FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Letter from the Frontier

by Chris Floyd

Gaius Aelius Messala
legatus, XVII Legion
to his brother, Quintus.

Germania Magnia. 19 October [8 A.D].

Brother! Warmest greetings from the River Elbe. Tonight you recline on soft couches with your friends, feasting and drinking–and talking rot–while we poor soldiers shiver in our tents, eating hard bread and sharpening our blades for tomorrow’s battle. Even now your arm is encircling some tender waist–is it still Livilla, or has Agrippina mounted the throne once again? Such lusty campaigners!–while my only company is cold bronze, a flickering lamp, and the ugly mug of Brutus, the slave Father sent with his last dispatch. He smiles as he writes this for me–quite right, Brutus! We must take our misfortunes in good part, eh?

But in truth, Brother, I would not change places with you tonight. Our fight tomorrow is a noble one, an act of justice that will bring fresh glory to Rome. We strike at the barbarians who devastated Noviomagus this summer, a murderous raid across the Rhine, on our own territory, leaving thousands dead–an affront to Roman power that cannot go unanswered. We have pursued these beasts deep into their own lair, and now they are cornered. Tomorrow they will pay the price for their evil.

So much for them. Now, Quintus, Father sends disturbing news–your continuing acquaintance with those so-called ‘republicans’ who snipe and peep and whisper their calumnies against the great Augustus. I know the type well; indeed, in my own youth I was given to much the same tomfoolery, duped by tales of ‘ancient liberties lost’ and fearsome rants against ‘tyranny’. But you are now reaching an age when you must put aside this kind of sentimentality, and recognise that the measures taken by our Imperator have in fact saved the Republic from its own worst excesses.

Where is this ‘tyranny’? You are in Rome–look around, what do you see? The old forms and formalities are still observed–indeed, more strictly than ever. The Senate still meets, debates, makes policy. The assemblies still hold their elections, the praetors still exercise their constitutional powers. Political factions still jostle for primacy, poets and playwrights still revel in decadence, courts are still filled with wrangling advocates chewing over every jot and tittle–tyranny should present a more placid face, don’t you think? The bumptious course of our public life should be smoothed and flattened by the iron hand of the autocrat. But as you see, it is not so.

Yes, Quintus, I know the whispers. I know that Augustus has taken on many of the burdens of state that once were dispersed among several hands. But note well: at each stage, these powers have been granted by the Senate, ratified by law, in the best Roman tradition. And note too, dear brother: this accumulation of powers is temporary. They were given to Augustus in a time of crisis, when through his wisdom and his auctoritas, his moral authority, he delivered the commonwealth from chaos and preserved our way of life from those who would destroy it. Once we are past these dangerous shoals, the concentration of powers will end, never fear.

So yes, to preserve those ‘ancient liberties,’ we must relinquish them, in part, for a time. Perhaps this paradox is hard to fathom there in the comfort of Rome; but for us on the frontier, its truth stands out in stark relief. We are here to carry on that work of preservation, to save our way of life and pass it down to our posterity. I want my son to grow strong and wise, secure in the bounty of our family lands. I want him to fish in the peaceful waters on our estate, as I did, listening to the learned slaves reciting Virgil, Seneca, Horace and Livy. He should never know want or fear or hunger: those ravening wolves which spring from the chaos that Augustus has mastered–and which these barbarians, in their envy and ignorance, would unleash upon us again.

How many generations have shed their blood to bring us to this pinnacle of civilisation! How much toil and treasure have been expended to maintain it! Yet your whispering friends speak of ‘aggression,’ of ‘violent conquest’ and ‘oppression’ of other peoples They would have us still in mud huts, trembling by the Tiber. Yes, we project our dominance–because we must. First and foremost, to preserve our patrimony, as is right and just–but also to bring enlightenment to the dark places of the earth. Why else has Fortune favoured us, above all nations in the history of the world, except to carry out this divine mission? I am proud to play my small part in such noble endeavours; and I hope that you too, dear Quintus, will come to know this pride as well.

The night grows thin; dawn is near. I must finish this tomorrow–if Jupiter and Minerva, deities of our house, see fit to bring me through.

20 October. Evening.

The battle was short, our losses light. The barbarians have been destroyed. The best of our men went about it quickly–the only mercy in this kind of thing–but some fell short, alas. I had to execute three of my soldiers–dispatched them with my own hand–for the bestial way they handled the women and children, making slow sport of the business.

By afternoon, the killing was done, and the village put to the torch. We marched up to the surrounding hills and made camp on the western slope, the far side, away from the smoking valley.

I am weary now and will write no more. Commend me to our father, and attend well what I have told you. Put away childish things and gird yourself: we have much hard work ahead.

Chris Floyd is is an American freelance journalist based in Europe. His political column, ‘Global Eye,’ appears weekly in The Moscow Times and the St. Petersburg Times. Different versions of this article originally ran in The Moscow Times and The Ecologist (UK). He can be reached at: cfloyd72@hotmail.com

 

Chris Floyd is a columnist for CounterPunch Magazine. His blog, Empire Burlesque, can be found at www.chris-floyd.com.

More articles by:
July 27, 2016
Richard Moser
The Party’s Over
M. G. Piety
Smoke and Mirrors in Philadelphia
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Humiliation Games: Notes on the Democratic Convention
Arun Gupta
Bernie Sanders’ Political Revolution Splinters Apart
John Eskow
The Loneliness of the American Leftist
Guillermo R. Gil
A Metaphoric Short Circuit: On Michelle Obama’s Speech at the DNC
Norman Pollack
Sanders, Our Tony Blair: A Defamation of Socialism
Claire Rater, Carol Spiegel and Jim Goodman
Consumers Can Stop the Overuse of Antibiotics on Factory Farms
Guy D. Nave
Make America Great Again?
Sam Husseini
Why Sarah Silverman is a Comedienne
Dave Lindorff
No Crooked Sociopaths in the White House
Dan Bacher
The Hired Gun: Jerry Brown Snags Bruce Babbitt as New Point Man For Delta Tunnels
Peter Lee
Trumputin! And the DNC Leak(s)
David Macaray
Interns Are Exploited and Discriminated Against
Ann Garrison
Rwanda, the Clinton Dynasty, and the Case of Dr. Léopold Munyakazi
Brett Warnke
Storm Clouds Over Philly
Chris Zinda
Snakes of Deseret
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Russell Mokhiber
The Rabble Rise Together Against Bernie, Barney, Elizabeth and Hillary
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
Binoy Kampmark
Undermining Bernie Sanders: the DNC Campaign, WikiLeaks and Russia
Arun Gupta
Trickledown Revenge: the Racial Politics of Donald Trump
Sen. Bernard Sanders
What This Election is About: Speech to DNC Convention
David Swanson
DNC Now Less Popular Than Atheism
Linn Washington Jr.
‘Clintonville’ Reflects True Horror of Poverty in US
Deepak Tripathi
Britain in the Doldrums After the Brexit Vote
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Threats: Arbitrary Lines on Political Maps
Robert J. Gould
Proactive Philanthropy: Don’t Wait, Reach Out!
Victor Grossman
Horror and Sorrow in Germany
Nyla Ali Khan
Regionalism, Ethnicity, and Trifurcation: All in the Name of National Integration
Andrew Feinberg
The Good TPP
400 US Academics
Letter to US Government Officials Concerning Recent Events in Turkey
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Russell Mokhiber
Bernie Delegates Take on Bernie Sanders
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail