Notes: The Triumph of 169 AD

Department of Legacies
Roman History Subdivision

Private Notes, 3/14/876

The previous excerpt was discovered in the remnants of an old library, buried in the shallower levels beneath New Rome.  It is the last shred of an old parchment that probably no one alive has read.  Is this not such a tragic thing?  Books are made to be read, to bring enjoyment and knowledge.  What has this little thing done to deserve such neglect?

The author is questionable in his lack of a professional tone.  The account appears to be a factual one, and yet he interjects with personal memories quite often.  Said memories are unverifiable by nature, and thus should be scrutinized.  How mortifying, that we must distrust the dead.  What conceivable motivation could this man have to tell a fabrication?

There is such irony in the glorification of the Triumph that the author describes.  He writes decades after the event, surely an old man looking back at his youth.  But how was he able to maintain such wide-eyed optimism, remembering that between that time and his present, there was a devastating stain on the annals of time?  Of course I could never say the glory of Rome was 'ironic.'  I only meant of the plague that followed brought back by the Army of  Rome is indeed glorious.  I mean Her no disrespect.

Inspecting the paper, likely teeming with fungus and invisible growths, I could find no evidence of tampering or other indications to discredit the validity of the account described.  The date written on the excerpt was indeed verified as accurate.  The pages were so fragile.  Infant, and old woman, at the same.  I held it in my hands.  I'd be ridiculed for such thoughts.  That's why I have to write them in unseen ink.

A different parchment fragment was discovered in the vicinity that tells of the Plague, perhaps with more vividness than any account I could give.  And more vividness than one would need in a lifetime.

The next excerpt is this fragment.

Gnaeus Aurelius Avitus
Archivist Apprentice: Tier III
876 AD

A Triumphant Return

I remember it like it was yesterday, such as it always is when we think of those shining moments of the past filled with glorious celebration and jubilation.  With the sun was more gold than ever, the day couldn't have been any brighter.  Word had arrived some days earlier of our victory, and the days hence were brimming with restless anticipation for our men to come home to the capital.  We couldn't celebrate before they did.  Before we hold a Roman Triumph to celebrate the achievements of a general-- or of our emperor-- or of our entire Army-- the most honored guests would have to first come home.  So we drank until they did.

It was a strange phenomenon.  Those of us who have lived through these post-victory days will know that strange sensation of calm and unease, where our moods are improved from the moment we rise to the moment we fall back to bed, and our strides are hastened by the need to pass the days until the parade.  And of course, a parade would come.  It always did.  What good is a moment of crowning glory without all its glorious implements?

A fleeting memory comes to me from time to time, of an old man I once spoke to.  He was dressed like some old tramp who managed to be quiet and appear harmless enough not to get kicked out.  He always had a drink in his hand, and I never gave it a second thought.  One particular day, I approached him for no other reason than to find a new way to pass the time.

"Do you think they'll ever come home?" I asked the old man.

For a moment he didn't even move.  It was as if he was in some faraway place, to which from the inner reaches of his soul ran a tunnel, and it was a place where to react and acknowledge me, it would take some period of time for him to first cross over to my side of the world.  When he finally did, his whitened eyes were haunting.  Hollow and desolate, but it was as if I was looking into a vast cavern where unimaginable treasures once lay.  It was humbling.

"Our men," I continued.  "Do you think--"

"I heard you," he began.  His voice was low and overran with rocks, with the murk of soil.  He took down a big gulp of his drink.  "They've come and gone a hundred times."

"Not right now, they haven't," I said, smiling.

The old man started to get up, and nodded his head at the tavern keeper.  He in turn waved his hand.  Slowly, almost trembling, he started to walk out, his raggedy toga trailing on the dirtied floor.  When he passed me, he only placed his century-old hand on my shoulder, weakly.  I couldn't tell if he was trying to tell me something, or if he just needed something to hold on to.

