The reign of the emperor of Rome, Caesar Augustus, had come to its imminent and sorrowful end. There would not be a greater Caesar ever again. The grand leader who had created the years of peace that Rome so longed for had passed away peacefully with a dreadful illness at age seventy-five. The ruler who had established a true foundation of government, stretched the empire into every direction of seemingly unconquerable areas, and who had paved the way for the creation of beautiful buildings and books of literature had turned out to be mortal after all. Though his legacy would live on, many could barely imagine a day without the steadfast emperor in command.
Some citizens worried that Rome would decline if left in the hands of an arrogant fool. Many fretted trusting Augustus’ judgement in the choosing of the new dominator through his will, Tiberius Claudius. But most of all, the uneasiness did not linger on Rome for long. Rather, it flew to each individual’s own welfare. How would the new Caesar treat his civilians? Would he be a warrior or barbarous? Would he govern the people with money or fear or worse? Yes, Caesar Augustus was great in his reign, but he did fail on two accounts. He could not rid Rome of the people’s worry or selfishness.
It was because of his judgement now that Tiberius, his stepson, was traveling down the streets of Rome, waving both of his hands, and smiling to the crowds on his way to be crowned Caesar.
Now Tiberius was not the burly, rugged sort of a man who enjoyed boasting about his powers to lowly civilians. After hearing that he would be Caesar, Romans flooded the poor man with unwanted titles before and after his name such as, “Imperator” or “Father of our Country”. All these of course, he refused. Most surprisingly, he also turned down the title “Augustus” which was his own by right of heritage. It was no secret in Rome that Tiberius was not a proud individual, and he was thought better because of it.
His great height and neatly chiseled features became a trademark among the people. Some assumed these qualities as a good omen for Rome in the years to come. His eyes were large and emitted no hint of pride or self-glorification, only expectation. The thick, white breastplate strapped over his shoulders covered every inch of his broad chest and gleamed brightly, even in the shadows. The piece was truly a work of art, made especially for the coronation. It depicted great stallions galloping over the fields with symbols of the gods laced on every corner. In the center, a simple laurel wreath, worn by tradition, hung at the end of an exquisite sword representing the power Tiberius would hopefully bring.
His carriage was natural and plain with only purple curtains and white sheets of cloth covering the sides and roof. It was slightly higher than normal just in case the new emperor decided to stand and was drawn by two perfectly groomed, white horses. Romans on every side added to the decorations by bombarding the small vehicle with shouts of praises, colorful flower petals, and pieces of fabric. As the coach drove down every street, Tiberius would peek his admirable, grinning face out on each side to appease the crowds, wave shortly, and on occasion catch one of the petals to kiss it before disappearing again.
Far down the road near the front of the Forum stood all the members of the Senate House, outfitted in flowing white togas, awaiting the man who would soon govern the glory of Rome. Most smiled ear to ear in confidence while others shifted from one foot to the other in impatience because of the crowds or the climate. The weather was hotter than in the past few days and many desired to be over with the ceremony in order to retire to their summer houses outside the city. The crowds however seemed to disregard the heat altogether, too enthralled with the welcoming.
There was not one citizen standing still! The streets were not totally filled to its maximum capacity due to some opposition against Tiberius, but the sources of the trouble had decided not to spread their gossip or show themselves. Though a scattered number were in disagreement, Rome had decided to celebrate the new coronation with feasts and dancing. Acrobats and jugglers provided entertainment. Shop owners took the liberty of selling stock along the edge of the roads. Women lay down preparing the afternoon, outdoor meals as children scurried through openings in the crowds hoping to catch a glimpse of royalty. The men stood along every road, the younger dancing in happiness, the older saluting or shouting in applause. Windows opened along the highways, and more decorations were thrown onto the carriage and crowds.
Before Tiberius exited from his carriage to be officially crowned, Roman soldiers on every side drew their swords in unison. Their rectangular shields were raised high into the air and their armor nosily rattled against each other as metal crossed metal. Their words pierced the celebrating crowds, “Salus et victoria!” (“Health and victory!”)
* * * * *
“Salus et Victoria!” Longinus Servilius Probus shouted at the top of his lungs. He held his sword and shield higher than any other around him, for he was a centurion, a commander of a hundred men. His promotion took place a month before the celebration and still hung fresh in his mind. He was muscular and young, a soldier who commanded his troops with experience and confidence. He walked as one who had honor and deserved recognition, but he was not afraid to consult an advisor for assistance. The color of his eyes was a mystery to most, even to those who knew him. An injury from his past had left him nearly blind. Therefore to see, he generally squinted wherever he went and had grown accustomed to keeping his eyes that way. His helm was larger than normal and reached past his ears to his neck. His crimson cape was mashed in the ground as the civilians from behind unconsciously stepped upon it amongst their celebrating, dripping sweat on its cloth.
“They are ruining your good cape sir,” his second in command, Gnaeus, whispered softly as he sheathed his sword along with the rest of the battalion. Gnaeus had served with Longinus for only a week and had already grown familiar with the needs of his leader. They had bonded almost immediately, but Gnaeus was obviously still unused to helping a man higher in his rank.
