Applicability of “Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum” to the Present Context of International Belligerence


Prof Hoosen Vawda – TRANSCEND Media Service

The Roman General Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus’s seminal work, “Epitoma Rei Militaris,[1] is the only surviving military tome which elaborates his hypothesis of deterrence through strength and remains the basic foundation of modern military defence policy, eleven centuries later, for achieving peace.

The year is 435 AD and the Roman Empire is at the beginning of its progressive decline from the greatest empire of its era, to be reduced to cattle fodder for invading barbarians.  The Roman General, Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus’s publishes his book, the “Epitoma Rei Militaris, translated as the “Epitome of Military Science”. According to Nicholas P. Milner, who translated this military reference book, is the only Latin art of war tome to survive. Vegetius’ “Epitome” was for long an essential part of the medieval prince’s military education in history. The central core and theme of Vegetius’s proposals, is to ensure the maintenance of a highly-trained professional standing army and navy, to assure peace within the State was revolutionary for medieval Europe, while his theory of deterrence through strength remains the foundation of modern Western defence policy, even in the present era, if the military strategies of North Atlantic Treaty Organisations (NATO)[2] are reviewed since the formation of this organization in the aftermath of World War 11.[3]

The annotated, English translation of Epitoma Rei Militaris by Milner, highlights the significance for his own age of Vegetius’ advice, written just before the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, at a time when economic weakness and political disintegration threatened to undermine the strategic defensive structure that had underpinned the Roman Empire and state’s political success for so long, a time.  The main thrust of Vegetius’s suggested reforms, in his book, is to confront the problems of the fragmentation of the Roman army, the barbarization of its personnel, the loss of professional skills, and the substitution of mercenaries for standing forces of the army as an entity, to ensure peace within the Roman Empire. The accent of the work is on the practicalities of recruiting and training new model armies and navies starting from basic principles and building on the strategies appropriate to their use against the barbarian invaders of the period.

De Re Militari by General Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus – Latin Original Published circa 435 AD.

Publius (or Flavius) Vegetius Renatus,[4]  known as Vegetius, was a writer of the Later Roman Empire, late 4th century. Nothing is known of his life or station beyond what is contained in his two-surviving works: Epitoma rei militaris, also referred to as De re militari, and the lesser-known Digesta Artis Mulomedicinae, a guide to veterinary medicine. He identifies himself in the opening of his work Epitoma rei militaris as a Christian.[5]

The latest event alluded to in his Epitoma rei militaris is the death of the Emperor Gratian in 383 AD, the earliest attestation of the work is a subscriptio by Flavius Eutropius[6], writing in Constantinople in 450 AD, which appears in one of two families of manuscripts, suggesting that a division of the manuscript tradition had already occurred. Despite Eutropius’ location in Constantinople, the scholarly consensus is that Vegetius wrote in the Western Roman Empire.[7] Vegetius dedicates his work to the reigning emperor, who is identified as Theodosius, ad Theodosium imperatorem[8], in the manuscript family that was not edited in 450; the identity is disputed: some scholars identify him with Theodosius the Great,[9] while others follow Otto Seeck[10] and identify him with the later Valentinian III, dating the work to 430–35.[11] Goffart agrees that the later date is likely, suggesting that the work may have been intended to support a military revival in the time of Aetius’s supremacy.[12] Rosenbaum also argues that he wrote in the early 430s; Theodosius II might then have been the dedicatee. Rosenbaum uses allusions from Vegetius’s works and relationships to the work of Merobaudes to suggest that Vegetius was a senior court official, primiscrinius to the praetorian prefect, who had been an agens in rebus.[13]

Vegetius’ Epitoma rei militaris mainly focuses on military organisation and how to react to certain situations in war. Vegetius explains in his tome how one should fortify and organise a camp, how to train troops, how to handle undisciplined troops, how to handle a battle engagement, how to march, formation gauge and many other useful methods of promoting organisation and valour in the legion.

