Saturday, 5 November 2011

A snippet from Livy

I found the following passage interesting from Livy's History of Rome (Book XLIV), written in the reign of Augustus. It takes place prior to the decisive battle between the Roman forces and the Macedonians in 168 BC. Perhaps my dear readers will agree.
"When Aemilius Paulus saw that the site of the camp had been marked out and the baggage collected, he first quietly withdrew the triarii from the back of the line, then the principes, leaving the hastati standing in front, in case the enemy made any movement. Finally he retired these also, withdrawing those on the right first, maniple by maniple. In this way the infantry were withdrawn without creating any confusion, leaving the cavalry and light infantry facing the enemy. The cavalry were not recalled from their position until the rampart and fosse in front of the camp were carried their full length. The king was quite ready to give battle that day, but as his men were aware that the delay was due to the enemy he was quite content, and he too led his men back to camp.

When the fortification of the camp was completed, C. Sulpicius Gallus, a military tribune attached to the second legion, who had been a praetor the year before, obtained the consul's permission to call the soldiers on parade. He then explained that on the following night the moon would lose her light from the second hour to the fourth, and no one must regard this as a portent, because this happened in the natural order of things at stated intervals, and could be known beforehand and predicted. Just in the same way, then, as they did not regard the regular rising and setting of the sun and moon or the changes in the light of the moon from full circle to a thin and waning crescent as a marvel, so they ought not to take its obscuration when it is hidden in the shadow of the earth for a supernatural portent.

On the next night - September 4 - the eclipse took place at the stated hour, and the Roman soldiers thought that Gallus possessed almost divine wisdom. It gave a shock to the Macedonians as portending the fall of their kingdom and the ruin of their nation, nor could their soothsayers give any other explanation. Shouts and howls went on in the Macedonian camp until the moon emerged and gave her light."

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