With these words, Gaius Iulius Caesar sent his army on what most of his officers considered a suicide mission with the Helvetians and their German allies across their line of retreat and the army trapped against the impregnable walls of Bibracte, the fortress-capital of their treacherous Gallic allies, the Aedui.
"The Helvetian Affair" is the second book of the Gaius Marius Chronicle, the memoir of a retired Roman soldier, Gaius Marius Insubrecus, a legionary who fought with Caesar throughout his Gallic campaigns and the Roman civil wars.
"The Helvetian Affair" recounts Insubrecus’ coming of age as a Roman soldier in the legionary camps outside the city of Aquileia, and serving his patron, Caesar, as he conducts a lightening campaign to prevent the fierce and ruthless attempt by the Helvetii to conquer Celtic Gaul and threaten the Roman province.
The narrative recreates a colorful and culturally complex portrait of ancient northern Italy and the Rhone valley, as Romans, Celts and Germans struggle for supremacy in the hills and dark forests of western Gaul.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
De Spatio in Tartaro TIME IN HELL
He were ushered into the principia tent, where a soldier in a brickred tunic was sitting behind a small field desk working with a pile of tabulae, wax slates. He looked up and told Strabo, "You may pass through, Optio."
We passed into a large compartment behind the clerk. There were a couple of braziers warming the area and lamps illuminating maps hanging from the walls. A soldier with short, graying hair was briefing two younger soldiers while gesturing at one of the hanging maps. A fourth soldier seemed to be taking notes with a stylus in a hinged, diptych tabula. The older soldier looked over when we entered and snapped, "I will be with you presently, Optio. Laxa! Stand at ease!"
Strabo bunched us into a dark corner, out of the way. "The praefectus castrorum," Tulli, one of the veterani who had reenlisted, hissed into my ear.
Finally, I heard the older soldier ask, "Any questions?"
Both younger men came to the position of attention and each responded, "N'abeo, Praefecte!"
"Bene!" Then, the praefectus castrorum instructed, "Have your cohorts ready to march by the end of the fourth watch ... the Fifth Cohort assembled in full marching kit outside the Porta Dextra, the right-hand gate, and the Seventh outside the Porta Decumana, the rear gate. I want you to move out at the signal for the end of watch. Dismissed!"
Both men nodded to the praefectus, executed an about-face, and marched out of the tent.
Then, the man walked over to our group. Strabo and both our veterani stiffened noticeably as he approached.
"What have we here, Optio? They call you Strabo ... "Squinty" ... right?" he asked.
"Praefecte," Strabo announced, "Cossus Lollius, optio of the Eighth Legion, reports with a detail of two veterani and eight tirones for the Tenth Legion!"
"Laxa, Optio!" the praefectus directed.
Then he turned to us. "Men, I am Decius Minatius Gemellus, praefectus castrorum of this army and, until Caesar Imperator assigns a legatus, the commander of the Tenth Legion. That means, as far as you're concerned, I'm a god. I have the power of life and death over you. You do not want to piss me off or even disappoint me. You veterani, I welcome you back to the eagles. You will undergo the first weeks of conditioning training with the recruits. My cadre will then assess your skills with gladius, pilum, and scutum. If you show us you haven't forgotten the fighting skills of a Roman soldier, you'll be assigned to a century in one of the second-line cohorts until we know what you have. You tirones, a word of advice! Although you have raised your hand in the sacramentum, do not consider yourselves milites, or members of my legion. You have yet to prove your worth for such an honor! But, you will soon have the opportunity to do so! Over the next eight weeks, we will make soldiers out of you — or we will break you and send you back to whatever civilian shit-hole you crawled out of. You will demonstrate to me, with your sweat and your blood, that you are worthy of this legion and worthy of the honor of serving the Roman people!"
Then, Gemellus demanded, "Scriba!"
The soldier we had seen outside burst into the room and assumed the position of attention, "Praefecte!"
"Get the records these men are carrying! Enter them on the legion roles; then send them down to supply for initial issue!"
Before the clerk could respond, Strabo said, "Praefecte! There is one thing."
Gemellus responded, "What is it, Strabo?"
"Praefecte! One of the recruits needs to see a medicus," Strabo answered.
