Gateway to the Classics: Lucius, Adventures of a Roman Boy by Alfred J. Church
Lucius, Adventures of a Roman Boy by  Alfred J. Church

Campaigning (continued)

One important result of Lucullus' victory was that Tigranocerta immediately fell into his hands. Though the battle had been fought at some distance from the town, it had been possible for the inhabitants to see from the walls so much as to make them sure that the king had been defeated. There were, as has been said before, two parties in the town, those who wished for the success of the king, and those who were ready to welcome the Romans as deliverers. During the night that followed the battle the greater part of the king's friends fled from the town. Muræna with his six thousand men could not pretend to keep up any thing like a blockade or stop the fugitives, and as he had with him only a handful of cavalry he did not attempt to pursue them. Very soon after his return Lucullus was waited on by a deputation from the town. They had been unwilling subjects, they said, of Tigranes, Greeks, compelled to serve a barbarian. They had always prayed for the success of the Roman arms. Now the gods, who hated tyranny and insolence, had overthrown this upstart, who was not afraid to arrogate to himself the very title of Zeus, and to call himself king of kings. The Romans had only to stretch out their hands and lay hold of his treasures. They would themselves open the gates, and welcome them as their deliverers.

The town which the prince and Lucius entered in the train of Lucullus was a curious sight, for it was wholly unlike any other place they had seen. A town commonly grows up and keeps about it some signs of the various stages of its growth. It has old houses, and it has new. It has been altered and added to, to suit the wants and wishes of various generations. Tigranocerta was altogether new. The caprice of the king had called it into existence, and it bore the marks of its origin. It had been laid out on a regular plan; the streets crossed each other at right angles; all the houses in each were of a uniform size and pattern, some being assigned as the dwellings of the rich, and being proportionately large and handsome, others belonging to the middle class, and others again to the poor. As Tigranes had made his plans on the scale of his hopes of what the population would be, rather than of what he had actually ready to settle in his new capital, whole quarters of the city had never been inhabited, and had already begun to fall into ruin. The flight of a part of the population had made the place look still more desolate, in fact the impression on every one was that there was not a drearier spot on earth than Tigranes' new city, and that the sooner it was permitted to sink again into the desert from which it had been called forth, the better it would be for mankind.

The conquerors, however, found attractions in the plunder of the place. The houses of the Greek inhabitants were protected, but everything else was given up to pillage. Besides what they could thus secure the soldiers had a handsome sum distributed to them out of the royal treasure which had been found in the palace, each man receiving between $150 and $200 in our money. Amusements too were not wanting. Tigranes had determined to have a city complete according to the best models of civilization, and he had taken great pains to get together a company of actors, bribing some, and kidnapping others. There was a theatre, too, built after the pattern of that in Ephesus, as far as the skill of a young architect who had had the misfortune to fall into the king's hands had been able to carry him. Lucullus ordered a play to be acted, choosing as suited for the occasion the Persians of Æschylus, as being the story of another great victory which in times past the West had won over the East. It was not the least strange of Lucius's experiences, that in one of the most unlikely places in the world, the desolate plain of Armenia, he realized what had been one of the dreams of his life, to see one of the masterpieces of the Greek drama actually put upon the stage.

He was not so well pleased with another amusement which the general provided for his army. The taste for Greek tragedy was, as may be supposed, not very general among the Roman legions, and for these a very different kind of spectacle had to be provided. Several hundred prisoners had been taken in the late battle, the soldiers having spared their lives, not so much out of any feeling of pity as out of sheer weariness of slaying. These were to be turned into gladiators, though the connoisseurs in this kind of amusement did not expect any very exciting sport from such spiritless creatures. There was, however, another resource. Among the treasures of the royal palace was a menagerie of wild beasts. Tigranes had been accustomed to make part of the tribute which came in from outlying provinces payable in these creatures, and had got together a great collection. The Roman managers saw in the beasts excellent material for increasing the splendor and excitement of the exhibition. Beasts might be made to fight against each other: a lion, a panther, or a bear might be matched with so many dogs; best of all, if any of the new gladiators should seem disposed not to do their duty of killing or being killed, they might have a lion let loose upon them, and have to fight in earnest for their lives.

