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Caesar Ascending-Conquest of Parthia

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Caesar Ascending-Conquest of Parthia

  Table of Contents

  Caesar Ascending – Conquest of Parthia

  Also by R.W Peake

  Critical praise for the Marching with Caesar series:



  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine


  Historical Note

  Caesar Ascending – Conquest of Parthia

  By R.W. Peake

  Also by R.W Peake

  Marching With Caesar® – Birth of the 10th

  Marching With Caesar – Conquest of Gaul

  Marching With Caesar – Civil War

  Marching With Caesar – Antony and Cleopatra, Parts I & II

  Marching With Caesar – Rise of Augustus

  Marching With Caesar – Last Campaign

  Marching With Caesar – Rebellion

  Marching With Caesar – A New Era

  Marching With Caesar – Pax Romana

  Marching With Caesar – Fraternitas

  Marching With Caesar – Vengeance

  Marching With Caesar – Rise of Germanicus

  Caesar Ascending – Invasion of Parthia

  Caesar Triumphant

  Critical praise for the Marching with Caesar series:

  Marching With Caesar-Antony and Cleopatra: Part I-Antony

  “Peake has become a master of depicting Roman military life and action, and in this latest novel he proves adept at evoking the subtleties of his characters, often with an understated humour and surprising pathos. Very highly recommended.”

  Marching With Caesar-Civil War

  "Fans of the author will be delighted that Peake’s writing has gone from strength to strength in this, the second volume...Peake manages to portray Pullus and all his fellow soldiers with a marvelous feeling of reality quite apart from the star historical name... There’s history here, and character, and action enough for three novels, and all of it can be enjoyed even if readers haven’t seen the first volume yet. Very highly recommended."

  ~The Historical Novel Society

  “The hinge of history pivoted on the career of Julius Caesar, as Rome’s Republic became an Empire, but the muscle to swing that gateway came from soldiers like Titus Pullus. What an amazing story from a student now become the master of historical fiction at its best.”

  ~Professor Frank Holt, University of Houston


  © 2017 by R.W. Peake

  Smashwords Edition

  All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

  Cover Art by Marina Shipova

  Cover Artwork Copyright © 2017 R. W. Peake

  All Rights Reserved


  I don’t know if this is the same for all storytellers, but speaking personally, nothing is quite as maddening to me as an unfinished story. It’s like an itch inside my brain, and the only way to scratch it is to get it out of my head and onto paper, so to speak.

  When I give talks, in both formal and informal settings, I get asked a fair number of questions about my process, and how I create the stories that comprise both the Marching With Caesar® series and this alternate history series. What seems to surprise people is that I am not very structured, with an outline and each chapter and/or plot point carefully mapped out. While I do have the beginning and the end firmly staked out in my mind, the truth is that I have no idea exactly how I am going to get to that ending that I have created. That means that I am every bit as excited as my readers to see what happens next, which is what keeps my fingers typing away.

  I have said it before, and it bears repeating; of all the books I have written, the strongest reaction comes from this alternate history series. I have readers who love the series, and, as I have been told on multiple occasions, there are those who hate the series and are not shy about expressing that. Thankfully, the former is in the majority, and I’m happy to know that, like me, they are just as fascinated with the “what if” aspect of history.

  That being said, as always, I strive to keep matters at least semi-plausible, and I would argue that, compared to the ending of this series—which without any sense of irony, I wrote first—Caesar Triumphant, Caesar’s campaign in Parthia has a much more solid basis in the historical record; it is well established that Caesar intended to both avenge the defeat of Marcus Crassus and retrieve the seven Legion standards, the loss of which was a huge blow to the collective pride and prestige of Rome.

  While my grasp of Parthian history is not extensive, the one conclusion I drew is that the decentralization of the Parthian empire, and the mobility of its government, was a sword that cut both ways. And, much as in more modern wars, the key to success lay not in the acquisition of territory and key strategic points, like cities, but in the destruction of the military capability of the Parthians, in the form of their armies, or spads. That, at least, is how I would have gone about it if I was Caesar, although this is not to say that the troubles in Parthia are over for Caesar and his army, particularly Titus Pullus, Quintus Balbus, Sextus Scribonius, Gaius Porcinus, and Diocles, but that’s another story.

  As always, I thank my editor, Beth Lynne, my cover artist Marina Shipova, but more than anyone, I want to thank you fans, whose gentle but insistent pressure and questioning about “when is the next book coming out?” provided me the impetus I needed during what, for me, has been a stretch where I have written less than normal. I won’t belabor the reasons why; all I will say is that even I knew that I wouldn’t be able to sustain what has been a frenzied pace for the last five years, with thirteen volumes of Marching With Caesar® and the three volumes of this series. That being said, I am hard at work on the next installment of Titus Pullus the Younger!

