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This webpage reproduces part of
The Tactics


(Loeb Classical Library edition, 1928)

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 p229  Preface

The text of Asclepiodotus in the present edition was prepared by W. A. Oldfather, the remainder of the work by W. A. Oldfather and C. H. Oldfather jointly. Much important assistance was given in the numerous difficulties which such an undertaking affords by Messrs. Arthur Stanley Pease and John B. Titchener, and Major T. J. Camp, to whom we hereby tender our grateful acknowledgments, but we assume full responsibility for all errors.

Because of certain obvious differences between Greek and modern tactics, the termini technici have been a special source of embarrassment, and we do not claim that our rendering of them gives, in every instance, anything more than an approximate equivalent. The precise technical significance of the modern terms employed should not everywhere be pressed, but their proper meaning will always, we trust, be clear from the context.

Charles Henry Oldfather
William Abbott Oldfather

April 30, 1920

 p230  Introduction

In a manuscript of the tenth or eleventh century, now at Florence, is found the Outline of Tactics by Asclepiodotus the Philosopher. The early date of this manuscript, which is the archetype of all the others which contain this work, can leave little doubt that the name is genuine. When we come, however, to inquire further about the author, we find no certain landmarks. Among the men of that name in antiquity he can be identified, with any degree of probability, only with the Asclepiodotus who is mentioned in five places by Seneca in his Naturales Quaestiones as a source for his illustrations, in two of which he is further described as a pupil (auditor) of Poseidonius. That he stood in such a relation to the great Stoic is all the more probable since Aelian in the beginning of his work on tactics says that Poseidonius also wrote on the same subject, giving the title of his work as Τέχνη τακτική.​1 We know from  p231 Seneca that on other subjects, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, Asclepiodotus wrote along the same lines as his master, and he may very well have followed him into the field of military science.

After Aeneas Tacticus, who belongs to the earlier group of military writers, Asclepiodotus, the earliest among the later tacticians, is the first whose work has come down to us. While the former was in all probability a general, or at least a man intimately acquainted with military affairs, in the case of the latter we find that the discussion of tactics has become the subject matter for lectures by philosophers and theorists. Nor is this without good reason. Aeneas wrote in the middle of the fourth century B.C., when the quarrels and battles of Greek states were still the most important political events of the Mediterranean world, and the Greek phalanx was of all battle arrays the most formidable; Asclepiodotus wrote when no Greek state possessed a military establishment of any power and the cumbersome phalanx had long since bowed before the mobile maniples of Italy. A spirited treatment, therefore, of the old Greek phalanx could hardly be expected. No treatment of the subject, indeed, would have been written at all had not the philosophers in laying claim to all branches of learning included tactics as well.​2 The tramp of the phalanx, that had once  p232 reverberated among the hills around Thermopylae and Marathon, now echoed feebly in the halls of theorists and rhetoricians.

A corresponding flagging of interest would be expected in the form of the discussion also, and in consequence the style of Asclepiodotus does not cause surprise. There is not a single illustration drawn either from history or from experience; little effort is made to vary the almost inevitable monotony of a treatise on such a subject; the sentences are short and stiff, the language unimaginative; not even an extra sentence is spent upon an introduction. The whole is a dry, but most orderly, exposition of the different branches of the army, their equipment, their number, their manoeuvres, etc. So sketchy, indeed, is this little work of twelve chapters, that those who hold that Asclepiodotus merely edited the work of his master, think it the outline of the latter's lectures which he amplified before his class; and the nature of the treatise to some extent bears out their contention: no historical material to confuse the pupil, everything very clear, the most important facts stressed, diagrams and figures employed. It would thus be very similar to the material dictated by the medieval professor to his students, and then lectured upon. In a sense it is a study only of antiquarian interest, as was freely confessed by Aelian in the introduction to his work, a funeral oration upon the past glory of the Grecian Phalanx, although, without the personal interest of the orator, it becomes rather the coroner's stilted verdict on a tragic death.

It would be a mistake, however, to think too lightly of the value of even these late theoretical works  p233 upon phalanx tactics. They must consist in large part of quotations from early military handbooks, and these quotations are of the utmost historical value, even though they may be sometimes misunderstood, improperly elaborated, and occasionally treated in too theoretical a fashion. The materials for a reconstruction of Macedonian tactics are after all in a large measure preserved here, and it is the proper task of criticism to understand and interpret them. This attitude with Lammert takes (see Bibliography), in contrast with the occasionally almost supercilious comments of Köchly and Rüstow, is without a doubt, the proper one to assume towards the later tacticians.