"A doctor?" Gemellus questioned. "Is he injured?"
"No, Praefecte!" Strabo continued. "It's his ... well —"
"Spit it out, Strabo!" Gemellus ordered. "Straightforward report, like a Roman officer!"
"His feet are flat, Praefecte," Strabo reported. "I don't think he can stand up to the marching."
Gemellus snorted, "Flat feet, is it? This is what those podices in recruiting are sending us for soldiers? Very well ... Scriba ... get one of the orderlies up here from the medical section to take ... uh ... which one is it, Strabo?"
"Mollis ... I mean ... Tiro Tertius Melonius, Praefecte," Strabo corrected himself.
"Send Tiro Tertius Melonius to be examined by the chief medical officer," Gemellus instructed his clerk. "And, Strabo! You stay behind when I dismiss the others. You and I need to talk. ... The rest of you get out of my sight. ... Move!"
We got out of the praefectus' office as quickly as we could, the veterani leading the way. When we reached the anteroom, the clerk collected our records and directed us to wait in a corner, "out of his way." Then, he sent a runner over to the medics to collect Mollis and another to the supply tent to collect us.
As we were waiting, Strabo rejoined us. "Looks like we're going to be stuck with each other a little longer," he announced to us. "The Eighth's already over the Alps, and the passes are closed. So, I've been seconded to the Tenth and assigned as your training officer."
He turned to the praefectus' clerk, "Supply, where is it supposed to be?"
The man replied, looking up from one of his wax tabulae, "Behind the praetorium, Optio, right across from grain storage. I've already sent a runner."
"And, I'm sure your supply sergeant will jump right on that," Strabo sneered. "You done with this bunch?"
"Perfeci, Optio!" the clerk started.
"Bene!" Strabo interrupted. "Exeamus nos! I'll get you people kitted up and settled in! Mollis! You wait here for the medics!" That was the beginning of my eight weeks in hell.
Strabo organized us into a contubernium, a tent group, and put Bantus in charge as our acting decanus, our squad leader.
Getting "kitted out" was a process in which we were stripped of all our civilian clothes and equipment and issued a mattress, a blanket, three shortsleeved military tunics, a wide leather belt, a pair of hobnailed boots called caligae, a small satchel called a loculus, a mess tin, and a battered, tarnished bronze galea helmet. For the group, we were issued a "cooking kit, one each, contubernium," which Bantus handed over to one of the tirones. Each piece of equipment that was issued was notated against our names, and an officer in the supply section informed us that if we lost any of it, we would have to pay to replace it.
I was allowed to keep my own belt, pugio, and sagum cloak because they "adhered to military specifications," but I was warned that I would have to get the sagum dyed the appropriate shade of carinus, the dark, reddish-brown, that was authorized for the Tenth Legion. Tulli remarked that, in this way, the cloak wouldn't show blood stains — something I didn't need to hear just then.
Strabo then herded us, balancing our teetering piles of clothing and equipment, toward the back of the camp where we were assigned to a tent. He then told us to "drop our stuff and get into proper uniform." Bantus and Tulli helped us figure out what that meant. I noticed that we tirones had been issued undyed, woolen tunics, while the veterani wore red. I asked Tulli about this, and he told me that the white tunics identified us as tirones. When we were "accepted" by the legion, we would be issued red tunics like the legionaries who were considered "qualified" to take their places in the line of battle.
Strabo had been gone no more than half an hour when we heard his voice outside the tent yelling, "Ad signam! Fall in, you lazy, worthless maggots! Get out here on the street!"
We were looking at each other, wondering who Strabo was yelling at and what "fall in" meant, when Bantus and Tulli started herding us out of the tent, "Move! Move! Move! Grab your helmets! Insubrecus! Get your belt on! Let's go! Move!"
