To All Those Who Have Fallen Under My Command
You Shall Not Be Forgotten
I Sardisica: DCXXII casualties
I Germana: XVII casualties
II Augusta: XXVI casualties
V Alaudae: MDCLXXXI casualties
Total: MMCCCXLVI casualties
My story starts off with my father, Gaius Sempronius Aemilius, centurion of a legion serving in Hispania XXII years ago. I was around the age of VIII and I was on our small villa to the southeast of Rome, when news of the fate of a unit that had been ambushed by Iberians tribesmen had filtered back, when news came back that my father was amongst those killed while escorting a recently arrived Tribune, my mother was horrified. Here was this young mother named Daphne, XXVI years of age with two young children, a boy, Meridias, VIII, and a daughter, Sabina, V. But let us start at a time long before this.
It all started when my father married my mother nearly IX years before, when he was XXIV and she was XVII. Sempronius came from an influential and patriarchal family of Rome in the Aemilii family and Daphne, being the daughter of a modestly wealthy merchantman from the Greek region of Thessalia. They were the picture of happiness when they were together and looked as though their marriage had been blessed, and III months later, consummated their marriage with Daphne conceiving of a child. But Daphne knew that her husband’s duty was as a soldier and that he may be called away at any time to a place from where he may never return. Sempronius went on campaign in the first months of his wife’s pregnancy, but managed to return home weeks before the birth and when time came, the two welcomed a healthy baby boy into the world. The boy they named Meridias, a name that combined his Greek and Roman heritage.
Years passed and Sempronius was repeatedly called off to war and each time, he returned safely home to his beautiful, lovely wife Daphne and young son Meridias. Along the way, they brought another child into the world III years later in the form of their daughter Sabina, and the family idealized happiness in every known form. This happiness though was not meant to last as everyone knows, and came when legions were being formed for a campaign to pacify the belligerent tribes of Hispania who still shunned Roman authority. It was ironically at this time when Sempronius sat down with his son and told him of the things he had seen when he had gone off to war, and compassionately ask that Meridias, who was around VII years old, that when he came of age, not to join the army for he wished his son never to see the horrors he had seen. Meridias, barely contemplating what his father was speaking of, told his father he wouldn’t when he reached the eligible age.
Months later, his father had embarked with his legion, along with III other legions, and Meridias, the son, left with his mother and younger sister were left to wait and only wonder when Sempronius would return home from war, as he had always managed to do, time and again. Only this time, it was not meant to be, for about half a year after his departure, news about a century that had been ambushed in Hispania by tribesmen had filtered back to Rome, and news of Sempronius’ death reached Daphne, who was now left clueless about what to do with their villa and her young children, Meridias and Sabina, who knew nothing of what death was, only that certain people didn’t return after wars were won.
It was on a night when Daphne was putting Meridias to sleep, that he asked his mother, “Mommy, what happened today? Why were you crying so much?” While holding back her tears, she told her beloved son, who was the epitome of his father, she told her son that his father had been killed and that he wouldn’t be returning home. Meridias, overcome with emotion, buried his face into his mother’s chest and began sobbing uncontrollably. This was around the time that Meridias, who had sworn to his father never to join the army to avoid the horrors that war brings, made a vow, that when the time came and he was eligible for service, would join the army to get back at those who had taken Sempronius from this world, and simultaneously, seek approval in the eyes of his now late father.
About IX years passed after the death of his father when Meridias entered the military academy in Rome, and graduated when he was around XXI years old. In the months subsequent to that, young Meridias had married and was expecting child. Meridias and his bride, Gloria Cornelius, the two were an identical portrait of what his father and mother had looked like when they had gotten married, but tragedy lay in store for the lovers. It was weeks before he was to embark to Syria to join the army when Gloria went into labor and it would have seemed a joyous time for Meridias, who would have been a father, his wife a mother, his mother a grandmother, and his sister an aunt, but this was not to be. During the birth, complications arose, and his beautiful young wife, who Meridias had known a little over a year, died from the loss of blood, she lived long enough to deliver him a son. He named his son Alexandros, in honor of his Greek heritage just as Meridias’ mother had done for him. It seemed though the gods conspired against him, to keep him from having a family, for a week after he was born, Meridias’ son died in his mother’s arms in the middle of the night. In the span of a week, not only had the gods taken his lovely wife, but infant son as well, and Meridias felt like his life was meant for nothing but tragedy and despair.
