Studying Warlords – Caesar Part 3

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Without training, they lacked knowledge. Without knowledge, they lacked confidence. Without confidence, they lacked victory.

― Julius Caesar

Click here to read part 2.

Caesar always emphasized training, repetition, and disciplined living. His legions were renowned for their Spartan-like discipline, obedience, and fierce loyalty towards him.

He instilled unconditional obedience in the most challenging situations. He would purposely order his legionnaires to begin marching in the middle of the night or in harsh weather to harden their resolve and obedience. After having conditioned them in this manner for a while it became normal to them and he could up the ante and challenge them further.

After winning the battle of Pharsalus against Pompey – a battle in which Caesar’s troops were outnumbered two to one (!) – his legionnaires walked into the camp of Pompey and were disgusted by the excessive festivities and decorations. They believed it had made the Pompeian soldiers weak!

Military Tactics & Psychological Warfare

Modern Hollywood war-movies got it all wrong.

Physical combat was fought in lines of soldiers that gathered and then charged at each other multiple times, then backed off to catch their breath. It was like interval training that could go on for hours and was incredibly tiring. This stands in direct opposition of the usual movie version where armies charge at each other in a “free for all manner”.

Every cohort would be formed in several lines. Deep formations made it harder for new and less experienced soldiers to escape from the first line. It helped hold and maintain the lines better.

In war Caesar would take plenty of hostages for numerous reasons. Most commonly it was to earn money, to punish the rebelling faction, and to replace or execute the main troublemakers in order to maintain order within the Roman Empire.

During sieges it was common practice for Romans to build guard posts in tactical positions. On one occasion Caesar wanted to mobilize as many troops as possible in the objective of digging wells and engineering other sorts of infrastructure needed for the siege. To do this he ordered his legionnaires to construct tactical guard posts and defensive contraptions. This in turn allowed Caesar to man the guard posts minimally while still being able to hold off much larger enemy forces. It worked by constructing defensive motes in front of the guard posts, placing cippi and other defensive contraptions such as stimuli and lilia in the ground. These all served to make the enemy afraid of charging in because the first people to do so were certainly going to get severely hurt or die. It slowed down the attackers by placing doubt in their minds.


Lilia strategically placed to slow down the enemy charge

Inspiring Loyalty

Caesar led by example and never expected any of his soldiers not to be able to do anything he wasn’t able to do himself. Caesar’s inspirational ability of leading by example has been implemented by a plethora of commanders and leaders throughout history, notably by Napoleon and Colin Powell.  The first warlord to notably lead by example was Hannibal Barca.

Caesar was renowned for his troops’ abnormal amount of loyalty to him. This bond of trust and loyalty took many years to build and there are many instances in which he inspired his soldiers to achieve incredible feats – both in and out of battle. Throughout Caesar’s military career there’s a recurring theme of how his soldiers constantly want to prove their worth to him and show him that his trust in them is well-placed.

During a particularly challenging siege in Gaul Caesar told his legionnaires numerous times to say the word if they felt the task was too difficult and he would then allow them to cancel the siege or retreat. This action had just the opposite effect – appealing to his legionnaires sense of pride as they set out to prove themselves to their commander and show him that THEIR legion was the best one out of the whole army. The legionnaires literally begged Caesar to continue the siege and to put more faith in their ability, and not to put them in the disgraceful position of quitting. It was Roman principle to persist and die rather than quit and be dishonored.

leading by example

Leading by example! Caesar’s adoptive son Augustus/Octavianus

The tenth legion – which was Caesar’s official favorite and also the one often charged with the most honorable tasks – rebelled against him because they thought he was not going to reward them as he’d said he would.

Caesar met with the tenth legion and publicly addressed them. He calmly let them know that he did indeed intend to keep his word and give them everything he’d promised earlier while letting them know that he was very disappointed that they didn’t trust him to keep his word.

He let them know that he was now going to reward them, then free them of service and remove them from his army to show his dissatisfaction with their conduct.  The tenth legion begged to stay, and even to let Caesar decimate them as long as they were able to remain in his army.

Caesar slowly let them to convince him into allowing them to stay while deciding that no decimation was going to take place. He did however find out who the leaders of the rebellion within the tenth legion were.  He went on to place these men in the most risky positions in upcoming battles.

