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THE BIRTH OF ROME
Synopsis of Chapter 8: The Bridge of Pilings
Cneve is called Lucumo now, the Chief. He assumes responsibility for building a wooden bridge across the River Tiber, with the help of Etruscan engineers. He also handles the routine business of the city, including negotiations with the Etruscan city of Veii over possession of the Janiculum, the tall hill on the western bank of the Tiber. Lucumo is formally adopted by Ancus Marcius, the leading citizen of Roma. Tanaquil designs the building of the Regia, the first government building, according to the dictates of the sacred texts. Ancus Marcius passes away, and Lucumo introduces Roma to the Etruscan custom of funeral games: gladiators and chariot races.
Excerpt from Chapter 8: The Bridge of Pilings
Lucumo had the crowds shift to another portion of the Forum for a surprise. He mounted the speaking platform near the steps of the Curia Hostilia and explained what he had in mind.
"In the city of my youth, we honor our most revered dead with gladiator games. It is thought a fitting tribute to send our loved one into the realm of the dead with an escort. I have sent to Tarquinii for gladiators and they are here today. They will fight to the death for you, here, and now."
Escorted by soldiers from the Etruscan city of Tarquinii, a line of gladiators marched into the Forum. They had been tucked away behind the Capitoline. The presence of foreign soldiers on the field of the Campus Martius had been reported to Marcus Junius at once, but he was not alarmed and did not explain. Marcus simply sent a squadron from the red phalanx to escort the party across the river and attend to their needs. Now their identity was revealed.
The Etruscan soldiers, together with the Roman soldiers, formed a large square around two combatants. They had instructions to cut down any gladiator who appeared to threaten the civilians protected by the shield wall of the soldiers. The gladiators were traditionally prisoners of war, and fought with the same armor and weapons they had brought to battle. If shields were not normally used by the enemy, a shield was sometimes provided, but not always. Today, however, the gladiators were all criminals condemned to death. They were volunteers. It was their choice to risk this method of death, and perhaps win life instead. Outcasts, perhaps, but alive.
The two gladiators circled each other, looking for an opening. They wore helmets and carried shields and swords, but nothing else; they were completely naked. One gladiator saw his chance and struck, cutting into the other's side before he leaped away. Neither had any training in warfare, or really knew how to handle a sword. The wounded gladiator held his shield too stiffly, unconscious of the opening he gave his opponent. He stabbed and missed, followed up quickly and stabbed again, then the better gladiator sliced down quickly and severed the other's wrist. Both the sword and the hand holding it fell to the pavement, blood squirting in long streams. One more blow against the exposed neck and it was over.
The crowd was overawed. They didn't know whether to cheer or gasp in horror. Their emotions had been twisted to the extreme, by the loss of their esteemed leader, and now this! Yet, it didn't feel wrong. It felt somehow suitable to send Ancus Marcius into the unknown on a river of blood. It was a release that everyone felt and no one knew until the pressure escaped, like a bloated bladder suddenly pierced and deflated.
Another pair entered the square. They fought much like the two before them. It ended with a double death: one had plunged his sword into the belly of the other, and refusing to let go of his sword, opened himself to a return thrust into his heart. They both went down. This was followed by two pair fighting at the same time, each circling his opponent while trying to avoid the slashing swords and heaving bodies of the other pair. One slipped in blood and was instantly set upon by the other, while the stronger of the other pair backed his opponent up until he tripped over the body of the first pair and went down, decapitated in the blink of an eye.
At this point Lucumo had heralds move through the crowd, announcing another surprise in the Valley of the Games. Please start moving now, the heralds urged, and reassemble in the Valley of the Games. The crowd started to shift south, streaming towards the valley that separated the Palatine from the Aventine, a place where the games were traditionally held each summer.
But instead of foot races and wrestling matches, Lucumo had something else in mind. As the people settled themselves on the slopes on either side of the valley, they saw dust rising from the south. Out of the dust came chariots, six chariots, each drawn by two horses. These were some of the chariots built by the Sulpicius family, based upon a design copied from the chariot Lucumo and Tanaquil rode into Roma when they returned from their honeymoon. Sounds of admiration arose from the crowd. People still in the Forum heard the commotion to the south and rushed across the Forum Boarium to see what was responsible for the fuss.