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Polybius on brutality of Roman army

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Goldsworthy (Complete Roman Army, 197, see also 172-73) provides the following commentary, but does not give his source in Polybius. Can anyone help me find where in Polybius this is taken from:

 

"Polybius claimed that the Romans deliberately caused as much destruction as possible, slaughtering and dismembering animals as well as people, to deter other communities from resisting Roman demands to surrender; mercy. Male inhabitants were usually slaughtered, women raped, though only in exceptional circumstances killed in the initial orgy of destruction. After that, as tempers cooled and the desire for profit took over, prisoners would be taken for sale as slaves, though at times any considered to have a low market value, such as the very old, were still massacred."

 

Thanks.

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Sorry I can't help you with this one, but I feel the need to spread my anger - I hate when even known authors won't provide you with decent footnotes.

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Goldsworthy (Complete Roman Army, 197, see also 172-73) provides the following commentary, but does not give his source in Polybius. Can anyone help me find where in Polybius this is taken from:

 

"Polybius claimed that the Romans deliberately caused as much destruction as possible, slaughtering and dismembering animals as well as people, to deter other communities from resisting Roman demands to surrender; mercy. Male inhabitants were usually slaughtered, women raped, though only in exceptional circumstances killed in the initial orgy of destruction. After that, as tempers cooled and the desire for profit took over, prisoners would be taken for sale as slaves, though at times any considered to have a low market value, such as the very old, were still massacred."

 

Thanks.

 

This could be a reference to Book 10 Chapter 15 in which Polybius describes the sacking of New Carthage thus:-

 

".......according to the Roman custom; their orders were to exterminate every form of life they encountered, sparing none, but not to start pillaging until the word was given to do so. This practice is adopted to inspire terror, and so when cities are taken by the Romans you may often see not only the corpses of human beings but dogs cut in half and the dismembered limbs of other animals........"

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The brutality of Roman soldiers is documented and impossible to ignore. However, before we condemn Rome entirely as the brutal place it was, remember that we're looking at this subject from modern hindsight and sentiment. Whilst I'm sure the people on the receiving end of such treatment would've probably agreed with us, if you step back and look at the ancient world we see not just a brutal city-state, but a brutal world. Life was cheap everywhere.

 

Now I can't ignore what the Romans did - the casual slaughters of one kind or another - but the exercise of power by a city state of limited communicative abilty is bound to rely on a strong arm to enforce it's rule and influence. And if you want to survive in such a lethal political arena, then you tend to adopt the same methods or be pushed aside by more aggressive states. After all, if you cannot defend yourself, your civilisation will eventually be wiped out, and the Romans did get around to playing King of the Hill themselves.

 

Many of Romes enemies were as brutal. The gauls were known as fierce warriros who had spread across Europe, the Germanic tribes terrified the Romans with their cruelty, and the arrival of the Huns brought their reputation with them, just to name a few examples.

 

I think we have to understand the Roman mentality in thie slaughter of a populace. It's easy to compare it to nazi activity in World War Two, and indeed, there are parallels, but those parallels exist because human beings do business in certain ways. Rome saw itself (at it's height certainly) as the center of civilisation, a cradle of culture in a barbarous world. If a tribe decided to throw in their lot with Rome and do as the Romans, all was well. They had come into the light so too speak. I know that Rome usually had more selfish reasons for their new allies to obey laws and pay taxes, but that was the nature of Roman society and is ours much more different?

 

However, if an enemy city had refused to open its gates, it had declared that it would defy the Senate and People of Rome. To Roman sensibilities, that was not an attitude they wanted to see nor have it encouraged by tolerance. In other words, Rome was relying on might and the reputation of ruthlessness to conduct business from a position of security. In order to achieve that reputation the act must be committed. The enemy city had sewn its own fate as it were.

 

That said, we shouldn't dismiss the attitude toward looting either. In the slaughter and razing of an enemy town that had defied the legions allowed those soldiers to reward themselves for their service and trials on campaign. Callous, certainly, but a very practical attitude.

