Beware the fury of the Legions (attributed to Marcus Flavius) (1961 English 1960 French)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat Mar 3 16:30:23 UTC 2012

An Op-ed published in the Washington Post in 2010 contained part of a
letter attributed to a Roman commander named Marcus Flavius.

Cite: 2010 June 27, Washington Post, The making of four-star arrogance
by Andrew Bacevich, Page B1, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest) [Online
title: Endless war, a recipe for four-star arrogance]

Professor Jonathan Lighter may have encountered this letter which was
excerpted in some books during the Vietnam War era. Here is the
version of the text presented in a collection of military quotations.

Cite: 1966, "Dictionary of Military and Naval Quotations" edited by
Robert Debs Heinl, Category: Home Front, Page 149, Column 2, United
States Naval Institute, Annapolis, Maryland. (Verified on paper)

[Begin excerpt; Paragraph breaks added for readability]

We had been told, on leaving our native soil, that we were going to
defend the sacred rights conferred on us by so many of our citizens
settled overseas, so many years of our presence, so many benefits
brought by us to populations in need of our assistance and
civilization. We could verify that all this was true, and, because
true, we did not hesitate to shed our share of blood, to sacrifice our
youth and hopes.

We regretted nothing, but whereas we over here are inspired by this
frame of mind, I am told that in Rome factions and conspiracies are
rife, that treachery flourishes, and that many in their uncertainty
and confusion lend ready ear to the dire temptations of relinquishment
and vilify our actions .. . Make haste to reassure me, I beg you, and
tell me that our fellow citizens understand us, support us, and
protect us, as we ourselves are protecting the glory of the Empire.

If it should be otherwise, if we should have to leave our bleached
bones on these desert sands in vain, then beware the anger of the

Marcus Flavinius: To his cousin, Tertullus, in Rome. 2d century A. D.
(Flavinius was a centurion, 2d Cohort, Augusta Legion.)

[End excerpt]

Some modern variants use the phrase "fury of the Legions" instead of
"anger of the Legions".

The earliest instance I have located of this letter is in a book
called "The Centurions" by Jean Larteguy. The publication date is 1962
and the copyright is 1961. This is a Google Books match which I have
not checked on paper.

"The Centurions" is an English translation of a French book called
"Les Centurions", and Google Books shows snippets of the letter
attributed to Marcus Flavinius in French. Here is a link into the
French book which has a publication date of 1960.

Is this letter a piece of fiction? Earlier evidence for this missive
has so far escaped me. Perhaps some list member can trace this text
back in time in English, French, Latin or some other language.

Thanks for any help you can provide


The American Dialect Society -

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