William Hogarth, Decimation

Fuit igitur superbus et sanguinarius et volens militariter imperare, incusans quin etiam superiorum temporum disciplinam ac solum Severum prae ceteris laudans. nam et in crucem milites tulit et servilibus suppliciis semper adfecit et, cum seditiones militares pateretur, milites saepius decimavit, aliquando etiam centesimavit, quod verbum proprium ipsius est, cum se clementem diceret, quando eos centesimaret qui digni essent decimatione atque vicensimatione. longum est eius crudelitates omnes aperire, attamen unam ostendam non magnam, ut ipse credebat, sed omnibus tyrannicis inmanitatibus tristiorem. cum quidam milites ancillam hospitis iam diu pravi pudoris adfectassent, idque per quendam frumentarium ille didicisset, adduci eos iussit interrogavitque utrum esset factum. quod cum constitisset, duos boves mirae magnitudinis vivos subito aperiri iussit atque his singulos milites inseri capitibus, ut secum conloqui possent, exsertis; itaque poena hos adfecit, cum ne adulteris quidem talia apud maiores vel sui temporis essent constituta supplicia.
(Historia Augusta, Vita Opelli Macrini 12.1-5)

Macrinus, then, was arrogant and bloodthirsty and desirous of ruling in military fashion. He found fault even with the discipline of former times and lauded Severus alone above all others. For he even crucified soldiers and always used the punishments meted out to slaves, and when he had to deal with a mutiny among the troops, he usually decimated the soldiers—but sometimes he only centimated them. This last was an expression of his own, for he used to say that he was merciful in putting to death only one in a hundred, whereas they deserved to have one in ten or one in twenty put to death. It would be too long to relate all his acts of brutality, but nevertheless I will describe one, no great one in his belief, yet one which was more distressing than all his tyrannical cruelties. There were some soldiers who had had intercourse with their host’s maid-servant, who for some time had led a life of ill-repute. Learning of their offence through one of his spies, he commanded them to be brought before him and questioned them as to whether it were really true. When their guilt was proved, he gave orders that two oxen of extraordinary size should be cut open rapidly while still alive, and that the soldiers should be thrust one into each, with their heads protruding so that they could talk to each other. In this way he inflicted punishment on them, though neither our ancestors nor the men of his own time ever ordained any such penalty, even for those guilty of adultery. (tr. David Magie)

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