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Goldsworthy (Complete Roman Army, 197, see also 172-73) provides the following commentary, but does not give his source in Polybius. Can anyone help me find where in Polybius this is taken from:

 

"Polybius claimed that the Romans deliberately caused as much destruction as possible, slaughtering and dismembering animals as well as people, to deter other communities from resisting Roman demands to surrender; mercy. Male inhabitants were usually slaughtered, women raped, though only in exceptional circumstances killed in the initial orgy of destruction. After that, as tempers cooled and the desire for profit took over, prisoners would be taken for sale as slaves, though at times any considered to have a low market value, such as the very old, were still massacred."

 

Thanks.

 

This could be a reference to Book 10 Chapter 15 in which Polybius describes the sacking of New Carthage thus:-

 

".......according to the Roman custom; their orders were to exterminate every form of life they encountered, sparing none, but not to start pillaging until the word was given to do so. This practice is adopted to inspire terror, and so when cities are taken by the Romans you may often see not only the corpses of human beings but dogs cut in half and the dismembered limbs of other animals........"

Excellent spotting; I don

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I think we have to understand the Roman mentality in thie slaughter of a populace. It's easy to compare it to nazi activity in World War Two, and indeed, there are parallels, but those parallels exist because human beings do business in certain ways. Rome saw itself (at it's height certainly) as the center of civilisation, a cradle of culture in a barbarous world. If a tribe decided to throw in their lot with Rome and do as the Romans, all was well. They had come into the light so too speak. I know that Rome usually had more selfish reasons for their new allies to obey laws and pay taxes, but that was the nature of Roman society and is ours much more different?

 

However, if an enemy city had refused to open its gates, it had declared that it would defy the Senate and People of Rome. To Roman sensibilities, that was not an attitude they wanted to see nor have it encouraged by tolerance. In other words, Rome was relying on might and the reputation of ruthlessness to conduct business from a position of security. In order to achieve that reputation the act must be committed. The enemy city had sewn its own fate as it were.

 

That said, we shouldn't dismiss the attitude toward looting either. In the slaughter and razing of an enemy town that had defied the legions allowed those soldiers to reward themselves for their service and trials on campaign. Callous, certainly, but a very practical attitude.

 

By and large, cities were taken by seige, treachery or storming. If the refusal to surrender or come to terms led to the decision to storm, the attacking side would inevitably suffer a horrific number of casualties and therefore, in some respects the consequent sacking was on the one hand 'pay-back' and on the other deterence to others from forcing the use of costly tactics. There is a cold expediency in the reasons for the Roman sack of a city, but the brutality as pointed out here and elsewhere was by no means unique. Hannibal concluded his victory at Saguntum, for different reasons, by ordering the slaughter of every man of military age for example.

 

I tend towards thinking that the Nazi comparisons are a little facile and lack substance. Roman brutality of this type was broadly speaking of its time. National Socialism was fudementally and at its heart a racially supremacist creed that visited its horrors upon the Jews, Slavs etc within that context. Roman brutality, without my being too much of an apologist, was an acceptable expedient. The better comparison with the Nazis if we need to look for one, might be the Assyrians who would impale or flay alive the senior amongst a conquered people and continue to rule those people with an iron fist and ruthless ferocity.

 

Although there is an irresistible parallel between the sack of Jerusalem in 70 CE and the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943 CE, there is only one Roman atrocity, for me, that has deeply Nazi overtones. Servius Sepulcius Galba was a repugnant mixture of the incompetant and the greedy. Having won an intitial victory against the Lusitanians, he later lost 7000 to the reinvigorated tribesmen. Having been rescued by Lucullus and knowing that the primary issue with the Lusitanians was poor land, he designated a central gathering point for the tribes to gather from which they would be "resettled" to more fertile lands. He ordered their massacre at that place.

 

There were attempts to indict Galba for "war crimes" that ultimately failed. His actions in Lusitania heralded a half century period of instability and distrust for the Romans starting with the Geurrilla warfare of Viriathus which most certainly removes this example from the category of expedient brutality.

Edited by marcus silanus

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At the risk of overstating the obvious, war has never been nice; it is brutal by its own nature.

There

Edited by sylla

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tend towards thinking that the Nazi comparisons are a little facile and lack substance. Roman brutality of this type was broadly speaking of its time. National Socialism was fudementally and at its heart a racially supremacist creed that visited its horrors upon the Jews, Slavs etc within that context. Roman brutality, without my being too much of an apologist, was an acceptable expedient.

