Aeneas Tacticus 6: Outposts

Advice on organising outposts in the territory around the city. Note the particular emphasis on how to choose suitable men for the task.





1.Outposts, too, must be posted by day in front of the city, on high ground visible from as great a distance as possible: each group should consist of at least three men, specially chosen for their experience. Otherwise, you will have scouts who know no better, imagining dangers and reporting them by hand signal to the city, thus causing needless panics. 2. Such false reports are spread by men who have never seen active service, and so fail to understand which of the enemy’s operations and movements are due to design, and which to accident. 3. On the other hand, the reports of an experienced man will be accurate: for he will know the meaning of the enemy’s preparations and numbers, of his line of march and his other movements. 4. If there are no places from which signals can be sent direct to the city, stations must be arranged at different points to transmit the signals to the city as they are made. 5. The men on outpost must be good runners, able to reach the city quickly and bring messages from distant points, in cases where signals cannot be used and messages have to come by word of mouth. 6. Where there are cavalry and the country is suitable for their employment, it is best to keep mounted men at each post, that messages may be delivered more quickly. The outposts should be sent from the city at daybreak or while it is still dark, to prevent the enemy’s scouts from seeing them to go to their posts, as would happen if they went by day. 7. Their password must be different from that of the garrison, so that if captured, they may not have it in their power, willing or unwilling, to betray the password for entering the city. The men on outpost duty should be ordered to display their recognition signs at intervals during the day, in the same way as fire-signallers raise their torches at night.






Greek cities were usually prepared for the need to guard their territory. Complex systems of watch towers have been found in many areas - and where several towers of a city's defence system have been found, we can often see that lines of sight were carefully observed. Aeneas' comments on outposts and signalling is compatible with such finds.

Note that the teritories of ancient Greek cities were often very small, with outlying areas one or two hours' walk from the central settlement, where most inhabitants would have had their residence. This is clearly the kind of city Aeneas is imagining - note his comments about running messengers.




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