The Medieval Review 11.11.13

Dennis, George T. The Taktika of Leo VI. Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae. Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 2010. Pp. 690. $60. ISBN 978-0-88402-359-3. . .

Reviewed by:

Everett L. Wheeler
Duke University and University of North Carolina, Asheville,

The Tacticae constitutiones or Tactica of the Byzantine emperor Leo VI (r. 866-912), perhaps datable by internal references to c. 900 (11.21) or 902 (18.134), inaugurated a flowering of Middle Byzantine military texts, which concluded with the vast compendium (also a Tactica and still unedited in toto) of Nicephorus Uranus (c. 950-1011). This tenth-century military renaissance aimed (in part) at reworking and preserving Graeco-Roman military theory, a task reflected in Leo's actual title, Brief Transmission of the Tactics in Wars. Leo's basic message of avoiding open pitched battle, if possible, and reliance on stratagems and trickery reflected the primary doctrine of Graeco-Roman military thought. [1] Yet new material of contemporary relevance also occurs in the work, in Leo's case, a vade mecum for fighting Saracens (Epilog. 71). Indeed the work offers one of the earliest Byzantine accounts of Muslim (Saracen) warfare, jihad, and Islam (18.103-50), besides a discussion of Byzantine naval tactics and Greek fire (Const. 19). A repeated concern for Byzantine inadequacy in archery (6.5, 11.41, 20.81) is also new. Not least, Leo's discernment (Epilog. 57, 64)) of λογιστική as a special skill of generals beside tactics and strategy inspired the development of the modern concept of logistics in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century military theorists.

A scholarly edition with an English translation of this important text has long been a desideratum. Hitherto the complete text was only available in J.-P. Migne's Patrologia Graeca (vol. 107), which reprinted J. Lami's 1745 modification of the Greek text of J. Meursius (1612), based on inferior manuscripts, and J. Checus's 1554 Latin translation dedicated to Henry VIII of England. Late eighteenth-century French and German translations of Lami's text also appeared. R. Vári's scholarly edition (2 vols., 1917-22), no longer readily available, featured detailed annotation of Leo's sources at the top of every page and reproduction of the corresponding sections of Nicephorus Uranus's paraphrase of Leo's text at the bottom. Vári's text, running through 14.38 (line 228), included approximately only half of the complete work. Vári had also produced a Hungarian translation of Const. 18 (1900). Thus this new edition of the Greek text with a reliable English translation offers a most valuable addition to the Dumbarton Oaks branch of the CFHB series.

Leo would have been pleased that his Anglophone editor and translator is George T. Dennis, who (with Walter Kaegi) has been one of the twin pillars of Byzantine military studies in North America. Dennis previously edited in the CFHB series the Strategikon attributed to the Emperor Maurice (1981) and Three Byzantine Military Treatises, including Syrianus Magister, De re strategica; Nicephorus Phocas, De velitatione; and the anonymous Biblion taktikon (Campaign Organization and Tactics) (1985). His English translation of the Strategikon appeared in 1984. With great regret one must note the Leo as Dennis's valedictory work. His passing came five months before the volume's publication, with some apparent consequences for the work's final form.