I didn't think much of it, and joined a table of men and women, who had yet to cease cheering and singing since I walked in.  It looked like such fun.

How did we spend those many afternoons?  How much time did really pass?  In the drunken shadows of our celebrations, those few days of anticipation are powerless but to die, to be forgotten.  I've spent some time considering it, and the only figure I can muster is that it must have been at least a week, and could have been up to a month.

In the fog of age, I'd be a fool to try and give an honest account.  But imagining it now, I can only assume I went to the taverns, and drank, or to the fountain in a square, and drank, or to the gentleman's club on East Street.  Wherever I went, there were others doing the same as I.  I'm sure of it.

Mornings were when I'd have a morning feast with my family, which has since grown-- or at least, cycled through.  I and my wife are the father and mother of the household, while our children have taken the seats and places to which I was relegated in my youth.  Both these occasions are examples of how time can fly and yet crawl so slowly at the same.

 "Servina," I said to my daughter, "Have the servants redo your hair.  It's far too modest."

"I don't want to appear bold, Father."

"But you won't get noticed otherwise!  The men could come home at any minute!  Don't you want one of those brave soldiers for a husband?"

I didn't understand it.  Her cheeks flushed red and she ran from the table.

"Leave her be," my wife whispered.  "She's not done being your little girl."

"She's already fourteen, Augusta.  She's months away from the marrying age.  If she isn't ready, she had best prepare."

Soldiers were of the best order of suitor.  Courageous, upstanding men, who were of respectable class and none too far from our own.  My daughter could yet wed a lesser noble, but I didn't want to give her any ideas which may lead her to disappointment down the road.  None are more keen on continuing life after seeing death on the battlefield.  I was only ensuring that our family do its part for Mother Rome.

The taverns that day had reached a peak level of submerged excitement.  We were restless in our drink.  The winds were quiet, stagnant, as if waiting.  And then, word came: they were at the gates.

We clamored from our bar stools, half of us falling over from being early starters to the day's usual anticipatory activities.  The streets were instantly filled, condensed along the sides of the main roads so as to allow the army to pass through.  Trumpeteers from the Imperial company joined with those at home.  Men, women, children combined into giant white sheets, welcoming the soldiers home.  Bright red flags were raised high, SPQR waving in the wind, and a wave of cheers was building up from the city limits.

The procession had begun.

What we were waiting for, for so long...  As the first guards came, I saw that they were just as relieved as we were that the Triumph could begin.  The journey was ended, and their victory was safe in the bosom of the homeland.  They had fought for it, and brought it home.  Some had their helmets off, curly and wavy dark hair gleaming with sweat.  The elements had worn their armor some from the polish with which they set out.  Gashes, cracks, and even missing pieces became decorations of their success.  Wounds and scars intersected the scruff of their beards.  The mud on their boots stamped the ground with emblems: 'Remember me.  I have lived to walk home.'  The reds of their capes were more fresh than ever.

There was a plateau shift then, where the heads of horses now came higher than the heads of the men.  The generals had come, and shortly behind them-- amidst them-- the royal chariot.  Emperor Marcus Aurelius, his two sons, and Emperor Lucius Verus, riding as if they were on the chariot of Helios himself.  When the chariot was right in front of me, I felt as if I could reach out and touch them.  They were so close.  The air surrounded them, bowed to them, as did we.  Above him there was only sky.  It was with such an openness that he came.  He stretched out his arms, lifted his head and closed his eyes.  Mother Rome welcomes her most cherished son, and embraces him.

A cheer began to arise: "The Parthians are leashed!  The Parthians are chained!"

The rest of the soldiers followed on as the whole of Rome headed towards the Royal Forum.  It promised to be a night to remember.  A feast to end all feasts, and enough drink to drown the titans.  Our army was home.  Our triumph was here.

Caelius Iulianus Paulus, historian
"Golden Rome and Dark Winds" / Section IV: Of Foreign Legacies
Dated: 199 AD