As G. R. Watson observes, Vegetius’ Epitoma “is the only ancient manual of Roman military institutions to have survived intact”. Despite this, Watson doubts its value, for Vegetius “was neither a historian nor a soldier: his work is a compilation carelessly constructed from material of all ages, a congeries of inconsistencies”.[14] These antiquarian sources, according to his own statement, were Cato the Elder, Cornelius Celsus, Frontinus, Paternus and the imperial constitutions of Augustus, Trajan, and Hadrian (1.8).[15]

The first book is a plea for army reform; it vividly portrays the military decadence of the Late Roman Empire. Vegetius also describes in detail the organisation, training and equipment of the army of the early Empire. The third book contains a series of military maxims, which were appropriately enough, considering the similarities in the military conditions of the two ages, the foundation of military learning for every European commander from William the Silent to Frederick the Great.[16]

His book on siegecraft contains the best description of Late Empire and Medieval siege machines. Among other things, it shows details of the siege engine called the onager, which afterwards played a great part in sieges until the development of modern cannonry. The fifth book gives an account of the materiel and personnel of the Roman navy.[17]

According to the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, “In manuscript, Vegetius’ work had a great vogue from its first advent. Its rules of siegecraft were much studied in the Middle Ages.” N.P. Milner observes that it was “one of the most popular Latin technical works from Antiquity, rivalling the elder Pliny’s Natural History in the number of surviving copies dating from before AD 1300.”[18] It was translated into English, French by Jean de Meun and others, Italian by the Florentine judge Bono Giamboni and others, Catalan, Spanish, Czech, and Yiddish before the invention of printing. The first printed editions are ascribed to Utrecht (1473), Cologne (1476), Paris (1478), Rome (in Veteres de re mil. scriptores, 1487), and Pisa (1488). A German translation by Ludwig Hohenwang appeared at Ulm in 1475.[19]

The highly disciplined, well trained Roman Army responsible for the expansion and success of the Roman Empire.

However, from that point Vegetius’ position as the premier military authority began to decline, as ancient historians such as Polybius became available. Niccolò Machiavelli attempted to address Vegetius’ defects in his L’arte della Guerra, Florence in 1521, with heavy use of Polybius, Frontinus, and Livy, but Justus Lipsius’ accusation that he confused the institutions of diverse periods of the Roman Empire and G. Stewechius’ opinion that the survival of Vegetius’ work led to the loss of his named sources were more typical of the late Renaissance.[20] While as late as the 18th century a soldier such as Marshal Puysegur [21]based his own works on this acknowledged model,[22] in Milner’s words, Vegetius’ work suffered “a long period of deepening neglect”.[23]

Vegetius emphasises the shortcomings of the Roman Army in his lifetime. To do this, he eulogises the army of the early Empire. In particular, he stresses the high standard of the legionaries and the excellence of the training and the officer corps. In reality, Vegetius probably describes an ideal rather than the reality. The army of the early Empire was a formidable fighting force, but it probably was not in its entirety quite as good as Vegetius describes. In particular, the 5-foot-10-inch minimum height identified by Vegetius would have excluded the majority of the men in Roman times (the Roman foot was 29.6 centimetres (11.7 in) and inch was 2.46 centimetres (0.97 in), hence a 5’10” Roman was 172.6 centimetres (5 ft 8.0 in), which is just above average height of Roman (Italian) men of the time from skeletal evidence from Herculaneum in 79 AD). The emperor Valentinian (364–375) lowered the height minimum to 5′ 7″ Roman which equals 165.2 centimetres (5 ft 5.0 in). Despite the romanticism extolling the idealised virtues of the Roman legion of an earlier time, Vegetius’ De Re Militari remains a reliable and useful insight into the success of the early Roman Empire, and the military failure of its fall.[24]

Regarding the Latin maxim “Si vis pacem, para bellum” which means “If you want peace, prepare for war.” As a quote by Vegetius in his military book, implies several meanings. One meaning is “If you want peace, you should be strong enough to stand up against and defeat your enemy.” Otherwise, your wish for peace is likely to be nothing but a hollow dream.  Indeed, aggressive, stronger nations would not listen to a weak nation when it pleads for peace. If you are not strong, you will soon find that hoping for peace is only wishful thinking.