 

You took the analogy further than I intended. What I was pointing at was a vivid example of willingness to slaughter civilians, not the specific example of the holocaust. I agree with the expedience element - I mentioned that as well. However, what must be underlined is the commercial element of this. The Romans themselves referred to the 'Wages of War', meaning the ability of armies to operate at a profit by looting and enslaving. That's something the modern world can't emulate with its rules of engagements and expensive hardware. In other words, not only were the Romans brutal, but they deliberately profitted from that brutality, which is why we see them them in such a disagreeable light.

 

The best example is an event described by Wikipedia as follows...

 

Since 193 BCE, the Lusitanians had been fighting the Romans. In 150 BCE, they were defeated by Praetor Servius Galba: springing a clever trap, he killed 9,000 Lusitanians and later sold 20,000 more as slaves in Gaul (modern France).

 

What Servius Galba did was offer a cessation of hostilities to the Lusitanii and told them that if they surrendered their weapons at any of three camps, they could live peacefully as Roman allies with their own land and no hard feelings. Galba was of course lying, and immediately the weapons were surrendered he slaughtered the hapless barbarians and profitted mightily from selling the rest in Rome. In fact, the Senate was outraged by this example of immoral behaviour and had Galba prosecuted. The wily ex-general had his young children brought into the senate house crying their eyes out because they'd been told daddy was to be executed. The senators couldn't bear to see children so upset and so let Galba off.

 

Now Galba was of course somewhat less than honourable compared to many of his time - that's obvious from the senatorial reaction to his trap - but as a counterpoint its worth noting what happened at Jerusalem in AD70, when the Romans assaulted the city. A huge slaughter took place but after so much killing, even the hardened legionaries were sick of it, and began capturing the jews as prisoners instead. One estimate puts the number taken away as slaves, either as labourers to Egypt, or as unforunates sold to provincial arenas, as 97,000.

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.., there is only one Roman atrocity, for me, that has deeply Nazi overtones. Servius Sepulcius Galba was a repugnant mixture of the incompetant and the greedy. Having won an intitial victory against the Lusitanians, he later lost 7000 to the reinvigorated tribesmen. Having been rescued by Lucullus and knowing that the primary issue with the Lusitanians was poor land, he designated a central gathering point for the tribes to gather from which they would be "resettled" to more fertile lands. He ordered their massacre at that place.

 

There were attempts to indict Galba for "war crimes" that ultimately failed. His actions in Lusitania heralded a half century period of instability and distrust for the Romans starting with the Geurrilla warfare of Viriathus which most certainly removes this example from the category of expedient brutality.

Trick and treason have hardly been the monopoly of any army at any time and place.

My guess is that SS (no pun intended :lol: ) Galba was playing by the rules; if the Lusitanians were careless enough for being caught, bad for them.

The judicial case against Galba was not from an international tribunal but just from internal Roman political struggle.

History is written by the winners; if a negative depiction on Galba's strategy has survived, it was mainly because he was facing Cato Censorius, who was far better represented in our available sources.

BTW, talking on honor an treason, it was the same Cato Censorius of the infamous Delenda est Carthago.

At least in the short term, Galba's strategy worked; that's why the popular assembly acquitted him.

If SS Galba was incompetent and greedy, their successors were not better.

Edited by sylla

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I tend towards thinking that the Nazi comparisons are a little facile and lack substance. Roman brutality of this type was broadly speaking of its time.

 

It can be said for every age of history.

 

National Socialism was fudementally and at its heart a racially supremacist creed that visited its horrors upon the Jews, Slavs etc within that context.

 

Apart their reasons ad looking at history neutrally, they weren't more brutal than soviets, allies, japanese.

They were sons of a more brutal age than ours.

 

Roman brutality, without my being too much of an apologist, was an acceptable expedient.

 

This is a case where simpathy overcomes fair judgement: the romans were brutal mass killers because they were the cruelest bastards in a world of cruel bastards.

 

The better comparison with the Nazis if we need to look for one, might be the Assyrians who would impale or flay alive the senior amongst a conquered people and continue to rule those people with an iron fist and ruthless ferocity.

