From the journals of Marcus Rutilius Robura in which Marcus follows in Crassus’s footsteps.
arcus, do you have any influence with the old man?” It was a rhetorical question – Cassius knew perfectly well that Crassus never took advice from anyone. He went on without any discernible pause. “He certainly won’t listen to me, or to any of his legates for that matter. He has this fixation. He wants one thing and one thing only. He’s going to go back to Rome at the end of his tour as Governor, with the reputation of being the man who thrashed the Parthians. He intends to carve out another huge province in the east that will make him even richer than he is now. He honestly believes that’s the only way he can gain equal standing at home with Pompey and Caesar. If he pulls it off he could be right, but he won’t do it the way he’s behaving at the moment.
“You know, Artavasdes offered him 5,000 cavalry and 10,000 foot if he would join up with him. That man knows the Parthians are heading his way. He told us that he would pay for all the food and supplies we needed. Knowing Crassus, you would have thought that would have persuaded him soon enough. But, oh no, Crassus told him that he was going to come at Orodes through Mesopotamia, because he has garrisons in the main cities there, and will have plenty of support, thank you very much.
“I despair of the man. You just don’t talk to kings like that – not even client kings. Artavasdes couldn’t believe his ears. When the truth sank in that Crassus was turning down a gift horse, he stormed off back where he came from with his cavalry escort. That’s one king who won’t be so keen to support Rome the next time we need him. His face was like thunder when he left.
“Friend Antipater here couldn’t believe his ears either when I told him what had happened. He’s no slouch when it comes to campaigning in these parts. I’ve seen him in action against Aristobulus and his son Alexander. He was the military commander of all Judaea once upon a time, before he got involved in king-making – that was before Pompey came along and settled things more or less as they are now. The man’s fabulously rich so he knows everyone with any influence across the whole region from kings to crooks.
“He kept on telling Crassus all winter long that he was wasting his time here not in so many words, of course, but he did advise him to head for Babylon and Seleucia, towns out there that hate the Parthians and will do anything to stop them from taking over where Tigranes left off. He just wouldn’t listen spent his time letting every petty potentate between here and Babylon buy his way out of having to supply troops or food supplies. I don’t know what he thinks the men are going to live on. It doesn’t seem to have sunk in that his seven legions aren’t at anything like full strength any more. What is more, he didn’t even put the legions through any desert training during the cooler weather, so they’re not as fit as they should be.
”He’s out there now, marching up and down the Euphrates, while the temperature goes up day by day. There’s no real discipline. The officers are letting the men go around in their tunics they can’t take the heat I hate to think what they’ll do when it really gets hot.
“That son of his, Publius, is not much better, with his bloody Gauls around him all the time. He won’t listen to his local cavalry leaders regards them as incompetent barbarians. He’s got no respect for their fighting capabilities at all. I don’t know what you think of him. From what I gather he had a pretty good war with Caesar, but I’ll tell you this much – if he doesn’t mend his ways and start listening before he really has to fight the Parthians, he’s going to find himself in deep trouble. I know this part of the world very well – so did you before you took that knock on the head have you really forgotten everything?
“I tell you this much. Crassus father and son won’t last a day out there in the desert if he won’t take advice from those of us who have fought out here.”
This conversation was taking place in the luxurious apartments allocated to me by Antipater. Cassius and I were taking the air on the balcony overlooking the temple. That massively impressive building was beginning to return to its former glory, with thousands of workmen swarming over it from dawn to dusk. Under Antipater’s rule they were now busy repairing the damage done during Pompey’s siege some ten years earlier, plus the many disturbances since. The worst of the scars had been healed and the finishing touches were being put in place, with what looked like acres of gold leaf being applied to the great dome at its centre and the several lesser ones that clustered around it. It was a fantastic sight in the light of the rising half moon that hung in the eastern sky.
The ethnarch had thrown a luxurious banquet to welcome Sylvia and me to Jerusalem. Cassius had made much of the fact that I was here on Pompey’s business. Antipater was determined to make sure that I had no reason to report back to Rome that Judaea was not in good hands. His wife, Cypros, had taken Sylvia, Birgitta and Junia off to the women’s quarters after only the briefest of appearances at the reception before the banquet. She was determined to show off her brood of children to the Roman ladies. They were a fine looking family, at least three curly-headed boys – one called Herod, a name that rang a faint bell – and a pretty little dark-eyed girl called Salome, who already knew how to twist men round her little finger. When Cypros heard that we had two children of our own and that we’d had to leave them behind she insisted that Sylvia just had to go and see the latest arrival. Junia was childless, but broody – according to Cassius – so she hadn’t taken much persuading to go along too.
