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Richard's Writings > The Birth of Rome > Chapter 7: Citizen Soldiers

Synopsis of Chapter 7: Citizen Soldiers

The Etruscans brought more than technical advice when they first approached Roma; they brought new industries and business opportunities. People poured into Roma looking for work. Cneve's house is finally finished, and Marcus' mother is playing match-maker. Trade is booming, and construction projects are rampant throughout the city. Cneve is elected Praetor to administer the growing city. Three Greek mercenaries arrive to train the newly formed legion. They demonstrate their drills before the people of Roma.

Excerpt from Chapter 7: Citizen Soldiers

A javelin demonstration was scheduled first. At a command from Alexon, the thirty centurions ran from their positions in line to the right side of the field. Each centurion carried a seven foot spear made of ash, tipped with an iron point. In time, every soldier would be issued spears tipped with iron spearheads instead of the fire-tempered pikes they carried now. Ten straw men stood in a row on the left side of the field, between the mustered army and the audience from the city. Marcus raised his steel sword, then brought it down swiftly. At that signal, in groups of three, the centurions rushed the straw men. When a hundred paces distant the first man in each group of three hurled his javelin at the target, then the next man, and finally the third. In three waves the spears arced through the air and unerringly found their targets. Thud, thud, thud! One after the other, javelins tore into the body of the straw man, first one blow, then a second, and then a third strike in quick succession. The swift devastation astonished the crowd. The destruction of the ten straw men was total. The crowd could easily imagine a row of enemy soldiers overpowered by the three shafts that pierced through each body. After an initial gasp, and a moment to collect their wits, the crowd burst into a thunder of applause. The thirty centurions ran up to the targets, collected their spears, and returned to their places in line.

With a nod from Marcus, attendants flanking his horse raised three flags and dipped them forward, towards the crowd. The flags were colored green, red and blue. The drill masters barked a short command and as one the entire army lowered their pikes towards the crowd and began to step forward in unison. They advanced in the 'Spartan style,' in silence, and their very silence created an eerie and menacing effect. Relentlessly they came on, step by silent step, pressing toward the audience who suddenly discovered their retreat blocked by the bodies behind them.

Another nod from Marcus, and the green flag waved left, while the blue flag waved right. Two more barked commands, and instantly the green and blue phalanxes, still in their centuries, began to angle off towards either side. The crowd now realized they were going to be encircled, and a mild panic began to ripple through their midst.

A cornet sounded, commanding "all halt." Then the red flag came up again, waved forward towards the crowd, while the horn sounded again. Another shout from Alexon, and the middle phalanx dropped their pikes on the ground and as one a thousand swords were drawn from their scabbards. Row after row of sharp bronze glinted in the afternoon sun, a deadly hedge a hundred men wide. Alexon bellowed, "Close order drill upon my command. Phalanx ready? Begin! Push! Thrust! Push! Thrust! Push! Thrust!"

The phalanx advanced directly towards the crowd. The movement of the swords was mesmerizing: a flick up then a thrust forward, flick then thrust, flick, thrust, and with every step the flashing bronze swords drew nearer and nearer. The crowd was definitely uneasy now, looking sideways and behind, seeking escape. Like some monstrous centipede the massive formation pressed forward, serpent tongues of sharp bronze licking towards the audience, a dangerous machine out of control. The threat loomed closer and closer, the people felt their peril but were incapable of escape, ten rows of swords flashing past the shoulder of the man in front, a shield wall a hundred men wide, pierced only by a hundred sharp swords lunging to taste the blood of the crowd. And the faces of the soldiers! These were not the sons and nephews and brothers who laughed at a recent family party; these were stone-faced strangers who carried death on the tips of sharp swords. Panic was truly building in the crowd, pressing back against the mass of people to the rear, anything to escape this juggernaut that was about to impale them all!

And then, with a single command, they stopped. In silence the phalanx waited for their next command, and in silence the audience stared back, shocked by their fright.

Marcus watched from the side, atop his horse. He let the suspense build for another minute more, then rode over to the side of the line and faced the anxious people. He knew he needed this moment to affix in their minds that this was an army of strength and power, and he was their master. He had served in their ranks all through training, but not today. Today he wore polished armor and the red sash of command. Today he was not the boy who won the foot races for the Palatine in his youth. Marcus Junius was Strategos, General of the Army of Roma, and he wanted no one to doubt this. He had the cornicen signal the soldiers to sheath their swords.

"People of Roma!" he shouted. "I present to you the Army of Roma! We are here to protect and defend you! People of Roma, welcome your army!"

Whether it be from pride, or relief, or the sudden release of fear and tension, the entire audience gave forth a full-throated roar. Anxiety turned to smiles in a moment. This is our army. This army is on our side. Oh, blessings upon these fine men! And ye gods, what a relief! This was only a simple demonstration, after all.


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