Aeneas Tacticus 29.1-10: a plot to smuggle weapons into a city.

Aeneas relates how weapons for a violent uprising were smuggled into a city discguised as merchandise.






29. The Smuggling of Arms

1. I will now deal with the bringing into the city of vessels and freights in which articles are hidden out of sight; for cities and their citadels have been captured by this means before now. 2. In this matter the closest and most careful supervision must be exercised, especially by the sentinel at the gates, at times when attacks are feared either from without or within; and he must pay special attention to goods coming in. 3. I will give as an example a trick once put into practice, which, with the assistance of traitors, resulted in the capture of a city during public festival.
4. The first step was to bring in arms for the use of foreigners already resident and of those citizens in the plot who did not already possess them: so linen cuirasses, jerkins, helmets, shields, greaves, daggers, bows and arrows were packed up in transport cases apparently containing garments and other merchandise, 5. which the custom-officials opened, inspected and sealed up as containing nothing but garments, until the valuation was forthcoming from the importers. 6. The cases were then stored in the proper place near the market, while small spears and javelins were brought in wrapped in wicker-work, crates, and half-woven sails, and quietly placed in convenient positions; bucklers and small shields were hidden among the contents of vessels full of chaff and wool, other less bulky articles in baskets full of raisins and figs, daggers in jars of wheat, dried figs and olives; 7. more daggers, without sheaths, were smuggled in inside ripe pumpkins, pushed in at the bottom into the seed of the pumpkins. The ringleader of the plot was carried into the city in a load of firewood. 8. At night the conspirators mustered for the attack, each waiting for the appointed time, when the rest of the inhabitants were about the streets full of wine, as usually happens on a feast day. First the load was untied, and their captain sprang out ready; then some unwound the wicker-work to get hold of the spears and javelins, others emptied the jars of chaff and wool, others cut open the baskets, others opened the cases and took out the arms, while others smashed up the jars, as to get hold of the daggers quickly. 9. All these preparations went forward at once and at no great distance from each other on a signal given in the city, as if for a battle array. 10. Then, when each man had found his proper arms, some rushed off to seize the towers and gates, where more of their number were let in; others made for the town hall and houses opposite, while the rest occupied various points of vantage.






This is one of the most vivid narratives in Aeneas' work, and although he does not name the city in question, he provides lots of interesting details. We have very few sources which give us a clear idea of the sort of merchandise which would be found on the market places of Greek cities, large or small, all around the Greek world. Aeneas mentions quite a few items and gives the impression of a well-stocked market, which may partly be due to the festival at that time.




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