Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Part III: The Triumphal Entry

Sunday Morning

The cohort approached the city from the northeast and entered Jerusalem through the Sheep Gate on the first day of the week, just as the Sun was rising over the city. A crowd of onlookers gathered to witness the arrival. Many stood in wide-eyed amazement as rank upon rank of soldiers passed before them, marching through the narrow entryway and into the city. Even the guards standing watch on the wall seemed taken aback. Most of the soldiers serving Caesar in Jerusalem were local recruits, not career soldiers like Mamercus and his legionaires, and no doubt they had never in their lives seen such military strength concentrated in one place. The timing of their arrival was no accident either. The primus pilus intentionally chose to arrive at a time when the morning sun would reflect off the soldier's weapons and armor. This would only enhance the shock and awe factor for the local populace. It was intended to send a clear message to everyone that Rome was firmly in control of the city and would protect the peace at all cost.

Although he was a seasoned soldier, Mamercus still enjoyed the pageantry of military exhibitions and took pride in having his century march with practiced precision. Governor Pilate and his entourage viewed the procession from a balcony at the nearby Fortress Antonia. (Built by Herod and named after his friend Marc Antony, the fortress stood adjacent to the Temple complex and was one of Pilate's residences when he was in Jerusalem.) Standing behind Pilate just on the edge of the shadows was a tall, gaunt looking fellow who Mamercus did not recognize right away. His attire was that of a high-ranking Jewish priest, and Mamercus soon realized that this was most likely Caiaphas the High Priest. The soldier studied the "holy" man with some interest as the procession slowly filed by the stand; it's always good to get a good look at the person you are assigned to protect. It was hard to form much of an impression from a distance, but it looked like Caiaphas wasn't much of a warrior and could use all the help he could get. He found himself thinking, "This is the most influential man in Jerusalem?!"

To allow for maximum flexibility, the primus pilus (cohort commander) had decided that once the cohort arrived in Jerusalem, each century would operate with relative autonomy. Each centurion would be assigned to the command of the local authorities. (The locals were more familiar with the situation in the city, so this arrangement seemed to make sense.) So for the duration of their assignment here, Mamercus' century would be under the authority of Caiaphas the High Priest. They would be stationed at Fortress Antonia, which in addition to being a residence for the Roman Governor, also served as a base for the so-called Temple Police—a garrison of Roman Soldiers assigned to protect the High Priest and the Temple.

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