Tuesday, 5 March 2019

How to turn a desperate situation into a resounding victory in five simple steps

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

"We will all be dead soon," predicted centurion Millius, looking over the ramparts at the barbarian hordes 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.

General Belisarius shook his head. "If we use our forces effectively, we will prevail," he replied. History proved Belisarius right: He succeeded in defending Rome with 5.000 veteran Roman legionnaires against an attack by 150.000 barbarians.

The heavy losses inflicted by Belisarius on the attackers made them give up their 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 them off. A crushing victory.

How did Belisarius manage to turn a desperate situation into a resounding victory? His strategy has been profusely studied by historians. The five steps taken by the Romans in 536 C.E. can be recommended to anyone facing a major crisis. Here is a summary of those five steps.


The first step consists of stabilising the problems you are facing. Belisarius took immediate measures to stabilise the situation. When he heard that attackers were approaching Rome, Belisarius had his troops work day and night at reinforcing the city battlements, and digging deep ditches to protect the ramparts base. In addition, Belisarius had a thick chain drawn across the river in order to prevent enemy ships from entering the city from the riverbanks.


The second step consists of dealing with the essential necessities. Belisarius then allocated minimum resources to cover the essential defensive necessities. To each crucial area of the ramparts, he assigned a lieutenant and a small group of legionnaires, giving the instruction that no man should ever leave his post under any circumstances. Belisarius knew that he had to maintain his outer line of defence intact. Otherwise, Rome would fall into the attackers' hands.


The third steps calls for focusing your resources on the most urgent issues. Hour after hour, Belisarius concentrated his forces on fighting the most urgent danger at each time. On each occasion, he used his soldiers to inflict maximum damage on attackers with the minimum possible risk. Once and again, he climbed the ramparts, picked up an arch himself, drew an arrow, and ordered the Romans to aim at the closest attackers. The rain of arrows decimated the barbarians, making them retreat and allowing Belisarius to focus on the next problem. He simply walked from one critical area to the next.


The fourth step consists of staying calm, no matter what. Belisarius maintained his serenity, shifting his resources from one pressing emergency to the next. He kept his presence of mind in the middle of dead and wounded soldiers, identifying the most urgent problem to be addressed at each moment. His mind was concentrated on the problem at hand. Belisarius had no time to grow stressed, anxious or depressed. He simply did what he had to do, hour after hour. By moving his forces quickly from one critical point to the next, he multiplied their effectiveness, and achieved a remarkable victory.


The fifth step calls for taking initiative. As soon as he perceived an opportunity, Belisarius took the initiative. Each time that Roman archers repelled an attack making their enemies flee, Belisarius ordered to open the gates, and had his cavalry pursue the barbarians, causing heavy losses amongst them. When your are facing a crisis, you will do much better if you move from a reactive mode to a proactive one.

For fifteen centuries, Belisarius' strategy has proven effective on innumerable occasions. Stabilising your situation, addressing your most pressing problems, keeping calm, shifting your resources as needed, and taking initiative are the key steps you need to take in order to turn around difficult situations. Belisarius' wisdom contains lessons that we all can apply in our own lives today in the twenty-first century.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

Image: Photograph of classical building. Photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2016.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Here is the link to an audio interview just published: