Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2019.04.32 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2019.04.32

Philip Rance, Nicholas Sekunda (ed.), Greek Taktika: Ancient Military Writing and its Heritage. Proceedings of the International Conference on Greek Taktika held at the University of Toruń, 7-11 April 2005.   Gdańsk:  Akanthina, 2017.  Pp. 300.  ISBN 9788375312423.  £40,00 (pb).  


Reviewed by Matthew A. Sears, University of New Brunswick (matthew.sears@unb.ca)

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This volume offers a selection of updated papers originally presented at a conference on Greek taktika held in Poland nearly a decade and a half ago. That conference, along with another held in Winnipeg, Manitoba in late 2016, indicates that ancient military manuals are enjoying something of a resurgence in scholarly interest. And rightly so, since aside from representing another important source for the ancient world, these tactical texts prompt us to think about issues such as genre, textual transmission, and reception, well beyond the nuts and bolts of warfare. Most of the chapters in the volume under review treat very specific questions about rather esoteric texts, and, as such, will appeal only to specialists. That said, a couple of the entries provide enough of a survey to serve as a starting-point for those who are new to this scholarly subfield.

After a long and comprehensive introduction by Rance (over fifty pages, with a full bibliography), the editors conceive of the volume as loosely consisting of six sections. The first section deals with the beginning of Greek technical military thought and how it was taught, particularly as evinced by the work of Aeneas Tacticus. Section two treats the tradition of the specialized tactical handbook which emerged during the Hellenistic period and influenced many subsequent eras, including the Roman imperial period and even Arabic tactical writers. Third, two entries discuss Polyaenus as a source for two historical problems, respectively the creation of the Hellenistic monarchy and a stratagem attributed to Alexander. Section four seeks to add to our knowledge of military equipment by drawing on tactical writings. The fifth section addresses the Roman reception and adaptation of Greek tactical writing by considering historical context and the limits of genre. Finally, section six considers the reception of ancient tactical writing in early modern Europe.

Given that only loose themes can be detected woven throughout this book, I recommend it primarily for specialists interested in one or more of the specific issues addressed by particular chapters. This volume is not a comprehensive treatment of ancient tactical writing, nor does it claim to be. I, however, do want to single out two contributions, both by Philip Rance, that should appeal to a broader audience, and deserve a wide readership among students of Classical antiquity. The first is Rance’s lengthy introduction to the volume, which represents a considerable percentage of the volume’s overall length. Far more than just an introduction to the chapters that follow, Rance provides a good overview of the state of the field in terms of ancient military writing. He offers no less than a brief history of scholarship concerning ancient military writers, beginning with a provocative quote from Friedrich Haase, the first modern scholar of ancient tactical writing, and continuing on to parse various questions, such as genre, context, and reception, that define current scholarly efforts. Rance’s bibliography alone will be an essential resource.

Rance’s other chapter, after his introduction the second longest contribution to the volume, on its surface discusses a far narrower topic, namely how the early Byzantine tactical treatise of Maurice can shed light on the reception of Aelian and Arrian in late antiquity. Students of Maurice’s work will need to read this contribution, but far more scholars than that will benefit from Rance’s wide-ranging discussion of genre and reception, using Maurice as a case study. For example, Rance explores to what extent we can glean any genuine historical information from a text that so self-consciously and artificially emulates earlier works in terms of style and vocabulary, and the extent to which genuine traces of earlier authors can be found in Maurice, rather than simply generic similarities. Arguing that a section of Maurice’s treatise was originally a stand-alone document largely derived from Arrian’s Acies contra Alanos, Rance concludes that “[t]he composition of 12.A.7 was not motivated by slavish conceptual dependence or considerations of literary mimesis, but entailed a selective critical adaptation of Arrian’s text where relevant and applicable to late antique scenarios, adding contemporary and explanatory detail, and with an overriding concern for practical utility” (249). Anyone interested in reception studies would benefit from such a discussion.

The volume would have been more useful with indices and list of contributors, and perhaps detailed guides to further reading. Those who desire a systematic treatment of ancient tactical writing, which would be a welcome addition to scholarly literature, will need to wait. The editors and contributors, though, are to be congratulated for taking on a relatively neglected area of study.

Authors and titles

Philip Rance, “Introduction”
Burkhard Meißner, “Early Greek Strategic and Tactical Teaching and Literature”
Hans Michael Schellenberg, “Reflections on the Military Views of the ‘Military Writer’ Aeneas Tacticus”
Bogdan Burliga, “Tactical Issues in Aeneas ‘Tacticus’”
Alexander Nefedkin, “The Classification of Greco-Macedonian Cavalry in Ancient Taktika and in Modern Literature”
Nicholas Sekunda, “Cavalry Organisation in the Taktika: the Tarantinarchia
Bogdan Burliga, “Asclepiodotus’ τοῖς γε σώμασιν ἐπιβρίθοντες (Taktika 5.2) and Polybius’ τῷ τοῦ σώματος βάρει (18.30.1-4)”
Hans Michael Schellenberg, “A Short Bibliographical Note on the Arabic Translation of Aelian’s Tactica Theoria
Jacek Rzepka, “Polyaenus and the Creation of the Hellenistic Monarchy”
Sławomir Sprawski, “Alexander at Tempe: Polyaenus, Strategemata 4.3.23”
Pierre O. Juhel, “The Rank Insignia of the Officers of the Macedonian Phalanx: the Lessons of Iconography and an Indirect Reference in Vegetius”
Radosław A. Gawroński, “The Javelins used by the Roman Cavalry of the Early Principate in Archaeological Contexts and Written Sources”
Wojciech Brillowski, “The Principles of ars tactica: Roman Military Theory and Practice in Arrian’s Acies contra Alanos
Philip Rance, “Maurice’s Strategicon and ‘the Ancients’: the Late Antique Reception of Aelian and Arrian”
Keith Roberts, “The Practical Use of Classical Texts for Modern War in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries”
Richard Brzezinski, “The Influence of Classical Military Texts in Early Modern Poland: a Survey”
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