marc was a quiet, inward fellow. But he seemed
quite comfortable around me. I'm somewhat inward and
quiet myself--two "peas in a pod," perhaps.

Poor Marc was struggling. He had reached that first point in life
wherein he was forced to make some serious decisions. Still
close to that point myself, remembering back only a few years,
I could sympathize with him. Marc didn't fit the usual categories
of Equestrian service to Rome. He was "artistic," fairly
misunderstood in our circles. But he was determined to follow
through with some kind of undertaking that corresponded to
his personal proclivities.

Eventually our conversation turned to his sister Sybil. Father
had already told me that she was pregnant with her first child.
Guess her old husband was in a hurry to produce an heir.
Need I say, I still remained miffed by this arranged marriage.
But talking with Marc, he mentioned that Sybil seemed quite
content moving into this marriage. Her brother didn't think that
she was in love with this widower Patrician, but she felt
comfortable moving-up into a higher social circle. She would
rule a great house and provide sons who one day possibly could
serve in the Senate or become commanding-generals in the Army.

In the end, I had to come to grips that it was *I* who seemed the
loser when it came to Sybil's marriage. Though I never made
mention to anyone, I suppose that I had been in love with my
first cousin ever since childhood. Of course even if Sybil were
free, being first cousins, we likely would never been allowed to
marry by our family. Such a marriage would have brought
scandal on both of us and our family.

Allowing for some self-pity, I decided to put off seeing Sybil
for awhile--at least until after she had given birth to her first
child. With this, I started looking forward to any decision that
the Praetorian selection committee might make in regard to
my application. Some two months went by--and, then, I got
the news that I had been accepted as a junior officer with the
Praetorian Guard. I was already well into my twenty-sixth
year, but I felt as young as a new-born bunny ready to hop!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Legion (4)

Talking with the regular officers, as well as with some of
the Augusta centurions, they offered varied advice about
putting in for a regular commission with the Roman Army.
Basically it seems that the legions have not seen a lot of
military action since the Dacian campaign, carried forth by
Trajan when I was still working at the granaries at Ostia.
Of course that isn't to say that there might not be any future
military expeditions at any given time.

But for the most part, the Roman Army currently has bided its
time practicing and building roads, bridges, and aqueducts.
Not tending towards wanting to be an engineer, an overseer
of building projects, I sadly decided that I wouldn't see my
boyhood dreams come to fruition with the legions.

However, in the midst of all these discussions that I had,
another prospect quietly was entering my mind: the
Praetorian Guard. I really didn't know much about them
when I was growing-up in Ostia, only that historically they
had a dubious reputation. I heard otherwise from the
centurions. They said that if they had to do it all over again,
they would have tried to join the Praetorians.

The personal Imperial Guard for the Emperor, his family, and
his representatives, the Praetorians were an elite group, with
excellent pay that far surpassed the Army's pay. Also, one
could retire from the Praetorian Guard with a hefty pension
only after sixteen years of service. Compared to having to
serve twenty or more years in the legions, well this sounded
to be a good deal.

The trick was about getting into the Praetorian Guard. Italians
only! And only *equites* could serve in its officer corp. Well, I
qualified on both counts. However, they also only accepted
recruits and officers who were in really good physical shape.
This amounted to big, tall fellows. I was tall enough, I figured,
but I surely would have to work on my physique! So I would
work out more, make myself more rugged and able to cope
physically, during the remainder of this last year at the Rhine

Finally, I made an appointment to see the Augusta's commanding
general. I told him of my desire to join the Praetorian Guard, if
at all possible. I wondered if he might provide me with a letter
of recommendation. Indeed so! In fact, he was rotating this
coming year, going back to Rome the same time as I--so not
only would he provide a letter, but he would be glad to talk
to the Praetorian selection board in person, on my behalf.
Stirred with the excitement over all this possibility, this last year
with the Augusta scooted-by fast for me.