With all these combined attractions the entertainment proved, it was generally thought, a great success, the soldiers applauding the various spectacles with great enthusiasm, the greater the more cruel and bloody they were. Most of the Greeks, to whose more refined tastes such amusements were odious, kept away, though some of the chief citizens thought it politic to attend Lucullus, who, of course, presided, and sat, pale and shuddering, during the long-drawn-out hours of horror. Prince Deiotarus, who had something of Greek culture and feeling, excused himself from attending, and Lucius also was glad to stay away.

It was now that he made a curious discovery about the prisoner whose life he had saved on the field of battle. Until this time he had been able to hold very little communication with the young man, whose dialect, though it seemed to contain a certain number of Greek words, he could not understand A piece of good fortune now threw an interpreter in his way. By his help he learned the youth's story, of which, as it is a fair specimen of what had happened to multitudes of others in those days, we may give a brief outline.

"I was born," he said, "in free Cilicia. By rights I should have been a sailor. That has been the employment of my family for generations, and my father is a great man in his way. But somehow I never could take to the sea. Three seasons, one after another, did my father take me with him, and try to accustom me to it, but it was hopeless. Let there be the least breath of wind to raise the waves, and I was helpless. So he gave it up, though it was a great grief to him, and left me to look after things at home, cultivate the little bit of land we had, and look after my mother and sister. Well, about a year ago comes one of the king's lieutenants on a great kidnapping expedition. Most of our people had time to carry their wives and children to our hill-forts, many of which have never been taken. But he came upon our village unawares. We went to bed one night not dreaming of any danger, and the next morning we found the place surrounded by the Armenian soldiers, and we were as helpless as fish in a net. They did not treat us badly on the whole; the king wanted inhabitants for his new towns, and if people would not come into them of their own accord he had to make them. For myself I did not care very much. That summer my mother and sister had both died of a fever that broke out in the village, and I had felt the old house terribly dull and lonely. Besides, I had got tired of farming and stopping at home; and thought that if I could not be a sailor I should like to be a soldier. So I was ready to make the best of it, and when the king's officers saw that I was not sulky like most of the kidnapped people they were kind enough. In the end I was made some kind of a captain in the army; all the rest of my story you know."

As soon as the prisoner had said that he had once been a sailor Lucius seemed to understand the mysterious resemblance which had struck him in the man's face.

"Can it be true, by chance," he asked him through the interpreter, "that your father's name—you say that he is a great man in his own line—is Heracleo? If it is, I know him very well."

The young fellow was not a little abashed at the question. He was not in the least ashamed of his father's calling as a pirate, which seemed to him just as proper and praiseworthy a manner of getting one's livelihood as any of the occupations which men commonly followed. But he knew enough of the world to be aware that there was a common prejudice against it. He looked in a confused and embarrassed way on the ground, and remained silent.

"Don't trouble yourself," said Lucius; "if I know your father, I know nothing but good of him. He saved my life, and I think it a great chance that I have been able to do something towards paying him back in kind. And now for yourself. You want to be a soldier; well, come with me. You have no particular reason to love Tigranes, or his father-in-law King Mithradates; and I take it that on the whole it is better to be on the side of the Romans than to be against them."

As we are not relating the history of the wars with Mithradates, except so far as our hero was concerned with them, we shall not attempt to describe the events which followed the battle of Tigranocerta. It will suffice to say that the Galatian cavalry were sent home before the winter set it. Many of their horses had died, many more had broken down from excessive fatigue, and on the whole the force was no longer effective. The prince was anxious that Lucius should accompany him in his return, and the young Roman, though he would gladly have seen a little more active service, did not like to refuse. But here Lucullus interfered. Lucius was a valuable officer, and he refused to part with him. The prince therefore departed without him, carrying letters which he promised to forward to Tarsus and Rome, and also taking charge of a sum which Lucius had received as his share of prize-money. It mounted to about a thousand pounds, and the general's secretary of finance gave him in exchange for the coin a letter of credit which would be payable at Rome. This Lucius enclosed in a letter to his father, begging him to use or invest the funds as he might think best. A few of the Galatian troopers had become strongly attached to their second in command, and asked and received permission to remain with him. These were drafted into the Thracian cavalry whom Lucullus still retained, and Lucius received the same appointment in the consolidated force that he had held before.

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