98. On Horsemanship ; On the duties of a Commander of Cavalry ; On Hunting with Dogs ; and On Ways and Means of Improving the Revenues of Athens, all by Xenophon (c.369 BC)

This post covers four of Xenophon’s shorter treatises which display his experience and opinions on practical matters as a gentleman solider of 4th century BC Greece.

My version is taken from Xenophon’s Minor works, translated by the Reverend J S Watson and published in 1888 by George Bell and Sons, London.

On Horsemanship:   

A guide to the purchase, care, exercise and training of a horse for the purposes of riding and manoeuvring in battle. I must admit a complete lack of personal knowledge regarding horses in general beyond a real concern never to walk behind one if I can possibly avoid doing so, but the guidelines given seem sensible to me. I will leave it to more knowledgeable readers to judge if anything is wrong here.

Of interest was the description of the correct way to mount a horse using a spear with a hook along the shaft (stirrups and saddles not being used by the Greeks), and the description of the armour most suitable for both rider and horse, and weapons best suited to use on horseback, which would be valuable first hand source material to scholars of ancient warfare.

On the duties of a Commander of Cavalry:

Also known as the Hipparchicus (a Hipparch being one of the two commanders in chief of the Athenian cavalry), this treatise details the duties of this officer, including the psychological motivations and personal actions most likely to win the respect and trust of the men, the political considerations to secure senate approval, and the planning and presentation of cavalry charges and spectacles at public exhibitions to excite and win the admiration of the public and the Gods. Also discussed is the correct order of marching and resting, scouting unfamiliar routes, and other arts of war, including the use of spies, and knowledge of the countryside of the enemy’s and your own land. Subterfuge in confusing and misleading the enemy is also encouraged, much in the vein of Sun Tzu’s writings, but with practical examples. I would imagine this treatise just as useful, if not more so, than the Anabasis, in Alexander the Great’s saddlebag.

On Hunting with Dogs:

It seems that Xenophon rated hunting as an essential sport worthy of the greatest heroes and the primary pastime for all young men, making them better prepared for military exercises. The greater part of the treatise is to do with the hunting of hares, chasing them into nets using dogs to track and drive them. After describing the necessary physical and behavioural characteristics of successful hunting dogs, we also read of the hare itself, and how the dogs will have different success at different times of the day and season. I did enjoy the image of the hares in springtime confounding the dogs

“the tracks … in spring they are perplexed, for the animals, which are indeed perpetually coupling, couple most at this season, and hence by straying about with one another hither and thither, they necessarily produce this inconvenience” (page 342)

The stakes are raised in the last third of the book as the hunt for larger animals proceeds to deer, boars, lions and leopards, and Sophists (although admittedly this last chapter is not believed to belong to the treatise or even be penned by Xenophon)

On Ways and Means of Improving the Revenues of Athens

This treatise suggests a variety of methods for greater economic independence for Athens so that cities subject to her power did not have to suffer the brunt of its financial demands and grow more resentful. Xenophon relies heavily on his belief of an inexhaustible supply of silver in their mines, and the use of public slaves which can be hired out to anyone for mining or construction work.

As an ex-soldier it is refreshing to see he advocates peace rather than war as an economic boon, and the encouragement of foreigners to take up residence in Athens (where they will be both welcomed and taxed accordingly)

Personal rating:  Despite my 21st century-sensibility detest for hunting, I found I enjoyed most of these works. Overall a 5.

Kimmy’s rating:  Kimmy was too relaxed after her bath to stay awake while I read.  The treatise on dogs did list 47 appropriate names for young pups to be trained for hunting, of which only two : Polys (meaning bright-eyed) and Thalion (meaning cheerful) seemed to suit her – I’ll try them out on her tomorrow and see if she likes them.

Next : Xenophon’s short biography of Agesilaus, King of Sparta. His friendship with this king, including fighting with his forces against Athens led to his exile from Athens.


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