Military history


FABRIZIO. I have shown you how an army about to engage another ought to be formed, how an enemy may be defeated, and many other circumstances relating to it that may happen through various accidents and occurrences. I think it is now time, therefore, to show you how I would draw up an army that has not an enemy actually in sight but expects to be attacked suddenly, particularly when it is marching through an enemy’s country or one suspected of inclining to the enemy.

You must know then, in the first place, that the Roman generals usually sent some cavalry troops ahead of their armies to reconnoiter the country and scour the roads; after them came the right wing with the carriages and baggage belonging to it in its rear; then followed one of the legions with its carriages; next, the other in the same manner; last came the left wing with its baggage, and the rest of the cavalry followed behind everything.272 This was the order they commonly observed while marching, and if they were attacked in either the front or the rear, they immediately had all the carriages drawn off to the right or left, as best suited their convenience and the nature of the ground; after which, the whole army—freed from that incumbrance—faced about to the enemy. If they were attacked on the right flank, they drew off the carriages to the left, and vice versa, converting the flank attacked into a front. Since in my opinion this is a very good and orderly method, I think it is worthy of imitation; therefore, upon similar occasions, I would always send my light cavalry ahead of the army to reconnoiter the country and scour the roads; the four regiments of which it consists should march next, one after another, each with its own baggage in its rear. And as there are two sorts of baggage, namely, that belonging to individuals and that used by the army in general, I should divide the latter into four parts and assign one-fourth of it to the care of each regiment. The artillery, sutlers, and others who attend the camp should also be distributed among them in the same manner, so that every regiment might have an equal share of the baggage train.

But since it sometimes occurs that you march through a country that is not merely your suspected, but your professed enemy, and where you hourly expect to be attacked, you will then be obliged for greater security to change the form and order of your march, and to draw up your men in such a manner that neither the peasants nor the enemy’s army may find you unprepared to receive them on any side if they should suddenly attack you. In such cases, the generals of the ancients used to form their armies into an oblong square so that they might defend themselves on every side and be ready to fight as well as to march. I confess I like that disposition so well that I shall follow their example in drawing up the two regiments I have taken for the model of an army in the same manner upon similar occasions: that is, in an oblong square with a hollow in the middle and 424 feet on every side. My flanks would then be that distance from one another; in each of them I would place five battalions, one behind the other, with an interval of six feet between them, so that these battalions would take up a space 424 feet deep, including the intervals between them and supposing each battalion occupied 80 feet. In the front and rear of the hollow square in the middle, I would place the other ten battalions; that is, five of them in the front of it and five in the rear, in such a manner that four of them abreast of each other should be next to the front of the right flank, and four drawn up in the same manner next to the rear of the left, with an interval of eight feet between them. I would post another next to the front of the left flank, on a line with the first four, and another next to the rear of the right, also on a line with the other four there. Now since the distance from one flank to another is 424 feet and the battalions posted in the front of the square—including the intervals between them—will take up no more than 274 feet, there will remain a vacant space of 150 feet between the four battalions on the right and the single one on the left. There will also be the same room left between the battalions in the rear, without any difference except that the space in the front will be near the left flank and that in the rear near the right. I would place my ordinary velites in the former of these spaces, and my extraordinary in the latter; this would not amount to quite a thousand men in each space. But to arrange it so that the hollow square in the middle of the army should be 424 feet on every side, care must be taken that neither the five battalions posted in the front nor the other five in the rear may take up any part of the space included between the flanks. For this purpose, the last man on the right and left of the first rank of the battalions in the rear should be close-not in a straight line, but rather obliquely—with the innermost man in the last rank of each flank; the last man on the right and left of the last rank of the battalions in the front should be close, in the same manner, with the innermost man in the first rank of each flank; then there will be a space left at every angle of the army large enough to receive a body of 333 pikemen extraordinary. But since there would still be two more corps of pikemen extraordinary left, I would draw them up in a square in the middle of the area within the army; at the head of this square I would post the general himself, together with his staff.

