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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces part of
Siege Defense

Aeneas Tacticus

(Loeb Classical Library edition, 1928)

The text is in the public domain.

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Aeneas Tacticus
On the Defence of Fortified Positions

(XVI, continued)

 p85  [link to original Greek text] 16 And if the country be not easy to invade but have few and narrow approaches, you should prepare  p87 these in advance by such a distribution of forces as has just been described, placing soldiers at the approaches to oppose those who are attacking and wish to march upon the city, having stationed in advance other troops who are made aware by signal-fires of the fortunes of the several divisions, in order that these may bring support, if in any way they need one another's help. 17 If, on the other hand, the land is not difficult to invade, but it is possible for large forces to attack at many points, the strategic positions of the country should be seized, so that the approach to the city may be difficult for the enemy. 18 Again, if such places do not exist, it is necessary to occupy near the city other points of support, so that you may both fight to good advantage and also be able easily to withdraw from the place whenever you wish to retreat to the city. And then if the enemy break into the country and make for the city, you must begin the fighting, setting out from these places. 19 You must always, in making your attacks upon the enemy strive to profit from your acquaintance with the terrain; for you will have a great advantage from previous knowledge of the country and by leading the enemy into such places as you may wish, which are known to you and suitable, whether for defence, or pursuit, or flight, or withdrawal into the city either secretly or openly. Moreover, you will also know in advance what part of the country will supply you with provisions, whereas the enemy will be unacquainted, ignorant, and embarrassed in all these particulars.  p89 20 The enemy, moreover, knowing that if one is unfamiliar with the country, not only is he unable to accomplish anything that he wishes, but it is also difficult for him to get away in safety, at least if the inhabitants wish to attack him, would come to grief from their spiritless and timid disposition towards everything, because they are unable to conjecture anything of the sort. For there would be as great a difference between the two parties as if it were the lot of the one to fight by night and the other by day, if this could in any way happen at the same time. 21 If you have a naval force the ships must be manned, for the marines will annoy the enemy as much as the infantry if your fleet sails by the coasts and the roads along the shore, so that the enemy will be embarrassed both by you and by the men from the ships who disembark in their rear. 22 By your doing so the enemy would be most unprepared for your attack, and they would be surprised by the outcome of your manoeuvre.

[link to original Greek text] XVII

1 In a city in which harmony is wanting and where the citizens are mutually distrustful, you must exercise forethought and caution about the crowds that go out to see a torch-race,​41 horse-racing, or other  p91 contests — whenever, that is, there are sacred rites in which the entire people engage outside the city, and processions that issue from the city under arms —; also about the public hauling up of ships and the obsequies of the dead. For it is possible on such an occasion for one faction to be overthrown, 2 and as an example I will cite an actual instance. A public festival of the Argives​42 took place outside the city, and the citizens formed an armed procession of men of military age. Meanwhile many conspirators who got ready, equipped themselves with arms, joined the procession, 3 and when it came to the temple and the altar the majority set down their weapons at a distance from the temple and went to pray at the altar. Of the conspirators, however, some remained with their arms, and others took their stand beside the magistrates and leading men of the city while they were at prayer, each beside his man, with dagger in hand. 4 These men some of the conspirators struck down, while others with their arms hastened into the city, and still others of the conspirators, who had remained in the town with the hoplites who had been previously collected, captured those quarters which were necessary for their purpose, and so admitted only those whom they wished. Accordingly, against such treachery one must at no time be off his guard. 5 The people of Chios, when they celebrate the festival of Dionysus and send brilliant processions to his altar, first with  p93 guards and numerous forces take possession of the roads leading to the market-place — truly no slight hindrance to those who wish to begin a revolution. 6 It is best for the officials to begin the celebration accompanied by the previously selected force, and only after these have been separated from the populace to allow the others to come.

[link to original Greek text] XVIII

1 And whenever those who have gone out return and it is late afternoon, one should give the signal for the evening meal and for mounting guard; and while the guards are making ready care must be taken that the gates are well locked, since many mistakes are made about the bolt-pins as the result of slackness on the part of the authorities. 2 For when any of them goes to lock the gate, yet does not do so with his own hands, but gives the bolt‑pin over to the gate-keeper and orders him to lock it, the following sorts of mischief are done by gate-keepers who wish to admit the enemy by night.43  p95 3 Some one during the day has poured sand into the bolt-socket of the gate, so that the bolt may stick outside and not drop into the hole. They say, too, that bolt-pins already dropped into place have been extracted in the following manner. 4 While sand was poured into the socket a few grains at a time, the bolt‑pin was shaken noiselessly so that no one would notice it. Accordingly, as the sand worked down, the bolt‑pin came to the top, so that it was easily taken out.

