Talk:Decimation (Roman army)

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Missing Citation[edit]

"In addition, troop morale often increased dramatically after a decimation"

Where is the citation for this claim?

This seems to be a counterintuitive statement, it would be hard to imagine one's morale improving after having executed one's own comrade.

I guess there'd be a sense of relief and strengthened resolve in the soldiers not chosen. But yeah, we need a source for that one. Rufous 23:45, 30 May 2005 (UTC)
References sure, but it's not implausible with a proper understanding of morale. Morale has two meanings and perhaps this is the source of the confusion. The nice version of morale means how happy and upbeat the troops are. The meaning to commanders refers to their level of adherence to command. sometimes being happy and upbeat makes you more obedient as a soldier, but sometimes being treated poorly makes you more apt to carry out orders too.Grabba (talk) 06:50, 24 February 2010 (UTC)
Morale is not the same as discipline. Being treated poorly may make one tow the line, but it certainly is never good for morale. Morale is conviction and belief in one's own cause, one's own abilities, one's comrades, one's leadership etc. The notion that decimation should in any way be good for morale is indeed highly implausible. --Tsuka (talk) 04:59, 26 November 2010 (UTC)

Noise Shaping[edit]

What the heck does "decimation" have to do with "noise shaping" (under "See also")?? I've been to the Noise Shaping page and there's absolutely nothing to do with decimation on it. I recommend removal of that link unless there's some extenuating circumstance that I'm not seeing here. The Chief 03:34, 8 December 2005 (UTC)

I agree. Link removed. -- DocSigma 22:14, 13 December 2005 (UTC)

Leadership[edit]

It might be worth adding that when a legion was decimated, the leadership of the legion was usually executed, independen of the 1 in 10 deatsh of the rank and file. I am new and still learning the system, and so am not yet comfortable adding the edit myself...

Use by the French[edit]

I've heard, that decimation was used by the French forces in 1917 as a reaction to mutiny. Can anyone confirm? /da:Bruger:Poul G

I heard the same thing, cited by Wesley Clark in an interview. Some googling gives this. This is highly relevant for the article. Haakon 14:48, 4 March 2007 (UTC)


I remember reading somewhere that as late as 1914 or 1915, some senegalese soldiers refused to advance, so the French army ordered that the unit be decimated. Djandersonza 14:07, 19 June 2007 (UTC)

Article Title[edit]

When this is included- the article name should be change from roman army also because there is a "current usage" sectionVeggieburgerfish 12:07, 14 August 2007 (UTC)

World of Warcraft Team[edit]

I honestly do believe this does not fit in here. Wikipedia is a place for much, but not for everything in my opinion. Am I the only one thinking this or shouldn't this be removed? /204.162.xx.xx 00:09, 30 November 2006 (UTC)

Current Usage[edit]

Unless someone has survey data, I think "some" is a better descriptor than "few" for the number of people who use the historical meaning. Erall 20:00, 11 May 2007 (UTC)

The word no longer has any value, as it is only ever misused; correct useage is just confusing.
I’ve seen the word used recently :-
.a) as a malapropism for ‘devastate’: The German U-boat force in WWII was described as being decimated; the loss was actually 60-70%.
.b) correctly, but implying a worse situation: Staff numbers were described as having been decimated; actually the reduction in numbers was about 10% over the past so many years.
.c) as above, in a Roman context: After the fall of Carthage in the 3rd Punic War the city was said to be decimated; actually it was far worse than that.
On the other hand, in two instances where it did apply, the word wasn’t used at all.
.d) A headline about a murderer, sentenced to life (ie 20years) being released after 2 years.
.e) An item about a woman given 22 days in prison being let out after 2 or 3 days.
I've given up saying it; I just get funny looks. Xyl 54 07:42, 26 September 2007 (UTC)

Extreme?[edit]