Now, although these battalions thus drawn up all march in one direction, but may be obliged to fight on any side, you must take care to qualify them properly for that purpose; therefore, the first five battalions, protected on all sides but in the front, must be formed with their pikemen in their foremost ranks. The last five battalions are covered on every side except the rear and must therefore be formed with their pikemen in the rearmost ranks. For the same reason, each flank should have its pikemen in the outermost ranks. The corporals and other officers should take their proper posts at the same time, so that when the army engages, every corps and every member of that corps may be in due place, according to the order and method I described before when I was speaking of ranging an army in battle array.

I would distribute the artillery along each flank; the light cavalry should be sent before to reconnoiter the terrain and scour the roads; I would post the men-at-arms in the rear of each flank and at a distance of 80 feet from the battalions. For it should be a general rule in drawing up an army always to post your cavalry either on the flanks or in the rear, because if you post them in the front, you must do it at such a distance from the army that, should they be repulsed by the enemy, they may have time and room enough to wheel off without falling foul of your infantry, or you must leave proper intervals in the front to receive them so as not to disorder the rest of your forces. This is a matter that deserves to be remembered well, for many who have neglected these precautions have been thrown into disorder and routed by their own men.

The carriages, sutlers, and other unarmed people who follow the camp should be placed in the hollow square and arranged so that any person, when the occasion arises, may have a free passage through them, either from the front to the rear, or from one flank to another.

The depth of the whole army, when the battalions are thus disposed, will be 584 feet from front to rear, exclusive of the cavalry and artillery; since it is composed of two regiments, it must be considered how each of them is to be posted. Now since the regiments are distinguished by their respective marks and numbers, and each of them consists of ten battalions and a colonel, the first five battalions of the first regiment should be posted in the front of the army, and the other five in the left flank; the regimental colonel should take his station in the left angle of the front. After this, the first five battalions of the second regiment should be placed in the right flank, and the other five in the rear, with their colonel in the angle they make there, where he fulfills the function of a captain of the rear guard.273

When the army is thus formed, you have to put it in motion and to observe this order during your whole march, which will effectively secure you against any attack from the inhabitants of the country. All other provisions for that purpose are unnecessary, unless you shall now and then think it fit to send a troop or two of light cavalry, or a party of velites, to drive them away; for such types of disorderly persons are so afraid of regular forces that they will never come within reach of their pikes, much less of their swords; they may perhaps set up a great shout and make a feint of attacking you, like a parcel of curs barking at a mastiff to whom they dare not venture to come too near. Thus, all the time Hannibal was traversing Gaul to invade Italy, he took little or no account of the country people.274 For the sake of convenience and speed on a march, you should send pioneers before the army to make a clear passage for it; and these pioneers should be covered by the light cavalry sent forward to reconnoiter the country. An army will march ten miles a day in this order with great ease and still have enough time to camp and refresh itself before dark, for the usual march of an army is about 20 miles a day.

If you should happen to be attacked by a regular army, it cannot be so suddenly that you will have insufficient time to put yourself into a proper defensive posture; for such an army must move in an orderly manner, and you will therefore be able to draw up your forces, either in the form I have been describing or in another of similar nature. For if you are attacked in the front, you have nothing to do but to draw your artillery from the flanks and your cavalry out of the rear, and to post them in the places and at the distances I just now recommended. The 1,000 velites in the front may advance, and —having divided themselves into two bodies with 500 in each —let them take position between the cavalry and each wing of the army. The gap they leave may be filled with the two corps of pikemen extraordinary who were posted in the middle of the hollow square. The velites extraordinary, who were in the rear, may divide into two bodies and range themselves along each flank of the battalions to strengthen them; all the carriages and sutlers may draw off through the opening then created there into the rear of the battalions. Since the hollow square is thus left empty, let the five battalions that were in the rear march up toward the front through the vacancy between the flanks, three of them advancing until they come within 80 feet of those in front, the other two halting at the same distance in the rear of those three, with proper intervals between them all. All this may be done in very little time, and your order of battle will much resemble the first and principal of those I recommended earlier; and if it is in close order in the front, it is also more compact in the flanks, which will make it so much the stronger. But since the five battalions in the rear have posted their pikemen in their last ranks for the reasons I have already mentioned, it will be necessary upon this occasion to place them in their foremost ranks, so as to support the front of the army. For this purpose, they must either wheel to the right or left about —battalion by battalion, all at once, and like one solid body—or the pikemen must pass through the ranks of the shieldbearers and place themselves in front of them; this is a much more expeditious way than the other, and subject to less disorder. The same must be done during an attack in all parts of the army where the pikemen are in the rear of the shieldbearers, as I shall show you.

