Escape from the battlefield and its immediate punishment in the oath of the Samnite Linen Legion (Liv. 10.38). Part 2

Małgorzata Członkowska-Naumiuk


In the account of the Third Samnite War (298–290 BC) Livy records a special commitment of the Samnite Linen Legion that faced the Romans at Aquilonia in 293 BC. The oath of this élite formation required discipline and sacrifice to a greater extent than the obligations of the other Samnite troops and the Roman military oath of these times. According to Livy, the Linen Legion’s soldiers swore not to flee the battlefield and to instantly kill anyone from among themselves who would try to run away. Threatening soldiers to kill them on the spot in case of desertion in the face of the enemy and issuing such an order during battle was a widespread practice in the Roman army as well as in other armies of different epochs. It appears that in the Samnite picked troops, it was the military oath itself that included the obligation to punish the fugientes immediately. Strengthening military discipline and soldiers ’sworn commitments was a systemic solution aimed at enhancing combat effectiveness of the army in situations of extreme danger. Analogies can be drawn between the Samnite case and examples of Greek and Roman military oaths reinforced in the face of an invader. The peculiar clause of the Linen Legion’s oath may be seen as one of such systemic measures. The article examines the reasons for its use by the Samnites and attempts to demonstrate the credibility of this detail given by Livy.

See: Członkowska-Naumiuk, M. (2022). Escape from the battlefield and its immediate punishment in the oath of the Samnite Linen Legion (Liv. 10.38). Part 1. Prace Historyczne, 2022, 1-23. doi:

Słowa kluczowe: Samnites, Third Samnite War, Linen Legion, escape from the battlefield (desertion in the face of the enemy), military oath, sacramentum, military discipline, rituals of war, punishment for desertion


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