Weeks later, he departed Italia for Syria, where Rome was combating insurgency from the locals. Commanding the Army of Syria was Praetor Gracchus Caecilius, Meridias was given the rank of Primus Pilus. After serving under Caecilius for a couple months, Meridias was transferred to the Army of Asia, under the command of Sullas Cornelius, who was leading his army against the people of Armenia, who were being assisted by their protectorate, Parthia. Several months afterwards, Cornelius had turned traitor, leaving the overall command of the army to Terbus Curius, his loyal and commited Magister. It wasn’t long after his accesion to Praetor and commander of the Army of Asia, when the Armenians laid siege to his army in the city of Amasia. When all V legions of the army were engaged, Meridias emerged from the city at the head of his legion, I Sardisica, he saw that the battle wasn’t going well for his comrades. The enemy pressed on every stretch of the line, and improvising at a moment’s notice, Meridias led the charge of his entire legion down into the heart of the enemy’s effort to break through the line’s center. With his actions and relieving stress from the line, cohorts from the legion of Terbus Curius were able to sweep into the enemy’s rear and bring on a full-scale rout, whereupon the Armenians got hacked to pieces.
Several months after the battle of Amasia, the Army of Asia swelled into an army of roughly 40,000 men, and in the time leading to the ending of hostilities with the Armenian-Parthian alliance, it had sacked the cities of Megalopolis and Trapezus, the previous where the traitor Sullas Cornelius was found dead and the latter being where Meridias received the Corona Muralis upon being the first Legatus to enter the city. After gathering all the legions, the army marched to the port of Ephesus and embarked back to Rome to be given a glorious Triumph by its humble citizens and gracious Emperor.
A couple years later, Meridias was back home at his family’s villa to the southeast of Rome, after a campaign in Germania that hadn’t resulted in much besides raiding territory and taking prisoners for interrogation. For the first time that he can recollect, Meridias felt some inner peace within himself as he helped to harvest his family estate with a rarity in Roman society: freedman cultivating the land, since his father hadn’t looked upon slavery highly, which went against the norm around much of Rome and the empire. While taking an afternoon off on a day when the harvest was nearing completion, a messenger arrived with a summons from Meridias’ old friend, Terbus Curius, asking for his assistance with commanding the Praetorian Guard against the unrest that was spreading around Rome with Republican sympathizers. Upon his arrival, Meridias immediately made his presence known around the Campus Martius for his stoic demeanor and his strict, but lenient attitude towards drill. When Terbus was given the title Master of the Horse, it was Meridias who was given the task of commanding the Guard on an interim basis while his friend was off training legions in another region of Italia.
After serving several months in the Guard, Meridias returned to his subordinate role under Terbus Curius, but news had traveled from the east about the invasion and destruction of Rome's territories at the hands of the empire’s long standing enemy, the Parthian Empire, who sought to further expand their sphere of influence and drive Rome from Asia once and for all. The Emperor, Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, knew he needed his best commanders to lead an expeditionary force to drive the Parthians back across the borders and restore Roman hegemony over the lands that had been devastated by the enemy, and so he turned to the Master of the Horse. Under Terbus’ command, he chose the corps of intuitive commanders he had used to swiftly defeat the Armenians, those commanders being Pertinax Marcellus, Ironidus Valerius, and Meridias himself, along with a young legate, Lucius Augustus Maximus. After the assembling of the most able commanders Rome had at her disposal, they set out for Brundisium to embark for Ephesus.