If the enemy presents himself in the rear, you have nothing more to do than to make your whole army face about to that part, and then your rear immediately becomes the front and your front the rear, whereupon you must observe all the directions I have already given in forming that front. If the enemy is likely to fall upon your right flank, the whole army must turn its face that way and—as I said—make the front there; take care to place your cavalry, velites, and artillery according to that disposition. These changes make very little difference except in the distances between the flanks and between the front and the rear. It is true that in converting the right flank into the front, the velites that are to fill the space between the cavalry and the wings of the army should be those nearest the left flank, and the two corps of pikemen in the area should advance to fill their places; but before they do that, the carriages and unarmed people should quit the area and retire through the opening left by the velites behind the left flank, which will then become the rear of the army. The other velites, those posted in the rear, should keep their place so that no opening may be left there, because what was the rear before will now become the right flank. All the other maneuvers necessary in this case must be conducted in the manner already prescribed.275 What has been said about making a front of the right flank may be applied to the left, since the same disposition and maneuvers are to be made upon that occasion.

If the enemy is so numerous and drawn up in such a manner that he may attack you on two sides at once, you must strengthen both sides with those men who are not attacked by doubling their ranks and dividing all the artillery, velites, and cavalry between them. But if the enemy attacks you on three or four sides at the same time, either he or you must be very imprudent, for surely no wise general would ever expose himself to attack on so many sides at once by a powerful and well-ordered army; on the other hand, the enemy cannot do that with success, unless his army is so numerous that he can spare almost as many men as your whole army consists of to attack you on every side. If, then, you are so imprudent as to venture into an enemy’s country, or any other place where you may be attacked by an army three times as strong and as well-disciplined as your own, you have nobody to blame but yourself if any misfortune happens to you; but if the misfortune is not a result of your own imprudence, but of some strange and unexpected accident, you may save your reputation although you are totally ruined by it—as was the case with Scipio in Spain, and Hasdrubal in Italy.276 But if the enemy is not much stronger than you are and attacks you on two or three sides at once in hopes of throwing you into disorder by it, that is his error and your advantage; for in that case he must weaken himself so much that you may easily sustain the charge in one place and attack him vigorously in another; this must consequently lead to his defeat.

Therefore, this method of drawing up an army against an enemy not actually in sight, but one that may attack you suddenly, is very necessary; it is of great importance to accustom your soldiers not only to being formed and marched in this order, but to preparing themselves for battle as if they were going to be attacked in the front, and then to fall into their former order again and move forward. After this, they should be shown how the rear or either of the flanks may be converted into the front and then reduced into their first arrangement; all this must be practiced often if you would have your army ready and expert in these exercises. This is a point which all princes and commanders should carefully attend to, for military discipline consists chiefly in knowing how to command and execute these things; only an army that is perfect in their practice can be called a good and well-disciplined army; and if such a one were now in existence, I do not think it would be possible to find another that could beat it. If it be said that forming an army in these squares is attended with a good deal of trouble and difficulty, I allow it; but since it is very necessary, the difficulty must be overcome by frequent drilling; once that is done, all other parts of military discipline will seem light and easy.

Zanobi. I agree with you that these things are highly necessary, and I think you have explained them so well, that no material has been omitted or can be added. There are two other points, however, about which I should like to be satisfied. In the first place, when you would convert the rear or one of the flanks into the front of your army, and the men are to face about to that part, are they to do so by word of command, by drum beat, or by some other signal? In the second place, should those whom you send ahead of the army to clear the roads and make a free passage for it be soldiers belonging to your battalions, or other sorts of people appointed expressly for that service?

