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The Pilum Newsletter ~ Second Quarter 2761 a.U.c. (2008 CE)


Insight on the Roman military machine! The Pilum is a quarterly webzine publication and the official newsletter of the Sodalitas Militarium of Nova Roma, providing articles, stories and discussions on various aspects of the Roman Military with a special focus on Infantry, Cavalry, Naval, Engineering and Cartography topics.


Rhine River Patrol #15 - A Trbune's Secret

by Marcus Audens

The Tribune sat in the deep shade of a spreading oak tree with the remains of a sumptuous mid-day meal before him. Lobster shells and cherry pits littered the table and covered the large silver serving platter. Standing close to the edge of the table stood a large flagon half-filled with Falernian wine, while next to the wine stood a pitcher of cool spring water fresh from the spring house under the building behind him. He held loosely in his hand an elaborately carved wooden goblet and he appeared to be in deep thought.

The hot sun beat down on the large paving stones just outside the tree's shade line, but the thick foliage of the aging tree kept all sunbeams from peeking through to either the man or the table.The air in the small but very richly arranged patio was very still. Only the lazy buzzing of the bees in their mud house in the garden's corner broke the silence.

Tribune Mettallus was deeply troubled. His arrangements with the city people in Ostia was in serious risk of being discovered, and he was not sure what action to take to ward off the impending danger. The problem was that twice damned Commadore and his three ships under construction. With the man's arrival and his energetic pursuit of the building schedule, the completion date of the ships in the shipyard loomed much nearer than Mettellus ever thought possible considering his arrangements with material suppliers to delay goods till the last possible moment. This "arrangement" had cost him dear, but it would be worth it, if he could delay the ship's completion by a few months. This would not have been difficult with the old fool that was in command of the base, but this newcomer seemed to be a man driven. Then too, the Tribune's energetic plan to have the ships under construction assigned to the Roman Fleet at Ravenna was rapidly coming apart.

The diversion of those ships was absolutely vital to his plans, since a specialized tactical division of warships under a determined and actve leadership released against the Rhine Delta pirates would be disasterous for them and for his carefully laid plans. The oe bright spot in the present situation was that this newly assigned officer, from all he could ascertain, was totally ignorant of the the present situation, or he was stupid, or he was cunning beyond average considereation. The Tribune raised one dark eyebrow at the thought; the man certainly did not appear to be stupid. Also he was well thought of in Rome for some capture of a cargo in hand by pirates, of some high ranking officer. It mght even have been the Emperor. This much he had learbed from is associates in Ostia. This Commadore now pursued his assignment here in Germania as though his life depended upon the success of his ships!! The tribune smiled a grim smile and thought that his life certainly did depend upon his vessels, in one way at least. He fondled the sharp dagger that lay on the table.

How to deal with this problem, he asked the goblet in his hand. There was no immediate response. Murder the man??? No, murder was such a negative term -- arrange to have him disappear?? -- perhaps; that sounded much better. But there was a definite risk that someone would demand a detailed search for the Commadore, and in doing so discover the whole plan. No, he would have to be cautious in his action whatever it was to be. However, regardless of the terminology used, the man had to be stopped or disposed of if the Tribune's plan was to be completed without a whiff of it getting to the authorities. They were stupid to be sure, but once a problem was discovered they would pursue an answer, unless they could be diverted. He had to decide, and decide quickly how best to deal with this problem. He had already met this Commadore face-to-face once and it was clear that he would not in any way be amenable to joining the plan He appeared to be foolishly honest, and held the corrupt empire government and the apparently insane Emperor in the highest possible esteem. His actions in purchasing the woman slave to save her from a beating that she probably deserved, and facing down a bully-boy twice his size indicated a formidable opponent. He would have to be very careful in the handling of this individual. Very careful indeed!!!

"Your Excellency,"the words brought the Tribune abruptly out of his dark thoughts.

