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Byzantine Warrior

The Strategikon
A Forgotten Military Classic

Charles C. Petersen
(Article from Military Review, August 1992. Scanned by Air War College.)

The Strategikon was written to serve as a manual to assist with the training of the mounted troops of the Byzantine army. The author suggests that this forgotten work has use for today's military organizations. He compares the philosophies of the Strategikon to those of Sun Tzu's The Art of War and discusses their differences. Finally, he notes that it was not until the 20th century that the Byzantine type of warfare returned to the battlefield.


O EDWARD GIBBON, "the vices of the Byzantine armies were inherent, their victories accidental."(1) Of all the many distortions in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, this one ranks with the most glaring. For it was largely the excellence of the Byzantine Empire's military organization and the sophistication of its art of war that enabled it to withstand assaults from Persians, Avars, Franks, Slavs and Arabs (to name just a few of its enemies) for more than 500 years between the sixth and 11th centuries.

The sources of this excellence lay not in the genius of Belisarious or Narses who, despite the brilliance of their victories, left no lasting imprint on the Byzantine military system, but in reforms enacted a generation later by the soldier-emperor Maurice (582-602) and codified in an outstanding military manual, the Strategikon. So successful were Maurice's reforms that they remained substantially undisturbed for the next five centuries. "Not until well into the nineteenth century," writes J. F. C. Fuller, "were military manuals of such excellence produced in western Europe."(2) Yet, very few copies of this work have survived; a printed version of the Greek text appeared only in 1981; and the first English translation, only in 1984.(3) Published by an academic press, it appears not to have come to the attention of the general military reader and has already gone out of print.(4)

The Strategikon is a practical manual, "a rather modest elementary handbook," in the words of its introduction, "for those devoting themselves to generalship."(5) Its concern with contemporary military problems contrasts sharply with the philosophical detachment of Sun Tzu's The Art of War, written a millennium earlier.(6) Even so, its military wisdom, like that of the Chinese military classic, speaks to generals of every era, and the principles that influenced its instructions for the deployment and employment of the East Roman army's field forces remain of interest today.

 

The Strategikon on Maurice's Reforms

The Strategikon consists of 12 chapter-length "books," all but one of which deal with the organization, training and support of mounted troops. But the mounted troops described in the Strategikon were no ordinary cavalry; they were balanced and versatile fighting formations capable of winning decisions independently in battle against a variety of opponents and in many kinds of terrain. The Byzantine army's infantry, as Sir Charles W. C. Oman points out, was "altogether a subsidiary force," used more for garrison duty and small-scale mountain warfare than for taking the field with the horse.(7)

The basic tactical unit of the Byzantine army, as reorganized by Maurice, was the bandum or tagma, a mounted company whose size fluctuated between 200 and 400 horsemen. "All of the tagmas should definitely not be of the same size," asserts the Strategikon. "If they are, the enemy can easily estimate the size of the army by counting standards."(8) Three or more tagmas formed a brigade or moira; three moiras in turn, a division or meros—all of them, like the tagma, of variable strength. Twelve hundred years later, Napoleon laid down a similar rule for his own higher formations for similar reasons.(9) Nevertheless, the requirements of efficient command and control did impose upper limits on the size of these units. Thus, the moira could not exceed 3,000 men, nor the meros "more than six or seven thousand"; otherwise, "as they become larger and more extended, they may prove to be disorderly and confused."(10)

The Byzantine army's success on the battlefield as a result of Maurice's reforms was founded on its effective blend of striking power, mobility and protection, and on a keen awareness that "the art of fighting depends upon the closest combination of the offensive and the defensive, so closely as does the structure of a building depend upon bricks and mortar."(11) Every formation in the Byzantine army, from the smallest to the largest, embodied these principles in its organization and tactics and was, consequently, able equally to fight on its own or as part of larger units, performing specialized roles.