Fabrizio. Your first question is very pertinent; for many armies have been thrown into great confusion when the general’s orders have been either not heard or mistaken. Such orders, therefore, should be very clear and intelligible, especially on important occasions; if they are given by drum beat or by the sound of a trumpet, it should be done in so distinct a manner that one note or sound cannot be mistaken for another; but if they are delivered by word of mouth, you should take great care not only to avoid general terms, and use particular ones, but also even in those, not to hazard any that may admit of a double interpretation. Some armies have been ruined by the officers crying out, “give way, give way,” instead of “retreat”; this should be a sufficient warning never to use that expression again.277 If you want to convert the rear of one of the flanks into the front, and would have your men turn and face that way, do not say “turn,” but “about face,” “right face,” “left face,” as the occasion requires. Similarly, all other commands should be plain and simple, as “close ranks,” “halt,” “forward,” “retreat”; if orders can be delivered clearly and distinctly by word of mouth, let them be given that way; if not, use a drum or a trumpet.

As for the pioneers, I would delegate some of my own soldiers for that service, not merely because the ancients used to do so, but so that I might have fewer unarmed people, and consequently, fewer incumbrances in my army. For this reason, I would take as many men as I wanted out of every battalion; these men would leave their arms and accouterments in the care of the men in the nearest ranks, and would be furnished with axes, mattocks, spades, and other such necessary implements, so that when the enemy approached, they might immediately return to their respective ranks in the army and take up arms again.

Zanobi. But how are their pioneering implements carried?

Fabrizio. By the carriages appointed for that purpose.

Zanobi. I doubt if you would be able to make your soldiers do that sort of work.

Fabrizio. It is very easy, as I shall convince you before we part. But let us waive that matter at present, if you please, because I shall tell you first how I would supply them with provisions; since we have pretty well fatigued them with so much exercise, I suppose it is now high time to give them a little refreshment. All princes and commanders should take particular care that their armies be as light and little encumbered as possible, so that at all times they may be fit and ready for any enterprise or expedition. Now the difficulties occasioned by the want or the superabundance of provisions may be reckoned among the most considerable incident to an army. The ancients did not trouble themselves much about furnishing their troops with wine, for when they came into countries where there was none to be had, they drank water with a little vinegar in it to give it a taste; so, instead of wine, they always carried vinegar along with them. They did not bake their bread in ovens, as is usual in towns; every soldier had a certain allowance of meal or flour and lard, which, when kneaded together, made a very good, nourishing bread. Also, they used to carry a sufficient quantity of oats and barley for their horses and other cattle, for they had herds of oxen and flocks of sheep and goats that were driven after the army, and therefore did not occasion any great hindrance. As a result of these precautions, their armies would sometimes march for many days through desert countries and rugged defiles without distress or difficulty.

On the contrary, our modern armies, which can neither live without wine, nor eat any bread but that baked and made as it is in towns (and they cannot carry enough to last for any length of time), must often be reduced to great distress, or be obliged to provide themselves with those necessities in a manner that must be very troublesome and expensive. I would, therefore, re-establish this method in my army, and not allow any kind of bread to be eaten by the soldiers except what they made themselves. As for wine, I should not prohibit its use, if any were brought into the camp, but I would not make the slightest effort to procure it for them. In all other things also relating to provisions, I should follow the example of the ancients, by which many difficulties and inconveniences might be avoided, and many great advantages gained in any expedition.

Zanobi. We have beaten the enemy in a field battle, and afterward marched our army into his territories; it is only reasonable that we should now take advantage of it by plundering his country, levying tribute from the towns, and taking prisoners. But I should first like to know how the ancients proceeded upon such occasions.

Fabrizio. I take it for granted, since we had some conversation upon this matter once before, that you will admit that wars, as they are currently conducted, impoverish not only those beaten, but also those conquering; for if one side loses its territories, the other is at an immense expense in gaining them; this was not the case in former times when the conqueror was always enriched by victory. The reason for this is that plunder is not now brought to account, as it used to be formerly, but left entirely to the soldiers’ discretion; this occasions two very great disorders, one of which I have already mentioned; the other is, it makes soldiers so greedy for spoil that they lay aside all regard for order and military discipline; hence it has often happened that the conqueror has had the victory snatched out of his hands again.

