I, Luke, made this record initially in winter 117, the end of the reign of Trajan. That was sometime ago, but then was maybe then and now is, again only maybe. So much happens. Time is not as sure as once it seemed during those days when I fed at the breast, and my mother was orderly. It is also the case that Roman’s estimate the day’s time by the sun, for clocks are few. Realize then, nothing is exact hereabouts, nothing! I estimate the span of weeks and years with my memory, for the truth is I cannot entirely rely on my notes, the dates of which have been known to wander, for I am a myself a meandering man in their charge
My Bishop had ordered me to learn what I could about S. Cornelius, the Commander. He told me to be diligent. A silly errand, who am I to know anyone at those high Roman levels? The first Roman soldiers I came upon I asked, so`duty done and all that. There were eight of them who occasionally patrol near our assembly’s street There are no policing squads of less than eight in this town lest they themselves get robbed or killed. This squad was seated in a corner tavern eating sweets, drinking honey-mixed wine. I doubt if they paid for it, rather I’d guess they were enjoying the spoils of peace, its keeping. I have taken a drink or two in the same place myself, although I much prefer a tavern closer to the markets where the girls dance without too much by way of clothing to trip over. I told them my master, a goldsmith had heard a story about, the Senior Centurion Sempronius Scipio Cornelius who’d fought in the recent Parthian campaign. “A fine commander, I’m told “
One soldier gave me a disdainful look, shrugged me off as one more fat, stupid, big nosed Syrian. “Maybe a different legion” he said, “we are IV Scythica. As for the famous Cornelius, well. let me tell you we have fine commanders in our outfit too, all the legions are fine fellows in fact”. He made a grandiose gesture as if to embrace all those fine fellows flying about in the tavern air. He almost fell out of his chair, hiccoughed, recovered balance, resettled himself on the bench, almost tipped that over, for he was a big fellow, red haired, from that and his accent it was likely he was from Galatia. He spat on the floor, went back to his wine. Didn’t want the others to get ahead of him I suppose. In battle these fellows would never drink, but here supposedly keeping Antioch quiet, well their burping and bellowing just added to the noise. Still if they caught crime in the streets, well, I wouldn’t want to be any one they arrested.
I returned from my expedition. “Bishop, Excellency. I have asked everyone about this commander, Cornelius, but no one told me a thing” I groveled a bit to show my shame. I envy dogs, they can put their tail between their legs without having to get their knees all scuffed on the floor.
Once I reported this great intelligence to the Bishop he shrugged. I bring out the shrug instinct in people. He wasn’t the kind to spit, but I had the sense that when he heard me he felt like it.
Trajan had returned to Antioch late 116, for he had trouble on his hands worse than the resisting Parthians. There were uprisings in Dacia, but far worse were the Jewish revolts in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Cyprus, and Cyrenaica that were seriously threatening. It could hardly be called the Roman Pax when Jews killed 240,000 in North Africa alone. Trajan who came to control was instead ill. He thought he was being poisoned. He was getting no better; the symptoms were of a stroke. He set off for Rome but never made it.
The news came early August. Trajan had died. There was tension in the air, particularly in the camps, as to what Trajan had done about the succession, for he had dallied, providing little clue as to his wishes. His wife wanted Hadrian. Rumour had it that Hadrian had been most generous with his homosexual favors to as many men in Trajan’s court as possible, so at to win the imperial throne. Hadrian aimed, beyond the immediate Roman pleasures in wanton sex, feasts, cruelty and scheming, to get them to prevail on Trajan to write his will on the succession naming Hadrian. At last a letter was written, whether authentic or forged by his wife is not established.
On 11 August Hadrian received his letter of adoption from his uncle Trajan. The four legions camped in Antioch when told of the letter, quickly confirmed their decision, and through their Tribunes, Legates, acclaimed Hadrian Imperator. Other legions across the Empire were told of the Syrian acclamation. Only a few spoilsports said the letter was forged, although it might well have been. The candidate for that suspicion of that forgery was the Empress Plotina who favored Hadrian who was, by no means, the sole contender. Hadrian knew of some who opposed him but had only one, a descendent Cato, killed immediately. He was ready with his appointments; Syria was easiest for he was on site. Publius Marcellus replaced him as Governor.
