Bryn Mawr Classical Review 02.06.22


David Whitehead, Aineias the Tactician. How to Survive Under Siege. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990. Pp. xxi, 214. ISBN 0-19-814878-X (hb). $55.00. ISBN 0-19-814744-9 (pb). $19.95.


Reviewed by Donald Lateiner, Ohio Wesleyan University.

The unshaven, squinting soldier with one dangling arm spit on the ground again and banged his cane in the dry dirt, sweating and stinking under the September sun on his hot big island of Khios. To his visitor, a nephew back to boredom in Delphinion from ten years commanding a band of luckless mercenaries without allegiance, hired guns who never had found farmwork on the vines at home, he exclaimed, "Do you tell me you really don't often pick up that Colonel Aineias when you and your men are thinking a bout a cattle raid? He's right on the money for psychological insight, social commentary, and strategic advice. You really should lean on him for Kulturbild, as the barbarian says, for an image of them "typical" fourth-century piddling polis like ours. True, the viewpoint is a trifle Arkadian and a wee bit (ligaki) mercenary, but that shouldn't bother you. And true, the Peloponnesian idiom is on the raw side. Yes, the organization is often obscure, but, hey, everyone has a family to feed and this guy knows what he's talking about. Utter neglect of this brazen pearl would be swinishly unpardonable. I know you won't believe it, but there is not (yet) a Penguin edition and the Loeb, produced (just how, I wonder...) by the Illinois Greek club under the drill sargeant Palaiopater (barbarice: Oldfather) is almost seventy years old. Leukokephalos (barbarice: Whitehead) has filled a shocking hiatus for the Bosporos Press."

David Whitehead has produced for the new, "authoritative" Clarendon Ancient History Series, of which he serves as one of the troika of general editors, an extensive introduction (1-42), a pert translation of the forty chapters (45-97), and a commentary of twice of that length (98-207) on the oldest poliorcetic treatise that survived the sieges of antiquity and Byzantine times. The series provides no ancient text but this omission allows more money and pages for publishing explication. This can prove to be a reasonable trade-off, if the text is sound and the author needs assistance to clarify frequent obscurities. Here the second requirement certainly holds.

Whitehead considers linguistic, historical, technical, and generic issues of the treatise, if we choose to dignify it with that exalted description. The first and last avenues of investigation receive less attention than the others. Siege-warfare in the first half of the fourth century is an important topic, and Aineias allows us numerous glimpses (anecdotes rarely exceed a short paragraph) of life on the walls, "in the sticks." Interminable strife with treacherous neighbors, undeclared war, was the rule (cf. Plato at the opening of Laws 626A). Thukydides and Xenophon include a surprising number of minor campaigns in the Greek "third world," and their sense of narrative obligation does not starve us of psychological observation and community motive. Thukydides' account of the siege of Plataia, for instance, does not scant technical contrivance (2.75-6, e.g.), as I found out again last semester when trying (and failing) to read it at sight, but the historian makes the stratagems humanly meaningful. Aineias occasionally scatters insightful tidbits about shoring up slumping morale or whom to pick on when nasty examples must be produced (16.3, 5; 26.8-10; 27.3), but the scant diet usually resembles his "grainless rations" (40.8). Many examples, as well as prescriptions, are "most frustratingly vague" (p.105).

Two-thirds prescriptive, one-third more lively historical episodes, the book is drawn from oral informants, Herodotos, Thukydides, Xenophon (probably), and other undeterminable sources. The soldier talk, addressed to a fellow commander, keeps to rather general advice in order "to encompass a range of different power-structures" (p.41), different size communities, different geographical situations such as on the sea or not, different degrees of resources such as possessing a cavalry squadron or not (40.1, 8.2, 16.13, 26.4).

Aineias reminds us how unstable the generic ancient Greek city was, subject to malcontented poor and rich. Revolution was no big deal -- except to the victims. Aineias may have been the Stymphalian general of the Arcadians in 367/6 BCE, mentioned by Xenophon Hell. 7.3.1, as Whitehead concludes, a soldier ready to interfere in others' affairs when he deemed them "unendurable," for instance the Sikyonians'. He leagued himself with the wealthy and chased out the local big man, Euphron, who had come to power with the demos. It is pleasant, although hardly probative, to find an Aineias attested at this time and suited, more or less, to scribble down some of his own and others' experiences under threat of attack. Tactical Aineias -- or whoever the author may be -- refers to other books of his such as Preparations, Procurement, Encampment, "Addresses" (Akousmata, 38.5), and still other pamphlets have been taken as implied (p. 13 and Aelian, Tactics 1.2).

