Monday, July 23, 2018


Nick Barley, Maria Pretzler (ed.), Brill's Companion to Aineias Tacticus. Brill's Companions in classical studies. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2017. Pp. vi, 402. ISBN 9789004223516. $140.00.

Reviewed by Everett L. Wheeler, Duke University (

Version at BMCR home site

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

Can anything new or valid be said about Aeneas Tacticus? Neglect can hardly be alleged. Three commentaries—Hunter/Handford 1927; Bettalli 1990 (cf. my review: CJ 88 [1993] 414-18); Whitehead 20022—supplement numerous scattered papers. Assessment of the Brill Companion, essentially the acta of a 2010 conference at Gregynog (Wales) and obviously long in gestation, must depend on whether these papers better answer old questions.1 The hope for new enlightenment is largely disappointed.

Despite the Loeb (1923) and Budé (1967) editions, a perfunctory introduction (pp. 1-13) hails Whitehead's commentary (19901) as the turning point of Aeneas studies among British undergraduates (but cf. Whitehead, p. 24). A 2004 anthology on Xen. Anab., stressing inter-disciplinary approaches, provided further inspiration, although a similar 1995 French anthology escaped notice.2 From an American perspective, no papers exceeding the usual range of classical studies justify the now hackneyed appeal to inter-disciplinarity. A notion expressed at the opening the volume (p.1), namely that only big poleis fight and small ones had no military traditions of their own, is not sustainable.3 Nor is the controversial identification of the author with Aeneas of Stymphalos resolved. A new confidence in the surviving fragment's date in the 350's B.C. (not a new idea) emerges, but the extant fragment on a city's defense against attack belongs to a larger work with at least one part yet to be written (Aen. Tact. 21.2). The more circumspect date 360-346 B.C. is not addressed, although justified, if some commentators have correctly discerned use of Ephorus. Aeneas' attempt to be universal (not limiting himself to a specific region or city), as some note, befits a didactic handbook.

Three initial papers address general issues. Whitehead's breezy survey of Aeneas and his Nachleben (pp. 14-32), the conference's keynote address, preserves much of the oral version's humor, even conceding the superiority of Bettalli's commentary to his own, although Mogens Herman Hansen as "the Great Dane" (p. 29) exceeds propriety in a published piece. Notably, Whitehead traces the Loeb editor William Oldfather's interest in Aeneas to his Munich professor, the anti-Marxist Robert von Pöhlmann, and calls for more study of Philo of Byzantium's use of Aeneas. Otherwise the paper rehearses Whitehead's published views (not definitive) on genres of ancient military writers, tactici vs. mechanici,4 and his (disputable) minimalist view of Aeneas' Strategica. Whitehead's preference for Aineias over Aeneas, observed throughout the volume and hence the hybrid Aineias Tacticus, rests only on avoiding confusion with Vergil's pius Aeneas. Who would make such a gaffe? Yet Tacticus, Casaubon's addition in the edito princeps (1609), is not devoid of classical attestation (Veg. 3 praef.2 ), as Whitehead implies. Lane Fox (pp. 33-48), accepting identification with the Stymphalian, presents an ingenious but speculative reconstruction of Aeneas' later career, based on some of the historical exempla's dates. Shipley's examination of Aeneas' intellectual context (pp. 49-68), including possible interaction with Xenophon (not a new idea), relies heavily on the published commentaries.

Three papers feature philological/literary approaches. Pretzler's musings (pp. 68-95) on Aeneas' use of exempla (her "historical vignettes") argue that Aeneas' historical examples reflect a desire for credibility, authority, and varied presentation. A conclusion that insertion of exempla resembles political rhetoric rather than history is hardly surprising for a didactic handbook. Her table of all exempla re-formats that in Hunter/Handsford. Vela Tejada (pp. 96-122), drawing on his 1991 dissertation and his other published work, recounts the Peloponnesian Aeneas' unique use of koine and his relationship to the "literate revolution" and the Sophists. His education at Athens or Sicyon is conjectured. Liddel (pp. 123-45) desperately seeks material for discussion of the trendy theme of "communications" (signs, signals, speech, written means). The crisis situations described in Aeneas scarcely afforded time to cut inscriptions.

With two exceptions the remaining papers treat military issues. Pretzler (pp.146-65) addresses Aeneas' emphasis on preventing treachery and betrayal. Her bibliography does not support a claim of "little attention" (p. 147) to Aeneas in discussions of fourth-century B.C. stasis.5 Rightly, however, she notes that Aeneas does not distinguish internal conflict from outside aggression. After all, traitors have to be in cahoots with someone, and insiders soliciting outside aid or an attacker suborning betrayal had been common since the Peloponnesian War. Yet missing here and elsewhere in the volume are the well-known fact that treachery was the most effective and frequent way to capture a Greek city, and the less acknowledged idea that the genre of poliorcetic treatises, which Aeneas fathered, recognized no rules or restraints in conduct, in contrast to the unwritten norms expected (but not always observed) on the battlefield and in inter-state relations. As argued, maintaining internal homonoia was Aeneas' general's chief concern. Aeneas' own political leanings cannot be discerned (not a new view). Aeneas' failure to theorize stasis, which Pretzler bemoans, only emphasizes Aeneas' concern for crisis management. He wrote military, not political, theory.

