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XXI‑XXXI

This webpage reproduces part of
Siege Defense

by
Aeneas Tacticus

(Loeb Classical Library edition, 1928)

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Aeneas Tacticus
On the Defence of Fortified Positions

p175 [link to original Greek text] XXXII. [Counter-devices]

1 Against the approaches of the foe you must take the following measures with engines or with infantry.85 In the first place, against objects raised higher than the wall from towers or masts or devices similar to these, there should be stretched on thongs and covered with some impenetrable substance sails which will have to be overshot by the missiles. And in particular one must set smoking materials that will send up a great smudge from beneath, and must kindle those which will rouse as great a blaze p177as possible, 2 and build in opposition wooden towers, or other high structures with baskets filled with sand, or built of stones or bricks. And even basketwork made of reeds, upright and transverse, woven together, may stop the missiles. 3 Against contrivances for attacking the battlements, such as a ram or other like instrument, you must also make ready protective devices to hang in front of them, sacks full of chaff, and bags of wool, fresh hides inflated or filled with something, and other things similar to these. 4 And when the ram is battering a gate or some other part of the wall, you must catch up with a noose the projecting part of the engine, so that it cannot strike again. 5 And you must make ready a stone large enough to fill a wagon so that it may be let fall upon the drill and crush it. The stone, held in place with grappling hooks, must be dropped from the projecting beams, 6 and in order that in its descent it may not miss the drill, a plumb-line should be lowered in advance, and when it hangs over the drill, then the stone should at once be dropped after it. 7 It is best to adopt this measure also against the engines that are battering the wall: When you see what part of the wall is being attacked, you should prepare a counter‑ram at that point, inside the wall, and excavate the wall just as far as the outer layer of bricks, so that the enemy may not be aware in advance. And when the ram is close at hand you must strike from within with the counter‑ram, which must p179be much more powerful. 8 Furthermore, against the large engines on which many troops are moved up, and from which missiles are shot, and especially catapults and slings, and incendiary arrows against the thatched roofs — against all these, I say, those in the city must, in the first place, secretly dig beneath where the engine is to be applied, so that the wheels of the engines may sink and fall into the excavations. Then, on the inside, you must build a defence of baskets of sand and of stones from what you have near by, which will overtop the engine and render the missiles of the enemy useless. 9 At the same time you must spread out from the inside of the wall thick curtains or sails as a protection from the oncoming shafts, which will stop the missiles that fall over the wall, so that they will be easy to gather up and none will fall to the ground. 10 The same must be done at any other part of the wall where the missiles might come over and injure or wound the helpers and passers‑by. 11 And at whatever part of the wall can be dug through or broken down, there counter-preparation must be made. 12 To forestall the piercing of the wall a large fire should be built, and to provide against a breach of the wall a trench must be dug inside, so that the enemy may not enter. At the same time you should build a counter-rampart where the breach is being made, before the wall collapses, if you cannot otherwise stop the enemy.

p181 [link to original Greek text] XXXIII. [Setting on Fire]

1 You must pour pitch and cast tow and sulphur on the pent-houses that have been brought up, and then a fagot fastened to a cord must be let down in flames upon the pent-house. And such things as these, held out from the walls, are hurled at the engines as they are being moved up, by which the latter are to be thus set on fire. 2 Let sticks be prepared shaped like pestles86 but much larger, and into the ends of each stick drive sharp irons, larger and smaller, and around the other parts of the stick, above and below, separately, place powerful combustibles. In appearance it87 should be like bolts of lightning as drawn by artists. Let this be dropped upon the engine as it is being pushed up, fashioned so as to stick into it, and so that the fire will last after the stick has been made fast. 3 Then, if there are any wooden towers, or if a part of the wall is of wood, covers of felt or raw hide must be provided to protect the parapet so that they cannot be ignited by the enemy. 4 If the gate is set on fire you must bring up wood and throw it on to make as large a fire as possible, until a trench can be dug inside and a counter-defence be quickly built from the materials you have at hand, and if you have none, then by tearing down the nearest houses.

p183 [link to original Greek text] XXXIV. [Fire-extinguishers]

1 If the enemy tries to set anything on fire with a powerful incendiary equipment you must put out the fire with vinegar, for then it cannot easily be ignited again, or rather it should be smeared beforehand with birdlime,88 for this does not catch fire. 2 Those who put out the fire from places above it must have a protection for the face, so that they will be less annoyed when the flame darts toward them.