We have seriously missed the point on this, and no mistake.
The punishment for mutiny, or cowardice in the face of the enemy, is usually death: If the punishment for a whole unit doing this is to kill one man and let another nine off with a warning, Then that isn’t extreme, that’s an exercise in leniency, borne no doubt of practicality.
For example:-
When the crew of the Bounty mutinied, all of the mutineers were under sentence of death; there was no suggestion of a 10% punishment.The Admiralty mounted a huge effort to re-capture them; though only 6 of the mutineers were returned for trial, 3 of those were hanged (50%)
In the Hermione mutiny, of the 33 mutineers re-captured, 24 were hanged (60-70%)
Before the battle of Bunker Hill, 5 men broke from the British lines and ran towards the Americans. All of them were caught; General Howe (who had a reputation as a humanitarian) ordered 2 to be taken at random and hanged, while /and the other 3 returned to their unit. (40%)
The contrary view is from the mutinies at Spithead and the Nore (which was more of a strike, really); the Admiralty (recognizing its own faults in the matter), ‘only’ hanged the ringleaders.
Thats where our view that decimation is severe probably stems from. Xyl 54 07:36, 26 September 2007 (UTC)

Speculation[edit]

And this bit:-
"However, because a decimation significantly reduced the troop strength of an army, and because it damaged unit cohesion by requiring soldiers to kill their comrades in a close-up and personal way, it is believed that the punishment was rarely used."
Is pure speculation: It either needs a citation to back it up, preferably from a Roman source, or it should be deleted.Xyl 54 07:47, 26 September 2007 (UTC)

OK, I’ve removed this; it implies also that a Roman Army unit mutinied, or ran, one time, and was not decimated; is there any evidence that ever happened? Xyl 54 12:07, 16 October 2007 (UTC)

Citations needed[edit]

"As a result, the threat of decimation inspired fear and resolve in the Roman Legions."
I’ve asked for a citation for this. The threat of a death sentence might inspire fear and resolve; a 90% chance of getting away with it probably less so.Xyl 54 11:58, 16 October 2007 (UTC)

"In his book Stalingrad, Antony Beevor recounts how the corps commander of a division that had retreated practiced decimation on them by walking down the line of soldiers at attention, and shooting every tenth soldier in the face until his pistol ran out of ammunition."
A reference would be good; book details, page number, Xyl 54 12:01, 16 October 2007 (UTC)

R+Y[edit]

"The current corporate managerial practice of rank and yank bears some similarities to this practice."
Can someone explain the connection? The implication is that sacking 10% of your workforce at random would improve productivity; “rank and yank” sounds more like culling. Xyl 54 12:06, 16 October 2007 (UTC)

That's correct. In "rank and yank", the key is to rank before yanking. There is no randomness or lottery... key aspects of decimation. I'm removing the reference. --Dante Alighieri | Talk 20:31, 15 November 2007 (UTC)

First use of dëcīmo -āvi, ātum[edit]

The dictionary says that the word itself is post-Augustan, while the practice was in use by at least 283 A.U.C. as Livy wrote. Did Caesar use this word, or Livy for that matter? Legis Nuntius (talk) 22:46, 24 April 2008 (UTC)

Guilt[edit]

The article is unclear, or perhaps contradictory, regarding the guilt of those "decimated". It says

"Because the punishment fell by lot, all soldiers in the selected cohort were eligible for execution, regardless of guilt and innocence or rank and distinction."

But then

"the officers reject the idea of bludgeoning or slaughtering all the men involved [as is the case with a small group or an individual]. Instead they find a solution for the situation which chooses by a lottery system sometimes five, sometimes eight, sometimes twenty of these men, always calculating the number in this group with reference to the whole unit of offenders so that this group forms one-tenth of all those guilty of cowardice."

So the 1-in-10 is selected from "all the men *involved*", not *all the men*; so it's just 1 in 10 guilty parties who are killed, no? One tenth of "all those guilty", so this is *not* "regardless of guilt".

I think that should be amended. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 130.76.32.145 (talk) 20:08, 1 July 2009 (UTC)

The second statement is sourced, so I'd rely on that. the group to be decimated would be those involved, be it 50, or 80 or 200; so those that stood fast wouldn't be included. But the group at fault would be punished without regard to the degree of their individual fault. I've tried to clarify this. Xyl 54 (talk) 03:04, 26 September 2009 (UTC)

Articlespace outgrowing 'Roman army'[edit]

Terribly interesting article that is held back by its title. Since all other articles are derivations (in some sense) of this original meaning, its probably a good idea to move it to simply 'Decimation' and let the other two (rather obscure.. minor Marvel comic and computering?) disambig from there.

