Roman Redux: Five Leadership Lessons from the Legions (NNSFW)

| August 11, 2016
Categories: Assorted Ramblings

“The long existence of the Roman Empire had everything to do with the legions. While the legions were strong, Rome was strong. Conversely, the disintegration of the Late Empire had everything to do with the disintegration of the legions as effective fighting forces.”  Stephen Dand0-Collins

Roman legionnaires and centurions, with their iconic transverse crests, are one of the quintessential warrior archetypes from history, though there would be many who’d argue we should use the term soldier archetype as opposed to warrior. The guys behind Anachrobellum recognize the unique nature of the Roman legions, who successfully subjugated most of the known world, so they wanted to do a legionnaire design — but they also like dogs. So they made their Roman Redux a dog handler.


If you’re interested, the Roman’s canine partner is a Cane Corso, though it could just as easily been a Molosser or Pugnaces Britanniae.

“Never, with them on guard, need you fear for your stalls a midnight thief, or onslaught of wolves, or Iberian brigands at your back.”

We reckoned it fitting as we announce Anachrobellum’s new design to share five leadership principles arising from the legions.

1. Train ceaselessly. 

“Few men are born brave. Many become so through training and force of discipline.” Publius Flavius Vegitius Renatus

Set the example by training. Never stop honing your skills in the noble profession of arms, and do not just train — learn from your own and others’ mistakes. Shakespeare tells us Caesar said, “Experience is the teacher of all things.” Those may not have been his exact words, but the Roman general consistently applied the lessons he learned in battle to later campaigns (as we can read in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico).

“Without training, they lacked knowledge. Without knowledge, they lacked confidence. Without confidence, they lacked victory.” Julius Caesar

“…the Romans owed the conquest of the world to no other cause than continual military training, exact observance of discipline in their camps, and unwearied cultivation of the other arts of war.”  Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus

Legionnaire machine gunner

2. Share hardship and privation. 

“It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die, than to find those who are willing to endure pain with patience.” Julius Caesar

The ability not just to endure arduous conditions but to persevere and complete the mission while utterly miserable is vital to a military formation, or to any organization for that matter. Wars are not won by soft soldiers. Great achievements are not made by the lazy or easily dissuaded. Julius Caesar wrapped himself in a cloak and slept in front of a hut so his friend Oppius, frail and ailing, could sleep inside. His legionnaires noticed such acts.

Roman Tankers

Roman Legionnaires vs Half Naked Amazons

It may be a difficult job, doing battle with a horde of nekkid chicks, but someone has to do it — and someone has to lead the way.

3. Lead from the front

“He [Julius Caesar] did not command his men to advance, but to follow…” Dr. Francis W. Kelsey, Ph.D. Caesar’s Gallic War

“…all the centurions of the fourth cohort had been killed – together with the standard bearer: the standard was lost – and those of the other cohorts as well, including the very brave senior centurion, Publius Sextius Baculus, who had so many terrible wounds that he could no longer stand, and when Caesar saw that the rest of the men were slowing down, and some in the rear ranks had given up fighting and were intent on getting out of range of the enemy, while the enemy in front kept pouring up the hill and were pressing us on both flanks, he recognized that this was a crisis because there were no reserves available, so he snatched a shield from a soldier in the rear ranks – Caesar had no shield with him – and went forward to the front line, where he called out to all the centurions by name and shouted encouragement to the rest of the men, whom he ordered to advance and to open out their ranks so that they could use their swords more effectively.”

In most formations life is increasingly easy and more rewarding “the closer you get to the flagpole.” That is unsat. Do not expect your soldiers to do something or fight somewhere you would or could not. Be a “muddy boots commander”, else you’ll not only be detached from the realities facing your troops, and you will not have earned their respect or affection.

Roman Jeep Cavalry2

4. Maintain dispassion in judgement

Libenter homines id quod volunt credunt.  (“Men freely believe in whatever they want.”) Julius Caesar

Trust the subordinates who’ve earned it when rendering judgement based on the information they provide, but always keep the prism they’re looking through in context. Do not interpret information to validate a decision you want to make — make your decision based upon the information you receive and remember there are always two or more sides to any story. In a dispute between two subordinates, there are three truths; one each for the subordinates, and the real truth unmodified by interpretation.

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” Marcus Aurelius

“What we wish, we readily believe, and what we ourselves think, we imagine others think also.” Julius Caesar 

Roman Jeep Cavalry

5. Reward, Recognize and Punish.

“On the other hand, the longer men served under him the more confidence he placed in them; and he did not hesitate to tell them how much he relied on them. Instances of special courage on the parts of legions, companies, or individuals, he made note of, and commended. He made his men think that he was personally interested in each one, just as Napoleon used to go among the common soldiers by name, and when the battle was hottest he would rush into the ranks and call out to them individually, urging to greater effort. ” Francis W. Kelsey, Caesar’s Gallic War

Make it clear you are invested in the well being of your troops; discipline them as necessary without eating your own. A good commander will turn a blind eye to certain infractions, trusting to his NCO corps or subordinates to handle things unofficially. Julius Caesar inspired fierce loyalty throughout his armies with an incessant demonstration of his concern and affection for them — he made it likewise clear he would not tolerate desertion, cowardice or grave crimes (which, it should be noted, were often met with crucifixion or a beheading he performed himself). Punish what needs to be punished remorselessly (but maybe don’t decimate platoons in the original sense of the word, and try to avoid cutting off anyone’s head).

“The doctrine of human brotherhood is something he never heard of. But, on the other hand, contrast this with his constant care and anxiety for the welfare of his soldiers, his patience and forbearance with their mistakes…” Allen and Greenbough Edition, Caesar’s Gallic War

“Slight delinquencies of conduct he often overlooked; but his general system of discipline was most strict.” Kelsey

“Caesar had every thing to do at one time: the standard to be displayed, which was the sign when it was necessary to run to arms; the signal to be given by the trumpet; the soldiers to be called off from the works; those who had proceeded some distance for the purpose of seeking materials for the rampart, to be summoned; the order of battle to be formed; the soldiers to be encouraged; the watchword to be given. A great part of these arrangements was prevented by the shortness of time and the sudden approach and charge of the enemy. Under these difficulties two things proved of advantage; [first] the skill and experience of the soldiers, because, having been trained by former engagements, they could suggest to themselves what ought to be done, as conveniently as receive information from others; and [secondly] that Caesar had forbidden his several lieutenants to depart from the works and their respective legions, before the camp was fortified. These, on account of the near approach and the speed of the enemy, did not then wait for any command from Caesar, but of themselves executed whatever appeared proper.” Caesar’s Gallic Wars Book 2

Roman for CAS

Though they’ve been dead for centuries (well, except for Casca), there’s a lot to be learned from those men — what to do and just importantly what not to do. Mull their advice over and put it to good use. Just be sure to be wearing (or at least have ordered) the new AnachroBellum Roman Redux Legionnaire dog-handler shirt before you do!

“Despite their inglorious end, the legions remain to this day, thousands of years after their creation, the most pre-eminent example of…detailed organization, tight discipline, and inspiring leadership.” Stephen Dand0-Collins

The lead image we used for this article, by the way, is Seven Romans, by none other than Frank Frazetta. If you don’t know who he is, sort yourself out immediately.



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