Roman Military Strategy in Martin Scorsese’s “Casino”


In Scorsese’s wonderful 1995 classic “Casino,” there’s an excellent illustration of ancient Rome’s military strategy, courtesy of that famous descendent of the Romans, Joe Pesci.

Here’s how Adrian Goldsworthy explains Rome’s military strategy, as opposed to that of enemy states such as Carthage and the Hellenistic kingdoms, in his brilliant book “Roman Warfare” (2019):

Alexander’s men had been as ferocious as this in their campaigns against the Persians, but the conflicts between the culturally and militarily similar armies of his Successors had made Hellenistic warfare rather more genteel. At Cynoscephalae the defeated Macedonian pikemen stood holding their pikes upright to signify their surrender, but were cut down by the legionaries. Only after someone had explained what the gesture meant to the Roman commander was he able, with some difficulty, to end the massacre. The Romans fought to destroy the enemy army and end its capacity ever to fight them again. It was a very different culture to the Hellenistic expectation that wars should be ended by negotiation, to avoid unnecessary bloodshed on both sides. Both Pyrrhus and Hannibal made several attempts to open peace negotiations with the Romans after they had defeated them in battle and were surprised at the Romans’ refusal to consider a treaty: The Macedonian and Seleucid kings similarly sent their heralds to the Romans on numerous occasions, hoping to end conflict through diplomacy.

The Roman negotiating position was always the same: a demand for the other side to concede total defeat regardless of the current military situation. For the Romans war was a life or death struggle which could only end in one of two ways. The first was for the enemy to cease to be a threat, either because he had become a subordinate ally of Rome, or because he had ceased to exist as a political entity The only alternative was for Rome herself to be destroyed, but this was something that neither Carthage nor any other state possessed the resources to achieve. Not only that, but it is unlikely that any commander produced by the Hellenistic tradition would ever have considered this as an option.


By his own understanding of war Hannibal won the Second Punic War at Cannae, but the Romans were following a different set of rules and when they did not admit defeat there was little more that he could do to force them. The Romans did not fight for the limited gains other states expected from victor~ A defeated enemy was turn,ed into an ally who not only presented no threat to Rome, but actively supported her wars elsewhere. The army they sent against Philip V in 200 was fed by grain supplied by the recently defeated Carthage, and Philip in turn aided the Roman force which fought against the Seleucids. Rome did not tolerate a former enemy existing as anything more than a clearly subordinate ally. The kingdom of Macedonia was dismembered in 168 and Carthage destroyed in 146 BC simply because they had begun to show signs of renewed independence and again assumed the role of potential enemies.

Here’s Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci’s character in Casino) giving his illustration of Roman ways: “he’ll keep coming back, and back, until one of you is dead.”

About David Roman

Communicator. I tweet @dromanber.

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