Studies in Ancient Logistics

The word "logistics" can be generally defined as "The planning and carrying out of any complex or large scale civil or military operation".

It is a word that had little currency before World War II, before which it meant "strategy" or "philosophy of war" or an archaic branch of knowledge related to mathematics.

This dissertation was prompted by the study of General Sir Frederick Maurice's seventy-five-year-old paper on Xerxes' crossing of the Hellespont in 480 BC. His concern was to estimate the size of the Persian army, not to discuss the logistics which supported it. Although it is very much out of date, his paper is perhaps the seminal work which has prompted later work on ancient military logistics. It has been pointed out that studies of ancient military campaigns generally assume that armies "lived off the land" and these comfortable assumptions relieved the authors of any necessity to consider how an army (or navy for that matter) was kept operative in the field or at sea.

Such assumptions lead to distorted views of war. This being so, it must be borne in mind that the ancient authors addressed a limited audience of educated contemporaries, a considerable proportion of whom had both executive and combat experience of war, and so naturally assumed that their readers understood without amplification what they were saying and, as a result, took a great deal for granted.

Consequently, modern readers are obliged to rely on conjecture and fill the gaps with probably incorrect conclusions. It is only in recent times that the logistics of ancient warfare have been studied as a discipline, and, with the exception of the corn supply to Athens and Rome, what might be termed ancient "civil logistics", have received little attention. This dissertation discusses examples of ancient logistical problems of a military nature in Greek history.

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Author: Peter Frederick Barber

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Image Source: Crossing the Hellespoint with Xerxes -

Keywords: Logistics, Ancient Greece, Persia, Siege Warfare, Fortifications

Peter Frederick Barber

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