"I told you that I was not to e disturbed you fool!" the angry Tribune spat at the speaker, fingering the jeweled dagger where it lay on the table. This response was directed to a small Greek slave who was plainly terrified of this Roman officer in his spotless uniform.

The slave stood stock still, his eyes on the slowly turning dagger in the Tribune's hand. "Your servant has indicated most strongly that his message is of great import, Your Excellency," the frightened man replied shakily, bowing low before the angry officer and dropping to one knee.

The Tribune twisted hs face in irritation at the interruption. "Very well, show the man in and be damned quick about it," he said as he slammed the dagger on the table. The trinune's irritation at being interrupted was very evident from his furious words and gestures. The little slave flinched at the bang of the dagger on the table, scrambled to his feet and fled through the patio archway. A moment later a long shadow fell across the flagstones, in front of the table, and the Tribune turned in his chair to greet a tall raggily dressed man with a heavy beard. "This had better be good," growled Mettallus through gritted teeth.

"Oh, I think you will be very pleased with this information," was the smooth reply.

To be continued...


The Great Rhenus Fluvius - The Letters of Lucius Pomonianus #6

by Marcus Audens

The great river spread out before the man standing in the shadow of the great cliff which overhung the river road. The river surface had the appearance of a very large white table set with the immaculate white cloth of the best , closely woven, and bleached linen. It was, of course, the Rhenus Fluvius in it’s winter coat. A light snow storm that morning had laid a covering of white over all, softening the craggy features of the river ice, and the knurled leafless trees close by the water.

However, in these lands the Rhenus was thought to be more than just a river, but rather a god of sorts, who when swelled by Spring floods destroyed everything it could reach close by its river bed. In the depth of winter the sounds coming from the river sounded very like the groans of a dying man, and at other times like the shattering of huge amounts of glass or pottery. Titus Otho Atticus, a former legion legate, and now the Chief Engineer to Germania with the mission of building a permanent bridge across the Rhenus. Not a temporary bridge as the Divine Caesar had built and then destroyed to show the barbarians the strength and abilities of the Ro-man Army. This bridge, his bridge, must be a lasting bridge with stone pillar supports and a heavy timber roadway. It would have to be designed to withstand the wrath of the river ice in winter, and the spring floods in the spring. Titus smiled wryly to himself as he drew his doubled cloak closer about his shoulders, in defense of the gusty wind blowing down the river canyon straight from the mountains in the distance. Even now, after his months here, he tended to think of this river as something other than what it was. The tales of the river spirit whispered in the vicus over mugs of the local beer, just outside the fortress gate, the sounds coming from the river, and the raging floods which could well be imagined from previous years waste material of vessels, houses, barns, fencing, uprooted trees, and many other items of now twisted broken, and ruined which lay in the graspof the heavy timber and brush along the river’s edge. He shook himself sharply as if to dislodge a bad idea. Titus came out here each day to look at this river, to try to get the feel of it, and to know it’s strengths and its weaknesses. But it seemed to be as a great an adversary now as it did when he had first viewed it many years ago.

Not long ago the ice-covered river would have been a natural bridge for the barbarian raiders to cross the river and attack the vicus and the Roman patrols, but that was pretty much in the past now, and while there were still a few raids from time to time from those few holdouts who had not yet learned to accept the Roman world coming to their own, most of the tribes had either been roundly defeated, or had come to the table to be a partner to Rome. Rome’s laws and culture was beginning to tame the hill people and it was clear that many of the folk here were quite content to work at their farms and skills while enjoying the security of Rome and perhaps even becoming wealthy from the increasing number of opportunities and fruits of the Roman world. In the winter, it was difficult at best to pry warriors out of their warm houses and halls for a winter campaign. The Germans were not particularly fitted for winter warfare, any more than the Roman army was. Both could manage it, of course, but it was not done often and always with a much greater price in men and livestock than any leader was willing to lose.

