Origins of Intelligence Services

Francis Dvornik


Origins of Intelligence Services.

The Ancient Near East, Persia, Greece, Rome, Byzantium, the Arab Muslim Empires, the Mongol Empire, China, Muscovy


Francis Dvornik


Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey 1974




Origins of Intelligence Services.

The Ancient Near East, Persia, Greece, Rome, Byzantium, the Arab Muslim Empires, the Mongol Empire, China, Muscovy




350 pages, 21 illustrations, 18 maps,


6 bibliographies, index


Efficient, swift, and dependable intelligence services were essential to the growth and well-being of every major empire in recorded history, as Dr. Francis Dvornik reveals. Tactics and devices of amazing subtlety, such as secret police, counter-intelligence, and, above all, swift communications, were employed even by the early civilizations of the ancient Near East. These services led to the establishment of thousands of miles of road networks with fortified way stations, and post systems complete with draft mules, relay riders on horseback, and carriages used as “stage coaches." Ingenious fire and smoke signal systems were devised, by which information could be relayed across whole continents within hours. Carrier-pigeon post services, possibly imported from China by early Arabic traders, provided incredibly swift communications. Perhaps the supreme accomplishment in its time was the vast intelligence network established by the Mongol Empire, which extended from the Pacific Ocean westward to the heart of central Europe. The Muscovite state, profiting from the Mongol example and the cumulative experience of all the eastern empires of the past, expanded from a small, isolated principality to the immense Russian empire of Ivan IV, the Terrible, with whose death the book concludes.


"Sometimes," writes Dr. Dvornik in his Preface, ‘ even books have their own history, and the present work is no exception.” In 1948 Dr Dvornik, Professor of Byzantine History at the Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies in Washington, received an unexpected visitor, General William J. (“Wild Bill”) Donovan, who had served as Director of the Office of Strategic Services in World War II. General Donovan, it developed, was planning a complete history of intelligence services, and was seeking a scholar qualified to write the story of the origins and early development of intelligence techniques.


Dr. Dvornik, a world-renowned authority on the history and political philosophies of ancient and medieval cultures, accepted the chahenge, and began the extensive research required for such a formidable project. General Donovan’s death in 1959 apparently terminated the rest of the projected history, but Dr. Dvornik continued to seek out relevant intelligence material, which at first he called "a by-product” of his other historical researches. Because General Donovan’s project had been intended for a wide audience of intelligence professionals, Dr. Dvornik restricted himself to a narrative and informative approach, eschewing the conventional footnotes. However, much of the work had to be based on original sources, which are quoted in the text, so that each of the six chapters has a full bibliography of sources and commentaries. The result is a series of absorbing accounts, giving a behind-the-scenes dimension of history seldom encountered in schoiarly literature, with a special relevance to present-day national and international events.


Dr. Dvornik concludes:


“This present work is a fresh attempt to treat a subject generally neglected by historians, and it may help us better to understand certain historical events, both past and present. It will not replace the project which General Donovan was prevented from realizing and in which I had the impression he wished to pay tribute to his collaborators among the Allies. However, this attempt may show us, as he wished to emphasize, the importance of a good intelligence service for the security of our country, as well as the dangers inherent in its abuse."


ISBN 0-8135-0764-2







Acknowledgments vi

Illustrations xi

Maps xiii

Abbreviations xiv

Preface xv


I: Intelligence in the Ancient Near East 3

Introduction — Egypt and the Hittites — Babylonia and Assyria — Persian Intelligence and Royal Post Service — Greeks. Hellenistic States, Ptolemaic Egypt.


II: Intelligence in the Roman Empire 48

1. Republican Period 49

Lack of Interest in Intelligence in Early Rome and Reasons for Roman Expansion — Intelligence Service of the Carthaginians, Rivals of the Romans — Hannibal’s Mastery of Intelligence — Scipio the Younger Learns from Hannibal — T. Sempronius Gracchus and the Macedonian Relay Service — Cato the Elder Values the Importance of Rapid Information — Slowness of Republican Information System — Messengers and Their Status.


2. Period of Civil Wars 74

Roman Traders and Financial Agents in Newly Conquered Lands — Mithridates of Pontus. His Intelligence in Asia, Rome, and Spain — Cicero’s Information on Intelligence in Asia — The Pirates and Insecurity of Sea Travel — Caesar’s Understanding of Military, Political. Geographical, and Economic Intelligence — Caesar's Information on Gallic Intelligence Service — Caesar Establishes Information Service by Relays of Horsemen — His Tragic Death.


3. Imperial Period 88

Rise of Octavian-Augustus and Personal Experience in







Importance of Intelligence — Founding of the State Post (cursus publicus) — Oriental Influences on Its Organization — Organization of the State Post — The mansiones and Changing-Stations— Transformation of the frumentarii from Grain Dealers to Intelligence Agents — The speculatores and the frumentarii as Intelligence Agents of the Emperors — The frumentarii as Policemen and Agents in Persecution of Christians — The frumentarii, a Roman “Gestapo”? — Their Suppression by Diocletian — Roman Intelligence from Abroad — Roman and Greek Geographical and Ethnographical Intelligence — Pliny the Elder and Tacitus — The Information Service on the limes.


