Luke’s Centurions-Part 2-The Centurion at Capernaum

Luke’s First Centurion:

Luke wrote about his first Centurion as follows in Luke 7: 1-10:  (King James Version)

 1 Now when he had ended all his sayings in the audience of the people, he entered into Capernaum.

2 And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear unto him, was sick, and ready to die.

3 And when he heard of Jesus, he sent unto him the elders of the Jews, beseeching him that he would come and heal his servant.

4 And when they came to Jesus, they besought him instantly, saying, That he was worthy for whom he should do this:

5 For he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue.

6 Then Jesus went with them. And when he was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying unto him, Lord, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof:

7 Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.

8 For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.

9 When Jesus heard these things, he marvelled at him, and turned him about, and said unto the people that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.

10 And they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick.

Several things should be noted about this Centurion. First, he is stationed in Capernaum. Why there? Capernaum was the first toll road stopping point in Judea on the great silk and spice road from Antioch to Alexandria in Egypt. All trade from the east, such as India, came along this road. He thus has been given an important post. He is guarding this road and this toll station. This is how Rome collected taxes. As an aside, Matthew, the Publican, the tax collector was the toll-keeper at this gate. Second, he is wealthy enough to have servants. Third, he is caring enough to worry about his sick servant and to try and do something about it. Not your typical Roman. Fourth, he is on good, even familiar terms with the Jewish elders of his community-so much so that they would approach Jesus on his behalf. Fifth, he is a charitable man-he gave money to open a synagogue for the Jews. Sixth, he loves Judea. Most Romans viewed Judea as a hell-hole of a posting. Seventh, he is humble. I am not worthy for you to enter my house. Eight, he has faith and understands being under authority.

DCF 1.0

Auctoritas- In Ancient Rome, Auctoritas referred to the general level of prestige a person had in Roman society, and, as a consequence, his clout, influence, and ability to rally support around his will. Auctoritas was not merely political, however; it had a mystical quality about it and symbolized the mysterious “power of command” of heroic Roman figures. Cicero wrote “Cum potestas in populo auctoritas in senatua sit.” (“While power resides in the people, authority rests with the Senate.”) Augustus as Emperor held the auctoritas principis – the supreme moral authority– in conjunction with the imperium and potestas – the judiciary and administrative powers.

Thus a man under authority had more than the power of command, he had some ‘moral’ power also.


Luke’s Centurions-Part I-Background on Being a Centurion

In the writings of Luke, that is the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, Luke introduces us to three Centurions of the Roman Army. Each of these Centurions tells us something important about the spread of Christianity in Judea and each shows us a different facet of how a Gentile approached Christianity. To understand why these Centurions are important, one has to know what a Centurion was, and how the men who held this rank thought and lived.

Some Background on Being a Centurion

A Centurion was a professional soldier. Centurions had to be literate, have connections (letters of recommendation), be at least 30 years of age, and had already served about 10 years in the military.

There appear to have been some gradations of being a Centurion. The lowest level Centurion led a century of men. Under the system put in place by Marius, the uncle by marriage of Gaius Julius Caesar, in about 107 BC, a Centurion led a century of about 80 men.

Centurions led from the front. They were distinguishable from the ordinary legionary by the traverse red horsehair crest on their helmets, their sword hanging from their left hip, and their vine stick-called a vitis (with which they beat men who did not obey orders promptly).

In The Annals, Tacitus tells the story of one known as ‘Cedo Alteram’ – which roughly translates to ‘Gimme Another’: “The mutinous soldiers thrust out the tribunes and the camp-prefect; they plundered the baggage of the fugitives, and then killed a centurion, Lucilius, to whom, with soldier’s humor, they had given the nickname ‘Gimme Another’, because when he had broken one vine-stick across a soldier’s back, he would call in a loud voice for another… and another.”


The Cenotaph of Marcus Caelius  a centurion in the 18th legion who was killed at Teutoburg Forest.  His vitis is displayed prominently.

Usually, a legion was composed of 10 cohorts, with each cohort consisting of 6 centuries. After about 50 AD, the first cohort was composed of 5 double sized companies. Thus, after about 50AD, there were 59 centurions to a legion. The most senior centurion leading the first double strength century of the first cohort being called primus pilus (first spear). The primus pilus was included in the war councils.