It took weeks to reach Cappadocia, where the Parthians had taken vast territories along with considerable portions of Syria, which had been taken as well. The early stages of the campaign were based on maneuver and tactics, to see which side could gain the most of each advantage the sides had to gain. This game was played for about three months time before the armies met on a plain outside the Syrian city of Samosata, a strategic position along the western side of the Euphrates. It was an epic battle if there ever was one, 35,000 Romans contesting 38,000 Parthians for the prize of Samosata on a surprisingly warm day in early fall. If the Romans won total victory, Samosata would be sacked and the better part of the Parthian army would be destroyed, allowing Rome to reclaim all her territories with relative ease. If the Parthians won a total or at least, a decisive victory, Rome’s efforts to take back her lost territories would have resulted in disaster for its most able general, Terbus Curius Malleus, and his faithful subordinates, and Parthia would lay claim to all of Cappadocia, then move south to confront the Army of Syria, under the command of Krellus Valerius. Once swept aside, the Roman coalition once numbering upwards of 70,000 men, would have been defeated and Rome’s Emperor being dictated terms to cede half her territory in Asia to Parthia. It would have been the supreme humiliation to Roman strength and honor. With the bitter struggle resulting in no gain for either side, the armies disengaged back to their camps, the battle had resulted in a much-disliked stalemate. The Romans were left to sulk in the cold of the Syrian winter while their enemies slept high and dry behind the walls of Samosata, safe in knowing they had successfully fended off the Army of Asia. That city would become the symbol for both sides, for Parthia, proving its worth against the vaunted Roman army and in position to create a vast empire stretching into Asia, for Romans, it would be a sign of their determination and gallantry in the face of the enemy, no matter what the cost.
With the long but chilling winter finally passing months later, Terbus was devising a plan to assault the city of Samosata and remove the thorn that had been plaguing him and his army since the fall. During the winter, old friend and now Consul, Maximos Sergius had found his way into the Roman camps after being intercepted by the Parthians on his way before he could find port and sail back to Rome to report to the Emperor the current situation there in the East. As for the planned assault, Terbus would call on his old friends Meridias and Pertinax to send cohorts of their legions, V Alaudae and XXI Rapax, along with those of the legions of Lucius Augustus Maximus, II Parthica and II Sabina, and Terbus’ own, VI Victrix, in addition to X Equistris, would move in to assault the city and sack it, leaving no one alive. It was around this time, days before the assault was to take place, that Meridias felt apprehensive about whether he would return home to see his mother and sister, who for him, besides the army, were the only family he had remaining to him, and if Meridias lost both, he would be a solitary man in a world of few friends and many enemies. He then decided to console with Terbus about the decision he’d made about the upcoming assault on Samosata, Meridias had decided to go into the city with his legion. Terbus, always the mindful commander, was worried that his “war-fighter” as he had come to know Meridias, was risking his life in a battle in which he need not take place, but also knowing of Meridias’ grace under pressure, he was skeptical but accepted his legate’s request.
Of all the legions assembling to assault the city, V Alaudae had taken the brunt of the Parthian attack near Samosata in the battle that took place there in the fall, having had his legion placed in the Roman line’s center, Meridias lost nearly three full cohorts. Not to say V Alaudae couldn’t fight, for they dished out as much as they received, punishing every attempt the Parthians made to break through the line’s center. What next transpired was something almost out of legend. Meridias, leading his veteran VII Cohort, marched slowly across the plain that separated the Roman camps and the city. No one knew what to make of it. For the Romans, they wondered why Meridias hadn’t coordinated the attack with anyone else, but for the Parthians atop Samosata’s walls, they were stupefied. They thought a lone cohort coming to attack them was either brave or foolish, nonetheless it was an awe-inspiring site. The men of VII Cohort pushed forward through the mud of the spring thaw. Soon enough, the cohort came under missile fire from the city and Meridias ordered his men into the testudo and ordered the men to press forward closer to the walls, while he did this, the defenders were no longer awe struck by what they saw and all units concentrated their fire on the lone cohort coming towards them. Standing in the third from last rank in the formation, Meridias heard a messenger riding in from the rear…he was from VI Victrix coming to tell him that cohorts from Rapax and Victrix were moving forward to assist. When the messenger had galloped off, it was no sooner that Meridias had finished speaking with his men about current events and ordering them forward, that an enemy bolt had found its mark in his shoulder, slamming him to the ground in agony. A Centurion and several legionaries rushed over to Meridias to ask if he were all right, being told while grimacing from the pain, he shrugged off his men saying he needed a surgeon immediately and ordered them to some improvising surgery right there and had them snap the arrow in half, Meridias would see a surgeon once they got back to camp.