When we got outside the tent, the sight of Strabo stopped us dead in our tracks. He was in a full legionary combat rig. A highly polished, bronze galea, an infantry helmet with red horsehair plumes, was tied tightly under his cleanshaven chin beneath the shining cheek guards. A blood red sudarium, a military scarf, was wrapped around his neck and tucked beneath a shining chainmail lorica, which reached halfway down his thighs. A highly polished leather balteus, a sword belt, studded with shining bronze plates, was hanging from his left shoulder and passed across his chest down to his right side. From there was suspended a gladius, encased in a red leather vagina, and a scabbard, reinforced with brightly polished bronze cladding. A thick leather military belt, a cingulum, was tightly fastened around his waist and held his gladius in place on his right side. A pugio in a scabbard hung on the left. From beneath his lorica hung a skirt of thick, red leather strips, pteruges, each one ending in a polished bronze tab, on which was stamped the visage of the god of war, Mars.
Despite the winter cold, his legs were bare to his ankles, which were enclosed by the thick leather straps of his black, military caligae, infantry hobnail boots. Over both shoulders, but pulled back to keep his weapons free, he wore the military cloak of the Tenth Legion, a blood-brown woolen sagum, which was fastened at his left shoulder by a shining bronze fibula, a brooch pin in the shape of a bull's head. His right hand tightly grasped the leather-wrapped hilt of his gladius; in his left, instead of the accustomed scutum or pilum, the infantry shield and javelin, he held a long, thick wooden staff topped with a polished steel globe, the hastile of an optio centuriae, the "chosen one," the second in command of a legionary century of eighty men. He was now our training officer and would help us become Roman soldiers.
"Bantus! Get this goat-rope straightened out!" he screamed. "I want two ranks right here! One behind the other! Move it!"
Bantus and Tulli got us lined up in two ranks facing Strabo. As they positioned each of us, they whispered, "Position of attention ... Feet one pes apart ... Hands and arms at your sides ... Stand up straight." Tulli tried to straighten out our helmets, which were wandering all around our heads, and to dress our tunics down through our military belts. Finally, Bantus took a position in front of our formation facing the apparition who was once our traveling companion, Strabo, and reported, "Training detail all present, Optio!"
Strabo announced, "Contubernium! Lax ... ATE!"
Bantus slid his right foot straight back, toe to heel, and clasped his hands in front of him. We tried to emulate him. My helmet immediately slipped down in front of my eyes. When I attempted to adjust it, Strabo screamed, "Who gave you permission to move, Tiro Gaius Marius Insubrecus? You're supposed to be a shaggin' Roman soldier! Stop fidgeting like a paganus Gallicus waiting for his turn at the public latrine!"
And, there it was! From that moment on, my buddies in the Tenth Legion knew me as Gaius Marius Paganus ... Gaius Marius, "The Hick."
Strabo continued, "The rest of you miserable vermiculi, freeze! Don't move! Don't even breathe without my permission! This cluster has got to be the sorriest excuse for a military formation I have ever seen in my entire military career!"
Strabo began strutting across our front rank. "I do not know what I could have possibly done to offend the immortal gods so badly that they would send the Furies out of the depths of Tartarus to inflict this on me! You are the sorriest excuse for Roman soldiers I have ever seen!"
Suddenly, the domed end of Strabo's hastile staff shot out into the stomach of a recruit in the first rank. The breath exploded out of the man and he doubled over. "Suck in that gut, Tiro!" Strabo ordered. "Stand up straight when standing in the presence of a superior officer!"
The man struggled to regain his composure as Strabo continued his tirade. "You are tirones Romani, the lowest things on earth! You are lower than sailors' shit in the ocean! You are so low that you have to call the mules 'sir!' You will speak only when spoken to! And, your only authorized responses are, 'Yes, sir!', 'No, sir!', 'I do not understand, sir!', and 'No excuse, sir!' Do you pieces of fly shit understand me?"
There was a ragged chorus of "Yes, sir!"
"What?" Strabo yelled dramatically cupping his ear. "I can't hear you! Do you understand me?"
Stronger this time, "Yes, sir!"
"What in the name of Martis is going on here?" Strabo screamed into our faces. "Did the recruiters send a bunch of puellulae, little girls, to this legion? Do you understand me?"
Strabo stepped back. "Bantus! Prepare the detail for inspection!" he ordered.
"A'mperi'tu'," Bantus snapped.
Bantus executed a smart about-face and said to us in a low voice, "First, I'm going to call you to attention with the command, 'Contubernium ... Stat!' Then, I will give the command, 'Ordines extendit! Open ranks!' At the command of execution, 'it,' the first rank takes one pace ... that's two steps forward for you civilians.... The second rank stands fast ... Ready now."
