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CLA 134 — The Art of War, Part I: Ancient Times

Quarter: Fall
Day(s): Wednesdays
Course Format: Live Online (About Formats)
Duration: 10 weeks
Date(s): Sep 22—Dec 1
Time: 7:00—8:50 pm (PT)
Refund Deadline: Sep 24
Units: 2
Tuition: $485
Instructor(s): Christopher Krebs
Class Recording Available: Yes
Status: Open
Please Note: No class on November 24
DOWNLOAD THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
Live Online(About Formats)
7:00—8:50 pm (PT)
Sep 22—Dec 1
10 weeks
Refund Date
Sep 24
2 Units
Christopher Krebs
Please Note: No class on November 24
DOWNLOAD THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.—Sun Tzu, The Art of War

This maxim is among the “five essentials for victory” Sun Tzu lists in his famed Chinese military treatise from around the 5th century BCE, one of the most influential texts of all time dealing with war, strategy, and tactics. About half a millennium later, in a different corner of the world altogether, Julius Caesar offered his own lesson in the art of the moment: Usually, rain was deemed unfavorable to an attack; but when a downpour during a siege caused his Gallic enemy to slacken off, he spotted an opportunity, pretended to ease off, then struck and seized the Gallic town they were fighting over. With the right touch, it seems, contretemps may be turned into victory. Some 150 years later yet again, the Roman senator and general Sextus Julius Frontinus put together four books known as Stratagems, including sections on timing, how to correct a mistake, and when to flee. They include episodes like Caesar’s for future (Roman) generals to study, so that they too can spot or create an opportunity or turn defeat into victory—as when Titus Marcius decided to attack the Carthaginians when they were overconfident in victory, taking two of their camps in the course of one night. Like the Gauls, the Carthaginians did not see it coming.

In the course of ten weeks, we will read The Art of War, Julius Caesar's The Gallic Wars, Frontinus's Stratagems (and, time permitting, the Greek philosopher Onasander’s The General) both within their respective (Chinese, Greco-Roman) contexts and with a comparative interest: how to motivate your troops, how to deceive the other side, when and how to let them escape, and more.

This course is the first in The Art of War series. The second course will focus on the readings of Machiavelli, von Clausewitz, and Keegan. While the courses build upon one another, each course can be taken independently as well.

Associate Professor of Classics, Stanford

Christopher Krebs studied Classics and philosophy in Berlin and Kiel and at the University of Oxford, and taught at Harvard before coming to Stanford. He is the author of A Most Dangerous Book: Tacitus’s Germania from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich, and co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to the Writings of Julius Caesar.

Textbooks for this course:

(Required) Sun Tzu, Translated by Gary Gagliardi, The Art of War (ISBN 9781929194902)
(Required) Julius Caesar, Translated by Carolyn Hammond, The Gallic War: Seven Commentaries on The Gallic War (Oxford World's Classics) (ISBN 9780199540266)
(Required) Tacitus, Asclepiodotus, Onasander, Aeneas Tacitus, Asclepiodotus, Onasander (ISBN 9780674991729)
(Required) Frontinus, Choose one of the following:, Stratagems. Aqueducts of Rome (ISBN 9780674991927) OR The Stratagemata of Frontinus (ISBN 9781519732163)