A. C. (Albert Carlton) Whitehead.

The standard bearer : a story of army life in the time of Caesar online

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They soon found a number of Gallic ponies tethered
in a meadow near a small village. The soldiers caught
these, and, mounted horseback, moved more rapidly.
The old merchant, leading the way, sat his horse but
awkwardly, and as they went on, he alternately be-
moaned the loss of his goods and the discomfort of
travel on horseback, while Baculus never ceased to
express the hope that an occasion would speedily
arise when he might blot out the memory of his rashness
by some brave deed.


As the sun rose dim over the foggy marsh lands of
Belgium, the tuba blared its call to march, the legions
formed in columns of maniples, the signal to advance
sounded, and the long line swayed forward.

Caius stepped with pride into his old place near
Baculus. He had only the night before overtaken
the army; for, after carrying to Caesar, in Cisalpine
Gaul, the message concerning the conspiracy of the
Gauls which Labienus had sent him with, Caius had been
ordered by Caesar to go to Bibracte on an errand which
consumed several days. This errand done, he had
hastened northward after the army. He had reached
it too late for the siege of Noviodunum and several
other engagements with the Suessiones and Bellovaci.

"There is likely to be something to do to-day,"
said Baculus to Caius, as the army swung briskly along.
"We have been marching for several days with each
legion's baggage following next to it. But note now
that the six old legions come first before even a single
baggage wagon. The change shows that Caesar ex-
pects something. Indeed, a Gaul told me last night
that we were then not more than a day's march
from the Nervians. Well, I am glad. May the gods
grant me a chance to make good my ill fortune in that



"And I hope I may make amends for the blow I laid
on your big old head," said Caius.

As the army moved on northward toward the terri-
tory of the Nervians, Baculus told Caius how Caesar
had hastened to Gaul after Caius had carried the infor-
mation they had gained by their midsadventure.
The centurion told how Caesar had quickly led the army
against the Belgian tribes and how the Remians had
submitted without a blow, and how Caesar had defeated
the great army of Belgians who had attacked his allies
in the walled town of Bibrax, and how the Suessiones
had surrendered to Caesar because they were alarmed
by the quickness with which Caesar built fortifications
to attack their town, because they thought that the
gods must be aiding men who could work so rapidly.
"I tell you Caesar strikes swiftly," went on Baculus.
"That is one of his favorite ways. When another
commander would keep some plan a secret for a month,
Caesar makes no effort to keep the secret, but carries
the plan out before it can be understood. But from all
accounts, the Nervians, whom we are likely to fight
next, will prove more difficult to rout than any foes
Caesar has yet met in Gaul. The Remians say the
Nervians are the hardiest and the bravest of all the
Belgians. The Nervians were the only nation of all
Gaul who were able to prevent the hordes of Cimbrians
and Teutons from entering their territories." And
so much talk passed throughout the army, each soldier
knowing there was likely to be hard fighting soon with a
tough enemy, but each so seasoned in the two years of
service under Caesar that this was what he most desired.

The day's march had been slow and toilsome. For,


besides the marshy nature of the lower ground and
the roughness of the higher, the Nervians were accus-
tomed to train young trees and vines to grow into a
thick hedge; and by bending down the young trees
and intertwining them, an almost impassable wall was
formed. The Romans had to cut passages through
these. About two hours past midday, the Romans
came to the brow of a long ridge, overlooking a little
valley, beyond which rose another parallel ridge
crowned with a thick forest. Down the valley between
these ridges wandered the Sabis River, a small and
shallow stream.

The Romans halted and began to fortify on the slope
of the hill the camp which had been measured off by
the scouts and centurions sent ahead for the purpose.

As the Twelfth legion came to a halt, Caius saw a
small advance body of Roman cavalry beyond the river,
attacking a few horsemen of the enemy. The latter
did not stay to fight, but retreated into the woods on
the top of the ridge. As the Romans did not follow,
the Gallic horsemen soon charged upon them again, and
then again retreated into the woods as the Haeduan
cavalry of the Romans advanced upon them. These
movements were continued for some time.

