Constitution of the Lacedaimonians


Xenophon, creator; Scripta minora; Marchant, E. C. (Edgar Cardew), 1864-1960, translator; Marchant, E. C. (Edgar Cardew), 1864-1960, editor, translator; Bowersock, G. W, (Glen Warren), 1936-, editor, translator

The blessings that I have enumerated so far were shared by all alike in peace and in war. But if anyone wishes to discover in what respect Lycurgus’ organisation of the army on active service was better than other systems, here is the information that he seeks.

The Ephors issue a proclamation stating the age-limit fixed for the levy, first for the cavalry and infantry, and then for the handicraftsmen. Thus the Lacedaemonians are well supplied in the field with all things that are found useful in civil life. All the implements that an army may require in common are ordered to be assembled, some in carts, some on baggage animals; thus anything missing is not at all likely to be overlooked.

In the equipment that he devised for the troops in battle he included a red cloak, because he believed this garment to have least resemblance to women’s clothing and to be most suitable for war, and a brass shield, because it is very soon polished and tarnishes very slowly.[*](The words καὶ χαλκῆν ἀσπίδα should probably come before καὶ γὰρ τάχιστα. There is also a suspicion that some words referring to other details of the equipment have dropped out.) He also permitted men who were past their first youth to wear long hair, believing that it would make them look taller, more dignified and more terrifying.

The men so equipped were divided into six regiments of cavalry and infantry. The officers of each citizen[*](Or, reading ὁπλιτικῶν with Stobaeus, regiment of heavy infantry.) regiment comprise one colonel, four[*](On account of Hellenica 7.4.20 and 5.10 it is thought that δύο, two, should be read for τέτταρας (δʹ).) captains, eight first lieutenants and sixteen second lieutenants. These regiments at the word of command form sections[*](A number, ἕνα, in single file, or δύο, two, must have fallen out before ἐνωμοτίας.) sometimes (two), sometimes three, and sometimes six abreast.

The prevalent opinion that the Laconian infantry formation is very complicated is the very reverse of the truth. In the Laconian formation the front rank men are all officers, and each file has all that it requires to make it efficient.[*](The exact meaning is not clear and the text is possibly corrupt. Weiske suggested πάντα παρέχει, acts exactly as it should.)

The formation is so easy to understand that no one who knows man from man can possibly go wrong. For some have the privilege of leading; and the rest are under orders to follow. Orders to wheel from column into line of battle are given verbally by the second lieutenant acting as a herald, and the line is formed either thin or deep, by wheeling. Nothing whatever in these movements is difficult to understand.

To be sure, the secret of carrying on in a battle with any troops at hand when the line gets into confusion is not so easy to grasp, except for soldiers trained under the laws of Lycurgus.

The Lacedaemonians also carry out with perfect ease manoeuvres that instructors in tactics think very difficult. Thus, when they march in column, every section of course follows in the rear of the section in front of it. Suppose that at such a time an enemy in order of battle suddenly makes his appearance in front: the word is passed to the second lieutenant to deploy into line to the left, and so throughout the column until the battle-line stands facing the enemy. Or again, if the enemy appears in the rear while they are in this formation, each file counter-marches, in order that the best men may always be face to face with the enemy.

True, the leader is then on the left, but instead of thinking this a disadvantage, they regard it as a positive advantage at times. For should the enemy attempt a flanking movement he would try to encircle them, not on the exposed but on the protected side.[*](i.e., this was the regular plan, because each of two battle lines advancing to meet one another always tended to converge to the right. See Thucydides, 5.71.) If, however, it seems better for any reason that the leader should be on the right wing, the left wing wheels, and the army counter-marches by ranks until the leader is on the right, and the rear of the column on the left.

If, on the other hand, an enemy force appears on the right when they are marching in column, all that they have to do is to order each company to wheel to the right so as to front the enemy like a man-of-war, and thus again the company at the rear of the column is on the right. If again an enemy approaches on the left, they do not allow that either, but either push him back[*](This can only mean that if the Lacedaemonians are in battle-order the whole phalanx turns to the left to meet the attack: wheeling by companies to the left would only be necessary when the army marching in column was threatened on the left. But ἀλλὰ προθέουσιν found in C (but either run forward) is almost certainly the right reading.) or wheel their companies to the left to face him, and thus the rear of the column finds itself on the left.