165 AD. Parthia
Marcus Oclatinius Adventus walked slowly through the city of Seleucia with a dry mouth, wide eyes and a racing heart. To his left, an elderly matron came stumbling out of a burning building, screaming as she tried to beat out the flames that had taken hold of her hair. Ahead of him, two legionaries had grabbed a young women and were dragging her, sobbing and struggling, down a side alley. All around, the roar of the flames mingled with the cries of the dying city and the laughter of its executioners.
Seleucia was once the capital of the Seleucid Empire, and later an important city under its conquerors, the Parthians. It was still great when the general Avidius Cassius, under the co-Emperor Lucius Verus, besieged it in his war on the Parthians.
Oclatinius had joined the legions a year before, and had finished his training and joined the III Gallica in time to be blooded in the front rank of the battle of Dura-Europos. That first fight had been terrifying and exhilarating, facing down Parthian soldiers, with shield to the fore and tough legionaries on each shoulder. They had marched into Dura-Europos as worthy conquerors, and the general had accepted the surrender of its citizens with grace and mercy.
Why then was the taking of Seleucia so different? Why was it necessary for the city to die? Especially since the Seleuceni had opened their gates to the Romans, rather than face a siege. Was it some command of the usually hands-off Lucius Verus, correctly or incorrectly interpreted? Had the Seleuceni broken the terms of their surrender? It was not for a young soldier like Oclatinius to know. But he didn’t have to like it.
“Not joining in the fun, boy?”