Roman Decimation

When the Roman Army failed in battle, every tenth man was put to death.

Were the executions random, or was the lowest-performing 10% chosen to die?

That’s not the case; Rome typically only used decimation as punishment for mutiny or desertion. Simply failing to accomplish an objective or losing a battle wasn’t enough, and it would be incredibly counterproductive to start destroying your own army when encountering setbacks. When decimation was used, it was done by lots. The whole unit selected for the punishment was broken down into groups of 10, and then each set of 10 drew lots, with the unlucky one being executed. It was completely random within the unit who was killed.

  1. It wasn’t when the army lost in battle; it was when they had done something dishonorable (like deserting a battlefield) or seriously disobeyed orders/mutinied. It would be absolutely stupid to do this just after losing a battle, when you would need all your soldiers for the next battle.

  2. It was officially random; each cohort had all the soldiers draw lots, and the one with the short straw was to be killed by his fellow soldiers. (But I have seen some sources that officers sometimes tried to ‘rig’ the drawing of lots so that bad soldiers lost.)

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