"It is Not a Bad Plan"
At one point during the Battle of Buena Vista (February 23, 1847), Maj. Gen. Zachary Taylor noticed some soldiers dodging as enemy musket balls whizzed by overhead. The doughty old warrior promptly admonished them, "Stand up to them, my men; don't be afraid, they will all go over you."
At that moment, a Mexican round went whizzing past Taylor’s head. Taylor ducked and, without missing a beat, added, “but dodge them if you can, it is not a bad plan."
FootNote: Zachary Taylor – known to the troops as “Old Rough and Ready” – has appeared in these “pages” before, most notably in Numbers 169, 245, and 306.
"The King’s Own"
From about A.D. 235 to about A.D. 284 the Roman Empire suffered the “Crisis of the Third Century”, a series of usurpations, insurrections, secessions, and invasions that brought it to the brink of dissolution.
It was against this backdrop that King Crocus (fl. 260-306) made his first appearance on the stage of history. A leader of one of the Germanic Alamanni tribes, who lived in the “notch” between the Rhine and the Danube, Crocus, in his mid-20s at the time, seems to have been a redoubtable leader, a fine warrior, and a clever politician, quick on the uptake.
Taking advantage of the rising chaos, from about 260 Crocus led his tribesmen on a series of raids into Roman territory. Allied with other Alamannic tribes, Crocus and his people raided hundreds of miles across France, as far west as Clermont and as far south as Mende, and down into northern Italy as well. While not always successful – the Alamanni were twice defeated in Italy in 268 and again in the Rhineland in 280 – the raids were often devastating.
Gradually, the Romans regrouped and began reasserting central control. Before he was murdered, the Emperor Aurelian (r. 270-275) crushed two major secessionist movements, in Gaul and Syria. By the time Diocletian (r. 284-305) came to the purple, things had calmed down sufficiently that he was able to systematically restructure the empire, reorganizing the army and instituting many governmental reforms, even selecting a co-emperor to share power and help rule.
In 287 Co-Emperor Maximian (r. 286-305) took on the problem of the Alemanni, initiating a major campaign into their territory from both the Rhine and the Danube. Seeing the inevitability of defeat, in 288 Crocus and his people entered Roman military service as allies, under the command of the Praetorian Prefect in the West, Maximian’s field marshal, the 38 year old Constantius “Chlorus” (“the Pale”). In 293 Diocletian and Maximian each adopted a junior emperor, a “Caesar.” Maximian chose his new son-in-law, that same Constantius Chlorus (r. 293-306).
Constantius was assigned the difficult task of defending the Rhine frontier and recovering Britain and portions of western Gaul from a series of usurpers. Over the next dozen years, Constantius conduced repeated campaigns against usurpers and various barbarian tribes, including still untamed elements of the Alamanni, during which time Crocus and his people rendered excellent service to the Empire.
On May 1, 305, Diocletian and Maximian abdicated the imperium in favor of their Caesares. Constantius succeed to the supreme power as the partner of Galerius (r. 305-311), Diocletian’s Caesar. The new emperors were each given a new Caesar, hand picked by the retiring emperors. Both of the new Caesares had close ties to Galerius, Constantius ending up with Severus, one of his partner’s generals. This arrangement excluded Constantius’ son Constantine (b. c. 272) from the succession.
Naturally, tensions over the succession began rising. Constantine, who had been at Galerius’ court in Asia when the transfer of power occurred, fled to the safety of his father’s court in Gaul. The young man accompanied his father on an expedition to Britain, where he helped campaign against the Picts. Then, on July 25, 306, Constantius died at York. Legally Severus was supposed to succeed him, but Severus was far away, while Constantine was at hand.
Crocus, certainly in his 60s but still energetic, was present when Constantius died, and promptly urged that Constantine be proclaimed emperor. This found favor with the troops, and thus Constantine became emperor. For many years he had to fight against Severus (r. 305-307) and other rivals before assuming complete control of the Empire in 224. Eventually earning the honorific “the Great,” Constantine ruled until 337.
Given Crocus’ age, he seems to have died some time early in Constantine’s reign. Probably as a reward for his role in securing the imperium for Constantine, the emperor organized Crocus’ people into a special regiment of the Imperial Army, the “Regii –The King’s Own”. A light infantry corps of some 500-700 men, the Regii were originally part of the mobile field army or comitatensis, but were later transferred to the highly prestigious auxilia palatina. The Regii served for many years, fighting, for example, their Alamannic kinsmen again at the Battle of Strasbourg in 357. According to the Notitia Dignitatum (a list of government offices and military commands compiled about 395-420), the Regii eventually evolved into two commands, one of which served under the Magister militum praesentalis (Master of the Soldiery in the Imperial Presence) of the Eastern Empire. The other served under the Magister peditum praesentalis (Master of Infantry in the Imperial Presence) of the Western Empire, both a living memorial to their former king.