March 09, 2002
Ancient Roman REMFs?

The Instapundit suggests that even the Roman legions must have had REMFs (Rear Echelon Mother F---ers). Indeed they did. In Book I, chapter 39 of his Gallic Wars, Caesar has something to say about them, and their reaction when they hear that the German chieftain Ariovistus is headed their way with a large army.

(The Latin text will be found here, an awkwardly literal 19th-century translation here. All the good ones are still in copyright and therefore unwebbable. My books are all in storage 900 miles from here, so I've adapted the web version for readability.)

While Caesar is away from camp requisitioning provisions, his men hear from the local Gauls and traders

. . . that the Germans were men of huge stature, of incredible bravery and experience in arms, that when they met them, they often could not endure even the expressions on their faces and the fierceness of their gaze.

Shades of the mighty never-defeated Pashtun hordes of last October! Whether the locals are sincere or just teasing the Romans, the effect on the inexperienced junior officers is dramatic:

. . . suddenly so great a fear took hold of the entire army that it greatly disturbed all their minds and spirits. This first arose from the military tribunes, the prefects, and the others who had accompanied Caesar from the City [= Rome] out of friendship and had little experience in military affairs. Alleging various reasons which they said made it necessary for them to leave, they requested to be allowed to withdraw with his consent. Some, moved by shame, stayed behind to avoid the suspicion of cowardice. These could neither control their expressions nor even sometimes hold back their tears, but hid in their tents and either bewailed their fate or deplored with their comrades the general danger. Wills were being signed and witnessed all over the camp. By the expressions and cowardice of these men, even those who possessed great experience in the camp, the common soldiers and the centurions [roughly = sergeants] and those who were in command of the cavalry were gradually disturbed. Those who wished to be thought less cowardly said that they did not dread the enemy, but were worried about the narrowness of the roads and the vastness of the forests which lay between them and Ariovistus, or that supplies could not be brought up readily enough. Some even told Caesar that when he gave orders for the camp to be moved and the troops to advance, the soldiers would not obey his command, nor advance, because of their fear.

Comment seems superfluous.

For another eternal military type, consider the Roman centurion known as Cedo Alteram, roughly translatable as Sergeant 'Gimme Another One'. The historian Tacitus tells us about him in his account of the mutinies after the death of Augustus in 14 A.D. (Annals 1.23). The Latin is here, and a rather better 19th-century translation, which I quote, here:

[The mutinous soldiers] thrust out the tribunes [= higher officers] and the camp-prefect; they plundered the baggage of the fugitives, and they killed a centurion, Lucilius, to whom, with soldiers' humour, they had given the name "Bring another", because when he had broken one vine-stick on a man's back, he would call in a loud voice for another and another.

Not exactly 'fragging', but close. All centurions had knotty vinewood staffs as symbols of authority, and used them to beat their soldiers. What was different about 'Cedo Alteram' Lucilius is that he always had someone standing by (his 'bat boy'?) with a stack of fresh sticks, since he kept breaking them.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at March 09, 2002 10:00 PM