Rome was a city of huge opportunity for people who were willing to seize the day. Carpe diem. It applied to slaves, foreigners, princes and paupers. The streets were in reality lined with rubbish but, to the poetically minded, that could be pushed to one invisible side and in its place be pure gold. The right person, with the right skills and the right mindset, could achieve almost anything. His own father had been one of those people. A distinctly run of the mill equite, he had invested the profits of a lifetime’s career in milking taxes out of Syrians into bankrolling the extravagances of the slothful, indolent, turgid senatorial aristocracy. Their debaucheries needed deep pockets which, of course, they did not have. His father had happily lent loans here and there, well secured against land and had come out an incredibly rich man and, on his death, was one of the leading private bankers in Rome.
Well done, pater. But just think how much he could have achieved if he had decided to go after power as well as wealth. Money was only useful for what it bought you. Possessing it in and of itself was worthless. And what was more valuable than power?
Nothing, thought Titus, as he strode through the Forum Romanum. The tepid spring noon bathed the complex in a weak heat and dullish light. The heavy scent of rain earlier still emanated off the earth. His return to Rome had been unexpected. An overzealous official in the ministry had decided he was overdue a new appointment. Thank the Gods he had been able to exert some influence and escape languishing as Subpraefectus of the Misenum Fleet for the next few years. He could imagine nothing worse than bobbing on the water with a bunch of crusty old sea dogs, facing no action whatsoever besides a round of interminable society parties and escort duty to grain fleets. It was therefore with a lot of luck that he had been able to manipulate the Praefectus Augusti of Aegypt, where he had most recently been stationed, into proposing him for a vacant Tribunate in the Praetorian Guard. Whilst not perhaps the best promotion he could have hoped for, at least it was not the sort of living death that the Fleet would have been.
The Guard were a sorry lot, really, although they thought very highly of themselves. The problem for them was that – honestly – no one really liked them. To the soldiery of the regular army, the Praetorians were seen as a bunch of overpaid, soft lackies who lived a sweet life of doing faff-all besides guard the Imperial latrine and sample the wines and whores of Rome. All fancy uniforms but about as much use as a glass hammer. To the citizens of Rome they were the over-paid bully-boys of the regime. Throwing their weight around and getting away with murder. There was a reason that Praetorians rarely ventured into the city alone. Finally, even to the Princeps, their supposed master, they were at best a necessary evil. Too often the Guard had proved fickle and, when not actively doing away with Imperials, had a nasty habit of often plotting to do it again.
However, the fear they engendered in all three of those parties gave them a clout which kept the institution alive. The Praetorian Prefects held great sway over political, legal and military affairs. Their gravitas filtered down the chain and gave each member of the Guard a sense of superiority that could manifest itself in something as simple as a swagger in his step or a feeling of immunity from all wrongdoing they may choose to commit.
His III Cohort had been discharged from their turn on the rota of attendance on the Palatine Palace. Titus was glad of it. It had been a tedious stretch. Little to do save for do regular rounds of the sentries and ensure there was no slipping in standards. The novelty of wearing his new uniform had long worn off by now. As soon as he had formally handed over custody of the Palace to the Tribune and men of the IV Cohort, he had rushed to change out of his formal kit and into an only slightly more comfortable toga. The bulk of his Cohort had been dismissed back to the Castra Praetoria but – unwilling to head back just yet – he had kept with him his First Centurion, a grizzled, bovine time-server named Marcus Valens and several of his pet goons as an escort. Well, the men appreciated a day out every now and again, it did well to bind them to him through friendship as well as fear.
As no military uniform was allowed in the city by soldiers when not on duty, his escort had likewise to change into the civilian attire. In a sense this was almost just as menacing. Tall men with close cropped hair, bulging muscular arms covered in scars and military tattoos, all wearing better than your average cut of tunic. As they were escorting a Tribune of the Guard, they carried thick and gnarled vine branch staffs. Pugio daggers were carried concealed under the fold of their clothes.
