Chapter 1: The Mission

 (146 b.c.—Two centuries before Paul came to Corinth)

Lucius MummiusLucius Mummius stood with hands on hips, feet spread, jaw thrust forward like a challenge—the studied stance of a man who knew his own mind and knew also that others were watching and would remember.  His head turned slowly, surveying the wounded city below, the charred plains to the northeast, the aching blue of the sea beyond.  His eyes were cold and unsparing. He had the look of a man who’d seen hard things up close, a man who could witness horror without flinch or blink.

Every self-respecting city needs an acropolis, he was thinking.  But none of the cities of his acquaintance—not Athens, not Carthage, not Rome itself—could boast an acropolis like Corinth’s.  Impossibly steep, jagged and walled, the crag stuck out of the Corinthian plain like an arthritic knuckle. With a soldier’s eye, Lucius Mummius surveyed the terrain below, noting approaches and defensive lines and fields of fire.  Not many weak points, he thought, thanking the gods (in the way godless men do) that forcing the summit had not been necessary. Give me five hundred good men and I could hold Acrocorinth against the hoards of Persia!

Lucius Mummius—proconsul of Rome, general of the legion, and the latest spoiler of Greek ambitions—dragged his eyes from the view to survey the foot soldiers accompanying him.  The climb had been difficult for them.  They’d fallen out on rocks and grass, faces streaming sweat, chests heaving, mouths gaped wide to take in air. Their optio, a soldier with enough years on him to have lost the resilience of youth, sat gray-faced on the hard ground, concentrating fiercely to keep his breakfast down and his heart from pounding out of his chest. 

Lucius Mummius smiled and thought, They’d sooner take a frontal charge than face this rock again.  He reached over to pat the wet flank of the horse that had carried him up the steep path, grateful that he personally had not made the trip on foot, and quite certain that, had he done so, he would have looked worse than the optio.  Ah, but rank does have its privileges, he thought with amusement.

He turned back to the view, his eyes drawn to the plain below, to the line of march his armies had taken on their way to punish arrogant Corinth. The Isthmus lay to the northeast, narrow and flat between its two gulfs—a fragile buckle of land between a watery belt.  The sea sparkled in the autumn sun, so blue and still from his high perch that it called to mind the mountain lakes of his childhood.

But the Isthmus did not sparkle. It smoked. He could see a thousand fires belching black pillars into the air, as if the earth had cracked opened and allowed Hades to spill upwards.  Piles of spears and arrows, wagons and supplies, pyres heaped high with the bodies of the dead smoldered as far as he could see up the Isthmus and beyond.

Directly below him, Corinth also smoked.  Proud Corinth. Leader of the Achaian League. Lord of the Peloponnese. City of Aphrodite and Sysiphus.  Thorn in Rome’s side. The General spat and cursed the city silently; for the trouble she’d caused; for the senseless slaughter; for the hard things to come. Corinth was proud no more.  Corinth was beaten and cowed. And soon, Corinth would cease to exist.

The smoke rose in angry columns from every section of the city.  Mummius wrinkled his nostrils and savored the acrid fumes, the aroma of chaos and death, regretting in a way that the deed was so nearly done. He would sack the city a hundred times over were it necessary. But since cities burned only once, he drew in deep breaths and took what satisfaction he could.

Lucius Mummius was not a vicious man.  But he was certainly ruthless. He did not take pleasure in the pain of others, in their deaths, in their humiliation. But he was quite willing to inflict pain and death and awful humiliation if the situation required it.  And this situation did.  Rome insisted on peace and obeisance from the provinces.  She did not demand to be loved.  She was not interested in winning minds and hearts.  But she did expect that conquered people stay conquered, that lands vanquished by Roman armies never require those armies to march against them again. 

He broke silence, for the benefit of his soldiers, feeling the need to rehearse Rome’s grievances against this land.  “Fifty years ago, Greece tried to resist Rome. We wanted peace, a treaty. They chose war. They took their chances and they lost.” 

But it was not really the soldiers he was addressing.  He was standing before the Senate again, weighing the sins of Greece and justifying himself for the record.  “But they have plagued Rome ever since.  Whining and bickering, intrigue and squabble, plots and alliances and arrogant threats.”  His hand moved to the hilt of his sword and tightened in anger.  How dare they!

For a few moments he lapsed into silence, watching the road stretched between Corinth and the Lechaion harbor—an arrow with its fletchings in the flames and its tip in the water.  He saw the carts and wagons, piled with plunder, crowding the road and making their tedious way to the sea. The treasures of Corinth belonged to Rome. He did not begrudge that. He knew that the man who brought such a gift to the city would be rewarded in turn with acclaim and honor and influence. He smiled at the thought, lips thin against clenched teeth.

His smile broadened as he watched the line of women and children flowing out of the city, fighting for space on the wagon-choked road.  The riches of Corinth might belong to Rome, but the prisoners were his. They would be loaded on ships destined for the slave markets of Rome and beyond. He would trade their flesh for coin, and that coin would provide bonuses for his soldiers and wealth for himself.  War was a filthy business, but it was not without its compensations—glory, power, and profit. 

Lucius raised his face to the strengthening sun and felt its warmth. 

“This is a great day, men,” he spoke again, with vigor, startling the soldiers.  “For this army.  For Rome!  It is a day when we teach these Greeks a lesson their philosophers seem to have neglected.  What happens to vassal lands that forget their place?”

The optio had recovered enough to reply. “They feel the boot and the iron, sir!”

Lucius nodded his approval.  Then he gestured with his chin toward the smoking city below.  “And what happens to arrogant cities that lead those rebel lands?”

The old soldier blinked, not so certain of the correct answer.  “They are punished, sir?”

“Oh, more than punished, Optio.  We make an example of them. We steal their treasures and burn their homes and rape their daughters.  We tear down their temples and piss on their altars.  We gut their cattle and leave the carcasses to rot.  We leave no stone standing.  And when all else is done, we line up every man who raised a sword against Rome and send them straight to Hell.” His voice remained calm as he spoke.  This was not rage; it was judgment.  This was not slaughter; it was hard-edged warning. 

The optio watched his general with admiration.  In battle, he himself had done brutal things, things which bothered his sleep and prompted penitent prayers in unguarded moments.  But he had done those things when his blood was up, in the fever of battle. 

To stand calmly on this barren rock, though, with the sun on his face and the foe already beaten, and speak of such things with a steady voice and unflinching eye—that took a resolve far beyond the optio’s capabilities.  It set the optio thinking about the uncommon qualities of great men. 

A sea-breeze freshened, blowing the haze from the city and permitting an unobscured view. Lucius Mummius could see his troops scouring Corinth, searching houses for valuables and fugitives, breaking down temple doors and looting shops and putting the torch to whatever remained.  He was suddenly thirsty to join them, to bring an end to this nasty business, to do what was required and then go home to enjoy the rewards of a bitter campaign.

“On your feet, men,” he ordered, mounting his horse and reining its head toward the path.  The soldiers groaned but formed quickly behind their commander. 

He nudged the horse forward and began the long descent to the city, thinking to himself as he went that rebel Corinth now stood before the bar.  His army was prosecutor, jury, and executioner.  But he, Lucius Mummius, was judge.  By his word, this guilty city would be drawn and quartered so completely that travelers a hundred years hence would stand on the rubble and whisper to each other, “This is what happens when proud fools rise against the might of Rome.”

[Next Chapter]

[Beginning of the novel]

© 2012 by Tim Woodroof. Reproduction of this material requires permission from the author.