Dennis offers the first edition of Leo based on the earliest witnesses. The famous collection of Greek military texts in Medico-Laurentianus gr 55.4 (= M), dated to 959 and compiled on the order of Constantine VII, Leo's son, preserves an early version of the text, in which sixteen constitutiones precede a section of maxims, the epilogue, and three appendices on surprise attacks, siege warfare, and naval warfare. A later MS (W = Vindobonensis phil. gr. 275, 2nd half of the 10th c.?) seems to follow the order of themes at Prolog. lines 103-109 in rearranging the material in M: Const. 14: Day of Battle, 15: Siegecraft, 16: Day after Battle, 17: Surprise Attacks, 18: Customs of Different Nations, 19: Naval Warfare, 20: Maxims, and Epilogue. In W, Const. 4 on divisions of the army follows Const. 3 on plans, a reversal of the arrangement in M. A paraphrase of the complete text also occurs in A (= Ambrosianus B 119 sup. [139], early 2nd half of the 10th c.). A third family of manuscripts derives from V (= codex Vaticanus gr. 1164, c.1020), although no manuscript in this family contains the full text. The additional 88 manuscripts produced through the sixteenth century have little value for establishing the text. A's value, however, is notable at 14.65.476. Here Leo follows Maurice's adaptation (Strat. 12.B.17.22) of Asclepiodotus 2.5-6; Aelianus Tacticus 7.3, 8.3; and Arrian, Tactica 8.1, 4 on terminology for the middle unit in a battleline. All these authors, including Maurice, and MS A, read ὀμφαλὸν (navel). Yet Dennis prints ὀφθαλμὸν (eye) following M and W, despite repetition of the same material at 14.86.591, where the reading ὀμφαλὸς is not disputed in the manuscripts.

Leo's personal authorship of the entire work, as opposed to direction of its composition by secretaries, can be debated, although Leo's authorship seems more secure than the still disputed attribution of the Strategikon to Maurice (r. 582-602). Occasional biblical allusions and echoes of Classical works (e.g. 2.32: Theognis 949 = 1278c; 14.22, 64: Aristotle, Physica 197a30; 19.37: Demosthenes 61.20) indicate an effort to make the work more "literary" despite the conventional denial of attention to style (Prolog. 6). Conception of the work as a legal handbook (Prolog. 6, 9: procheiros nomos) reflects Leo's juristic interests, as does designation of each book as a diataxis (constitutio; cf. Vegetius 1.8.11: constitutiones of Augustus, Trajan, and Hadrian), in contrast to Maurice's books as logoi. Leo's absence from personal command of field operations by no means indicated a lack of military interests. A supposed youthful work (unmentioned by Dennis), the Problemata in twelve books (ed. A. Dain, 1935), posed various military questions answered by extracts from Maurice's Strategikon. A section of the Tactica (12.16), inspired by Maurice (2.1.82-94; cf. Leo, Prob. 1.7-9), repeated the method. As long recognized, Leo largely recycled the tactics and military organization of the Strategikon, although with some updates and modifications. Occasional references to contemporary campaigns and those of Basil I, Leo's father, appear. For tenth-century tactics, however, various works of Nicephorus Phocas and Nicophorus Uranus are a better guide. Yet Leo did not rely on Maurice exclusively. The Strategikos of Onasander (fl. 49-59) and the Tactica of Aelian (fl. 100) were also used directly. Indeed Leo also incorporated more material from the Strategika of Polyaenus (fl. 162) than generally recognized and, contrary to a common assumption, Leo knew Polyaenus's complete text, not just the later Byzantine epitome, the Excerpta Polyaeni. Leo may have also known Vegetius in some form.

Dennis (37 n.16, 461 n.16, 531 n.15) takes Leo's references (2.33, 18.68 19.72) to another military work supplementing the Tactica as an indication of Leo's authorship of the so-called Sylloge tacticorum (ed. A. Dain, 1938), a mid-tenth-century (?) tactical treatise compiled from various sources and including a stratagem collection of exempla generally abbreviated from the Excerpta Polyaeni but with some curious changes of various generals' names. This work is often called Stratagems of the Emperor Leo. [2] The Sylloge, written in a more colloquial Greek, bears no stylistic resemblance to Leo's Tactica. Attribution of the Sylloge to Alexander (r. 912-13), Leo's brother, has not found scholarly favor, although an acrostic found in Leo's Tactica Const. 20 would imply a role in the Tactica's composition for Alexander, whose name Constantine VII later had erased (537 n.1). In any case, the reference at 18.68 cannot be to the Sylloge, as it is borrowed from Maurice (Strat. 11.2.90-91; cf. 11.3.45-46). If the references to another military treatise at 2.33 and 19.72 really do indicate the Sylloge--and if the Sylloge really does date to the mid-tenth century--then they may be additions in a later version of the Tactica. The rearrangement of material in manuscripts M and W demonstrates later modifications of the text.