Meanwhile, the Roman legionaries began to be busy
building the camp. But the men had scarcely broken
ranks and piled their arms and baggage for the purpose
when a mighty uproar of voices, the clashing of weapons,
and the rush and tramp of thousands of running men
broke upon the Romans' ears from across the little

Looking up from where he was helping to place a


heavy timber in the works, Caius saw that a large body
of Romans had attacked the Nervians. Then he saw
pouring in a stream from the woods on the top of the
opposite hill, thousands and thousands of Belgians,
pursuing with incredible speed and fury the Roman
cavalry, which soon turned in headlong flight.

Soon the youth heard the signal for the soldiers to
collect to their standards sounded by Caesar's trumpet-
ers, and the hoarse notes were immediately taken up
and repeated throughout the lines with mad haste.
This was quickly followed by the signal to array in
battle order, and the tuba blared the battle call. The
Romans came running from all directions, stopping
at whatever standards they first reached in order to
lose no time from fighting. Almost at once the Romans
were roughly arrayed, each soldier taking position as
best he could. The Ninth and Tenth legions were on
the left wing. The Eighth and Eleventh were in the
center, and the Seventh and Twelfth on the right.

By good fortune, Caius reached his old and regular
place just as Baculus in his position at the head of
the legion gave the order to the eagle bearer to stand
firm and hold the eagle high. Looking hastily down
the lines, Caius saw that the legion was lacking many
of its men who had not yet returned from the work.
Those who had succeeded in getting into line were
mostly without their helmets, having had time to
snatch only their shields and swords from where they
had been piled.

Even while he was taking this hasty glance, the
Haeduan horsemen of Caesar dashed terror stricken,
fleeing for life, to the right of the Roman army, disap-


pearing from view behind a dense hedge of trees and
vines, and closely followed by one of the three divisions
into which the Belgian army had quickly separated

There was hardly time to glimpse these happenings
before the enemy had crossed the Sabis, climbed the
hill, and was upon the entire Roman line. The Ner-
vians fell upon the Twelfth legion in a solid mass, led
by their king, Boduagnotus, a great, long-bearded,
fair-haired giant, clad in heavy mail, and armed with a
long double-edged sword. With hoarse guttural shouts
the Nervians pressed upon the Romans, front and flank.
There was no time for casting javelins, and the battle
was joined hand to hand, cut and thrust.

The weight of the Nervian onslaught drove the
Romans into a close-packed mass. Caius found himself
stunned and almost crushed, and blows from the
Nervian long swords falling about him so fast that he
could scarcely stand. He had drawn his sword, but
had no room to use it. The legionary to his right, a
stout veteran of other wars, with a great heave and
surge, cleared a small space, and in a flash had stabbed
two of the Nervians, but this act had given more room
for the wielding of the enemies' long swords. Three
or four of them instantly crashed on the legionary's
head and shoulders with such force as to split his head
in twain, and his shoulders and arms fell from his body.
He crumbled to the ground and was quickly trampled
and crushed under foot. Into the space thus momen-
tarily cleared, Caius was thrust by the press from the
rear. He glimpsed a -tall, well-built youth of about
his own age, raging and roaring, springing upon him



and aiming blows at his head. Caius had only time

to partly cover himself before he was almost beaten

down by his antagonist's crushing blows. But he

recovered himself a little,

and as the Nervian youth

exposed himself for another

swing, Caius's sword sought

his side, a ruddy stream

dyed the white flesh, and

he fell.

"By Hercules, well done !" And Caius, turning for
a moment, saw Baculus beaten to his knees by King
Boduagnotus, but the old centurion was still valiantly
defending himself from the blows falling on his head.


Caius now perceived that every one of the five men
in the line between his place and that of Baculus,
including the standard bearer, had fallen. He leaped
to the aid of Baculus, while the press and surge and
crush of panting, perspiring, bleeding men swayed the
whole mass back and forth.

"Caesar, Caesar, Caesar Imperator ! " now arose the
shouts of the soldiers. Even at the moment, Caesar
himself, in his scarlet cloak, rushed between the Seventh
and the Twelfth legions to the front.

"Stand firm, fellow soldiers, and remember your
courage and success in former battles. Loosen your
ranks to give room for the use of your swords. Now,
press forward, and strike," he was shouting in loud
clear tones, at the same time cutting, thrusting, leaping,
and defending himself with the utmost skill.