“I do not mind, after all it is only a cape,” replied Longinus slowly, squinting harder to see Tiberius. “They are celebrating for the new emperor, and I won’t deprive them of their happiness. Rome prospers when the people are appeased you know.”
It was in Gnaeus’ character to protest, “But sir, we are going into the Forum afterwards. Shouldn’t you look your best?”
Longinus smiled, “Please Gnaeus, you insult me! I have another prepared for when we leave. You are the one who should be learning and planing ahead for me anyway, and stop swaying like that. You are a nervous wreck. Are you still uneasy about helping a centurion?”
“Well sir, I took care of my father before he passed away, but serving a centurion is very awkward to me.”
“You will find it a simple job when you are used to me,” assured Longinus. “But please! Stop that nervous habit.”
“You’ll forgive me sir, but I’m just not used to being this close to a Caesar before.”
“He is not that close. Just wait a few more seconds.”
“He is standing only feet in front of you, sir.” Gnaeus said calmly.
Longinus lowered his voice even more. “What? Am I really that blind? Tell me these things, man! Pay attention and follow when he passes!”
“But sir, when are you going to change your cloak?”
“When you leave with Tiberius. I will slip away and return shortly.”
“Should I hold your ruined one then?”
“Yes, put it back in your wardrobe after the ceremony. It’s your cloak after all.”
The soldiers saluted once more while Tiberius walked on, a sword also raised in his hand. Upon a certain hand signal from a senator, all those behind Longinus surged forward in reverence. The shouting grew even more uproarious as the emperor disappeared into the Forum, an entire regiment loyally following.
The Forum’s gate was wide enough for two carriages to exit and enter at once. Its height exceeded that of the tallest mast ever built on any vessel. The great battalion of Roman troops had practiced entering neatly and in rows of twelve. Short ramps leading to smaller gates covered the vast area of road. Great and small flowers, ranging from every color of the rainbow, connected the series of buildings together. Each pearly, white structure was dotted with windows, all containing certain citizens zealous to catch one glimpse of Tiberius. The intricate and complicated architecture was topped off with a dome tower, planted atop the main senate house. It was here that Tiberius, the senators, and soldiers entered, the shouts of Rome chasing them.
Longinus sneaked away silently to an exit close to the main entrance. He quickly took the extra cape hanging in the corner of the cubby and strapped its metal strings to his shoulders. He could only pray he could make out Gnaeus in the crowd. “I should of let him come with me,” he muttered. Quickly he straightened his helmet and dusted off his armor with a rag that he had hidden under his breastplate. He would have to slowly make his way to the front before the senators reached the courtyard in order to signal his loyalty on time, as was custom of every centurion.
After a hasty self-check to see that his armor was in order, he stole away down a different, stone corridor and crossed to a small structure that ran parallel with the main road. With every window, he stole a glance only to find Tiberius and his troops slightly ahead. He began to jog. Soon, he was out in the open and running to catch up to the soldiers furthest from the emperor. As he neared them, they turned in question but immediately allowed him to pass upon noticing his rank. With great ease and sincerity, others also quietly made a path for the new centurion. It was not long until Gnaeus appeared from the front and led Longinus to his rightful spot near the other commanders, who complemented him quietly.
“Welcome back, Longinus.”
“You lost your eyes but not your mind, that’s for sure!”
“May we switch capes, Longinus?”
Longinus merely took it all with a smile and a shake of his head. He dared not say anything for the senators had already made their way to a raised, marble platform and had begun declaring the responsibilities of what it meant to be ruler of Rome.
They took it in turns, each one informing Tiberius of the obvious qualities he should have, of his stepfather’s example, and the needs of Rome itself. Since the empire had expanded its borders to the Middle East, North Africa, and Britain, a certain issue the senators dwelled upon contained the electing of regional rulers called consuls. All knew that the campaign was filled with threats and bribery, but it was a natural operation of Roman life to ignore it.
It seemed to Longinus that if Tiberius was not having his hand kissed every other minute, the emperor would be dead of boredom.
After the traditions of the senators had boringly passed on, Longinus and every other Roman centurion stepped forward and bowed down on one knee, placing their swords upon the ground before them. Tiberius slowly inspected the first soldier’s sword that lay before him and gave a courteous comment on how the man’s military regulation would greatly honor Caesar’s service and Rome’s. Then he sheathed the sword in its rightful scabbard before going to the next. Upon arriving to Longinus however, the emperor slowly stifled a chuckle as he recited the usual piece of encouragement that he gave the rest. As he sheathed the sword in Longinus’ holder, he quickly whispered, “Your cape is on backwards.” And he left to the next.
Longinus considered pulling his sword out again and killing himself on the spot.
Author’s Note: Well, the introduction is finished and it wasn’t that long. The chapters to come will be bigger. I hope you’ll please review if you want!
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I must say, you definitely did your homework. The imagery is wonderful, I can really see all those people crowded around the ceremony. I love the characters and how different they are. Definitely makes me want to read more.