a pyrrhic dance

“We find that the Romans owed the conquest of the world to no other cause than continual military training, exact observance of discipline in their camps, and unwearied cultivation of the other arts of war.” -Vegetius

SPQR – Warrior Culture or Citizen Soldier

There are those who do not believe that the Roman legions were not a Warrior Culture, because they were a professional fighting force. Those people would be wrong, attributing works like road building to civic duty, and less to military necessity. Those roads were created to speed troop movements, and logistics, they just happened to be used by citizens and merchants after the fact. Forgetting also that these men lived and breathed legionary life, joining the Legion for 20 or more years, unless killed or severely crippled. Joining as often out of desperation for food and lodging, promised wages, or land upon retirement, as any sort of civic duty. A Legionary knew no life other than the Legion for the length of their contract. Living within the Warrior Culture of the Legion, thus Warrior Culture SPQR, not Warrior Culture Rome. The Warrior Culture of the Legion was the foundation of Rome’s power and prestige, a Sub-Culture that on numerous occasions overthrew or realigned the power structure of the entire Roman Empire. 

Caesar exemplifies this through his seizing power with his legions, he reportedly galvanized his legions by using the word “Citizens” in a speech. This is telling, because a Legionary was not addressed as a Citizen until they were done with their service, so when Caesar called them citizens they rebelled against the title and conquered Rome. Far from Citizen Soldiers, Roman Legionaries self-identified as warriors, balking at being called citizens. Living full time for the majority of their lives within the distinctly different culture of the Legion. These were not national guardsmen, they did not return home at night, if anything the Roman Legions were even more Warrior Culture than the Vikings or the Spartans. The Vikings and the Spartans went home at the end of the day or campaign, they built roads, and farmed, while the Legionary did not being ONLY a warrior for 20 or more years.

Even during times of peace they prepared and trained, where other Warrior Cultures farmed and fished, the Romans used their down time to continually train, and prepare for the next campaign.

In his book, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, E. Gibbon stated, “We shall only remark, that they comprehended whatever could add strength to the body, activity to the limbs, or grace to the motions. The soldiers were diligently instructed to march, to run, to leap, to swim, to carry heavy burdens, to handle every species of arms that was used either for offence or for defence, either in distant engagement or in a closer onset; to form a variety of evolutions; and to move to the sound of flutes in the Pyrrhic or martial dance. In the midst of peace, the Roman troops familiarized themselves with the practice of war; and it is prettily remarked by an ancient historian who had fought against them, that the effusion of blood was the only circumstance which distinguished a field of battle from a field of exercise.“

A culture is only as strong as those who defend it, and Rome was a strong and adaptable culture.

A Roman Art Lover (1868). Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (Dutch, 1836-1912). Oil on panel. Yale University Art Gallery.

His art dealer, the influential Ernest Gambart who maintained his Continental office in Brussels, kept him close. Gambart decided to enter two of Tadema’s best paintings — A Roman Art Lover: (Silver statue) (No 108, 1868) and The Pyrrhic Dance (No 111, 1869)  — into the 1869 Royal Academy Exhibition. They were entered under the category of foreign works, and they immediately drew the ire of prominent art critic John Ruskin.

Τετρὰς Φθίνοντος/ Τετρὰς μετ’εἰκάδας, XXVII day
From today’s sunset: twenty-seventh day (fourth waning of the third decade) of Anthesterion.
Sacrifice to Artemis Amarysia (Calendar of Erchia)

Pausania tells us that: “The wooden image at Myrrhinous is of Kolainis. Athmonia worships Artemis Amarysia. On inquiry I discovered that the guides knew nothing about these deities, so I give my own conjecture. Amarynthos is a town in Euboia, the inhabitants of which worship Amarysia, while the festival of Amarysia which the Athenians celebrate is no less splendid than the Euboian. The name of the Goddess, I think, came to Athmonia in this fashion.” From the inscriptions from Eretria, we know that Her great festival there, held also in Euboea in the month of Anthesterion, involved a lot of ceremonies: various musical and heraldic declamation contests, and athletic events, along with elaborate sacrifices of maimed/defective sheeps. Also the Pyrrhic dance of the epheboi took place at that festival, along with a military procession to the temple: we can say that the Goddess has many aspects in common with Hecate (sacrifices to Her both as a chthonian and an olympian deity) and She has also to do with war: “the Amarynthia are celebration in honor of Artemis the warrior.”
Several authors identify Artemis Kolainis and Amarysia, as for example, the scholiast to Aristophanes’ Birds: “Euphronios relates that at Amarynthos, Artemis is Kolainis and that they sacrifice to Her there a docked ram on behalf of Agamemnon. While Aelian says that "the Eretrians sacrifice docked rams to Artemis at Amarynthos.”

Also: “Take care to avoid troubles which eat out the heart on the fourth of the beginning and ending of the month; it is a sacred day: especially during these sacred days it is convenient to get rid of all the activities that make you suffer, which, if at other times you need to choose them as necessary, in these days you should not.“

"Few know that the fourth day after the twenty of the month (τὴν μετ’εἰκαδα τοῦ μηνὸς τετάρτην) is the best day… He (Hesiod) eulogizes all the tetrads, the first, the second and the third…about the third tetrad, he says that few are those who know that it is better during the morning’s hours.”- that is, tomorrow morning from the dawn.
Scholia Erga, 797, 820

(The Socrates Room decorated with frescoes of the famous philosopher and a statue of Artemis as Huntress, Ephesus Museum)

[On the soldiery of a Roman legion]:

We shall only remark, that they comprehended whatever could add strength to the body, activity to the limbs, or grace to the motions. The soldiers were diligently instructed to march, to run, to leap, to swim, to carry heavy burdens, to handle every species of arms that was used either for offence or for defence, either in distant engagement or in a closer onset; to form a variety of evolutions; and to move to the sound of flutes in the Pyrrhic or martial dance. In the midst of peace, the Roman troops familiarized themselves with the practice of war; and it is prettily remarked by an ancient historian who had fought against them, that the effusion of blood was the only circumstance which distinguished a field of battle from a field of exercise.

—  E. Gibbon — Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 1 (via ice and sunfire)