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Aulus Gellius: Thievery as school for war

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Aulus Gellius
From The Attic Nights
Translated by John C. Rolfe

Among the Lacedaemonians…many famous writers, who have composed records of their laws and customs, affirm that thieving was lawful and customary, and that it was practised by their young men, not for base gain or to furnish means for indulging or amassing wealth, but as an exercise and training in the art of war; for dexterity and practice in thieving made the minds of the youth keen and strong for clever ambuscades, and for endurance in watching, and for the swiftness of surprise.

Marcus Cato, however, in the speech which he wrote On Dividing Spoils among the Soldiers, complains in strong and choice language about unpunished thievery and lawlessness. I have quoted his words since they pleased me greatly: “Those who commit private theft pass their lives in confinement and fetters; plunderers of the public, in purple and gold.”

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