Unfortunately, it is a reviewer's obligation to point out weaknesses and errors. An overly brief "Introduction" and "Select Bibliography," which do not address all problems of Leo and the text, precede the Loeb-style presentation of the Greek text and translation on facing pages. Curiously, Dennis continues to call the De re strategica, now convincingly attributed to Syrianus Magister, "anonymous," as in his Three Byzantine Militiary Treatises (abbreviated as in the Leo's apparatus as "AnonStrat."). References to Arrian's Tactica follow J. Scheffer's 1664 edition rather than the more accurate version in A. G. Roos's 1968 Teubner of Arrian's Scripta Minora et Fragmenta. Similarly, Cecaumenus's Strategikon is cited (157 n.4, 195 n.3) after G. Litavrin's 1972 Russian edition, apparently in ignorance of the 1998 edition with Italian translation of M. D. Spadaro (with a different numbering of the text). Use of Loeb editions, not signaled in the "Texts" section of the "Select Bibliography," yields peculiar citations including the number of the Loeb volume: e.g. 37 n.15: Plutarch, Mor. 3.187.3 = Mor. 187D; similarly, 361 n.2 on Plutarch Moralia 3.245C = Mor. 245C; and to avoid confusion in the numbering of different editions, at 569 n.61 Aristotle, Politics 7.13.8 (Loeb) would be better as 7.1333a35. The back matter includes maps of the Eastern Mediterranean and Anatolia, glossaries of Byzantine measurements and Byzantine military terminology (thankfully Greek terms are used in the translation rather than imprecise modern equivalents of officers' titles), a biographical list of "Persons Mentioned" (often with imprecise dates), distinct lists of "Greek Proper Names" and "Greek Terms," an "Index Fontium" (cited in the same--sometimes erroneous--form as in the notes), and a "General Index." Readers should be aware that Dennis's numbering of paragraphs in some Constitutiones differs from that of Lami's edition in Migne's PG, so use of citations from older scholarship will require adjustment. A concordance of the differences would have been useful.

The translation, although generally reliable, is sometimes overly adventurous or unclear. A short review permits only a few examples.

At 1.3 (Στρατηγικὴ δέ ἐστι στρατηγῶν ἀγαθῶν συνάσκησις ἤγουν μελέτη καὶ γυμνασία μετὰ στρατηγημάτων ἤτοι τροπαίων συναθροισμός)

Dennis's "Strategy is how good commanders put their military training into practice, their drilling with stratagems, and putting together ways of defeating the enemy" is more literally: "The general's art is the common practice of good generals, that is to say, the practice and exercise of stratagems or indeed the collection of trophies of victory."

At 4.6 and 4.19 translation of forms of ἀκία and ὄρδινον as "row" (horizontal space), when the reference is clearly to a file (depth or vertical space) is confusing, although Byzantine usage of these Classical terms for "rank" or "row" indicates a change of meaning.

Translation of παραμήρια as "daggers" (5.2, 6.2) is problematic, as is Leo's treatment of various spears (6.27, 34; cf. 9.71)--in part the result of discrepancies in Middle Byzantine texts for different types of weapons. More commentary on these points was needed.

The drill commands at 7.19, 52 are somewhat unclear. Dennis treated them more accurately in his translation of Maurice (1984: 38; Greek text 1981: 3.5.14-15). At 7.19 Leo means "more open intervals," not Dennis's "over a rather broad area." Likewise at 7.52 (περιπατεῖν ἴσως), "keep in line" is what is meant, not "march evenly."