But what precisely is Aineias's actual topic? Poliorketika is the title preserved at the end of Laurentianus 55-4, but only 15% of what we have strictly applies to siege warfare (pp. 18, 193). "Commentators have signally failed to establish ... a Table of (its) Contents" (p. 18). The writer bounces from preparing defensive positions to thwarting treachery, to repelling enemy incursions, checking the foes' advances, surveillance of the walls, inside and out, of course, etc., u.s.w., k.t.l.

Organization of the pamphlet does not well correspond to a logical progression of topics, chronology, level of threat, or any other principle, although Whitehead makes a decent case for a tripartite division according to the third principle above (p. 20): 1-14 = preparations for being attacked, internally or externally; 15-31 = hostile force invading the territory or chora; 32-40 = enemy now in missile range. Viewpoint shifts from the usual passive to the occasional aggressive (e.g., 16.11, 18.22-19 with note). Episodes from the history of Khios and Northern Greece are unusually frequent but most sectors of the Greek world find mention here and there.

The virtue of Aineias, as Whitehead well says, is the absence of "the superpower perspective," Athens' and Sparta's perverted mirrors of imperial political policy and magnified military capacity. Rather, he offers the view from Podunk, Oshkosh, or Peoria, in Greek terms, Oiniadai, Drabeskos, or Lebedos. Here vulnerable men (and women) endure siege and treachery more often than they can inflict them. He seems to have "published" after 360 and before 355, to judge from the pot-pourri of internal evidence , his own examples of smart and dumb manoeuvres under threat and fire.

Aineias's didactic treatise underlines the paramount role of fraud, fifth-columns, arms smuggled in for malcontents (29), individual traitors, disguised enemies penetrating posterns of a sudden. The besieged town had an advantage, due to the undeveloped state of siege machinery, until later in the fourth century than Aineias wrote. Your great fear was internal betrayal. The need to monitor, intimidate, and deter plotters, potential and actual (2.7, 10.3) was unceasing. Trust no one. Anyone might be a traitor, the poorest tinker or the richest landowner (5.1-2, 14; 11.13), or even your subordinate commanders (5.1, 18.21, 20.1, 26.12). Unsupervised mercenaries, to be sure, cannot be trusted (12.4, 24.8). I see no reason to have trusted Aineias himself, whose political sympathies, if any, are obscure, to judge by the melancholy and choleric debate about them (pp. 30-32). He just tries to hold things as they are together: status quo qualiscumque nunc et semper might be his motto, as long as the salary gets paid. Whitehead's reference to "the high ideals of its author" (p.42 ) scarcely fits the accurate sketch he has drawn of a ruthless man doing his job to preserve whatever government holds the citadel.

Macchiavel and Hobbes the theorist come to mind repeatedly to one immersed in the depressing assumptions of a state of eternal, undeclared war inside as well as outside the city walls (cf. 23.3 and note). Deceit, lack of community rapport, pessimism about civic homonoia dispassionately saturate these pages. It's a different paideusis tes Hellados from the one Perikles once inculcated in us. Unfortunately, as I found when first reading this eccentric author, there is less socio-economic-ideological data here than any devotee's summary suggests.

Once attack from a neighbor is sniffed as even a possibility, fellow-citizens are dispatched elsewhere or executed (10.19-20), families are removed or guarded night and day, hostages are killed in cold blood (by the enemy in this case: 10.23). Intimidation of the "protected" citizens appears already in the preface (and 10.3); survival is paramount, difficult when hypopsia prevails (3.3), and it often does. At times, the techniques of modern totalitarianism seem envisaged: keep the public fragmented and under watch, allow no meetings or gatherings other than weddings and funerals; if hostile acts are even suspected, make the piazzas inaccessible; put plenty of police on the streets; keep changing every rule; produce false propaganda; censor all mail passing in and out of town; keep any suspected traitor under house arrest; oversee all seer activity; lock up all the hotels at night from the outside (10.5, 25; 10.4-5; 2.1; 17.5; 22.7; 9.2-3; 10.6; 22.16; 10.4; 10.10). You can't be too careful in this environment.

