“DECIMATION” is a word that is often horribly misused, and it drives me Crazy!

A word that is usually misused, and it drives me crazy, is the word, “Decimation”!

People recklessly use “decimation” referring to losses of great numbers of people—that is completely incorrect based on the origins of the word.

The loss of great numbers of people in war, for example, would more properly be referred to as “Annihilation”.

For example, Hannibal Barca (B.c. 247 BC– D. between 183 and 181 BC ), was perhaps the most successful Carthaginian General in ancient history, and was known as “Hannibal the Annihilator”. He was called this for his great ability of wiping out whole armies during battles, for example, the “Battle of Cannae” (2 August 216 BC ), during the Second Punic War (218 to 201 BC ).

“The Battle of Cannae (/ˈkæni, -eɪ, -aɪ/[b]) was a major battle of the Second Punic War that took place on 2 August 216 BC in Apulia, in southeast Italy. The army of Carthage, under Hannibal, surrounded and decisively defeated a larger army of the Roman Republic under the consuls Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Gaius Terentius Varro. It is regarded both as one of the greatest tactical feats in military history and a major defeat for the Roman Army.”

(Source : https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Cannae )

Battle of Cannae, Part of the Second Punic War

Date: 2 August 216 BC
Location: Cannae, Italy
41°18′23″N 16°7′57″E
Result: Carthaginian victory.
Carthage standard:
Allied African, Spanish, and Gallic tribes .
Roman Republic:
Allied Italian states: Etruscans, Samnites, Iapyges,
Commanders and leaders
Carthaginian: Hannibal, Maharbal, Mago, Gisgo, Hanno, Hasdrubal
Roman: Gaius Terentius Varro, Lucius Aemilius Paullus
Carthaginian: 50,000:, 32,000 heavy infantry, 8,000 light infantry, 10,000 cavalry
Rome: 86,400: 40,000 Roman infantry, 40,000 allied infantry, 2,400 Roman cavalry, 4,000 allied cavalry,
Casualties and losses
Carthaginian : 5,700 (Polybius): * 4,000 Gallic * 1,500 Spanish and African, * 200 cavalry
(Polybius): ☆ Rome: 85,630: 70,000 infantry killed, 5,630 cavalry killed!
10,000 infantry captured
(Livy): Rome: 67,500: 45,500 infantry killed, 2,700 cavalry killed
17,800 infantry captured, 1,500 cavalry captured

Statistics from: (Source: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Cannae )

“Battles of Trebia, Lake Trasimene and Cannae[:]

Having recovered from their losses at Trebia (218 BC) and Lake Trasimene (217 BC), the Romans decided to engage Hannibal at Cannae, with roughly 86,000 Roman and allied troops. They massed their heavy infantry in a deeper formation than usual, while Hannibal utilized the double-envelopment tactic. This was so successful that the Roman army was effectively destroyed as a fighting force.”

(Source: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Cannae )

Due to historic writings by Polybius and Livy, it is quite well known that the Battle of Cannae began around noon time, and ended around sundown, approximately six or seven o’clock. Hannibal’s forces ANNIHILATED the Roman army: The Roman army of approximately 70,000 troops, were destroyed and killed, in about six or seven hours—it was a total bloodbath. Annihilation means to destroy everything…everyone. that is different from Decimation.

Decimation is a very ancient term, or concept, and is characteristic of the ancient Roman army’s punishment to reduce or removal of one-tenth, because of treason, or, in cases of abandonment or retreat without orders to do so.

Decimation (n.)

mid-15c., “the paying of tithes,” from Late Latin decimationem (nominative decimatio), noun of action from past participle stem of Latin decimare “the removal or destruction of one-tenth,” from decem “ten” (from PIE root *dekm- “ten”). Earliest sense in English was of a tithe; punishment sense is from 1580s; transferred sense of “much destruction, severe loss” recorded from 1680s. ( https://www.etymonline.com/word/decimation )

The Procedure for Administering Decimation:

“A cohort (roughly 480 soldiers) selected for punishment by decimation was divided into groups of ten. Each group drew lots (sortition), and the soldier on whom the lot fell was executed by his nine comrades, often by stoning or clubbing. The remaining soldiers were often given rations of barley instead of wheat (the latter being the standard soldier’s diet) for a few days, and required to camp outside the fortified security of the camp.”

(Source: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decimation_(Roman_army) )

Thus, cohorts of 480 men each, were then separated into groups of 10. The 10 men drew lots, and the man who lost the drawing, is then stoned, or beaten to death by the other nine men. This was an extremely brutal punishment and had lastly psychological effects on the remaining soldiers to become more disciplined.
The earliest written recording of decimation is by Livy, in 471 BC.

“In an incident where his army had been scattered, consul Appius Claudius Sabinus Regillensis had the culprits punished for desertion: centurions, standard-bearers and soldiers who had cast away their weapons were individually scourged and beheaded, while of the remainder, one in ten were chosen by lot and executed.”

(Source: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decimation_(Roman_army) )

The use of decimation as punishment in the Roman Empire continued for a long time.

“Decimation was still being practised during the time of the Roman Empire, although it was very uncommon. Suetonius records that it was used by Emperor Augustus in 17 BC and later by Galba, while Tacitus records that Lucius Apronius used decimation to punish a full cohort of the III Augusta after their defeat by Tacfarinas in AD 20. G.R. Watson notes that “its appeal was to those obsessed with “nimio amore antiqui moris” – that is, an excessive love for ancient customs – and notes, “Decimation itself, however, was ultimately doomed, for though the army might be prepared to assist in the execution of innocent slaves, professional soldiers could hardly be expected to cooperate in the indiscriminate execution of their own comrades.””
(Source: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decimation_(Roman_army) )

After a time, the practice of decimation was considered too brutal and demoralizing for the Roman troops. Nevertheless, before it would be eliminated as a punishment, it would be revived and used by other Roman army commanders. In 71 BC, during the Servile War with Spartacus, Marcus Licinius Crassus reinstated the punishment of decimation for treasonous behavior during a battle against Spartacus. It is estimated that between 48 to 1,000 men were murdered by decimation, as ordered by Crassus .

Well…”Decimation” is my word that is so misused, and which bugs me, when misused. I think that it has become a habit and an accepted use for “Decimation” to describe the loss of a lot of people, or a major destruction of something. However, I think that is just a bad bastardization of the word.

What misused word drives you crazy?

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s