The smallest tactical unit, the tagma, derived its striking power from its combined use of fire (from horse archers) and shock (from lancers), an innovation that no Byzantine adversary could match, being proficient in one or the other, but seldom both together. Well in advance of the rest of the medieval world, as the Strategikon reveals, the East Romans discovered that fire prepares the way for shock more through suppression than attrition and that the effectiveness of suppressive fire depends less on accuracy than on sheer volume and high trajectory. For when the enemy has to worry about avoiding the missiles raining down on him, his attention is diverted from what is happening directly ahead, and he becomes vulnerable to the shock of a charge.(12) Therefore, in the instructions for drilling the tagma, the horse archers line up behind the lancers, reversing the earlier practice, so that they must use high-angle fire in order to reach the enemy and avoid hitting their own men.(13) The directions for training the individual horse archer are equally revealing: "He should be trained to shoot rapidly . . . . Speed is important in shaking the arrow loose and discharging it with force. . . . This is essential. . . . In fact, even when the arrow is well aimed, firing slowly is useless."(14) This emphasis on speed, and hence volume, of fire, even at the cost of accuracy, was also without precedent in Byzantine military practice.(15)

The tagma's high mobility was the product of not only its equine locomotion but also the special training to enhance its cross-country capability. "It is essential," according to the Strategikon, "that the horses become accustomed not only to rapid maneuvering in open, level country, but also over hilly, thick and rough ground, and in the quick ascending and descending of slopes. If they get used to these different types of ground, then neither men nor horses will be surprised or troubled by any sort of land." After describing some drills to be used in "difficult country," the manual adds: "The men who spare their horses and neglect drills of this sort are really planning their own defeat."(16) The tagma's ability to move and fight on irregular terrain was further enhanced by the fact that its troopers were trained to fight on foot, as well as on horseback. This infantry training also improved their chances of survival if they were unhorsed or their mounts were killed in combat. (17)

For protection, the tagma's horsemen relied on helmets and on what the Strategikon describes as "hooded coats of mail reaching to their ankles, which can be caught up by thongs and rings." The lancers in the two front ranks also carried shields, and their mounts wore "protective pieces of iron armor about their heads, and breastplates of iron or felt, or else breast and neck coverings such as the Avars use."(18) In addition, the tagma was trained to fight both in extended (offensive) order and in close (defensive) order and to make rapid changes from one to the other as conditions required. During the charge, the tagma advanced in close order, the horse archers protected by the lancers ahead, and the lancers, in turn, by volleys of suppressive fire from the horse archers behind.(19)

In higher formations, Maurice's reforms introduced a distinction between "assault troops" (cursores) and "defenders" (defensores): one third of each division or meros was to consist of the former, drawn up on its flanks in open order, and the remaining two thirds of the latter, drawn up in the center in close order.(20) The task of assault troops was "to move out ahead of the main line and rush upon the retreating enemy"—in other words, to conduct pursuits, presumably after the enemy line of battle had been successfully charged and routed. The task of defenders, on the other hand, was to "follow them, not charging out or breaking ranks, but marching in good order as a support for the assault troops if they should happen to fall back."(21) An inherent weakness of mixed infantry-cavalry formations had been that pursuits after a battlefield success inevitably entailed the separation of the formation's mobile striking arm from its less mobile, defensive base, exposing the cavalry vanguard of the pursuit to possible annihilation in well-prepared ambushes. The Byzantine army solved this problem by making the defensive base as mobile as the striking arm, enabling the one to support the other in mobile warfare, as well as in set-piece actions.

The conviction that correct offensive action presupposes a sound defensive also found expression in a new order of battle for Byzantine field armies. Each was required to draw up for battle not just in one line, as before, but in two lines, one of them arrayed behind the other with "about a third" of the entire force. The author of the Strategikon makes a forceful argument to justify this change. "To form the whole army simply in one line . . . for a general cavalry battle and to hold nothing in reserve for various eventualities in case of a reverse is the mark of an inexperienced and absolutely reckless man," he writes.(22) For "if it should be outflanked or unexpectedly attacked by the enemy, and it has no support from its rear or flanks, without any protection or reserve force, it will be forced to retire in headlong flight." With a second line supporting the first, however, such a disaster could be avoided. If, on the one hand, the first line "retreats or is pushed back, then the second line is there as a support and a place of refuge. This makes it possible to rally the troops and get them to turn back on their attackers."(23) On the other hand, "When we are pursuing the enemy, we can make our attack safely, for if some of the enemy turn back on us or if there is a sudden attack from another quarter, then the second line can hold its ground, join battle, and protect the first."(24) In effect, then, the new two-line order of battle reproduced, at the grand tactical level, the organization of each meros into assault troops and defenders at the tactical level.

