The Roman Legion
Victory in war does not depend entirely upon numbers or mere courage; only skill and discipline will insure it. 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. Without these, what chance would the Roman armies, with their inconsiderable numbers, have had against the multitudes of the Gauls or . . . the Germans? The Spaniards surpassed us not only in numbers but in physical strength. . . . But to all these advantages the Romans opposed unusual care in the choice of their levies and in their military training. They well understood the importance of hardening them by continual practice, and of training them in every maneuver in line and in action. Nor were they less strict in punishing idleness. The courage of a soldier is heightened by his knowledge of his profession, and he only wants an opportunity to execute what he is convinced he has been perfectly taught. A handful of men, inured to war, proceeds to certain victory, while on the contrary numerous armies of raw and undisciplined troops are but masses of men dragged to slaughter.
Flavius Vegetius, The Military Institutions of the Romans, trans. John Clark ( Harrisburg, Penn., 1960), p. 13. The author was a Roman of the fourth century A.D., who hoped to restore Roman military might by recalling ancient practice.
One reason for the enormous success of Rome during its nearly 900 years of victory in' war was that it was not plagued with would-be Alexanders. Not until the nineteenth century did commanders again appear who were as free of the Alexander syndrome as were the Romans. Although Rome had its share of ambitious generals, their ambition was directed toward controlling the Roman state, not conquering the world. Rome's vast empire was built in large part because adding to it was for several centuries the essential way of gaining political power. The Roman Empire was put together piecemeal and the lands conquered were integrated one by one; this was a major factor in its long duration compared to Alexander's empire.