[link to original Greek text] XXXV. [Incendiary Equipment]

1 And fire itself which is to be powerful and quite inextinguishable is to be prepared as follows. Pitch, sulphur, tow, granulated frankincense, and pine sawdust in sacks you should ignite and bring up if you wish to set any of the enemy's works on fire.

[link to original Greek text] XXXVI. [How to Prevent the Placing of Ladders]

1 The placing of ladders must be prevented thus. If the ladder in place overtops the wall, you must, when the person who mounts it is at the top, p185thrust him or the ladder away with a forked pole, if you cannot keep him away otherwise because of arrows shot from below. 2 And if the ladder is even with the wall it cannot be pushed away, but those who climb over the wall should be thrust off. And if even this seems impossible, there must be made a sort of door-frame of planks and when the ladder is being raised, the frame should be placed in advance underneath it. When, then, the ladder approaches the frame, at the raising of the frame from beneath, if a roller has previously been attached to the edge of it, the ladder necessarily fails, and it will not be possible to set it up.

[link to original Greek text] XXXVII. [Detection and Prevention of Mining Operations]

1 Those who are constructing mines are to be prevented in the following manner. If you think a mine is being made you should dig the moat outside the wall as deep as possible so that the mine may open into the moat and those who are digging it may be exposed to view. 2 And if you have a chance, a wall should also be built in the moat, of the very hardest and largest stones available. 3 But if you have no chance to build a stone wall you should bring up logs and rubbish . . ., and if the mines at any point open into the moat, there you should dump the wood and set fire to the rubbish and cover the rest over in order that that smoke may penetrate the opening and injure those in the mine. It is p187even possible that many of these may be killed by the smoke. 4 And in some instances, by releasing wasps and bees into the opening, men have worked mischief with those in the mine. 5 One must, in a word, at whatever point the enemy are digging, construct a countermine beneath and against them, and by setting fire to [rubbish in the countermine thus destroy the] fighting force in the mine itself. 6 Now an old incident is told . . . of Amasis in his siege of Barca, when he was trying to dig a mine.89 The people of Barca, who were aware of the attempt of Amasis, were concerned lest he might elude or anticipate them, until a coppersmith thought out a device. Carrying a bronze shield around inside the wall he held it against the ground above various points. 7 And of course at all other points the parts to which he applied the bronze were without a sound, but where the digging was in progress beneath the shield became resonant. So the people of Barca dug a countermine at this point and killed many of the enemy's miners, and as a result even now men use this means of ascertaining where mines are being dug.

[link to original Greek text] 8 I have already explained by what means one should oppose and ward off the devices of the enemy. For those, on the other hand, who are to construct mines, a very effective form of protection would be this. 9 One should fasten together the poles of two wagons, having first turned them back each in the p189direction of the other part of its wagon, in such a way that the poles may be raised aloft, inclining toward the same point.90 Then when this has been done, one should fasten on in addition other timbers and hurdles and other sorts of covering above and smear these over with clay. This device, then, can be advanced and withdrawn on its wheels wherever you desire, and those who are excavating can keep under this protection.

[link to original Greek text] XXXVIII. [Use of Reserves]

1 During the attacks of the enemy upon the wall with engines of war, or even with infantry, the defenders within the town should be divided into three groups, so that one group may be fighting, another resting, and the third preparing for action, and that there may always be on the wall soldiers who are fresh. 2 And certain other picked troops, in considerable number, must go around the wall with the general, constantly relieving any section that is hard pressed. For the enemy fear the reserves more than the force already on duty before them. And the dogs should be tied up at this time, 3 for when men are hurrying through the town, with noise of arms and confusion, if the dogs in addition, because p191of the unusual doings, should begin to run amuck, they would make trouble.

