But I have been having some thoughts about a particular historical parallel, and I figure it's my blog and I might as well use it.
Apropos of capturing/killing enemy leaders, it occurs to me that we know the name—1905 years later—of the Roman cavalryman who captured the Dacian king Decebalus in 106 CE: Tiberius Claudius Maximus. We know about him because someone put this information (along with a lot of other details about his military career) on his gravemarker, which was found in
, in 1965. Decebalus was captured by a team of exploratores, “scouts,” who must have been a crack unit sent out by the Emperor Trajan himself, who was in the field. Tiberius Claudius Maximus says he brought Decebalus’ head to the Emperor—no digital photos or DNA back then. (See Gwyn Morgan, 69 A.D.: The Year of the Four Emperors, p. 301, n. 2: “Romans cut off the heads of prominent enemies for two reasons. First, there was identification. Before photography, this was the easiest way to ensure that the man in question had been killed…Second, there was the humiliation of having one’s corpse mutilated.” This has got to rate as the best footnote ever written, by the way. It is even better if you read it in Gwyn’s voice.) Philippi, Greece
Now, Decebalus wasn’t exactly taken by surprise in his secret compound: he was chased down by cavalry after a battle and slit his own throat. This incident is illustrated rather dramatically in a scene on Trajan’s Column, where the tree suggests this incident took place in a forest. You can see a nice photo of it in the Wikipedia article on Tiberius Claudius Maximus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiberius_Claudius_Maximus). The book Apollodorus of
and Trajan’s Column: from tradition to project, by Giuliana Calcani and Maamoun Abdulkarim (2003), describes the scene on this panel and says that TCM is probably the man on the right who has dismounted and is coming at Decebalus. Damascus
You can read a major article on the grave stele, with a transcription and commentary on the entire text, here: Michael Speidel, “The Captor of Decebalus: A New Inscription from
Philippi,” Journal of Roman Studies 60 (1970) 142-53 (UCO fans: I was able to find this on JSTOR). Some more bibliography is at a rather fun site called RomanArmy.com: http://www.romanarmy.com/cms/component/option,com_imagebase/task,view/cid,121/Itemid,94/ Click on the larger picture of the grave stele and you can see/read the entire inscription. OK, you can see it. Way down the stone, about five lines above the bottom of the picture, maybe you can find Decebalus’ name.
I wonder if we will ever know the names of the people who are right now taking pride in having found and killed Osama bin Laden. They have got to be as proud of their accomplishment as TCM was, but they can’t take a bow in the spotlight. Actually, I wonder if we really want to know who the individual was: our society—and I would imagine especially groups like the SEALS—is big on “teamwork,” as opposed to individual glory. But I just can’t get over the fact that there’s a guy walking around today who wakes up in the morning and thinks, “I’m the guy who shot Osama bin Laden.”