In a papyrus of Herculaneum containing an index of Stoic philosophers there appears a certain Asclepiodotus of Nicaea, son of Asclepiodotus and pupil of Panaetius. Comparetti in his reconstruction of the lines following reads 'who was also a pupil of Poseidonius.'​3 The reading was attractive and was accepted by Gomperz, Diels, and Susemihl, notwithstanding considerable chronological difficulties. For Panaetius died in 110‑109 B.C., and the dates of birth and death for Poseidonius given as 135 (or 130)‑51 (or 46) B.C., the earlier date allowing him to be about twenty-five years of age when his teacher died. If Asclepiodotus was the pupil of both Panaetius and Poseidonius, he would have had to be nearly as old as his second teacher, and survive him, writing his edition of his master's Tactics after the latter's death at the advanced age of eighty-four. That Asclepiodotus attained such an age is possible, but the attempted identification of the  p234 pupil of Panaetius with the pupil of Poseidonius will probably have to be given up since Crönert has shown that Comparetti's reconstruction of the text is impossible.​4 The lines, properly restored, merely inform us that the pupil of Panaetius 'also visited Rome,' and so Zeller's insistence upon an older philosopher Asclepiodotus, a pupil of Panaetius, and a younger, a pupil is Poseidonius, is probably justified. It is unlikely that Asclepiodotus was older than his teacher, nor could he have been much younger than twenty-five in 51 (or 46) B.C. when Poseidonius died, since a younger man would scarcely have won the distinction of being one of the three pupils of Poseidonius and have been able to continue his master's work. The date of his birth, therefore, must fall somewhere in the period 135 (or 130)‑76 (or 71) B.C.5

 p235  Our knowledge, then, of Asclepiodotus, the author of the present work, is limited to the five times Seneca mentions him, and to any influences we may draw from his Tactics. From the latter we may well conclude that he was not a military man, nor even greatly interested in military matters, for a real enthusiasm for one's subject cannot be consistently repressed into such a cold and methodical style; rather he was a chair-strategist, as Köchly and Rüstow denominate him, although not all their strictures are just. He was rightly termed 'the philosopher,' for certain sections of his work can scarcely be brought down from the heaven of pure theory. So, for instance, his repetition of the advice of 'most tacticians' that the phalanx consist of 16,384 men, since this number is evenly divisible by two down to unity; his strong dependence upon mathematical forms and proportions, so that one feels that he is dealing more with numbers than with men, his pedantic divisions of the chariots and elephants,​6 or his elaborations upon the array of an army in march, some of which are obviously impracticable and of use only on the drill-ground.7

From the citations in Seneca it appears that he continued the meteorological studies of his teacher. Of the five references, three have to do with phenomena attendant on earthquakes and volcanic eruptions,​8 one with the nature of winds,​9 and the last with the character of subterranean water.​10 All these subjects fall quite properly under the  p236 title of his work as given by Seneca, Causes of natural Phenomena.11

The work of Asclepiodotus was drawn upon by the tactician Aelian, who wrote in the time of the Emperor Trajan, to whom he dedicated his discussion of tactics. In connexion with this use by Aelian arises a most interesting question. In his opening chapter, Aelian mentions by name several writers, who had published works in more recent times on tactics, such as Aeneas, Cineas, Pyrrhus of Epirus and his son Alexander, Clearchus, Poseidonius, and others, and acknowledges his indebtedness to many whom he does not name. But he makes no mention of Asclepiodotus who was certainly his main source. K. K. Müller gives two possible explanations for his failure to acknowledge such a debt of obligation.​12 Aelian may include Asclepiodotus under the other writers whom he has read, and intentionally fails, perhaps, to mention his name in order that attention may not be called to the extent of his obligation. Or Asclepiodotus bore a very unusual relation to the work which we have now under his name, a relation well known in antiquity, but obscured in the course of centuries. Because Seneca speaks of Asclepiodotus as if he were the medium through which the teachings of Poseidonius had come to him, and because of parallel instances, Müller feels that Asclepiodotus merely transmitted the work of Poseidonius on tactics, for the knowledge of which Aelian is our only source. Then, as time  p237 passed, the relations of the master and of his pupil to this work became increasingly obscure and some attributed it to Poseidonius, others to Asclepiodotus. The manuscript preserved to us would thus have come from the latter group, or else part of the original subscription has been lost.