Another meaning of the maxim is that a nation that is planning a war would, in fact, put other nations off guard by chanting peace. Thus, one should be suspicious of an aggressive country if it constantly or abruptly preaches peace. Historically, aggressive countries have almost always cultivated peace to deceive a weaker country before they actually invaded it. This is an absolutely current strategy with the Russian invasion and widespread destruction of property and killing of civilians since the 24th February, 2022 [25].  This intrusion is internationally considered as an act of aggression, the invasion has triggered Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II, with more than 4.1 million Ukrainians leaving the country and a quarter of the population displaced.[26]

The invasion marked a major escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War, Prior to this, the Russians officials, including the Foreign Minister[27] Sergey Viktorovich Lavrov, who is a Russian diplomat and politician who has served as the Foreign Minister of Russia since 2004, repeatedly and publicly insisted on denying any invasion of Ukraine.  This strategy was aimed at misleading the Americans, Nato as well as the Ukrainians.

Therefore, as a rule, a country must be alert and prepared for war when and if a hostile state proclaims peace that turns into a political ideology. Otherwise, the state will be deceived by the enemy and end up losing the country’s sovereignty, as it is presently unfolding in Ukraine, where the Russian invasion is threatening Ukraine’s independence.

Other interpretations of the adage include the idea that preparing for peace may lead another party to wage war. That could be another country or another faction inside your country. Referring to the North-South Korea  détente and agreement, spearheaded by former President of the United States, Donald Trump in 2019[28], a foreign expert has stated the following:- “No one disagrees with peace on the peninsula, but it could end up adding another sword if not handled properly.

Former President Donald J. Trump and Kim Jong-un meet in the Korean demilitarized zone on 30th June 2019.

Throughout his 2020 campaign, Donald Trump emphasised that President Obama left him a very dangerous situation with North Korea, one that could have even led to war. Admittedly, Trump was instrumental in cooling down the tension between the US and the North Korean regime, thanks to the personal relationship that he built with Kim Jong-un[29]. On Twitter, back in 2018, Trump boasted of having “solved the problem”. Following the first meeting with the North Korean leader in Singapore, he boasted on social media: “President Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem. No longer, sleep well tonight!”[30]

Yet, while it may be true that Trump avoided a major crisis with North Korea, he was not able to prevent the country from developing its nuclear and missile capabilities. At this point, it is the fifth greatest nuclear power in Asia, after China, Russia, India and Pakistan.

The critical danger is the possibility of dividing South Korea into two:-West and East. If that happens, Korea will be conquered again, this time by the North.” He continued, “A nation that strives to solve issues in such (a) manner always ends up creating bigger ones, and mostly because of lack of an eclectic mindset.” We should listen to his admonition.[31]

Currently, South Korea is sharply torn between pro-North Korea people and anti-North Korea people. The problem is that if the South is divided as such, North Korea will surely take advantage of the situation and try to unify the peninsula under its regime. As they did just before the Korean War, North Korean leaders may once again misjudge the situation in the South and come down, expecting many North-Korea sympathizers will support them.

Of course, it would not happen unless Washington pulls out its troops from South Korea. But who knows? Recently, a retired US Army general wrote that the US government should seriously consider pulling out its troops from South Korea and let South Korea deal with North Korea by itself.[32]

He argues that with its superior armed forces, South Korea will be able to overpower the North. However, how a country that has depended on the US troops for the past seven decades can overpower a nation armed with nuclear missiles eludes me. This kind of American isolationism will put South Korea in harm’s way just as the Acheson Line did before the Korean War.

The third interpretation of the maxim is that in order to maintain peace, you may need to wage war to deter another war. The US intervention in World War I and II are good examples. It is true that sometimes waging war is necessary to bring about peace. In 1907, the US National Arbitration and Peace Congress, chaired by Andrew Carnegie, announced, [33]“Today they say, if you want peace, prepare for war. This Congress says in behalf of the people: Si vis pacem, para pactum. If you want peace, agree to keep the peace.” Indeed, if you want to enjoy peace, sometimes you need to wage war.

This may be what Washington may consider as an option these days, assuming that by launching nuclear ballistic test missiles that can reach the US territory, North Korea [34]has already begun war against the US symbolically and rhetorically.