The hierarchy of the legion was thus:

1 legate commanding the legion (legatus legionis)

1 senior tribune (tribunus laticlavus) who was second in command of the legion

1 Camp Prefect (Praefectus Castrorum)

5 other tribunes (tribuni augusticlavii)

Thus the Primus Pilus was under eight other officers. It should be noted that the Primus Pilus was a position which was reached after the man had served 30 to 40 years in the Legions, according to Vegetius. The position of Primus Pilus was usually held for only one year, and then the centurion was promoted to Praefectus Castrorum, that is third in command of the legion. The Praefectus Castrorum administered the supplies, weapons, armor, oversaw construction of camps and forts, and supervised training and discipline.

Why did the Centurion have to be literate? He had to be able to read the orders given him on the wax tables and make a written reply. He also administered the burial fund and the welfare funds for the century. He thus had to have good mathematical skills.

The second in command of a century was the optio, who had a tall staff-about 5 or 6 feet, which was his mark of rank. He stood behind the century and herded the men forward in battle with his staff. He too had to be literate and have math skills as he administered the pay for the century.

Centurions were paid more than the usual legionary. The ordinary legionary received about 300 denarii a year. The lowest level Centurion received about 3,750 denarii a year. A Primus Pilus might receive 15,000 denarii a year and the Praefectus Castrorum might receive 20,000 denarii a year.

Let’s put that into perspective. A denarius is equal to four sesterii. 400,000 sesterii or 100,000 denarii were needed at the beginning of the Principate of Augustus to become a Senator.

Centurions could become very wealthy men, if they saved or invested their money.

Upon retirement, legionaries were entitled to a significant discharge bonus to assist them with reintegration into society. A retiring legionary could expect to receive 3,800 denarii on discharge.

Under Augustus, veterans would spend their last four years of service in a state of “inactive reserve” until finally discharged from their unit. Although foundation of veteran colonies continued throughout the Principate, the practice lost popularity following the massive resettlement efforts after the civil war.

Centurions received 38,000 denarii upon retirement. Again the average person earned about 200 denarii a year.

What makes centurions distinct from other ranks is the fact that they became equestrians upon retirement. This meant that their sons would be able to pursue an equestrian career, opening up a massive portion of Roman society normally closed to ordinary citizens.

We know a lot about the lives of individual Centurions from their tombstones, called cenotaphs.

Thoughts on Nazareth

Jesus was raised in Nazareth.  But beyond that what do we really know about this town?  Little archaeological work had been done in Nazareth until the Nazareth Archaeological Project began in 2006.  What does the work that has been done tell us about Nazareth and about Jesus?

Much of the archaeological work done has been done at a site within the Sisters of Nazareth Convent across the street from the Church of the Annunciation.  Much of this work was originally done by the nuns themselves beginning in the 1880s.  What had been found at this site were Crusader-era walls and vaults, a Byzantine cave-church, as well as Roman era tombs and other rock cut out structures.  Items such as Roman vases, perfume bottles,  spinning whorls, and glass beads were found (often by children at the Convent School).

In 2006, the site and Nazareth was re-examined.  It was quickly found at the site that there was a clear chronological sequence of well-preserved structures, such as Crusader and Byzantine churches, two Roman era tombs, a quarry, and a rectangular structure which had both rock cut walls and stone walls.  The rectangular structure pre-dated a 1st century tomb which was cut through it.  Inside this structure were found potsherds of the Kefar Hananya type pottery which was current  throughout the Roman era in Galilee.  There were also fragments of limestone pots which were most likely owned by Jewish people inhabiting the structure.

The structure appears to be a typical courtyard style house of the first century Roman era, complete with a series of rooms, one of which completely remains, a stairway, and a chalk floor.  The great preservation of the house is due to the fact that it is encompassed by the Byzantine and the Crusader eras churches.

In 2009, a similar courtyard home was discovered during an excavation prior to the construction of the International Marian Center next to the Church of the Annunciation.

These two finds and the other finds at the site within the Sisters of Nazareth Convent  seemingly confirm that Nazareth was wealthier and larger than previously thought.  This interpretation gains greater weight from the number of fountains, wells and springs in the area (at least three but maybe as many as seven).   Further evidence comes from the fact that Roman era only little villages and farms seem to lie just outside of Nazareth to the south in the valley of Nahal Zippori.  These villages have  abundance of Kefar Hananya type pottery and limestone pottery shards which suggests Jewish inhabitation, whereas Sepphoris to the north seems to be more of a Roman town and has an abundance of imported Eastern Terra Sigillata pottery and imported amphora.  Eastern Terra Sigillata pottery is very shiny and smooth.  It is very elegantly worked and appealed  to the upper classes.  Kefar Hananya type pottery is a warm brown in color and has thin walls.  It was very hard-fired and thus clinks when bumped.  It is most usually associated with Jewish settlements.  Researchers have remarked upon the seeming clear line of demarcation between these two towns as if the Jewish culture in Nazareth were rejecting the Romans culture.

