Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday 2009

They are called the tip of the sword.

Some credit the so-called “Roman peace” to Caesar, but I say this little unit of four centurions is the real source of Roman power.

They carouse. They crucify. They make jokes like “you must find this excruciating.” They steal what little these people have and find clever ways to divide it up. They carouse.

The tip of the sword of Roman power is the power to crucify rebels and pirates: enemies of the state, or anyone who dares disrupt the natural order of things.

It’s also meant to humiliate. The expressions on the faces here at the foot of the cross are more shame than pain. Prisoners are hidden and exiles are gone: these people are roadside attractions.

This is a slave’s death. Anyone with two denarii to rub together would know who to bribe to avoid this. Even the most hardened executioner would sooner have a pocket full of silver.

Soon they will break the legs. This hastens shock, and helps reinforce the whole point of this: broken, disfigured, powerless.

The tip of the sword of Roman power knows nothing of strategy or provisioning or discipline: only terror, and making sure that the events of this day make a lasting impression.

Beyond the fear and humiliation though, will anyone remember this day? In the long and storied history of Rome, the conquest and the glory, will anyone remember one rebel or his execution?

Power, it would seem, always rests in legions and proconsuls. Power is what decides who lives and dies, who is labelled rebel or patriot, who gets recorded in the great annals.

Some pass more quickly than others. Some are prodded rather than broken, confirmed in death and free from the grasp of Rome.

Death may be the only place Rome cannot reach. Death, you might say, defeats Rome and proves that even the tip of the sword cannot reach the next life.

So much, I say, for the power of Rome. So easily thwarted by the simple act of dying, so easily defeated by a rebel who breathes his last on the cross.


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