The unexpected enthusiasm for encipherment and decipherment (31) excites any war-buff. Code-making and -breaking appear frequently in historical and militarist literature. Scribes often got lost in copying the complicated ruses of secret messages. Five pages or 12% are devoted to steganography and cryptography, a hobby of the otherwise stick-to-business colonel. Prearranged (nonverbal) signs and passwords for patrols also interest him. Women even come in for employment, heaving their usual roof-tiles, carrying secret information dangling in their earrings, and dressed up to pretend to augment manpower when actual fighters are in short supply (2.6, 31.7, 40.4-5). Torture (6.7, 10.23) is barely mentioned, religion is remarked only for its disruptive potential (10.4, 17.1, 5). These are the "facts of life" (p.157) of the ancient micro-mini-banana republics.

Indeed, who was Aineias's immediate and intended audience (pp. 39-41)? The "manual" seems too elementary to me for a commander appointed to defend or attack the men, women, and children of one of Greece's 750+ poleis; too detailed, technical, and incoherent for the kind of educated citizen-soldier (not a Supremo) who might buy a book to waste his hard earned drach on.

The Greek prose and obscure logic thus seem too raw for the ancient market; the English commentary, tied as it must be to a text, too limited (except as a supplement) for the private library of the generalist ancient historian. She must still acquire a Greek text and often needs the resources of a first-class university library to find out just what the Greek text reads or what position another commentary, dissertation, or article has argued. "Vehicles" is analyzed at 16.14-15, cf. 22.24, with different types and their supporters marshalled, without our being told which Greek words appear in the original. The Spartan skytale's controversial reality is referred to (pp. 183-184) without our being even briefly advised on the nature of the right view. For those of us who do not live on a small island and cannot consult Hunter-Handford, the two Schoene's, or the Dain-Bon Budé at the local library, using this book will be frustrating. Whitehead refers to helpful diagrams -- elsewhere -- but he offers not a one, and the isolated reader is left frustrated. Sometimes, the English as well as the Greek leaves the commandante's advice still obscure. The frequency of parentheses distracts, and parentheses inside parentheses can annoy. The ink in my copy was smudged near the top of several pages (57, 60, 73; caveat emptor), but otherwise production has been handsome.

On the more positive side, colloquial language, a pun (with praeteritio), and occasional sardonic judgments on fellow scholars enliven the commentary (e.g., at 4.8, 5.1, 23.7-11). The translation is vivid, more so than the pedestrian prose of the original. (I am reminded of my teacher S.I. Oost's remark, probably older than his telling, as I hope someone involved in Geschichte der Philologie will soon point out to me, that all translations of Polybios' Greek read better than the flat original.) Sometimes the pleasant flow of the English comes at the cost of accuracy. Whitehead's "would be revolutionaries" in context seems optimistic about their desired failure, "pay out of his own pocket" anachronistic (another point from my undergraduate ancient history survey), "up to their tricks" may be accurate for technazein but sounds too disparaging or casual to describe people who want to slit your sleek throat with a razor. "Over the odds" must be a Briticism, "pre-echoes" a witticism or unnecessary augment to our shared and treasured tongue (22.6, 22.29, 23.6 and cf. 39.1, pp. 162, 197).

One issue left unresolved by the format of the series as seen in the editor's paradigmatic production is cui bono? Are students expected to command the Greek of Aineias, Herodotos, and Plutarkh as well as the French, German, and Italian of Aineian authorities so liberally referred to, some editions and studies quoted for nearly every chapter of the text? I think Whitehead does expect his readers to be military scholars rather than the also specified (endangered) species "advanced undergraduate," avis militaris. (Those British sixth-formers whose grammatical expertise we American late-comers always stood in awe of seem regrettably to be extinct in new prefaces, perhaps shorn by Occam's apparently well-known razor [p.128].)

Whitehead has read nearly everything and digested it. He presents the issues about as lucidly as Aineias permits. The problems, historical, philological, and technical, are often unresolvable because of Aineias's opacity, studious generality, and outrageously rampant vagueness. One is tempted to say Whitehead -- whoever his audience -- has done more for Aineias than the latter deserved.

Whitehead often provides nice insight into ancient warfare and modern interpretations (see at 40.5). This volume will be consulted by all serious students of fortress Hellas and fourth century campaigning. The bibliography and index (plots, revolution, treachery passim -- all of them) have been well conceived. The study might have better been concentrated into an extended essay, but we are grateful to both Whitehead and Oxford for the up-to-date, line-by-line commentary. It provides indispensable assistance to the historian.