Aeneas Tacticus: Introduction
Name and authorship
As so often with ancient texts, even the most basic details cannot be taken for granted: we have an ancient military treatise, but what was the name of its author?
In fact, the manuscripts identify the work as Aelianus’ Tactical Treatise on How to Survive Under Siege, but this is generally seen as false. At the end of the work the scribe recorded Aeneas as the author, and (accepting some corrections of a very confused text in this passage) the name Aeneas appears in the work itself (31.18), where it is used as an example for a particular method of sending secret messages.
We also know from other ancient authors that there was an Aeneas who had written a number of military treatises, and whose work was well thought of by other writers as well as military experts. Aeneas himself also refers to other works he had already written.
It is therefore fairly likely that the author of this particular military treatise was indeed called Aeneas.
Aeneas Tacticus is of course not a proper personal name for an ancient Greek. In fact, we do not know his full Greek name, which would have included his father’s name and his city of origin.
The label ‘Tacticus’ was attached to his name by early modern editors of the Poliorketika in order to distinguish him from other Aeneases; it means ‘the Tactician’, and therefore merely describes the genre of his work. In fact, he is also referred to as ‘Aeneas the Tactician’. Note that Aeneas can also be transliterated from the Greek as Aineias.
The date of Aeneas’ Poliorketika can only be determined from the work itself.
The author uses many anecdotes to illustrate his points, and many of these can be dated (see Hunter & Handford (1927) xi-xii, xxxiv-vii). Most of the events we can date belong to the first four decades of the fourth century BC, and particularly to the 370s and 360s. The latest episodes may date to the early 350s BC. The complete absence of any references to events later than that suggest strongly that the work was written, or at least completed, sometime in the 350s BC.
This was a turbulent time, particularly in mainland Greece. The old power blocks, Athens and Sparta, were no longer dominant, Athens battling against reluctant allies and a lack of funds for military operations, and Sparta reduced to its territory in the south-east Peloponnese after its great defeat by the Thebans at Leuctra in 371 BC. The Thebans, too had not been able to remain a dominant power, but were still asserting their influence in central and northern Greece. Many small cities which had long belonged to one of the large alliances were, for the first time in generations, on their own. At the same time, new multilateral alliances and the increased use of mercenaries in many areas made sieges an ever more common occurrence. In short, a military commander in a small town with a force of a few hundred may suddenly find himself in a situation where it was necessary to understand principles of warfare on a much grander scale.
Who was Aeneas?
The simple answer is that we do not know.
The author of the Poliorketika says very little about himself, and almost consistently speaks in general terms: there is no reference to his personal involvement in any of the events he recounts, and no anecdotes about his own past exploits.
Aeneas combines military experience with an intimate knowledge of life in a small town. His education and general perspective suggest that he was comparatively well off, and his political stance is broadly oligarchic.
Aeneas was a prolific writer, and a writer willing to experiment with language and genre. The result of his efforts is generally seen as a lot less sophisticated and polished than that of his contemporaries (Xenophon offers the closest comparison in terms of genre and outlook).
Unlike all other contemporary writers whose texts have been preserved, Aeneas was not an Athenian. Unusually, Athens plays only a minor role in his work and he does not write in the Attic dialect, which is otherwise (with the exception of Herodotus) the standard in classical prose literature.
The Poliorcetica does not single out a particular region, and Aeneas’ city under siege is a generic small polis which is not meant to be any particular place. The work offers no indication of where Aeneas came from.
Aeneas of Stymphalos?
This identification is tempting, since the historical situation in the Peloponnese, particularly in Arcadia in the 360s BC would account for Aeneas’ experience both with warfare on a grand scale and life in a small city. However, this identification has not been proved.
created 04/02/2010 - updated 10/02/2010