The rationale is that, therefore, the United States has a solemn duty to defend itself and bring peace through pre-emptive strikes on North Korea. When and if the summit meeting is realized in the near future, however, this option will not be feasible and thus hopefully will be abolished.

Peace is not given free. On the contrary, peace is costly and given to only those who are strong and prepared for war. We should be patient, for peace comes slowly, as W.B. Yates says in his celebrated poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”: I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree/ And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made/ Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee/ And live alone in the bee-loud glade/ And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow/ Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings.”[35]

We want peace so desperately that we are excited about the 2018/9 peace mood on the Korean Peninsula. It is a relief to be sure. Nevertheless, we should not be naively intoxicated with optimism. Peace is given only to those who are strong and even prepared for war. [36]

The present war in Ukraine, highlights the maxim “Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum” most dramatically.  Ukraine was not prepared for war, hence the total destruction of the major cities like Kyiv [37], Mariupol[38] and Kharkiv[39] by the invading Russian forces. On 08th April, day 44 of the war, the Russians, as stated by reputable media sources, bombed a train station[40] in Kramatorsk, Eastern Ukraine.  At least 50 people, including five children, have been killed and nearly 100 wounded in a rocket attack on this railway station according to Ukrainian officials. In an online post updating an earlier preliminary death toll of 39 on Friday, Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said the 50 dead included victims who died of their wounds after being taken to hospitals.  Many of the injured were in serious condition, he said. Ukrainian officials accused Russia for the attack, saying it took place as civilians were at the station in an attempt to evacuate to safer parts of the country. Russia, however, denied any involvement.  “Two rockets hit Kramatorsk railway station,” Ukrainian Railways said in a statement. Oleksandr Kamyshin, head of the railway company, called it “a deliberate attack on the passenger infrastructure of the railway and the residents of Kramatorsk”.[41]

AFP news agency said its journalists at the scene saw at least 20 bodies of people grouped and lying under plastic sheets next to the station. Blood was pooling on the ground and packed bags were strewn outside the building in the immediate aftermath of the attack. The journalists said four cars next to the station had been destroyed and the remains of a large rocket with the words “for our children” in Russian were lying adjacent to the main building. Bodies were later seen being loaded onto a military truck.

“This is just an ordinary railway terminal, just an ordinary town in the east of Ukraine,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy [42]said in a video address to the Finnish parliament. “This is how Russia came to protect the Donbas, how they view the protection of the Russian-speaking population. And this is the 44th day of our reality,” he added, referring to the time that has passed since Russia launched its invasion on February 24th.  Earlier on Friday, Kyrylenko said thousands of people had been at the station at the time the rockets struck.

“The “Rashists[43]”, the ‘Russian fascists’, knew very well where they were aiming and what they wanted: They wanted to sow panic and fear, they wanted to take as many civilians as possible,” he said. Kyrylenko published a photograph online showing several bodies on the ground beside piles of luggage. Armed police wearing flak jackets stood beside them. Another photo showed rescue services tackling what appeared to be a fire, with a pall of grey smoke rising into the air.  Russia has denied targeting civilians since invading Ukraine. “All statements by representatives of the Kyiv nationalist regime about the ‘rocket attack’ allegedly carried out by Russia on April 8 at the railway station in the city of Kramatorsk are a provocation and are absolutely untrue,” the Russian Defence Ministry said in a statement on Friday.[44]  “We emphasise that Tochka-U tactical missiles[45], fragments of which were found near the Kramatorsk railway station and published by eyewitnesses, are used only by the Ukrainian armed forces,” it added. Kramatorsk was hit by Russian strikes earlier this week but had otherwise largely been spared the destruction witnessed by other east Ukraine cities since Russia’s invasion.

Ukrainian officials say Russian forces have been regrouping for a new offensive, and that Moscow plans to seize as much territory as it can in the eastern part of Ukraine known as Donbas bordering Russia[46].

Bodies of airstrike victims lying outside the Kramatorsk Railways Station after being reportedly bombed by Russian Missiles on 08th April 2022

Three trains carrying evacuees were blocked in the same region of Ukraine on Thursday 07th, after an air raid on the line.

