1/10 Will Die Today!

In my typically discursive and unplanned way, I talked to my students today about the Roman practice of decimation. I gave them a typically general run-down on it, but tomorrow I will have some actual sources for them:

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities IX.50:

“Afterward, the centurions whose men had fled, and the standard-bearers who had lost their standards either had their heads cut off at the neck, or were beaten to death with clubs. Of the rest of the army, one man of every ten was selected by lot and killed in front of the others. This is for the Romans the typical punishment given to those who broke their ranks or abandoned their standards.”

καὶ μετὰ τοῦθ᾽ οἱ λοχαγοί τε, ὧν οἱ λόχοι ἔφυγον, καὶ οἱ πρόμαχοι τῶν σημείων, ὅσοι τὰ σημεῖα ἀπολωλέκεσαν, οἱ μὲν πελέκει τοὺς αὐχένας ἀπεκόπησαν, οἱ δὲ ξύλοις παιόμενοι διεφθάρησαν: ἐκ δὲ τοῦ ἄλλου πλήθους ἀπὸ δεκάδος ἑκάστης εἷς ἀνὴρ ὁ λαχὼν κλήρῳ πρὸ τῶν ἄλλων ἀπέθνησκεν. αὕτη Ῥωμαίοις πάτριός ἐστι κατὰ τῶν λιπόντων τὰς τάξεις ἢ προεμένων τὰς σημαίας ἡ κόλασις

Livy, ab Urbe Condita 2.59

“Finally the consul (Appius Claudius), once the men had been collected from the disorderly retreat, and after he had followed his own soldiers and called them back in vain, placed his camp in the now peaceful field. He called a meeting and rightly railed on against the army which he called the betrayer of military discipline and the deserter of the standards. He kept asking individual soldiers where their standards and weapons were. He marshalled the offending standard bearers, centurions, and the double-paid soldiers who had abandoned their lines; he had them beaten with switches and he then killed them with an axe. Of the rest of the army, each tenth man was selected by lot to be executed.”

Tandem conlectis ex dissipato cursu militibus consul, cum revocando nequiquam suos persecutus esset, in pacato agro castra posuit; advocataque contione invectus haud falso in proditorem exercitum militaris disciplinae, desertorem signorum, ubi signa, ubi arma essent singulos rogitans, inermes milites, signo amisso signiferos, ad hoc centuriones duplicariosque qui reliquerant ordines, virgis caesos securi percussit: cetera multitudo sorte decimus quisque ad supplicium lecti.

Plutarch, Crassus 10:

“Many men fell in the battle, but many were saved by abandoning their weapons and fleeing. Crassus received Mummius himself harshly. He armed his soldiers again, making them swear to maintain their arms. He then took five hundred of the first and most cowardly, and dividing them into fifty groups of ten he killed one out of each group selected by lot, thus renewing an ancient military punishment which had been unused for many years.”

καὶ πολλοὶ μὲν ἔπεσον, πολλοὶ δὲ ἄνευ τῶν ὅπλων φεύγοντες ἐσώθησαν. ὁ δὲ Κράσσος αὐτόν τε τὸν Μόμμιον ἐδέξατο τραχέως, καὶ τοὺς στρατιώτας ὁπλίζων αὖθις ἐγγυητὰς ᾔτει τῶν ὅπλων, ὅτι φυλάξουσι, πεντακοσίους δὲ τοὺς πρώτους, καὶ μάλιστα τοὺς τρέσαντας, εἰς πεντήκοντα διανείμας δεκάδας ἀφ᾽ ἑκάστης ἀπέκτεινεν ἕνα τὸν κλήρῳ λαχόντα, πάτριόν τι τοῦτο διὰ πολλῶν χρόνων κόλασμα τοῖς στρατιώταις ἐπαγαγών.

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