Military operations form the focus of Bettalli (pp. 166-81) and Barley (pp. 182-203). Bettalli briefly but adequately contextualizes Aeneas' views within fourth-century B.C. military developments and rightly rejects recent attempts to minimize the role of war in Greek society. Yet for the author of a commentary on Aeneas, a more magisterial and incisive paper would have been expected. Both Bettalli and Barley note the absence of the hoplite pitched battle in Aeneas, although 16.4 may hint at it. The defenders' attack on dispersed pillagers (16.7), the only reference to battle in Aeneas (pp. 166-67), is a battle in the field, but not a formal pitched battle. Aeneas' scenario, devoid of a political context, implies the defenders' numerical inferiority, and repulse of one invasion would not guarantee security from another. Yet this surviving fragment from a larger work may yield a false impression. The promised book on encampment (21.2: Stratopedeutike) suggests distant operations (contra, Bettalli 1990: 12), which could involve pitched battle. Aelianus Tacticus' references to Aeneas in his own tactical handbook (1.2, 3.4) further suggest Aeneas' treatment of the phalanx battle in lost portions of the work. But the strategic aims of the fourth-century B.C. were no longer those of the fifth and certainly not those of the archaic period. Indeed curiously, as defense of the chora receives more attention in the fragment than actual siegecraft, neither Bettalli nor Barley induce the comparison with Pericles' efforts or those in Xen. Mag.eq..6

In contrast to the authoritative Bettalli, Barley's jejune wide-ranging discussion of light infantry (with as many misses as hits) betrays numerous exaggerations, misconceptions about Greek warfare, and gross generalizations. Roughly a third of the paper on light infantry is off topic and ignores how all-purpose hoplites could be. Space precludes detailed critique. Barley seems bewitched by Hans van Wees' views.7 In an antidote to Barley's emphasis on light infantry, Bogdun Burliga (who spoke at the conference but published elsewhere) accounts for the relevant absence of hoplites in Aeneas: references to citizens denote hoplites, who play a larger role in the city's defense than realized. Perhaps so, but finding hoplites at 16.11 and 27.9 requires some imagination.8

Papers that are essentially supplements to Bettalli and Barley come from Roy (pp. 206-13), de Souza (pp. 214-28), and Rihll (pp. 265-89). Roy, in one of the few papers lacking exaggeration of the material, offers a neat and learned summary on mercenaries in Aeneas. Rihll, correctly stressing the rarity of sieges in classical Greek warfare and the average hoplite's ignorance of their conduct, supplies useful notes on use of ladders and adds to the fat bibliography on Aeneas' telegraphic fire signals: Polybius' supposed improvements to Aeneas' system should not be taken seriously. De Souza treats the sparse references to naval forces. The fragment, concluding with a reference broken off in mid-sentence to naval operations, has spawn extensive speculation about Aeneas' treatment of naval warfare. De Souza avoids this discussion, preferring to place the fragment's naval operations in the larger context of the "raid mentality" of Greek warfare (popular in some circles) aimed at booty and slaves. The controversial view that oarsmen doubled as light infantry is endorsed. If the "raid mentality" is possibly suitable for the archaic period, denial of any larger strategic purpose for naval raids in later periods is not. Even the raid and counter-raid of Aen.Tact. 4.8-11, involving Peisistratus, belong to a context of Megarian-Athenian rivalry for control of Salamis. Gourley's detailed treatment of excavations at inland Stymphalos (pp. 229-64), no doubt prompted by the conjectured identification of the author with the Stymphalian, contributes little to the volume's purposes. Aeneas' hypothetical city, after all, was on the coast.

Finally, the volume saves the best for last. Rance (pp. 290-374) offers a superb status quaestionis of the MS traditions of ancient military treatises to c.1000, correcting numerous errors and false impressions. Space precludes doing justice to the rich contents. A stronger editorial hand might have cut the excessive length with its occasional repetitions. The paper will be slow going, if rewarding, for the uninitiated. As argued, Aeneas—to the extent that his work survived in the Byzantine era—attracted little attention and his contents often appeared via Philo of Byzantium in various Byzantine works. Aeneas' Strategica as an inspiration for the military compendium of Syrianus Magister is argued down, although not all agree with the newly popular ninth-century date of Syrianus, also dated to the sixth. 9 Nor do the weak arguments that Aeneas' Akousmata (38.5) could not be a work on military rhetoric fully convince. The importance of rhetoric for generals was recognized in the fourth century B.C. and Aeneas was writing in a new genre. Absence of known parallels is meaningless. For non-codicologists two larger issues emerge. First, hope of finding new fragments stimulates interest in the MS tradition. Unfortunately, the transmission of Aeneas' work, with or without his name, generally recycles known material. Thus, the paper becomes more about connections between the MSS than Aeneas. Even so, Rance's erudition and control of the material cannot be questioned. Second, the strong positivistic character of codicological methodology can be queried: no MS = no evidence, leading to arguments from silence, as if extant MSS come anywhere close to the total once existing. Discovery of a new MS could toss the conventional wisdom on its head.

