The book “48 Laws of Power” was a bestseller and a hit among many people. While an interesting read, I have always felt that the lessons were a bit cherry-picked and are very dependent on specific situations.
In order to create his laws, Green probably used such illustrious writers as Machiavelli or Baltasar Gracian as sources of inspiration. Many of these dealt with ancient history and in turn were based on sources dating from Antiquity.
One such interesting book, dating from the early years of the Roman Empire, is “Strategemata” by Frontinus, a Roman general and engineer. The “Strategemata” was meant to complement his more comprehensive “Art of War”, but this book unfortunately did not survive. However the book that does survive is full of interesting strategies and tactics that ancient generals used in order to win their battles and wars.
These can be a great source of lessons on strategy and tactics, and even applicable to situations in the modern world. One lesson is based on what General Minucius Rufus did in order to defeat his enemies. Outnumbered by the enemy, he used a little trick in order to make his army appear bigger and more fearceful than it really was:
“The general Minucius Rufus, hard pressed by the Scordiscans and Dacians, for whom he was no match in numbers, sent his brother and a small squadron of cavalry on ahead, along with a detachment of trumpeters, directing him, as soon as he should see the battle begin, to show himself suddenly from the opposite quarter and to order the trumpeters to blow their horns. Then, when the hill-tops re-echoed with the sound, the impression of a huge multitude was borne in upon the enemy, who fled in terror.”
The lesson here? Appear strong when you are weak.
This lesson that has its parallels in Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”:
“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”
This is important not just for the battlefield (whether military or corporate), but also as an individual in different situations.
In the jungle, it is often the biggest and strongest who wins, but not always. When Jane Goodall began observing her group of chimps in the wild, there was one, named Mike, who seemed to be on the outskirts of the group.
Mike was naturally weak, but one day he decided to change that. While physically weak, he devised a way to make himself appear strong. He did this by using empty kerosene cans to make as much noise and look as intimidating as possible.
His strategy worked and in a very brief period of time, he ended up deposing the alpha male of the group. The name of the deposed leader? Goliath.