The question how closely Asclepiodotus followed the lost work of Poseidonius must remain unanswered. The Tactics have the appearance as much of an abridgment of a larger work as of an outline for lectures — an abridgment in which the author resolved to strike out everything but the cold facts and succeeded only too well. Neither in this subject nor in his work on meteorology are the titles of the books of Asclepiodotus the same as those of his master's, and, as he is quoted in Seneca, there is something to be said for the view that he may have departed at time perhaps widely from the tradition of his teacher.13

The value of the work depends, of course, upon the use and the nature of its sources. The fact that Poseidonius continued in his history the writings of Polybius, makes it highly probable that the latter's work on tactics was drawn upon, and other writers on tactics, mentioned by Aelian, may well have been put under contribution. But the fact that all these earlier treatises have disappeared, coupled with the cursory nature of the work itself, precludes any answer to this most important question. It must be borne in mind, however, that probably Asclepiodotus, and certainly his master Poseidonius, were not intimately acquainted with the arts of war, and that at all times, and perhaps especially in the Hellenistic  p238 period, works of this nature contained much material which was confined to drill-grounds and never intended for actual employment upon the battle-field.14


A. Bauer: Die griechischen Kriegsaltertümer, in Müller's Handbuch der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, IV. 1 (2nd ed.), 279 f., 287, 422, 425, 450.

W. Capelle: Der Physiker Arrian und Poseidonios, Hermes, 1905, XL.633 f.

W. Capelle: Zur Geschichte der meteorologischen Litteratur, Hermes, 1913, XLVIII.344 f.

W. Christ: Griechische Literaturgeschichte, in Müller's Handbuch der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, VII.2 (6th ed. by Schmid and Stählin), 354, 7.

D. Comparetti: Papiro ercolanese inedito, Rivista di filologia, 1875, III.543.

W. Crönert: Eine attische Stoikerinschrift, Sitzb. der k. preuss. Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1904, 480.

H. Delbrück: Geschichte der Kriegskunst im Rahmen der politischen Geschichte, Berlin, 1901, II.1, 200.

H. Delbrück: Die Persekriege und die Burgunderkriege, Berlin, 1887, 305 ff.

H. Delbrück: Die Manipularlegion und die Schlacht bei Cannae, Hermes, 1886, XXI.64‑90, esp. 83 ff.

H. Diels: Doxographi Graeci, Berlin, 1879, 19 and 225.

R. Förster: Studien zu den griechischen Taktikern, Hermes, 1877, XII.431 f.

F. Haase: Ueber die griechischen und lateinischen  p239 Kriegsschriftsteller, Neue Jahrbücher für Philologie, 1835, XIV.115 ff.

F. Haase: De militarium Scriptorum Graecorum et Latinorum omnium Editione instituenda, Berolini, 1847, 8, 27 ff., 32 ff.

Max Jahns: Handbuch einer Geschichte des Kriegswesens, etc., Technischer Teil, Leipzig, 1880, 117 ff.

Max Jahns: Geschichte der Kriegswissenschaften vornehmlich in Deutschland, München und Leipzig, 1889, I.5f.; 67 f.; 130 ff.

H. Köchly: De Libris tacticis, qui Arriani et Aeliani feruntur, Supplementum, Turici, 1852, 33 ff.

H. Köchly: De Scriptorum militarium Graecorum Codice Bernensi, Diss. Turici, 1854, especially 27.

H. Köchly und W. Rüstow: Griechische Kriegsschriftsteller, Leipzig, 1855; I. Introduction, Asclepiodotus, Greek text and translation; II. Introduction and critical notes.

E. Lammert: Polybios und die Römische Taktik, Program des königlichen Gymnasiums zur Leipzig, 1889, 11 ff., especially 13.

Angelo Mai: Spicilegium Romanum, tomus IV, Romae, 1840. Pages 577‑81 contain a reproduction of the first two chapters of the Laurentian MS. as copied by Leo Allatius.

