Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Feeding Alexander the Great's Army on the March

We do not know exactly how the different units organised their transport, but the system for the pezhetairoi at least is clear.

Each file of 16 infantry men had a servant and a pack animal to carry their immediate equipment. We know that each man had to carry his own armour and weapons, but he was not expected to carry anything else. Tents, cooking pots, mugs, handmills and other equipment was left to the servant and horse. We don’t know how much all this gear weighed in the Macedonian army, but in the later Roman army - another ancient force famed for its logistics when marching - it came to about 200kg.

That left around 320kg of spare carrying capacity. On campaign, this would have been allocated for the food needed by the file unit. The carrying capacity of the horse and rate at which the food it carried was consumed would put a limit on how long the army could operate without replenishing the stores from ships, cities or other sources.

Average marching conditions can be assumed to consist of good weather, reasonably level tracks and a daily march rate of about 27km or so. Under such conditions the absolute minimum that a man would need when carrying the sorts of loads that a pezhetairoi had was about 1.5kg of grain. Ideally this should be supplemented by another 500g or so of dried fruit, dried fish, hard cheese or other foods to supply the nutrients lacking in grain. A fit man could do without these additional foods for a few days without suffering ill effects, but for no more than a week if his ability to march and fight were not to be impaired.

The horse, meanwhile, would need at least 4.5 kg of grain plus another 5kg or so of hay, chaff or straw. This could be reduced if the horse was allowed time to graze, but grazing would cut the daily march rate.

For a group of 16 pezhetairoi, one servant and one horse the daily requirement for food on the march adds up to a total of 43.5kg, which could be reduced to 35kg for short periods of a few days only. The 320 kg that could be carried on the horse would be consumed within seven days.

from "Alexander the Great at the Battle of the Granicus" by Rupert Matthews.

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About the book
In this, the third book of Spellmounts Campaign in Context series, Rupert Matthews looks to the first major campaign of Alexander the Great. One of the most famous generals all time, Alexander was just 20 when he led his army into battle at Granicus. Despite his youth and his army being heavily outnumbered, he was victorious, and it was this victory that allowed him to conquer Asia Minor. The course of this key battle remains controversial, owing to conflicting accounts in contemporary sources. As with his previous titles in the series, Rupert Matthews carefully balances the evidence from textual sources with knowledge of the battlefield and reconstructed weaponry in order to explain the events of the battle to the general reader, and the context in which it took place.

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