by Alexander Merrow, Agostino von Hassell, and Gregory Starace
Barnsley, Eng.: Frontline Books / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2020. Pp. vii, 160+.
Illus., chron., notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 147385587X
Keeping Miles Gloriosus Supplied
In this break through work, the authors – two military historians and an active duty USMC officer and re-enactor – examine the logistics of the Roman army at war, a surprisingly neglected subject. They use the campaigns of G. Julius Caesar in Gaul (58-50 BC) as their model. Of course the Romans already had an effective logistical system before Caesar came along, but we know little about it, and it’s also clear that Caesar elaborated on it, which underpinned the success of Roman arms over the following several centuries. Despite Roman logistical experience, during his early campaigns in Gaul the authors find that Caesar made a number of mistakes, but he learned from them, and was eventually able to keep armies of 75,000 or more in the field.
The authors open with a discussion of the sources on which they based this work, Caesar’s own writings of course, but also other ancient writins, archaeological evidence, and, of course, draw on modern literature on logistics to help clarify needs and means. They then cover the organization of the Roman logistical system, the collection, transportation, and distribution of supplies, primarily food and fodder, and how these influenced operations and strategy. They get down to the details of how a contubernium – the Roman squad – prepared rations, estimating the time necessary to process raw wheat into bread, consider the varieties of edibles supplied, and even offer a few recipes, albeit these seem likelier to have been for use at a base than for troops in the field on campaign. In one quite interesting chapter, the authors contrast Caesar’s logistical problems in North Africa with those of the British there during Second World, yielding some interesting insights.
Caesar’s Great Success is a good read for anyone interested in the Roman army, or logistics over the ages, albeit a few maps might have been of help.
Note: Caesar’s Great Success is also available in several e-editions.