The main characters of the historical television series “Rome” – Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus are authentic characters. They were both Roman centurions in probably the 11th legion Claudia1 (although Caesar does not indicate the legion number) of Quintus Cicero who fought in Gaul at the end 54 BCE, during the revolt of the Belgian Eburones tribe, under the leadership of Ambioryx and Nervii. Julius Caesar mentions them in in his “Gallic War”.
According to the memories of the great leader, Pullo and Vorenus fiercely competed for promotion to the rank of primus pilus (“the first spear”), the highest centurion in the Roman legion and commander of the first legion cohort. Caesar remembers their heroic deeds in the fight against Nervii while defending the winter quarters. Caesar describes the moment of the battle when Pullo, wanting to stand out, moved out of the camp and carried out a lone charge against the outnumbered opponent. However, he was quickly wounded and surrounded by barbarians. To help the centurion, his companion Vorenus, who killed one of the attackers and threw the rest away some distance. Vorenus was wounded and surrounded in all the turmoil. Ultimately, Pullo saved Vorenus and, after killing several opponents, returned to the camp with his wounded companion. Their heroic charge met with great applause from other legionaries. This is what Caesar himself describes:
In that legion there were two very brave men, centurions, who were now approaching the first ranks, T. Pulfio, and L. Varenus. These used to have continual disputes between them which of them should be preferred, and every year used to contend for promotion with the utmost animosity. When the fight was going on most vigorously before the fortifications, Pulfio, one of them, says, “Why do you hesitate, Varenus? or what [better] opportunity of signalizing your valor do you seek? This very day shall decide our disputes.” When he had uttered these words, he proceeds beyond the fortifications, and rushes on that part of the enemy which appeared the thickest. Nor does Varenus remain within the rampart, but respecting the high opinion of all, follows close after. Then, when an inconsiderable space intervened, Pulfio throws his javelin at the enemy, and pierces one of the multitude who was running up, and while the latter was wounded and slain, the enemy cover him with their shields, and all throw their weapons at the other and afford him no opportunity of retreating. The shield of Pulfio is pierced and a javelin is fastened in his belt. This circumstance turns aside his scabbard and obstructs his right hand when attempting to draw his sword: the enemy crowd around him when [thus] embarrassed. His rival runs up to him and succors him in this emergency. Immediately the whole host turn from Pulfio to him, supposing the other to be pierced through by the javelin. Varenus rushes on briskly with his sword and carries on the combat hand to hand, and having slain one man, for a short time drove back the rest: while he urges on too eagerly, slipping into a hollow, he fell. To him, in his turn, when surrounded, Pulfio brings relief; and both having slain a great number, retreat into the fortifications amid the highest applause. Fortune so dealt with both in this rivalry and conflict, that the one competitor was a succor and a safeguard to the other, nor could it be determined which of the two appeared worthy of being preferred to the other.
– Gaius Julius Caesar, Gallic War, 5.44
Caesar finally came to help the siege and pushed the hostile forces away. After the fight, a military parade took place during which the commander awarded the most-eager soldiers. There were probably both centurions among them, but Caesar does not mention them directly. It is worth noting that the leader does not mention Vorenus anymore in his works; only Pullo will be in “Civil War”.
The fact is that in historical sources we will not find much information about both characters. However, we can try to look at their names. The name Pullo tells us little. It is a cognomen, meaning a nickname whose origin is not clear. The name Vorenus, in turn, gives us much more information. This is nomen , which is the name of the family, which by the ending “-ienus” or “-enus” indicates non-vital origin. In other words, Vorenus did not come from a family with a rich and Roman pedigree. It is possible that he or his ancestors came from Picenum, in the east of Italy, which can be deduced from the name of another military Caesar – Titus Labienus – who just came from this town. It is also possible that the ending “-enus” was a variation of “-anus” which would suggest Etruscan roots.
The status of the Vorenus family as Roman citizens could have been acquired relatively recently. In 90 BCE there was a war with allies that shook Rome. In the conflict, which was fought for the granting of equal rights and citizenship to the Italian allies, the inhabitants of the aforementioned Picenum played a leading role. After two years of fighting, Rome granted citizenship to all cities and tribes on the Apennine Peninsula. It is possible that the roots of the Vorenus family looked like this.
To sum up, both centurions were typical officers in the Roman army, who showed courage and a desire to develop their military career inside the legion.