Roman soldiers and death in harness

“Die in harness” (death in harness) means to die with armor on; to die while actively engaged in work or duty.
This phrase is often used to refer to Government or Non government servants who die while in active service.

The phrase has roots in Roman culture and tradition.

In ancient Roman culture, all soldiers were dedicated as bridegrooms to the goddesses of war. They were not permitted to marry or have a family. They were 24x7 soldiers. Once they joined the military service, they discarded all ties with their family. All of them were unmarried young men.

But as time went on certain freedom was allowed to them. Those who liked to marry were permitted to marry. Those who did not wish to marry were allowed to remain so. Married soldiers were permitted to spend their vacations when there is no prospect of a war, with their family. Still once they rejoin the army after the vacation, they should forget all about their family in order to concentrate on serving their country and the goddess of war. There were some humanitarian problems with this concession. Who would look after the family after he left them to rejoin the army? So the State decided to take care of the family of soldiers during their absence. Thus the soldier in the military camp served in peace and the family of the soldier lived in comfort.

Even today, elements of this concept are found in religious institutions and State military services.

Why the ancient Greeks thought that it was better for their soldiers not to have a wife and children. All myths of war goddess and her bridegrooms were spread in order to create owe and fear among the people. The real purpose was that solders were destined to die in a war. The end of a soldier was death during a war and the end of a common man was death in his hut. Death of a soldier in war was glorified as heroic and martyrdom. Death in the war field was glorious as it was death for the success of the goddess and her nation. There were other political reasons also behind the glorifying of death in war.

Soldiers were destined to die in the war. There were no thought of turning back to an enemy. It is death or victory. Victory is another chance to die gloriously in the next war.
Victory is always like that.

In a sense, all talks about glorifying and romanticizing war and death were traps to adventurous youths of that day. It was taking patriotism beyond its reasonable area.

Myths are constructed stories with a purpose. Myths have an amazing power to transform into traditions and practices while remaining as a myth. Myths further construct values and meanings.

The myth connected with ‘death in harness’ of soldiers, war goddess and glorification of death in war flowed down to the commons as accepted norms of life. Thus war was glorified and death during war became heroic.

Roman soldiers were famous for their courage and heroism. They were ill famous for their cruelties. The trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ is a fine example for their cruelties.

The armor worn by them was an expression of their motto, “fight to death.” They had a head covering; chest and limbs were also covered by metal armors. But none of them had any protective covering for their back. They need no protection for their back, because none turns back to their enemies. No Roman soldier turns back in war; none ran away from the war field. Even at times they expected a failure in the war, they stood fighting to death. Suicide was a better option than yielding to the enemy.

Their death during a war, a death in harness, a death by fighting against the enemy was glorified, heroic and martyrdom.

Death by fighting is always heroic. Turning away is un-heroic. Winning the war is less than fighting to death. So fight unto death. Nothing should defeat us. Never turn back.
Success is fighting unto death. Victory is death in harness. Honor is death in war.

Professor Jacob Abraham

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