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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 10.1

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 13‑14

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.


 p415  [link to original Greek text] (2) [Foraging Expeditions]

7 The general should be cautious in the matter of foraging expeditions, and not allow troops, when invading a rich hostile country, to search for plunder in an undisciplined manner; for the greatest misfortunes befall men acting in this way, since it has often happened that the enemy, falling on men scattered and without order in their eager search for booty, on account of this lack of order and the fact that they were loaded with their booty have killed many as they were retreating, unable to give aid to their comrades or to use their arms. 8 If any men do plundering without the command of the general, they should be punished. When the general himself sends out foraging parties, he should send with the light-armed and unarmed men guards, both horse and foot, who shall have nothing to do with the booty but are to remain in formation and guard the foragers, that the return to camp may be safely accomplished.

 p417  [link to original Greek text] (3) [Spies]

9 If the general should at any time capture spies, he should not employ any one single method in dealing with them. If he considers that his own army is weaker than that of the enemy, he should kill them, but if he has complete equipment of arms, thorough preparation for war, a power­ful army, vigorous and disciplined, excellent officers, all trained by experience, he will make no mistake if, after making the spies examine his army drawn up in battle array, he occasionally even sends them away unharmed; for reported superiority of the enemy necessarily causes fear, but reported inferiority brings courage.

[link to original Greek text] (4) [Guards by Night]

10 The general should appoint guards and a rather large number of them, that, by dividing the night into watches, some may sleep and some stand guard. Men must not be compelled to stand guard the entire night, nor even if they volunteer to do so must they be trusted; for it is only reasonable that sometimes, now the body is tired, sleep will come of its own accord, even against one's will. 11 The guards must remain standing while on duty; for seats and  p419 reclining positions, relaxing the body, are conducive to sleep, but standing erect and keeping the legs stretched makes the mind wakeful. 12 The guards must build fires at some distance from the camp. Thus because of the light they will see at a distance men advanced toward the camp, but those who come from the light will not perceive the guards, who are in the dark, until they fall into their hands.6

[link to original Greek text] (5) [Secret Retreat of the Army]

13 If the general desires to withdraw his army by night without the knowledge of the enemy, either to be the first to occupy a certain position or to escape from the position he is in, or to avoid the present necessity of battle, he should retreat leaving many fires burning; for as long as the enemy see the fires they believe that the army is remaining in the same place, but if the camp becomes dark while the retreat is going on, the enemy will suspect their flight, send ahead ambushes, and follow in pursuit.

[link to original Greek text] (6) [Parleys with the Generals of the Enemy]

14 But if, while keeping his army in the same spot, he should come to a conference with the opposing  p421 general, either to make or to receive some proposal, he should choose as an escort the strongest and finest-looking of the younger soldiers, stalwart, handsome and tall men, equipped with magnificent armour, and with these about him he should meet the enemy. For often from the view of a part the whole is judged to be like it, and a general does not determine his course of action by what he has heard, but is terrified by what he has seen.

[link to original Greek text] (7) [Deserters]

15 If any deserters arrive in camp to tell of a suitable opportunity or hour for attack, or if they offer to act as guides over a road and assert that they will lead the army along it, unseen by the enemy, the general should lead these deserters with him securely bound, making it plain to them that, if they are truthful and bring safety and victory to the army, he will set them free and present them with fitting rewards, but that if they attempt to deceive him and wish to betray his army into the hands of their own friends, at that same 'suitable opportunity' they will be slain in their bonds by the endangered army. Confidence may be most safely placed in the word of a deserter, when he knows that his life is not in his own hands, but in the hands of those whom he leads.

 p423  [link to original Greek text] (8) [On the Inspection of the Enemy's Camp]