As he walked across the Forum, his “entourage” (shall we call them that?) ensured his path was cleared in a none-too-gentle fashion. Most people made sure they scampered sharpish as they approached, noticing the unmistakeable mark of the Guard and deciding that they didn’t want any trouble. Anyone too slow was shoved aside. One storekeeper who foolishly decided to remonstrate with one of his men who had cheekily swiped a pie off the platter he was bearing got a sharp crack on the leg with one of the vine clubs. He doubled over with a shout and his friends dragged him away. Titus carried on, paying no notice.
He was headed towards one of his favourite drinking haunts: an open air taverna which stood opposite the Curia. A sea of tables was spread out over a corner of the paved forum and surrounded by a low fence. A circular bar stood in the middle and an ever busy crowd of slaves hurried back and forth bringing surprisingly good quality wine to the patrons. Situated here in the forum, it served a huge plethora of society – from senators fresh from the Curia, to businessmen, to tourists and simple gawpers. The prices were on the steepish side but – when you were a member of the Guard – that was not a problem.
The taverna’s owner saw the small group coming and Titus smiled as he saw him hurriedly talking to his staff, visibly panicked. One slave dashed off and told the persons sitting at Titus’ favourite table that they had to leave, now. Another hurried to decant several jars full of his favourite Falernian, knowing what he liked to order. Tucking his thumbs into his belt, the portly owner hurried to greet Titus as he arrived, casting worried looks at his grizzled, rough looking companions.
“Tribune Titus Cornasidius, it is a pleasure, a pleasure! You have had a good day, yes? You and your men must be thirsty, it is hard work protecting Caesar and the day is so hot!”
“It is not hot at all, in fact I think it is decidedly cold for this time of year,” Titus replied, as the host led them towards his table. He way toying with the man.
“Actually, yes, n-n-now you mention it I think it is the coldest Spring I can remember for a long time.”
“No, I think it is actually the hottest for at least a decade.”
“Yes, yes, of course, sorry, it is unseasonably warm.”
Gods, the man was a fuckwit. “We are thirsty, how about you do your job, fellow, eh?”
Titus took a seat, rolling his neck and letting it give a pleasurable crack. That bloody helmet was a bugger to wear. All ornament and no comfort. He ran a hand through his dark curls. Valens sat a discrete distance away and his 6 other men further back still. A servant girl brought over a tray with the wine and tried to escape but found a thick arm from one of the men wrapped round her waist and he dragged her onto his lap. Several nearby tables got up and moved elsewhere. Suit yourself, Titus thought, just gives me a better view of the world. Still, best not to let things get out of hand – at least not this early anyway.
“Valens, make sure the boys don’t cause a fucking scene, would you? I don’t want to be hauled up before the Prefect.” Valens gave a toothless smile of acceptance. Titus certainly didn’t need to get dragged before the Prefect like a naughty schoolboy. Ordinarily there were two Prefects in the Guard – one of those many crafty scenes designed by the Deified Augustus to divide and rule. The Guardsmen also found it helped too as often the two Prefects were at each other’s throats so – in the same manner that a child might go to one parent when denied by another – they could often escape punishment by pleading to one of their bosses about the other. Alas, at present the Prefect was the son of Caesar. In Titus’ view, a pompous prig. He was never pleased to hear tales of the Guard winding up the citizens of Rome and vice versa. In short, he was a wet blanket who very often spoiled the Guard’s fun. If Titus was to be in this posting for now he intended to make the most of it.
He filled his glass and took a long, satisfying sip. He had nowhere to be. He enjoyed sitting back and watching the bustle of the city. It is amazing what you could see if you just let yourself look.