Also, this article only factually revolves around the Roman army in the beginning. Seems like a good 'origins' section to me, and all kinds of other input would be more welcomed.Yeago (talk) 07:36, 9 September 2009 (UTC)

Well, no; this is an article about decimation in the Roman army, which has attracted a lot of extranaeous material. To that extent it would make more sense to move the "modern instances..", "current usage.." and "popular culture" sections to the Decimation page and revamp that as an article. Xyl 54 (talk) 02:44, 26 September 2009 (UTC)

Modern instances of decimation[edit]

It is very strange that reference to veryyyyy doubtful author (see Antony Beevor's wikipage) is enough to add decimation in Red Army during Stalingrad battle as known fact. :(

Such provocative things should be confirmed and re-confirmed before added to article. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 87.245.152.166 (talk) 10:55, 11 September 2009 (UTC)

Well, Antony Beevor is a published author, so as a source he is a lot less doubtful than an anonymous contributor who hasn't even signed his post. You could always produce a counter source that casts doubt on the statement...Xyl 54 (talk) 02:50, 26 September 2009 (UTC)
Below is full text of p117, paragraph about decimation is in bold
begin of p117

manders were 'worried and angry'. Although their infantry greatly outnumbered the Germans facing them, none of their tanks, no artillery, and few of their anti-tank guns had arrived. The situation proved even more disastrous for 64th Rifle Division, which was assembling to the rear. Morale collapsed under German air attacks, which also destroyed its field hospital killing many doctors and nurses. The wounded being taken to the rear recounted tales of horror which unnerved the inexperienced troops waiting in reserve to be marched forward. Individuals, then whole groups, began to desert. The divisional commander ordered the most fragile units to form up. He harangued and cursed them for such a cowardly failure to serve the Motherland. He then adopted the Roman punishment of decimation. With pistol drawn, he walked along the front rank counting in a loud voice. He shot every tenth man through the face at point-blank range until his magazine was empty. Zhukov, having just been appointed Deputy Supreme Commander, second only to Stalin, had arrived in Stalingrad on 29 August to oversee operations. He soon discovered that the three armies earmarked for the operations were ill-armed, manned by older reservists, and short of ammunition, as well as artillery. On the scrambler line to Moscow, he persuaded Stalin that the attack must be delayed by a week. Stalin agreed, but the German advance to the western edge of the city, now that Seydlitz's corps had linked up with Fourth Panzer Army, alarmed him again on 3 September. He rang General Vasilevsky, the chief of staff, demanding to know the exact position. As soon as Vasilevsky admitted that German tanks had reached the suburbs, his exasperation with Zhukov and other generals exploded. 'What's the matter with them, don't they understand that if we surrender Stalingrad, the south of the country will be cut off from the centre and will probably not be able to defend it? Don't they realize that this is not only a catastrophe for Stalingrad? We would lose our main waterway and soon our oil, too!' 'We are putting everything that can fight into the places under threat,' Vasilevsky replied as calmly as possible. 'I think there's still a chance that we won't lose the city.' A short time later Stalin rang back, then dictated a signal to be sent

The situation proved even more disastrous for 64th Rifle Division, which was assembling to the rear. Morale collapsed under German air attacks, which also destroyed its field hospital killing many doctors and nurses. The wounded being taken to the rear recounted tales of horror which unnerved the inexperienced troops waiting in reserve to be marched forward. Individuals, then whole groups, began to desert. The divisional commander ordered the most fragile units to form up. He harangued and cursed them for such a cowardly failure to serve the Motherland. He then adopted the Roman punishment of decimation. With pistol drawn, he walked along the front rank counting in a loud voice. He shot every tenth man through the face at point-blank range until his magazine was empty.

