Page:Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire vol 1 (1897).djvu/85

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11
OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE

cowardice or disobedience to escape the severest punishment. The centurions had a right to punish with blows, the generals with death; and it was an inflexible maxim of Roman discipline, that a good soldier should dread his officers far more than the enemy. From such laudable arts did the valour of the Imperial troops receive a degree of firmness and docility, unattainable by the impetuous and irregular passions of barbarians.

Exercises And yet so sensible were the Romans of the imperfection of valour without skill and practice, that, in their language, the name of an army was borrowed from the word which signified exercise.[1] Military exercises were the important and unremitted object of their discipline. The recruits and young soldiers were constantly trained both in the morning and in the evening, nor was age or knowledge allowed to excuse the veterans from the daily repetition of what they had completely learnt. Large sheds were erected in the winter-quarters of the troops, that their useful labours might not receive any interruption from the most tempestuous weather; and it was carefully observed, that the arms destined to this imitation of war, should be of double the weight which was required in real action.[2] It is not the purpose of this work to enter into any minute description of the Roman exercises. We shall only remark, that they comprehended whatever could add strength to the body, activity to the limbs, or grace to the motions. The soldiers were diligently instructed to march, to run, to leap, to swim, to carry heavy burdens, to handle every species of arms that was used either for offence or for defence, either in distant engagement or in a closer onset; to form a variety of evolutions; and to move to the sound of flutes, in the pyrrhic or martial dance.[3] In the midst of peace, the Roman troops familiarised themselves with the practice of war; and it is prettily remarked that the effusion of blood was the only circumstance which distinguished a field of battle from a field of exercise.[4] It was the policy of

  1. Exercitus ab exercitando, Varro de Linguâ Latinâ, I. iv. [v 87 ed. I,. Müller]. Cicero in Tusculan, I. ii. 37. There is room for a very interesting work, which should lay open the connexion between the languages and manners of nations.
  2. Vegetius, I. i. c. 11, and the rest of his first book.
  3. The Pyrrhic Dance is extremely well illustrated by M. le Beau, in the Académie des Inscriptions, tom. xxxv. p. 262, &c. That learned academician, in a series of memoirs, has collected all the passages of the ancients that relate to the Roman legion.
  4. Joseph. de Bell. Judaico, I. iii. c. 5. We are indebted to this Jew for some very curious details of Roman discipline.