After forming the camp the tribunes meet and administer an oath, man by man, to all in the camp, whether freemen or slaves. Each man swears to steal nothing from the camp and even if he finds anything to bring it to the tribunes. They next issue their orders to the maniples of the hastati and principes of each legion, entrusting to two maniples the care of the ground in front of the tents of the tribunes; for this ground is the general resort of the soldiers in the daytime, and so they see to its being swept and watered with great care. Three of the remaining eighteen maniples are now assigned by lot to each tribune, this being the number of maniples of principes and hastati in each legion, and there being six tribunes. Each of these maniples in turn attends on the tribune, the services they render him being such as the following. When they encamp they pitch his tent for him and level the ground round it; and it is their duty to fence round any of his baggage that may require protection. They also supply two guards for him (a guard consists of four men), of which the one is stationed in front of the tent and the other behind it next the horses. As each tribune has three maniples at his service, and there are more than a hundred men in each maniple, not counting the triarii and velites who are not liable to this service, the task is a light one, as each maniple has to serve only every third day; and when the necessary comfort of the tribune is well attended to by this means, the dignity due to his rank is also amply maintained. The maniples of triarii are exempt from this attendance on the tribune; but each maniple supplies a guard every day to the squadron of horse close behind it. This guard, besides keeping a general look out, watches especially over the horses to prevent them from getting entangled in their tethers and suffering injuries that would incapacitate them, or from getting loose and causing confusion and disturbance in the camp by running against other horses. Finally each maniple in its turn mounts guard round the consul’s tent to protect him from plots and at the same time to add splendour to the dignity of his office.
As regards the entrenchment and stockading of the camp, the task falls upon the allies concerning those two sides along which their two wings are quartered, the other two sides being assigned to the Romans, one to each legion. Each side having been divided into sections, one for each maniple, the centurions stand by and superintend the details, while two of the tribunes exercise a general supervision over the work on each side; and it is these latter officers who superintend all other work connected with the camp. They divide themselves into pairs, and each pair is on duty in turn for two months out of six, supervising all field operations. The prefects of the allies divide their duties on the same system. Every day at dawn the cavalry officers and centurions attend at the tents of the tribunes, and the tribunes proceed to that of the consul. He gives the necessary orders to the tribunes, and they pass them on to the cavalry officers and centurions, who convey them to the soldiers when the proper time comes.
The way in which they secure the passing round of the watchword for the night is as follows: from the tenth maniple of each class of infantry and cavalry, the maniple which is encamped at the lower end of the street, a man is chosen who is relieved from guard duty, and he attends every day at sunset at the tent of the tribune, and receiving from him the watchword that is a wooden tablet with the word inscribed on it takes his leave, and on returning to his quarters passes on the watchword and tablet before witnesses to the commander of the next maniple, who in turn passes it to the one next him. All do the same until it reaches the first maniples, those encamped near the tents of the tribunes. These latter are obliged to deliver the tablet to the tribunes before dark. So that if all those issued are returned, the tribune knows that the watchword has been given to all the maniples, and has passed through all on its way back to him. If any one of them is missing, he makes inquiry at once, as he knows by the marks from what quarter the tablet has not returned, and whoever is responsible for the stoppage meets with the punishment he merits.
They manage the night guards thus: The maniple on duty there guards the consul and his tent, while the tents of the tribunes and the troops of horse are guarded by the men appointed from each maniple in the manner I explained above. Each separate body likewise appoints a guard of its own men for itself. The remaining guards are appointed by the Consul; and there are generally three pickets at the quaestorium and two at the tents of each of the legates and members of the council. The whole outer face of the camp is guarded by the velites, who are posted every day along the vallum this being the special duty assigned to them and ten of them are on guard at each entrance. Of those appointed to picket duty, the man in each maniple who is to take the first watch is brought to the tribune in the evening by one of the optiones of his company. The tribune gives them all little tablets, one for each station, quite small, with a sign written on them and on receiving this they leave for the posts assigned to them.
The duty of going the rounds is entrusted to the cavalry. The first praefect of cavalry in each legion must give orders early in the morning to one of his optiones to send notice before breakfast to four lads of his own squadron who will be required to go the rounds. The same man must also give notice in the evening to the praefect of the next squadron that he must make arrangements for going the rounds on the following day. This praefect, on receiving the notice, must take precisely the same steps on the next day; and so on through all the squadrons. The four men chosen by the optiones from the first squadron, after drawing lots for their respective watches, go to the tribune and get written orders from him stating what stations they are to visit and at what time. After that all four of them go and station themselves next the first maniple of the triarii, for it is the duty of the centurion of this maniple to have a bugle sounded at the beginning of each watch.
When this time comes, the man to whom the first watch fell by lot makes his rounds accompanied by some friends as witnesses. He visits the posts mentioned in his orders, not only those near the vallum and the gates, but the pickets also of the infantry maniples and cavalry squadrons. If he finds the guards of the first watch awake he receives their tessera, but if he finds that anyone is asleep or has left his post, he calls those with him to witness the fact, and proceeds on his rounds. Those who go the rounds in the succeeding watches act in a similar manner. As I said, the charge of sounding a bugle at the beginning of each watch, so that those going the rounds may visit the different stations at the right time, falls on the centurions of the first maniple of the triarii in each legion, who take it by turns for a day.
