Intelligence in the Ancient World

Included here:

1. Bibliographies

2. General

1. Bibliographies

Sheldon, Rose Mary. Espionage in the Ancient World: An Annotated Bibliography of Books and Articles in Western Languages. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2002.

Peake, Studies 47.3, notes that the author "presents 839 entries -- a “Rosetta Stone” for scholars -- citing books and articles mainly in Western European languages plus Latin and Greek....  The annotations give a short summary of the content and in many cases references for further study.  For those interested in the ancient history of intelligence this is an essential reference work." To Smith, IJI&C 17.4 (Winter 2004-2005), Sheldon's "comments to entries are a mini-education in themselves." This is a "notable and sound introduction to the literature of intelligence in the ancient world."

For Kruh, Cryptologia 27.2, this "first comprehensive guide to the literature of ancient intelligence ... is a worthwhile book to have in your personal library." Young, AFIO WIN 2-03, 14 Jan. 2003, finds that Sheldon "has produced a fascinating and comprehensive guide to the literature of ancient intelligence." However, "[t]his work is more than a bibliography; it provides the most comprehensive documentation and commentary on the literature of intelligence in antiquity. It is an indispensable reference work -- and great for casual browsing as well." Kahn, Intelligencer 17.1 (Winter-Spring 2009), agrees, referring to the work as "indispensable for anyone dealing with early intelligence."

2. General

Austin, Stephen, and N.B. Rankov. Exploratio: Military and Political Intelligence in the Roman World from the Second Punic War to the Battle of Adrianople. London: Routledge, 1995.

Sheldon, IJI&C 11.1, finds that the authors' "description of intelligence gathering along the frontiers of the empire is ... the most detailed study to date.... The chapters on 'The Acquisition of Tactical Intelligence' (pp. 40ff) ... are the best and most comprehensive in the book." The biggest problem with the book is that it is by classicists for classicists: "The authors' text will be incomprehensible to anyone not intimately familiar with the workings of the Roman empire, the Latin language, and Roman history."

Billauer, Barbara Pfeffer. "The Backstory to the Battle of Jericho: A Study of Espionage, Strategy, and Fear." Intelligencer 20, no. 1 (Spring-Summer 2013): 39-49.

An interesting, scholarly take on an old story. Was Rahab Joshua's mole?

Dubovsky, Peter. Hezekiah and the Assyrian Spies: Reconstruction of the Neo-Assyrian Intelligence Services and its Significance for 2 Kings 18-19. Rome: Pontificio Instituto Biblico, 2006.

According to Peake, Studies 54.2 (Jun. 2010) and Intelligencer 18.1 (Fall-Winter 2010), the author uses both the Bible and "thousands of well-preserved cuneiform tablets excavated from the archives in Niniveh ... and Nimrud" to reveal "the existence of Assyrian intelligence networks and the espionage involved in Sennacherib's invasion of Judah.... In general, Dubovsky found that all the functions of the so-called intelligence cycle existed, but without specific names. Furthermore, there were no intelligence services as such; all officials were, in a sense, intelligence officers and tasked as needed.... [T]he book is extensively documented and leaves little doubt that intelligence is one of the oldest professions."

Dvornik, Francis. Origins of Intelligence Services: The Ancient Near East, Persia, Greece, Rome, Byzantium, the Arab Muslim Empires, the Mongol Empire, China, Muscovy. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1974.

Pforzheimer: "A unique work because of its total range over scholarly writings on these periods.... An essential work for those interested in the origins of intelligence services in ancient times."

Fournie, Daniel A. "Harsh Lessons: Roman Intelligence in the Hannibalic War." International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 17, no. 3 (Fall 2004): 502-538.

In the Second Punic War, Rome's "multiple strategic intelligence failures [in] the initial phase ... would seem to have been a powerful prod" to an improved performance. However, "there is no indication that the intelligence structure, or system, was modified. The Senate simply improved the application of its traditional system -- reliance on allies, field commanders, and envoys."

Gerolymatos, André. Espionage and Treason: A Study of the Proxenia in Political and Military Intelligence Gathering in Ancient Greece. Amsterdam: J.C. Gieben, 1986.

According to Sheldon, I&NS 3.1, this work concerns "the use of the proxenia by the Greeks as a medium for clandestine activity.... [L]ocal citizens serving as proxenoi looked after the interests of other states in their own communities. The proxenos had to be a citizen of the state in which he served, not of the state he represented." The author "explains how these men became a conduit for information and clandestine activities in the course of their normal duties."

Sheldon also identifies some difficulties: "The text is repetitive and plagued by numerous typographical errors, not to mention errors of fact." Beyond these problems, however, "Gerolymatos' efforts to include modern intelligence concepts should be applauded."

