Mamercus Helividius Hypsaeus serves as a centurion in Caesar’s army in 33 AD. (Each centurion is a commander of a century of 80 men.) He is a member of the Sixth Roman Legion, which has a long and proud history that dates back to the days of Gaius Julius Caesar. The so-called Ironclad Sixth has served in various military campaigns throughout the past half-century and it now serves as a garrison in the region of Judea. The legion has earned a reputation over the years for being loyal and steadfast in service to the Republic… and now the Empire. Mamercus is proud to be included among their ranks and bear the crest of Romulus and Remus (the legendary founders of Rome) on his shield.
The Sixth Legion is based in Raphana—located in modern-day Jordan, Raphana is one of ten cities in the region of the Decapolis. Today, however, Mamercus and his soldiers are on the move. They are part of a larger cohort of soldiers (this would be 6 centuries, or 480 soldiers) being dispatched to Jerusalem to reinforce the century of soldiers (mostly composed of local recruits) already stationed there. His Excellency Pontius Pilate, Prefate of the Roman province of Judea, has requested the extra soldiers come to help “keep the peace” during the Jewish Passover celebration and the legate (the legion’s commander) has obliged. Jewish people from all over the region of Judea and beyond will be journeying to Jerusalem over the next few days and Pilate wants to make sure that peace is maintained at all cost.
Now Mamercus has done a tour of duty in Jerusalem before, and he doesn’t particularly look forward to returning. He’s lived in this region of the Empire for a while and he knows that Jews are always so unpredictable, especially when they gather together in larger numbers during their religious festivals—like Passover. They’ve been a thorn in the side of the Empire, and for other ruling powers, for years if not centuries. They just seem to have a stubborn will as a people and refuse to be subjugated. They have a tenacious spirit and insist upon worshipping their own god in their own unique way; they have no interest in the “gods” of the Empire, no desire to “convert.”
Mamercus is not alone in his relative disdain for Jerusalem; nobody in the legion particularly likes it when it’s their turn to do a “tour of duty” in the city of the Jews. More than any other group in the Empire, the Jews seem to give the Roman soldiers stationed there to “keep the peace” no end of trouble. Certain groups, like the zealots, are particularly bothersome, always fomenting revolution and pinning their hopes on the latest would-be Messiah who they believe will ride in as a conquering military hero and liberate them once and for all from oppression. Though they may be foolish idealists, Mamercus has to confess a certain admiration for their dedication to a cause they believe in, even though it diametrically opposes the cause to which he has devoted his life.
To try and keep relative tranquility, Rome has allowed the Jews to continue to worship their god in their temple in Jerusalem and practice their quaint religion. The Jewish leaders, however, are under no illusion that they operate with total autonomy—the Empire is always watching their actions closely. The leaders walk a tightrope and lead something of the dual life. On the outside they “perform” as good Jews doing all the proper rituals and practices, but they must secretly (and sometimes not-so secretly) collaborate with the Roman occupiers to keep their high status secure. Pilate hopes that the strong military presence in Jerusalem this week will serve as yet another reminder to the local populace of where the true power and authority rests—namely with Caesar. He hopes that fear of swift retribution from Rome will help keep the locals “in line,” and their festival will go off without incident. The last thing Pilate wants right now is a bunch of over-zealous Jews making trouble in the streets of Jerusalem. Rome takes pride in maintaining peace throughout the Empire and so he certainly wouldn’t want news of his inability to keep the peace to make it back to Rome. (After all he aspires to someday be more than the Governor of a backwater province.) Mamercus is determined to do his part and not let things get out of hand on his watch.