Each of the men who have gone the rounds brings back the tesserae at daybreak to the tribune. If they deliver them all they are suffered to depart without question; but if one of them delivers fewer than the number of stations visited, they find out from examining the signs on the tesserae which station is missing, and on ascertaining this the tribune calls the centurion of the maniple and he brings before him the men who were on picket duly, and they are confronted with the patrol. If the fault is that of the picket, the patrol makes matters clear at once by calling the men who had accompanied him, for he is bound to do this; but if nothing of the kind has happened, the fault rests on him.
A court-martial composed of all the tribunes at once meets to try him, and if he is found guilty he is punished by the bastinado (fustuarium). This is inflicted as follows: The tribune takes a cudgel and just touches the condemned man with it, after which all in the camp beat or stone him, in most cases dispatching him in the camp itself. But even those who manage to escape are not saved thereby: impossible! for they are not allowed to return to their homes, and none of the family would dare to receive such a man in his house. So that those who have once fallen into this misfortune are utterly ruined. The same punishment is inflicted on the optio and on the praefect of the squadron, if they do not give the proper orders at the right time to the patrols and the praefect of the next squadron. Thus, owing to the extreme severity and inevitableness of the penalty, the night watches of the Roman army are most scrupulously kept.
While the soldiers are subject to the tribunes, the latter are subject to the consuls. A tribune, and in the case of the allies a praefect, has the right of inflicting fines, of demanding sureties, and of punishing by flogging. The bastinado is also inflicted on those who steal anything from the camp; on those who give false evidence; on young men who have abused their persons; and finally on anyone who has been punished thrice for the same fault. Those are the offences which are punished as crimes, the following being treated as unmanly acts and disgraceful in a soldier when a man boasts falsely to the tribune of his valour in the field in order to gain distinction; when any men who have been placed in a covering force leave the station assigned to them from fear; likewise when anyone throws away from fear any of his arms in the actual battle. Therefore the men in covering forces often face certain death, refusing to leave their ranks even when vastly outnumbered, owing to dread of the punishment they would meet with; and again in the battle men who have lost a shield or sword or any other arm often throw themselves into the midst of the enemy, hoping either to recover the lost object or to escape by death from inevitable disgrace and the taunts of their relations.
If the same thing ever happens to large bodies, and if entire maniples desert their posts when exceedingly hard pressed, the officers refrain from inflicting the bastinado or the death penalty on all, but find a solution of the difficulty which is both salutary and terror-striking. The tribune assembles the legion, and brings up those guilty of leaving the ranks, reproaches them sharply, and finally chooses by lot sometimes five, sometimes eight, sometimes twenty of the offenders, so adjusting the number thus chosen that they form as near as possible the tenth part of those guilty of cowardice. Those on whom the lot falls are bastinadoed mercilessly in the manner above described; the rest receive rations of barley instead of wheat and are ordered to encamp outside the camp on an unprotected spot. As therefore the danger and dread of drawing the fatal lot affects all equally, as it is uncertain on whom it will fall; and as the public disgrace of receiving barley rations falls on all alike, this practice is that best calculated both to inspire fear and to correct the mischief.
They also have an admirable method of encouraging the young soldiers to face danger. After a battle in which some of them have distinguished themselves, the general calls an assembly of the troops, and bringing forward those whom he considers to have displayed conspicuous valour, first of all speaks in laudatory terms of the courageous deeds of each and of anything else in their previous conduct which deserves commendation, and afterwards distributes the following rewards. To the man who has wounded an enemy, a spear; to him who has slain and stripped an enemy, a cup if he be in the infantry and horse trappings if in the cavalry, although the gift here was originally only a spear. These gifts are not made to men who have wounded or stripped an enemy in a regular battle or at the storming of a city, but to those who during skirmishes or in similar circumstances, where there is no necessity for engaging in single combat, have voluntarily and deliberately thrown themselves into the danger. To the first man to mount the wall at the assault on a city, he gives a crown of gold. So also those who have shielded and saved any of the citizens or allies receive honorary gifts from the consul, and the men they saved crown their preservers, if not of their own free will under compulsion from the tribunes who judge the case. The man thus preserved also reverences his preserver as a father all through his life, and must treat him in every way like a parent. By such incentives they excite to emulation and rivalry in the field not only the men who are present and listen to their words, but those who remain at home also. For the recipients of such gifts, quite apart from becoming famous in the army and famous too for the time at their homes, are especially distinguished in religious processions after their return, as no one is allowed to wear decorations except those on whom these honours for bravery have been conferred by the consul; and in their houses they hang up the spoils they won in the most conspicuous places, looking upon them as tokens and evidences of their valour. Considering all this attention given to the matter of punishments and rewards in the army and the importance attached to both, no wonder that the wars in which the Romans engage end so successfully and brilliantly.
(Source: Polybius, The Histories, Vol.IIΙ, Book VI, Loeb Classical Library)
Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Anastasius Philoponus
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