“...it’s not the end of the world,” Marcellus snapped heatedly. “The empire is eternal. It cannot be destroyed, especially not by the Persians. The Persians are weak! Their destiny is to perish!”
Albinus blinked. This was clearly a bad time to resume listening to the debate. Still, he was surprised by the vehemence of Marcellus’s words. It seemed as if he hated the Persians. Idly, he wondered why that could be the case, but he quickly dismissed that thought. It wasn’t important.
“And if they aren’t?” Julius asked. “How are you certain that the Sassanids are as weak as you claim? Even if they will perish eventually, that doesn’t mean that they’ll perish in this war. It would arguably be bad if they perished in this war, but that’s irrelevant to the topic at hand. What if we do lose this war, and it’s because we didn’t check Hasakah now? How utterly humiliating would that be?”
To Albinus’s surprise, those words seemed to shock Marcellus into silence. He agreed with Julius, but he had learned a bit more about Marcellus’s character from that exchange.
Marcellus hated the Persians, but he also seemed to regard them as a lesser race. Albinus was… uncomfortable with any worldview that proclaimed that some people were better than others. He was especially uncomfortable with philosophies that proclaimed that some cultures were inherently superior to other cultures.
This view had nothing to do with morality. He just believed that believing in your own superiority to anyone else, regardless of who they were, was going to cause you to underestimate them.
Finally, it seemed as if Marcellus had come up with a response to Julius’s declaration. “They won’t,” he began. “But, if they somehow did, then the glorious Roman Empire would rise up and get revenge for the humiliation - tenfold. If the Persians somehow win this war, our reaction will make them wish that they had lost. One way or another, they will perish!”
That was an interesting view. Objectively, it was even a correct view - very few people in the Eastern Roman Empire would be happy with a Sassanid victory. Many factions that were normally at odds with each other would likely ally due to the Sassanid Empire being a threatening enemy once more. Nothing unites like a common enemy. Still, as far as Albinus was aware, Marcellus wasn’t aware of the various factions that dominated Eastern Roman politics. Either Marcellus knew more than he was letting on, or he was fanatical in his belief in the superiority of Romans to Persians. Neither of those ideas was comforting to Albinus.
“Why would certain people care at all?” Julius retorted. “Just because the Sassanids could win one war doesn’t mean that they can seize control of the entire Eastern Roman Empire. We have defeated them before, and many people will just assume that this war was an outlier - on both sides. We might lose control of some of Mesopotamia, but that won’t matter to the vast majority of governors and important figures in the Empire.”
That was also a good point. Dammit. This debate was just making his already existing indecision worse. Now, he was going to have to continue listening just to come to a decision about whether or not even sending troops to Hasakah would be a strategically good move.
“Losing a war lowers our position amongst other nations,” Marcellus pointed out. “Many will assume that we will be an easy target - we would have just lost a war and a legion. A loss to the Sassanids will ensure that His Imperial Majesty will be forced to prove that he isn’t weak. He will need to prove that he will remain a good leader who can protect the people. If he can’t, then he will be overthrown. If he’s overthrown, then whoever the new emperor is will have to prove that he is a good leader who can protect his subjects. If he can’t, then he will be overthrown. Eventually, there will be a leader who is willing and able to get revenge on the Sassanids. When that day comes, the Persians will fall.”
And that was another good point. It seemed as if this issue was far more complicated than Albinus had assumed. Great. Another reason to question his decision. Albinus was so consumed by this line of thought that he almost missed what Marcellus said after.
“Also, why did you emphasize Eastern when referring to the glorious empire in which we serve?” Marcellus asked. Albinus figured that he meant that as an afterthought. “The Roman Empire has always been one state. It has occasionally had multiple leaders, but that doesn’t mean that it was multiple separate empires. With nobody ruling over the West, Emperor Justinian is the rightful ruler of the entirety of the Roman Empire. He is the only ruler of Roman territory.”
From a legal standpoint, that was correct. Albinus didn’t take Marcellus as someone to stand on technicalities, though, which meant that that speech was intended as a declaration of something. The problem was that Albinus had no idea what Marcellus was trying to declare.
“I suppose that you’re right in regards to the Roman Empire’s unity,” Julius said unconvincingly. “My apologies. I’m used to the time when there was still a western emperor. Anyway, why do you believe that the empire could survive a military coup? For that matter, why do you believe a military coup will succeed or even happen at all? Yes, a loss in war might lead to a loss of status, but most nations aren’t vultures…”
Around half the room looked directly at Julius incredulously. Albinus imagined that they saw Julius as hopelessly naive for that statement. After all, barbarian tribes had descended like vultures upon the Western Roman Empire very recently.
It seemed as if Julius noticed the looks, though. “Let me finish,” he said, sounding somewhat annoyed. “Most states aren’t vultures, and the barbarian tribes are probably too busy worrying about keeping their subjects under control or ensuring that their land remains unconquered by other tribes to pose much of a threat. The Emperor will seem weak to his subjects and his court, though, and the resulting chaos will come from people wishing to take advantage of that.”
“I don’t believe you with regards to your emphasis on the word Eastern, but I’ll let it slide for now,” Marcellus said. “Also, even if there is a civil war, that war must eventually have a victor. The winner of the civil war will need a way to keep popular support, and what better way is there to do that than to attack the most resilient of enemies to the Roman Empire? If His Imperial Majesty wins, then he will want to redeem this defeat against the Sassanids with a victory. If anybody else wins, then they will want to prove themselves better than Emperor Justinian by doing what he failed to do.”
“And what’s the harm in sending people to check for the Legio I Armeniaca in Hasakah?” Julius asked.
To Albinus’s utter shock, this was enough to shut Marcellus up. All of that debate… and it gets stopped by one question? Seriously?
“I suppose that there isn’t any harm in sending a mission to Hasakah,” Marcellus conceded. “Consider this, though: what do you do if whoever is sent to Hasakah returns empty-handed? What do we do if the commander of the Legio I Armeniaca was actually stupid enough to get the majority of a legion destroyed? It won’t be the end of the world, of course, but we need to have a plan on how to bounce back… or a plan on what to do in the event that the war is lost.”
Albinus mused over these words. Marcellus did have a point - a backup plan was required, as well as, preferably, a backup plan to the backup plan. One could never be too prepared.
“Very well, then,” Albinus said. “Is everyone in agreement that we should send a small force - from this legion - to Hasakah itself? To check for any signs of the Legio I Armeniaca?”
He expected agreement, but, then, Julius brought up yet another good point.
“Why should we only send men from this legion?” he asked. “There are men from three legions present in this camp. Why should we not send men from the portions of the Legio I Armeniaca that aren’t missing in action with troops from our legion to Hasakah? They could identify potential spies and make our dialogue with any potential members of the Armeniaca easier.”
This statement received many agreements. Unfortunately, it also left Albinus in an… unenviable position.