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General Rules of War (Epitoma Rei Militaris)


Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus (Vegetius for short)

as introduced by Alexander C. Kamilewicz

The General Rules of War

Those of you who are avid Pratchett-readers (and I assume that's all of you) will have been introduced to the character of General Tactitus. PTerry is, of course, making a direct allusion here to the actual Tacitus of the Roman Empire who since gained fame for his History of the Peloponnesian War. This text laid out some of the precepts upon which war should be fought and was to be used for the Roman legions.

A great deal less of you, however, may know that in terms of strategic military thinking, Tacitus was clearly not the most important writer whose works survived Antiquity. In terms of use and usefulness during the years after the Fall, and the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the Epitoma Rei Militaris of Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus (Vegetius for short) was clearly the front-runner. Such was the widespread use of this text during the Middle Ages that the commanders would often carry it with them on campaigns and consult it regularly. With sections like 'How to cross large rivers' and 'What to do if one has an army unaccustomed to fighting or newly recruited' it is not hard to understand why they did so.

In fact, the use of this text by medieval military commanders is mirrored by Sam Vimes in JINGO.

Right now I am working in the Bodleian Library, Oxford University, on this text and came across a section entitled 'General rules of war' which I thought would be of interest to afpdip. Obviously not all are of direct use to Diplomacy, but could certainly be taken as a guide to the spirit of Diplomacy.

I'm translating from a latin text here, but should you wish to read this in English I can highly recommend: Vegetius: Epitome of Military Science, translated by N.P. Milner, 2nd ed. (Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, 1996).

[Transcription follows]

In all battles the terms of campaign are such that what benefits you harms the enemy and what helps him always hinders you. Therefore we ought never to do or omit to do anything at his pleasure but carry out only that which we judge useful to ourselves. For you begin to be against yourself if you copy what he has done in his own interest, and likewise whatever you attempt for your side will be against him if he chooses to imitate it.

In war, he who spends more time watching in outposts and puts more effort into training soldiers will be less subject to danger.

A soldier should never be led into battle unless you have made trial of him first.

It is preferable to subdue an enemy by famine, raids and terror than in battle where fortune tends to have more influence than bravery.

No plans are better than those you carry out in advance without the enemy's knowledge.

Opportunity in war is usually of greater value than bravery.

In soliciting and taking in enemy soldiers: if they come in good faith there is great security because deserters harm the enemy more than casualties.

It is preferable to keep additional reserves behind the line than to spread the soldiers too widely.

It is difficult to beat someone who can form a true estimate of his own and the enemy's forces.

Bravery is of more value than numbers.

Terrain is often of more value than bravery.

Few men are born naturally brave; hard work and good training makes many so.

An army is improved by work and enfeebled by inactivity.

Never lead forth a soldier to a general engagement except when you see that he expects victory.

Surprises alarm the enemy, familiarity breeds contempt.

He who pursues rashly with his forces in loose order is willing to give the adversary the victory he had himself obtained.

He who does not prepare grain supplies and provisions is conquered without a blow.

He who has the advantage in numbers and bravery, let him do battle with a rectangular front, which is the first mode.

He who judges himself inequal, let him rout the left wing of the enemy with his right, which is the second mode.

He who knows he has a very strong left wing, let him attack the right wing of the enemy, which is the third mode.

He who has very experienced soldiers should begin battle on both wings together, which is the fourth mode.

He who commands an excellent light armament, let him attack both wings of the enemy after posting the light troops before the line, which is the fifth mode.

He who has confidence neither in the numbers of his soldiers nor their bravery and is to fight a pitched battle, let him repel the left wing of the enemy with his right having extended the rest of his men in the form of a spit which is the sixth mode.

He who knows he has fewer and inferior forces, in the seventh mode let him have on one flank a mountain, city, sea, or river, or some support.

He who has confidence in his cavalry should find places more suited to horsemen and wage war more by means of cavalry.

He who has confidence in the infantry forces should find places more suited to infantry and wage war more through infantry.

When an enemy spy is wandering secretly in camp, let all personnel be ordered to their tents in daylight, and the spy is immediately caught.

When you discover that your plan has been betrayed to the enemy, you are advised to change your dispositions.

Discuss with many what you should do, but what you are going to do discuss with as few and as trustworthy as possible, or rather with yourself alone.

Soldiers are corrected by fear and punishment in camp, on campaign hope and rewards make them behave better.

Good generals never engage in a general engagement except on some advantageous occasion, or under great necessity.

It is a powerful disposition to press the enemy more with famine than with the sword.

The mode in which you are going to give battle should not become known to the enemy, lest they make moves to resist with any countermeasures.

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