An army’s logistics system has always
been crucial to its success
and Alexander’s army was no different.
His great conquests would never have been possible
without the skilful organisation of his forces throughout his campaigns.
So, in this episode we shall cover
the logistics of the Macedonian army.
Our story starts with the logistics of the Greek armies of the Classical period.
When fighting fellow city-states,
the armies usually followed certain conventions.
They would leave their home city
and travel to an agreed battleground suitable for phalanx warfare.
They would then engage their enemy in battle,
before returning home.
The armies were not intended to stay out in the field for long durations.
Thousands of non-combatants, attendants,
women and slaves travelled with them,
sometimes outnumberinog the soldiers.
That dramatically reduced the speed and mobility,
and every follower meant an extra month to feed.
Furthermore, the Greek armies used oxcarts and wagons
and this inevitably impeded an army’s speed and mobility further.
The throat and girth harnesses severely damaged the animals
and rough terrain easily hindered the carts.
This system was therefore designed only for the short distances and slow movement.
Philip realised that things needed to change
and made sweeping reforms to the Macedonian logistics system.
He aimed to create a system that prioritised his army’s
sustainability, mobility and speed.
Fortunately for him,
Philip had a suitable precedent in the Greek commander Xenophon,
who decided to burn his wagons to lighten the load of his army
during the march of the 10,000 out of Asia some 50 years before.
This greatly increased the speed and mobility
of his force and was critical to the success of his march.
Likely using Xenophon’s success as a precedent,
Philip forbade the use of ox-carts and wagons in his army.
Instead, he used horses as the prominent pack animal
the first time a western commander had done this.
It soon provided dividends as it gave his army more mobility.
Philip also increased the amount of supplies carried by his men on campaign.
This included arms and armour possibly even the sarissa,
which could be detached into two sections to ease its portability.
每个军人的包里还必须自己拿着口粮 餐具 毛毯
Each soldier would also have to carry rations, utensils, blankets,
筑路工具 药品 供30天吃的面粉
road-building tools, medical supplies, a thirty-day supply of flour
and any personal possessions in a pack.
All-together this would have weighed around eighty pounds.
To further lighten his baggage train,
the Macedonian king drastically reduced the number
of non-combatants accompanying the army.
Women were forbidden while the number of servants was drastically reduced.
Each cavalryman would have one servant, while for the infantry there
would be one servant for every ten Macedonians.
These attendants would carry hand mills that were used for grinding grain
gay ropes for both bridge building and rock climbing and their own bedding and rations.
Not only was Philip’s army now able to move quicker
and inflict‘ lightning strikes’on opposing forces,
but he could sustain his army in the field significantly longer
than his mainland Greek counterparts.
And so, just as with his infantry, cavalry and siege craft,
Alexander inherited and made use of a logistics system
that had been radically transformed into the most efficient of its time.
In 335 BC for instance, to crush a Theban revolt,
his army marched from lake Lychnitis to Boeotia, some 500 miles
in thirteen days catching the Theban rebels completely off-guard.
With this newly-reformed logistics system supporting and supplying his army,
in 334 BC Alexander set forth for Asia.
Yet fighting in Asia would prove very different from fighting in Europe.
Alexander therefore soon adapted the logistics system
he had inherited to suit his new theatres of war.
One such area that gradually experienced improvement and alteration was the baggage train.
Traversing the Persian Empire meant that
Alexander needed to ensure his baggage train was well-organised.
Therefore a transport officer,
a skoidos was placed in overall charge of the baggage train.
The skoidos would manage to the baggage train’s defences,
行军装备 运送物资动物的健康状况 并且分送物资
marching order, the welfare of the pack animals and distributing supplies.
Parmenion likely filled this role until his execution in 330 BC.
A critical factor for a successful baggage train was the welfare of the animals,
and although troops or servants carried many items in Alexander’s army,
但并无法携带关键装备 例如帐篷 木柴 战利品
they could not carry critical equipment such as tents, firewood, loot,
and perhaps each man’s sarissa when they did not expect to be fighting.
This made the beasts of burden essential.
Horses and mules remained the predominant pack animals within Alexander’s army.
Yet he would also incorporate another animal to carry supplies: the camel.
Introduced into Alexander’s army in either Syria or Egypt,
the camel played a critical role in Alexander’s conquests.
While the horse or a mule carried 200 lb of supplies over a long distance,
camels were able to transport 300 lb.
They were also well-suited for traversing arid terrain,
having barely any limitations on what they could eat and drink if necessary.
All that made them the ideal baggage animals
for Alexander’s marches into the Persian heartlands and beyond
lands where the need for speed across harsh deserts was critical.
Throughout his campaigns,
horses, mules and camels remained the engine
of Alexander’s Macedonian baggage train.
Their speed and endurance were much greater than oxen
and this suited his desire for light, fast marches across harsh terrain.
He would recruit these animals throughout his campaign;
they were then spread throughout his army to supply the men
animals being attached to every dekas units.
Yet Alexander could not maintain this highly-mobile baggage train
during the entirety of his campaign.
At times, we hear of carts temporarily being reintroduced into Alexander’s army,
most notably in Iran.
However, just as Xenophon had before him,
he soon had most of them burned
to avoid them hindering his army in harsh terrain.
A few carts inevitably remained and
were tasked with transporting certain heavier essential items
most notably siege machinery and the wounded.
Alexander would make one other critical change to the Macedonian baggage train.
