Ancient Roman Military Organization according to Polybius

From reading Polybius, I gather that the basic unit of the Roman Army was not the Legion, at least not in the days of the Republic during Polybius’ lifetime. Instead, it was the Consular Army, which consisted of two Legions. A Legion was commanded by a Consul, who was elected by the people and served for a one-year term. The Consuls each appointed twelve Tribunes who served directly under the Consuls. The Tribunes were distributed six to a Legion. Then began the enrollment process whereby the actual men who would serve in each the Legion were selected by lots from among the tribes and assigned by a rotating order to … More after the Jump…

Book Review: Polybius-The Histories

The Histories by Polybius is the next book in classics arc. It covers the period from the beginning of the First Punic War in 267 B.C. to 167 B.C. when he claims the Roman Empire was essentially complete and ruled most of the known world. He claims to write the first universal history and has some pretty harsh words for historians who preceded him, especially Timaeus of Locri. The complete text of the histories is available online at several sites, the one I like the best is Bill Thayer’s site LacusCurtis, he has a huge number of classic texts online as well as travelogues of many classic sites and what … More after the Jump…

The Battle of Lake Trasimene- 217 B.C.

I am currently reading Polybius’ Histories, and I have finally gotten to the part where he describes the events during the Second Punic War.   Last night I read his account of the battle of Lake TRasimene in 217 B.C. Trasimene was not the first of the great disasters to befall the Romans in the Second Punic War, but it was the first that really threw the Roman people into a panic. The Romans had been defeated and lost an army at the Battle of the Trebia in December, 218 B.C. the Romans had reacted to that loss by raising another army to face Hannibal led by the Consuls for … More after the Jump…

Book Review: The Makers of Rome by Plutarch (Penguin Classics)

I am currently on an arc of reading Latin classics I have not read but always wanted to. I finished the first one a few days ago, the Penguin Classics edition of The Makers of Rome by Plutarch. It is not a complete copy of Plutarch’s Lives however, it only includes the lives of nine Romans, Coriolanus, Fabius Maximus, Marcellus, Cato the Elder, Tiberius Gracchus, Gaius Gracchus, Sertorius, Brutus, and Mark Antony. Plutarch writes in an engaging style that is very easy to read and the translator does an outstanding job of converting the Latin into English while keeping his style. Plutarch is not always historically accurate; he has a … More after the Jump…

Book Review (sort of): Julius Caesar -The Gallic Wars

Caesar’s Gallic Wars are a series of eight books that Caesar either wrote or had written detailing his actions during the eight years he was the Roman governor in Gaul.   They are best understood as an exercise in propaganda because during the time he was away from Rome the books were an excellent way to keep his name in front of the people in Rome and to enhance his reputation and prestige.   That being said, they are still invaluable as an account of his time there and as a look into the mind of one of the best politicians of the most powerful polity of his age.  It … More after the Jump…

Battle of Carrhae, 53 B.C.

The Battle of Carrhae in 53 B.C. was one of the biggest military disasters Rome ever suffered, ranking right up there with Cannae, The Teutoberg Forest, and Lake Trasimene.   The battle occurred in what is today Syria between a Roman army under Marcus Licinius Crassus and a Parthian (Persian) army under a general Surena.   In the battle, seven legions were destroyed and their Eagles taken and Rome did not trouble the Parthian Empire again for almost 50 years.

The battle was written about by both Livy and Plutarch.   The links are to translations of their texts.

More after the Jump…Battle of Carrhae, 53 B.C.


This is a curious word and does not mean today what it meant to the Ancient Romans who coined the term. Merriam-Webster defines decimate as:

DECIMATE; transitive verb
1: to select by lot and kill every tenth man of
2: to exact a tax of 10 percent from
3a : to reduce drastically especially in number
b : to cause great destruction or harm to

It is 3a and b that is more commonly used today however, it is definition one where the word came from. Specifically the Roman military practice of decimation in which mutinous or cowardly units were sentenced to be decimated. This was never a common punishment, most extreme punishments are only effective if they are both extreme and rare. There are a few instances in recorded sources of a unit being decimated one of which is the Legio III Augusta which was decimated in A.D. 18 after allowing one of its subunits to be annihilated in battle.

More after the Jump…Decimation

Bread and Circuses

I was driving back to the office from an appointment today and heard on the radio that there were demonstrations in Athens this morning in sympathy with the Italians against proposed austerity measures.   I immediately started to reflect on the number of demonstrations/riots in Europe in the past few months because of budget tightening measures necessitated by the rapidly failing social states of Europe.   The first phrase that came to my mind was how angry people get when their bread and circuses get reduced which got me to thinking of where the phrase Bread and Circuses came from.   The phrase comes from the Roman playwright Juvenal who wrote … More after the Jump…