Greek διοίκησις (14.23.163, 33.215) denotes "management," not "leadership," and λογισμός (15.16.88: λογισμῶν; missing in the list of "Greek Terms": 661) is not a general synonym for "stratagem." "Calculations" would be a better translation, as the discussion at 15.16 concerns siege assaults in relays, thus according with the divisions of the army discussed as one aspect of λογιστική (Epilog. 57).

Stratagems are not necessarily "tactical plans," so στρατηγήματα τῆς σῆς παρατάξεως (20.89.59) might better be rendered as "stratagems of your deployment" rather than "tactical plans for your formations." παρατάξεως is genitive singular.

Readers expecting detailed annotation of Leo's sources and parallels from Classical exempla and sententiae, as in Vári's incomplete edition, will be sadly disappointed. The annotation of sources is cursory, incomplete, and often erroneous--apparently signs of haste. Even citations of parallel passages in Maurice are frequently imprecise. Nor can an effort to document cross-references and doublets in this often repetitious text be discerned. As announced in the Introduction (xiv), the "Commentary" of the subtitle will be fulfilled by a second volume edited by John Haldon. But one wonders if a line-by-line commentary is envisioned or a collection of essays. In any case, a detailed annotation of sources, cross-references, and parallels belonged in the text/translation volume. The reviewer has compiled his own list of Classical parallels and improved citations, but for a short review he will append only a list of errata--too many for a Dumbarton Oaks Text. Whatever the circumstances at the closing stages of this project, Dennis's achievement in editing and translating this important work is somewhat marred by the press's lax editorial supervision. A revised edition is recommended.


x: read Deme- for De-me-; 59: n.8 belongs with 4.40-41, not 4.39; 140 app. crit. and 141 n.11: read Arrian 32, not 3.2; 205: Apoulfer, but Abulfer at 419; 245 n.3: read Const. 6, n.5, not n.6; 273 n.10: read 7.A.praef, not praef.7.A.; 298 app. crit.: read Thuc. 7.61, not 7.61.7; 331: n.15 belongs with 14.65, not 14.66; 329 n.13: read Physics 197a30, not 197.30; 351 n.1: read 2-5 cf. Onasander 38-42, not 2-4 cf. Onasander 40-41; 384: n.1 belongs with 16.2, not 16.1; 385 n.2: read Aelian Prolog. 6, not Praef. 6; 395 n.3: read 17.7.56-59, not 7-9; 419 n.9: read Cappadocia, not Calabria; 539 n.4: read 20.4, not 20.3-4; 541 n.8: read 8.1.8, not 8.1.9; 541 n.9: read 8.1.6-7, 9, not 8.1.5-7; 543 n.12: cf. Polyaenus 2.1.3 belongs in n.13; 545 n.16: read Onasander 10.13, not 10.12; 563 n.54: read Const. 14 31-32; Onasander 36, not 14 31; Onasander 3.6; 569 n.60: Leo 20.89 is not derived from Maurice 8.2.38; 569 n.63: read 20 92, 94 see Strat. 8.2.32, 34, not 20 92-94 see Strat. 8.2.32-34; 583: n.100 belongs with 20.135, not 20.136; 593 n.107: read Const. 4 40-41; Onasander 24, not 4 41; 593 n.108: read 7.4, not 7.5; 607 n.16: read 3.9.38, not 3.9.36; 631 n.10: read 38-40 cf. Const. 2; Onasander 1.1-14, not Cf. Const. 2.



1. The supposed Byzantine novelty of stratagems and avoiding battle and a sharp contrast between Roman and Byzantine military theory have recently been exaggerated: E. Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire (Cambridge, MA, 2009), e.g. 58, 80, 257, 281-82, 286.

2. A text and English translation by the reviewer of the Excerpta Polyaeni and the Stratagems of the Emperor Leo may be found in P. Krentz and E. L. Wheeler, Polyaenus, Stratagems of War (Chicago, 1994), 850-1075.