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Three strategies for victory, learned from Roman history

Roman-Soldier

Copyright by Bob Rogers, Th.D.

The Romans were a powerful people for over a thousand years. However, it was a slow process for Rome to become a powerful nation. They won a 70-year off and on battle against the walled Etruscan city of Veii, only ten miles to the north, finally capturing it in 396 B.C. Here are three lessons for battle that they learned, that would make them a victorious military power for centuries. Many of these lessons are useful today:

Lesson 1: Learn from defeat.

The Gallic Sack of Rome about 387 B.C. shocked them, when wild warriors from Gaul swept down from the Po Valley, burned and looted the city. After paying the Gallic army to leave, they copied the walls of Veii, and built a wall around Rome.

They fought three wars with the Samnites, who inhabited the Apennines Mountains in central Italy, and lost major battles to them because the phalanx didn’t work well in the mountains, but they learned how to fight different ways in the mountains.

What defeats have you suffered in life? How can you learn from them?

Lesson 2: Divide and conquer.

Although strategically located, the Romans were not the largest or most powerful people in Italy in their early years. But Romans were well organized and united, able to slowly “divide and conquer” the rest of Italy, mainly because the other people groups were not united. For example, the Etruscan cities were totally independent of one another, so the other cities didn’t help Veii, allowing Rome to capture them. They often played one group against another, as when they made a peace treaty with Carthage and allowed them to oppose the Greeks in Sicily, then after Rome defeated the Greeks, Rome turned against Carthage.

This strategy is manipulative and unethical when done with allies and friends. However, the “divide and conquer” strategy has its usefulness with opponents and enemies. If you have multiple opponents or problems, instead of taking all of them on, which ones could you defeat first, and then move on to the next? What ways can you let them work against each other?

Lesson 3: Make your enemies your friends.

When they defeated the Latins, Rome made them their allies, eventually merging with them. They later did the same with other groups in Italy that they conquered, including Etruscans and Samnites and Gauls. As each became an ally, Rome became stronger and stronger. At last, they were strong enough to take on the Greek colonies in the south of Italy, and slowly they united all of Italy.

This strategy is much more ethical, and has many benefits. What common ground can you find with opponents, turning them into allies and friends?

(Dr. Rogers is an adjunct history professor for The Baptist College of Florida, where he has taught Roman History numerous times.)

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