Pretty much everybody who's ever tripped over a small dog and fallen face-first onto a history book is at least marignally familiar with the story of notable badass Julius Caesar. How he came, saw, and conquered some stuff, crotchstomped his foes' scrotums into a thick crimson slurry, took the pussy-ass Republic out behind the proverbial woodshed, and killed more people than both World Wars combined (with a side order of Arab-Israeli Conflict). His improbable victories and insane, balls-out conquests have rightly cemented his legacy as one of the greatest generals and military commanders in human history. Basically, he was fucking awesome.
But Julius Caesar didn't single-handedly incinerate entire tribes of bloodlusted barbarian warriors by shooting giant gelatinous fireballs out of his hands (though, if he did, it would have been TOTALLY FUCKING AWESOME), and he wasn't leading an army of 20 Hit-Die Cyborg T-Rexes with buzzsaws for hands and frickin' laser beams attached to their heads – he was commanding men, and his mighty legions contained some of the bravest, toughest, most badass soldiers ever assembled. One of those men was a motherfucker named Marcus Cassius Scaeva, and his story is so nuts that it needs its own wing of the Bellvue Psychiatric Facility.
Now we don't really know shit about Cassius Scaeva prior to his service in the Roman Army. It's safe to assume that he was a "lifer", since he was on the muster rolls before J-Dog even showed up to take charge of the Legions in Gaul, but that's really all the backstory you're going to get on this guy. For all intents and purposes, that's enough.
Scaeva served in the front lines during Caesar's battles in Gaul and Germany, locking shields with his comrades, stabbing jackasses in the face with his short sword and hurling javelins at anything with a beard. One day, Caesar decided that he wanted to sail out to the island of Britain and see if there were any motherfuckers there that needed to be killed, and he assigned Scaeva's Legion (I hear conflicting reports as to whether he was in Legio XI or Legio XII… not that it really fucking matters in the long run) to secure the beachhead. Cassius and his men landed on the shore, but it wasn't exactly like fucking Omaha Beach out there. Nothing was going on, so they left Scaeva to stand guard while everybody else went and made camp.
Pretty much immediately after the Romans left, a fucking huge horde of pissed-off Britons came pouring out of the fucking forest and started hurling themselves as Scaeva. Well, this was a motherfucker who dedicated his entire life to beating the fucking shit out of the most vicious barbarians the world had to offer, and he wasn't about to start slacking off on the job now. The Britons fired a volley of darts at him, but he caught most of the missiles on his shield. They closed on him rapidly, and all of a sudden this dude found himself surrounded by motherfuckers. He bravely fought like a caged wolverine on PCP, hacking at them violently in close quarters. During the battle his helmet was knocked off, his shield was shredded, and he broke his spear off in the abdomen of someone he was in the process of impaling. Unarmed, wounded, and unarmored, Scaeva somehow managed to escape and flee back to Caesar's camp, leaving several dead jackasses in his wake. Rather than talk about how fucking awesome he was for single-handedly fighting off an entire tribe of ripped-ass warriors, he instead begged forgiveness for losing his gear and not having the balls to die valiantly like a man on the battlefield. Caesar was just like, "hey lighten up, Rambo!" and promoted him to the rank of Centurion. This was a good move – Cassius Scaeva served bravely throughout the Gallic campaigns, and showed his valor once again in the Roman Civil War that followed.
"Having forgotten loyalty, young men, won't you at least hold your ground out of anger?"
When Julius Caesar and Gnaius Pompey were slugging it out at the Battle of Dyrrhachium in 48 BCE, Cassius Scaeva's Cohort (roughly 480 men) was tasked with defending a small, rickety, makeshift gate positioned on a redoubt from an onslaught of enemy soldiers. The legionnaires did as they were ordered, but pretty much everyone shit a fucking brick when they saw an entire Legion of Pompeian soldiers (about 6,000 men) come marching up the hill towards them.
Everyone except Cassius Scaeva, that is.
When Scaeva saw the soldiers under his command freaking out, screaming "game over man, game over!" like sniveling, mewling pussies who completely lost their shit, he told them to fucking suck it up and face their deaths like they actually had a pair. He whipped them into shape, got them pumped up, and when the enemy legions were in range, he personally led the defenders into battle.
The fighting was more brutal than a fucking free-for-all backstage at the Jerry Springer Show. Guys were hacking each other's colons out left and right, dudes were getting shot in the kidneys with arrows, and there was more blood than a shitty low-budget horror flick. During the battle, Scaeva killed so many guys that his sword became blunt, so he cut one guy's hand off with a single blow from his knife, and crushed another man's skull with a fucking giant rock. He was getting nailed from all sides during the fight – his helmet was destroyed, his shield was bristling with arrows, he was stabbed in the shoulder with a javelin, hit in thigh by a sword, and fucking shot in the left eye socket with a goddamned arrow. Amazingly, this only made him more ripshit pissed off. He pulled the fucking arrow out of his own eye, threw it down, and resumed with the asskickings like a blood-lusted cyclops.
Finally, after over an hour of fierce fighting, the loss of blood started to get to Scaeva. He collapsed, fell to his knees, and struggled to stand. The enemy legions, seeing that the commander was down for the TKO, called for a break in the fighting. The two Pompeian commanders approached Scaeva, their hands outstretched to accept his surrender. They triumphantly asked him if he was ready to yield to them.
Scaeva responded by drawing his blunt-ass sword, slashing one guy's throat with it, and cleaving the other guy in half from shoulder to groin.
The fighting resumed immediately, and at a time when the rest of Caesar's army was breaking apart under the relentless onslaught, Marcus Cassius Scaeva's men held the line. Pompey was denied total victory, and a few days later Caesar was able to utterly annihilate his adversary at the Battle of Pharsalus. Scaeva, who somehow miraculously survived his wounds, was promoted to the rank of Primus Pilus - the highest-ranking Centurion in the Legion, and given a gift of 200,000 sesterces (I have no idea what the dollars-to-sesterces conversion rate is these days, but I assume this is a lot of money). His brave Cohort – every single member of which was wounded during the fighting – was awarded double-pay for life.
Scaeva continued fighting with Caesar, and after Julius was stabbed to death by assholes his loyal Centurion joined the armies of Octavian and got revenge on the conspirators at the Battle of Actium. Marcus Cassius Scaeva was an unsung hero of Rome, and a fucking insane badass who could take more bizarre wounds than a Three Stooges skit and somehow continue busting fucking asses up and down the battlefield. A total badass.
"Does it not shame you to be missing from the stack where slaughtered heroes lie?"
Cowan, Ross. For the Glory of Rome. MBI Publishing, 2007.
Lucan. Civil War. Trans. Braund, Susan H. Oxford Univ. Press, 1999.
Plutarch. Fall of the Roman Republic: Six Lives. Trans. Seager, Robin. Penguin, 2006.
Southern, Pat. The Roman Army. Oxford Univ. Press, 2007.
Suetonius. The Twelve Caesars. Trans. Graves, Robert. Penguin, 2003.
Valerius. Memorable Deeds and Sayings. Trans. Bailey, D.R. Shackleton. Loeb Classical Library, 2003.