Titus did not believe the stories that he had heard over the years about the powerful river spitit that supposedly controlled the entire length of the Rhenus and the valley through which it flowed, but standing here looking at the vastness of the broad river and hearing the sounds that he knew to be grinding ice, such a story would not be hard at all to believe.

A dark band of trees faced Titus across the river, and it was, as he well knew, the place from which any enemy raid would issue. That was the reason that far up the opposite side of the valley there were outposts and look-outs who watched for any such gatherings and provided the vital advance warning of any attack. Then too, there were scouts in the field who lived in the forests only coming in from time to time to report. Many of these scouts masqueraded as peddlers, and road merchants of the outlying villages. He did not envy either in this kind of weather.

Titus moved purposefully across the road and climbed down the embankment to the river’s edge, after tying his horse loosely to a nearby bush. When he had reached the ice, he walked out upon the the river carefully, trodding through the light snow, watching for any soft spots, and moved to the center of the river. He then brushed away the snow from the ice and rapped the surface of the river with his staff. Only the dull click of solid ice came back. It must be a couple of feet thick, he thought, enough to support the heaviest transport wagon. Again the sound of grinding ice assailed his ears and he turned and hastily regained the road and untied his horse. The river’s sounds were very unnerving. The cold was beginning to seep through his cloak, as he thrust his staff through the lower loops of his saddle, and then mounting the horse, he turned it’s head toward the fortress and the vicus. The animal sensed that they were headed for home to a warm barn and something to eat. The animal increased its pace but Titus held him in closely. It would not do at all for the horse to slip and fall from which at least some of the unskilled laborers must come. That was the real concern.

The Praefectus Castrorum of the legion fortress had welcomed his arrival and had made arrangements for a roomy engineering office. When his young assistant had fallen sick, the praefectus had obtained a young legionary immunes (military surveyor specialist) as a scribe for him. The young man seemed eager enough, but his ability to take the place of a trained engineer was most unlikely.

Titus returned the salute of the guards as he rode through the Main Gate. They probably wondered what he was doing at the river on a day as cold as this. Sometimes he wondered that himself. Within minutes he was rub-bing his mount down with straw in a warm barn. He turned the animal over to a sleepy-looking groom with strict order to walk him and then feed and water him, and put a blanket over him for the night.

Then Titus brushed the straw from his uniform and taking up his cloak again, walked toward the vicus. There was a small tavern in the vicus that served a tasty lamb stew, and a reasonably food Falernian wine. It was also a gathering place where people talked freely after a glass or two of wine, or a flagon of the local beer. That talk was often valuable as the Chief Engineer needed to know as much as possible about this new country in which he was to invest his immediate future.


Death (1)

by Marcus Audens

Hastus watched wearily as the sun burst from the horizon and lit the mountain tops around him with the golden glow of morning light. The dark plains that stretch away to the North were still hidden in deep shadow as though still sleeping, wrapped in the cloak of darkness. The hillside above and below him was empty now, except for the dead bodies of the enemy, dead horses, and the few Roman legionaries who had fallen. All was very quiet, and a slight breeze bent the long grass that stood next the large rock where he sat. Hastus’ eyes were bloodshot and they felt as though they were full of sand as he rubbed his free hand over them. His lips were dry, and cracked and his throat parched, as he looked longingly at the water bottle wedged in the rocks at his feet.

His right arm ached with the weight of his wounded comrade, and the sharp pain in his ankle was the reminder of it’s injury yesterday. In fact his whole body was protesting from it’s unrelieved exertions of the previous day and night. Hastus didn’t even know the name of the man that he so tenderly supported. They had fought together in the first line as the Parthian horse had swept down upon them on this barren hillside from the rock outcropping above them. The Roman line had beaten back the first surprise assault of the enemy, and as the legionaries surged forward to cover the new ground gained, Hastus had twisted his ankle on a round stone and would have fallen save for the strong hand of this man whom he held on his lap support him and steady his near fall. He looked to his left and saw the eyes of a new man who had been placed into the first line to replace his regular shield mate who had fallen in the first rush of battle. Supported by this new man Hastus was able to hobble a few steps forward and maintain the shield line unbroken.

