Book Review: Aineias the Tactician: How to Survive Under Siege


by David Whitehead

London: Bristol Classical Press / Dulles, Va.: International Publishers' Marketing, 2003. Pp. xx, 218. Addenda, notes, index. $24.95 paper. ISBN: 1853996270

 How to Survive Under Siege is t he oldest military handbook to survive from Classical Antiquity

It is the only surviving work of the Fourth Century BC  author called Aineias Tacticus (“Aineias the Tactician”) whom other ancient authors tell us wrote several military handbooks, and is believed by some to have been the Arcadian general Aineias of Stymphalus who fought in the Battle of Mantinea (362 BC). 

Aineias gives the reader numerous tips on how to prepare a city for a siege, using numerous historical examples, most of events largely undocumented elsewhere.  Much of his advice is obvious in hindsight, but perhaps not so obvious beforehand.  So he discusses the laying in of supplies, securing sewers and aqueducts, getting messages through enemy lines, and the uses of passwords and secret.  He’s also an excellent source on the ruses of war, from having women in armor patrol the walls to make it seem there are more troops present than is the case to how to keep up morale, and form dealing with panic to ferreting out traitors.  

Several earlier English versions exist, but in his version Professor Whitehead (Queen’s University, Belfast) has added a very detailed commentary.  In his commentary Whitehead clarifies some confusing passages, phrases, and works, discusses some of the references and allusions made in the book, explains some of the details of the military practice of the times, provides cross-references to other passages in the book or in other ancient works, and cites examples beyond those given by Aineias.  This makes Whitehead’s translation far more useful and interesting, and reminds us that this and similar handbooks were the equivalent of the manuals published by modern armed forces to help teach their commanders. 

A volume in the series “Bristol Classical Studies” (now published by BloomsburyPress), Aineias the Tactician: How to Survive Under Siege is a very useful book for those doing ancient military history, and a good, often amusing read for anyone curious about siege warfare.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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