How to Invest like a Roman General, Part One - Enforcing Discipline and Community in your Legion
Roman warfare is rife with principles that can help you invest better.
The concept of applying principles of war to investing is not new. The principles in Sun Tsu's Art of War have been interpreted and analysed many times over by people looking to gain an edge in the markets.
At its pinnacle, Roman military might was the cornerstone of the Roman empire (starting with Caesar), although the path that allowed Caesar to build his legions was formed only a generation or two before him, i.e. the building of standing armies (and not drafting from landed populace).
Well, what are the concepts we can learn from Roman warfare?
There are a few. Let's begin with the backbone of the Roman Legion - the iron discipline and the community that was built around their troops.
Discipline and Community.
The backbone of the Roman infantry was discipline. Iron-hard discipline, typically enforced by their centurions, and reinforced by the community that the soldiers were trained in.
These were manifested in two main ways:
1. In the battlefield
One fascinating thing about Roman warfare is that the sheer discipline of the legions won them many battles. It was not that they were better equipped or outnumbered the enemy - rather, they stood their ground and continued to do so until their enemy broke ranks and ran.
Most of the killing were massacres - it is easy to kill an enemy that has lost the will to fight. And that was what the Roman legions were the best at.
The community helped the discipline. You were surrounded by your peers, your friends, and your countrymen that were willing to fight, bleed, and die for Rome.
You have the silver eagle (the legion standard) proudly displayed at the front, and the Centurions enforcing discipline by literally whipping those that tried to run.
Desertion is punishable by death via crucifixion, cowards are no better than trash, and Roman honour is held in the highest esteem.
With the training and the patriotism surrounding you, it was easier to stand your ground and fight, to get up again when you fall, to hold your shield and to stab with your sword.
The community aspect was also evident when you consider the shield formations - the way the infantry held their shields was not only to protect themselves, but slightly to the left as well.
That way, they were free to thrust with their right arm, while also protecting the solider to their left. In turn, you were protected by the solider to your right.
This overlapping formation enabled the soldiers to defend and attack as a cohesive unit.
2. In the marching camp
Roman soldiers were not just disciplined in the battlefield - they were also disciplined on the march, particularly in setting up their marching camps.
As a Roman general, one main concern was being caught in a night ambush. Your troops are unprepared, groggy, and are facing a prepared enemy.
How do you avoid this? Well, you ensure that your camp is sufficiently defended, even if it is just an overnight camp. You will ensure that your men can build a camp with just the raw materials in the field - earth, stones, and wood.
Every night, Roman legionnaires will set up a marching camp. They will dig trenches, set up barricades and wooden fortifications, and maintain a night guard.
These fortifications made night ambushes easier to defend, and gave the legionnaires peace of mind while resting for the night. This gave the legionnaires an advantage in the psychological aspect of warfare, as it provided them with a sense of security, particularly when deep in enemy territory.
Again, it takes great discipline to enforce an evening of hard labour after marching for most of the day. The Roman legionnaires must have been superbly fit and the Centurions' lash must have been very long.
The sense of community helped here as well. As they say, many hands make light work. Legions also had specialised units that set up camp, and it was likely that many legionnaires were involved as well.
These marching camps were like basic hygiene - no matter where the legions went or who they were led by, this was the minimum standard.
Just like the Roman discipline of setting up a marching camp, you need to have some basic disciplines when investing.
How do these apply to your investments?
Well, these principles can also be applied to the way you manage your investment portfolio.
It is of utmost importance that you have a good plan and stick to it. That is the only way you can review and assess whether the plan is working, and make changes if necessary.
If you don't have the discipline to stick to your plan, then it gets hard to evaluate whether it actually works, for better or for worse, because you want to know why you are making money or losing money. Then, you can do the things that make you money and stop doing the things that lose you money.
But, if you don't have the discipline to stick to your plan, you are just throwing money into the markets and hoping for the best. Hope is not an investment plan.
I know, I know, it is extremely hard to be disciplined alone. This is why finding a community of like-minded people is also essential to your mental well-being.
As the saying goes, "To go fast, travel alone. To go far, travel together."
You should use a combination of the two. At the initial stage of planning, it may be easier to try to forge ahead alone, as you will be able to cover some ground and implement some things on your own. But, when you start to feel the willpower slip and the intrinsic motivation fade, look for a community to help you grow, encourage you when you feel down, and give you that camaraderie to help you last on this investment journey.
Remember, investment is not a one-off, get-rich-quick scheme - it spans decades. You'll need a community to go far.
In investing, it is important to follow and stick to your investment plan, and to find a community of like-minded people to encourage you and pick you up when you fall.
You also need to ensure that you have your basic investing hygiene, and the discipline to do it routinely.
Investing is not just about putting money in the markets and hoping for the best.
Just like the Roman marching camps, you need to ensure that there is a basic routine, almost like basic hygiene, that you practice regularly.
It could be things like monitoring your portfolio, keeping updated with the market news, educating yourself on what the Fed is doing, etc.
Even if you do not have significant investments, you will need to be aware of the market conditions and to have your ear to the ground. That way, you will be able to spot opportunities and identify early warning signs that will allow you to make the appropriate adjustments.
Since this is part of your hygiene, you also need to find a schedule that suits you. Daily monitoring of your portfolio and the news may be too onerous, so come up with a schedule that suits you (for example, reading a weekly summary or doing a quarterly review). But, the key is to do this consistently and regularly.
Again, plugging yourself into a community can aid with this. There will be people there to encourage you, share ideas and the latest news, and answer your questions.
Here comes the call to arms!
There are things that you can put into action today, if you haven't already, to start investing like a Roman General.
1. Create an investing plan. Work with your financial advisor where necessary, or do your own research.
2. Find a like-minded community. There are many different communities, even here on Hubpages, or any group of friends or colleagues that share a similar interest to invest and be better financially.
3. Establish some basic hygiene and make it a routine. Read the news every morning. Monitor your portfolio at the market close. If you want to dollar-cost average into the market, check that you have some instruction or reminder to invest it.
4. Charge forward! You can find part two of this series here.
For further reading on Caesar and his journey, I recommend reading this series by Conn Igguden.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2019 Russell