Zhukov, having just been appointed Deputy Supreme Commander, second only to Stalin, had arrived in Stalingrad on 29 August to oversee operations. He soon discovered that the three armies earmarked for the operations were ill-armed, manned by older reservists, and short of ammunition, as well as artillery. On the scrambler line to Moscow, he persuaded Stalin that the attack must be delayed by a week. Stalin agreed, but the German advance to the western edge of the city, now that Seydlitz's corps had linked up with Fourth Panzer Army, alarmed him again on 3 September. He rang General Vasilevsky, the chief of staff, demanding to know the exact position. As soon as Vasilevsky admitted that German tanks had reached the suburbs, his exasperation with Zhukov and other generals exploded. 'What's the matter with them, don't they understand that if we surrender Stalingrad, the south of the country will be cut off from the centre and will probably not be able to defend it? Don't they realize that this is not only a catastrophe for Stalingrad? We would lose our main waterway and soon our oil, too!'

'We are putting everything that can fight into the places under threat,' Vasilevsky replied as calmly as possible. 'I think there's still a chance that we won't lose the city.'

A short time later Stalin rang back, then dictated a signal to be sent


end of p117
At the end of book there is bibliography list with references to sources. For page 117 there are two sources
* p. 117 'worried and angry', Glichov, conversation, 6 Nov. 1995
* p. 117 'What's the matter . . .', Volkogonov, p. 461
As everyone can see there are no proofs for paragraph about decimation. So looks like that Beevor's fiction book without any proofs from real world has been used as proof link for doubtful statement. I'm pretty sure it is not acceptable. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 194.9.231.184 (talk) 22:18, 5 July 2010 (UTC)

Just to add some context to this; the commander "shot every tenth man ... until his magazine was empty". If he had a full, 9-shot magazine that means he executed nine men from the first 90 in the group. Out of how many altogether? A whole division? A group of the ”most fragile units” less than a division? A Brigade? A Regiment or two? A few of Battalions? Even a Company has more than 90 men in it. Pretty rough justice, but numerically it sounds worse than it actually was. Xyl 54 (talk) 11:38, 2 July 2013 (UTC)

Its misuse a synonym for "annihilate"[edit]

" The word decimation is often used to refer to an extreme reduction in the number of a population or force, much greater than the one tenth defined by the "deci" root. It is often inaccurately used as a synonym for the word "annihilate" which the OED lists as meaning "to reduce to non-existence, blot out of existence "

I find that the claim that people misuse the term for annihilate to be dubious, in that the misusers of the term have always implied to me that the decimated party was at the very least in highly critical condition. For the other misuses I have no gripe - I have encountered others use the term in a way mirroring Stephen Jay Gould's "nine in ten" definition, and I have encountered people use it as a malaprop for "devastate".--Soft and Stout (talk) 15:04, 7 April 2012 (UTC)

until none were left[edit]

In Sources:

"A legend suggests that the Theban Legion was decimated in the third century AD. The Legion had refused to a man, to accede to an order of the Emperor, and the process was repeated until none were left. They became known as the Martyrs of Agaunum."

Mathematically impossible. Did the last man kill one tenth of himself? Heavenlyblue (talk) 18:33, 28 June 2012 (UTC)


Also, concerning its historicity: Theban_Legion#Criticism of the account Heavenlyblue (talk) 18:51, 28 June 2012 (UTC)

broken link[edit]

Kanliot (talk) 14:18, 25 January 2013 (UTC) http://www.oed.com.ezproxy.plsinfo.org:2048/view/Entry/7893?rskey=A5fZHh&result=2#eid link doesn't work, maybe i'm not logged in to plsinfo.org? as of today, this is the last link in the footnotes.

Suetonius[edit]

The text claimed Suetonius said Augustus used it "for the last time" in 17BC, but I don't see in Suetonius where it says that was the last time. S. also says Galba used decimation, and Galba came after Augustus. I fixed the text accordingly, but I'm no expert, so some expert please check it. I also don't know what year S. says G. did it; I don't know how Suetonius reports dates. Cbogart2 (talk) 01:58, 16 August 2013 (UTC)