A terrifying yell from the Parthians announced a second assault on the Roman shield line, and Hastus stiffened in apprehension as he watched the huge line of charging horses swoop down again on the thin line of legionaries. He locked his shield with his new partner and thrust with his heavy pilum, the smaller one now long gone, thrown in the first charge of the enemy. He felt the shock of contact run up his arm that nearly tore the pilum from his grasp, and the scream of a wounded horse. He was thrusting his pilum now for both he and his shield mate, as they held the shield wall intact and at the same time managed to help Hastus keep his balance. The injured ankle swelled in pain from the exertion forced upon it and threatened to collapse beneath him.

As the noise of the melee increased Hastus hastily looked up and saw that his pilum was lodged deep in the chest of a huge horse. The horse was down and the rider was pinned beneath the animal. Hastus struggled to free the pilum with no success until an agonized grunt from his left gained his attention. The supporting fingers slipped from his arm. His shield mate had the hilt of a Parthinian sword protruding from under his breastplate. The man clutched the blade with both hands as he slipped to his knees folding his body over the sword in silent agony. His long red shield now forgotten, clattered uselessly on the rock under their feet. The shield wall had moved on without them. Somehow this downed rider had thrown his sword and it hadlodged in his shield-mates body. An unlucky chance to be sure!! A white hot wave of anger took Hastus as he dropped the useless pilum and drew his gladius. He moved toward the downed rider determined to revenge his partner for this chance mortal injury. He swung his gladius viciously and without hesitation on his comrades attacker now defenseless on the ground his leg crushed under the weight of his dying horse. The pinned rider’s eyes widened in horror as he saw death sweep down on him in the shape of a gleaming Roman gladius!!

(To be continued)

Respectfully submitted; Marcus Audens

Book Report: "Early Roman Armies"

Book Report: Sekunda & S. Northwood * Illustrated by R. Hook, "Early Roman Armies;" Osprey; Men-At-Arms; #283, 2001, 48 pages

  • Rome's Early History == Rome declared herself a republic after expelling the last Etruscan King. Rome„s alliances, and conflicts in her rise to power on the Italian Peninsula
  • The Pre-Hoplite Army == Warrior Burials on the Esquiline Hill; The Colleges of the Sali warrior priests, their dress and equipment. The tribal system;
  • The Hoplite Army ---Hoplite tactics were adopted ; Livy‟s account of the reforms; The Servian 40 century Legion; The 60 century legion;
  • Early Cavalry — The Sex Suffragia, The Public Horse and True Cavalry;
  • The Expansion of Roman Military Strength -- Four new legions; The Infantry; Legionary bla-zons; The Cavalry;
  • Manipular Warfare -- Fourth Century B.C . Manipular Warfare is adopted; The Gallic Invasions; The Certosa Situla; Samnite Warfare; The Manipular Army in Livy.
  • The Plates --- Earliest Roman Warriors -- 700 B.C.; Roman Warrior Bands -- 7th Century B.C.; Horatius At the Bridge -- 508 B.C.; The Venetic Fighting System -- 5th Century B.C.; Roman Hoplites defeated by Celts -- 4th Century B.C.; Samnite Warriors -- 293 B.C.; Sacrifice establishing A Treaty between Romans and Samnites; Roman Hastati fight one of the Pyrrhus‟ elephants.

Reporter‟s Thoughts --- I enjoyed the book and found it to be very informative. My thought is that this is a good introductory text to the more involved and detailed books on the Roman Army, and to the early accounts of Livy and Dionysius as mentioned therein.. It is one of the books that I use in my military library.

Respectfully Submitted; Marcus Audens

by Marcus Audens

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