A Roman Soldier’s Tale: Part One (written by Simon Spiers)

My name is Flavious Stilico
I was a member of the Roman Guard for 25 years
I was born in Rome, and from an early age I wanted to be a Roman Solider. So I joined as a cadet at the earliest opportunity, and when I gained my commission it was a very proud day. I was given my uniform constituting a shiny breast plate for protection, a round leather shield; a stout dagger held in a leather sheaf, a fine plumed helmets, leather sandals that where comfortable for marching and supple enough for running, all finished off with a natty leather skirt.
At that time the Roman Empire expanded and as we occupied new territory we bought law and order, civilisation, introduced new culture, improved construction techniques and built straight roads; it was all good; As the Roman Empire grew we were required to work away from home in a peace keeping role. We called it being on tour. At one point I was posted to an area called Judea.
There were certain rebels and some civil disobedience but there were methods of control from a few nights in jail right up to execution in the form of crucifixion.
Now on a previous tour I had to officiate at a crucifixion. The convict suffered a long and painful death and I was of the opinion that however bad evil or nasty a person was; this punishment was far too over the top, in humane, overly cruel and barbaric. It was for that reason that when rotas were issued for future crucifixions I made sure I was at the back of the queue.
However and inevitably the time came for me to officiate at another crucifixion which seemed to be quite high profile as there were to be three criminals and it was to be held at a place called the skull which was a rocky mound just outside the city gate. It was a busy thoroughfare and so many people would pass by. Even if they did not stop to look they would know what was occurring; it was to be a very public execution.
My task was to guard the spot prior to the prisoners arriving. It was tradition that the condemned would carry their own cross to their place of execution. I saw them make their way but one had another person carry his until they got close and then swapped. I could see why as this man had obviously been badly beaten and he barely had enough strength to carry his cross the last few steps. He was wearing a crown of thorns and congealed blood on his face.
It was custom for the charge against the condemned person to be written on a plaque on the top of their cross. Two of the criminals had a plaque that read “Bandit” The third His name was Jesus had three plaques and an inscription which read “The King of the Jews” one was written in Greek, one was written in Latin and one was written in Hebrew. These were the languages spoken by the people in that place at that time. This meant that all passers-by, whatever their nationality would be able to read that his crime was being King of the Jews.
The crosses were set up and the first man looked terrified he tried to struggle and get away, but we over powered him and he was tied to the cross with ropes. The second man was calmer and seemed to accept his fate as we strung him up. With the man Jesus we were told to nail him to his cross. There was a small ledge in the middle of the upright, which he was positioned on with his crutch carrying his weight. Then his left arm was outstretched and a club nail was positioned between the bones in his wrist. The nail was driven through his flesh and into the wood into the wood. His right arm was outstretched and through the joint in his wrist the nail was driven through his flesh and in to the wood. His body was then lifted up off the shelve and his feet were nailed to the cross through the joints in his ankles.
The reason for lifting the body of the ledge was to remove support to his legs and back so to make the pain even more excruciating.
And so we waited……….
After about three hours Jesus cried out and seemed to be talking to his Father and then he said that he was thirsty. We had a jar of cheap wine and as an act of compassion I filled a sponge with it and offered it to him to drink. My plan did not work as he would not drink. My colleagues thought it was funny and jeered at Jesus, and then the crowed got a bit excited and there was some pushing and shoving and they cried out “if you are the Messiah save yourself and come down from the cross”.
There was a lot of shouting and then I heard a voice above the rest, I looked up and realised that it was one of the bandits being crucified and he was shouting “ if you are the Messiah save yourself and us while your’ at it.” This was mixed in with a number of expletives. But the other bandit rebuked him and said “Do you not fear God for we are all condemned for the same sentence yet we are guilty of the crimes we have committed yet this man is totally innocent.”
Now I heard this dialogue and what was said next stayed with me because the criminal then said
“Jesus remember me when you enter your Kingdom” – he had recognised Jesus for who he was.
Jesus’ reply was even more remarkable for he said
“I tell you that today you will be me in paradise”
Yes well OK I don’t actually know what paradise is, but I imagined it is a positive harmonious and peaceful. And here was a man at the worst possible place moments from death and in agony on a cross and yet by a chance meeting with Jesus his life was to be transformed to a highest level. It was not something that was distant or he had to wait for, as it was to happen that very day.
At a moment there was a cloud formation over where we were. The clouds got darker and darker and although it was daytime it seemed like dusk. It was atmospheric a little bit frighten as we did not know what was happening.
Then Jesus cried out again and breathed his last. He was the first to die and we waited and then after a while the other two died in relatively quick succession. We wanted to make sure so we bust their legs – there was no reaction so we knew they were dead.
We had been told not to break a bone in Jesus’ body and to check he was dead the centurion pierced his side with his sword. Blood and water flowed from the wound. And he announced in a loud voice “Truly this was the Son of God.” It was at that moment I was fuelled by shock and horror as I realised that I had been part of and complicit in the execution of an innocent man. But not just any innocent man this was Jesus the Messiah , Jesus the King of the Jews, Jesus The Son of God.
The corpses were taken down from their crosses; my shift was over. I went back to my room sat down and was physically sick, I could not eat or sleep, constantly thinking of the events of that day.

On the third day after the event something happened to me that I couldn’t completely understand or explain, but in a moment I felt the burden of my guilt suddenly lifted from me and I knew that my life had changed from that moment on.

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