• Boris Dov Dolin

The Lost Legionnaire

Two thousand years ago we lost Jerusalem. The city burnt, the Temple was in ruins and we had to go, leaving our homes to the crows. The Roman legions moved on to fight another war in another place – all but one. The Tenth Legion stayed behind. Already a century old it fought through the rebellion crushing our hope for freedom. Under its eagle Gamla and Kumeran, Jerusalem and Masada were taken and given to the flames.

But now the rebellion was over and the Tenth had a new assignment, a new role in the universe. Now it had to make sure that we, the Jews, won't rise again and that Jerusalem will remain ruined to remind us the might of Rome.

For two centuries the Tenth Legion was here, on Mt. Zion, in the heart of Judea. We fought again, us and the Tenth, during the Bar-Kokhva War, but other than that life were more or less peaceful for the legion. Eventually it was relocated to the shores of the Red Sea and it was there, among the bare mountains, that the Tenth disappeared from history. Just like the empire that created it, the empire it fought for, the Tenth Legion was carried away by the hot desert wind and covered by the sands of time.

Yet today, as you walk the streets of Jerusalem you can still meet it if you know where to look. Few letters on a stone put upside down into the city walls, an arch hiding in a church's basement, few columns in a crowded coffee shop – the Tenth is still in Jerusalem. And in an alley not so far from the Jaffa Gate time worn Latin words tell us about one of the emperor's men.

It is a small piece of a column, surrounded by popular bars and loud music, ignored by tourists who walk by. On its top someone installed a neon light, a commercial, paying no mind to the names engraved. But if you come closer, if you kneel in front of it, you can still read: "Marcus Junius Maximus, legatus of the X Legion Fretensis Antoniana."

Who was this Maximus? Did he fight us in the shady valleys of Judea or did he live in peaceful times, building roads and aqueducts with his legionnaires? How he became the legatus of the Tenth? Where was he born? And is he still here – does the column marl his resting place?

We do not know. All we do know is that he was a Roman soldier, an enemy. We know he came a stranger to this land but today, after thousands of years, his name became part of it, part of the city his legion worked so hard to destroy. And today this lost legionnaire has a new home.

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