The reports have it set forth, no secret to them, for secretaries are obliged to write every detail of imperial transitions. The new Emperor Hadrian summoned S. Cornelius for a short interview, told him he was to be Praetor, or Praefect, if he preferred, in any event his work to be Syria’s second ranked administrator of daily affairs. Cornelius, so the rumour has it, asked for lesser rank, Quaestor was the lowest possible consistent with the post. Hadrian was too busy with an Empire to run to bother with almost unique modesty, ordering appointment papers issued, and told him to begin work immediately. Since the days immediately following acclamation are fraught with risk in an Empire with other aspirants with other friends and maybe legions behind them, a new emperor consolidates his hold quickly. In a matter of minutes S. Cornelius military career ended. That a commander would move to the civil service was entirely expected. It was a typical course, the usual sequence of which was a return to Rome for more serious politics, the Senate, perhaps Consulships.
At this time Hadrian ordered all forces withdrawn from Assyria, eastern Mesopotamia and Armenia, leaving Rome with the Tigris and Euphrates as its eastern frontiers. The Syria, for which Cornelius under Marcellus was responsible, remained vast. The legions to maintain the frontier and new territories, such as Arabia, were assigned to their permanent barracks in Antioch. Other legions usually based on Antioch were by mid 117 patrolling the cinders that had been the extinguished Jewish Diaspora revolt. Legions are like fire brigades, always ready for an emergency call, although for legions it may be hundreds of miles away on another frontier. The fires of Jewish revolt, following less than 50 years after the destruction of Jerusalem, seared the Roman ruling mind. In Antioch, which had seen only Jewish disturbances, not great outbreaks, the Jews would be carefully watched and always suspect. Christians were inevitably tarred with similar suspicion by some of that same undiscriminating brush.
That is probably why S. Cornelius, immersed in major duties all strange to him, which, while all civil, must include alertness to any Jewish agitation, agreed to see the Christian Bishop Ignatius, so minor a figure and in ordinary times hardly of interest. But the Jewish troubles guaranteed that spies, always so much a part of Roman administrative surveillance, would be attending to the Christians as well. They would have reported that Ignatius’ assembly was itself troubled by Jewish Christians, that Ignatius was seeking unity but hardly finding it. At the higher level, Hadrian would have ordered surveillance of Jews throughout the Empire. He could not but have instructed his Syrian administrators to be attentive to Jewish Christians, those still influenced by Peter’s Jewish predilections as well, and the truly not Jewish Christians as such .One knows enough of Roman ruling know-how to be sure S. Cornelius would have called for a special report on Ignatius once he received, through normal petitioning channels, the request of Ignatius for audience. The dossiers files, regularly updated for agitators, suspect clubs, and for higher level official peers, are usually good, although competitive or spiteful misinformation must always be expected..
What might in other times have been an audience request ignored, was not the case now. Seeing Ignatius was given priority, for the Bishop was ripe for assessment. If he had information to provide he might become a paid informant. If he was troublesome, one always had the Jewish rebellion in mind, that would be more than noted. He would be marked for surveilling attention. Spies would be assigned. The suggestion Ignatius be tested for the role of informant on his rival Jews, was made by Balthus, himself new to the civil service, just arrived in Syria and newly assigned as Secretary to Cornelius. Cornelius could see his new secretary was no babe, no newcomer to the world. “Informed and decisive cunning, more than wit behind that battle scarred face” Cornelius immediately, correctly concluded and so noted in the man’s dossier.
Balthus, until the audience request, had never given much thought to Christians, but as any military man serving Rome would, had most certainly heard of the passionately, repeatedly, insurgent Jews. He had heard enough to know them as enemies, and destroyers of legions. Wild men filled with their ancient god, Yahweh, an obstinate fiery tradition-soaked tribe, their god their mirror. Balthus and Cornelius had hardly become acquainted with one another, but in this, almost their first decision about a local and by nature controversial visitor, they found themselves in perfect harmony. The Bishop was informed that he would be welcome. He would also be watched.
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