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Bill Thayer

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Chapters 4‑5

This webpage reproduces part of the
The General (Strategikos)


(Loeb Classical Library edition, 1928)

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapters 7‑9

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.


 p395  VI. [On Maintaining Military Formation]

[link to original Greek text] 1 The general must lead his entire army in military formation, even if he is not on the point of battle, but is completing a long journey and a march of many days through either a friendly or a hostile country; through a friendly country, that the soldiers may become accustomed to remaining in rank, to keeping to their own companies, and to following their own leaders; through a hostile country, to guard against sudden attacks from ambush, that the soldiers may not be thrown into disorder at a critical moment, running against and stumbling over one another, and so accomplishing nothing but rather suffering severe loss; they must proceed, prepared at the same time for marching and for battle, remembering their watchword and keeping their eyes on their comrades in the ranks. 2 The general must attempt to make the marching order of his army as compact as possible, and should lead his troops through such a country — so far as he is able — that the ranks may not be so cramped, being narrow and having no width, that they cannot be deployed to a considerable distance laterally. 3 For lines so disposed suffer more  p397 under sudden attacks of the enemy and are least effective; should the enemy with a more extended front encounter the head of the column, they would easily put it to flight, just as in battle one army, by outflanking an enemy advancing in column formation, routs it. Should the enemy attack the centre of the column from the flank, they would quickly pierce it and cut through — for if the column wheels to meet the enemy, forming a phalanx, even this, lacking depth, will make but a weak resistance —; and, finally, should the enemy attack the rear of the column, the fighting with back to the foe would be dangerous and entail obvious destruction; and even if the soldiers in the column venture to face about and form a new front, the battle would amount to the same thing as the previous attack on the advance guard, i.e., the enemy would quickly surround them. 4 Furthermore, assistance is difficult to give and ineffectual, for when those in the rear desire to give aid to the head of the column, or those at the head to those in the rear, their arrival is delayed and ill‑timed, however eager they may be to cover the many stades which separate them from the van or the rear respectively.

[link to original Greek text] 5 A marching formation that is compact and rectangular — not very much longer than its width — is safe and easy to manage for every emergency. A too greatly extended line of march may at times produce panic and apprehension due to uncertainty,  p399 for sometimes the leaders, after descending from mountains into treeless and level regions, observing those in the rear still descending, have thought the enemy were attacking, so that they have been on the point of marching against their own men as enemies, and some have even come to blows.

[link to original Greek text] 6 The general must place his medical equipment, pack animals, and all his baggage in the centre of his army, not outside. Should he consider that his rear is not quite secure and undisturbed he should form his rear guard of the most vigorous and courageous soldiers, realizing that, in the light of experience, the rear is no less important than the front.

[link to original Greek text] 7 He must send ahead cavalry as scouts to search the roads, especially when advancing through a wooded country, or a wilderness broken up by ridges. For ambuscades are frequently set by the enemy, and sometimes failure to detect them brings complete disaster to the opposing side, while their discovery, by a slight precaution, attests to the general of the enemy great prudence on the part of his adversary. 8 For in a level and treeless country a general survey is sufficient for a preliminary investigation; for a cloud of dust announces the approach of the enemy by day, and burning fires light up a near‑by encampment at night.

[link to original Greek text] 9 If the general is not about to form his line of  p401 battle, but is hurrying to be the first to arrive at a given point, he should lead his army by night marches also, provided he thinks it safe. But if he intends to decide the issue by battle as soon as he comes in sight of the enemy, he should at once advance slowly and not try to march too far; for in many cases, before the actual fighting, fatigue lessens men's physical fitness.

[link to original Greek text] 10 When passing through the country of an ally, the general must order his troops not to lay hands on the country, nor to pillage or destroy; for every army under arms is ruthless, when it has the opportunity of exercising power, and the close view of desirable objects entices the thoughtless to greediness; while small reasons alienate allies or make them quite hostile. 11 But the country of the enemy he should ruin and burn and ravage, for loss of money and shortage of crops reduce warfare, as abundance nourishes it. But first he should let the enemy know what he intends to do; for often the expectation of impending terror has brought those who have been endangered, before they have suffered at all, to terms which they previously would not have wished to accept; but when they have once suffered a reverse, in the belief that nothing can be worse they are careless of future perils. 12 If he intends to  p403 encamp for some time in the enemy's country, he must destroy only things of such a number and sort as he himself will not need; whatever, if preserved, will be of advantage to his friends he should spare.

[link to original Greek text] 13 When the army is recruited to full strength, he must not settle down and stay either in his own country, or in that of a subject nation, or in that of an ally; for he will consume his own crops, and do more damage to his friends than to his enemies. He should lead out his forces over the frontier as soon as possible, if matters are safe at home; for from the enemy's country, if it is fertile and wealthy, he will have abundant provisions, but if it is not, he will at least not be injuring a friendly country, and he will still derive great gain even from the distress of the hostile country.

[link to original Greek text] 14 He should consider the matter of supplies, and the convoying of his merchants by land and sea, that they may arrive safely at his base of supplies, and that they may without hesitation transport their cargoes of provisions.

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