The Romans, however, who were very attentive to this point,278 provided against both these inconveniences by ordering that all the plunder should belong to the public treasury, which should afterward dispose of it as it thought fit. For this purpose they hadquaestors attending their armies, men whom we should call paymasters and in whose hands all the booty taken in war was deposited; the consul paid the soldiers, defrayed the expenses of the sick and wounded, and provided for all other necessary charges of the army out of this fund. Indeed, the consul had the power to distribute a part of the plunder among the soldiers, and he often did; but this was not attended with any ill consequence, for when the enemy was conquered, all the spoils taken from him were placed in the middle of the army and a certain proportion of it was given to the soldiers according to their rank and merit. This custom made them more intent upon victory than plunder. After the legionary soldiers had defeated the enemy, they never pursued them, nor even so much as stirred out of their ranks —the cavalry and other light-armed forces were employed for that purpose; for if the plunder were to have been the property of the first man who got it, it would have been neither reasonable nor possible to have kept the legions firm and quiet in their ranks; therefore, such a measure would have brought very bad consequences. Hence it came about that the public treasury was enriched by any victory, since every consul, when he entered Rome in triumph on his return from the wars, always brought with him for the common stock the greatest part of the treasure amassed through tribute and plunder of the enemy. The ancients acted very wisely in another point relating to this matter;279 they ordered the third part of every man’s pay to be deposited in the hands of the standard-bearer of his corps; he was not to be accountable for it until the end of the war. This seems to have been done for two reasons: in the first place, to save their money, which they otherwise might have squandered away in idle and unnecessary expenses —as most young men are apt to do when they have too much in their pockets; and in the second place, to make them more resolute and obstinate in defending their colors, since they must know that if the standard were taken, they would lose all their back pay. A due observation of these institutions, I think, would very much contribute to reviving the ancient military discipline among us.

Zanobi. When an army is marching, it must certainly be exposed to many dangerous accidents; to obviate and avert these, the utmost sagacity and abilities of the general, as well as the most determined bravery of the soldiers, must be exerted. You would much oblige us, sir, if you would point out those occasions.

Fabrizio. I shall very willingly comply with your request, since such knowledge is absolutely necessary to anyone anxious to be perfectly instructed in the art of war. While a general is marching, then, he ought—above all things—to beware of ambushes, into which he may happen to fall by himself, or be cunningly drawn by the enemy before he is aware. To prevent one, he should send out strong parties to reconnoiter the country; he should be particularly circumspect if it abounds with woods and mountains because those are the fittest places for ambushes; these sometimes lead to the destruction of a whole army when the general is not aware of them, but they can do no harm when he is. Flights of birds and clouds of dust have frequently disclosed an enemy, for whenever the enemy approaches they must of course raise a great dust; this should serve you, therefore, as a sufficient warning to prepare for an attack. It has also often happened that when generals have observed a great number of pigeons, or other birds that usually fly together in flocks, suddenly take wing and hover about in the air a great while without lighting again, they have suspected there was an ambush thereabouts; in which case, by sending out parties to discover it, they have sometimes escaped the enemy and sometimes defeated them.

To avoid being drawn into an ambuscade by the enemy, you must be very cautious of trusting to flattering appearances: 280 for instance, if the enemy should leave considerable booty in your way, you should suspect there is a hook in the bait; or if a strong party of the enemy should fly before a few of your men, or a few of his men should attack a strong party of your army; or if the enemy suddenly runs away, without any apparent cause, it is reasonable to imagine there is some artifice in it and that he knows very well what he is doing; so, the weaker and more remiss he seems to be, the more it behooves you to be upon your guard, if you would avoid falling into his snares. For this purpose you are to act a double part. Although you ought not to be without your private apprehensions of the enemy, yet outwardly, in all your words and actions, you should seem to undervalue and despise him: the one will make you more vigilant, and less apt to be surprised; the other will inspire your soldiers with courage and assurance of victory.

