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Did Julius Caesar Decimate a Legion?

I have been watching the The Battle for Rome miniseries on the Discovery Channel. While uneven in quality, I have enjoyed the six episodes I have watched. However, I think I have found a huge error in the episode on Julius Caesar. The Caesar episode recounts the story of the 9th Legions mutiny during the Great Roman Civil War. Some of the men wanted to be discharged but most wanted more pay.

The episode shows a stern Caesar order the 9th to be decimated. Decimation was a rarely used form of punishment. Jona Lendering at Livius described this, "After a very serious offense (e.g., mutiny or having panicked), the commander of the commander of a legion would take the decision, and an officer would go to the subunit that was to be punished.

By lot, he chose one in ten men for capital punishment. The surviving nine men were ordered to club the man to death. " The Battle for Rome episode shows the 9th being decimated while a grim faced Caesar looks on. The scene is very powerful as we see a man being beaten to death while another looks on knowing he is next. However, the story is not true. This television show is wrong. Caesar never ordered that the 9th be decimated.

They did indeed mutiny demanding more pay. Caesar went to the soldiers. Adrian Goldsworthy in Caesar: Life of a Colossus describes what happened, "He (Caesar) then announced that he intended to decimate the Ninth, an ancient punishment that involved selecting by lot one out of every ten men to be beaten to death by his comrades.

The remainder of the legion would be dishonourably discharged from the army. The veteran soldiers were dismayed and their officers began to beg their stern commander for mercy. Caesar knew how to work a crowd and gradually gave ground, finally saying that 12o ringleaders would need to draw lots to choose twelve men to be executed. The selection is supposed to have been rigged to ensure the names of the main troublemakers were drawn" (p. 407).

Caesar did not kill hundreds of his soldiers in a decimation punishment. He cleverly put the fear of the gods into the legion by threatening such a punishment before then having the actual guilty individuals put to death. As putting soldiers engaged in mutiny to death is normal even through the 20th century, this is a measured and perhaps appropriate response on Caesar's part.

Compare this with how the French put down mutinies during World War 1. According to The French Army Mutinies of World War I (, "With the support of Petain, officers punished mutinous troops by court-martialing the leaders. When they often couldn't determine the leaders, they sometimes chose known troublemakers, men with civilian criminal records or those who complained a lot.

Or they followed Taufflieb's example and selected every 10th or 20th man standing in the ranks." And the French executed many of those found guilty even some that were randomly selected from a mutinious unit. Why did the Battle of Rome episode get this wrong? Was it poor research on the part of the show writers?

Or was it just an attempt to show that Caesar was a stern and brutal commander? Or perhaps this was an attempt to show Caesar in a bad light? Regardless, it is bad history and many viewers are going have an incorrect version of history and Caesar after having watched this show.