  Semper Fidelis,

  R.W. Peake

  May, 2017

  Chapter One

  “That,” Quintus Balbus commented, “is going to be a tough nut to crack. And,” he added, “a bloody one at that.”

  “I don’t know what kind of nuts you like,” Sextus Scribonius replied, “but I’ve never seen a bloody nut.”

  This elicited a chuckle from Titus Pullus, as well as some of the other men within hearing, all of which prompted their Legate, Gaius Julius Caesar, to glance over his shoulder at them, giving his Centurions a stern though non-verbal warning before returning his attention to the reason they were gathered there.

  “That,” Balbus whispered to Scribonius, “was your fault.”

  “Maybe you both would like it if we just left you behind so you can argue,” Titus Pullus said, torn between his amusement caused by this bickering and his knowledge that the general was not particularly interested in hearing the back and forth.

  Whatever the cause, the one thing that Pullus had to acknowledge was that, colorful language aside, his second in command was only speaking the truth. This was because, spread out before them, some five miles distant, lay the Parthian capital of Susa, sitting on a vast plain where anyone approaching could be seen for miles. Indeed, Pullus was certain, just as Caesar and his senior officers were observing Susa, so too were the Romans being observed, since the Primus Pilus had learned that, despite the appearance of being a flat, level plain, the ground, in fact, held creases and low points, in which a surprisingly large number of men could hide, particularly the Parthians, for whom this land was their home. This was why this scouting
party was conducted in force, with two alae of cavalry and Caesar’s personal bodyguard of five hundred Germans, although many of the bearded faces were different from those that had first answered his call with a promise of gold and adventure. Even so, there was an underlying tension throughout the party, created by the hard-won knowledge of their enemies’ ability to use the terrain to their advantage. Because of this, Caesar had taken extensive precautions, stationing groups of ten troopers out more than four hundred paces away from the main party, spread at intervals of no more than a hundred paces apart. This enabled Caesar and his officers to keep their attention on Susa, but it was with equal parts interest and dismay that, for the first time, these Romans saw firsthand evidence that what they had learned just a few months before was true. The evidence before them was in the distinctly different but unmistakable style of the fortifications that surrounded Susa.

  “If there was any question before,” was how Pullus put it, quietly enough so Caesar would not overhear, “about what happened to Crassus’ men, there isn’t anymore.”

  Neither Scribonius nor Balbus made any response, frankly because there was nothing they could say. Despite the fact that neither they, Pullus, nor any of the other Romans, for that matter, wanted to believe it, what they were gazing at, even with the distance, was undeniable proof that the surviving men of Marcus Licinius Crassus’ ill-fated attempt to do what Caesar was in the process of doing were now fighting for the Parthian cause. The only question was whether it was a willing or enforced loyalty, but it was in this one aspect of the situation where Caesar had decided to withhold a vital piece of information from the rankers of his army. From prisoners, he had learned about the families that these men, these Romans, had fathered during the more than ten years of their captivity, with Parthian women. That the men the Parthians referred to as the Crassoi were allowed to do as they had had been a shrewd decision by the now-deceased Parthian king Orodes, and it had been based in two separate but salient points, and the first was just a matter of sheer distance. After the defeat of Crassus, the surviving men of his Legions had been marched to the farthest reach of the Parthian empire, to the remote but crucially important trading city of Merv, where they had been forcefully conscripted into the ranks of the Parthian army, charged with the defense of the easternmost trade routes. Initially held as captives, once the reality of their situation settled in, and the Romans realized the practical impossibility of crossing well more than a thousand miles, most of it over the most barren, waterless terrain in the known world, as most humans tend to do, they resigned themselves to making the best of their current situation. And, once Orodes was certain this transition of outlook was genuine, only then did he allow these men to intermingle with the native populace, namely with the females, and equally inevitably, the transformation from Legionaries to Crassoi was completed roughly nine months after Orodes lifted this last restriction. The consequence of his actions was simple, yet profound at the same time, as Caesar, his Legates, and his senior Centurions examined the defenses of Susa and were mentally grappling with the reality that they would once more be facing fellow countrymen before this campaign was over, something they had all fervently hoped was a thing of the past.

