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Bill Thayer

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Chapters 32‑34

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 39‑42

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.


 p487  [link to original Greek text] XXXV. (1) [Indiscriminate Pillage must not always be permitted;
Prisoners must not be regarded as Loot,
but must be sold by the General]

1 Plundering should not be permitted after every battle nor in the case of all kinds of property, but  p489 only in the case of certain things, and least of all of prisoners, for these should be sold by the general. 2 If he lack money and resources to meet a large public expense, he should order that all the plundered property, including the live-stock, be turned over to him. 3 The general will know what is best according to the circumstances, whether to seize everything or a part or nothing, of that on which he chances; certainly it is not the characteristic of war to cause both abundance of wealth to the community and unlimited gain to the private soldiers; in fact it happens sometimes that the gains of a victorious army are proportionate to the wealth of the vanquished and the prosperity of their territory.

[link to original Greek text] (2) [Prisoners]

4 Prisoners, if the war is still in progress, the general should not kill — at the very most he may kill, if he thinks best, the allies of those against whom the war is directed, but least of all those who stand in highest repute and position among the enemy, remembering the uncertainties of chance, and the reversals caused by providence, which usually brings retribution. His purpose should be, if his army should capture certain prisoners for whom there is great desire in their own country, or some stronghold,  p491 that he may be able by giving enough in exchange to redeem the property of his friends, or at least then, should the enemy not wish to deal justly with him, that he may protect himself on equal terms. 5 After success­ful engagements and the dangers of battle, the general should allow feasts and celebrations​15 and holidays, in order that the soldiers, knowing what happens as the result of victory by battle, may patiently undergo all hardships necessary for such victory.

[link to original Greek text] XXXVI. (1) [On the Burial of the Fallen]

1 The general should take thought for the burial of the dead, offering as a pretext for delay neither occasion nor time nor place nor fear, whether he happen to be victorious or defeated. Now this is both a holy act of reverence toward the dead and also a necessary example for the living. 2 For if the dead are not buried, each soldier believes that no care will be taken of his own body, should he chance to fall, observing what happens before his own eyes, and thereby judging of the future, feeling that he, likewise, if he should die, would fail of burial, waxes indignant at the contemptuous neglect of burial.

 p493  [link to original Greek text] (2) [Encouragement in Defeat]

3 If the general be defeated, by encouraging the soldiers who have survived the battle, he should prepare for another bout, thinking that very likely there is at such a time an even better opportunity to retrieve defeat. 4 For, as a rule, soldiers after victory are accustomed to relax their vigilance, for their contempt for their near‑by opponents causes carelessness of their own interests, and thus good fortune has often done more harm than misfortune. 5 For he who has suffered a defeat has been taught to guard in future against that from which he has suffered, but he who is inexperienced in misfortune has not even learned that it is necessary to guard his success. 6 On the other hand, if victorious, the general should take the same precautions against suffering harm through negligence which he would use in trying to inflict upon the enemy if they were off their guard. Seasonable fear is wise precaution, as ill‑timed contempt is recklessness that invites attack.

[link to original Greek text] XXXVII. [Precautions in Time of Peace]

1 After making a truce he should neither make an attack nor himself remain unguarded; he should, on  p495 the one hand, make no move against the enemy, as in peace, but, on the other, he should be protected against danger, as in war. 2 He must not break faith in a treaty, nor be the first to commit any sacrilegious act, but he must be suspicious enough to watch for festering deceit on the part of the enemy, for the intentions of those with whom the treaty has been concluded are uncertain. 3 Let your part be a firm resolution not to transgress, because of the sacred nature of the treaty, but suspect a breach of faith on the part of the enemy due to their hostility. That general is wise and cautious who affords the enemy, even when they desire to attack, no opportunity to break their compact. 4 Those who leave to the gods revenge for what they have suffered are piously minded but certainly do not act safely. 5 For it is absolute folly to be careless of the danger to oneself in the hope that treaty-breakers will pay the penalty — as if one would himself be saved as soon as the enemy perish! — when it is possible to make trial of the irreligion of the enemy while at the same time safeguarding one's own interests. With this precaution one will save himself from defeat if plotted against, but the enemy will commit sacrilege both if they attempt a breach of the truce and if they let it be seen that they would have done if it they could.

 p497  [link to original Greek text] XXXVIII. (1) [Treatment of surrendered Cities with Trust and Humanity]

1 If any cities should open their gates in surrender early in the war, the general should treat them in a manner both humane and advantageous, for thus he would induce the other cities also to submit. The enti­cing hope of a similarly fortunate fate leads the majority to surrender voluntarily. 2 But he who acts in a harsh and savage manner, immediately after becoming master of a city, plundering, slaying, and destroying, makes other cities hostile, so that the war becomes laborious for him and victory difficult of attainment. 3 Since they know that the punishment of the conquered by the conqueror is merciless, they are ready to do and suffer anything rather than surrender their cities. 4 For nothing makes men so brave as the fear of what ills they will suffer if they surrender; indeed the expectation of the evils which will ensue from their subjection produces a terrible pertinacity in danger. 5 Moreover, fighting is dangerous against desperate men,​16 who expect from surrender no amelioration of the fate which will be theirs if they continue to fight, and therefore prefer, if they can inflict much harm, also  p499 to suffer much. 6 On this account the sieges of such insensate and savage generals become wearisome and long drawn‑out, sometimes even fail of accomplishment, and are extremely dangerous and precarious.

[link to original Greek text] (2) [How to treat Traitors]

7 One should keep promises and pledges to traitors, not on account of what they have done but of what others will do, in order that these, knowing that gratitude will be due them, may choose the interests of their country's enemies and turn to the same sort of service. For he who gives to a traitor receives much more than he bestows. 8 On this account it is necessary to pay the reward cheerfully, for the general is not an avenger of the betrayed city but the commander of the army of his own country.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

15 The exact meaning of κλισίαι is uncertain, although it seems to denote entertainments at which the participants sat or reclined upon couches. Zur‑Lauben (followed by Koraes) renders the word by 'spectacles' Konstantiniades by 'συμπόσια.'

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16 The idea was well expressed by Vespasian, μὴ συμπλέκεσθαι θανατῶσιν ἀνθρώποις· οὐδὲν γὰρ ἀλκιμώτερον εἶναι τῆς ἀπογνώσεως (Josephus, Bell. Iud. III.7.18).

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Page updated: 27 Jul 13