[link to original Greek text] 5 It has happened that a keeper of the gate, on receiving from the general the bolt‑pin to put in place, with a chisel or file surreptitiously made a groove in the pin, looped a linen thread about it, and inserted it, and then after a little drew it out by the thread. 6 Yet another prepared a net of fine meshes to which was attached a linen thread, put the pin in that, and afterwards drew it out. The bolt‑pin has also been removed by driving it up out of the socket with blows from beneath. Again, it has been removed by means of delicate pincers; and for this one part of the pincers must be grooved,​44 the other flat, so as to get an under-hold on the bolt‑pin with the grooved part and an over-hold with the other. 7 And still another, just as he was to drop the bolt‑pin in place, secretly turned the bar in order that the pin might not fall into the hole and that afterwards the gate might be forced open.

[link to original Greek text] 8 In the city of . . . near the border of Achaea​45 certain men who were endeavouring to smuggle in mercenaries began by getting the dimensions of  p97 the bolt‑pin in the following manner. 9 During the day they let down into the socket a loop of fine and strong linen thread, the ends of which were outside but not in sight, and when at night the bolt‑pin was put in place, with the ends of the thread they pulled up the loop and the pin, took its dimensions, and replaced it. Next they made a pin‑hook to fit the dimensions of the pin thus taken, in the following manner. 10 They had a tube made and a needle for sewing rush-mats. Now the tube was made in the usual fashion, but the mat‑needle had the point and the longer end made like other such needles, while the head was hollow like that of a spike at the butt of a spear into which the shaft is fitted; 11 and at the blacksmith's shop a shaft was fitted into it, but when they took it home this was removed, so that the head fitted the bolt‑pin when they were put together. Now that seems a very shrewd device to prevent the blacksmith from suspecting the purpose for which the tube and the mat‑needle were made and the fittings devised.

[link to original Greek text] 12 Some other men once, while the bolt‑pin was in the socket, got its measurements in the following manner. They wrapped a lump of potter's clay in a fine linen cloth and let it down into the socket, pressing the clay about the bolt‑pin with a tool: then they drew up the clay, took a cast of the pin, and made the key to fit.

[link to original Greek text] 13 The great city of Teos in Ionia once came very near  p99 falling into the hands of Temenus the Rhodian through the treachery of the gate-keeper.​46 Among other things they agreed upon a dark, moonless night, on which one was to open the gate and the other to enter with mercenaries. 14 Now when the plan was to be put into execution the following night, a man came up to the gate-keeper late in the evening, when the guards were stationed on the wall and the gates were about to be locked, as it was already dark, and then disappeared, after first making fast the end of a ball of twisted linen cord, which was not likely to be easily broken. 15 He went away, unrolling the ball as he went, until he reached a spot five stadia​47 from the city, where the troops which were to enter would come. 16 Then, when the general came to lock the gates, and as usual gave the gate-keeper the bolt‑pin to put in place, the latter took it, and with a file or a chisel, noiselessly and without attracting attention, cut a groove in it so that a thread would catch it. He then slipped a loop over the pin and let it down with the thread attached to it. After that he shook the bar, showing the general that the gate was locked, and held his peace. 17 Some time after he drew up the pin and tied the end of the cord to himself, so that if he should happen to fall asleep he would be awakened by a pull at the cord. 18 Now Temenus, provided with the forces which were to enter with him, came near to a place agreed upon with the man who had the ball of cord. And a  p101 previous arrangement had been made with the gate-keeper that Temenus was to pull the cord when he reached the spot, and if the keeper had things ready as he wished, he was to tie a flock of wool to the end of the cord and let it go, and, when Temenus saw that, he was to hurry to the gate. 19 But in case of failure to secure what he wished [he was to let the cord go without anything tied to it. Accordingly] he let the cord go without anything tied to it, so that Temenus with a long start got away without being discovered. They found out accordingly in the night that the cord was [. . . so because the situation was unfavourable] in the city it was impossible to proceed.

