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Bill Thayer

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Chapters 13‑14

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 23‑31

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.


 p443  [link to original Greek text] XV. [The Difference in Battle Formations]

Battle formation is not of one but of many and various kinds, with regard to arms and soldiers and terrain and enemies. These differences the general will have to know on the occasions themselves, but what pertains in large part to many formations I shall briefly summarize, without considering the details which, in the actions themselves, must necessarily be understood.

[link to original Greek text] XVI. [Battle Formation
with regard to that of the Enemy]

The general will arrange his cavalry not as he wishes but rather as he is compelled; for he will  p445 oppose his own cavalry to that of the enemy. As a rule, in pitched battles he should arrange his cavalry in column formation, in order that attacking both in front and on the flanks and covering a greater amount of space (if no other soldiers are drawn up in their rear), they may thus be able to make use of their skill in cavalry fighting.

[link to original Greek text] XVII. [Placing the light-armed Troops, Javelin-throwers, Bowmen and Slingers, before the Phalanx]

The general will assign his light-armed troops — javelin-throwers, bowmen, and slingers — to a position in front of the phalanx, for if placed in the rear they will do more damage to their own army than to the enemy, and if in among the heavy-armed, their peculiar skill will be ineffectual because they will be unable to take a step backwards in throwing their javelins or to charge forward and cast them, as other soldiers are in front of them and at their heels, nor will the slingers be able to execute the whirling of their slings, as their fellow-soldiers stand at their side and, in their turn, are caused to stumble in trying to avoid the whirling slings. If the bowmen are placed in front of the army, they will shoot their arrows at the enemy as at a target; but drawn up behind the ranks or in among the  p447 heavy-armed they will shoot high, so that the arrows have impetus only for their upward flight, and afterwards, even if they fall on the heads of the enemy, will have spent their force and cause little distress to the foe.

[link to original Greek text] XVIII. [Disposition of light-armed Troops
in a broken Country]

If the battle should happen to be in a country that is level in some places but hilly in others, then the light-armed troops should by all means be stationed in the uneven section, and then, if the general himself should have seized the plain and some part of the enemy's phalanx should possess the heights, he should send against them the light-armed troops; for from the uneven ground they can more easily hurl their weapons and retreat, or they can very easily charge up the slopes, if they are agile.

[link to original Greek text] XIX. [The Phalanx should leave Intervals
for the light-armed Troops to retire through the Ranks]

1 There should be intervals within the ranks, so that, when the light-armed troops have discharged their weapons while the enemy is still advancing, before the  p449 two armies come to close quarters, they may about-face, pass in good order through the centre of the phalanx, and come without confusion to the rear. For it is not safe for them to go around the whole army, encircling the flanks — since the enemy would quickly anticipate them in this manoeuvre, coming to close quarters and intercepting them on the way — nor is it safe for them to force their way through the closed ranks, where they would fall over the weapons and cause confusion in the lines, one man stumbling against another. 2 Attacks of the light-armed troops on the flanks cause the enemy greater loss, since they cast their javelins from the side and of necessity strike the body where unprotected. 3 The sling is the most deadly weapon that is used by the light-armed troops, because the lead slug is the same colour as the air and is invisible in its course, so that it falls unexpectedly on the unprotected bodies of the enemy,​a and not only is the impact itself violent, but also the missile, heated by the friction of its rush through the air,​9 penetrates the flesh very rapidly, so that it even becomes invisible and the swelling quickly closes over it.

[link to original Greek text] XX. [How to attack, without light-armed Troops,
an Enemy who has many]

1 If the general himself should lack an auxiliary force of light-armed troops while the enemy has a  p451 large force of them, the front rank men should advance in close formation, with shields the height of a man, tall enough to protect the whole body, and those who follow and the ones behind them, even to the last rank, should carry their shields above their heads, while they are within bowshot of the enemy. For thus roofed in, so to speak, they will suffer no danger from missiles.​b 2 But if each army should have a number of light-armed troops, the general should order his own light-armed men to be the first to hurl their weapons against their opponents before the hand-to‑hand battle; or after the clash of the phalanx, attacking from the flank, they should make use of their missiles, for thus the enemy will be forced together into a narrow space and will be greatly confused by such tactics.

[link to original Greek text] XXI. [The Needlessness of Lengthening the Phalanx
in Fear of an encircling Movement of the Enemy]

1 The general who wishes to guard against an encircling movement of the enemy should not so extend his forces lengthwise as utterly to weaken the phalanx by giving it no depth. For this would result in the enemy somewhere quickly breaking through; and no longer attempting an encircling movement on the flank, but piercing the centre instead, they would take their opponents in the  p453 rear; and this very manoeuvre the general should not only guard against but also strive to execute if he discovers that the enemy's phalanx is weak and thin. Nor should he contract his phalanx, drawing it out toward the rear to great depth to such an extent that the enemy would easily outflank and surround it. 2 But he should make his rear and the flanks of his wings as strong as the front ranks. For those in the rear will prevent the phalanx being encircled no less than those who are posted so as to extend the flanks, if the general, anticipating what is to happen, spreads out his rear guard and posting it on either flank of the phalanx opposes his rear to the front of the enemy, or if he commands those who are already encircled to turn their backs to the backs of the front ranks and fight on a double front.

