Scholia Reviews ns 15 (2006) 32.

David Whitehead and P.H. Blyth, Athenaeus Mechanicus, On Machines (PERI\ MHCANHMA/TWN). Translated with Introduction and Commentary. Historia Einzelschriften 182. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2004. Pp. 236, incl. 24 figures. ISBN 3-515-08532-7. Euro 40.00.[[1]].

Denis Saddington
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

It seems rather presumptuous for someone who is not a military engineer to review a book of this kind. But, as the authors point out in the preface, the writer was one 'whose interest and importance was by no means confined to the history of military engineering' (p. 8). In fact, they warn against approaching the treatise as if it were a manual of modern engineering. Athenaeus quotes literary topoi such as that security comes through strength (39.1-5). He is aware of broad political considerations: warfare is directed only against those who will not submit to 'the fine laws of the empire' (TOI=S KA/LOI=S TE=S HEGEMONI/AS NO/MOIS, 39.7). As the Romans often claimed themselves, they imposed not just imperium but ius as well. Sparing the submissive was featured by both Augustus in his Res Gestae (3.2) and Virgil (Aen. 6.853).

The authors are especially well qualified for their task of editing and translating Athenaeus. Whitehead is a classicist who has edited Aeneas Tacticus work on siege craft[[2]] and Blyth is a classicist who then became an engineer.

The long introduction (pp. 13-41) covers the history of the text and its modern elucidators, the author, the work itself, and the editors' approach to the text and the translation.

As far as the author and the date are concerned, they are surely right to accept the proposal of Cichorius[[3]] that the Marcellus to whom the work was dedicated was Augustus' nephew, M. Claudius Marcellus (PIR[2] C 925). Athenaeus' relationship to Marcellus is not clear, but is probably to be placed in the context of Greek intellectuals associating with and being of service to Roman noblemen, especially in the educational and administrative spheres, and eventually, in the early Principate, entering the Roman bureaucracy.[[4]] In this connection, it may be noted that Marcellus had a tutor Nestor, an Academician (Strabo 14.5.5. 675). Athenaeus himself came from Cilicia. That he had high contacts in Rome can be seen from the fact that he was implicated in the conspiracy of Fannius Caepio and Murena, but cleared of guilt.

As the editors point out, there was a specific occasion for Athenaeus' work on war machines; in 25 B.C. Marcellus accompanied Augustus in his expedition to Spain. His capacity in the war is not known; he was closely associated with Augustus' stepson, Tiberius, then a military tribune (Suet. Tib. 9), which Marcellus himself may well have been. Both were given the task of organizing games for the legionaries in their camps, 'like aediles' (Dio 53.26). They were obviously being widely trained for leadership in war. Possibly Athenaeus expected that his work would assist Marcellus to take an intelligent part in the many sieges which the war involved.

Athenaeus regularly quotes the work of Agesistratus as an authority, as does Vitruvius, who included a section on war machines in his work on architecture. The editors make the attractive suggestion that both writers had attended lectures by Agesistratus on Rhodes. This would help to explain the passages where Athenaeus refers to naval matters. Rhodes had a fleet of consequence which was regularly called upon by contestants in the civil wars of the late Republic. It also had to look to the defences then; it was actually attacked by Cassius, one of the Roman warlords of the time. Naval warfare remained important during the Second Triumvirate, with great engagements at Naulochus and Actium. And, as the editors point out, Augustus used a fleet during his Spanish campaigns (referred to in Florus 2.33.30). Athenaeus mentions naval matters on several occasions: 8.8-14, Agesistratus and the harbour of Rhodes; 9.9-12, a shipwright inventing the ram; 10.12; 15.4, the Roman `raven' or grapnel and assault bridge; 27. 6; 32.3-13, war engines on ships. But he did not describe them `as they were well known'.

Whitehead and Blyth's edition, translation, and commentary will be of great service not only to those interested in ancient mechanics and ancient warfare, but also Roman history as well.


[[1]] The work consists of a preface, a list of conventions and abbreviations, another of ancient measures and weights, the text, a translation (on facing pages), eight endnotes on technical matters, twenty-four clear figures, a select bibliography, and several indices.

[[2]] David Whitehead (ed. and tr.), Aineias the Tactician: How to Survive under Siege (Oxford 1990).

[[3]] C. Cichorius, 'Das Werk des Athenaeus über Kriegsmachinen' in idem, Römische Studien: Historisches, Epigraphisches, Literargeschichtes aus vier Jahrhunderten Roms (Leipzig 1922) 271-79.

[[4]] Cf. D. B. Saddington, 'Paideia, Politeia and Hegemonia: A Route of Social Advancement in the Early Roman Empire', in A. F. Basson and W. J. Dominik (edd.), Literature, Art, History: Studies on Classical Antiquity and Tradition in Honour of W. J. Henderson (Bern 2003) 323-39.