Thursday, 5 June 2014

The shortest way from discouragement to self-confidence. How to turn a desperate situation into a resounding victory. Adopt immediate measures to stabilise the situation. Take the initiative

"We will all be dead soon," predicted centurion Millius, looking over the ramparts at the barbarian army surrounding Rome in the year 536 C.E. He had good reasons to feel discouraged, since Romans were outnumbered 30 to 1 by the attackers.

The shortest way from discouragement to self-confidence

General Belisarius shook his head. "If we use our forces cleverly, we will prevail," he replied. History tells us that the General was right, since he succeeded in defending Rome with 5,000 veteran Roman legionnaires against the attack of 150,000 barbarians.

The heavy losses inflicted by Belisarius on the attackers made them give up the siege of Rome three weeks later. 90.000 barbarians lost their life during their failed attempt to conquer Rome. When they retreated, Belisarius pursued them across Italy and finished off most of the survivors.

How to turn a desperate situation into a resounding victory

How did the General manage to turn a desperate situation into a resounding victory? Belisarius' strategy has been profusely studied by historians. The principles of action applied by the Romans in 536 C.E. can be recommended to anyone facing a major crisis.


Belisarius took immediate measures to stabilise the situation. When he heard that attackers were approaching, his legionnaires worked day and night to reinforce battlements and dig deep ditches to protect the foot of the ramparts. In addition, a thick chain was drawn across the river in order to prevent enemy ships from entering the city.


He allocated minimum resources to cover essential necessities. The General assigned each of his lieutenants with a small group of legionnaires to defend a particular area of the ramparts, giving instructions that no man should ever leave his post under any circumstances. Belisarius knew that he had to maintain his line of defence intact, since otherwise, Rome would fall into the attackers' hands.


The General concentrated his forces on fighting the most urgent danger. He picked up an arch himself, drew the first arrow, and ordered the Romans to aim at the closest attackers. The rain of arrows soon decimated the barbarians, making them retreat and allowing Belisarius to focus on the next problem.


Belisarius maintained his calm, shifting his limited resources from one pressing emergency to the next. He kept his presence of mind in the middle of the dead and wounded, identifying the most urgent problem to be addressed at each moment. By moving his remaining forces quickly from one critical point to the next, the General multiplied their effectiveness.


As soon as he perceived an opportunity, he took the initiative. Each time that Roman archers repelled an attack making enemies flee, Belisarius ordered to open the gates and had his cavalry pursue the barbarians, causing heavy losses amongst them.

For 1400 years, Belisarius' strategy has proved its effectiveness on innumerable occasions. Stabilising your situation, addressing your most pressing problems, keeping calm, shifting your resources as needed, and taking initiative are the key principles to turn around difficult situations. Belisarius' wisdom contains lessons that we all can apply in our own lives.

For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living


[Image by Alaskan Dude under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under]