If you're like me, and you've seen Gladiator or the Starz production of Spartacus, you cannot write a novel about this period in history without visualizing it as a movie:  casting it, directing it, even imagining that moment when you fly up the steps at the Academy Awards in a very smart tux (not rented), to receive your Oscar from Helen Mirren or Johnny Depp.

One more thing:  you might even discover the perfect piece of music for the opening scene. Guilty as charged.
Click here to listen to an abbreviated version of Ottorino Resphigi's Pines of Rome, I pini della via Appia, then come back here and I'll set the stage for you. (Read slowly or you'll get ahead of the music.)


The screen fades from black into an blinding white sky, so empty we are not sure what it is we are seeing (ignore the clouds in the photo - they are strictly cameo appearances). Our ears adjust and we hear a lonely hawk and the gentle, erratic sound of desert wind. The camera falls slowly to an empty, endless desert. As the oboe warns in a plaintive voice that this is no place for the faint of heart, the camera centers on a lone rider sitting atop a gently sloping rise in the distance. We descend almost to ground level and approach the young Parthian scout, colorfully dressed in red tunic and blue baggy pants, an elegant bow slung over his back. We move closer, gliding over the barely undulating, light brown, almost pink nothingness of the Mesopotamian desert.

The music pulses a steady, ominous rhythm. A blazing sun burns down from a cloudless sky. The oboe plays a doleful, exotic melody; we feel parched just hearing it. The camera arcs back down and around the rider, who has risen in his saddle at the sight of something toward the west (we don’t see what he sees, yet). When the camera reaches ground level, we are facing westward beside the Parthian rider, looking with him toward a vast cloud on the horizon. Just then, on the soundtrack, we hear the horns, a distant and triumphant herald. The scout's eyes bulge; he yanks the reins on his horse and turns eastward, galloping as fast as he can from what he has glimpsed.

The camera begins moving slowly down the hill and toward the dust, accelerating just above the ground. The dust cloud is rising behind a long, low rise, and as we approach, half a dozen Roman scouts on horseback crest the hill. The camera rises slowly, and the sun glints from the tops of Roman standards.

At the climax of the horns and cymbals, our point of view has risen high enough for us to see the entire, staggering length of Crassus’ army of seven legions. He is at the head of a column over fourteen miles long!  They march six abreast. There are 28,000 legionaries, 4,000 light infantry auxiliaries, 10,000 servants, 10,000 laden mules plus 2,000 spare horses. 4,000 cavalry range along the line’s flanks. The camera closes briefly on Crassus from above, flies by overhead down the entire length of the army, then slowly returns to focus on its general. Not only its stunning magnitude, but the incredible organization throughout its ranks allows us to draw only one conclusion:  this army, this man - is invincible.