K. K. Müller: Article "Asklepiodotos", Pauly-Wissowa Realencyclop. II col. 1637‑1641.

K. K. Müller: Festschrift für L. Urlichs, Würzburg, 1880, 106 f.

K. K. Müller: Festgabe zur dritten Säcularfeier der Julius-Maximilians-Universität zu Würzburg, Würzburg, 1887, 30 f.

E. Oder: Quellensucher im Altertum, Philologus, Supplementband, 1899, VII.290 ff.

F. Osann: Der Taktiker Asklepiodot, Zeitschrift für die Altertumswissenschaft, 1853, XI.311 ff.

W. Rüstow und H. Köchly: Geschichte des griechischen Kriegswesens von der ältesten zeit bis auf Pyrrhos, Aarau, 1852.

 p240  R. Schneider: Legion und Phalanx, Berlin, 1893, 70 ff.

S. Sudhaus: Aetna, Leipzig, 1898, 61 f.

Franz Susemihl: Geschichte der griechischen Litteratur in der Alexandrinerzeit, Leipzig, 1892, II.144, 244 f.

E. Zeller: Die Philosophie der Griechen in ihrer geschichtlichen Entwicklung, 3rd ed., 1880, III.1, 569, 585; 4th ed., 1909, III.590.

For some other references of minor importance see the detailed list in K. K. Müller's learned and thorough article 'Asklepiodotos,' given above.

Edition and Manuscripts

The only edition of Asclepiodotus is that by H. Köchly and W. Rüstow, Leipzig, 1855 (see Bibliography). It was based upon collations of three Paris MSS., but Köchly had no knowledge of the Florentine MS., from which they are descended, Laurentianus LV 4, a parchment codex of the tenth or eleventh century. The present text represents, therefore, a new recension made from a collation of the text of the Florentine MS. and copies of its diagrams, prepared for this purpose by the accomplished scholar Professor Dr. Enrico Rostagno of the Biblioteca Mediceo-Laurenziana at Florence, to whom we take this occasion to express publicly our great indebtedness. For a brief discussion of the archetype and its descendants, together with some remarks upon the text of Asclepiodotus, those who seek further information may be referred to an article by W. A. Oldfather in The Amer. Journ. of Philol., 1920, XLI.127 ff.

Suffice it to say here that the variant readings in  p241 the descendants have independent value only as emendations, those in the MS. copied by Salmasius being, of course, the most important in this respect. Mere errors and omissions are, therefore, not recorded. Our knowledge of the first three (A, B, C) of these MSS. we owe to the apparatus criticus in Köchly and Rüstow, of the fourth (V) to Mai's reprint which, although employed by Köchly and Rüstow, was newly collated for this edition, and of the last three to specimen photographs of a few folios from the beginning of each (covering the whole of Chapters i, iv‑vi and parts of ii, iii, and vii), these being sufficient to determine the fact that they are practically worthless.


F = Cod. Laurentianus LV, 4. s. X‑XI.

A = Cod. Parisinus 2522. x. XV.

B = Parisinus 2435. s. XVI.

C = Cod. Parisinus 2528. s. XVII. This MS. was copied by Salmasius.

D = Cod. Parisinus 2447. s. XVI.

E = Cod. Parisinus Suppl. Gr. s. XVII. This MS. was copied by P. D. Huet at Stockholm in 1642.

V = Copy of the Laurentian MS. by Leo Allatius, in the Bibliotheca Vallicelliana at Rome. Chapters I and II were printed from this MS. by Angelo Mai, Spicilegium Romanum, vol. IV (see Bibliography).

 p242  The text of Asclepiodotus may be not infrequently controlled by the works on tactics which are current under the names of Arrian and Aelian. Whether they derive in part directly from Asclepiodotus, or merely employ in large measure the same sources, has not been decided as yet, but in any event they frequently discuss the same topics in very much the same fashion, and they throw light accordingly upon a number of corrupt or lacunose passages.

In the Lexicon militare15 also we possess an important subsidium for determining the text. This work of uncertain date, but anterior to the Byzantine period, was drawn in very large part direct from Asclepiodotus, Arrian, and Aelian, numerous passages from whom it repeats verbatim, and others with only slight variations. Its quotations from Asclepiodotus, therefore, in so far as they have not themselves become garbled,​16 give the text as it stood several centuries before the time of F. In a score of cases emendations of F supported by the Lex. mil. (so designated in the notes) have been introduced into the present edition, while in two other instances the reading in the Lex. mil., as being more easy and natural, may possibly be correct.