Similarly, you should always remember that an army is exposed to more and greater dangers while marching through an enemy’s country than on a battlefield; consequently, it concerns a general to be doubly circumspect at such times.281 The first thing he ought to do is to get an exact map of the whole country through which he is to march so that he may have a perfect knowledge of all the towns and their distance from each other, and of all the roads, mountains, rivers, woods, swamps, and their particular location and nature. For this purpose, it is necessary to procure by various means several persons who are from different parts and who are well acquainted with those places; he should question them closely and compare their accounts, so that he may be able to form a true judgment of them. In addition to doing this, he should send out cavalry parties under experienced commanders not only to discover the enemy, but to observe the quality of the terrain and to see whether it agrees with his map and the information he has received.282He must keep a strict eye over his guides, whom he should encourage to serve him faithfully with promises of great rewards if they do their duty, and threaten with the severest punishment if they deceive him. But above all things, he ought to keep his designs very secret; this is a matter of the utmost importance in all military enterprises. To prevent his army from being thrown into disorder by any sudden attack, he should order his men to be constantly prepared for it; for if a thing of that kind is foreseen and expected, it is neither so terrible nor prejudicial when it happens as it otherwise might have been.

In order to prevent confusion during a march, many generals have placed their carriages and unarmed people near the standard and ordered them to follow it as closely as possible, so that if there should be an occasion either to halt or to retreat, they might do so with greater ease and readiness; I think this is a custom not unworthy of imitation. A general should also be very careful neither to allow one part of his forces to detach itself from the other while they are marching, nor to let any of the corps move faster or slower than the rest; for then his army would become weak and unconnected, and consequently exposed to greater danger. It is necessary, therefore, to post officers along the flanks, and to keep a uniform pace among them by restraining those who march too fast, and quickening others who move too slowly; this cannot be done more properly than by drum beat, or by the sound of some musical instrument. The roads should also be laid open and cleared so that at least one battalion can march through them at a time in order of battle.

The quality and customs of the enemy are to be considered next: whether they usually attack in the morning, at noon, or in the evening; whether they are more powerful in cavalry or infantry—you are to regulate your own proceedings and preparations according to these circumstances. But let us proceed to a particular case. It sometimes happens that a general is obliged to decamp before the enemy because he is not able to cope with them and because he tries to avoid an engagement; but as soon as the enemy is aware of it, they too decamp, and press so hard upon the general’s rear, that the enemy probably comes upon him, and forces him into an enegagement before he can ford a river lying in his way. Now, some who have been in this dangerous situation have encircled the rear of their army with a ditch and filled it with fagots and other combustible matter which they have set afire; thereby, they gained time to ford the river in safety, before the enemy could get over the ditch.

Zanobi. I can hardly think such an expedient could be of much service, because I remember having read that when Hanno the Carthaginian was surrounded by the enemy, he set fire to a parcel of fagots on the side where he intended to make his push; this was so effective, that the enemy, thinking it unnecessary to guard that quarter, drew off its guards to another; as soon as Hanno was aware of that, he ordered his men to throw their shields in front of their faces, so as to protect them from the flames and smoke and to push through the fire; thus he got clear with his whole army.283

Fabrizio. Very true, but remember what I said, and compare it with what Hanno did. I told you that the others had a deep ditch dug and filled with combustibles which they set on fire, so that the enemy had not only the fire but the ditch to pass through before they could come at them. Now Hanno had no ditch. Therefore, since he intended to pass through the fire, he made certain that it would not be a very fierce one; otherwise that alone would have stopped him, without any ditch. Do you not remember that when Nabis was besieged in Sparta by the Romans, he set fire to the part of the town in which he was himself to prevent the enemy, who had already gotten possession of some streets, from advancing any farther? Thus, he not only stopped them where they were, but drove them entirely out of the town again.284 But to return to our subject.

The Roman Quintus Lutatius, having the Cimbri close at his rear and coming to a river which he wanted to pass, seemed determined to halt there and fight them; for this purpose, he fixed his standard, dug entrenchments, erected tents, and sent out cavalry parties to forage; in short, he acted in such a manner that the Cimbri were fully persuaded he intended to camp there; they too entrenched themselves and sent out several parties into the country as he had done; when Lutatius was aware of this, he immediately struck his tents and forded the river without any impediment.285

Some generals have diverted the course of a river, when they had no other means of fording it, and drawn off a part of the stream in another direction until the other has become fordable. 286 When the current is very rapid, the strongest and heaviest horses should be placed higher up the stream than the infantry to break its force and facilitate their passage; the light cavalry should be placed somewhat lower than the infantry to pick up any of them that may happen to be carried away by it. But rivers that are not fordable must be crossed by the help of bridges, pontoons, and other such conveniences; therefore, it is necessary to carry along with the army the proper materials and implements for their construction.