The effect on the legionaries was instant. The
strong and uninjured pressed forward more stoutly,
the weak took heart, the wounded endeavored to rise,
those who had retreated came forward again, and all
fought with such courage and renewed vigor that the
enemy began to be checked.

Caius had at once snatched up the eagle and raised
it in place, and also covered Baculus with his shield.
The old centurion under this cover struggled to gain
his feet. "O Mars, grant me the strength to fight till
they fly," 1 he gasped, and then fell again.

Boduagnotus had now ceased his attack on Baculus.
But Baculus was disappointed in his hope of fighting
the king, for the Romans now, in steady ranks, began to
press the Nervians back, and Boduagnotus with a shout
of defiance rattling in his throat fell by another hand.


Caesar hurried away to encourage the Seventh

The battle was by no means ended. The Nervians
in their desperation fought fiercely and tenaciously.
Each Roman, feeling himself in Caesar's presence,
desired to do something more brave than any other, and
so exerted himself to the utmost.

The ground was already strewn thick with dead.
The long lines of Nervians stood upon heaps of corpses
and fought as from a rampart. When their first line
had been cut down by the Romans, the next foremost
rank climbed upon the dead mass and fell fighting with
the same reckless desperation.

And so the battle raged. The Roman short swords
continued to work back and forth like the shuttles of a
loom, seeking the sinewy flesh of the barbarians, letting
forth blood and vitals; the Roman javelins from the
rear fell on the heads of the Nervians, crushing their
skulls, piercing faces, throats, and breasts, all made a
veritable shambles.

The Nervians stood their ground, wielded their heavy
swords, and wrenched from the quivering bodies of their
friends and brothers the Roman javelins, and furiously
hurled them back upon the mailed mass of the legions.
And steadily the heaping rows of dead rose higher
until only a miserable handful of the Nervians re-
mained alive. Then, at last, they broke and fled.

Meanwhile, Caius had held the eagle aloft and pro-
tected Baculus with the aid of some three or four
legionaries that Baculus summoned to the defense of
Caius and the eagle. When at last Caius was free
to look about, he saw on both slopes of the valley


Nervians fleeing and Romans pursuing. Here was a
little group still resisting, there a single combat; in one
place a body of Nervians entangled in their own care-
fully built hedges was being hacked to pieces, in another
a handful of Romans was being hewed and split head
to heel by the swinging swords of a larger body of
Nervian horsemen. Everywhere the dead littered
the ground, and where the fighting had been fiercest,
lay thick-heaped windrows of huge golden-haired

As the setting sun threw its last glimmering rays over
the little valley, it lighted the Romans completing
their camps, despoiling the dead, and carrying away
their wounded.

Caius tenderly lifted Baculus and the eagle and bore
them into the camp.


ON the next morning, Caesar called all the soldiers
to an assembly and praised them generally for their
courage and fortitude. Many of the officers he praised
by name.

"Procillus," said he, "though born a Gaul, has
demeaned himself as a true Roman in that he checked
the flight of our cavalry under Dumnorix, that had
fled so ignominiously ; and thus helped to bring victory
out of defeat. The centurion, Publius Sextius Baculus,
I commend most heartily. I found him fallen with
mam' wounds in the thickest of the fighting, but still
leaning upon his shield and battling stoutly. Sannio
showed a cool head, and helped to win by his courage
and example." And so he praised others in degree
varying with their deeds.

"As to Caius Volcatius Tullus, since he raised and
sustained the eagle of the Twelfth legion when it and
its bearer had fallen, I now promote him to be aquilifer
in the Tenth legion. You all, fellow soldiers, know
the change from one legion to another is not according
to custom in the Roman army. But this youth de-
serves much of me. I know of no greater honor that I
can bestow upon one who has proved himself so worthy
than to make him aquilifer, and let him be bearer of
the sacred eagle, the emblem of Jove, in my beloved



Tenth legion. Caius, I promote and commend you.
May you never let the eagle fall."

A great shout of applause rose, for the youth had
come to be a favorite with great numbers of the legion-
aries. However, a few of the older soldiers of the
Tenth grumbled somewhat because of the promotion
over themselves of a younger man from a newer legion.

