Xenophon. The Cavalry General

Translation by H. G. Dakyns

This etext was prepared by John Bickers, jbickers@templar.actrix.gen.nz

Xenophon the Athenian was born 431 B.C. He was a pupil of Socrates. He marched with the Spartans, and was exiled from Athens. Sparta gave him land and property in Scillus, where he lived for many years before having to move once more, to settle in Corinth. He died in 354 B.C.

The Cavalry General is a discourse on the merits a cavalry general, or hipparch, in Athens should have. Xenophon also describes the development of a cavalry force, and some tactical details to be applied in the field and in festival exhibition.



Commander of Cavalry at Athens


Your first duty is to offer sacrifice, petitioning the gods to grant you such good gifts[2] as shall enable you in thought, word, and deed to discharge your office in the manner most acceptable to Heaven, and with fullest increase to yourself, and friends, and to the state at large of affection, glory, and wide usefulness. The goodwill of Heaven[3] so obtained, you shall proceed to mount your troopers, taking care that the full complement which the law demands is reached, and that the normal force of cavalry is not diminished. There will need to be a reserve of remounts, or else a deficiency may occur at any moment,[4] looking to the fact that some will certainly succumb to old age, and others, from one reason or another, prove unserviceable.

[1] For the title, etc., see Schneid. 'Praemon. de Xeno.' {Ipp}.

Boeckh, 'P. E. A.' 251.

[2] Or, 'with sacrifice to ask of Heaven those gifts of thought and

speech and conduct whereby you will exercise your office most

acceptably to the gods themselves, and with . . .' Cf. Plat.

'Phaedr.' 273 E; 'Euthr.' 14 B.

[3] The Greek phrase is warmer, {theon d' ileon onton}, 'the gods

being kindly and propitious.' Cf. Plat. 'Laws,' 712 B.

[4] Lit. 'at any moment there will be too few.' See 'Les Cavaliers

Atheniens,' par Albert Martin, p. 308.

But now suppose the complement of cavalry is levied,[5] the duty will devolve on you of seeing, in the first place, that your horses are well fed and in condition to stand their work, since a horse which cannot endure fatigue will clearly be unable to overhaul the foeman or effect escape;[6] and in the second place, you will have to see to it the animals are tractable, since, clearly again, a horse that will not obey is only fighting for the enemy and not his friends. So, again, an animal that kicks when mounted must be cast; since brutes of that sort may often do more mischief than the foe himself. Lastly, you must pay attention to the horses' feet, and see that they will stand being ridden over rough ground. A horse, one knows, is practically useless where he cannot be galloped without suffering.

[5] Lit. 'in process of being raised.'

[6] Or, 'to press home a charge a l'outrance, or retire from the field


And now, supposing that your horses are all that they ought to be, like pains must be applied to train the men themselves. The trooper, in the first place, must be able to spring on horseback easily-a feat to which many a man has owed his life ere now. And next, he must be able to ride with freedom over every sort of ground, since any description of country may become the seat of war. When, presently, your men have got firm seats, your aim should be to make as many members of the corps as possible not only skilled to hurl the javelin from horseback with precision, but to perform all other feats expected of the expert horseman. Next comes the need to arm both horse and man in such a manner as to minimise the risk of wounds, and yet to increase the force of every blow delivered. [7] This attended to, you must contrive to make your men amenable to discipline, without which neither good horses, nor a firm seat, nor splendour of equipment will be of any use at all.

[7] Lit. 'so that whilst least likely to be wounded themselves, they

may most be able to injure the enemy.'

The general of cavalry,[8] as patron of the whole department, is naturally responsible for its efficient working. In view, however, of the task imposed upon that officer had he to carry out these various details single-handed, the state has chosen to associate[9] with him certain coadjutors in the persons of the phylarchs (or tribal captains), [10] and has besides imposed upon the senate a share in the superintendence of the cavalry. This being so, two things appear to me desirable; the first is, so to work upon the phylarch that he shall share your own enthusiasm for the honour of the corps;[11] and secondly, to have at your disposal in the senate able orators,[12] whose language may instil a wholesome fear into the knights themselves, and thereby make them all the better men, or tend to pacify the senate on occasion and disarm unseasonable anger.

[8] See 'Mem.' III. iii.

[9] Cf. Theophr. xxix. 'The Oligarchic Man': 'When the people are

deliberating whom they shall associate with the archon as joint

directors of the procession.' (Jebb.)

[10] Or, 'squadron-leaders.'

[11] 'Honour and prestige of knighthood.'

[12] 'To keep a staff of orators.' Cf. 'Anab.' VII. vi. 41; 'Cyrop.'

I. vi. 19; 'Hell.' VI. ii. 39.

The above may serve as memoranda[13] of the duties which will claim your chief attention. How the details in each case may best be carried out is a further matter, which I will now endeavour to explain.

[13] 'A sort of notes and suggestions,' 'mementoes.' Cf.

'Horsemanship,' iii. 1, xii. 14.

As to the men themselves-the class from which you make your pick of troopers-clearly according to the law you are bound to enrol 'the ablest' you can find 'in point of wealth and bodily physique'; and 'if not by persuasion, then by prosecution in a court of law.'[14] And for my part, I think, if legal pressure is to be applied, you should apply it in those cases where neglect to prosecute might fairly be ascribed to interested motives;[15] since if you fail to put compulsion on the greater people first, you leave a backdoor of escape at once to those of humbler means. But there will be other cases;[16] say, of young men in whom a real enthusiasm for the service may be kindled by recounting to them all the brilliant feats of knighthood; while you may disarm the opposition of their guardians by dwelling on the fact that, if not you, at any rate some future hipparch will certainly compel them to breed horses, [17] owing to their wealth; whereas, if they enter the service[18] during your term of office, you will undertake to deter their lads from mad extravagance in buying horses,[19] and take pains to make good horsemen of them without loss of time; and while pleading in this strain, you must endeavour to make your practice correspond with what you preach.

[14] Lit. 'by bringing them into court, or by persuasion,' i.e. by

legal if not by moral pressure. See Martin, op. cit. pp. 316, 321


[15] i.e. 'would cause you to be suspected of acting from motives of


[16] Reading {esti de kai ous}, or if as vulg. {eti de kai}, 'More

than that, it strikes me one may work on the feelings of young

fellows in such a way as to disarm.' See Hartmann, 'An. Xen. N.'


[17] Cf. Aesch. 'P. V.' 474; Herod. vi. 35; Dem. 1046. 14; Thuc. vi.

12; Isocr. {peri tou zeugous}, 353 C. {ippotrophein d'

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