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Bill Thayer

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Chapters 23‑31

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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Chapters 35‑38
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.


 p475  [link to original Greek text] XXXII. [The General must do nothing rash]

1 Generals who destroy their own defences or cross rivers or who post their armies with steep cliffs or yawning gulfs in the rear in order that the soldiers may either stand and conquer or in their desire to escape be killed, I am not wholly able to praise nor yet to blame, for everything that is ventured rashly is rather than the part of recklessness than of wisdom, and has a greater share of luck than of good judgement. 2 For in a case when one must either win a victory and prevail, or else be defeated and lose everything, in such a case how could anyone attribute victory to foresight or defeat to deliberate choice? 3 But I do believe that certain soldiers of the army must be allowed to run desperate risks — for if they succeed they are of great assistance, but if they fail they do not cause corresponding loss, —  p477 yet I cannot countenance gambling with the entire army as the stake. 4 Most of all those generals seem to me to be at fault who make use of stratagems which in the event of victory will cause small loss to the enemy, but in defeat the greatest loss to their own army.

[link to original Greek text] 5 If the destruction of one's army is evident, except through the use of some daring strategy, and if the destruction of the enemy by defeat is also evident, then I do not think a general would be at fault in cutting off the retreat of his own army. For it is better, by showing courage at a time when it is uncertain whether one will perhaps escape a severe defeat himself, to endeavour at the very same time to inflict a defeat, rather than, when it is certain that all will perish if they remain inactive, to keep quiet like cowards. 6 He should not only point this out in those localities where in actual fact there is no safety for fugitives, but also in every locality and every battle he must show by many reasons that death is certain for those who flee, since the enemy would at once press on freely, as soon as no one is able to hinder the pursuit, and could dispose of the fugitives as might suit them; but for men who stand and defend themselves, death is not certain. 7 For the men in the lines who chance to believe that if they flee they will perish shamefully while if they remain in rank they will die a glorious death, and who  p479 constantly anticipate greater dangers from breaking the ranks than from keeping them, will prove themselves the best men in the face of danger. 8 On this account it is a good plan if the general can win over his whole army to this opinion, or, if not all, at least as many as possible, for thus he either gains an absolute victory or meets with but a slight defeat.

[link to original Greek text] 9 Plans and counter-stratagems for victory that are originated at the very moment of battle are sometimes preferable to those which are conceived and contrived by generals in anticipation and before the engagement, and they are sometimes more worthy of remark, in the case of those made by men who are skilled in military science, through they are things which cannot be reduced to rules or planned beforehand. 10 For just as pilots for their voyages, before sailing from the harbour, fit their ship out with everything that a ship requires; yet when a storm blows up they do, not what they wish, but what they must, boldly staking their fortunes against the driving peril of chance and calling to their aid no memory of their past practice but assistance appropriate to the existing circumstances; just so generals will prepare their armies as they believe will be best, but when the storm of war is at hand repeatedly shattering,  p481 overthrowing, and bringing varied conditions, the sight of present circumstances demands expedients based on the exigencies of the moment, which the necessity of chance rather than the memory of experience suggests.

[link to original Greek text] XXXIII. [The General should not himself enter Battle]

1 The general should fight cautiously rather than boldly, or should keep away altogether from a hand-to‑hand fight with the enemy. For even if in battle he shows that he is not to be outdone in valour, he can aid his army far less by fighting than he can harm it if he should be killed, since the knowledge of a general is far more important than his physical strength. Even a soldier can perform a great deed by bravery, but no one except the general can by his wisdom plan a greater one. 2 If a ship's captain leaving the helm should himself do what the sailors ought to do, he would endanger his ship; in the same way, if the general, leaving his function of wise direction, should descend to the duties of a simple soldier, his neglect of the whole situation, due to his lack of governing, will render useless the common soldier's mere routine service. 3 Similar, I think, is the notion which the general gets into his heart  p483 when he thus disregards the welfare of his whole force in the event of accident to himself; for if he, with whom the safety of the whole army lies, has no care lest he himself should die, he prefers that everyone should die with him, and rightly he would be censured as an unsuccess­ful rather than a courageous general. 4 He who has accomplished many feats of general­ship through his wisdom must be satisfied with the honour for his intellectual successes, but he who is so stupid that, unless he comes to close quarters with the enemy, he believes he has accomplished nothing worthy of mention, is not brave but thoughtless and foolhardy. 5 Hence the general must show himself brave before the army, that he may call forth the zeal of his soldiers, but he must fight cautiously; he should despise death if his army is defeated, and not desire to live, but if his army is preserved he should guard his personal safety, for sometimes the death of a general lessens the glory of his army, since the defeated enemy is encouraged, perceiving that its opponents are without a general, and the success­ful army is discouraged, feeling the need of its own general. 6 The duty of the general is to ride by the ranks on horseback, show himself to those in danger, praise the brave, threaten the cowardly, encourage the lazy, fill up gaps, transpose a company if necessary, bring  p485 aid to wearied, anticipate the crisis, the hour, and the outcome.

[link to original Greek text] XXXIV. [Conferring Rewards proportional to the Valour of each]

1 On returning from battle, the general should first offer to the gods such sacrifice and festal celebrations as the circumstances permit, promising to offer the customary thank-offerings after complete victory; then he should honour those soldiers who have faced danger most bravely with the gifts and marks of distinction which are usually given, and he should punish those who have shown themselves cowards. 2 Honours should be bestowed according to tradition and custom in each case. Those bestowed by generals​14 are the following: full equipments of armour, decorations, spoils, and appointments to commands as over fifties, over hundreds, over companies, over squads, and the other parts of command prescribed by the laws of the country in question. The bravest of the private soldiers should receive the lesser commands, and those of his officers who have distinguished themselves should have the higher commands, since these rewards strengthen the self-esteem of those who have deserved well, and encourage others who desire similar rewards.  p487 3 Whenever honour is paid to the brave and punishment of the cowardly is not neglected, then an army must have fair expectation; the latter are afraid to be found wanting, the former are ambitious to show prowess. 4 It is not only necessary in victory to distribute rewards to individual men but also to make recompense to the army as a whole for its dangers. The soldiers should be allowed to plunder the possessions of the enemy if they should capture a camp or baggage train or fortress, or sometimes even a city, unless the general intends to put it to a more profitable use. 5 This course will serve well the interests of the future, especially if the war is not ended, since the soldiers will be more eager to enter battle, unless we are to believe that, while huntsmen must entice their dogs with the blood of wild beasts and the entrails of the animal which the dogs have caught, nevertheless it is not at all advantageous to give the possessions of the defeated enemy, as encouragement, to the victorious army.

The Loeb Editor's Note:

14 Or, reading στρατηγικαὶ δὲ αὐταὶ πανοπλίαι and taking στρατηγικαὶ with πανοπλίαι (Schwebel and Konstantiniades), the meaning is "full equipments of armour for generals." Possibly the words πεντηκονταρχίαι . . . ἑκάστοις ἡγεμονίαι belong after αἱ μείζους ἡγεμονίαι just below.

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Page updated: 27 Jul 13