Next, the spoil was divided. The old merchant,
Matho, was present and received a liberal share in
reward for his efforts to aid the cause of Caesar by
giving information. The old man was happy once

During the day, Caius walked into the woods, away
from the sights of the battle field. He sat after a time
resting, for the exertions of the yesterday had wearied
his whole body. As he thus sat, there passed through
his mind proud thoughts of his new honor, of the
bountiful share of spoils he had received, and of the
help the latter would be to his mother. Then he
thought of Simmias and Chloe and Titus and the dog
and the sheep. So thinking, he grew lonely despite
the singing of the birds in the trees, and the blossoms
of the spring everywhere. He suddenly realized that
he had not even Baculus with him to talk to.

He shook off his Jonely thoughts and started to return
to camp. But hearing the shouts of soldiers, he looked
and saw, passing through the woods at a javelin's
throw, a band of Roman legionaries. As they were
moving rather slowly, he thought there must be some-
thing unusual. So he approached and learned that
the soldiers were bringing to Caesar a number of old
men, women, and children of those Nervians who had



been hidden in the marshes and fen lands. They
were to be hostages, pledges to Caesar that the Nervians
would be no further trouble to him.

Caius joined the party. In crossing a bog, he came
upon a youth of slender form and good features who

had fallen. A soldier was beating the unfortunate
youth to force him to rise and go along with the others.
The youth was making the greatest efforts but could not
rise. Caius remonstrated with the soldier, but the
latter, with an oath, told Caius to go about his own


business, at the same time raising his hand for another
blow. Caius warded it off the youth, and the soldier
then struck at Caius, but Quintus Pedius, the legatus
who was in command of the party, came up and ordered
the soldier to desist and march on.

As the young Nervian now looked up, Caius saw a
tear in his eye, and his heart was touched with pity.
Caius aided the youth to his feet, and then supporting
him, they went on among the others to the camp.

"I give you thanks, noble Roman," said the young
Nervian, in broken Latin. "I was wounded in the
battle yesterday, and, besides, I am faint with hunger,
and so had fallen."

"It is nothing," said Caius, looking closely at his
companion, and wondering at his unusually delicate
features and small hands. "But how comes it,"
he went on, "that you wear the dress of a Nervian
and yet speak the tongue of a Roman ?"

"Oh, I learned a little of your language from a
Roman trader when I was small," replied the other.
"I am a Nervian, as you see, and I fear I am to be held
as a hostage."

And so Caius walked on, supporting the youth until
they were at the entrance of the Roman camp. While
they were waiting to be admitted, the rearmost portion
of the company passed up. Caius, standing with the
youth, became aware of the presence of the stout
Nervian whom he had fought in the battle the day
before. Caius had thought him dead, and looking now
more closely, he perceived that the Nervian had many
wounds and bruises. Caius started with surprise at
the glare of bitterest hatred which the Nervian


warrior was darting upon him. But he ceased to
wonder as soon as he reflected that every Roman might
expect only hatred from a Nervian, especially from one
who had been personally worsted in combat.

When the party at last marched into camp, Caius
remained outside. The wounded young Nervian,
having recovered sufficient strength to walk alone,
stopped to say "Farewell" to Caius, and spoke with
such gentleness that Caius somehow wished he had
gone on with him.

After staying in Caesar's camp four or five days,
till Caesar was ready to move his army, these hostages
were to be sent away for safe keeping. Caius had
meanwhile seen his Nervian friend only at a distance.
He determined to have a last word with the youth.
So he waited near the camp gate where the party
was to pass out.

At last the hostages were marched forth, with sad
faces and unwilling steps. The Nervian saw Caius
and stopped a minute to thank him. "Farewell,
kind Roman," he said in a low voice. "We meet no
more. You were good to me, and I shall not forget."

Something in the tone, the movement, the smile,
opened the Roman's eyes. "A maiden," he muttered
as he gazed after her. "Worse still, a Gallic maiden."

And then with set face and swift steps he turned away
to where the blare of the tuba was calling the legion-
aries to make ready for majch.





