This is a time of voting in the Eternal City, a time of reflection. The consuls have surrendered their imperium and have returned to the City to preside over the balloting. The plebian candidates, being unable to comprehend with their base minds the glories of valorous conquest, as always attempt to demean the achievements of our legions abroad, while the patricians in their arrogance attempt to take credit for victories not yet won. It therefore falls to humble chroniclers such as myself, a humble Jew born in the distant and frozen land of the Huns, where white feathers drop from the sky so thickly as to obscure the sun for half the year, to attempt to speak the truth for future generations to hear, and to draw lessons from the history of the Republic for the better education of our youth.
Proceed to the next scroll if you wish to know more of the valorous deeds of Petraeus in Mesopotamia and his plans for Bactria and its neighbors, the arrogant Persians and the perfidious one legged men of the mythical land of Punjab.
With the consular elections near, patrician consul Bush the Younger has promoted the Republic’s best general, David Petraeus, from his position in command of the Mesopotamian legions, to a proconsular command of Asia, which stretches from the settled provinces of Asia Minor to the Bactrian wilderness which borders the Roof of the World. Petraeus has accepted the command, and agreed to defer his richly earned triumph for the recent victories of his legions over the Babylonians, who languish now in chains and no longer dare to stab at the heel of their noble conquerors. The eyes of all nations now turn to Bactria, a rugged land where the legions of the Republic, with the support of the German federates and Gallic auxiliaries have battled for years, but have been unable to prevail over the warlike and fervent tribesmen, or to capture that most elusive villain, the Arab Bin Laden, who still dares to harbor plans to assault the temples of our gods and the hearths of our homes.
Petraeus, whose true origins are unknown but who is rumored to have been sired by Mars upon an unwilling secretary from Duluth, first distinguished himself in the service of the Republic when he led the CI Airborne Legion, known as "the Screaming Eagle" during the second invasion of Mesopotamia in the year 2756 Ab Urbe Condita. The CI was able to capture the city of Nineveh the Cruel in the north and to support the main army’s thrust from the south. While he exercised imperium in Nineveh, Petraeus distinguished himself by fostering relations with tribal sheikhs and was able to secure tranquility in the area by paying tribute to the chieftains of the barbarians so that they would ensure that the young men of their tribes did no harm to our legionnaires. The overall commanders failed to heed his example, and Petraeus returned with honor to his Thracian estates, to write manuals for the better training of the legions, to train his falcons, to enjoy his new Babylonian slave girls and to drink Falerian wine. In year 5 of the Second Mesopotamian War, the consuls, alarmed by the auguries prophesying defeat (it is said that in the spring of that year, in the province of Montana, a cow gave birth to a two-headed calf whose liver was so discolored and ominous that the Pontifex Maximus, may his soul find peace in the land of the shadows, had to immediately eat the organ raw, lest the eyes of the acolytes fell upon it), appointed Petraeus as the commander of the Mesopotamian legions.
When Petraeus arrived in Mesopotamia, the state of the campaign was grim. The natives had broken into warring camps, attacking both each other and the legions, the Persians had crossed the border and carried their bold raids to the walls of Babylon itself, and in the citadel of Babylon, the servants of the Republic seemed impotent to stem the tide of rebellion in the newly conquered province. Petraeus acted boldly – he ordered his soldiers to back the strongest in the contests of the tribes, and once one tribe prevailed over another in a place, that place was to be ringed with walls, to prevent further fighting. Once again, he threw open the coffers to chieftains who desired to sell their services for a few denarii. He selected among the local warring parties, those who he thought were strongest, and permitted them to slaughter the weakest, so as to finally bring peace upon the bloody land. His strategy succeeded in calming the violence, and he recruited men from among the native tribes to carry on the mundane patrols, so that the precious lives of the legionnaires would be spared for future fighting. Enthroned in the citadel of Babylon, Petraeus ruled the grim land, and the natives came to fear and respect his command, and to honor the sacred name of the Republic, the Eternal Liberator, favored most of all nations by the gods of heaven. At home, a triumph was prepared for him, the white horses stood ready to pull his shining chariot through the streets filled with adoring crowds, and the vanquished Mesopotamian leaders languished in chains, awaiting the day when they would follow the victor’s chariot, as the cheering mob pelted them with stones and abuse, to the place of their execution.