[link to original Greek text] 3 A shrewd general who sees that the enemy has many troops when he himself is about to engage with fewer, will select, or rather make it his practice to find, localities where he may prevent an encircling movement of the enemy, either by arranging his army along the bank of a river, or, by choosing a mountainous district, he will use the mountains themselves to block off those who wish to outflank him, placing a few men on the summits to prevent  p455 the enemy from climbing above the heads of the main army. 4 Not alone does knowledge of military science play a part in this matter but luck as well; for it is necessary to have the luck to find such places; one cannot prepare the terrain for oneself. To choose the better positions, however, from those at hand, and to know which will be advantageous, is the part of the wise general.

[link to original Greek text] 5 It is often the custom of generals who are in command of a power­ful and numerous army to march to battle in a crescent formation, believing that their opponents also wish the battle to come to close quarters, and that they will thus induce them to fight; then, as their opponents are bent back into the road at the points of the crescent, they will intercept them with their enveloping folds, joining the extremes of their own wings to form a complete circle. 6 Against troops advancing in this fashion, one should not likewise adopt the crescent formation, but dividing his own army into three parts, the general should send two against the enemy, one against each wing, but the third division, that which faces the central hollow of the crescent, should stand still, opposite the enemy, and not advance. For if the enemy maintain this crescent formation, those drawn up in the centre of their army will be useless, standing still and doing nothing; but if marching forward they wish to advance in a body,  p457 changing from the crescent formation to a straight line, they will be crowded together and will lose their formation — for while the wings are remaining in the same position and fighting, it is impossible for a crescent to return to a straight line. Then when they are confused and their ranks disordered, the opposing general should send the third and reserve division against the men advanced in disorder from the centre of the curve. 7 But if the enemy remain in the crescent position, the general should post his light-armed troops and archers opposite them, who with their missiles will cause heavy loss. 8 However, if he advances with his whole phalanx obliquely against one wing of the enemy, he will make no mistake in attacking in this manner, as far as the encircling movement of the crescent formation is concerned; for the enemy will be prevented for a long time from coming to close quarters with their whole army, and will be thrown into confusion little by little, since only those of one wing will be fighting, that is, those who will necessarily be the first to be engaged because of the oblique attack.

[link to original Greek text] 9 It is sometimes a useful stratagem for an army facing the enemy to retire gradually, as if struck by fear, or to about-face and make a retreat similar to a flight but in order, and then, suddenly turning, to attack their pursuers. For sometimes the enemy, delighted by the belief that their opponents are  p459 fleeing, break ranks and rush forward, leaping ahead of one another. There is no danger in turning to attack these men; and those who have for some time been pursuing, terrified by the very unexpectedness of this bold stand, immediately take to flight.

[link to original Greek text] XXII. [Holding Reserves
for the Assistance of exhausted Troops.
Holding Reserves in Concealment]

1 The general should also have somewhere a picked corps, stationed apart from the phalanx as military reserves, that he may have them ready to give assistance to those detachments of his force that are exhausted. These fresh troops are of not a little advantage in attacking tired men; for, besides relieving those of their own men who are worn out, they attack in their full freshness a wearied enemy. 2 It would be even more advantageous for the general to send a certain part of his army some little distance from the encampment — as far as seems best to him, — unseen by the enemy, with orders to rise up and hasten when the battle is begun, which they will learn from scouts. This is especially to be done  p461 when expected reinforcements come too late for the battle, for the enemy believe that these are the reinforcements arriving from some place or other for their opponents; then possibly even while these reinforcements are still advancing and before they enter the battle, the enemy will take to flight, judging this force to be, not what it is, but much greater. 3 Besides, the arrival of unfamiliar hostile troops at the very moment of battle lowers the morale; for anticipating some greater misfortune than they are about to suffer, soldiers regard the future with greater fear.

[link to original Greek text] 4 Most terrible, or rather most effective, of all manoeuvres, is a sudden attack against the enemy's rear. For this purpose, if in any manner it should be possible, a detachment of soldiers should be sent ahead by night, with orders for all to march around the enemy in order to come to their rear, so as to start up from ambush early the next morning, after the battle is begun, and to appear suddenly on the enemy's rear. For no hope of safety would remain for them in flight, and they would be unable to turn backwards, since the opposing army would attack, or to go forward, because of the detachment assailing their rear.

The Loeb Editor's Note:

9 For other testimony as to the heating of the lead glans by the rapidity of its flight through the air see Lucretius VI.306 f.; Ovid, Metam. II.727 ff.; XIV.825.

Thayer's Notes:

a Whence, in baseball, the Chapman Rule.

[decorative delimiter]

b This is the famous Roman testudo or "tortoise"; as depicted on Trajan's Column:

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