As he and his army marched further and further away from the Mediterranean,
it became clear to Alexander’s soldiers
that it would be many years before they could see their wives
and children again in Macedonia.
Alexander therefore permitted women to travel with the baggage train again.
Alexander even allowed his soldiers to marry captive women.
They would have children, and the baggage train swelled in size.
Although a radical change from his father’s logistics system
and one that undoubtedly slowed down Alexander’s army, it was necessary.
Philip’s ban had worked because his men had been able
to return home after each campaigning season to see their loved ones.
Alexander’s men could not.
Nevertheless, even with this change,
Alexander always prioritised having his army as light as possible throughout his campaigns.
For him, speed and mobility were key.
Another equally-important task
of these skoidos was distributing rations to the troops
most notably food and water.
Grain products were the major staples of a Macedonian soldier’s diet.
Wheat, barley and millet, all were available throughout Asia and India.
Not only were they easily portable,
but once these products were dried,
they could be stored indefinitely.
From their ration,
each soldier would use the grinding mills carried by the servants
to create flour and, after that, make bread.
It is also possible the Macedonians consumed grains in the form of biscuits and porridge.
Yet the Macedonian soldiery did not live solely off grain products.
they would also eat dried meat, salted fish and shellfish to supplement their diet.
Meat, however was rare and more often the soldiers turned to various kinds of dried fruit
such as figs and dates,
both readily available throughout much of Asia.
Each Macedonian soldier would carry his food rations.
While he was on campaign,
these rations would usually be enough for ten days.
If Alexander wanted his troops to conduct a swift march,
then the food each soldier would take with him was usually precooked,
mostly biscuits, fruit and if possible, salted meat.
This lightened the soldier’s pack as cooking utensils were thus not required.
Marching through Asia was undoubtedly hard work for a Macedonian soldier.
Its consistently hot climate, countless deserts and extensive barren lands
would have been extremely taxing for any Macedonian,
burdened with arms, armour and a heavy pack.
Indeed, it appears armour was sometimes even discarded during these marches.
Consequently, the requirement for sufficient calories and water was critical.
Scholars assume that a minimum of 3 lb of grain products,
the equivalent of nearly 1 ½ kilograms of bread
as well as half a gallon of water
would be needed to supply the troops in these conditions daily, some 3,600 calories.
Meanwhile, horses and mules needed eight gallons of water
and ten pounds of both grain and straw a day if they were to be kept in good condition.
As for a camel,
although the animal could survive multiple days with barely any water,
the animal was most efficient if the Macedonians gave it ten gallons of water a day.
It would also require ten pounds of grain and twenty-five pounds of straw.
Yet acquiring supplies would prove anything but easy.
For most of his campaigning life,
Alexander and his army traversed the various terrains of inland Asia,
lands on many occasions hostile to him
and far away from seas and navigable rivers.
This forced Alexander to acquire supplies via land.
Transporting supplies overland was fraught with difficulty.
there were few carts and pack-animals available in many of these regions
and there was also the constant threat of banditry.
most agricultural societies in the East did not have a surplus of food
from which they could help supply Alexander’s passing army.
But Alexander evidently found a solution.
Recently, a ground-breaking study by Donald Engels
concluded how the Macedonian king most likely achieved this.
Upon his arrival in Mesopotamia after victory at Gaugamela,
Alexander’s power and military prestige in the east became phenomenal
and soon many of the remaining Persian officials surrendered.
Alexander realised he could use this to solve his supply problem.
He sent messengers ahead of his army to meet the officials
to secure arrangements for the army’s supply through their territory
sometimes taking hostages to ensure the officials kept their word.
Thus, Alexander secured his supply lines far in advance.
When the officials did not surrender to Alexander,
he took a different approach.
He would acquire intelligence about the region
例如当地的地势 线路 气候和资源
information such as its topography, routes, climate and resources,
and he would then either launch a lightning campaign against the region with a small elite force,
keeping the main army back
or he would split his forces into smaller units
that would gain supplies by either sacking settlements or foraging.
These more destructive methods regularly occurred in the Persian heartlands.
During the winter months,
Alexander ensured his forces remained in a heavily settled fertile area
usually adjacent to either navigable rivers or ports
from where supplies could be more easily obtained.
Thanks to his forward planning and charisma,
Alexander was able to find solutions to the lingering threat
of supply problems throughout his conquests.
He had a plan for every scenario.
There was however,
one occasion when this forward planning of provisions failed the Macedonian king.
In 325 BC Alexander marched his army across the Gedrosian desert.
It proved the greatest logistical error of his life,
costing thousands of lives.
Some argue this devastating crossing occurred because of the man’s pothos,
his desire to outdo all before him,
or out of revenge for his troops’earlier mutiny in India.
Yet others believe Alexander simply made a mistake
in his logistical planning.
Alexander had expected his army to be supplied by the navy,
commanded by Nearchus, as it made its way along the coast.
Yet monsoon winds delayed the fleet from leaving the harbour in India for months.
The result proved devastating for Alexander’s men.
Alexander and his army slowly withered as they crossed the desert.
By the end, 75% of his force, mostly those in the baggage train, had perished.
This was the exception in a campaign epitomised
by many episodes of logistical brilliance.
Alexander’s campaign in both Asia and India
required precise and advanced logistical planning
unlike any yet-seen in antiquity.
Its success was crucial to the survival of his campaign
a factor that is so often overlooked.
We will cover other critical parts of Alexander’s army
in the next episode, so make sure that
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