[link to original Greek text] 20 Here is also another way in which a city was betrayed by a gate-keeper. He made it his custom to go out with a water‑jug, as though for water, when the gates were about to be locked. On arriving at the spring he would put stones in a spot known to the enemy, who, when reaching the place, found out by means of the stones just what the city watchman wished to reveal. 21 For if he was to keep the first watch, he would place one stone at the prearranged spot, if the second, two, if the third, three, if the fourth, four. Furthermore, by giving signals in this fashion, he furnished information both as to what position on the wall and to which detachment of the guards he had been assigned by lot. Accordingly, with all this in mind, the officer should be on  p103 his guard, should lock the gate himself, and should not give the bolt‑pin to anyone else.

[link to original Greek text] 22 . . . When engaged in any such enterprise one ought to conceal the bar; for it has happened that opponents have appeared and locked the gate again by force because the bar was still there. And so one should make provision for all such contingencies.

[link to original Greek text] XIX. [Sawing through a Bar]

1 In sawing through a bar pour on oil; for thus the sawing will go faster and with less noise. And if a sponge​48 be tied to the saw and to the bar, the noise will be much less distinct. One might write down many other similar suggestions, but we may let them pass.

[link to original Greek text] XX. [Prevention of Tampering with Bars and Bolt-pins]

1 To prevent deception of the kinds just mentioned, in the first place the general ought before dining to give personal attention to the locking of the gate, and not carelessly to trust to anyone else, while in dangerous situations he must be extremely vigorous about this. 2 Next, the bar should have three or four strips of iron from end to end, for thus it cannot be sawed through. Then, three dissimilar bolt-pins should be put in, and each general is to have one of  p105 these in his keeping; if, however, there should be more than three generals, then the custody of the bolt-pins must be determined each day by lot. 3 But the best thing is to have the bolt-pins so that they cannot be removed but are held in place by an iron plate, so that when it is raised up the pin cannot be lifted higher by the pincers than just enough to slip the bar under when the gate is closed and opened, while the pincers must be so made that they can pass under the plate and easily lift the bolt‑pin. 4 The citizens of Apollonia Pontica, after having had one of the experiences already described, provided that gates should be locked with a great hammer and the making of a tremendous noise, so that the locking or opening of the gates could be heard over almost the entire city, so ponderous were the fastenings and so strengthened with iron; 5 and the same thing was done in Aegina also. When the gates are locked, give the guards password and answer and send them to their posts.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

41 A characteristic form of sport among the Greeks, in which not merely speed and endurance were tested, but especially the skill with which a lighted torch could be carried a considerable distance. It was most famous at Athens, but also is attested for a number of other communities.

[decorative delimiter]

42 This was on the occasion of the short-lived oligarchic revolution after the battle of Mantinea in 418 B.C. The "hoplites who had been previously collected," of whom Aeneas speaks below, were clearly the thousand Lacedaemonians who helped the oligarchs, according to Thucydides V.81 (cf. Plutarch, Alcib. 15).

[decorative delimiter]

43 For understanding the following passage it is perhaps necessary to observe that ancient city gates, which were regularly two‑valved and opened inward, were locked by passing a long bar from jamb to jamb. In the upper surface of the opening into one of the jambs in which the bar rested, a deep socket was cut and a hole bored through the bar at the point which overlay this socket. Through this hole and into this socket was then dropped the bolt‑pin, a metal cylinder, in such a way that approximately one half of it would be in the socket, the other half in the hole in the bar, but that its top should be below the upper surface of the bar, so that it could not be pulled out by any chance comer. In order to extract the bolt‑pin it was necessary, therefore, to have a key so shaped as to reach down into the hole, while the bolt‑pin and the key had to be fitted to one another by hooks or catches, so that the key could take firm hold of the pin and draw it out. — The above note follows the results of Köchly and Rüstow's elaborate discussion of the passage. For modern survivals in Greece and elsewhere of this general method of locking by means of a bar and a bolt‑pin see H. Diels, Antike Technik (1920), 40 ff., and the literature cited there.

[decorative delimiter]

44 That is, so as to fit about the cylindrical pin.

[decorative delimiter]

45 A similar story is told about Heraea in Polyaenus II.36, but Heraea is an Arcadian city at a considerable distance from Achaea, and the event described by Polyaenus took place between 240‑235 B.C., more than a century later than the time of Aeneas.

[decorative delimiter]

46 Nothing further is known about the incident described here.

[decorative delimiter]

47 Approximately one‑half mile.

[decorative delimiter]

48 He probably means that the sponge should have been first soaked in oil. In that way it would feed oil steadily and uniformly. This is one of the very few suggestions for the assailants of a beleaguered city rather than its defenders. It is clearly an afterthought on his part, and would have been relegated to a footnote were he writing under modern conditions.

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