Asclepiodotus (philosopher) -

Asclepiodotus (philosopher)

Asclepiodotus Tacticus (Greek: Ἀσκληπιόδοτος; fl. 1st century BC), also known as Asclepiodotus, was a Greek writer and philosopher known for his treatise on military tactics.



Little is known about the life of Asclepiodiotus. He is called “Asclepiodotus the Philosopher” (Ἀσκληπιοδότου φιλοσόφου) in the manuscripts and has been identified with the Asclepiodotus mentioned by Seneca in his Naturales quaestiones.[1] Seneca quotes Asclepiodotus on matters of natural history and also reports that he was a student of Posidonius, who, as mentioned by Aelianus Tacticus, also wrote a treatise on military tactics.[2] If Asclepiodotus was indeed the student of Posidonius, he would likely have been born in the late 2nd c. or 1st c. BCE[3] and probably studied in Rhodes, where Posidonius had a school.


Asclepiodotus' only known work is a treatise in twelve chapters on military tactics and theory (Ἀσκληπιοδότου φιλοσόφου τακτικὰ κεφάλαια, or Tactics). This text was transmitted in the Codex Laurentianus (Plut.55.4)[4] and eleven other manuscripts dependent on it (see below).[5] Along with the text, the manuscripts transmit figures thought to be copies of diagrams by Asclepiodotus' own hand.[6]

The Tactics was a theoretical text that seems to have served no practical use,[7] following a general trend in Hellenistic and Roman texts on warfare, both scientific and tactical.[8] Poznanski, however, stresses the practical, non-theoretical nature of the work, which, among other things, is irreplaceable for our knowledge of the vocabulary on the phalanx[9] and other military terminology of the Hellenistic period.[10]

The treatise focuses on the phalanx, its divisions, and its position, and discusses other topics, such as peltasts and cavalry.[11] Some aspects of warfare discussed in the treatise, such as battle chariots and elephants, were no longer in use in the first century BCE, suggesting that either he used earlier Hellenistic armies as models, or he based his work on an earlier text.[12]

Chapter Titles of the Tactics
I. The Different Branches of the Army
II. The Strength and the Names of the Subdivisions of the Hoplite-Phalanx
III. The Disposition of the Men both in the Entire Army and in its Subdivisions
IV. The Intervals between the Soldiers
V. The Appropriate Size and Character of the Arms
VI. The Phalanx of the Light Infantry and of the Targeteers, and the Disposition and Names of its Subdivisions
VII. The Phalanx of the Cavalry, and the Names of the Whole Body as well as of its Subdivisions
VIII. Chariots
IX. Elephants
X. The Terms in Common Use for Military Evolutions
XI. The Various Arrangements of the Divisions of the Army on the March
XII. The Commands used in Military Evolutions

The style of the text is terse. As Oldfather, et al. describe, "little effort is made to vary the almost inevitable monotony of a treatise on such a subject; the sentences are short and stiff, the language unimaginative … the whole is dry, but most orderly."[13] Items of historical interest are rare, though occasionally preserved, e.g. that the Thessalian cavalry fought in rhomboid formation.[14]

Some materials in the Tactics seem to be derived from Polybius, or earlier textbooks.[15] The relationship between Asclepiodotus' treatise on military tactics and Posidonius' treatise on the same subject is unclear.[16] Kai Brodersen argues that Posidonius' text was either directly or indirectly a template for Asclepiodotus' text and also for Aelianus Tacticus' On Tactical Arrays of the Greeks (Περὶ στρατηγικῶν τάξεων Ἑλληνικῶν) and Arrian's Ars tactica (Τἐχνη τακτικἠ).[17] Another theory is that Asclepiodotus' treatise was "the skeleton outline of the lectures delivered by his master [Posidonius]."[18]

Asclepiodotus' Tactics was the main source, at least of the extant texts, for Aelian's On Tactical Arrays of the Greeks. However, when Aelianus Tacticus lists the authors who influenced his work, he does not acknowledge Asclepiodotus.[19] Oldfather. et al. provide two possible explanations.[20] The first is that Aelian did not want to call attention to the extent of his obligation. The second is that Asclepiodotus merely transmitted the text of Posidonius, whom Aelian does acknowledge.

Asclepiodotus also wrote on natural history, some topics of which are preserved by Seneca in his Naturales Quaestiones. These include earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, the nature of winds, and the character of subterranean water.[21]

Editions of the Tactics

Manuscripts of the Tactics[22]

Date Collection Reference Folios Location Brandini, et al. Reference
mid-10th c. CE Plut. 55.04 132-142v Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana; Florence, Italy R(III)0996
mid-10th c. CE Plut. 55.04 132-143* Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana; Florence, Italy
end of 15th - beginning of 16th c. CE Grec 2522 052-77v Bibliothèque nationale de France; Paris, France R(III)0192
16th c. CE Grec 2447 001-17* Bibliothèque nationale de France; Paris, France
16th (2/4) c. CE Grec 2435 075-85v Bibliothèque nationale de France; Paris, France R(III)0192
1652 CE Supplément grec 0083 073v-90v Bibliothèque nationale de France; Paris, France R(III)1913a
17th c. CE Barb. gr. 256 002v-35v Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana; Vatican City R(III)0800
17th (1/2) c. CE Voss. gr. Q° 12 01-49 Bibliotheek der Rijksuniversiteit; Leiden, The Netherlands R(III)1444
17th (1/2) c. CE Grec 2528 001-7v, 010-18v Bibliothèque nationale de France; Paris, France R(III)0192
19th c. CE Supplément grec 1252 070-84v Bibliothèque nationale de France; Paris, France
19th c. CE fonds principal 3528 Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève; Paris, France
unknown Allacci 007 Biblioteca Vallicelliana; Rome, Italy


  1. ^ Oldfather, et al. 1923, 229; Burckhardt; Sen. Q. Nat. 2.26.5; 30.1; 5.15.1; 6.17.3; 22.2.
  2. ^ Aelianus Tacticus, Tactics, ch. 1
  3. ^ Burckhardt 2008.
  4. ^ Brandini 1961, R(III)0996, folios 123-142v.
  5. ^ Burckhardt 2008. For a discussion of the manuscripts and text of the Tactics, see Oldfather 1920.
  6. ^ Oldfather, et al. 1923, 242.
  7. ^ Burckhardt 2008.
  8. ^ Burckhardt 2008.
  9. ^ Sekunda 1994, 36 (quoting Poznanski (1992) in French).
  10. ^ Burckhardt 2008.
  11. ^ Burckhardt 2008.
  12. ^ Burckhardt 2008.
  13. ^ Oldfather, et al. 1923, 231.
  14. ^ Campbell 2015; cf. Oldfather, et al. 1923, 231.
  15. ^ Campbell 2015.
  16. ^ Burckhardt 2008.
  17. ^ Brodersen 2017, 12.
  18. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. 2, 1911, 722; Oldfather, et al. 1923, 231.
  19. ^ Aelianus Tacticus, Tactics, ch. 1.
  20. ^ Oldfather, et al. 1923, 235.
  21. ^ Oldfather, et al. 1923, 234. Sen. Q. Nat. 2.26.5; 30.1; 5.15.1; 6.17.3; 22.2
  22. ^ "Pinakes, Textes et manuscrits grecs: Asclepiodotus, Tactica" .

References and Further reading

External links

Categories: 1st-century BC Greek people | Ancient Greek military writers | Roman-era philosophers | Ancient Roman people stubs | Ancient Greek writer stubs | European philosopher stubs | Greek academic biography stubs

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