Caesar’s Great Success – Sustaining the Roman Army on Campaign, Alexander Merrow, Agostino Von Hassell & Greagory Starace

Caesar’s Great Success – Sustaining the Roman Army on Campaign, Alexander Merrow, Agostino Von Hassell & Greagory Starace

We start with a brief overview of Caesar’s military campaigns. This is followed by a look at what the Roman army actually ate on campaign (and what they preferred to avoid). There is then a look at what we know about logistics before Caesar. A chapter is spent defining the terms associated with modern supply lines and what they mean in practice. I’m not entirely sure that these concepts really fit with the period, although the two chapters that focus on Caesar’s campaigns do a convicing job of matching his activites in Gaul to those concepts. Caesar certainly appears to have made sure he had a secure main supply base at the start of each year’s campaigning, and some of the details of his campaigns show that the intermediate levels in the modern supply chain sometimes existed. 

Although the authors do make a good case for the idea that Caesar was a master of logistics, their second argument, that he was significantly better at it than earlier generals, isn’t so strong. Previous Roman generals had campaigned in southern Gaul, Spain, north Africa, the Balkans, Anatolia and into Armenia. During the Civil War there are several occasions on which Caesar’s logistics did let him down, and only battlefield victories saved him. What is different is that Caesar’s own writings give us some insights into the work he put into making sure his armies were supplied, so we have more evidence for his campaigns than for the earlier achievements of Marius, Sulla or Pompey. To be fair to the authors they do acknowledge that Caesar inherited a supply system.

One nice touch is the addition of a series of Roman recipies (or at least as close as we can get). These range from the basic Roman military bread (essentially hard tack) up to a rather nice sounding custard and pine nut pudding. There is also a rather fun look at the Caesar Salad, to see if it would have been possible for a Roman chef to actually make one – my only quibble here is the lack of Worcestershire Sauce is given as one reason why not, without any mention of the famous Roman fish sauce, which appears to be rather more potent, but is still based around aged fish.

I’m not sure why the authors chose to include a short chapter on logistics in the North African campaign of the Second World War – it may have been fought in some of the same areas as Caesar’s African campaigns, but the two were logistically totally different. Not only did both sides in the Second World War need constant supplies of ammo and fuel, they also had to provide all of their own food. In contrast ancient North Africa was one of the great grain producing areas of the Roman world, so Caeser’s supply problems in North Africa were more down to his own actions than any limits in the area.

Overall this is an interesting approach to Caesar’s campaigns, and in particular to the war in Gaul, where I feel their arguments are at their strongest. The length of this campaign and the distance Caesar went from previous Roman territory makes this different to all of his other campaigns, and provides enough material for a convincing study of his logistics.

1 – Julius Caesar, His Wars and The Caesarean Army
2 – Food for Battle
3 – The Invention of Logistics
4 – Supply Lines – Definitions and Practicalities
5 – On the March
6 – Logistics and Strategy
7 – A Modern North African Campaign
8 – Traces Today

Author: Alexander Merrow, Agostino Von Hassell & Greagory Starace
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 154
Publisher: Frontline
Year: 2020

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