Aeneas Tacticus 16.1-7: Dealing with a night attack on your territory

A discussion of the decisions a commander faces when his territory has been attacked by an enemy, particularly at night. Aeneas' main advice: be patient, wait for the right moment.

Aeneas particularly emphasizes psychological factors - a commander has to understand how his own people will react, and what they can be asked to do in any given situation; he also needs to apply similar thinking in order to anticipate the actions of his enemy.






1. Another way of ordering an expedition against invaders may therefore be preferable. 2. In the first place, it is undesirable to attempt immediate reprisals ; for you must remember that before daybreak your men will be unprepared and in great disorder, some eager to save their own property on the farms without loss of time, others afraid to advance boldly to meet the danger, as is natural in the case of sudden alarm, others again caught entirely unprepared. 3. You must, therefore, make ready for the expedition not only by mustering troops without delay, but by removing apprehensions, inspiring confidence, and, where necessary, providing arms.
4. For you must know that if your adversaries are men of judgement and skill, they will at first keep their best troops in hand when in the enemy's country; for they will expect an attack and be prepared to repulse it. Some of them in small detachments will be going about the country plundering, while others will probably be in ambush, ready for any undisciplined attempts of reprisal on your part. 5. You should not, therefore, attack and harass them at once, but should wait till they grow reckless and contemptuous of your opposition, and intent only on satisfying their greed by looting. Soon, too, they will be full of food and drink, and drunken men are careless and disobey orders. 6. Men in this condition are likely to make a poor show in battle and in retreat, if you choose the right moment for attack. 7. This will be when your force is in readiness at the place appointed and the enemy have dispersed in search of plunder: then is the time to attack, cutting off their lines of retreat with your cavalry and using your picked men for ambushes; the rest of the light troops should keep in touch with the enemy, while heavy infantry is brought up in column not far from the detachments sent in advance. Make your attack in a position where you need not fight if you do not want to, but where the advantage will be on your side if you choose to fight.






Aeneas is clearly thinking of a kind of glorified cattle-raid, rather than a siege in the usual sense of the word. The attacking enemy comes from a neighbouring city, and seems to be mainly concerned with looting anything valuable that has been left out in the countryside, which presumably includes lifestock and perhaps also stored food supplies or wine (note the comment about drunkenness after some time of looting).




created 14/02/2010 - updated 14/02/2010