REVIEW: Espionage in the Ancient World. An Annotated Bibliography


By R. M. Sheldon. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 2003. ISBN 0-7864-1365-4. Glossary. Index. Pp. ix, 232. $45.00.


The esoteric processes of gathering, evaluating, and applying intelligence information have preoccupied governments and fascinated observers ever since antiquity. That becomes clear from even a cursory glance at Espionage in the Ancient World, an immensely useful compilation of sources on intelligence "tradecraft" in the premodern era assembled by the leading authority on the subject, Dr. Rose Mary Sheldon. This volume is, above all, comprehensive, containing more than eight hundred works, by ancient authors as well as modern scholars. The collection's range extends far beyond what its title indicates, taking in the medieval world as well as Byzantium, Islam, Russia, China, India, and Africa. Sheldon recognizes that what constitutes "intelligence activities" is an open question, particularly in the context of the premodern world; consequently, she has included not only works on intelligence collection, counterintelligence, espionage, and cryptography, but also on covert action, tactical and strategic intelligence, internal security, and policing. Still, limits had to be set on what was included, and Sheldon acknowledges the subjective nature of the choices she made in doing so. She has included only works in major European languages. She has omitted works that mention intelligence activities in passing, as well as those that deal with undeciphered languages and occult topics. On the whole, her choices seem reasonable, though the inclusion of a hundred and fifty titles on the unsolved Sator Rebus seems odd, when set against the exclusion of works on numerology and magic.

The organization of the collection is solid and intelligent. The various titles are arranged in the customary geographical and chronological units: Ancient Near East, Greece, Hellenistic Age, Roman Republic, Roman Empire, etc. Where particular subjects..

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