Of no less importance in the new order of battle were the detached bodies. "Two or three bandums" were to be posted as flank guards to the left of the first line, "where hostile outflanking and encircling movements may naturally be expected" (against the weaponless left arms of the men on that side). A "bandum or two of archers, known as outflankers," were to be deployed to the other side of the first line to turn the enemy's left flank, and an additional "three or four" bandums were to be placed in concealed positions on both sides, from where they could attack the enemy's rear.(25) According to the Strategikon, "well timed attacks against the enemy's flanks and rear are much more effective and decisive than direct frontal charges and attacks. . . . [If the enemy must be faced in open battle, therefore,] do not mass all your troops in front, and even if the enemy is superior in numbers, direct your operations against his rear or his flanks. For it is dangerous and uncertain under all conditions and against any people to engage in purely frontal combat."(26)

These dispositions proved so adaptable that they were still in use, almost without change, 300 years later, when the emperor, Leo VI, issued his Tactical Constitutions.(27) Nearly 900 years more were to pass, however, before an order of battle of comparable sophistication—Frederick the Great's celebrated "oblique order"—appeared in Western Europe.(28)

 

The Strategikon on the Art of War

The highest principle of the Byzantine art of war, as the Strategikon makes clear, was economy of force. "A ship cannot cross the sea without a helmsman, nor can one defeat an enemy without tactics and strategy. With these and the aid of God it is possible to overcome not only an enemy force of equal strength but even one greatly superior in numbers. For it is not true, as some inexperienced people believe, that wars are decided by courage and numbers of troops, but . . . by tactics and generalship and our concern should be with these rather than [with] wasting our time mobilizing large numbers of troops."(29) The manual likens warfare to hunting: "Wild animals are taken by scouting, by nets, by lying in wait, by stalking, by circling around, and by other such stratagems rather than by sheer force." In waging war, one should do likewise, "whether the enemy be many or few." To try "simply to overpower the enemy in the open, hand to hand and face to face," is a "very risky" enterprise that "can result in serious harm" even if the enemy is defeated. "It is ridiculous to try to gain a victory which is so costly and brings only empty glory."(30) Thus, "a wise commander will not engage the enemy in a pitched battle unless a truly exceptional opportunity presents itself."(31) He will avoid emulating those who "are admired for their brilliant success [but] carry out operations recklessly."(32) He will "watch for the right opportunities and pretexts" and "strike at the enemy before they can get themselves ready."(33)

One does not have to delve very far into this treatise to recognize its kinship with two other military classics, one of them written a millennium earlier; the other, a millennium later. The first, Sun Tzu's Art of War, was already mentioned. "To capture the enemy's army," we read there, "is better than to destroy it; to take intact a battalion, a company or a five-man squad is better than to destroy them. For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill."(34) The "master of war," we read elsewhere in Sun Tzu's book, "conquers an enemy already defeated"; "a victorious army wins its victories before seeking battle; an army destined to defeat fights in the hope of winning."(35)

Two thousand years later, the 18th-century French general Maurice de Saxe echoes these thoughts in his Reveries upon the Art of War. "I do not favor pitched battles," he writes, "especially at the beginning of a war, and I am convinced that a skillful general could make war all his life without being forced into one." He adds: "I do not mean to say by this that when an opportunity occurs to crush the enemy that he should not be attacked, nor that advantage should not be taken of his mistakes. But I do mean that war can be made without leaving anything to chance. And this is the highest point of perfection and skill in a general."(36)

Roman cavalry in battle, from an ivory relief

That the commander must strive to conduct war without leaving anything to chance is also a recurring theme in the Strategikon. "A general should not have to say: 'I did not expect it."'(37) "The general should be ignorant of none of the situations likely to occur in war."(38) "The sharp general takes into account not only probable dangers, but also those which may be totally unexpected."(39) We should not take this to imply that the general must strive for omniscience—only that his plans should be flexible, that they "ought to have several branches," as Pierre-Joseph de Bourcet says, so that alternative courses of action are always available if the one initially chosen does not bear fruit.(40)