But the Republic’s greatness does not permit any man to rest on his laurels. While the Mesopotamian campaign appeared at an end, and the once proud sons of Babylon prepared to accept their yoke and to become yet another province in the growing empire, the Bactrian campaign appeared to falter and stall, and demanded the attention of the Senate and the consuls. The Bactrian campaign had begun before the Mesopotamian one, but, the Bactrians being poor people and their land a barren mountainous wasteland, the war was being prosecuted by only a few legions with the ineffectual support of the tributary auxiliaries. Following the initial overthrow of the impoverished rulers of the land, the pacification efforts stalled. The conflict began to destabilize the neighboring tribal lands, which, though inhabited by the same tribes of Bactria, fell within the borders of the state of the Punjabis. The Punjabis are men of the Indus, with a dark visage and only one leg. The sun of that region being intolerably fierce, the men of the Indus shield themselves from the heat with the oversized foot of their single leg.
Only the great Alexander was ever able to conquer these curious tribes, and it is said that even he was only able to pacify Bactria by marrying a princess from the local tribes and entering into alliance with the fierce chieftains. Some others said that the Bactrian tribes can only submit to a god, such as Alexander. With every year that passed since the initial conquest, the land became ever more lawless, and attacks upon the legions stationed there increased, until the land became unsafe for a Roman citizen to traverse at night, or even in the day should he lack a strong convoy. It was rumored that in the mountains which lie between Punjab and Bactria, evil men plotted and grew strong, and aimed to strike back at the heart of the Republic for the indignities done to their people.
The consuls summoned Petraeus from his throne in Babylon, to head the entire Asian command, and to take control of the Bactrian situation. He assumed command, and began preparations for a new campaign of pacification in Bactria. In preparation, he gave interviews to assure the people of Rome that he was equal to the task and so that they would know his mind.
People often ask, ‘What did you learn from [Mesopotamia] that might be transferable to [Bactria]?’ " he said. "The first lesson, the first caution really, is that every situation like this is truly and absolutely unique, and has its own context and specifics and its own texture,"
he said, as his slaves polished his armor and grim faced legionnaires stood nearby leaning on their spears.
He further laid out his plan to replicate the payment of tribute to local chieftains that was so effective in Mesopotaima.
"These efforts truly do require a degree of outreach to as many as possible who would be willing to be part of the solution instead of a continuing part of the problem," he said, "and the more of the former insurgents who can be reconciled, the less that have to be killed or captured,"
he said, as he practiced sword strokes on a captive Bactrian rebel.
The military tribunes, encouraged by the arrival of so illustrious a general, are working feverishly to prepare the transition to a new Petraeus strategy, so that they may take the battle to the barbarians without delay upon the arrival of the promised new legions and siege weapons.
The military sees this period – as one administration is ending and another is set to begin – as an opportunity to offer the next [consul] a [Bactrian] strategy less shaped by lofty democratic ideals and more by what [the augurs] believe can actually be achieved there.
Now there is "more confidence that changing strategies can change outcomes," says John Nagl, a senior fellow at the Center for a New [Imperial] Security, a think tank in [Rome]. The [Roman] military has "an opportunity to fundamentally rethink our [Bactria] strategy."
Even as these reviews take place, the Republic is poised to send as many as four new legions to Bactria, including one that will deploy in January. The other legions probably wouldn't deploy until a new administration is in place and, military officials warn, until a broader strategy is set into which they would fit.
Many even among the patricians acknowledge that there may be a limit to what even the invincible Roman armies can do in such a barbarous land.
"We've got to be a lot more humble than we've been," said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) of Alabama in a hearing at the forum last week. The challenge of getting people in a poor, vast, tribe-dominated country to pay heed to "some bureaucrat in Kabul" is daunting, he said.
The senator's words prompted Military Tribune Robert Gates to respond that the [Roman] government must "listen better" to [Bactrian] leaders. "The history of [Bactria] has been that if the [Bactrian] people see a foreigner that they believe is trying to help them, it works out OK; if they see a foreigner that they regard as an occupier, it hasn't ever worked."
The auguries have been read and the time seems right to act boldly in the conquest of new lands. Despite the recent economic troubles in Rome, which have seen the prices of the plebian hovels drop so low that many are once again forced to sell their children, the legions are ready and willing to take the fight to the enemies of the Republic. And as we watch the brave legionnaires depart once again to conquer another barbarous land for the glory of the Repubilc, and listen to the noble words of the proconsul Petraeus, it is good that we remember the words of our ancestors: Dolce et decorum est pro patria mori.