There is a hint here however of what Jesus’ life may have been.  If Jesus walked in Sepphoris, then he might have seen a very different world from his home town.  Sepphoris would have had shops, mosaic covered floors, and large public buildings like any Roman town. Sepphoris was a Roman administrative center, but was still a Jewish settlement.  Nazareth, on the other hands, would seem to be a conservative Jewish settlement which shunned the trappings of the nearby Roman society.

Much work remains to be done in Nazareth.  While some have suggested that the first Roman-courtyard-style home is the home of Jesus, due to its apparent location meeting the criteria of a seventh century pilgrim’s account, who visited Nazareth, we still do not really know for certain that this was the home of Jesus.

An aerial view of the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth.


Caledonia: Rome In Scotland

celt_attack1aIn 77 AD, Gnaeus Julius Agricola arrived in what is now Wales during the summer as governor and commander of the Roman forces in the British Isles.  It was not his first time, there, having served under Gaius Suetonius Paulinus in 58 through 62 AD.  He has served on the staff on Suetonius during the rebellion under Boudica.  We know a great deal about him  due to the biography of him written by his son-in-law, Tacitus.

Agricola was from a family with roots in Gaul and thus was a Celt. He served as a Tribune and then later as Praetor.  It was fortunate that his posting was outside of Rome for he was in Spain when Nero committed suicide.  The death of Nero led to the turmoil known as the Year of Four Emperors.  The Governor of Spain, who had ordered Agricola to make an accounting of the treasures of the Temple, was Galba. Galba succeeded Nero as Emperor, but was then murdered by Otho.  Agricola supported Vespasian after Otho (who had murdered Agricola’s mother, with whom Agricola had been quite close).

After his appointment as Governor of Britain by Vespasian, Agricola advanced his troops into southwestern Scotland, or Caledonia, as the Romans then called it.  He apparently advanced to the what is now known as the River Tay.

The Caledonians opposed this movement, according to Tacitus, under a leader known as Calgacus.  Little to nothing is known about Calgacus; he is not recorded on any of the Scottish or Irish lists of Pictish kings.  Tacitus calls him: ‘outstanding in bravery and of noble birth’.  The name Calgacus, which is the Latin form of a very old Celtic word ‘Calgach’, probably meaning ‘The Swordsman’, and derived from ‘Calg’, signifying anything sharp, like a spear or sword. The modern Gaelic adjective ‘Calgach’ can mean either passionate or piercing.

He assembled an army of 30,000 warriors against the Romans at the Battle of Mons Graupius in 83 A.D.  Tacitus records a speech of Calgacus about the Romans, which some scholars believe has a ring of truth to it, unlike most speeches reported in antiquity:

“Robbers of the world, having by their universal plunder exhausted the land, they rifle the deep. If the enemy be rich, they are rapacious; if he be poor, they lust for dominion; neither the east nor the west has been able to satisfy them. Alone among men they covet with equal eagerness poverty and riches. To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a desert and call it peace.”

In particular the last line, which in Latin is ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant, is particularly poignant.

The Battle of Mons Graupius, from whence possibly the name of the Garmpian Mountains comes, was according to Tacitus, a one-sided affair.  Agricola brought his men up in close order to prevent the Picts from using their swords, which were designed for slashing, in the way intended. The Picts, according to Tacitus, lost 10,000 men and the Romans only 360.  The Picts army melted away into the Highlands mist, as did Calgacus, who never graces the pages of history again.

I make this same introduction into the history of Scotland as a prelude to me next book, Caledonia: A Song of Scotland, which will be published within days.