Just as the wise commander should seek to reduce his own uncertainty, so too must he strive to magnify the enemy's, "for only those battle plans are successful which the enemy does not suspect before we put them into action."41) Thus, counsels the manual, "The general who wants to keep his plans concealed from the enemy should never take the rank and file of his own troops into his confidence."(42) "Your plans about major operations should not be made known to many, but to just a few and [only] those very close to you."(43) Nor should the army ever "draw up in its full combat formation . . . when it is just drilling," for "these dispositions are matters of strategy rather than of tactics, and they ought not be made known ahead of time during drill."(44)

The author of the Strategikon was aware, moreover, that the effort to magnify the enemy's uncertainty must not end with passive security measures such as these. He devotes a whole chapter to what we would now call "exercise deception," describing a series of mock drills (in addition to one suggested "for actual use") to be practiced "so others [enemy spies and potential deserters] will not find out which one we think is more important." (45) He is also an enthusiastic proponent of misleading the enemy with "disinformation": "It is very important to spread rumors among the enemy that you are planning one thing; then go and do something else."(46) He has a sophisticated appreciation of how to make defectors and deserters—who by most conventional reckonings are a liability—work against, instead of for, enemy interests. "The enemy should be deceived by false reports of our plans brought to them by deserters from us," he writes.(47) "Suspected deserters," he says elsewhere, "should be told the opposite of what we intend to do, so that we may use them to deceive the enemy."(48) Letters should be sent to deserters who have joined the enemy "in such a way that the letters . . . fall into enemy hands. These letters should remind the deserters the prearranged time for their treachery, so that the enemy will become suspicious of them, and they will have to flee."(49)

The author of the Strategikon understood, too, that the best economy of force entails more than just misinforming the enemy—he must also be misdirected, "so that, as in ju-jitsu, his own effort is turned into the lever of his overthrow."(50) The general, he writes, "should act like a good wrestler, he should feint in one direction to try to deceive his adversary and then make good use of the opportunities he finds, and in this way he will overpower the enemy."(5l) As a practical guide for the Byzantine field commander, the Strategikon offers a rich menu of ruses, tricks and stratagems from which to choose, with special emphasis on ambushes, which "are of the greatest value in warfare, [for] they have in a short time destroyed great powers before they had a chance to bring their whole battle line into action."(52) By the same token, the general must constantly "look for enemy ambushes, sending out frequent and far-ranging patrols in all directions in the area around the battlefield," and he must "avoid disordered and uncoordinated pursuits."(53) Above all, the general must avoid being predictable. He "must not always use the same modes of operation against the enemy, even though they seem to be working out successfully. Often enough the enemy will become used to them, adapt to them, and inflict disaster upon us."(54) For in war, the "line of least expectation" is ever shifting, driven by the independent will of a thinking, reacting opponent, so that a surprise today is always purchased at the risk of a reverse tomorrow. That is why the Strategikon says, "A general who takes nothing for granted is secure in war."(55)

By no means did the author intend to suggest that advantages should not be pressed, nor victories exploited; for "in war opportunity is fleeting, and cannot be put off."(56) Thus, while "it is essential to be cautious and take your time" in making plans, "once you come to a decision [you must] carry it out right away without any hesitation or timidity. Timidity after all is not caution, but the invention of wickedness."(57) And if the outcome of the battle is favorable, "one should not be satisfied with merely driving the enemy back. This is a mistake made by inexperienced leaders who do not know how to take advantage of an opportunity, and who like to hear the saying: 'Be victorious but do not press your victory too hard.' By not seizing the opportunity, these people only cause themselves more trouble and place the ultimate results in doubt. There can be no rest until the enemy is completely destroyed. . . . One should not slacken after driving them back just a short distance, nor . . . should one jeopardize the success of the whole campaign because of lack of persistence. In war, as in hunting, a near miss is still a complete miss."(58)

The author of Strategikon understood that the principle of economy of force directs the commander to know his opponent to avoid his strengths and strike at his weaknesses. The manual's forceful words again bear repeating in full:

"That general is wise who before entering into war carefully studies the enemy, and can guard against his strong points and take advantage of his weaknesses. For example, the enemy is superior in cavalry; he should destroy his forage. He is superior in number of troops; cut off their supplies. His army is composed of diverse peoples; corrupt them with gifts, favors, promises. There is dissension among them; deal with their leaders. This people relies on the spear; lead them into difficult terrain. This people relies on the bow; line up in the open and force them into close, hand-to-hand fighting. . . . If they march or make camp without proper precautions, make unexpected raids on them by night and by day. If they are reckless and undisciplined in combat and not inured to hardship, make believe you are going to attack, but delay and drag things out until their ardor cools, and when they begin to hesitate, then make your attack on them. The foe is superior in infantry; entice him into the open, not too close, but from a safe distance hit him with javelins."(59)

Roman soldier and a Dacian warrior. The Dacians were a chief foe in the Danube basin to the north

Book XI of the Strategikon, "Characteristics and Tactics of Various Peoples," elaborates at length on the foregoing advice.(60) This assessment of sixth century Byzantium's principal adversaries is of interest today chiefly to historians of the period. Still, it does serve to highlight one of the Byzantine army's keys to success—its willingness always to learn from its enemies; to make use of methods of warfare acquired from opponents on one front in order to exploit the vulnerabilities of opponents on another, while forging its own unique tactical synthesis along the way. Thus, the skills in close combat learned from the Franks and Lombards, it used against the Persians and Scythians; and the skills with the bow learned from the Persians and Scythians, it used when fighting the Franks and Lombards; but the fire-and-shock combination that emerged from this experience was distinctively Byzantine.(61)

In this way, therefore, the Byzantine army may be said to have turned its enemies' strengths to advantage as much as it did their weaknesses. Only a fortunate accident of geography—the Byzantine Empire's central position vis-a-vis its adversaries—made this possible. For not only did it confer the inestimable advantage of interior lines of operation, it also kept the empire's enemies physically apart and, therefore, largely unable to learn from each other, even as it enabled the empire itself to learn from all of them.

 

Lessons Learned

In the Strategikon, then, the Byzantine army as reorganized by Maurice possessed the doctrinal foundations for an effective response to encroachments from any of the Empire's neighbors—a response that exploited the versatility of that army's own formations and the lack of balance in those of its opponents. "Now the troops of those adept in war," says Sun Tzu, "are used like the 'Simultaneously Responding' snake of Mount Ch'ang. When struck in the head, its tail attacks; when struck in the tail, its head attacks; when struck in the center both head and tail attack."(62) There lies the essence, perfectly encapsulated, of the Byzantine art of war as expounded in the Strategikon.

Although it is customary to call the Byzantine army's mounted troops "cavalry," the appellation is quite misleading, for they played many more roles in combat than those to which cavalry in Western Europe was to become confined a millennium or so later. Not only did Byzantine horsemen pursue and reconnoiter the enemy, they also conducted an early form of fire preparation, assaulted enemy lines of battle and dismounted to fight on foot when conditions so required. Only the thickest forests and the roughest terrain remained inaccessible to them, requiring the services of specialized infantry. Thus, for all practical purposes, the seventh century Byzantine meros was a combined arms formation—as versatile, in terms of the combat requirements of its day, as Napoleon's corps d'arme'e was to become 1,200 years later; and superior, from the standpoint of its mobility, which was uniform throughout the formation, to that of the corps d'arme'e that was restricted to the marching speed of its infantry.(63) So different, indeed, was the Byzantine meros from the cavalry that was to evolve in Western Europe that one must reach as far as 13th-century Central Asia to find its nearest counterpart, in the Mongol tumen.(64) Not until the 20th century was a comparable combined arms force again to emerge—in Heinz Guderian's panzer division, whose mobility was no longer based on the horse, but on the caterpillar track. Only then were the standards of striking power, mobility and protection set by these ancient formations reattained.(65) MR


Notes

1. Cited in C . W. C. Oman, The Art of War in the Middle Ages, rev. and ed. John H. Beeler, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1953), 32.

2. J. F. C. Fuller, A Military History of the Western World: From the earliest times to the Battle of Lepanto, vol. 1, (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1954), 395.

3. Das Strategikon des Maurikios, Corpus fontium historiae byzantinae, ed. George T. Dennis and trans. Ernst Gamillscheg, 17, (Vienna, 1981); Maurice's Strategikon: Handbook of Byzantine Military Strategy, ed. and trans. George T. Dennis, (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984). Hereafter cited as Strategikon.