When Caesar was at war in Brundisium and decided to return to Italy/Rome in order to get reinforcements his men begged him to stay and to place more faith in their abilities.

Combat Morale

In large-scale combat the ability of manipulating perception will decide the outcome. The act of signaling strength is AT LEAST as important as having it – boosting the morale of one’s own army while diminishing the enemy’s is key to achieving victory.

When Caesar faced Pompey in the battle of Pharsalus he believed Pompey made a monumental mistake in not taking the initiative to attack first. He believed that when Pompey let his men remain passive and await the attack it didn’t properly allow the morale and bloodlust of his troops to be accumulated over time as well as it did in his own troops, giving Pompey’s army a major disadvantage.

During Caesar’s invasion of Britannia – while the Roman soldiers were showcasing unusually low morale and hesitantly debarking the shores – the eagle bearer of the tenth legion showed incredible courage and initiative by proclaiming: “Jump, comrades, unless you want the eagle to fall in enemy hands! I intent to do my plight to the commander and the fatherland.” , he then jumped into the shallow water joined by his comrades as they stormed the Britannian enemy.

The eagle bearer was referred to as Aquilifer – thus the name Aquila of the protagonist in the movie The Eagle. There’s also a beer called Aquila that tastes somewhat bad.

the eagle

At one point during his years in Gaul, Caesar was slightly outnumbered and almost surrounded. He had the possibility of backing off and meeting up with his best lieutenant Labienus and his troops. But this could be interpreted as a retreat – a sign of weakness – both by Caesar’s own troops (remember, it’s hard to communicate a single message to thousands of people, especially without modern day communication tools) and the enemy troops, thus it may strengthen their morale and confidence while lowering that of his own troops.

Caesar decided he wanted to win a small combat to send the signal that they were NOT retreating out of cowardice, merely making a tactical retreat and that they had the situation under complete control.

In another occasion during the same war in Gall, Caesar found out that the enemy was afraid of his army and that low morale was spreading in the enemy camp. To further this he made all of the army’s slaves and non-legionnaires ride horses or mules while wearing helmets or head gear to the extent that it was available. When the enemy noticed this from afar they were fooled into thinking that his army had received a large amount of reinforcements and increased in size. They were scared shitless.

Click here to read part 4.


Adrian Goldsworthy – Caesar, a Roman Colossus


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  1. Tae McNeelege says:

    Fascinating. The part about his troops always trying to prove their worth… Why would it be like that? Caesar himself must have shown something of himself to inspire loyalty of that caliber. Some legionnaires must have thought, “Is Caesar worthy of my service?” Maybe Caesar was more a symbol than a person. A living, breathing, Rome.

    I understand how Caesar gained trust.

    What I’m wondering is, at what point do people think that they have to prove something to someone?

    Any thoughts?

    • Hey Tae,

      Good question.

      I think the easy answer would be to say that it stems from a lack of self-esteem – usually unconsciously without the person thinking of why he feels this need.

      If you don’t know your own “value” you will want someone else that you look up to to affirm it. Over and over again.

      If we cannot comfortably convince ourselves or feel confident about a certain thing it is natural to unconsciously seek out someone we look up to and hold in high regard and try to get their validation. If they can give us the OK and tell us that whatever we’re doing is good then we feel like whatever we’re doing is adequate and our uncertainty is somewhat diminished in the short run. But in the long run it does little good because it doesn’t fix the root cause which is that of a lack of self-esteem or understanding about oneself and thus giving rise to the uncertainty or anxiousness that then make us react and reach out for the validation/proving ourselves to others. I think this is why the blind often lead the blind so to speak.

      Regarding the legionnaires:

      I think there’s a lot of things to take into account given the circumstances back in those days.

      – The majority of them were poor and lacking in education, likely making them “easier to manipulate”.

      – The Roman culture placed a lot of emphasis on obedience.

      – Caesar had a shitload of “auctoritas” and had proven his own worth time and time again. He was around 40 by the time he started leading his legions and had been successful in almost all of his endeavours prior to that.There was no denying that he was a superb leader. He was also well-liked and popular around large parts of the country since his earlier political career.

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