[link to original Greek text] 4 And to those who are fighting on the wall the general should give such advice as is necessary for each, to some commendation and to others an appeal, but he should not in anger reprimand anyone, even of the common soldiers, for that would dishearten them the more. 5 If, however, it is necessary to reprimand anyone for neglect and lack of discipline, it should be those who are most wealthy and influential in the city, for such a case would be an example to the others also. The occasions on which it is expedient to overlook each of these matters I have discussed in the work on Admonitions. 6 And one should not permit the throwing of small stones at unsuitable times, but should provide that even those thrown during the day may be gathered again during the night, in the following manner. 7 Men should be let down from the wall in baskets to pick the stones up again, and when they have gathered them they should regain the wall by means of boar- or stag-nets which have been let down, or else by rope ladders, 8 which should be equal in number to the men who are gathering the stones, so that if any are hard pressed they may quickly climb up again. For the gates must not be opened during the night, but ladders of this sort should be used, and other devices you may choose.

p193 [link to original Greek text] XXXIX. [Stratagems]

1 Those undergoing siege should also contrive such measures as these. At the gates and somewhat inside them they should dig a trench and leave a passage on this side and on that. Then some of them should go out and engage in skirmishing and lure the enemy to make a dash into the town with them. 2 Of course the men from the town, as they retire into it, are to run along the passages that have been left on either side, but it is likely that those of the enemy who run in with them, being unaware of the trench, especially since it is concealed, will fall into it and be killed at that instant by those within the city. And of these some should be stationed in the passages and in places at the trenches near the gate. 3 And if a larger number of the enemy come in after these and you wish to catch them, you should have ready above the centre of the gate a portcullis of the stoutest possible timbers overlaid with iron.91 4 When, then, you wish to cut off the enemy as they rush in, you should let this drop down, and the portcullis itself will not only as it falls destroy some of them, but will also keep the foe from entering, while at the same time the forces on the wall are shooting the enemy at the gate. 5 And you should always give instructions in advance to your own party, in case the enemy rush p195in with them, in what place in the city they are to make their rendezvous, in order that your friends may be distinguished by their position. For it is not easy to distinguish between men in a promiscuous armed throng, rushing confusedly in together. 6 And on some occasions, against enemies who were over-confident and were approaching the wall more closely than was prudent, either by night or by day, the defenders have made ready nets, secretly by day, but by night without attempt at concealment, and luring the enemy forward by skirmishes have hauled up those who became entangled. 7 The net should be of the very strongest rope, and the line that lifts it should be of chain for a distance of two cubits, to prevent its being severed, but the rest, from the point where they are pulling it, may be of rope. The whole device is let down and hauled up from within the wall by ropes or by swing-beams. If, however, the enemy try to cut their way out, then to meet this the besieged should again use swing-beams, letting them down so that the net may not be cut; for to use chains to prevent such an occurrence is troublesome and inconvenient, as well as too costly.

[link to original Greek text] XL. [Guarding a City]

1 If the city is a large one and the men in the city are not numerous enough to man its walls all the way around, and yet you wish to keep it closely guarded with the men you have, you should, from the materials at hand, build up high all the easily assailable parts of the city wall, so that if any of the enemy shall scale them, either by stealth or by p197force, from their unfamiliarity they may not be able to leap down from great heights, being at the same time completely at a loss for any place to descend. And at either side of the parts that have been built up some of the available men should keep watch to destroy those who may leap from the high points.

