3 Apr 18

The “Grass Crown”

“You slick talking-heads may preach, preen, and prattle, but you’re damn well not here in the thick of the battle.”

Russ Vaughn
2d Bn, 327th Parachute Infantry Regiment
101st Airborne Division

The seldom-mentioned “Grass Crown” (AKA: “Blockade Crown,” Latin: “corona graminea” or “corona obsidionalis”) was the highest and rarest of all military decorations within the Roman Empire.

Similar to our CMH, but it was conferred only upon a general whose actions saved a Legion, sometimes an entire army.

A general who broke a blockade, or in a situation of extreme desperation, ingeniously outsmarted a strong enemy, might be considered for this prestigious award, but generals were never allowed to confer the Crown upon themselves. There had to be unanimous consensus among those from lower ranks. It was graciously presented to the general by the army he saved!

The Crown itself was not ornate. It was humbly fashioned from grass recovered from the battlefield, and included flowers and cereal grains. None physically survive to this day.

Recipients include:

Lucius Siccius Dentatus (“Born with Teeth”), always at the front, amazingly brave, clever, and utterly fearless, Dentatus spectacularly exceeded all expectations, routinely, and was wounded multiple times. He was a genuine hero! At the age of sixty-four, he was murdered (450BC), by political rivals.

Publius Decius Mus. During the First Samnite War (343BC), Decius’ battalion seized an important enemy stronghold, thus rescuing the main army. Decius received two Grass Crowns, one from his own battalion, and another from the main army which he rescued. Decius was killed three years later, leading from the front as always, during the Battle of Vesuvius (“Latin War”).

Marcus Calpurnius Flamma. During the First Punic War (264BC-241BC), like Decius before him, Flamma courageously led a company of volunteers to seize an enemy stronghold, thus saving his otherwise surrounded army. Flamma was seriously wounded in the process. Most of his men were killed, but their audacious action saved the day! Flamma was awarded the Grass Crown for his bravery and audacity, but few other details of his life and death are known today.

Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus. Fabius is the one who drove Hannibal out of Italy during the Second Punic War (201BC), cleverly avoiding direct confrontation with Hannibal’s superior forces. Instead, Fabius (nicknamed “Cunctator,” meaning “The Delayer”) attacked Hannibal’s supply lines and otherwise confronted only isolated parts of Hannibal’s army, and only on favorable ground. Fabius is hence regarded as “The Father of Guerrilla Warfare.” Fabius died at the age of seventy-seven, of natural causes.

Scipio Aemilianus Africanus. Scipio was Rome’s central personality during the Third Punic War (149–146 BC). The surname, “Africanus,” was added, because it was Scipio who finally invaded and defeated the City Carthage, on the African Continent. He infused his men with toughness, discipline, and purpose, always out front, always leading by example. He was a genuine warrior who decried luxurious and indolent lifestyles of many in Rome. He died in his own home at the age of fifty-six, probably murdered by political rivals, but cause of his death was never established.

Lucius Cornelius Sulla. During the “Social War” of 91BC-88BC (AKA: “War of the Allies”), an armed conflict arising from the disputed and corrupt system of awarding Roman Citizenship, Sulla gained the reputation as Rome’s “George Patton.” Always on the offensive, always inspiring fierce loyalty. No one could beat him! He was dramatically victorious in battle after battle. Rather than fighting, entire opposing armies withered and fled before him. Sulla died at the age of sixty, probably of natural causes. His funeral in Rome was colossal! His famous epitaph, self-composed, reads: “No friend ever served me, and no enemy ever wronged me, whom I have not repaid, in full!”

So much of the foregoing is not even taught in history classes any more, but for people living in those times and places, it was real enough, and these ancient events shaped the world in which we live now.

As noted, the CMH is as close as we get to the “Crown of Grass” today.

Lest we forget, devoted armies exist only in the presence of competent, audacious, high-principled, and selfless leadership.

Brave men are willing to face death for no less!

The sleazy, cowardly, dishonorable, and privilege-seeking (always found in the rear), need not apply. We don’t want to remember them anyway!

“I sit beside my peaceful hearth,
With curtains drawn and lamp trimmed bright
I watch my children’s noisy mirth;
I drink in home, and its delight.

I sip my tea, and criticize
The War, from flying rumors caught;
Trace on the map, to curious eyes,
How here they marched, and there they fought.

In intervals of household chat,
I lay down strategic laws;
Why this maneuver, and why that;
Shape the event, or show the cause.

Or, in smooth dinner-table phrase,
‘Twixt soup and fish, discuss the fight;
Give to each chief his blame or praise;
Say who was wrong and who was right.

Meanwhile, o’er Alma’s bloody plain
The scathe of battle has rolled by–
The wounded writhe and groan–the slain
Lie naked staring to the sky.

The out-worn surgeon plies his knife,
Nor pauses with the closing day;
While those who have escaped with life
Find food and fuel as they may.

And when their eyes in sleep they close,
After scant rations duly shared,
Plague picks his victims out, from those
Whom chance of battle may have spared.

All this with gallant hearts is done;
All this with patient hearts is borne:
And they by whom the laurel’s won
Are seldom they by whom it’s worn.”

From “Due of the Dead,” by William Thackeray