In the notes to the translation we have given references to the treatment of the same general topic in Aelian's Tactics. Since, in the edition of  p243 Köchly and Rüstow, Arrian's Tactics have the same chapter and paragraph enumeration as Aelian's, we have not thought it necessary to add Arrian's name.

The Diagrams

A notable feature of the great Florentine MS. is its series of diagrams which go back to Asclepiodotus himself, as is clear from the way in which mention is made of them in the body of the text. These have been reproduced in this edition from tracings prepared by Dr. E. Rostagno. In a few instances where the inscriptions in F have faded since the copies A and B were made, the inscriptions in these latter MSS. have been given in the notes. As might be expected in a thousand years or more of copying, a number of demonstrable errors have crept into the diagrams, so that in nearly every instance it has been found necessary to supplement the originals in the text with the reconstructed figures of Köchly and Rüstow in the notes. Even though frequently in one respect or another these diagrams in the MS. are erroneous, it seems desirable to retain them as an indication of the approximate appearance of the work as it left the hand of the author, of the degree to which they have been modified in copying, and of the evidence upon which the revised figures were constructed.

The Author's Notes:

1 This work by Poseidonius must have been in the mind of Philodemus, his younger contemporary, when he raised the question in his Περὶ τοῦ καθ’ Ὅμηρον ἀγαθοῦ βασιλέως, p33 ed. Olivieri (1909), εἰ δὲ τῷ φιλοσόφῳ πρέπει τὰ περὶ στρατεύματος εὐπρεπῶς καὶ δι’ εὐκοσμίας γράφειν. Unfortunately the lines immediately following are so injured that we cannot tell what his answer was. But he proceeds to present the views of Homer on the same subject at some length, and can hardly, therefore, in principle have denied the propriety of a philosopher handling the question.

The sad experience of the Peripatetic Phormio, who undertook to instruct even Hannibal at the court of Antiochus de imperatoris officio et de omni re militari, is reported at length by Cicero, De oratore, II.75 f.

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2 This seems to have been true, in particular, of Poseidonius, who found the basis of all practical affairs, even of carpentry and bread-making, in philosophy. Cf. Seneca, Epist. LXXXVIII.21 ff.; XC.7 ff.

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3 Rivista di filologia, 1875, III.543.

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4 Sitzb. d. k. preuss. Ak. d. Wiss., 1904, 480.

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5 It is not, indeed, impossible for Asclepiodotus to have been a pupil of Panaetius and Poseidonius and to have survived the latter, for this was the relation of Philippus of Opus to Socrates and Plato, and Plato lived to be at least eighty years of age. Philippus was Σωκράτους καὶ αὐτοῦ Πλάτωνος ἀκουστής (Suidas), and survived Plato, editing his Laws and adding thereto his own Epinomis (Philologus, 1908, LXVII pp452 ff.). The determining reasons, however, for rejecting the identity of those Asclepiodoti are that Asclepiodotus the pupil of Panaetius being listed immediately after one who died during his master's lifetime, is presumably to be reckoned among the older pupils and not the very youngest (so Crönert); and that in the very brief remarks characterizing the several pupils, surely if this Asclepiodotus had been the pupil also of Poseidonius and edited certain works of his, that circumstance would much more naturally have been selected for purposes of characterization than the trivial fact that he also visited Rome.

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6 Ch. viii.10.

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7 Ch. xi.1.

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8 Seneca, Quaest. nat. II.26.6; 30.1; VI.22.2.

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9 Ibid. VI.17.3.

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10 Ibid. V.15.1.

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11 Ibid. VI.17.3 . . . id apud Asclepiodotum invenies, auditorem Posidonii, in his ipsis Quaestionum naturalium Causis.

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12 Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyklop. II.1638.

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13 Cf. E. Oder, Philologus, Supplb. VII, 1899, 302 f.

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14 The vexed question of the precise relations of Aelian and Arrian to one another and to Asclepiodotus belongs properly in a discussion of the later authors. Both drew largely from Asclepiodotus.

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15 Best edited by Köchly and Rüstow, Griech. Kriegsschriftsteller, II.2. Leipzig, 1855, 217 ff. It appears ordinarily as an appendix to the lexicon of Suidas. For a discussion of the sources and the text-critical value of the work see a note by W. A. Oldfather and J. B. Titchener in Class. Philol., 1921, XVI.74‑76 .

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16 Thus it gives ἔκτατοι like F, alongside of ἔκτακτοι in § 14 (= Ascl. ii.9).

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