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From Wikipedia: Decimation (Latin: decimatio; decem = "ten") was a form of Roman military discipline in which every tenth man in a group was executed by his cohorts. The discipline was used by senior commanders in the Roman Army to punish units or large groups guilty of capital offences, such as cowardice, mutiny, desertion, and insubordination, and for pacification of rebellious legions. The word decimation is derived from Latin meaning "removal of a tenth". The procedure was a pragmatic attempt to balance the need to punish serious offences with the realities of managing a large group of offenders.