Saturday, December 8, 2012

Ancient History Today

"We have taken an oath to God before we took one before you..."  Maurice, Theban Legion officer

What's a bit of ancient history, anyway? Who cares? Well there was the time of the Roman Legions; going backward in time to about 280 CE--that's the end of the second century, the Roman empire extended for thousands of miles beyond the city-state of Rome. The Romans inhabited large swaths of Europe, including Germany, France and England. They didn't make the time to invade Ireland. Perhaps they thought the Irish unworth their efforts.
They've left many, many remnants of their culture and ideas to the West today. This legacy includes our modern languages and religion. So there. We've now easily returned to 2012, or about 1,800 centuries after the Theban Legion.

Here the story has interest: The Roman legion recruited from Thebes in Upper Egypt consisted entirely of early (Coptic) Christians. In 287CE they were mobilized to assist with putting down the rebellious Gauls (parts of present day France). They arrived at the place of present day Martigny,  near Lake Geneva, Switzerland. Ordered into battle at that place, they joined with the other soldiers who were making offerings and sacrifices to their gods of the eve of battle. The Thebans refused to take part in this event.

Declared insubordinate by the Roman commanders, they suffered under them. When they persisted in their refusal, the commanders took action against the Theban soldiers who would not participate in a religious ritual they held against their conscience. Therefore one of every of their ten were taken by lottery and put to death. Still the Thebans exercised their free conscience and free will. Soldiers they may be, Christians as well-- they continued to refuse. The Roman commanders were baffled. Was not their absolute power and authority--even unto death sufficient to motivate these men?
Was their issue simply a religious cause, or did they have a greater sense of justice? Historic tradition records the words, in part of at least one of the men, their commanding officer, Legionnaire Maurice who made statements on the Copts behalf: We are soldiers, true, but we are also servants of the Christ. We cannot oppose God our Creator; we will oppose all our enemies... we rather die innocently, as martyrs for our cause. 
According to historic tradition, all 6,000 of the Coptic Thebans were slayed that day for insubordination. Today no one easily recalls the names of those in power that day at Martigny yet the name of Maurice and the Christ live on.
History's a funny thing, isn't it?

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