The Bottom Line is that the Epitome of Military Science by Vegetius categorically documented that if you want peace, prepare for the war, nearly 1600 years ago.  In paying heed to this maxim, United States, would have prevented the 9/11 human tragedy[47], if the intelligence services showed a greater degree of vigilance and preparedness of war to obviate the attacks on America by the Al Qaeda organisation.  However, America chose to bolt the doors after the horses have escaped from the stables, repeatedly.  Similarly, the unfolding of the humanitarian tragedy would have been prevented if United States were prepared for war against Japan obviating the Pearl Harbour bombings.  This was a surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service [48]upon the United States against the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, just before 08:00 a.m., on Sunday, December 7, 1941. The United States was a neutral country at the time. The attack killed 2,403 U.S. personnel, including 68 civilians, and destroyed or damaged 19 U.S. Navy ships, including 8 battleships. Fortunately, the three aircraft carriers of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were out to sea on manoeuvres. The Japanese were unable to locate them and were forced to return home with the U.S. carrier fleet intact.[49]  If NATO was not “Brain Dead” as described by President Macron[50], the attack on Ukraine, by Russia, might not have transpired.  Furthermore, if United States, was actively monitoring the security situation in Ukraine, then the loss of life and wanton destruction of cities by the invading Russian forces would not have materialised.  The different types of sanctions, including the blocking of “Swift” banking, financial portal[51] for the Russians, as well as the blacklisting of multiple oligarchs and President Putin’s two daughters are certainly not having the desired crippling effects on the economy in Russia .  On the contrary, these different restrictive and economically punitive measures  are causing problems in the very countries who inaugurated these sanctions, resulting in global economic crises.  It is also to be noted that countries which are trying to prepare for wars, to pursue the elusive peace, are classified as undesirable states by the club of the elite, nuclear armed nations[52], a technology which they do NOT want all the nations to have, for fear of the “dog biting the master”.





[4] His name appears both as Publius Vegetius Renatus and Flavius Vegetius Renatus. Milner, Vegetius: Epitome of Military Science (Liverpool University Press, 1993), pp. xxxi–xxxiii, believes the evidence favors Publius.

[5] Lipowsky, Felix Joseph (1827). Des Flavius Vegetius Renatus fünf Bücher über Kriegswissenschaft und Kriegskunst der Römer. Seidel.


[7] Walter Goffart. The date and purposes of Vegetius’ De Re Militari. In Rome’s Fall and After, chapter 3, pp 49-80. Hambledon Press 1989. ISBN 1 85285 001 9


[9] N.P. Milner sets forth the argument for Theodosius in Vegetius: Epitome of Military Science, second edition (Liverpool: University Press, 1996), pp. xxxvii ff; T. D. Barnes, “The Date of Vegetius” Phoenix 33.3 (Autumn 1979), pp. 254–257, makes the case for Theodosius.

[10] Seeck, “Die Zeit des Vegetius”, Hermes 11 (1876), 61–83. Seeck’s conclusions changed the mind of Karl Lang, who twice edited the Teubner De re militaria, and adopted Seeck’s ascription.

[11] G. R. Watson, The Roman Soldier (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1969), p. 26.

[12] Walter Goffart. The date and purposes of Vegetius’ De Re Militari. In Rome’s Fall and After, chapter 3, pp 49-80. Hambledon Press 1989. ISBN 1 85285 001 9

[13] Rosenbaum, S; “Who was Vegetius?” published on 2015


[15] One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). “Vegetius”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 27 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 968.

[16] One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). “Vegetius”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 27 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 968.

[17] One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). “Vegetius”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 27 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 968.


[19] One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). “Vegetius”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 27 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 968.



































Professor G. Hoosen M. Vawda (Bsc; MBChB; PhD.Wits) is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment.
Director: Glastonbury Medical Research Centre; Community Health and Indigent Programme Services; Body Donor Foundation SA.

Principal Investigator: Multinational Clinical Trials
Consultant: Medical and General Research Ethics; Internal Medicine and Clinical Psychiatry:UKZN, Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine
Executive Member: Inter Religious Council KZN SA
Public Liaison: Medical Misadventures
Activism: Justice for All

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