The Roman General in Times of Mutiny: Gestures and Expression of Emotions

Makhlayuk Alexander V.

The article deals with certain ways of the Roman generals' behaviour before their troops in times of mutiny. This subject has not attracted due attention of scholars (except a few pages in E. Flaig’s recent book). There was a surprisingly large number of situations when the commander addressed his army with prayers and tears, assuming a supplicant pose, even prostrating himself at soldiers’ feet, rending his clothes, threatening to stab himself or to commit suicide in some other way. The author examines a series of such episodes of Roman history dating from the late Roman Republic to the late Principate analysing them from the semantic point of view. Naturally, extreme situations called for extreme gestures. However, some of these gestures were used not only in times of mutiny, but also in other situations to influence the army’s mood. The gestures were similar to those employed by Roman orators in their speeches in court, as well as before the senate and people’s assemblies. In spite of the variety of particular situations and possible means a commander could resort to in order to restore the obedience or to save his own life, the main purpose of such behaviour was to decrease tension during the critical moments by means of shortening the social and psychological distance between the commander and his troops. The symbolic «language» of these gestures and expressions, being deeply rooted in the Roman traditions and sensitivity, was, no doubt, rather familiar to Roman legionaries. Therefore, it was the control of those means that allowed Roman generals to be able to suppress mutinies effectively. If the commander’s weeping and other forms of supplication appealed, first of all, to the emotional and sentimental sides of a soldier’s soul, the undisguised demonstration by the commander of his will to die was a direct appeal to soldiers' sense of military honour. But both ways of behaviour meant a radical rupture with the common, daily mode of interaction between the general and his troops; both these ways transferred that interaction to an absolutely different semantic and emotional dimension. And they both were considered to be acceptable, even standard in appropriate situations.

Keywords: ancient Rome, Roman Republic, military history, mutiny, general