Geschwind, C. N. "The Tale of Hushai the Archite." Studies in Intelligence 13, no. 2 (Spring 1969): 21-24.

The author revisits II Samuel, 15-18, for the story of Hushai the Archite, King David's "agent of influence" with insurrectionist son Absalom.

Gordner, Gerald M., II. "Cannae: Classic Battle of Annihilation." Intelligencer 14, no. 1 (Winter/Spring 2004): 11-16.

This article is a brief summation of Hannibal's campaign in Italy leading up to the Battle of Cannae (216 B.C.). Although the author notes that "Hannibal greatly valued intelligence" and "established an elaborate spy network throughout Italy," Hannibal's use of intelligence is not integrated into the discussion.

Lee, A.D. Information and Frontiers: Roman Foreign Relations in Late Antiquity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

To Sheldon, IJI&C 9.2, the author's "almost painful" avoidance of the term "intelligence" reflects an attitude toward his material that may explain why this "well-written and meticulously researched book" falls short of being the definitive work on intelligence-gathering in the late Roman period. A "true study of intelligence would have given us so much more" than Lee has done here.

Russell, Frank S. Information Gathering in Ancient Greece. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1999.

Sheldon, IJI&C 14.2, views this work as "a long overdue treatment of intelligence activities in the classical Greek world." The reviewer finds some bibliographic shortcomings in the author's presentation but also credits his use of both modern and ancient sources. Overall, the reviewer concludes that this is "an eminently readable and useful volume."

Sheldon, Rose Mary. Dr. Sheldon's impressive and substantial body of work on intelligence in the ancient world is listed separately.

Sun Tzu. Tr., Samuel B. Griffith. The Art of War. Oxford: Clarendon, 1963. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.

Pforzheimer says that "Chapter XIII on 'Employment of Secret Agents' is ... a classic in early intelligence literature, as are [Sun Tzu's] references to deception." For Constantinides, the work is "compulsory reading for the intelligence officer."

The Sun Tzu Website at: http://www.sonshi.com ("Sonshi is the largest Sun Tzu website") notes that Griffith's translation "has commentaries within the text itself; good history and analysis." It also includes "[e]xcellent and unique sections on Sun Tzu's influence in Japan and on Mao Tse-Tung, and a foreword by ... B.H. Liddell Hart."

See Michael Warner, "The Divine Skein: Sun Tzu on Intelligence," Intelligence and National Security 21, no. 4 (Aug. 2006), for a positive assessment of the relevance of The Art of War to intelligence practice today.

There are a number of translations of Sun Tzu other than Griffith's (which I continue to use). These include:

Sun Tzu. Tr., Denma Translation Group. The Art of War. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2002.

According to http://www.sonshi.com, this translation is "based mostly on the Yin Chueh Shan text, deciphered from bamboo strips (dated 140 - 118 B.C.) discovered in 1972. The Yin Chueh Shan text predates all previously known Sun Tzu copies by 1,000 years."

Ames, Roger T., Tr. Sun-Tzu: The Art of Warfare. New York: Ballantine, 1993.

http://www.sonshi.com comments: "Of all the Sun Tzus on the market, [this translation] has the most perfect balance between accuracy and readability."

Cleary, Thomas, Tr. The Illustrated Art of War. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2003.

Cleary, Thomas, Tr. The Art of War: Complete Text and Commentaries. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2004

http://www.sonshi.com notes that Cleary's translation first appeared in 1988 and "is considered by many to be the most accessible" translation.

Minford, John, Tr. The Art of War. New York: Viking, 2002.

According to http://www.sonshi.com, this translation incorporates "the conventionally accepted text, Shiyijia zhu Sunzi, along with commentary from various ancient and modern sources. This book "is perfect for someone who wants both an accurate translation and an extensive explanation of its many concepts and principles."

Sawyer, Ralph D., Tr. Sun Tzu: The Art of War. Nashville, TN: Westview, 1994.

http://www.sonshi.com says that "Sawyer's rendering from the Chinese is incredibly accurate; it is high on readability as well."

Sawyer, Ralph D., Tr. The Complete Art of War: Sun Tzu and Sun Pin. Nashville, TN: Westview, 1996.

According to http://www.sonshi.com, this edition "has both Sun Tzu's and Sun Pin's Art of War, but without Sawyer's in-depth analysis of Sun Tzu" in the 1994 edition.

Warner, Michael. "The Divine Skein: Sun Tzu on Intelligence." Intelligence and National Security 21, no. 4 (Aug. 2006): 483-492.

"Sun Tzu presented a marvelously concise treatment of espionage that gives us a window on the nature of intelligence writ large."

Return to General Historical Material Table of Contents

Return to Historical Table of Contents