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Chapter 6 Caesar’s Arrival in Rome
It was a special day in Rome, a holiday. Fifty black-armored royal guards marched down the main street of Rome, followed by hundreds of men on horses. Behind them came the royal carriage.
Commodus, the new Emperor of Rome, was coming home.
His sister Lucilla was sitting next to him. Another fifty guards marched behind them. Close to the royal carriage, on a beautiful black horse, rode Quintus, the new Commander of the Royal Guards.
Commodus had told the Senate that he was now the Commander of the Roman Army, and that the army was loyal to him. Many senators doubted it, but there was no one in Rome with enough power to take control. And so nothing could stop Commodus.
The people had been told that their new Emperor would arrive in Rome on this date, at this time. The city was cleaned up and purple flags were hung outside the most important buildings.
The citizens of Rome lined the streets at the time he was expected.
The crowd was not very big and it was not very enthusiastic.
They cheered, but not loudly. Commodus was young and had no experience, but the people could forgive that. They were more worried about the stories they had heard—that Commodus was selfish and cruel. He was not his father, and they had loved Marcus Aurelius. Commodus had much work to do to make himself popular and win the support of the people.
Ahead, on the steps of the Senate, a group of senators stood waiting: Falco, Gaius, and Gracchus were among them. Lucius, Lucilla’s eight-year-old son, was standing with them.
Senator Gracchus, a white-haired man in his sixties, was not happy about the new Emperor. “He is entering Rome like a hero—but what has he ever done?” he said.
“Give him time, Gracchus,” Falco answered. “He’s young. I think he could do very well.”
“For Rome?” asked Gracchus. “Or for you?” Falco turned to Lucius. “It’s a proud day for all of us, isn’t it, Lucius?” he said. “I’m sure Senator Gracchus never thought he’d live to see such a day.”
Lucius watched as the royal carriage came closer, then ran down the steps when it arrived. He jumped up into his mother’s arms and she held him tight and kissed him.
Commodus raised his arm in salute to the crowd, but he could see that the crowd was small and the cheering was only polite.
“Rome greets her new Emperor,” Falco said. “Your loyal people are here to welcome you, sir.”
“Thank you, Falco,” replied Commodus, “for bringing out the loyal people. I hope they weren’t too expensive.” He turned to Gracchus. “Ah, Gracchus,” he said. “The friend of Rome.” “We are happy that you are home, Caesar,” Gracchus said.
Then he became more serious. “There are many problems that need your attention.”
In the royal palace Commodus was meeting with the senators. He was following his sister’s advice and listening to them patiently.
Senator Gracchus had a list of problems in the city. He was anxious that Commodus look at them without delay. “. . . and here are some suggestions from the Senate—ideas for solving the problems,” he said.
Commodus walked around the room, losing interest. Lucilla listened carefully—and watched her brother.
Finally, Commodus could not listen any longer. “You see Gracchus, this is exactly the problem,” he interrupted. “My father spent too much time listening to the Senate, and the people were forgotten.”
“The Senate is the people, Caesar,” said Gracchus. “Chosen from among the people, to speak for the people.” “I doubt many of the people eat as well as you do, Gracchus.
Or have the beautiful home you have, Gaius. I think I understand my own people “ Commodus said.
“Would Caesar kindly teach us, from his own great experience?” replied Gracchus.
“I call it love, Gracchus. I am their father. The people are my children,” said Commodus. He was getting angry.
Lucilla stepped forward. “Senators, my brother is very tired,” she said. “Please leave your list with me. Caesar will do everything that Rome needs.” She called for a slave to show them out.
The senators left, but they were not pleased. It was not a good start for the new Emperor. When they had gone, Lucilla turned to Commodus. “The Senate can be useful,” she said.
“How?” he replied. “They only talk “ He moved to a window and looked out over the great city. “It should be just you, and me, and Rome.”
“There has always been a Senate . . .” said Lucilla.
“Rome has changed,” he answered. “It takes an emperor to rule an empire.”
“Of course, but leave the people their traditions.” It had been a “tradition” for the last two hundred years to believe that the Senate ruled Rome, through the Emperor. But everyone knew the real situation. The army held the political power in Rome, and the real ruler was whoever the army was loyal to.
Commodus’s thoughts were moving ahead. “All the years of my father’s wars gave the people nothing—but still they loved him. Why? They didn’t see the battles. They knew nothing of the people we fought and killed, or their countries,” he said.
“They care about the greatness of Rome,” said Lucilla.
“And what is that? Can I touch it, see it?”
“It’s an idea. It’s something they want to believe in,” said Lucilla.
Commodus was suddenly excited. “I’ll give them something to believe in—I’ll give them great ideas. And they’ll love me for it,” he said, raising his arms to the sky. “I will give them the greatest ideas, the most wonderful Rome ever!” ♦
There were artists at work in the streets, painting enormous pictures on walls. Their pictures showed scenes of gladiators and wild animals fighting, and the sand on the floors of the arenas was red with blood. Crowds stood and stared, watching as the pictures were completed. This was the start of the advertising for Commodus’s new idea.
“Games!” Gaius complained to Gracchus and a group of other senators as he joined them in a café. “One hundred and fifty days of games!”
The senators watched the wall painters working outside the café.
“He’s smarter than I thought,” said Gracchus, quietly.
“Smart?” said Gaius. “All of Rome would laugh at him if they weren’t so afraid of his guards. You can’t really think that the people will forget Rome’s problems and sit back to enjoy these games?” he asked. “It’s completely mad.” “I think he knows what Rome is,” Gracchus replied. “He will give them magic, and then they’ll have something else to think about. He will take their lives, and he will take their freedom.
And still they will shout and cheer.” He shook his head, sadly.
“The beating heart of Rome isn’t in the walls of the Senate. It’s on the sand of the Colosseum. He will give them death. And they will love him for it.”
The other senators knew he was right. It was a lesson from history. But they did not know that Commodus was planning better and longer games than any emperor before him. And it was all for one reason. Commodus knew he had no choice. He and the Senate did not agree about anything and he could not be certain of their support. So he had to look beyond the Senate and go straight to the people for his power. The games were the key. As Lucilla had said, the people must have their traditions. And he would not deny his citizens their traditional games.
Sitting behind the senators in the café, with his back to them, was a small man. None of the senators noticed him, but he was close enough to hear everything they said. The face of the listener was quite ordinary, except that his right eye was missing. He did not see well with only one eye, but he could hear perfectly and he had a good memory He was able to collect a lot of information and he was paid well to repeat it to other ears.
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