I present to you what will be on the flap of the hardcover version of Caledonia: A Song of Scotland:

By the author of the critically acclaimed novel, Casting Lots, William D. McEachern, Caledonia: A Song of Scotland is his second historical novel. Caledonia is the epic tale of Scotland’s struggle to become an independent nation. In the process, the story of Scotland is revealed in its people, the Picts, the Irish Missionaries, the Norsemen, and the Highland Clans. All the natural beauty and wonder that is Scotland are captured for the reader’s enjoyment, from the wind-swept Isle of Skye through the Highlands with its towering bens, riven with numerous waterfalls, across the moors, purple with heather, and dotted with sheep and the lowing, ruddy Highland cattle, to the reflecting waters of the lochs, some mysterious and mist-laden, like Loch Ness, or picturesque, like Loch Lomond. Told from the viewpoint of one clan-the MacDonalds of Clanranald-the reader is swept along through the major events in the history of Scotland, from the writing of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, the Massacre at Glencoe by the Campbells, the MacDonalds greatest enemy, through the Rising of 1745 under Bonnie Prince Charles’ to the decisive defeat at the Battle of Culloden and the bloody Highland Clearances under William, the Duke of Cumberland. Caledonia acquaints the reader with why so deeply ingrained in Scotland’s national psyche is its fight for freedom, both political and religious. Caledonia is the first novel in the series which will tell the story of the Scots not only in Scotland, but also in America.

I hope you will enjoy me next novel.celt_attack1a

A Review of Current Literature

As I do from time to time, I review current literature for interesting stories that bear upon topics dealing with Early Christianity, the Roman Era, or Biblical literature.

The September/October issue of Archaeology has a story entitled: “Inside Nero’s Golden Palace”.  Some background is necessary here.  Nero built what can only be called a massive, sprawling residence and park covering hundreds of acres between the Palatine and Esquiline Hills.  This palace was called the Domus Aurea or Golden House.  It size is incredibly impressive with some of its hundreds of rooms having vaulted ceilings of over 36 feet high.  Frescoes of birds, plants, and mythical creatures in vibrant colors by the artist Fabullus span the walls and ceilings.  Often polychrome marble sheath walls and columns.  Although it was never completed and  although after the death of Nero, the palace was obliterated and covered over, it is an extremely impressive edifice.  Its fate of being covered over helped to protect it.  It was only found when a shepherd boy fell into it in the 15th century.  Thereafter, artists such as Raphael were lowered into it because it was thought to be a cave; however, this ‘cave’ became the main source of learning of Roman art.  The palace is now undergoing restoration.  The photographs that accompany the artyicle are nothing short of marvelous.

In my blogs of April 12th and April 18th, I discussed the battle of Kadesh in details.  Ancient Warfare’s  Volume IX, Issue 3, is devoted to the Rulers of Anaoltia and has several important articles about the Hittities.  Two that are relevant to the Battle of Kadesh are “Kikkuli: A Horse Master from Mitanni” and “Hittite Chariot”.


Turning to “Kikkuli”, it appears that Kikkuli was a horse master who entered the Hittite service in the late 14th century BC. He trained horses for the Hittite chariots, but more importantly, he wrote a manual for training horses that exists today.  While his manual was apparently written in his Mitanni homeland in Indic and Luwian, it is clear that Kikkuli spoke Nesite to his Hittite  subordinates.  The manual covers in depth training intervals, gaits, distance measurements, and classification of horses at the various training stages.  Kikkuli apparently did hands on training, even though he refers to himself in the third person in his book.  The article vividly takes the reader through the opening day of the training of the horses.  The book details interval training  to make the most beneficial work-out for the horses.  This interval training has been validated by modern science as being the optimal way to train for aerobic or endurance training.

The Hittite Chariot advances the field somewhat but does not resolve the central disagreement as to how chariots were used in battle.  My blogs have taken the viewpoint espoused by most but not all scholars in the area.

The article “Predilections: Is the ‘Brother of Jesus’ Inscription a Forgery?” in the September/October issue of Biblical Archaeology Review is about as comprehensive review of the subject as one could possibly want.  The findings of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) are reviewed in depth.  The composition of the committee of the IAA and its potential prejudices are analyzed.  The findings are critically analyzed  by Pieter an der Horst, who is quoted extensively. The author notes that a CNN televisions program reviewed the ossuary and its inscription.  The expert interviewed for the television program was called as an expert witness in the trial.  At that time, he was unable to give an opinion; however, for the CNN program he claims that schooled himself in Second Temple inscriptions and that he concluded the inscription was a forgery. The article also recounts the criminal trial of Oded Golan, the owner of the ossuary, which spanned seven years and finally ended in his acquittal.   138 witnesses were called in that trial and over 400 exhibits were examined. The analysis of why he was acquitted leads the author, Herschel Shanks, to conclude that the ossuary is authentic.  The issue must be considered as being unresolved, although there is scholarly support for the authenticity of the inscription.

My suggestion: Keep reading!