I was very impressed by Antipater. The man spoke fluent Greek – in fact he seemed far more Greek than Jewish to me. He was an imposing man, heavily bearded and very good-looking. He oozed power, both in his manner and his physique. It obviously wasn’t just his money that the men around him respected. He had been a powerful warlord in his day and it still showed. Here was a man who was used to command and all the trappings of power. He was not afraid of airing his opinions either. He clearly didn’t have much time for Crassus and his son and was not afraid to say so.
“It is good that they have gone at last, Rutilius. I got to know Pompey well, when he was here. I liked him. The people of Judaea feared him, but they respected him, as did I. Our last Governor, Gabinius, did not have the same presence as Pompey, but he was a good man in a crisis. People respected him, too – as you will agree, Cassius, I’m sure.
“Now Crassus turns up here from Rome, with all the powers of the Governor. He’s served two terms as consul alongside Pompey The Great, and what does he do? If you don’t know already, I’ll tell you what he does. He strips our temple of all the gold and silver treasures that Pompey himself would not touch. He said that our gold and silver temple vessels and candelabra were sacred to our people and therefore sacred to Rome! Not satisfied with looting the temple of Artemis at Hierapolis, Crassus has now stooped to plundering our Holy Temple here in Jerusalem. I tell you this – my people here in Judaea will never forgive him for that. He will not get another drachma out of me, nor will I fight for him against him, yes, but never for him!”
This was said in measured tones, not in the apoplectic outpouring the looting might well have justified. I was horrified. So was Cassius, who obviously hadn’t heard of this latest outrage, having been sent to Joppa by Crassus to escort me to Jerusalem, while he marched off to Damascus and on towards Antioch, another couple of hundred miles to the north.
“That was just about the worst thing that Crassus could possibly have done. It’s bad news, Marcus. Now he’ll have every man between here and Babylon against him. Antipater is a man of his word. I don’t doubt his loyalty to Rome and to Pompey in particular, but it wouldn’t pay to underestimate his power in these parts. Just about every ruler in the area owes him something. He only has to crook his finger and they come running. He has the Nabatean Arabs in the desert lands to the south and east of here eating out of the palm of his hand. They’re some of the craftiest people you’re ever likely to come across – and the most treacherous.
“Believe me, if they decide to make life difficult for Crassus, he has no hope. Knowing them as I do, they’re quite likely to do just that. The Arabs know full well that if the Parthians get the upper hand in Armenia and Mesopotamia then they’re going to be next on the list – unless they can ingratiate themselves with the Parthian king by doing something spectacularly helpful. If that means delivering Crassus and his army to them on a plate, then I wouldn’t put it past them.
“I was hoping that we could spend some time here in Jerusalem to give you and Sylvia a break from your travels. Your wife’s a plucky woman to have come this far with you, but she looks exhausted. Now, I think the best thing we can do is try and catch up with Crassus before some wily Arab gets his hooks into him and leads him off into the desert. The Parthians will make a meal of him if that happens.”
Cassius was obviously right, but nevertheless we did stay on in Jerusalem for a few days. I wanted to hear more from Antipater for one thing and for another the ladies, as Cassius had remarked were exhausted by the uncomfortable sea journey. The crossing from Cyprus to Joppa in near gale force winds and a nasty choppy sea had made our long lean trireme roll like a drunk after a bad night out. Sylvia and the long-suffering Asinoë were both good sailors, but Birgitta and her maid suffered from dreadful seasickness that left them drained; the heat in Jerusalem didn’t help. Cingetorix – yes he did insist on coming – Odo and his sister, Fritta, didn’t suffer from the sea crossing, but the heat was not to their liking.
However, such personal matters weren’t really why I had to wait in Jerusalem. I needed to get a message back to Sallust to stay put in Cyprus and await further instructions. Sallust was very well aware of the emphasis I place on sound intelligence, so I could rely on him to keep his ear to the ground for any rumours that might be going around. My guess was that news – good or bad – would spread around the eastern Mediterranean shores faster than any rational explanation could justify.
I also wanted to get the news thus far back to Pompey by a reliable hand – and to Balbus in Rome, too – first if possible, and without Pompey’s knowledge. He could decide whether or not to bother Caesar with it. Marcius was my man to do that. I gave him written orders for the naval flotilla commander to release the liburnian to take Marcius back to Salamis and then on to Italy at best speed. The rest of the flotilla I wanted to wait in Joppa for further orders from me.