SOME months later, in the afternoon of a spring day,
Caius, followed by some twenty or thirty horsemen,
rode rapidly into Luca, a town of considerable size in
Northern Italy. He was weary and dust covered. It
was now twelve days he had ridden with only few and
short rests, from Labienus and the Roman army
quartered in the country of the Sequanian Gauls. He
bore important letters from Labienus to Caesar, relative
to a fresh conspiracy which spread apace throughout
all Gaul.

As he passed along, the youth was struck with sur-
prise at the number of soldiers, traders, petty officials,
and plainly clad citizens and laborers that thronged the
narrow streets. He halted long enough to ask a soldier
where Caesar was lodged.

"Hard by the forum," replied the soldier. "You
must be newly arrived from a distance not to know
where the Proconsul of Gaul lodges."

Caius deigned no reply, and was just spurring for-
ward, when the crowd through which he was now
forced to push his way with difficulty, opened up,
soldiers and citizens removing their head coverings,
and bowing respectfully to a procession which was
approaching. This movement of the throng showed
to him a man wearing a toga with a broad purple
stripe. He was borne by slaves in a chair, and was



preceded by six lictors, one after another in a row.
They were loudly but solemnly shouting, "Make way
for the tribune, the tribune Caius Trebonius approaches."

The youth was just pulling his horse to one side in
order to pass when one of the lictors who had now come
even with him and his company, roughly laid hand on
his bridle, and commanded him to dismount. Feeling
the importance of his message and the need for haste,
Caius spurred his horse, and it leaped forward. But
he was quickly stopped again by the command of a

"Dismount," commanded the lictor, "and show
respect to the dignity of a tribune of Rome."

The chair of the tribune had now come up, and he
began to question the lictor. "This rude soldier dares
to ride breakneck speed past you, and will not dis-
mount," explained the lictor.

"Why show you such lack of respect to the dignity
of a Roman tribune, my worthy man?" gravely in-
quired the tribune.

"Sir, I am but a soldier from Gaul, not used to the
customs of the city," replied Caius. "I meant no
disrespect. Besides, I am hot with haste to bear im-
portant letters to Caesar. I pray you will allow me to

The tribune's manner at once changed. "If that be
the case, I beg your forgiveness and urge you to go
on at once. I also trust that I may have the pleasure
of a talk with you during your stay at Luca. You
will find me at the house of Cornelius, the praetor
of the city. Pray come to see me there." And with a
gracious smile, he waved Caius a farewell.


Soon the young soldier reached the forum. He found
it crowded with all manner of folk. The rostra were
covered with the various products of Gaul. Here a
Roman merchant examined a mass of gold or bronze
brought from the mines of Aquitanian Gaul, and there
another looked with care at a stack of salted hams of
swine. In another place a trader tested the strength
of some Gallic cloth of linen which was on exhibition,
and next to him, a Roman knight was admiring a
suit of chain mail forged by the Gauls of Gergovia.
Near by, a group of Romans, rustic in appearance,
but plainly prosperous, examined a yoke of huge
wide-horned, Gallic oxen, hitched to a heavy Gallic
cart. And on all sides the various products of Gaul
were being viewed by Roman farmers, soldiers, artisans,
merchants, magistrates, and senators.

"By Ceres," he heard one farmer say to another,
"we have thought all the time that the Gauls were
a poor nation, without any of the things that make
Italy so fair and rich."

"But we are mistaken," said a wine merchant. '"I
find over there on the left a sort of mead made from
wheat and honey. Its taste makes a man wish he had
a neck as long as a javelin. The Gauls have many
things that are worth the while."

Caius pressed now in the direction which had been
indicated to him as being the lodging of Caesar. He had
gone but a few steps, however, when he saw the Pro-
consul in company with a number of distinguished-look-
ing Roman senators, clad in their purple-bordered togas.

Caesar saw the young soldier advancing. He
motioned Caius to him and asked his errand.


"I bring letters from Labienus," replied Caius. And
he handed them to the commander.

"Very well, come to my quarters at the third hour,
and tell me the news," said Caesar. "I am now

Caius, after having ordered his attendants to quarters
indicated by one of Caesar's officers, mingled with the
throng in the forum. He soon learned from the talk
everywhere that the products of Gaul were on exhibi-

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Online LibraryA. C. (Albert Carlton) WhiteheadThe standard bearer : a story of army life in the time of Caesar → online text (page 8 of 16)