The preseason excursions around Germania and the Far East were but a prelude for a concerted continental campaign, travelling vast distances to compete with and conquer the very best Europe has to offer. Caesar has always been a proponent of perpetual expansion, never settling within their current boundaries.1Caesar was always looking to go to war, as it not only expanded Rome’s territory, but also yielded greater payouts for the army – his most loyal supporters – and increased his own personal glory, endearing him further to the people.
And how Rome has settled. It has been fifty-seven long, hard years since Rome emerged victorious in a European engagement. Was it against the battle-hardened Gauls of Paris-Saint-Germain? Or the fearsome Germanic warriors hailing from Munich?
It was not. It was against an unruly mob of Britons from the Metchley area,2Birmingham didn’t exist as a settlement until at least the sixth century – but the Romans did construct Metchley Fort in the area at around 48 AD. whose ill-discipline and penchant for wanton violence almost prevented them from crossing the Channel.3The Blues had a terrible disciplinary record in European competition, collecting five red cards in the space of a year. The FA threatened them with an overseas ban if that record did not improve, and they ended up travelling over to play (and defeat) Internazionale in the semis. They were duly dispatched – 4-2 on aggregate – but the triumph was not worthy of a victory parade through the streets of Rome.4Roman triumphs were extravagant displays of pageantry around the success of a commander, particularly in foreign wars. Understandably, there is no equivalence between a two-legged win over Birmingham City in what was often dubbed the ‘Runners-up Cup’ and, say, the conquest of Gaul.
Caesar is determined to change this. It is by the will of a higher power that the Roman army will first march on Bohemia, before plotting a road to Macedonia and, ominously, Britain.
It is here where Rome almost lost the Battle of St Andrew’s, throwing away a strong advantage and escaping the field with a draw; victory would be clinched in the second leg.5n the first leg of the ’61 final, Pedro Manfredini netted twice to put Roma in a very strong position, but Mike Hellawell and Bryan Orritt struck late for the hosts, who levelled the tie ahead of the trip to Rome. But it is also here where Caesar’s plans of further conquest were frustrated, in no small part due to an underdeveloped scouting network;6t is said that Caesar had very little intelligence pertaining to Britain, which seriously stymied his first attempt at invading the island. this failure was behind the dictator’s decision to overhaul Rome’s current framework with better intelligence.
That battle is for another day. For now, Caesar turns his attention on Bohemia – specifically, the home of Viktoria Plzen. Viktorka established itself as the leading faction of the region only last year, but should pose little threat when up against the superiority of the Roman legion. The enemy has just seven named warriors within their ranks; even those of note are only coveted by weaker forces such as Crystal Domum Regis and armies of the prosperous (but ultimately harmless) Arabia Felix provinces.7Jan Kopic is wanted by Crystal Palace and both Al-Alhi and Al-Ittihad. Men such as this would not# be worthy of mention in the accounts of Cicero, Cassius Dio or Suetonius.
As entirely expected, the legion races into an early lead. Xadas, the young Hispanic prospect said to be the next Viriathus (in a good way, according to Rome’s new scouts)8, scores a stunning blow from a full twenty yards; the Hispaniard’s first goal in his first starting deployment.
If Caesar was impressed by his young charge’s strike, then he was equally displeased with the eighty-one minutes that followed. Rome failed to muster a single clear cut opportunity to break through thereafter, and though Plzen were capable in battle, their defence was neither stout nor dogged. Indeed, only young Xadas – withdrawn from battle for the final twenty minutes – fought well enough to earn plaudits.
The rest of the men endured a harrowing two-hour speech about complacency and arrogance. Stefano Okakus – making his first start of the campaign, and yet to make his crucial mark against Caralis – is particularly culpable, having led the attack with neither guile nor gusto. In a sea of motivated, pumped up faces, Stefano looks decidedly unimpressed. Caesar is disappointed. Stefano will not be one of the aquiliferi leading the line against Torino.
The next European engagement gives the men a chance to atone for their underwhelming victory – but also affords Caesar the chance to supercede one of his de facto predecessors and antagonists. Back in 87 BC, Republic head coach Sulla headed to Athens, obliterating and subjugating the side to the extent that it was hamstrung throughout Caesar’s first tenure.8Athens was in no position to feature in the Mithandric Wars or in Caesar’s civil war, as its economy had effectively been razed by Sulla’s actions four decades prior. One millennia on, lauded general Fabio Capellus failed to do the same, registering stalemates both in Greece and on home shores, though AEK would crumble on its own volition within a decade.9Financial difficulties + docking of points for supporters storming the pitch = relegation to the second tier for the first time in the club’s history.
Sulla was said to be particularly brutal throughout his siege.10When negotiations for surrender did not go to plan and the Athenian delegation crowed on about how great the city was, Sulla remarked: “I was sent to Athens, not to take lessons, but to reduce rebels to obedience.” Not long after, with Athens almost at the point of salvation, Sulla conducted a nighttime sack of the city, slaughtering an awful lot of the inhabitants and setting fire to much of it. Not a nice bloke: effectively the antithesis of Claudio Ranierius. Caesar, for his part, would seek to emulate his achievements but not his methods, preferring to win with class and skill rather than with a hard-fisted savagery usually reserved for the Derby della Capitale.11It’s widely acknowledged as one of the most heated derbies in Europe. As Caesar still isn’t aware of the existence of South America, the Derby della Capitale is considered the most violent in the world.