TITUS CORNASIDIUS SABINUS
40 | 3 August 35CE | Equites | Praetorian Tribune | Hetero | Original | Oscar Isaac
There is something a little disconcerting about Titus. He is a child of privilege and so has the ease going charm and manner of the wealthy classes. Used to positions of military authority, he is familiar and at home in giving commands. He is a problem solver and is absolutely ruthless about following orders and pursing his own goals. He has riches aplenty and so is not much interested in accumulating more. He has no need for it. He has properties, fine things, sufficient slaves. What he craves instead is power. In this manner he set aside the path of a private career and elected to start, early on, in the designated career structure for equites. His goal is to push further up and reach the very zenith of the Order – becoming the Praetorian Prefect. Although he would never openly admit to admiring such people, he is led by the example of Sejanus, the Prefect in the reign of Tiberius (although he clearly wants to avoid his grizzly fate). He wants to be in a position of power second only to the Emperor, able to sway Imperial policy and have people love and fear him in equal measure. He is determined to throw down any obstacles in his way to this. There is very little he will not do. Of morals, he has none. He likes to think of himself as a good friend to have and a bad enemy to know.
Titus’ family are not from Italia, although they have resided here now for several generation. The current character’s great, great grandfather originally came from Antioch in Syria and, once citizenship was bestowed on him (in return for a suitable “gift”) he joined the legions of Pompey Magnus then in the region, being discharged just before the civil wars broke out. With his accumulated savings and discharge bonus, he bought land in Picenum in northern Italia and settled here as a farmer. His descendants married locals and, several generations later, they are thoroughly Italianate, even if they do still bear slightly eastern features.
Titus has thick black hair, which carries a natural curl. He keeps it cut short in military fashion. His family is wealthy, very much so – in fact probably more so than many a senatorial family. His father was a successful publicani official (private tax collectors used by the State) and amassed such a sum of ready capital that he was able to sell his share in the publicani operation and set himself up in Rome as one of many private bankers, specialising in offering start-up capital to businessmen as well as offering loans to senatorial clients, secured against their landed assets. Being thereby a child of privilege, he has a natural swagger and enjoys dressing well. His clothes are of the latest fashion and are often complemented by extravagant jewellery.
As he has followed a military and civil career path, determined to make a mark in politics rather than in finance like his forebears, he has served in various military units since his teenage years. Several decades later, he has been left with a toned and muscular body, like all soldiers, and bears the scars of several near misses in combat.
Father: Lucius Cornasidius Anatolius Felix (10BCE – 57CE), former Chief Executive of a publican tax collection company in Syria, Galatia, Bithynia and Pontus turned private banker and property speculator in Rome.
Mother: Annia Sabina (13CE - ), daughter of Marcus Annius Sabinus, a large landowner with estates in Hispania Beatica and one of the largest importers of Spanish wine into Italia.
Brother: Lucius Cornasidius Anatolius (40CE - ), currently succeeded to their late father’s chairmanship of the Cornasidius Private Bank.
Titus was born in 35CE into an equestrian family which had long since been able to raise itself from petty Italian gentry to part of the super-rich clique of the Capital’s business elite. His father, Lucius Cornasidius, had for a long time been on the executive board of a private firm of publicanii which had won a contract from the State to collect direct taxes in (over time) Syria, Galatia, Bithynia and Pontus. In return for ensuring a fixed sum was remitted to the Treasury each year, the firm was entitle to take a percentage extra for themselves and, through fair and foul means, succeeded in maximising (or squeezing dry, however you see it) debt recovery so as to make the individual members very wealthy indeed. His father had the sense to get out early before too many complaints were raised about the firm’s recovery methods. Returning to Rome, he married the daughter of a prominent import magnate and set up the Cornasidius Private Bank, an exclusive banking house offering discerning loans to start-up businessmen as well as private loans to senators. Business was good and he was able to live in great style in the Lower Palatine and raise his four children in the manner of the upper class.
In an ideal world he would have liked his eldest son to take after him in the family business. This was not to be. From an early age Titus not only showed no interest in it but in fact a distinct aversion to the business world altogether. A man who never wanted to rock the boat, his father simply let the matter be and instead turned his attentions to his youngest son and groomed him accordingly. This is, however, not to say that he did not support Titus. He thoroughly has done and certainly left him very well provided for in his will. Using his connections, he was able to ensure that Titus was able to be accepted early, despite being in his late teenage years, into the military training programme for sons of the equestrian order.