4. Until relatively recently, most authorities believed that Maurice himself wrote the Strategikon. About a decade ago, however, Maurice's brother-in-law, the general Philippicus, was proposed as the author. See John Wiita, "The Ethnika in Byzantine Military Treatises," Ph.D. diss., University of Minnesota, 1977, cited in Strategikon, xv-xvii.

5. Strategikon, 8.

6. Sun Tzu, The Art of War, trans. Samuel B. Griffith, (London: Oxford University Press, 1963).

7. C. W. C. Oman, A History of The Art of War in the Middle Ages: A.D. 378-1278, 2d rev. ed., vol. 1, (London, 1924), 187.

8. Strategikon, 16 -17.

9. Oman, History of the Art of War in the Middle Ages, vol. 1, 175.

10. Strategikon, 16.

11. J. F. C. Fuller, Armored Warfare: An Annotated Edition of "Lectures on F. S. R. III [Operations Between Mechanized Forces]" (Harrisburg, PA: Military Service Publishing Company, 1943), 134.

12. The effect of high trajectory was demonstrated at the Battle of Hastings, where the fire from William the Conqueror's Norman archers was ineffective until he ordered them to "use high-angle fire—that is, to shoot their arrows into the air so that they would pass over the heads of his knights and, falling vertically on the enemy, induce the men of [Harold's] shield-wall to raise their shields," Fuller, Military History, vol. 1, 381.

13. In the days of the Emperor Justinian (527-565), for example, the lancers followed the horse archers, see Oman, Art of War in the Middle Ages, 12; Strategikon, 29, 35-36.

14. Strategikon, 11, 29. The ratio of home archers to lancers in the tagma also indicates an intention to use massed fire. The men in the first two and last ranks of the formation "should all bear lances. All the others, drawn up on the middle, who know how to shoot, should be archers." Since the tagma normally drew up in seven ranks, each file would ideally have four archers and three lancers. If we disregard the lancer in the last rank, then the ratio of missile troops to shock troops could have been as high as 2-to-1.

15. An anonymous Byzantine military treatise, written in the mid-sixth century, for example, places equal emphasis on accuracy, power and rapidity of fire. See "The Anonymous Byzantine Treatise on Strategy," in Three Byzantine Military Treatises, ed. and trans. George T. Dennis, Dumbarton Oaks Texts 9, (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 1985),129-33.

16. Strategikon, 78.

17. Had this lesson been applied in World War II, many unnecessary tank-crew losses might have been avoided. According to the German panzer commander General Hermann Balck, "Casualties in the tanks themselves were almost always quite light. However, once the tank crew[s] had to abandon their tank[s] we often had to employ them immediately as infantry. At this point we took unheard-of losses among the tank crews because they had no infantry skills. This is why I feel very strongly that all tank crews . . . must have really thorough infantry training before they are put in combat." Translation of Taped Conversation with General Hermann Balck, 12 January 1979, and Brief Biographical Sketch (Columbus, OH: Batelle Columbus Laboratories Tactical Technology Center, 1979), 58-59.

18. Strategikon, 12.

19. Ibid., 38.

20. Ibid., 26, 76.

21. Ibid., 15.

22. Ibid., 23.

23. Ibid., 24.

24. Ibid.

25. Ibid., 27.

26. Ibid.

27. See Oman, History of the Art of War in the Middle Ages, vol. 1, 197-99.

28. For a brief but perceptive discussion of Frederick's oblique order, see Gunther E. Rothenberg, The Art of Warfare in the Age of Napoleon (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1978),16-19.

29. Strategikon, 64.

30. Ibid., 64-65.

31. Ibid., 90.

32. Ibid., 87.

33. Ibid., 93.

34. Sun Tzu, 77.

35. Ibid., 87.

36. Maurice de Saxe, "My Reveries upon the Art of War," in Roots of Strategy: The 5 Greatest Military Classics of all Time, ed. and trans. Thomas R. Phillips, (Harrisburg, PA: Military Service Publishing Company, 1940; reprinted by Stackpole Books, 1985), 298-99. Saxe penned the Reveries in 1732, but it was not published until 1757, seven years after his death.

37. Strategikon, 86.

38. Ibid., 91.

39. Ibid., 88.

40. Pierre Joseph de Bourcet, Principes de la guerre des montagnes [Principles of mountain warfare] (1775), cited in B. H. Liddell Hart, The Ghost of Napoleon (London: Faber and Faber, 1933), 36.

