Home Stoic Why the Romans Killed 10% of Their Own Soldiers.

Why the Romans Killed 10% of Their Own Soldiers.




Modern english has bastardized the word decimate.

To decimate isn’t to wipe out completely, as we think of it today, but to kill one tenth, and that’s what the Romans did to their own soldiers.

Of course, there’s an if, and that if applied to a legion that lost and there was suspicion of cowardice. It was written in a contract signed by the soldiers within a legion, and it worked, as it was very rarely ever applied.

The reasoning behind it was simple, remove any cowardice from their ranks. If cowardice exists in an army the army will not succeed. If cowardice is an option, if it goes unpunished, the total will suffer for the actions of the few.

By removing the option for cowardice, by placing a bounty at random on ten percent of a legion, the legion kept one another in check as well as the individual not wanting to be responsible for the murder of his fellow soldiers.

As with most things in life, men perform best with their backs against the wall.

Nassim Nicolas Taleb talks about this in his book Antifragile (a must read). 

He also writes about the story of Tarek, the Arab commander who crossed the Strait of Girbralter on April 29, 711 from Morocco to Spain. Upon arriving he burnt his army’s ships (something other commanders would do centuries later).

To his men he said, “Behind you is the sea, before you is the enemy. You are vastly outnumbered. All you have is sword and courage.”

He actively put his men’s back against the wall. 

Nothing is more powerful than having no option, no way out, no other recourse than to fight, nay, to win.

How do we put our back to the wall?

How do we remove all options, leaving only victory or death?

Is it possible while maintaining a relatively comfortable way of life?

I don’t know.

I do know that comfort is an enemy, so is wealth.

Success is an enemy, yet it’s also a goal.

The Romans saw wealth in a negative light. Wealth softened a man, so wealthy men had to fight that softening.

As far as quality of life is concerned, we’re wealthier than even the Romans.

We are far softer than the Romans.

There are thousands of inspirational articles written on how to burn your ships, that is, how to make success the only option, but they do not go to the extreme of actually burning one’s ship.

Sure, we can start a business and remove all other sources of income putting all our eggs in one basket.

Still, death isn’t the result of failure, and deep down we know it.

We should also experience joy and laughter and happiness in our pursuit of greatness or success or wealth or meaning or purpose.

We are in battle, but we are not in battle.

So far as I can tell it eventually comes down to personal respect, self respect, a code of honor you have within yourself that you are better even than you show yourself to be.

That is, when no one is watching, when no one can tell you to get to work or to do this or to do that, you do whatever it is you have set out to do.

It’s not a matter of burning ships, though where and when you can, do it.

Making it so there’s only one option is a contract you make with yourself that you do what has to be done until it’s complete. You don’t waiver. You don’t quit or get sidetracked. You do it as best you can.

To do this we have to have some understandings about life, about time, about what’s possible, about what’s valuable.

We can say it over and over again, but we have to feel time’s passage. We have to feel the clock ticking and realise that we are dying, that time is fleeting, that with each second we get closer to our end and our end may even come tomorrow.

We have to truly come to grips with time wasted and how incredibly important time is. 

Watching a show isn’t necessarily wasting time but it becomes wasted time if it’s before the task(s) is complete.

This isn’t just about work, though work gives us reason for being (a reason for being). It’s about being our best, physically, relationally, spiritually, mentally, and so on.

To put forth a man who is a degraded version of your potential is a tragedy, it really is.

In that light, to whine, complain, think destructive thoughts, focus on destructive perspectives, lament negatively over past mistakes, dream incessently about a future you’re not willing to work to create, these are also tragedies.

We will fall and fail, slip and struggle, but to not get up, to not continue to improve, to change, to grow and evolve, learn and aim high, is not just sad, it’s more than a tragedy, a travesty, it’s something that cannot be confined to words.

It’s more than a waste, a dismissal of this incredible gift that is life. 

Yet, it’s what so many of us do every single day.

Spend a moment in your day thinking about death, about the frailty of life, and not just your life, but those around you.

Think about time well spent, time wasted, time used and time burned. 

When you get off track, get back on track.

Be a man who does what he sets out to do, always.

Have a code of honor with yourself, a covenant with yourself, your Maker, your family, your brothers, the ones you are in battle with and the ones you fight for by living greatly for.

Don’t forget this.

Don’t let it pass, covered by a new idea, a new outlook or motivation.

Live with the burden, bear it, use it, and thrive because of it.

Be Legendary,

Chad Howse


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Chad Howse

Chad’s mission is to get you in the arena, ‘marred by the dust and sweat and blood’, to help you set and achieve audacious goals in the face of fear, and not only build your ideal body, but the life you were meant to live.

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