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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces part of the
The General (Strategikos)


(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.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapters 4‑5
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.


 p375  [link to original Greek text] I. [The Choice of a General]

1 I believe, then, that we must choose a general, not because of noble birth as priests are chosen, nor because of wealth as the superintendents of the gymnasia, but because he is temperate, self-restrained, vigilant, frugal, hardened to labour, alert, free from avarice, neither too young nor too old, indeed a father of children if possible, a ready speaker, and a man with a good reputation.

[link to original Greek text] 2 The general must be temperate in order that he may not be so distracted by the pleasures of the body as to neglect the consideration of matters of the highest importance.

[link to original Greek text] 3 He must be self-restrained, since he is to be a man of so great authority; for the licentious impulses, when combined with the authority which confers the power of action, become uncontrollable in the gratification of the passions.

 p377  [link to original Greek text] 4 Vigilant, that he may spend wakeful nights over the most important projects; for at night, as a rule, with the mind at rest, the general perfects his plans.

[link to original Greek text] 5 Frugal, since expensive attendance upon the luxurious tastes of commanders consumes time unprofitably and causes resources to waste away.

[link to original Greek text] 6 Hardened to labour, that he may not be the first but the last of the army to grow weary.

[link to original Greek text] 7 Alert, for the general must be quick, with swiftness of mind darting at every subject — quick, as Homer says, "as a bird, or as thought."1 For very frequently unexpected disorders arise which may compel him to decide on the spur of the moment what is expedient.

[link to original Greek text] 8 Free from avarice; for this quality of freedom from avarice will be valued most highly, since it is largely responsible for the incorruptible and large-minded management of affairs. For many who can face the shields and spears of a host with courage are blinded by gold; but gold is a strong weapon against the enemy and effective for victory.2

[link to original Greek text] 9 Neither too young nor too old; since the young man does not inspire confidence, the old man is feeble, and neither is free from danger, the young man lest he err through reckless daring, the older lest he neglect something through physical weakness. 10 The ideal lies between the two, for physical  p379 vigour is found in the man who has not yet grown old, and discretion in the man who is not too young. Those who value physical strength without discretion, or discretion without physical strength, have failed to accomplish anything. For a weak mind can contribute no valuable ideas, nor can strength unsupported bring to completion any activity. 11 Moreover, a man of good reputation is of no slight assistance to those who choose him; for if men have a spontaneous and natural love for their general, they are quick to obey his commands, they do not distrust him, and they coöperate with him in case of danger.

[link to original Greek text] 12 I should prefer our general to be a father, though I would not refuse a childless man, provided he be a good man. For if he happens to have young children, they are potent spells to keep his heart loyal, availing to bind him to the fatherland, a powerful and keen incentive to a father, capable of arousing his heart against the foe. And should his children have reached manhood, they will become advisers and aides, faithful guardians of his secrets, and they will help him to bring the affairs of state to a successful issue.

[link to original Greek text] 13 A ready speaker;3 for I believe that the greatest benefit can accrue from the work of a general through this gift. For if a general is drawing up his  p381 men before battle, the encouragement of his words makes them despise the danger and covet the honour; and a trumpet-call resounding in the ears does not so effectively awaken the soul to the conflict of battle as a speech that urges to strenuous valour rouses the martial spirit to confront danger. Should some disaster befall the army, an encouraging speech will give the men's souls new strength; and a not unskilful address by the commander is far more useful in counteracting the despondency of an army in the hour of defeat than the physicians who attend to the wounded. 14 For the physicians with their medicines care only for the wounded, whereas the eloquent general not only heartens the disabled but also sets the well on their feet again. 15 Just as hidden diseases are harder to cure than those with external symptoms, so it is more difficult by a consoling speech to cure a heart of its despondency than to minister to an obvious and manifest disease of the body. 16 No city at all will put an army in the field without generals nor choose a general who lacks the ability to make an effective speech.

[link to original Greek text] 17 The general should be a man of good reputation, because the majority of men, when placed under the command of unknown generals, feel uneasy. For no one voluntarily submits to a leader or an officer who is an inferior man to himself. 18 It is absolutely  p383 essential, then, that a general be such a man, of such excellent traits of character as I have mentioned, and besides this, that he have a good reputation.