41. Strategikon, 83.

42. Ibid., 88-89.

43. Ibid., 80.

44. Ibid., 40.

45. Ibid., 63.

46. Ibid., 80.

47. Ibid.

48. Ibid., 82.

49. Ibid., 81. These are what Sun Tzu calls "expendable agents," Art of War, 146 ff.

50. The words have been borrowed from B. H. Liddell Hart's Strategy: The Indirect Approach (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1954), 163.

51. Strategikon, 89.

52. Ibid., 52-55. Book IV in its entirety is devoted to the subject. One such ruse, which the Strategikon calls the "Scythian ambush," involves drawing up "the smaller part of the army" to face the enemy line of battle. "When the charge is made and the lines clash, those soldiers quickly turn to flight; the enemy starts chasing them and becomes disordered. They ride past the place where the ambush is laid, and the units in ambush then charge out and strike the enemy in the rear. Those fleeing then turn around and the enemy force is caught in the middle." This ploy was already ancient by the sixth century—indeed a naval version of it was used in the Peloponnesian War's Battle of Cyzicus (410 B. C.). It was a favorite ruse de guerre of the 13th-century Mongols; and in World War II, Erwin Rommel adapted it to armored warfare in the North African desert, luring British armor into carefully laid traps lined with antitank guns and then counterattacking with his own tanks. More recently, the Iraqi army used it effectively in the later stages of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988).

53. Strategikon, 64.

54. Ibid., 80.

55. Ibid., 87.

56. Ibid., 85.

57. Ibid., 79-80.

58. Ibid.

59. On irregular terrain, it is very difficult to maintain the unbroken front that shock tactics relying on the spear require. In hand-to-hand fighting, bows are virtually useless. A modern version of this ruse was the series of alerts and stand-downs conducted by North Korea in the vicinity of its southern border during the months preceding its invasion of South Korea on 25 June 1950. In time, the South Koreans came to disregard the alerts, so the attack that followed the final, genuine alert came as a stunning surprise. See Richard K. Betts, Surprise Attack: Lessons for Defense Planning (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 1982), 105; Strategikon, 65.

60. Strategikon, 113-26.

61. The Franks and Lombards threatened the Byzantine Empire's western possessions; the Scythians (as the Byzantines called the nomadic Avar, Turkish and Hunnish tribes living north of the Black Sea and in the Central Asian steppes), its Danube frontier; and the Persians, its eastern frontier.

62. Sun Tzu, 135.

63. Napoleon's formation, however, still enjoyed a considerable advantage in mobility over those of his opponents because of its faster marching speeds, greater reliance on "living off the countryside," ability to move dispersed (to minimize road congestion) and yet concentrate swiftly for battle. See David G. Chandler, The Campaigns of Napoleon (New York: Macmillan, 1966), 147-55.

64. For a discussion of the Mongol military organization and art of war, see James Chambers, The Devil's Horseman: The Mongol Invasion of Europe (New York: Athenaeum, 1985), 54-62.

65. Heinz Guderian, "Armored Forces" (1937), The Infantry Journal Reader, ed. Joseph I. Greene, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran and Company, 1943) 469, 481. German General Heinz Guderian unlike the "all-tank" school of armored warfare that prevailed in Britain, believed that the panzer division must be a combined arms formation "for," as he wrote in 1937, "like any other arm, the tank is incapable of solving all [tactical] problems by itself." Thus "auxiliary weapons designed for co-operation with tanks should be combined with them into permanent units comprising all modern arms . . . [A]rmored forces without speedy auxiliary weapons are incomplete and will not be able to realize their maximum potentialities." When British and German armor clashed in the North African desert, the flaws in the "all-tank" approach soon became apparent. See F. W. von Mellenthin, Panzer Battles: A Study in the Employment of Armor in the Second World War (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1956), xvi-xvii, 55; Corelli Barnett, The Desert Generals (New York: Viking Press, 1961), 104-5.

Charles C. Petersen is a military analyst who serves as consultant to various US government agencies and professional services firms in the Washington, D.C. area. He holds a B.A. from the College of Wooster and an M.A. from George Washington University. His work centers on Soviet military doctrine and military art.