Friday, 21 September 2007

Origin and meaning of "decimation"

Originally Decimation meant the execution of every 10th person in a Roman legion.
From Latin: Decem = 10 and Decimus = 10th
Ergo, the word is derived from Latin meaning "removal of a tenth."
Decimation was used as a form of punishment. Mutiny and cowardice are the reasons most often cited.
What would happen is that a Cohort would be divided into 10 groups of 10. Lots were drawn and the unfortunate soldier so identified was put to death by his 9 comrades, either by stoning or clubbing, regardless of rank.
This form of punishment was not often used
Crassus used decimation as punishment when Sparticus cleverly managed to avoid his Legions,71BC
Nowadays decimation means large scale destruction of anything, as in only 10 percent remaining.

1 comment:

Fred said...

When I took Latin in school we were taught (my teacher seemed old enough to speak of such things firsthand) that decimation was the cold-hearted practice of lining up soldiers on a bridge, e.g. The Appian Way, and every tenth soldier was pushed off to his death. This was always pursuant to someone in the legion having shown cowardice in battle. If a soldier called out in fear on his way to his death, it would continue. It seems to me there was a movie that depicted this: probably a Cecil B. deMille production.