By Bruce Farrow on March 10, 2015
The Roman General sat in his tent and waited. Outside were over 30,000 troops camped and nervously anticipating the battle that was surely about to happen.
Military battles in Roman times were gruesome affairs and to survive one of those encounters took bravery, dedication, skill and a certain amount of luck. Hence each man reflected on whether he would be alive at the same time tomorrow.
The General was a famous man. On the face of it he was the epitome of everything a Roman general should be – committed to the cause of protecting the Roman Empire, and had already proved himself in many a battle, some of which he had been on the losing side. In fact, he had been present at the greatest Roman defeat – the battle of Cannae where the Carthaginians, led by Hannibal, had destroyed the Roman army. For many, this would have been too much to bear, but for the General, it fuelled his determination to restore honour to the Roman Empire and, once and for all, put an end to the Carthaginian threat.
As he sat in his tent, the planning now complete, his mind wandered back to Rome and the girl he had left behind.
Her name was Aurelia and she was very beautiful in the Roman sense. Elegant in everything she did, she had become the General’s special lady. When he was in Rome, which was rare these days, she became his world, his everything. He had doted on her, bought her exquisite linens and fabrics, given her rare perfumes and had spent every available moment with her. He loved her and she loved him. Yet here he was, a very long way from Rome and Aurelia.
Was his love of the Roman Empire greater than his love of Aurelia? On the face of it, it would appear so, yet he knew different. The Roman Empire dictated that every man should be prepared to die for the cause of the empire, and many did. He had followed tradition and the rules and was good at what he did and had served the Roman Empire well, going beyond the call of duty many times, yet now he wondered why he was doing what he was doing.
Tomorrow was potentially the biggest battle of his life when the Roman army would take on the Carthaginians again. They were outnumbered by about 10,000 men and the Carthaginians had their elephants, trained to cause havoc in the battle lines. On the face of it, it was a disaster waiting to happen, yet he had devised a plan and was praying that it would work.
As he thought about tomorrow, he knew his life might be ended prematurely, and wondered why he was doing it. Why was he here, fighting battles in faraway places against savages, when he could be back in Rome with Aurelia? What was she doing now? Was she being faithful to him? After all she was perhaps the most beautiful woman in Rome and would surely have plenty of suitors. That thought worried him much.
A long way away in Rome, Aurelia sat in her home, keeping herself busy. She loved the General yet was unsure whether she would ever see him again. Would she sit here forever waiting on the off chance he would return unscathed from his military encounters? Would that be wasting her life? She thought of the suitors who had appeared at her door as soon as the General had left for war. There had been plenty of them, all willing to take advantage of the General’s absence. They had been surprised at how Aurelia had dismissed their advances and had wondered how they had misjudged her. Some of them even were slightly concerned that the General might find out that they had tried to steal his love!
Aurelia, however, was a woman of principle. She followed the rules of society and ever since falling in love with the General, she had made it clear to everyone that she was taken. Not that there had not been temptations, because there had been and with the General being away so much, sometimes the temptations became great. Yet she loved the General and would not bring herself to hurt him in any way and had kept her mind on her daily routine, getting through each day, hoping fervently that the General would walk through that door.
Keeping herself busy was all she could do, wasn’t it? Then she had an idea . . .
Back in Northern Africa the General had reframed the reasons why he was here. To him, he had to protect the Roman Empire and remove the threats to it made by Hannibal and the Carthaginians. In doing so he was protecting Aurelia, the most important thing in his life. He would not let anyone or anything come between him and Aurelia and that thought inspired him.
He called for his commanders and they went over the plans again. They were about to fight the greatest battle of their lives and they were ready.
The battle of Zama took place the following day and the General’s plan worked beautifully. By lining his troops up in columns and leaving channels in between them, he negated the elephant threat since they just ran down the free spaces. They then turned the elephants with a tremendous amount of noise made by blaring trumpets and the elephants ran back into the Carthaginian infantry, causing havoc. The Roman cavalry then outflanked the Numidians and the infantry engaged the Carthaginians with devastating effect. After many hours of intense fighting, the Roman army was victorious.
Weeks later the Roman army landed in Italy, pumped up by their victory and looking forward to the welcome that they surely would receive in Rome.
The General was worried. Yes, he had led the Roman army to their greatest victory. Yet it didn’t seem important to him. His mind was on Aurelia. What if she had taken another man? What if all his battles had been for nothing? He had heard nothing from her by messenger for many months and feared the worst and whilst all his commanders celebrated on the march to Rome, he rode in silence. He almost knew that the worst thing in his life was about to happen. He might have won the battle yet he could have lost the war if Aurelia had left him.
As the march eat up the miles, the General, lost in his thoughts, began to be consumed by the possibility of losing the love of his life and became sadder with every footstep.
They arrived in the town of Terracina, about 130kms south of Rome, where the army camped for the night. They had 4 days of marching until they reached the outskirts of Rome. The mood in the camp was high.
The General avoided the feasting and the drinking of much wine, and retired to his tent with his thoughts which now consumed him. He was a broken man. His achievements meant nothing to him, if Aurelia was not there. In his mind he began to play out all the worst scenarios and he slipped into a troubled sleep.
When the army moved on in the morning, he didn’t go with it. He made excuses to his commanders that he needed to meet with someone and would catch up the phalanx later in the day. He sat alone under a tree as he watched the dust trail of the legions move into the distance. He wasn’t sure he could go on. He was tired and emotionally spent and, in his mind, he knew that Aurelia was already gone. He cried.
As he sat there on that hill outside Terracina on that warm morning, his world had come to an end. He drew his sword and prepared to end it all.
He stood proud in the morning sun and turned the sword so it faced him and prepared to fall on it. Nothing mattered anymore. He closed his eyes.
As he thought his final thoughts, he felt a presence behind him.
He turned and saw a beautiful woman standing with her back to the sun. An aura surrounded her form caused by the sunrays. He was partially blinded by the sun yet he knew that form. His emotions went from the depth of despair to the heights of ecstasy and love…. it was Aurelia.