  His name had once been Numerius Pompilius, but it was his Parthian wife, whose name was Kira, who had given him the name Caspar, something that he had resisted at first. Then, although he couldn’t recall exactly when it had occurred, much to his surprise, he had begun to think of himself as Caspar first, as the man who had once been Numerius Pompilius slowly vanished, bit by bit. Normally, he wasn’t an introspective sort, but the few times he had taken the time to think about it, he supposed that it was not only natural, but probably inevitable, given his antipathy towards his former country. He had once been as proud of being Roman as any man alive, of this he was certain, but between the horrible ineptitude of the Legate commanding what was ultimately a display of vanity, then the feeling that he knew was shared by most of his comrades that they had been abandoned by Rome, whatever warm feelings he had held had been eroded by the years spent in the farthest reaches of the Parthian Empire. Not, even Caspar would acknowledge, that he and his comrades had completely abandoned their Roman roots, particularly in the area of military affairs, because what were referred to as the Crassoi were still organized along the lines that any Roman would recognize. Indeed, Caspar was currently the highest-ranking Roman in the Crassoi, although he was not usually referred to as Primus Pilus by his superiors; that was the title used by his subordinates, even those who weren’t Roman. That this was the case was something that, unknown to Caspar, the Legate currently commanding the invading Roman force had been forced to confront, which Caspar would have found grimly amusing since he had been through an almost identical ordeal starting five years before.

  As skilled as the Crassoi might have been in waging war, casualties were inevitable, although as any commander experienced in military matters understood, for every man felled by an enemy, there were at least three who succumbed to illness or injury. Replacing veterans was always difficult—when they were not only raw, untrained Tirones—but from a culture as foreign to Roman ways as Parthians were, the challenges were so daunting as to be seemingly insurmountable, but the man known as Caspar still had enough of the Roman in him that this was something that was simply an obstacle to overcome. What he had no way of knowing at this moment was that what he and the other senior Roman officers of the Crassoi had endured was something that his counterparts, the Primi Pili of Caesar’s Legions, had just undergone in the months before. What he did know was that the tiny specks on the horizon were his enemies, and he and his comrades would do everything within their power to stop them from taking Susa, and for reasons that went well beyond the idea that this was their duty.

  Over the course of the previous months, Phraates, the king of the great Parthian Empire, had begun to have second thoughts about several of his decisions, but none worried him as much as the one that led him to stake everything on his defense of Susa. At first, it had seemed to be not only the right decision, but one that was so obvious it would have caused him more grief from his satraps if he had deemed that, like Ctesiphon, Susa was expendable. However, that had been before he had received reports from his scouts about the approach of the army led by Caesar. Even taking into account that the Roman general had left a substantial number of troops that the Romans called auxiliaries behind in the twin cities of Ctesiphon and Seleucia, along with one of their Legions, the huge marching column that approached down the Tigris was daunting, if only because of the precision the Romans displayed as they moved methodically south. By this point in time, the Parthian king could recite by memory the particulars of a Caesarian advance; a minimum of thirty miles a day, followed by the construction of a camp whose defenses were simply too strong to overcome, unless of course Phraates ordered his generals to throw every available man into an assault. Then, rising before dawn the next day, the Romans meticulously destroyed the camp that they had expended so much time and energy to construct, before resuming on their inexorable advance. Never farther than a mile from the river, now that Caesar’s army had left behind the rugged terrain that had marked the first part of their incursion into the Parthian empire, Phraates knew that it would take something extraordinary to keep them from putting that minimum of thirty miles under the tromping caligae of the Legions on a daily basis. This was not to say that the entirety of Caesar’s army was tethered to the lifeline provided by the Tigris; his cavalry force swarmed over the surrounding countryside, searching for every small village and every hoard of food they could locate.

  However, there was one oddity in their behavior that made no sense to Phraates, despite several attempts to think through the possible reasons, but in this, the Parthian king never came away satisfied. While there were courtiers who actually had correctly guessed the Roman general’s reasoning for giving the orders that resulted in this behavior that puzzled Phraates, none of them were foolish enough to say as muc
h to their king. Even in his relatively short reign, Phraates had already demonstrated he didn’t appreciate being made to look in any way as if he wasn’t omniscient in the running of his kingdom, the proof being that the ranks of Parthian nobility who served his court had noticeably thinned. What a number of those remaining members of Phraates’ court recognized was that, by Caesar ordering his cavalry to leave the native populace largely unmolested, even to the point that, if the reports were true, when the Romans did find foodstuffs, they didn’t take the entire supply, they had less cause to worry about a native populace in their wake who would be sufficiently antagonized to rise up and fall on their rear. One of the courtiers, Bodroges, would have gone even further than that, at least if it had been the old king Orodes he was advising, informing his monarch that in comparison to their own overlords, Parthian peasants were being treated better by their conquerors, especially the families of those men who had succumbed to the lure of Roman silver and were now marching in the ranks of the Legions. But, as Bodroges and his fellow surviving advisors had learned, any mention of this to Phraates was a guarantee of a quick, but horribly brutal death, made even worse by the humiliation of being executed in front of one’s fellow noblemen. Consequently, Bodroges kept his observations to himself, as did the other surviving courtiers, watching silently as Phraates paced and raged about the perfidy of his people who, rather than rise up and fall on the invaders, seemed content to allow them to continue towards Susa without resistance. And, with every passing day, Phraates became ever more convinced that he had made a horrible mistake.

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