Then, he said in a loud voice, "Contubernium ... Stat!"
We assumed a fairly recognizable position of attention.
Then, Bantus yelled, "Ordines! Extend ... IT'!"
Those of us in the first rank managed to stumble forward the required distance and stop. Again, my helmet rearranged itself over my eyes, but this time I didn't dare adjust it.
Strabo, trailed by Bantus, was walking down the first rank, reeling off criticisms, "Caligae improperly secured ... helmet tarnished ... unshaven ... belt improperly adjusted." Behind me, I heard Tulli whisper, "Second rank ... stand at ease!" I then heard the rear rankers rustle then go silent.
Strabo stopped in front of me and demanded, "Pugio!"
When I didn't react, Bantus said in a low voice, "Tiro! Present your dagger to the optio!" Then, he reached over and adjusted my helmet off my eyes.
I removed my pugio from its scabbard and handed it to Strabo.
"Sharp ... no rust ... Good job, Tiro," Strabo announced, then handed me back my knife. As Bantus followed Strabo down the rank, he gave me a quick wink.
As Strabo and Bantus arrived at the second rank, he commanded, "Second rank ... attention! First rank ... stand at ease!"
We assumed the position, right foot to the rear, hands clasped in front of us, while Strabo and Bantus reviewed the second rank to Strabo's mantra, "Helmet tarnished ... caligae improperly secured ... haircut ... belt improperly adjusted."
Finally, as Strabo and Bantus circled back to the front of the formation, Bantus ordered, "Contubernium ... STATE!"
After we managed to close ranks, Strabo told us, "You people have a long way to go before you even start looking like soldiers! When you get back to your quarters, you will start working on those bronze chamber pots sitting on top of your heads. By the tenth hour, I want them shined and polished so that I can see my face in them! Do you rat turds understand me?"
"Detail! Ad dex' ... VERT! Right ... FACE!" Strabo ordered.
We all managed to shuffle about in the right direction. Bantus and Tulli positioned themselves at the head of our two files.
"Promov ... ET'! Forward ... MARCH!" Strabo shouted, keeping a station to the left of our files, counting cadence, "Dex' ... Dex' ... Dex', Sin', Dex'."
As soon as we were all moving together in the right direction, Strabo ordered, "Gradus ... bis! ... Mov ... ET'!"
With helmets going one way and heads another at the double-time, we started bouncing back up toward the Via Principalis. As we ran, Strabo shouted, "Tirones, always move at the double-time! Every place you go, you run! Vos vermiculi, got that?"
We spent the next two hours queuing up outside of various tents in the headquarters section. At one, our heads were shaved; at another, we were poked and prodded by various members of the medical staff; then, we were inspected for any undesirable critters in our body hair; at the camp bathhouse, we were dunked and scrubbed; and finally, we were allowed a meal of bread, oil, something cheese like, and water.
When we got back to our tent, Bantus set us to work on shining our helmets with oil, sand, and rags. Tulli disappeared for a while and returned with a sack from which he distributed what looked like a pilleum, the cap of a freed slave, but thicker. He told us to wear the cap underneath the helmet and tie the chin straps tight to keep them stable. If we needed more cushioning, we would have to double up on the pilleum or stuff a piece of cloth between the cap and the helmet.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Helvetian Affair"
Copyright © 2016 RAY GLEASON.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
De Hospe Subito Praefatio Preface: An Unexpected Visitor,
I. De Spatio in Tartaro Time in Hell,
II. Hostes apud Amicos Enemies among Friends,
III. Ego Miles Romanus I Become a Soldier of Rome,
IV. De Itinere inter Alpes We March across the Alps,
V. Sub Patrocinio Caesaris Under Caesar's Patronage,
VI. De Consequente Helvetiorum Pursuit of the Helvetians,
VII. De Clementia Caesaris et Offensione Antiqua Caesar's Clemency and an Ancient Provocation,
VIII. De Calamitate Prima The First Debacle,
IX. Lente Festinamus We Hurry Slowly,
X. Scaena Caesaris Caesar's Drama,
XI. Calamitas Itera Another Disaster,
XII. Bibracte Bibracte,