SPYING IN A TREE – Roman fort 2 miles east of Bethsaida
Cornelius can finally see the garrison about three miles away through the trees. He called a halt to the column of thirty tired soldiers he was leading. They have been on patrol for two hours with no incident and he didn’t like it. As the men rested under the cover of the trees, he goes to the edge of the tree line and climbed a tree with low hanging branches. He scanned his route to the fort but didn’t like that they were going to be in open country. He looked towards the shoreline which was only about a mile away. It would be a longer detour to the safety of the fort, but if the lake was on their left they only have to defend their right flank. When he returned to the men, he ordered them to form up into columns of four. At the edge of the tree line, looking around one last time, he ordered them into a quick march. A quick march meant that they have to jog without breaking formation. The men simultaneously hoisted their shields on their backs and grasped their swords on their sides to keep it from swinging between their legs when they jog.
They were about halfway to the lake when Cornelius heard one of the soldiers call out ‘cavalry!’ Cornelius was not too surprised to see a horse unit of twenty riding out from under the trees about a mile and half away from them. They quickly formed a charging line, then in a trot with lances pointing down they moved forward. Then, with a shouted command from the cavalry officer, they charged at full gallop screaming and shouting. Cornelius shouted to pick up the pace. But instead of chasing his unit down, they suddenly stopped in a single line facing them about a hundred yards from them. He thought they were going to make it to the shoreline until he looked forward and shouted an abrupt halt. Suddenly his route to the lake shore was blocked by a phalanx formation of forty men. It was like they magically sprang up from the ground. But originally, they were hiding behind a seven foot deep gully.
The Phalanx was a classic Greek battle formation where six lines are formed. Every man in the phalanx brandished long spears three times the length of a man. The front three lines of the formation would hold their eighteen foot long spears forward. Any enemy confronting this formation will have to contend first with the deadly spears before they reach the line. The effectiveness of this formation was successfully used by Alexander the Great with deadly results when he confronted a Persian army three times his size.
Blocked on two fronts, Cornelius quickly commanded, “Form the square!”
Cornelius knew this was a senseless command for he only had thirty men. They quickly formed a rough square with only four men per side and with the rest of the men forming the second layer. Cornelius retreated into center. If only he brought another twenty men then they could have fought their way to safety.
As the cavalry unit and the phalanx came closer for the kill, Cornelius knew it was over. So, he pulled out his whistle and blew it three times consenting defeat and the exercise over. The attacking force cheered.
Flavius emerged from within the phalanx sporting a wide grin.
“How did you know I would head to the shoreline first?” asked Cornelius.
“Sir… You were my teacher in Spain.”
“Well, when I saw that old Greek formation spring out of the grass, I have to admit I was a little surprised. I take it that was for my benefit?”
“Knowing how you loved the Classics, I figured you’d appreciate it.”
“Flavius, you definitely deserved your promotion. I’m only too glad that Tribune Arturos does not arrive until tomorrow or else he would have seen this exercise and I would be relieved of my command.” They both laughed again as they head back to the fort.
The story continues on in my next post a week from now.
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