Facing a decidedly inferior foe, the strategy is somewhat more expansive. For the second skirmish running, Caesar abandons the oblong square, instead favouring the Fourth Formation. It’s a risky move: logic dictates slow, patient build-up in siege scenarios, grinding down the opponent and breaking their resolve in the latter stages of the encounter. Instead, the Rome schemer goes against the grain, sending fast, direct, relentless waves of attack down both of his flanks.
This siege won’t last six months; it’ll barely last the allotted ninety minutes.12Though Sulla did ultimately emerge successful after a number of months, his attempts to hasten the downfall of the city had the opposite effect. Caesar is similarly hungry for quick and resounding success, but will operate with speed rather than haste.
The following features extracts of a match report scribed by renowned biographer and Greek journalist Lucius Mestrius Plutarch, writing for These Roman Times some years later:13Because who doesn’t love a long read on the Siege of Athens, as written by Plutarch? Click here and scroll to Chapter 13 for the full battle report, complete with tactical intrigue and emotive language. More Guardian than GiveMeSport.
Athens was compelled by the tyrant Ouzounidis to side against Rome. Against this city, therefore, Caesar led up all his first-choice forces, and laid siege to it, bringing to bear upon it every sort of siege-engine, and making all sorts of assaults upon it. And yet if he had been patient a little while, he might have captured the city without risk, since it lacked the quality and squad depth and was already reduced to relative famine by previous financial difficulties.
But since he was eager to get back to Rome and the ensuing Social War, Caesar ran many risks, fought many battles, and made great outlays that he might hasten on the war, in which, not to speak of his other munitions, the operation of the Kolarov and Santonus siege-engines called for even greater work and diligence from those in the central defensive column, Manolas and Fazio, who were employed for this service.
Caesar was possessed by some dreadful and inexorable passion for the capture of Athens, either because he was fighting with a sort of ardour against the shadow of Sulla, or because he was provoked to anger by the scurrilous abuse which had been showered upon Kostas Manolas by supporters of Athens, after the central decanus reneged on a promise never to join neighbouring Piraeus, doing so for free in the summer of 2012, but only after the city attempted to sell his services to the Illyrian tribe of Dnipro.
After a long time, at least, with much ado, Athens sent out delegates to treat for an end to hostilities, to whom Caesar, when they made no concessions or forfeitures which could save the city from a humbling defeat, but talked in lofty strains about Traianos Dellas and their twelve Super League honours, said: “Be off, my dear Sirs, and take these speeches with you; for I was not sent to Athens by the Romans to learn its history, but to earn three points towards qualification for the knockout stages.”
At an early juncture, as it is said, certain scouts outside of Athens’ training ground walls overheard some old coaches talking with one another, and abusing Ouzounidis because he did not guard the city’s left flank, at which point alone it was possible and easy for the enemy to exploit. When this was reported to Caesar, he did not make light of it, but went thither early in the encounter, and after seeing that the flank could be taken, set himself to the work.
And Caesar himself says that Davide Santonus was the first man to find space against the scarcely protected left flank, and that when no enemy confronted him, he caused panic in the defensive ranks with a fine delivery, converted by the returning Stefano Okakus. At any rate, the city was taken at this point, as the Athenian fans would testify. Young general Patrick Schick led the charge into the enemy thereafter. The sight of him approaching the box was made terrible by blasts of many trumpets and raucous chants of the visiting supporters, and by the cries and yells of De Rossus and Pastorius for plunder and slaughter, and rushing through and beyond the narrow opposition with irresistible attacking intent.
The opposition had been slain by three goals, two from Schick, before the interval. The number of opportunities created and attacks launched are to this day determined only by the many data analysts present at the battle: nineteen shots, twenty-six crosses, six opportunities to score. Partly at the instance of assistant Fabio Micarellius, who wished to keep key players fresh for the upcoming battle against Empoli, and being himself also by this time sated with the scoreline, after some words of praise for the departing players, he eased off on the opposition for the sake of his men’s match fitness.
Though Schick would complete his hat-trick from the penalty spot in the final twenty minutes, Athens was thoroughly routed. Caesar took Athens, as he says himself, two days after the Calends of October, a day which corresponds with Vercingetorix’s surrender in Gaul. There was not time to take Piraeus also, for the engagement with Empoli was but three days away.
What a siege looks like
Athens would slip out of contention, having endured similar devastation at the hands of indigenous Britons a fortnight prior. The Greeks would not truly be a power on the world stage for this campaign at least, and would likely remain a subjugated force for the foreseeable future. 14See #9.Caesar, meanwhile, is satisfied with Rome’s early successes. Mamucium City await on the horizon;15Mamucium (Manchester) was established by the Romans in 79 AD; a few generations after Caesar, but we’re sure he’s been brushing up with the Antonine Itinerary since returning to Rome. a particularly trying conflict with one of the rising European superpowers.
In the coming weeks, the depth of the legion will be tried, fitness regimes tested. But for now, Rome is warring on two fronts – and is gaining ground in both.