While this was going, a few cohorts had managed to move forward and were drawing closer to the walls, and while still in horrible pain, Meridias ordered his men forward towards the walls. The quagmire of the spring thaw had hardened and made traction and cohesion less of a problem as the cohort drew closer to the city’s defenses, which were by now frantically trying to throw back the Roman assault. Finally reaching the walls, Meridias saw the first of his men up the siege ladders, urging them to show no quarter to the enemy once they were met on the parapet. Cohorts from the other legions could be seen scaling the walls and meeting the desperate defending in small-scale pitched battles, though the legionaries seized the upper hand early on. Fighting was furious as the Romans slowly pushed the defenders back but who were holding on with every measure of devotion that they had for their city. During a key moment in the battle, a time when the Parthians were taking a toll on the attacking cohorts, a unit which had tunneled beneath the city’s walls had emerged from the cellar of house in the center of the city and henceforth proceeded to massacre all who fell under their gladii. Soon, the enemy was fighting from both front and rear, being pressed in a vice due to the attacking forces and the buildings in the city. It wasn’t long until the remaining defenders surrendered and the city of Samosata was set ablaze after the last of the cohorts had withdrawn to the safety of their camps to the northwest during the early morning hours.
Once returning to camp, Meridias found his way to the surgeon’s station, and the surgeon, once seeing the arrow embedded in the young man’s shoulder, didn’t hesitate to perform the surgery. After its completion, laid there and rested until the early evening, for he knew that Terbus had announced a briefing around that time. Before the briefing which was to discuss the outcome of the assault ended, Terbus paid heed to Lucius and Meridias to stay after he had dismissed everyone else, he wished to speak to them both personally in his command tent. Both Lucius and Meridias knew they were going to be reprimanded for risking their lives in the assault, which saw the death of a key commander in the form of Quintus Flavientus, but oddly enough while he was reprimanding them, Terbus commended the two for being fine examples to their men by taking part in the assault. He said that the two legates would perform delaying actions against any Parthian attempt at getting into the army’s rear as they withdrew west to establish a more defensible position than was available near Samosata. This action to be performed by Lucius and Meridias would soon meld into lore as the two had to single-handedly delay the Parthian advance, they would soon become known as “The Ghosts of the Rearguard.”
Meridias’ V Alaudae moved back from the main force that was advancing towards the mountains to set-up an easier defended position, he and Lucius were tasked with giving Terbus the time he needed to establish a strong defense before the Parthians resumed their advance. With his legion trailing the main force by about a day, Meridias divided his legion, already diminished in numbers, into two separate units. One unit was to continue to advance and the other was to act as a rearguard to screen V Alaudae from an attack in the rear. This action could have very well led to a catastrophe as his rearguard was met by a larger force than Meridias had ever dared imagine; complete with cataphracts, horse archers, peltasts, and hoplites. It wasn’t long that the Tribune Aurelianus, tasked with commanding the rearguard found himself threatened with encirclement by the mobile Parthian cavalry. Managing to get word out to the main force of the legion ahead of them, Meridias read the notice that Aurelianus had relayed to him and was forced to make a dire decision that could have unraveled the strategy that the Romans were constructing for the Parthians to fall into. He was faced with the dilemma of either leaving the rearguard to their fate and hoped that a few survived the massacre, or he could swivel his legion around and go to the aide of those who were in peril. Meridias made the decision to assist his rearguard against an enemy, whose numbers were unknown and as fate would have it, Lucius’ scouts found Alaudae’s rearguard the center of attention for the Parthian advance, making the decision to assist in attack as well. It was early morning when the three legions found themselves encamped on either side of a shallow valley, which provided enough concealment to keep them hidden from the Parthians, who were still occupied with surrounding Aurelianus’ rearguard. Stealthily sending scouts across the valley, Lucius and Meridias came up with a plan that would take place later that morning, which, if pulled off with the right degree of surprise would free the rearguard and force the Parthians into retreat, all without engaging them in pitched battle.
Come early morning, the Parthian raiding party that was the size of a small army, who had felt so assured of victory only a half day before, found themselves flanked from the northwest and southeast by nearly 12,000 reinforcements coming to the aide of the embattled Aurelianus, but for all the Parthians knew, the whole of the Army of Asia could have been there to annihilate them. Parthian commanders, rather than risking a confrontation with a force whose strength they knew nothing of, ordered a full scale retreat of their force back to the main part of their army. With the rouse being pulled off almost flawlessly, Meridias and Lucius could have only thanked the gods for the miracle that they pulled off to free their brothers-in-arms, though they had no time to celebrate, their legions needed to fall back towards the safety of the defensive lines to the west. For if they didn’t get back, the Army of Asia would be left with no strategic reserve from which to call upon when the climactic battle with the Parthians came.