[link to original Greek text] 19 A wealthy man in my opinion must not be chosen general on account of his wealth, if he has not these qualities; nor must a poor man, provided that he be competent, be rejected on account of his poverty. It is not necessary that the general be rich or poor; he may be the one or the other. Neither the one nor the other must be chosen nor rejected on account of his fortune in life, but must be tested by the standard of character. 20 Even the wealthy general who is good will surpass the noble but poor general only in the same degree that armour inlaid with gold and silver surpasses that of bronze and iron — the former have the advantage in ornamentation but the latter prove superior in efficiency — provided that he is not a man who deals in money. Were he the richest man in the world, I should not ever advise choosing a man who deals in money. I mean by this expression a usurer, a trader, a merchant, or those who are in a similar business. For these men must have petty minds; excited over gain and worried about the means of getting money, they have acquired absolutely none of the noble habits of a general.

[link to original Greek text] 21 An illustrious family name we should welcome, if it be present, but if lacking it should not be demanded, nor should we judge men worthy or unworthy of commands simply by this criterion; but  p385 just as we test the pedigrees of animals in the light of the things they actually do, so we should view the pedigrees of men also. 22 For it is dangerous to consider what fine thing a general's ancestors have done, rather than what the generals now chosen will do, as if those long dead could still protect us, and as if they would maintain us in our former possessions. As a matter of fact, is it not sheer stupidity to honour soldiers for valour, not those of famous families but those who have done some noble deed themselves, but on the other hand to select generals, even if they are incompetent, on account of their ancestors and not on account of their own worth, even if their families are unknown? 23 Of course, if a general has birth in addition to these other qualities, he is fortunate, but even if he has a famous name without the other qualities, he is useless. 24 It might perhaps be expected that those men who cannot take pride in their ancestors would become even better generals; for men who glory in their forefathers, even if they are themselves failures, believing that the fame of their family is theirs forever are often too careless as administrators, whereas those who have no ancestral renown to begin with, desiring to make up for the obscurity of their lineage by their own zeal, are more eager to take part in dangerous enterprises. 25 Just as the poor man, eager to supply what fortune omitted, will endure more than the rich man in getting a start to make his fortune, so the man who can avail himself of no inheritance  p387 of ancestral glory determines to make his own the virtue which he himself acquires.

[link to original Greek text] II. [The Characteristics of a good General]

1 So that general is to be praised who is good, wealthy, and well-born, but the excellent general who is not wealthy is not to be rejected, even if of humble family. 2 The general when chosen must be trustworthy, affable, prompt, calm, not so lenient as to be despised, nor so severe as to be hated, so that he may neither through favours loosen the bonds of discipline, nor estrange the army through fear. 3 He must appoint as lieutenants, captains, and colonels, as well as other officers, if it seems necessary, men who are most loyal to their country, most faithful, and most vigorous — though there is nothing to prevent their being of the greatest wealth and nobility. 4 As the number of generals to be chosen is small, they may be easily judged from their characters, even if the dignity of wealth and birth is lacking; but this is not the case with the multitude of subordinate officers. 5 And so by off‑hand judgment required at a crucial moment the nobility have to be preferred, but when there is no urgency, the wealthy, since those who have abundant means can spend money on the soldiery and make them gifts; for a slight expenditure by the officers  p389 for the benefit of their men makes the rank and file better disposed; and the pledges of greater rewards can be depended upon when made by those who have more at stake — that is, if the confidence a general ought to inspire is not altogether furnished by his character.

[link to original Greek text] III. [The General's advisory Council]

1 The general should either choose a staff to participate in all his councils and share in his decisions, men who will accompany the army especially for this purpose, or summon as members of his council a selected group of the most respected commanders, since it is not safe that the opinions of one single man, on his sole judgment, should be adopted. 2 For the isolated decision of one man, unsupported by others, can see no farther than his own ingenuity, but that which has the additional testimony of councillors guarantees against mistake. 3 However, the general must neither be so undecided that he entirely distrusts himself, nor so obstinate as not to think that anyone can have a better idea than his own; for such a man, either because he listens to every one else and never to himself, is sure to meet with frequent misfortune, or else, through never listening to others but always to himself, is bound to make many very costly mistakes.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Odyssey, VII.36.

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2 The Romans of this period enjoyed among the Greeks a singularly evil reputation for greed; see especially a striking passage in Diodorus Siculus XXXI.26.

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3 Thus Homer felt that the great leader must be μύθων τε ῥητῆρ’ ἔμεναι πρηκτῆρά τε ἔργων (Iliad, IX.443), and the harangue before battle was a necessary formality, which a Caesar felt must be delivered even to his tenth legion and in the crisis of the unexpected attack of the Nervii (Bellum Gallicum, II.21.1 f.). Compare also Cicero, Philippica, IV.5.

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Page updated: 4 Sep 13