Sunday, December 6, 2015

An Unnamed Roman Hero

It's curious that the Christian tradition wants to give apocryphal and ultimately unreliable names to every minor character one encounters in the literature. And so, the Three Wise Men are reportedly Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar. The soldier who pierced Christ's side is said to have been named Longinus. 

But the ancient Roman tradition never passed down the name of an Unnamed Roman Hero who saved Caesar's attempted invasion of Britain from disaster.

In Caesar's Gallic Wars 4.25, we read that the Romans were in a pretty serious mess as they approached the shore for their landing. The boats couldn't go any closer because they were so laden with supplies. The enemy was on the shore and knew the terrain. And the soldiers were justifiably afraid to disembark.

But the standard bearer, the "aquilifer" of the Tenth Legion shouted:
Click to visit artist Mark Churms' website.

"Desilite...commilitones, nisi vultis aquilam hostibus prodere"
"Jump down, comrades, unless you want to surrender the eagle to the enemies."

The Eagle (Aquila) of the Legion was the symbol of its power and honor. And so, as the Aquilifer made his way toward shore, the solders could not allow the shame of that standard falling into enemy hands. And they jumped in after him. Soldiers on other boats saw them and followed suit.

Caesar's attempted invasion was not ultimately successful. But Claudius would later succeed where his predecessor had failed.

But this brave Aquilifer's name has been lost to history. And that's a shame. I raise my glass to you, brave soldier (that's right, I'm of course spouting on about such matters while deep in cups).  

History did not record your name. Caesar did not even record how you fared in the landing you made to happen. 

However you met your eventual end, requiescas in pace, mi commilito...

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