Caesar’s Great Success - Sustaining the Roman Army on Campaign

Published: March 12th, 2021     
Product Image
Front Cover
Author: Alexander Merrow, Agostino von Hassell, Gregory Starace
Reviewed by: Luke R. Bucci PhD - IPMS# 33549
Company: Frontline Books
ISBN #: ISBN 978-1-47385-587-8
Other Publication Information: 9.25 X 6 inches, Pages: 154, Hardbound with Color Jacket
Price: $34.95
Product provided by: Casemate Publishers

Thanks to Casemate Books (an imprint of Pen & Sword Books) & Casemate Publishers for the review copy!

Alexander Morrow received a PhD in European history from Georgetown University, and has taught history at Georgetown, Franklin & Marshall University and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Alexander is a prolific writer of military history and fiction.

Agostino von Hassell graduated from Columbia Journalism School and has taught at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. He too is a prolific writer of military history, but also of food history.

Gregory Starace is a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Marines, 19 years on active duty. His service in Europe, Africa, Middle East, Eurasia and India has allowed him to visit numerous Roman ruins, battle sites and museums. Gregory has a BA in history from George Washington University and Master's degrees in National Intelligence and Security Affairs. Gregory is a long-time re-enactor, including Imperial Rome.

You get a 9 3/8 X 6 1/4-inch size hardback book with black binding and gold lettering on the spine, inside a full-color jacket. I am taking a wild guess here and saying that the three gentlemen in Roman soldier garb on the front cover are the three authors. I'll go further and say the partially hidden soldier is Agostino, and the soldier in front is Gregory, leaving the other background soldier to be Alexander.

My point is that this book is far from a droll recitation of numbering loaves and fishes. It is surprisingly fun to read and hard to put down. My compliments to the authors for taking an overlooked subject -- logistics - and making it a pleasure to read. And exhibiting the war-winning importance of feeding the troops, their entourages, and their pack animals. As the authors pointed out, what Caesar did that ensured his numerous victories (and rapid recoveries from his numerous defeats) was heretofore unheard of - develop logistics into war-winning military necessity. This book reteaches the basis upon which all military forces rely - food & supply.

Napoleon has been credited with the saying "An army marches on its stomach." This is still true today. Learn why this saying has rung true throughout the ages. This book starts with a list of recipes of what the Roman soldier on campaign actually ate (after each chapter). Made me hungry! I found out what Roman Mice were, which solves my garage pest problem (OK, the context is I keep my eggs in the garage frig). And being a doubly-certified Clinical Nutritionist, I can verify these were healthy meals, welcome and satisfying even today. Next up is a two-page Chronology of Caesar's life from birth to Et Tu Brute? Then the eight Chapters ensue. Each chapter has a saying from some famous or semi-famous person about war and logistics, mostly about food supply. The book is all text except for a few pages of photos of typical meals, some of which are included. Cardoons are something I have not tried and probably will not.

The Introduction lays the rationale for logistics and feeding an army being Caesar's greatest accomplishment - what Caesar did was never done before nor as well afterwards until modern times. The authors do a splendid job of making you, the reader, hungry for more verbal (and dietary) sustenance.

Eight chapters each cover a topic about eating and warring in Roman times. Chapter One went over Caesar's war career and how the armies were raised, composed and used. It also showed us the existing infrastructure, setting the stage for how Caesar used logistics. In Chapter 2, Food for Battle, we see how nourishment meant victory. We see what fed the Roman armies on campaign, down to what each soldier cooked daily. We find the origin of many recent and modern military foods and expressions. Hydration is more vital than calories for exercise and endurance, and the Romans neatly solved this concern with posca - watered-down, sour wine. Thus, water intake, hygiene, transport and preventing alcoholic binges were neatly solved all at once.

Chapter 3 is titled The Invention of Logistics. Here is where this book shines. How Caesar used every trick, wiles and guile he could to keep his armies hydrated, fed and happy were illustrated. Food staples were from Rome itself, but also from local areas, depending on the situations. Food supply was in constant flux, and we get into the transport realities. Most of the army was taking care of food and drink between battles. The locals were kept in the loop, and pillaging was not common. Some of Caesar's toughest campaigns were when his enemies had a scorched earth policy. And we find out why all roads lead to Rome is more than a saying - this unprecedented transport network was a huge war-winner. Concepts of logistics were borrowed, refined, honed and invented during Caesar's reign. Operational reach for Caesar was superior because of logistics. Where the military went, Romans followed, bringing trade infrastructure, roads, storage sites, and civilization that exist to this day. The fact that Caesar was so successful was due to his innovations and attention to logistics.