Although the programme was by no means official, it was expected that equestrian males would follow a three stage military command rotation, designed to get a flavour for the various military arms of the State as well as to ensure, through a rotation of placements, exposure to different provinces and climates. The loose training system was known as the Tres Militiae (“the three militaries”). It was expected that the candidate would first enter as a Prefect of a cohort of auxiliary infantry, before moving on to a Tribunate position in a line legion, before finally moving on to command of a cavalry ala, again as Prefect. Thereafter the individual would either more into the civil stream or could return to any of the three services. Three to four years were expected in each rotation. There was little in the way of mentoring – it was sink or swim. Titus relished the chance and excelled at it. He thrived in the disciplined world of the army. A competent, if not an expert, soldier he enjoyed the feel of command.
He began his military career in 53CE by being appointed to the newly vacant Prefectship of the Cohors I Montanorum, then stationed in Pannonia and made up from gruff, grizzled, only semi-civilised ex-barbarians who had settled in Illyria and Pannonia from tribes across the Danube. This was a very rough start. The men had little time for being ordered around by a youth barely out of childhood. Petty acts of disobedience were designed to put him off, make him look stupid, have him return to Rome shamed. The men had not taken the correct measure of their officer. When he ordered corporal punishment for the offenders a mutinous riot threatened to break out. Only after Titus killed the ringleader single handed (staving his head in with a lead training weight) did the soldiers subside and – frankly – came to fear the young man who had fought like someone drunk on blood. Enforcing a tough training regime on the men, this paid dividends when he was able to successfully repel several small scale border incursions, being mentioned in dispatches by the governor for leading minor punitive raids on the offending trans-Danube tribes.
In 57CE his initial tenure was brought to a close and orders were received for him to take up the position of one of six military Tribunes in the Legio II Augusta, serving as one of several chief military aides to the senatorial legate of the legion. He remained in this position longer than expected due to the reliance the legate came to place in Titus as well as due to his integral role in the administration of the legion. He served with the Augusta from 57CE through until 70CE, during that time serving with active detachments in Britannia and acting as unofficial military attaché to several units there as part of a wider officer training programme designed to learn about native military habits and feed that back to legions elsewhere in the Empire.
In 70CE his long overdue rotation orders finally arrived and he left Britannia to serve as Prefect of the Ala Veterana Gallorum, then stationed in Alexandria in Aegyptus and serving as part of the guard of the Prefect of Aegypt, the second most important equestrian official in the Empire. During his time in Alexandria he ingratiated himself with the Prefect who doted on him. He became an unofficial member of the Prefect’s consilium which met to discuss governmental matters of the Nile province. Again, he remained in situ longer than was necessary on account of his close working relationship with the Prefect, who he hoped would somehow advance his career at the right time. It was with much shock that he received word from the Imperial Secretariat that he was to take up position as Subpraefectus of the Ravenna Fleet in 74CE. Immediately he lobbied the Prefect of Aegypt to use whatever influence he had to change this. The Prefect was happy to do anything for the man he fondly referred to as his “darling boy.” Pulling suitable strings (and helped by a series of under the table gifts made out of the legacy left by Titus’ late father), the order was rescinded and in their place came the undoubted promotion to the position of Tribune in the Praetorian Guard – one of the chief officers of the Praetorian Prefect himself and commander of a Praetorian cohort. The ability to be in attendance on the Imperial family itself! Titus could have kissed his benefactor (but he was not that way inclined!).
Returning to Rome in the opening weeks of 75CE, Titus has taken up position as one of the Praetorian Tribunes, stationed at the Castra Praetorian and Imperial Palace, although he still uses the family home (now technically owned by his brother and widowed mother) as a base of operations.