Returning home, the trip seemed easier. Probably this was due
to my traveling with the general's entourage. We had much more
comfortable modes of transportation. At last we sighted Rome.
I was home!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Legion (3)

Into the early part of my second summer with the Augusta,
I was told that I would complete this upcoming year and then
return home come the next summer. If, indeed, this happens,
I will have spent two years with the legion. I asked "why not
a third year?" Mainly, because the severe climate conditions
up here at the Rhine Frontier are simply too harsh, hence
a lot of officers and men are re-assigned or retired after two
years. At least I knew that my short overall assignment was
not due to personal reasons.

Naturally we were all kept busy with our assigned duties, but
upon occasion I did manage to creep out of the boredom of the
frontier. Not hard to miss, I noticed that most of our legionaries
engaged in the initiatory steps of the sun god Mithras. Secret,
closed, I still managed to get an inkling about this religious cult.

Back home in Ostia I knew there was a temple of Mithras, in
which within there was a cave-like structure. Here at the Rhine
Frontier our legionaries actually found a nearby cave! I was
told that they designed it in terms of a world order, especially
symbolizing the cosmic constellations. Not allowed in that cave,
I could only surmise that the roof of the cave was etched with
outlines of the constellations.

Within the cave I was told there was a statue of Mithras astride
a bull which he kills. I couldn't quite understand why this sun
god had to kill the bull, unless it is about overcoming the hardships
of this world. It supposedly was an act of bravery. The religion
focused not only on courage, but also manliness and fidelity.

I came to understand that the religion of Mithras came from Persia
and may have originated in Ancient India. Mithras was called the
"Light of the World," hence a sun god. His title was often that of the
"Sol Invictus Mithras." Born from a rock--or from a cosmic egg--his
birthday was around the Winter Solstice and his weekly festival
was on "Sun Day." As for ceremonies, I could only glean that there
was a special meal and the drinking of blood from a goblet--probably
wine, symbolizing the blood of the killed bull.

No doubt this religion of Mithras went far deeper than what I was
able to learn. Again, remembering the old Greek, the metaphysical
teacher, I met on my return journey from Athens, I tended to look
at this religion conceptually rather than from a position of piety.
From what I could tell, this religion swirled around the powers of
Light and Darkness, with Light overcoming the Darkness. As for
fidelity, manliness, and courage--well, those attributes were of
prime importance for the legionaries. I was told that in the legions
all over the Roman Empire, there were devotees of Mithras!

Observing all this, I no doubt was entertaining myself through my
last year up at the Rhine Frontier. Still I was careful to honor the
religion that our simple legionaries held dear. Put bluntly, they
were trying to rise above their selves--and there is surely a certain
integrity trying to do so.

But there were other considerations to attend over this last year:
like what was I going to do after I returned home?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Legion (2)

Back in the old days, before Caesar Augustus, military tribunes
occasionally were given command positions. There was a need
then, since the legions often were in combat situations. But
these days, what with a more organized, professional Roman
Army, along with less tension, military tribunes now are mainly
assigned to administrative staff positions. The point actually
is civilian-oriented, in that such prepares the young tribune for
civil duties after their military assignment.

So I wasn't surprised when I was assigned as a supply officer.
That meant being in charge of those legionaires responsible
for both the acquisition and guarding the legion's food supply.
No matter what I do, I cannot seem to escape the granary!
There were the local grains as well as grain brought up to the
Rhine Frontier by caravan. As for meat, it was mostly pork--
acquired from squalid farms nearby.

The legionairies had their own small millstones to crush grain.
And with braiziers they made bread and did their own cooking,
mixing rolls with porridge with occasional meat. And, always,
there was wine mixed with water. The camp-followers provided
other neccessities.

With my new assignment and some small amount of training,
I replaced a military tribune who was heading home. Shortly
afterwards I was also put in charge of the maintenance and
storage of the legion's weaponry, which actually included one
siege machine and some battering rams--though there wasn't
one enemy emplacement around to be crushed down. Those
days seemed long gone, though you can never tell.

Wtih Winter's onset the Augusta was now down to three tribunes,
with no replacements in sight. Consequently I was kept busy
with my double duty. But there was always military practice out
on the training field, just east of the camp. Legionaries were
constantly put through their paces when it came to "wedging,"
which was about keeping a tight formation with shields held
overhead. This wedging helped protect the troops from
oncoming arrow attacks. There were also implanted stakes
upon which the legionary would practice with his sword and
dagger. Probably with smirking centurions laughing behind
my back, I also practiced on those stakes.