I sent Marcius off to the coast with Scaeva and a detachment of our mounted veterans as a protection force the road to Joppa was known to be alive with brigands of one sort or another, who would take out any traveller on his own, even a Roman soldier. I told Scaeva to come back as soon as the despatch ship left, which was not nearly as soon as I would have liked. The unseasonably strong westerly winds kept the liburnian in harbour for a week before it could safely head back to Salamis – a week I could ill afford.
Cassius left Jerusalem without me and headed back for Damascus, where he said that he’d wait for me unless the situation dictated otherwise. I wasn’t too worried about being able to find him. Scaeva knew the area like the back of his hand, being a Pompey veteran himself, as too was Xenophon, albeit a slave in those days.
That left me with Cicero at Crassus’s headquarters. Cassius was aware that he was working for me, but had no problems with that. They had known each other since childhood, so he was only too pleased to have someone with mutual experience on his staff that he knew he could rely on, however temporarily that might prove to be.
Sylvia didn’t take too much persuading to stay in Jerusalem at Antipater’s palace as Cypros’s guest. That lady was herself a highly intelligent and accomplished hostess, who was as anxious to teach Sylvia and her female entourage about the ways and wiles of the Judaean court as she was to learn of the latest goings-on in Rome and Athens. She spoke a heavily accented Greek, that was a delight to listen to, and the diaphanous dresses she and her ladies wore made for a few interesting encounters that amused Sylvia and Birgitta immensely, even if they left us men trying to look elsewhere before we got used to their less than formal approach to dress regulations.
Much to his disgust, I decided to leave Cingetorix, Odo and Fritta – the dog, that is – in Jerusalem with the ladies – someone had to keep an eye on them. It wasn’t that I had any worries about them being at risk in Antipater’s court. He was far too civilised a man to ever harm women left in his care. However, I did worry about their capacity for getting up to mischief by venturing out unescorted in a city that had little time for women’s rights. I knew what that could lead to even in the very Romanised Province. Scaeva assigned a detachment of five of our veterans to act as their personal security guard and placed them under Odo’s command, which amused all of them.
I had a last meeting with Antipater before I left. He asked to see me, and I was anxious to keep him on side. It was evidently to be an informal affair with ladies present, which suited me well. Sylvia was very evidently working her usual magic, both with Cypros and her powerful husband. The elder boys, Phasaelus and Herod, were both obviously smitten with her, as only very young and sexually precocious boys can be. There overtures to her were harmless enough, like puppies drooling after their dam, but I could see that she, Birgitta and the still very young Fritta, were all having some difficulty in coping with their wandering hands, despite the strictures of their doting mother. Cingetorix had almost disappeared from our sight and was spending most of his waking hours in the temple with the Jewish temple authorities.
“Rutilius, I’m sorry you have to leave so soon, but I know you have to catch up with that man” obviously he couldn’t bring himself to even say Crassus’s name, he loathed and despised him so much.
“My people tell me that he has already joined up with his legions well to the north of Damascus, so you have some hard riding to do. I am sorry if anything I said at our banquet the other night has caused you to think that I am anything but loyal to Rome. Nothing could be further from the truth. I owe my position and my posterity to the Proconsul Gabinius, and ultimately to Pompey and Rome.
“As you can see, my family is very dear to me, as I can see is yours to you. Now, I can’t predict what is going to happen when that man and his army meet with the Parthians, but I tell you this, without fear of contradiction by any other source of intelligence you are likely to encounter in this part of the world, I do not reckon much for his chances. We have long experience of the Roman army here in Judaea and have great respect for its capabilities when well officered and led. I don’t believe that that is the case with the men that he has under his command. I have seen how Cassius finds it difficult to show any respect for his commander. Now he is an officer I have known for a long time and whose opinion on such things I value.
“Shortly after you leave Jerusalem, I am committed to making an official progress to the northern provinces of Judaea. It is not something that I can postpone. I shall make my journey – with my family – by sea, travelling northwards along the coast at a fairly leisurely pace. At this time of the year this will be a very pleasant journey, and – with your permission – I would like to take your good ladies with me – and Prince Odo here and his saintly father, of course.
“I understand that you have a naval flotilla under your command. I would consider it a great favour if you would allow it to accompany my small fleet of official vessels as a protection force. If my sometimes less than loyal subjects see the might of Rome behind me both at sea and on land you know I have a cohort of Roman veterans as my bodyguard it won’t do either me or Rome any harm.
“Besides, when your mission is over in the north, your ships will be so much nearer to transport you back to Rome. I have a feeling that you will need to move very fast once conclusions have been tried with Orodes. I don’t want to see a Roman defeat in Mesopotamia any more than you do, but I fear that could well be the news you have to take back to Pompey and the Senate.”