It is not true. The highest award for a Roman soldier was the Grass Crown (corona graminea):
It was an exceptionally rare and strange honor. Soldiers of a rescued army would gather grass and clippings from the battlefield, assemble the crown, and present it to Roman commander of the other army.
You are thinking of the Civic Crown (corona civica):
This was awarded for saving the life of a fellow citizen, based on the commander’s recommendation and after a determination was made that, such bravery occurred while performing duties under orders. Romans disliked military bravery on the battlefield, not under orders.
A soldier could wear civic crown as a civilian, for public events. Caesar loved wearing his.
Why do I make this distinction…the orders thing? The Romans made this distinction and pointed to one of their national heroes.
Manlius Torquatus, a famed Roman consul, had issued clear orders about conduct, prior to a battle. His son bravely charged after the son of the opposing general. He killed the other young man and returned with the armor of his opponent as a war prize…to massive cheers of the assembled army. The general had his son beheaded:
The point? Bravery is not enough. A Roman was a soldier, not a warrior. He was to fight bravely, under discipline, while following orders.
Vegetius summaries it this way:
“Victory in war does not depend entirely upon numbers or mere courage; only skill and discipline will insure it. We find that the Romans owed the conquest of the world to no other cause than continual military training, exact observance of discipline in their camps and unwearied cultivation of the other arts of war.”
Those are the values.
Postscript: I need to explain Manlius’ decision. Discipline was breaking down in the Roman army. There had been several close calls due to this breakdown. There were hints of mutiny. The Manilius incident was a truly shocking and gripping scene and the army was horrified by it. These are directly from Livy (not my words. Emphasis mine.):
“That all may say, my father,” he said, “that I am a true scion of your blood, I bring to you these equestrian spoils taken from a dead enemy who challenged me to single combat.”
On hearing this the consul turned away from his son and ordered the trumpet to sound the Assembly. The soldiers mustered in large numbers and the consul began:
“Since you, T. Manlius, have shown no regard for either the authority of a consul or the obedience due to a father, and in defiance of our edict have left your post to fight against the enemy, and have done your best to destroy the military discipline through which the Roman State has stood till now unshaken, and have forced upon me the necessity of forgetting either my duty to the republic or my duty to myself and my children, it is better that we should suffer the consequences of our offence ourselves than that the State should expiate our crime by inflicting great injury upon itself. We shall be a melancholy example, but one that will be profitable to the young men of the future. My natural love of my children and that proof of courage which from a false sense of honour you have given, move me to take your part, but since either the consuls authority must be vindicated by your death or for ever abrogated by letting you go unpunished, I would believe that even you yourself, if there is a drop of my blood in your veins, will not shrink from restoring by your punishment the military discipline which has been weakened by your misconduct. Go, lictor, bind him to the stake.”
All were paralyzed by such a ruthless order; they felt as if the axe was directed against each of them; fear rather than discipline keep them motionless…“Manlian orders” were not only regarded with horror for the time, but were looked upon as setting a frightful precedent for the future.
Read the full account here: Livy’s History of Rome
William The Conqueror attempted to invade Britain in 1066 and fought the Battle of Hastings with his Norman army against King Harold of England. Despite having marched down from Yorkshire after defeating another invading army, King Harold’s men were pretty much winning the Battle.
William’s archers failed to hurt the English defensive wall, his infantry couldn’t breach it, and even his Cavalry couldn’t break through it. Harold was on course for yet another victory.
And then, when William’s soldiers were retreating after their latest attack, there was a shout that William himself had died and the retreat turned into a disorderly rout. The English started chasing down the Normans and then the Normans stopped, turned and resumed their attack.
Having allowed the English defensive wall to drop, the English were no longer able to defend themselves against William’s Archers and Cavalry, and the Normans slaughtered the English, including Harold and his brothers.
THIS is why discipline is more important than courage.
Courage makes a fighter, but discipline makes a Soldier. And soldiers beat fighters because a team beats individuals.
Fathers and Sons
The grim thing is, Manlius Torquatus was right. That is, if he wanted to command a functioning, disciplined army.
“You can get almost anything you want… anything at all… if you are willing to pay the price for it.“
I wouldn’t pay that price for that good. Commanding an army is not what I do.
But from a different angle? There are other goods, at other times, that I know the price would be worth the candle.
Say, during the era of the Mosaic Covenant.
“If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers have known, some of the gods of the peoples who are around you, whether near you or far off from you, from the one end of the earth to the other, you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him. But you shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. And all Israel shall hear and fear and never again do any such wickedness as this among you.”Deuteronomy 13:6-10, English Standard Version
Today, I would argue that excommunication serves the same function. In the New Covenant, the sword belongs in the hands of the state in most circumstances (excluding personal defense and the protection of your home). The keys of heaven and hell belongs in the hands of the Church, the Body of Christ.
(Note that I have a deep distrust of the pastors and priests of today, just as a soldier would quietly loathe commanders who always loses the fight, and children gag at a father who will not provide or protect his family.)
In any case: in every army, family, and church, discipline must be enforced.
Or, quite soon, you won’t have an army, or a family, or a church.
Or even a functioning society, soon enough.
(A slightly modified repost from the sci-fi blog.)