Aeneas Tacticus 40.1, 4-7: Manpower shortage and guarding the walls

How to guard walls with a small force, and how to make one's force appear to the enemy as larger than it actually is.






1. If the city is a large one and the inhabitants too few to guard the whole circuit of the walls, but you nevertheless wish to guard it securely with the men you have, use any available material to build up high such parts of the wall as are easy of access from outside. Then, if any of the enemy make their way up either by stealth or by force, they will find themselves in an unfamiliar position, and will not be able to jump down from such a height, but will have to go back because they cannot find a way down. Such men as are available should be posted here and there along the parts that have been built up, to dispatch any who dare to make the jump.
4. The men of Sinope, when at war with Datamas, were in a critical position and in want of men. They therefore disguised and armed the fittest of their women, so as to make them look as much as men as they could, gave them jars and similar brass utensils to represent armour and helmets, and marched them round the walls in full view of the enemy. 5. They were not allowed to throw anything: for you can tell a woman a long way off by the way she throws. And they took care to prevent the betrayal of the stratagem by deserters.
6. If you wish rounds on the wall to appear stronger than they really are, they should march round two abreast, the front rank carrying their spears on their left shoulders, the second rank on their right shoulders: in this way they will look as if they were four abreast. 7. If the patrol is a file of three men, the first man should have his spear on his right shoulder, the second on his left shoulder: in this way they will look as if they were two abreast.






There is a serious point here: even very small cities needed fortifications in this period, but any wall that enclosed a reasonable area might well be too long for the relatively small population to guard it all and to carry out all other duties necessary when a city was under attack. The larger and more densely populated the city the more favourable the ratio between manpower and length of fortifications would be. However, in some cities the walls also enclosed areas which were not built over, probably to accommodate the community's lifestock.

Aeneas' story about the women of Sinope has all sorts of humorous potential, but again, the idea to kit out the women with bronze vessels reminds us of the fact that many cities would not have large stores of armour which was surplus to requirements. In fact, Aeneas is very keen to keep it that way, because this might be used to arm supporters of a plot to overthrow the government (cf. 29, 30).






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