Chapter 4 details how supply lines were set up, maintained, defended and integrated into pacification. Again, the way Caesar set up his supply lines made sure his armies were fed regularly and well, relying on the Roman infrastructure as well as spreading it.

Chapter 5 shows how Caesar fed his armies on the march and for battle, while protecting his supply lines. Animal fodder (pabulatio) was by far the largest quantitative supply need. Firewood for cooking and staying warm was also a major need. What the soldiers did daily on the march and setting up camps would impress any soldier or worker today. Caesar knew when to sacrifice security for speed as the situation demanded. And foraging becomes part of strategy - all principals still found on today's battlefield. Supply became a well-planned and orchestrated Mil Ops, not just a grab and snatch melee.

Chapter 6 covers Logistics and Strategy - when to wait in order to build up supplies and supply infrastructure for a campaign or when to sacrifice supply stability for speed of attack. Also, attacking the enemies' food supplies and crops was de rigueur. How the army dealt with trading, requisitioning, pillaging, plundering or short-term hardships was carefully and expertly balanced by Caesar, and accounted for his greatest achievements, as well as his failures.

Chapter 7 was a review of the WW2 Allied-Axis North African campaign supply issues, which mirrored Caesar's African campaigns closely, with POL (Petroleum, Oil, Lubrication) substituting for pabulatio (animal fodder). Point is that supply and logistics determined battlefield strategy and outcomes, then and now.

Chapter 8 explains the legacy of food left by Caesar and Rome. The origins of wine areas are fun to know. And even if the French will not admit it, they have a lot to thank Caesar for how and what they cook. Supply and logistics Romanized much of the Mediterranean and even into Britain and Germany. Advanced Roman agriculture was a boon to the locals.

Summary

At first glance, this book sounds ho-hum, even boring. Perish that thought! Imbibe and ingest many simple, practical and tasty insights into how to really win wars. This book is applicable to individuals as well as small fighting groups and up to large armies, and yes, even countries, continents and our entire world. How's that for feeding your hunger for military prowess!

And you can try the recipes at home. Although modern tastes would probably not like posca, the everlasting penchant for honey and vinegar drinks shows that diluted alcohol and acid is still in use. Check out cardoons too. Caesar's troops really did get adequate nutrition most of the time, unlike their adversaries, and he knew how to exploit those advantages.

This book is a quick read and entertaining too. It is a break from focus on battles and campaigns and equipment, and arguably more important. Just enough background history to fill in Caesar's campaigns without getting droll, and it puts you in the legionnaires' shoes toting 40 kilogram backpacks, behind the mule teams or wagons. The sayings and recipes (and mouth-watering photos of the meals) liven up the text and make you ready for chow.

Finally, I cannot pass up the opportunity to tell you how many Roman Mice I ate - et tu, Brute!

Figures

  • Figure 1: Front cover of Caesar's Greatest Success. Sustaining the Roman Army on Campaign.
  • Figure 2: Back cover of Caesar's Greatest Success. Sustaining the Roman Army on Campaign.
  • Figure 3: Bucellatum (precursor to hard tack) - the main source of calories for Roman soldiers.
  • Figure 4: Sausages with Fried Cardoons & Endive Salad - cardoons are an edible thistle that resembles celery, and taste like artichokes, requiring preparation to remove the thorns and stringy fibers along with frying to soften. Sausages were made from just about anything handy.
  • Figure 5: Langoustines with Herb Sauce and Roman Mice - eggs were pickled in vinegar for storage, and when ready to eat were cut in half with peppercorns or cloves for eyes, and herbs for ears and tails. They livened up many a Roman soldier's meal. Seafood was depended on whenever possible and showed that a typical diet for Roman soldiers was satisfying and wholesome.
  • Rear Cover
    Rear Cover
  • Figure 3: Bucellatum (precursor to hard tack)
    Figure 3: Bucellatum (precursor to hard tack)
  • Figure 4: Sausages with Fried Cardoons & Endive Salad
    Figure 4: Sausages with Fried Cardoons & Endive Salad
  • Figure 5: Langoustines with Herb Sauce and Roman Mice
    Figure 5: Langoustines with Herb Sauce and Roman Mice

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