It’s just before Christmas vacation (excuse me, Winter Vacation, we’re a secular school.) So naturally, I’m teaching my Latin students about the structure of the Roman army.
Ecce Romani 1A, our textbook, varies considerably from the traditional introduction to Latin so common in my own Latin education. It was common to say, “here, memorize these sixty charts completely, and here’s forty-seven verbs for to kill.” It’s a far cry from the traditional way of teaching a modern language, too, where there’s ten weeks of “my name is Andrew, I am from the United States, and I can count to ten in your language.” This is not a great way to learn a language.
Instead, Ecce Romani 1A tells the story of the Cornelii, a Roman family staying in their summer house near the ruins of Pompeii. Vesuvius has already erupted, the Roman cities are buried, and Sextus’s mother is among the missing. For all that, the story is not full of desperate searches in the ruins; instead, it’s a highly pastoral experience, of wandering in the woods, and chasing off a wolf, and getting the family carriage stuck in a ditch.
A colleague of mine is so fed up with the five chapters of getting stuck in a ditch that he switched books. In all the chapters of the book, essentially nothing happens. You learn all kinds of vocabulary, none of which deals with Rome’s more pronounced or terrifying achievements: building roads all over Europe, north Africa and the Middle East; and building an army capable of conquering the same territory. It’s part of the reason that I write additional texts from time to time; to introduce new vocabulary and other layers of culture.
As a consequence, I showed the two videos today. The first one, I showed several times, to help drill in some of the vocabulary that I wanted them to absorb, and a sense of how the Roman army was organized. This was tedious and annoying for them, and the video goes way too fast anyway. They were bored by the organization, and overwhelmed by the explanation (see Millennials for more info on this).
And then I showed this video. Only about the first five minutes of it. And I said, this was an example of Roman tactics in action, with the gladius replaced with a truncheon, and the pilum with pepper spray and the catapult with a water cannon (you can see the stain on the pavement as the protesters run to the left).
They were fascinated. And frankly, you should be, too. Police organized in pairs — quarter-contuberniums, then formed into units of four pairs, and arranged into half-centuries and centuries… and fighting protestors, mastering control of the streets. Units trained to break through the protestors’ lines, to cut them off, to encircle them a little at a time, to march in formations.
The students were startled, and interested, and a little frightened, and deeply interested. They began discussing ways to slow down these tactics, though, and how the army could be fought, could be delayed, could be stopped.
I was proud of them.