16 The general should skilfully inspect the camp of the enemy. If he sees a circular palisade contracted into a small circumference, lying in a plain, he should not conclude that the enemy are few in number; for every circle appears to contain less than it actually does by the theory of proportionate geometrical contents,​7 and the space enclosed within a circle can hold more men than one would think to see it. If the sides of the palisade happen to be long and close together in certain parts, or crooked with many acute angles, he should not conclude that the camp contains a great number of men; for this type of camp appears large but has no more men within its walls in every case than circular camps have. 17 Palisades on hills and mountains, unless compact in every respect, appear greater than those in plains, but they contain fewer men than the eye judges; for many parts of such camps are bare of men, since there must be many ravines in them and many steep and precipitous banks unsuitable for pitching tents, and as the palisade is built to defend the men, its length must be accordingly greater. 18 The general, therefore, judging merely the position and shape of a camp,  p425 should not be emboldened at the sight of a small contracted camp nor downhearted at the sight of an extended one.

[link to original Greek text] 19 With this knowledge he should make use of opportune strategy. Stationing his army in a small camp, according to the above-mentioned plan, and if necessary, even crowding the soldiers together, he should not lead them from the camp nor show them to the enemy encamped opposite, nor lead them into battle if the enemy challenge, but he should even give the impression that he is afraid. 20 For often the enemy, growing bold in the belief that their opponents are few, judging by sight and not by strategic experience, behave thoughtlessly. They go forth from their camp carelessly and without discipline, believing that their opponents will not dare to come out and attack; or they even surround and blockade the palisade, unaware of the multitude of men about to pour forth upon them; and with no expectation of danger soldiers become heedless. Then, seizing a favourable opportunity, the army must rush forth from the many little gates of the palisade, and in battle array courageously grapple with the task before them.

[link to original Greek text] 21 The general, having this knowledge, will know how to do his part, and even if he is out‑generaled in these same matters, will be both wise in action and prudent in devising protection; for from the knowledge that instructs him in what he must do, he will know, when his opponent is trying to do this to him, what he must not himself suffer, since  p427 personal experience in inflicting damage warns of the designs of others.

[link to original Greek text] (9) [Secret Plans]

22 If the general must make a march by night or by day for some secret purpose, to seize a fortress, city, height, or pass, or to do anything else that must be done quickly without the knowledge of the enemy, which otherwise could not be done at all, he must tell no one beforehand against what place or for what purpose he is leading his army, unless he considers it necessary to warn some of the higher officers in advance. 23 But when he has reached the spot and the moment is near at hand when he must act, he must give his orders and point out what is to be done. These orders must be quick and brief, for at the same instant that the leaders receive instructions their subordinates also know them. 24 Thoughtless and futile is he who communicates his plan to the rank and file before it is necessary; for worthless scoundrels desert to the foes especially at critical times, when, by revealing and disclosing secrets, they believe they will receive honour and reward from the enemy. There is no army in which both slaves and freemen do not desert to the other side on the many occasions that war necessarily affords.

 p429  [link to original Greek text] (10) [Taking the Omens before Battle]

25 The general should neither lead his army on a journey, nor marshal it for battle, without first making a sacrifice; in fact, official sacrificers and diviners should accompany him. It is best that the general himself be able to read the omens intelligently; it is very easy to learn in a brief time, and thereby become a good counsellor to himself. 26 He should not begin any undertaking until the omens are favourable, and he should summon all his officers to inspect the offerings, that, after seeing, they may tell the soldiers to be of good courage, since the gods command them to fight. Soldiers are far more courageous when they believe they are facing dangers with the good will of the gods; for they themselves are on the alert, every man, and they watch closely for omens of sight and of sound, and an auspicious sacrifice for the whole army encourages even those who have private misgivings. 27 But if the omens are unfavourable, he must remain in the same place, and if he is hard pressed for time he must patiently submit to every inconvenience — for he can suffer nothing worse than what Fate indicates beforehand, — since, if his condition is going to improve, he must have favourable signs in a sacrifice and he must sacrifice several times on the same day; one hour, even one minute, ruins those who start too soon or too late. 28 And it seems to me that the  p431 motions of the heavenly bodies, their risings and settings, and their positions — trine, square, and in opposition — are indicated by the art of extispicy, through another form of observation, and that trifling differences in these things have, in a single day, or rather in a single hour, led to power and deification, and have made both kings and captives.

