Skip to content

History lesson from the Roman Army

“Hans Delbruck said of the eventual Roman triumph over the Greeks, “All the differences between the Greek and Roman military systems can be traced back to the difference in discipline.”[16] It was this discipline that allowed the Romans with first a citizen army, and then a professional army, to secure the borders of a new nation and to expand them to the farthest reaches of the known world. And it was the decline of that discipline that marked the fall of the Empire, being both a symptom and a cause of it. The wealth, the infrastructure and the technology of Rome meant nothing in the face of foreign invaders when the organization and composition of their military was beyond repair. Roman discipline was built upon a belief in the virtues of austerity and frugality, the dignity of labor and an acceptance of hardship – but tempered by a willingness to acknowledge the basic humanity of soldiers and not to castigate them for sins they committed away from the battlefield. These beliefs would have been familiar to Americans of two or three generations ago, but that is no longer the case. Our ability to remain an effective fighting force may depend upon on our willingness to accept those virtues once again and America’s willingness to allow us to act in accordance with those beliefs.”

What Caesar Told His Centurions: Lessons of Classical Leadership and Discipline for a Post-modern Military by Evan Munsing.

There is worry: “witness a recent survey by the Army that only 25 percent of its officers and enlisted feel it to be going in the right direction, with poor discipline and a lack of confidence in senior leadership being cited as leading factors for the low morale.

There is history:

“This is a problem that has been faced by others before us. What I offer here is a historical perspective to our current problems and a few lessons learnt over centuries of campaigning by the Roman Army. Although far removed from us by space and time, their concerns were the same as ours. Like us, the Romans were preoccupied with protecting their borders from alien cultures, and like us, chose to fight those battles as far away from their doorstep as they could, largely by using their organizational and technological expertise to prosecute conventional wars against an unconventional enemy. In their estimation, they faced an apparent decline in the human capacity of their countrymen to wage war. Like us, the Romans of the last century BCE looked to a recent past – perhaps a half century prior – as being a golden age, and saw in their own era the decay of virtues and martial strength.”

There is always a tendency to look at the past with rose colored glasses and believe that everything is going to hell in a handbasket. Sometimes, being too close to the present makes it difficult to see it in its proper perspective. That’s where effective measures and a good grasp of history can help. Munsing provides a short overview of the Roman Army’s use of the “pillars of classical leadership” that apply today with examples of application, some details of which just wouldn’t work today.

It also seems that those ‘rose colored glasses’ not only apply to what was but also seem to apply to views about human nature and what might be. That can lead to trouble.

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.