And I continued to improve my horsemanship by visiting those
squalid outlying farms that provided us with food. And periodically
I would join my group and help overwatch the grain shipments
that came up the river on overland to our camp. Kept me in the
saddle enough to stay familiar.

However, in the midst of an Alpine winter the main concern was
staying warm. We all shivered over our braziers and fireplaces.
And if we ventured outside, we wore leggings, several tunics, and
huge fur coats or capes. I thought I must look like a bear.

Upon arrival of the next Spring, I finally received a letter from my
father. He made mention how well the family's shipping corporation
was doing, how much he was enjoying his grandchildren. Both my
older brothers long ago had married, and now had families. Lastly,
father mentioned that my cousin Sybil had married a Patrician.
He was an older man, a widower without children. So he was
looking for heirs, no doubt. Father and my aunt Eleana were
thrilled, in that eventually some of our bloodline would be a part
of the Patrician Order.

I was *not* thrilled. I should have been happy for Sybil, but rather
I was disturbed. Anyway, now Spring, a contingent of new
legionary recruits were arriving. Somewhat shocked over the
conditions of the frontier, of their demanding training, it was
well-known that at night some of the very young fellows cried
for their mother! Me? With no mother, I cried for Sybil.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Legion (1)

Chapter Three: THE LEGION

After spending several weeks at home, after bidding farewell
to my family--both in Ostia and near Rome--I joined a military
caravan of new recruits and veterans returning from leave.
I was the only military tribune aboard. As for the details of
our trip to the Rhine Frontier, any sort of description would be
understated. It was a difficult journey in which we rode, walked,
and floated. Making our way through Northern Italy, we went
from gentle slopes to hills to mountains to the Alps that slung
up into the clouds. The journey was long, in that we had to
slip through the valleys, traverse the water-ways around the
mountains. Nothing was so simple as a straight line.

By the time we reached the Augusta camp, I was so wobbly
that I could hardly see straight. Met by an aide, I was shown
my quarters wherein I immediately collapsed and slept straight
through for more than twelve hours. The next morning was
the only morning during my whole tour that I was allowed to
sleep late.

Eventually I climbed out of my rough bed, pulled on some
acceptable clothes and ventured out to take a look at the
camp. I was rather dumbstruck by what I saw. The camp,
itself, was neatly laid out and worn clean. It was the epitome
of order! But north of the camp, what I saw was utter chaos.
There stood a strewed-out settlement of camp followers,
consisting of prostitutes, taverns, makeshift shops, and
unauthorized families of the legionaries.

I had been forewarned about these settlements of camp
followers. They were attached to virtually every military
post, except those located in the major cities of the Empire.
The cities served the same purpose as these settlements for
the legionaries. Officially not allowed to marry as a member
of the Roman Army, legionaries could only recognize any
mate and illegitimate children after they retired--after twenty
years of service. Legionaries were Roman citizens, but more
often they were poor and ill-educated Roman citizens. Still,
like every man, they had their needs--and these settlements
provided such.

Pondering on all this, our aide suddenly came running and
mentioned that I should dress sharply, so as to make myself
presentable to the legion's commanding general. I was
expected within the hour.

I managed, but barely. The general was a Patrician, a
hardened army veteran. I knew of his stern reputation. Even
so, he showed his good manners and was gentle with me.
I was the fifth military tribune, with a slot still waiting to be
filled at the Augusta. After some small conversation, probably
an effort to put me at my ease, he called in some other regular
officers to witness my sacred pledge. As a rule, standing
before his general, a military tribune vowed his personal
allegiance to the Emperor and to his commanding general.

Having done this, I was dismissed for the day. At this point I
might make mention that our then current Emperor was Trajan,
a virtuous ruler who had served over the past decade or so.
I was given to understand that once he had been a general
right up here along the German frontier.

Still exhausted from my long journey, I returned to my quarters,
fell back in my bed and got some more sleep. The next day
would be busy. I would be introduced to the various sections of
the camp, plus getting an idea what my duties might entail.