[link to original Greek text] XI. (1) [Pursuit of an apparently fleeing Enemy
must not be careless and haphazard]

1 Since frequently the omens from a sacrifice are favourable for battle and yet sometimes foretell the complete destruction of the army through battle, I have considered it of the utmost necessity to say a few words on this point. 2 The topography of the inhabited world differs widely in its various parts, and it is impossible to foresee in what sort of country a war will occur. Every man is well acquainted with his own country but not with foreign countries. 3 Often a general, on hearing that the enemy are but a day's march distant, will call out his troops and lead them forward, hurrying to come to close quarters with the enemy, who, purposely retreating, do not make a stand against him; and so he assumes that they are afraid and pursues them. This continues until they come into a broken country,  p433 surrounded by the mountains on all sides, and the general, unsuspecting, still attacks them; next, as he marches against their positions, he is cut off by the enemy from the road by which he led his army in. They seize the passes in front of him, and all the heights round about, and thus confine their enemies in a sort of cage. But the general is carried away by his impetuosity, in the belief that he is pursuing a fleeing enemy, without noticing whom he is approaching; and later, on looking before and behind and on both sides, and seeing all the hillsides full of the enemy, he and his army will be destroyed by javelins, or, unable to fight and unwilling to surrender, he will cause all to die of hunger, or by surrender enable the enemy to dictate whatever terms they wish. 4 Therefore retreats on the part of the enemy should be suspected and not stupidly followed; the general should observe the country rather than the enemy, and notice through what sort of terrain he is leading his forces; and he should take into consideration that it is necessary to return by the same road by which he came, and should either refrain from advancing and turn aside from the route, or, if he does advance, he should take precautions, leaving forces to hold the mountain passes and connecting defiles in order that his return may  p435 be safe. 5 This advice is given for the purpose both of outwitting the enemy by these tactics and of not being outwitted oneself; for though it is a fine thing to be able in this fashion to ensnare the enemy, yet it is absolutely essential to avoid being ensnared oneself.

[link to original Greek text] (2) [Receiving Messengers]

6 The general should receive every man who wishes to report anything, whether slave or freeman, by night or day, on the march or in camp, while resting, in the bath, or at table. For generals who procrastinate and are difficult of access, and who order their servants to keep out those who come to see them, naturally either miss many important opportunities or even through their negligence suffer complete ruin; for often men bring information at a critical moment about something that can be frustrated in the nick of time.8

[link to original Greek text] XII. [Meal-times]

1 The general, if encamped opposite the camp of the enemy, should not be careless of the proper time at which to serve meals. For if he considers that it lies with him to lead out his troops to battle  p437 whenever he wishes, he may set a meal hour for his troops at whatever time he wishes. But if he should chance to have come into such extremities, because of the terrain, or the weakness of his camp, or for some other reason, that it is left in the power of the enemy to attack whenever they desire, and to compel his army to seize their arms and draw up for defence, he should not hesitate to order the first meal at sunrise, lest the enemy, by a prior attack, force his men to fight while still hungry. 2 On the whole, this matter must not be considered of slight importance nor should a general neglect to pay attention to it; for soldiers who have eaten moderately, so as not to put too great a load into their stomachs, are more vigorous in battle; armies have often been over­powered for just this reason, their strength failing for lack of food — that is, whenever the decision rests, not on a moment's fighting, but when the battle lasts throughout the entire day.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

6 This precept also derives apparently from Xenophon, Cyropaedia, III.3.25. Compare Thucydides III.23.3‑4.

[decorative delimiter]

7 The author seems to be using of a plane figure a term properly applicable only to a solid.

[decorative delimiter]

8 Alexander, on being asked how he conquered Greece, replied, μηδὲν ἀναβαλλόμενος, 'By never putting anything off' (Schol. on Homer's Iliad II.435).

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Page updated: 27 Jul 13