It sometimes happens that you find the enemy posted on the other side to oppose your crossing; in such a case I would recommend an expedient used by Julius Caesar in Gaul;287 when he came to a river and found Vercingetorix posted with an army on the opposite bank, Caesar marched down one side of it for several days, while Vercingetorix marched down the other. At last Caesar camped in a woody part of the country where he could conceal part of his men; he drew three cohorts out of every legion and left them there with orders to throw a bridge over the river and to fortify it as soon as they could when he was gone; he then continued his march. Vercingetorix, in the meantime, observing the number of Caesar’s legions was the same, and not suspecting that any part of them was left behind, followed Caesar’s motions as he had done before, on the other side; but when Caesar thought the bridge was finished, he made a sudden countermarch and, finding everything executed according to his orders, immediately forded the river without any opposition.

Zanobi. What rule or mark is there by which one may discover a ford with any certainty?

Fabrizio. A river is always the shallowest and most fordable where you see a sort of a ridge or streak across it, between the place where the water seems to run slowly and where it seems to run fast, because there is more gravel and sand left there than in any other place. The truth of this observation has been confirmed by long experience, and therefore may be depended upon.

Zanobi. But suppose the bottom should be so rough and broken, or so soft and full of holes, that cavalry cannot pass with safety; what remedy is there in that case?

Fabrizio. I would make hurdles and sink them; they might easily pass over these. But let us proceed.

If a general with his army happens to be enclosed in a pass between two mountains, out of which there are but two ways of extricating himself—one in his front, the other in his rear —and they are both occupied by the enemy, there is still a method which has been practiced by others with success in such circumstances, that is: to dig a very deep and wide ditch in the rear with an intent, so it may seem, to secure himself effectively on that side, and to use every other method to make the enemy believe he intends to exert all his strength in the front in order to force his way out on that side if possible without apprehending any danger in his rear. In such cases, therefore, the enemy, deceived by these appearances, has naturally turned his whole force from the rear where he thought he had the general safe, to block him up more securely in the front; at this, the general has taken the opportunity of suddenly throwing a drawbridge over the ditch, and thus escaped out of the enemy’s hands. Lucius Minucius, the Roman consul, and his army were shut up by the enemy in the mountains of Liguria; since they saw no other means of getting clear, they sent a body of Numidians—whom he had with him—who were very badly armed and mounted upon poor, lean horses, toward the pass blocked up by the enemy; the enemy immediately doubled his guards, and took all necessary measures to defend the pass vigorously on their first appearance; but perceiving, as they came nearer, what a pitiful figure they cut, the enemy drew off part of his guards. As soon as the Numidians were aware of this, they immediately set spurs to their horses and made so furious an attack upon those left, that they broke through them and afterward wreaked such havoc and devastation in the adjacent country, that the enemy was forced to quit his posts and leave the pass open for Minucius and his whole army to come out of the mountains where they had been shut up.288

Some generals, when they have been attacked by a much superior force, have drawn up their men very closely together, and let themselves be surrounded by the enemy in order to make their way by one resolute push through that part of their army which they saw was the thinnest and weakest; this method has sometimes succeeded very well. Mark Antony, in his retreat out of Parthia, observed that the enemy attacked him early every morning when he was decamping, and harassed his rear all day long; he then resolved not to decamp until noon. The Parthians, concluding that he would not move at all that day, returned to their own camp, and left him to continue his march all the rest of the day without any disturbance. 289 The same commander, to guard against the Parthians’ arrows, ordered that all his men kneel down when the enemy drew near, and that the second rank should cover the heads of the first with their shields, the third of the second, the fourth of the third, and so on; thus the whole army was under a roof, as it were, safe from their arrows.290 This is all that occurs to me at present concerning the accidents that may happen to an army during a march. If you have no other questions to ask relating to this matter, I shall pass on to another part of our subject.

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