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Bill Thayer

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Chapters 15‑22

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.
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Chapters 32‑34
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.


 p463  [link to original Greek text] XXIII. [Announcing favourable News in the Midst of Battle; even if false it is advantageous]

1 Sometimes the general should ride along the lines and call out to his men, if he happens to be on the right wing, "Our left wing is defeating the right wing of the enemy," or if he is on the left he should say that his right wing is conquering, whether this is true or not,10 for deceit is necessary when "a great strife has arisen."11 For example, when the leader of the enemy is some distance away either on one wing or holding the centre, he should call out, "The general of the enemy has been killed," or "the king," or whoever it may be. 2 And one should shout this in such a manner that the enemy also may hear; for his own soldiers, learning that their side is more successful, are encouraged and doubly eager to fight, while the enemy, learning of the misfortunes of their side, lose heart, so that sometimes they start into flight immediately on hearing such a report. 3 In this  p465 way it is very often useful to deceive both one's own army and that of the enemy by false news, good for the former, but bad for the latter.

[link to original Greek text] XXIV. [In the Ranks Friends must be placed by Friends and Acquaintances by Acquaintances]

It is the part of a wise general to station brothers in rank beside brothers, friends beside friends, and lovers beside their favourites.12 For whenever that which is in danger near by is more than ordinarily dear the lover necessarily fights more recklessly for the man beside him. And of course one is ashamed not to return a favour that he has received, and is dishonoured if he abandons his benefactor and is the first to flee.

[link to original Greek text] XXV. [The General must not give the Signal for Battle or any other Action to his Army
in Person but through his Officers]

1 The general should give every command or watchword or countersign through his officers, for to come and give orders personally to the whole army is the act of an unpractised and inexperienced commander. Time is lost in passing orders down the line, and confusion arises, as all the soldiers question each other at the same time. One man through ignorance adds something to what the general has said and  p467 another omits something. 2 But one should communicate his orders to his higher officers and they should repeat them to the officers next below them, who in turn pass them to their subordinates, and so on to the lowest, the higher officers in each case telling the orders to those below them. In this manner the soldiers will learn the commands quickly with order and calmness, just as a message is carried by fire-signals. 3 For after the first signaller uplifts his fire, the second signals to the next, and the third to the fourth, and the fourth to the fifth, and the fifth to the sixth, and one by one follows the other, so that in a short time, over a distance of many stades, the message signalled by the first is known to all.

[link to original Greek text] XXVI. [On giving both Watchwords and Countersigns]

1 He should give the countersign not by the voice but by some gesture, as a wave of the hand, or the clash of weapons, or dipping a spear, or by a side-wave of his sword, in order that when confusion arises the soldiers may not have to trust to the spoken watchword alone — for the enemy hear this so often that they are able to get it — but also to the countersign. 2 This is most useful in the case of allies who speak a different language, for, unable to speak or to understand a foreign tongue, they differentiate between  p469 friends or enemies by this countersign. One should instruct the army in these signals in camp, even if it is not about to fight, as a protection against confusion and uncertainty.

[link to original Greek text] XXVII. [Soldiers should never leave the Ranks
whether in Formation or in Retreat]

One should command both retreats and pursuits to be made in formation, so that, if defeated, the soldiers may suffer less injury, when in their flight they encounter the enemy, by not being scattered, man by man, and, if successful, they may inflict greater injury on the enemy by keeping their ranks and companies unbroken, appearing stronger to the fugitives, and moreover being safer themselves. For often the enemy, observing their opponents advancing without order, by a concerted plan about-face, form ranks once more and reverse the pursuit. In a word, the general should say that nothing is more advantageous to his men than remaining in rank, and nothing more dangerous than breaking ranks.

[link to original Greek text] XXVIII. [The General must be attentive to the Splendour of the Army's Equipment]

The general should make it a point to draw up his line of battle resplendent in armour13 — an easy matter,  p471 requiring only a command to sharpen swords and to clean helmets and breast-plates. For the advancing companies appear more dangerous by the gleam of weapons, and the terrible sight brings fear and confusion to the hearts of the enemy.

[link to original Greek text] XXIX. [Shouting in the Midst of Battle]

1 One should send the army into battle shouting, and sometimes on the run, because their appearance and shouts and the clash of arms confound the hearts of the enemy. 2 The dense bands of soldiers should spread out in the attack before coming to close quarters, often waving their swords high above their heads toward the sun. The polished spear-points and flashing swords, shining in thick array and reflecting the light of the sun, send ahead a terrible lightning-flash of war. If the enemy should also do this, it is necessary to frighten them in turn, but if not, one should frighten them first.

[link to original Greek text] 3 It is sometimes advantageous before a critical battle for the general not to be the first to form a line of battle but to wait within the camp for a time  p473 until he observes the battle array of the enemy, its character, arrangement, and position.

[link to original Greek text] XXX. [The General must decide before Battle
who should oppose whom and thus in Order
arrange his own Officers against those of the Enemy]

Next the general must consider which troops to oppose to which of the enemy, and in what manner; just as a good doctor who foresees an illness of the body, he must bring forward his defences and arrange his forces as it seems to him most advantageous; for generals are often compelled to equip and marshal their own armies with reference to the armament, nationality, and customs of the enemy.

[link to original Greek text] XXXI. [Narrow Places must be chosen
if the Enemy are superior in Cavalry]

1 If the enemy are superior in cavalry, the general should choose if possible a locality that is rough and hemmed in, near mountains which are least suitable for riding, or he should avoid battle so far as he  p475 may until he finds an appropriate place, adapted to his own circumstances. 2 A certain number of soldiers must be left behind at the palisade to guard the camp and the baggage in order that the general of the enemy may not discover that the camp is deserted and send men to plunder its contents and seize the place.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

10 There are many instances of such salubria mendacia in antiquity; see especially Herodotus III.72; Frontinus I.11.6 ff.; II.7.1 ff. Actual instances when one wing was falsely told that the other was victorious are given by Livy II.64; Frontinus II.4.11; Polyaenus I.35.

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11 Homer, Iliad XIII.122.

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12 See the Introduction, p343 f.

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13 This was a principle upon which Julius Caesar laid great emphasis (Suetonius, Iulius, 67; Polyaenus VIII.23.20 ).

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Page updated: 27 Jul 13