[link to original Greek text] 2 When Dionysius92 had subjugated a certain city and some of its defenders had been killed and the others had fled, he wished to retain the place, but it was too large to be guarded by a small force. 3 Accordingly he left some in charge with a few available men, and to the slaves of the most influential in the city he married the daughters, wives, and sisters of their masters; for in this relation he thought that the slaves would be most hostile to their masters and more faithful to him. 4 Again, the people of Sinope in their war against Datamas,93 when they were in danger and in need of men, disguised the most able-bodied of their women and armed them as much like men as they could, giving them in place of shields and helmets their jars and similar bronze utensils, and marched them around the wall where the enemy were most likely to see them. 5 But they did not allow them to throw missiles, for even a long way of a woman betrays her sex when she tries to throw. While they were doing this they took care that deserters should not disclose the stratagem.

[link to original Greek text] 6 If you wish the patrolmen upon the wall to appear p199more numerous than they are,94 you should make them go their rounds two abreast, one rank with their spears upon the left shoulder, the other with their spears upon the right, and thus they will appear to be four abreast. 7 And if they go about three abreast, the first man should have his spear upon his right shoulder, the next upon his left, and the others similarly, and in this way each man will look like two.

[link to original Greek text] 8 Now about wheatless rations and things of which there is a scarcity during a siege, and about how waters are to be rendered drinkable,a I have explained in the book on Military Preparations. And inasmuch as these points have been described I shall pass on to naval manoeuvres.

[link to original Greek text] Of a naval armament there are two forms of equipment. . . .


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

85 In this chapter there are many echoes of the devices employed by the Spartans in the long siege of Plataea, 428‑7 B.C., which seems to have made an epoch in ancient siege operations. A full account of the events at Plataea is given by Thucydides II.75‑8.

[decorative delimiter]

86 The pestle meant by the word ὕπερον here is the large instrument (three cubits long according to the advice of Hesiod, Works and Days, 423) used to stir the meal or dough in the large kneading-trough.

[decorative delimiter]

87 That is, the end of the pestle, bristling with iron points.

[decorative delimiter]

88 This word is omitted in the original, but despite Julius Africanus and Polyaenus VI.3, who write ὄξος, birdlime is certainly meant, partly because vinegar has already been mentioned, and partly because 'smear' (προαλείφειν) is appropriately used only of a substance like birdlime, certainly not of a liquid like vinegar. Philo Mechanicus V.90.17 (Schöne) mentions birdlime as one of the important objects with which to be supplied in case of a siege, and (99.26 ff.) recommends that wood which is in danger of being set on fire be smeared with birdlime or a mixture of blood and ashes. Thus Theophrastus also, De igne 61, notes that things smeared with birdlime do not take fire; cf. Pliny, N. H. XXXIII.94.

[decorative delimiter]

89 The incident is taken from Herodotus IV.200.

[decorative delimiter]

90 Apparently the poles, which seem to have been hinged at the point of attachment, are thought of as being turned (or 'spread back' συμπετάννυμι) in a direction which eventually would bring them back upon the body of the wagon (κατὰ τὸ ἕτερον μέρος), but they are actually lifted only to an angle, say, of 45° to 60°, and their tips are then firmly fastened together. From the point of convergence timbers are extended to the sides and covers of the wagon-bodies and then a roof in the shape of an oblong pyramid is constructed. The passage is very obscure, however, and a corruption may lurk in the words συμπετάσαντα κατά.

[decorative delimiter]

91 Vegetius IV.4 speaks of this device as one quod invenit antiquitas. It was employed successfully by the men of Salapia in 208 B.C. against Hannibal (Livy XXVII.28.10‑12), and by the Lycians of Xanthus against M. Junius Brutus in 42 B.C. (Appian, Bell. Civ. IV.78).

[decorative delimiter]

92 Clearly Dionysius I of Syracuse, but the precise occasion is unknown.

[decorative delimiter]

93 His active career extended from circa 384 to 362 B.C. Köchly in a note sets this event in 379‑8, but the reasoning is not very cogent.

[decorative delimiter]

94 See the critical note for a discussion of this passage.


Thayer's Note:

a I would emend this to "undrinkable", based on VIII.4.


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Page updated: 20 Jul 13