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Roman and Greek Palisading

Flamininus being unable to ascertain where the enemy
B. C. 197, at the beginning of spring. Livy, 33, 1.
were encamped, but yet being clearly informed that they had entered Thessaly, gave orders to all his men to cut stakes to carry with them, ready for use at any moment. This seems impossible to Greek habits, but to those of Rome it is easy.
The methods of forming palisades among the Greeks and Romans.
For the Greeks find it difficult to hold even their sarissae on the march, and can scarcely bear the fatigue of them; but the Romans strap their shields to their shoulders with leathern thongs, and, having nothing but their javelins in their hands, can stand the additional burden of a stake. There is also a great difference between the stakes employed by the two peoples. The Greeks hold that the best stake is that which has the largest and most numerous shoots growing round the stem; but the Roman stakes have only two or three side shoots, or at most four; and those are selected which have these shoots on one side only. The result is that their porterage is very easy (for each man carries three or four packed together), and they make an exceedingly secure palisade when put into use. For the Greek palisading, when set in the front of the camp, in the first place can easily be pulled down; for since the part that is firm and tightly fixed in the ground is single, while the projecting arms of it are many and large, two or three men can get hold of the same stake by its projecting arms, and easily pull it up; and directly that is done, its breadth is so great that a regular gateway is made: and because in such a palisade the stakes are not closely interlaced or interwoven with each other, when one is pulled up the part next to it is made insecure. With the Romans it is quite different. For as soon as they fix their stakes, they interlace them in such a manner that it is not easy to know to which of the stems fixed in the ground the branches belong, nor on which of these branches the smaller shoots are growing. Moreover, it is impossible to insert the hand and grasp them, owing to the closeness of the interlacing of the branches and the way they lie one upon another, and because the main branches are also carefully cut so as to have sharp ends. Nor, if one is got hold of, is it easy to pull up: because, in the first place, all the stakes are sufficiently tightly secured in the ground to be self-supporting; and, in the second place, because the man who pulls away one branch must, owing to the close interlacing, be able to move several others in its train; and it is quite unlikely that two or three men should happen to get hold of the same stake. But even if, by the exertion of enormous force, a man has succeeded in pulling one or another up, the gap is scarcely perceptible. Considering, therefore, the vast superiority of this method, both in the readiness with which such stakes are found, the ease with which they are carried, and the security and durability of the palisade made with them, it is plain, in my opinion, that if any military operation of the Romans deserves to be admired and imitated, it is this.

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197 BC (1)
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  • Commentary references to this page (2):
    • Titus Livius (Livy), Ab urbe condita libri, erklärt von M. Weissenborn, books 33-34, commentary, 33.5
    • Titus Livius (Livy), Ab urbe condita libri, erklärt von M. Weissenborn, books 35-38, commentary, 35.14
  • Cross-references to this page (1):
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), VALLUM
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (1):
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 33, 1
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