Little remains to be said. In the currently endless proliferation of handbooks and companions scholarly need has surrendered to publishers' profits and organizers' beliefs that every conference merits publication. With some exceptions, this volume largely propagates the known. "Inter-disciplinary" approaches are not a substitute for new evidence.

Authors and titles

Maria Pretzler and Nick Barley, Introduction
David Whitehead, The Other Aineias
Robin Lane Fox, Aineias the Author—Who, Where and When?
Graham Shipley, Aineias Tacticus in His Intellectual Context
Maria Pretzler, Aineias and History: The Purpose and Context of Historical Narrative in the Poliorketika
José Vela Tejada, Creating Koine: Aineias Tacticus in the History of the Greek Language
Peter Liddel, Writing and Other Forms of Communication in Aineias' Poliorketika
Maria Pretzler, The Polis Falling Apart: Aineias Tacticus and Stasis
Marco Bettalli, Greek Poleis and Warfare in the Fourth Century BC: Aineias' Poliorketika
Nick Barley, Light Infantry and Leadership in Aineias
Jim Roy, Mercenaries in Aineias Tacticus
Philip de Souza, Raiders from the Sea: The Maritime Context of the Poliorketika
Ben Gourley, 'News from Home': Aeneas Tacticus and Fourth-century Defense in Practice at Ancient Stymphalos
Tracey Rihll, Simple and Complex Technology in Aineias: Ladders and Telegraphy
Philip Rance, Aineias Tacticus in Byzantine Military Literature


1.   In the interest of full disclosure, prior commitment to another conference precluded the reviewer from accepting a last-minute invitation to participate.
2.   R. Lane Fox, ed., The Long March (New Haven 2004); P. Briant, ed., Dans les pas des Dix-Mille (Toulouse 1995).
3.  Cf. J. Ma, "Fighting poleis of the hellenistic world," in H. van Wees, ed., War and Violence in Ancient Greece (London 2000) 337-76; J.-C. Couvehnes/H.-L. Fernoux, eds., Les cités grecques et la guerre en Asie Mineure à l'époque hellénistique (Tours 2004).
4.   Whitehead's date of 101 and a connection with Trajan's Dacian wars for Apollodorus' Poliorcetica are dubious: see my review of his Apollodorus Mechanicus (2010) in Scholia Reviews ns. 20 (2011) 11.
5.   Pretzler includes A. Wintering's 1993 paper, but omits his "Polisbegriff und Stasistheorie des Aeneas Tacticus," Historia 40 (1991) 193-229 and overlooks H. Bengtson, "Die griechischen Polis bei Aeneas Tacticus," Historia 11 (1962) 458-68; R. Urban, "Zur inner- und äusseren Gefährdung griechischer Städte bei Aeneas Tacticus," in H. Kalcyk et al., eds., Studien zur Alten Geschichte. Siegfried Lauffer zum 70. Geburtstag am 4. August 1981 dargebracht von Freunden, Kollegen und Schüler (Rome 1986) III, 989-1002; and J. W.I. Lee, "Urban Combat at Olynthos, 348 BC," in P. Freeman/A. Pollard, eds. Fields of Combat: Progress and Prospect in Battlefield Archaeology (Oxford 2001) 11-22.
6.   Bettalli addresses these issues in his commentary: 1990: 259-69; Pericles' much discussed defense of Attica may be Thucydides' invention: C. Schubert/D. Lapse, "Perikles' defensiver Kriegsplan: eine thukydideische Erfindung? Historia 58 (2009) 373-94.
7.   H. van Wees, Greek Warfare: Myths and Realities (London 2004), but see the correctives in my review, Journal of Military History 69 (2005) 1192-94, and at "Greece: Mad Hatters and March Hares," in S. Richardson et al., eds., Recent Directions in the Military History of the Ancient World (Claremont, CA 2011) 78-84, 91-92, 94-96.
8.   B. Burliga, "The Importance of the Hoplite Army in Aeneas Tacticus' Polis," Electrum 19 (2012) 61-81, now partially recycled as "Tactical Issues in Aeneas 'Tacticus'," in P. Rance/N. Sekunda, eds., Greek Tactica: Ancient Military Thinking and Its Heritage (Gdańsk 2016) 94-116.
9.   See I. Eramo, "Sul compendio militare di Siriano Magister," RSA 41 (2011) 201-22.

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