III: Byzantine Intelligence Service 121

            1. Byzantine State Post 122

Innovations by Constantine and Constantius — Theodosius’s Measures — Functioning of the State Post — Deterioration under Justinian — Its Collapse in the West.


2. Secret Service and Police 129

The Agentes in Rebus as Military Corps — Messengers, Inspectors of the Post — Informants, Secret Agents — Organization of the Police in Egypt and Other Provinces-Police in the Capital and Main Cities.


3. Intelligence in the Border Lands and in Enemy Territory 140

Akritai, Their Duties and Organization — Fire Signal System, Achievement of Basil II—Byzantine Spies — Constantine V Betrayed by the Bulgar Khagan Tzeleric — Successful Byzantine Counter-espionage in 877 — A Secret Agent’s Message in 913.


4. Military Intelligence 149

Byzantine Standing Army — Provincial Army in the themata — Army Scouts — Naval Intelligence — Military Police — Intelligence on New Nations in Military Treatises.


5. Diplomatic Intelligence 165

Priscus’s Report on Hunnic Embassy — Persia. Byzantium, and Turcs, and the Control of the Silk Road to China — Cherson, Diplomatic and Information Outpost-Information Center in Constantinople. Reception of Foreign Embassies-Reports of Embassies from State Archives, Main Source of Porphyrogenitus’s Work on the Administration of the Empire.





IV: Intelligence in the Arab Muslim Empires 188

1. The Patriarchal Period and the Omayyad Empire 190

Rise of Muhammad — The First Caliphs — Persian and Byzantine Traditions in the Administration — Efforts to Replace Byzantium — Réintroduction of Intelligence Service by State Post — Use of Secret Police — Nationalization of the Administration, Further Conquests, and Fall of the Dynasty.


2. The Abbasid Muslim Empire 203

Equality of Muslim Races, Awakening of National Sentiments, Golden Age of Arabic Literature — Last Attempt to Conquer Byzantium — Reorganization of the Post by Harun Al-Rashid, According to Main Sources — Six Main Postal Roads — Organization of the Barid (Post), According to Kudama — Postmasters in the Espionage System — Arabic Police — Post by Carrier Pigeons — Disintegration of the Caliphate — Intelligence Service and Propaganda by the Fatimids— Intelligence Service during the Seljuk’s Protectorate.


3. Intelligence in the Mamluk Empire 225

Baybars Becomes Sultan — Al-Omari’s History of Arab Post in His Al-Tarif— Al-Makrizi’s Description of Baybars’s State Post — Postal Roads Described in Al-Tarif— Baybars’s Post by Carrier Pigeons — Al-Malik-al-Nazir’s Reforms — Transport of Snow by State Post — Decadence of the State Post Service and of the Mamluk Empire.


4. Arab Intelligence on Byzantium 235

Christian Spies in Arabic Service — Byzantine Deserters, Arabic Security Measures on the Frontier — The Strategus Manuel — Al-Mas’udi on Exchange of Prisoners — Al-Mas’udi’s Story on Muawiya’s Revenge of Mistreatment of an Arab Prisoner — Arab Prisoners in Constantinople, and Their Information — Embassies — Arabian Geographers on Byzantium.


V: Intelligence in the Mongol Empire 262

The Rise of Jenghiz Khan (a New David?), Military Genius, Author of the Great Yasaq, Mongol Law Code — Conquest of North China, Manchuria, and Kuara-Khitai — Jenghiz Khan, Muhammad II, Caliph Nasin — Conquest of Muhammad Kharizmian Empire — Expedition of Jebe and Sübötäi in Caucasus and Russia — Jenghiz’s Organization of Intelligence, His Post Service — Chinese Post — Arabs on Chinese Intelligence — New Mongol Conquest in Europe,





Asia, and China — Jenghiz’s Successors and the Post Service — Western Information on the Mongol Post, Piano Carpini, Longjumeau, Rubruck — Marco Polo on the Mongol Chinese Post Service — Report by Oderic and the Arab Batuta on the Mongol Post — Organization of the Mongol-Chinese Post Service.


VI: Intelligence in the Muscovite State 300

Russia under Mongol Rule — Political Growth of the Moscow Grand Dukes — Reforms of Ivan III — Introduction of a State Post on Mongol Prototypes; Its Organization — Herberstein and von Staden on the Muscovite Information Service — Ivan IV’s Reorganization of the Post Service — Treatment of Foreign Embassies — Opričnina and Secret Police.


Index 317




Digitized by the Internet Archive in 2016 with funding from Kahle/Austin Foundation



Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Dvornik, Francis, 1893-

Origins of intelligence services.

Includes bibliographies.

1. Intelligence services — 2. History. Ancient. 3. Middle Ages — History. I. Title.

UB250.D86 1974 355.3'432'09 73-17098

ISBN 0-8135-0764-2



Copyright © 1974 by Rutgers University, The State University of New Jersey

Manufactured in the United States of America

by Quinn & Boden Company, Inc., Rahway, N.J.


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