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Chapter 11

This webpage reproduces a chapter of the
Tactics

by
Asclepiodotus

(Loeb Classical Library edition, 1928)

The text is in the public domain.

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Asclepiodotus
Tactics

p323 XII. The Commands used in military Evolutions

Asclep. xii.1‑2 = Ael. XXXII.21 Such being the number and character of the evolutions, there would naturally follow a discussion of the commands used in these movements, by which we can order and move the troops, and return them to their original station; for this is the one thing we have left to do.

2 When, therefore, we wish the battalions to quarter turn to the right, we shall command the right file to hold its position and each man in the rest of the files to right face, to advance to the right, and then to face to the front; then we shall command p325the rear ranks to advance, and, when in this way we have the compact formation, to quarter turn to the right,62 and the battalion will be swung to the right.

Asclep. xii.3 = Ael. XXXII.33 If we wish the battalion to resume the original position, we shall give the command of the left about face — the meaning of 'about face' has been explained above63 — and then for the entire battalion to resume its original position;64 after that, while the rank of file-leaders holds its position, let the other soldiers advance by rank and about face in the direction originally faced; next let the right file hold its position and the rest of the soldiers left face, and advancing wheel to original position. In this manner each man will resume his former place.

Asclep. xii.4 = Ael. XXXII.44 If we wish to quarter turn to the left, we shall command the left file of each battalion to hold its position, and the other files to left face, to advance to the left, and then to face to the front; after that we shall command the rear ranks to advance and, when in this way we have the compact formation, to quarter turn to the left file-leader, and the command is carried out.

Asclep. xii.5 = Ael. XXXII.55 If we wish the battalions to return to their original position, we shall make each man about face, and each battalion resume its original place; let the p327file-leaders hold their position and the rest advance by rank and about face in the direction originally faced, then let the left file hold its position and the rest right face, advance until the intervals between them are resumed, and then face to the front; and all will have the original line.

Asclep. xii.6 = Ael. XXXII.6‑76 If we wish them to half turn to the right, we shall command them to make two quarter-turns in that direction; and when we wish them to resume the original position, we shall command them to half turn to the right — for the original position is again taken by four quarter-turns in the same direction —; when this has been done we shall command the file-leaders to hold their position, the rest to about face, and the rear ranks to advance and then about face; and we shall now command the right file to hold its position, and the rest to left face, advance, resume the original interval from one another, and then face to the front; and in this way the battalion will return to the original position.65

Asclep. xii.7 = Ael. XXXII.8‑97 If we wish to half turn to the left, we shall give the command in just the opposite way, to quarter p329turn twice to the left, [and then, wishing to return to the original position, we shall command them to quarter turn twice to the left,] not to the right, and to perform the similar66 evolutions. In the same way, when we wish to make the three‑quarter-turn, we shall make the battalions perform three quarter-turns.

Asclep. xii.8 = Ael. XXXIII.1‑28 If the phalanx must assume the compact formation by wings, we shall give the command, if on the right wing, for the right file to hold its position and for the other files to right face, close up to the right, and then face to the front, and for the rear ranks to advance. Then, if we wish to resume the original position, we shall command the rank of file-leaders to hold its position, the rear ranks to about face and advance, and then again to about face; after that, while the right file holds its position, let the other files left face and advance, until they have resumed their original intervals, when they face to the front.

Asclep. xii.9 = Ael. XXXIII.4‑69 If the left wing must assume the compact formation, we shall give the opposite commands. If the centre must assume the compact position, we shall command the right wing to left face and the left wing to right face, then to advance to the navel67 of the phalanx, to face to the front, and to advance the rear ranks, and we shall have the desired formation. If we wish the wings to resume their former position, we shall command them to about face and all the ranks save the first to advance and then about face; and we shall order the right wing to p331right face and the left wing to left face, to follow by files the leading files until they have the original intervals, and then to face to the front.

In the compact formations the spears must be elevated, so as not to interfere in the turnings.

Asclep. xii.10 = Ael. XXXV10 We shall train the light infantry also in the same evolutions, which are so advantageous in case the enemy appears suddenly.

[We shall, furthermore, train the army to distinguish sharply the commands] given sometimes by the voice, sometimes by visible signals, and sometimes by the bugle. The most distinct commands are those given by the voice, but they may not carry at all times because of the clash of arms or heavy gusts of wind; less affected by uproar are the commands given by signals; but even these may be interfered with now and then by the sun's glare, thick fog and dust, or heavy rain. One cannot, therefore, find signals, to which the phalanx has been accustomed, suitable for every circumstance that arises, but now and then new signals must be found to meet the situation; but it is hardly likely that all the difficulties appear at the same time, so that a command will be indistinguishable both by bugle, voice, and signal.

Asclep. xii.11 = Ael. XL‑XLII11 Now the commands by voice must be short and unambiguous. This would be attained if the particular command should precede the general, p333since the general are ambiguous. For example, we would not say, "Face right!" but "Right face!", so that in their eagerness some may not make the turn to the right and others to the left when the order to turn has been given first, but that all may do the same thing together; nor do we say, "Face about right!" but "Right about face!" nor "Counter march Laconian!" but "Laconian counter march!" and . . . .

. . . Stand by to take arms! Baggage‑men fall out! Silence in the ranks! and Attention! Take up arms! Shoulder arms!68 Take distance! Shoulder spear! Dress files! Dress ranks! Dress files by the file-leader! File-closer, dress file! Keep your original distance! Right face! Forward march! Halt! Depth double! As you were! Depth half! As you were! Length double! As you were! Laconian counter march! As you were! Quarter turn! As you were! Right half turn! As you were! or Forward to position! either Right!69 or Left!

These are in brief the principles of the tactician; they mean safety to those who follow them and danger to those who disobey.


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

62 The verb used here, as defined in x.4, means to 'pivot on the right file-leader,' and so the evolution is clear. Cf. the opposite evolution in § 4 below.

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63 That is, in  x.3.

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64 That is, the battalion shall pivot on the right file-closer, who now, because of the about-face, is left file-leader.

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65 These marchings are necessary to change from the compact formation, in which all wheeling by battalions is done, to the normal formation with interval of three cubits.

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66 As in § 6 above.

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67 That is, the centre, the point of division between the two wings.

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68 'Arms' (σκευή) here probably mean merely the defensive equipment, shield and helmet.

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69 Literally, 'in the same direction,' i.e., to the right.


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