Advancing through the night, the legions were tired and weary but knew they needed to continue marching forward through the fog that surrounded them, acting as a shield from a Parthian attack on the rear. Unknown to them, the legions had slipped past the defensive line through the fog, and when a Milite demanded to speak to the commander of an army he mistook for mercenaries, Meridias stepped forward and calmly explained to the Milite who they were and what their business was for being there. The Milite then let the column of exhausted soldiers pass through the checkpoint to let them strike camps beyond the defensive lines so they could finally get some much deserved rest. It wasn’t long after this that Meridias found the Principia of VI Victrix. Upon arriving, Meridias heard the voices of the two Consuls, Maximos and Terbus, bickering like little old ladies in the market, what the two were arguing about, Meridias had no idea. After breaking up the conversation and with the arrivals of Lucius and Pertinax, Meridias decided to give one of his most inspirational speeches, keeping the ear of all those who were in attendance to the early morning meeting, speaking to them with passion and conviction in his voice about the direness of the situation they were all faced with.
The Battle of the Taurus Pass, otherwise known as Kommagene, took place days later. At a glance, the Romans would look outmatched with the numbers of cataphracts, horse archers, peltasts and hoplites that the Parthians brought to face them. The outcome looked bleak from the start, for six under-strength legions lay under the command of Terbus Curius Malleus, numbering some 25,000 men at best, not including the allied Amazonian cavalry, who were to face an enemy numbering some 60,000 men under the command of the upstart but determined commander Pacorus Arshankuni. When battle commenced, the Parthians first wished to tease the Romans by firing volley after volley of arrows from their horse archers into the deep formations of the legions holding fast behind their defenses. Pacorus wished for the Romans to become agitated enough to send units out into the open to be massacred piecemeal. His wish however fell on deaf ears for the legions remained unfazed and lived with the bruising impact of the enemy’s arrows. Growing impatient, Pacorus then ordered his fabled and feared cataphracts forward to batter the Roman front lines into submission. Thunder resounded throughout the pass with the charging of heavily armored man and beast, dozens falling at a time from the carefully positioned caltrops that were purposefully designed to stop cavalry, but these had little influence on the charge as tens of thousands of horses steamrolled towards the Romans, reeking death and havoc on the enemy. The Parthians kept up this onslaught until they could bring up their skirmishers and heavy infantry, in the meantime, Terbus Curius ordered Meridias and Lucius to take their legions and sweep behind the enemy lines, cut off reinforcements coming across the bridge, and then move against the Parthian rear. And once Meridias and Lucius got behind the Parthians, their legions had a field day as they destroyed the enemy’s left flank, obliterating their skirmishers and hoplites that were brave enough to stand their ground. With this new threat to his rear and hearing reports of Consul Sergius’ provincial legions advancing to the battlefront, Pacorus decided to fall back and lick his wounds, retreating to where he may perhaps fight the Romans another day.
Though what was to come after the Army of Asia had moved out from the Taurus Pass was as unexpected as it was profound. Meridias deliberately went behind the back of Consul Terbus Curius Malleus to send word to the Emperor of the situation there in the East, but his letter was intercepted before it could leave the area. The past two years had been building to that point and Terbus had at it with Meridias, who had stated his case vehemently when the Consul had wanted their parting to be cordial, because the Consul was left with no alternative. The clash of wills was paramount, neither man wishing to admit one hint of guilt, but Meridias surrendered the contest and accepted his fate and was relieved on his command from the Army of Asia. He would return to Rome holding distain, not hatred, for his former comrade and commander, pleading his case before the Senate and the Emperor himself, though feeling that after these encounters an air of arrogance and jealously rubbed off on those whom Meridias had spoken to.
All Meridias wishes for now is to regain the respect that he once held and show the people of Rome he was, and always will be, a faithful son of the Eternal City.
He also longs to hold his beloved Lysandra, an old friend and lover, in his arms once again. Meridias wishes to experience the same love with her as he once had with his late wife, who had died more than a decade before. To love and cherish Lysandra for the remainder of his life is something Meridias would never mind doing.
Courtesy of Alexandra Valeria
The Aemilii Estate outside Rome
how jedi are you? :: by lawrie malen