 

The romans were ferocious too: a rebellion would be usually countered with a massacre and don't forget that the romans turned slavery into an enormous industry of sufference and death for tens of millions people.

 

Although there is an irresistible parallel between the sack of Jerusalem in 70 CE and the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943 CE, there is only one Roman atrocity, for me, that has deeply Nazi overtones. Servius Sepulcius Galba was a repugnant mixture of the incompetant and the greedy. Having won an intitial victory against the Lusitanians, he later lost 7000 to the reinvigorated tribesmen. Having been rescued by Lucullus and knowing that the primary issue with the Lusitanians was poor land, he designated a central gathering point for the tribes to gather from which they would be "resettled" to more fertile lands. He ordered their massacre at that place.

 

There were attempts to indict Galba for "war crimes" that ultimately failed. His actions in Lusitania heralded a half century period of instability and distrust for the Romans starting with the Geurrilla warfare of Viriathus which most certainly removes this example from the category of expedient brutality.

 

Hmmm, weren't the conquests of Gaul and Dacia made through giant ethnic massacres like the WW2 Hitlerian eastward expansion?

 

The romans built their civilization on a mountain of corpses, enormous numbers of slaves and infinite sufference for the conquered people.

 

They were cool but not nice guys.

Edited by Late Emperor

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In history and even in our time violence against the civilians is a part of war. In WW2 not only nazis did that but the Western Allies carried terror bombing raids while the Red Army engaged in massive scale rapes, massacres and ethnic cleansing. Much closer to us is Srebrenica. The current conflict between jihadis and the West is maybe unique by the way the islamists see civilians as their main target and glorify the killing of unarmed non-combatants.

My point is that violence against civilians is and was often employed as an official policy, but more then that it is something that armies, especially those with weaker discipline, will do even against orders.

The looting and massacre of the inhabitants of a city taken by storm was not only a tradition that was employed on a large scale as late as the 30 Years War and the English Civil War, but was something that commanders had little chances of preventing. Things happened even if there was no battle and one example is the looting of Moscow by Napoleon's Grand Armee.

What romans did was largely unexceptional. The only thing they stand out for was the custom, during the empire, of using POW's as gladiators or throwing them to the lions.

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In history and even in our time violence against the civilians is a part of war. In WW2 not only nazis did that but the Western Allies carried terror bombing raids while the Red Army engaged in massive scale rapes, massacres and ethnic cleansing. Much closer to us is Srebrenica. The current conflict between jihadis and the West is maybe unique by the way the islamists see civilians as their main target and glorify the killing of unarmed non-combatants.

Probably not, but bear in mind these people are conducting an armed struggle for their own aggrandisement as much as any political principle, and to survive against stronger and better organised forces, they adopt terror tactics. This isn't a new phenomenon at all. Although it has a cultural colour, similar strategies have always been part of armed conflict. Remember the Romans always said you should never be taken prisoner by the Galatians.

 

My point is that violence against civilians is and was often employed as an official policy, but more then that it is something that armies, especially those with weaker discipline, will do even against orders.

It's a question of expedience and perception. Who are your enemies? To western minds, the casual slaughter of civilians is usually unacceptable, but not just for any chivalric or humane reasons - it's also a matter of propaganda, because there is a need to be seen as morally superior to your opponent, and the modern media loves nothing more than scandal.

 

The point about discipline is true of today, but that's applied to modern standards. The Romans weren't bound by our limits. Whilst their discipline was brutal, it created brutal men, and the Romans wanted that. They were a very macho people to begin with, very martial-minded, and had little or no time for humanity when it obstructed a potential victory. Further, the Romans were prone to allowing their men to loot and pillage in some circumstances. That was to keep the men happy as much as crush the enemy. Roman soldiers expected booty from war, and expected their leaders to provide oppportunities for it.

 

What romans did was largely unexceptional. The only thing they stand out for was the custom, during the empire, of using POW's as gladiators or throwing them to the lions.

That tradition began earlier. Arena combat and the spectacles resulting from it where already big business by the time of the Caesars. However that doesn't detract from your point. Blood sports involving live combat for public entertainment was a unique phenomenon as far as I know. Death against a wild animal was a much older idea, although only the Romans turned it into an industry.

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