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I heard a suggestion that Caesar would select the soldiers he wanted by leading them, thirsty, to a river and seeing who would simply plunge in to take a drink vs. who would first get a cup and fill it with water. Apparently, he preferred the divers...

I've searched quite extensively and have found no evidence for this claim. I am no expert, so I thought I'd ask if anyone is aware of this practice.

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    Since the Roman legions had thousands of soldiers, this does not sound like a practical method. Perhaps he did it once to prove a point.
    – Barry
    Dec 11, 2023 at 23:16
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    Caesar didn't select soldiers. See ACOUP:Dilectus There was a procedure for filling a legion. What's the source for this story? is it all all credible? History is about sources....
    – MCW
    Dec 11, 2023 at 23:28
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    That's a biblical story, Judges 7. (biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Judges%207&version=ISV)
    – Jos
    Dec 12, 2023 at 0:14
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    @Jos You should just post that as the answer.
    – cmw
    Dec 12, 2023 at 0:26
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    Are you aware that Caesar had tens of thousands of soldiers under his command? He surely did not "select" them personally.
    – nvoigt
    Dec 12, 2023 at 14:41

1 Answer 1

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No, not true.

That's a direct copy of a biblical story, Judges 7. In that story Gideon has to select his soldiers. He has too many volunteers. The Lord leads them to drink at a river. There the Lord selects for Gideon the 300 men he needs out of a multitude of soldiers. The 300 where the ones that rushed to the water and drank from their hands.

I haven't heard that story about Julius Caesar. It must be an apocryphal story, because that is not how Romans selected men for the army. The selection process was not that much different from what we practice today. Recruits were inspected, checked by medical orderlies or a doctor for physical and medical problems. How you drank water was not a requirement.

Something else that makes it very unlikely: Julius Caesar was far too important to be personally involved in the selection process himself. He just gave an order 'raise a legion in province x'. His officers would do what was required. He had too many jobs to manage to be bothered with such a tiny insignificant detail. His job was to appoint the officers and centurions. He knew them well, and most by name. It was the job of a centurion to go out and get recruits.

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    The way I read this, this story is not about rushing to the river, or the drinking of water per se, but about maintaining a higher level of situational awareness while drinking water: (1) The ones that kneel down to drink are considered unfit to be soldiers; (2) The ones that use their hands to scoop up water are considered fit to be soldiers.
    – njuffa
    Dec 12, 2023 at 0:47
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    @Jos I was not referring to the Romans in my comment, but to the Bible passage referenced in the answer (+1). In other words: my comment was meant to augment, not contradict. And the test as described in the Bible makes perfect sense: those that crouch, upper body upright, one hand on their weapon, the other hand used to scoop water, are immediately ready to fight in case of an ambush.
    – njuffa
    Dec 12, 2023 at 3:26
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    @Jos the story is from the old testament, so it is independent from Christianity... of course, one could equally say that in every synagogue they have their own interpretation of Tanakh :)
    – Roger V.
    Dec 12, 2023 at 7:18
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    @Jos wonderful, thank you for this information! The story, which comes from casual conversation in a documentary, just seems to be apocryphal but at least exists in some form, which is mildly interesting. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. Dec 12, 2023 at 9:33
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    @njuffa The way I always read it, it had very little to do with any attributes of the soldiers themselves and everything to do with God wanting a very small group of people to demonstrate His power (and His alone) through
    – ojchase
    Dec 12, 2023 at 15:59

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