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

A Boardgaming Life Book Review


As all wargamers know, amateurs talk tactics while professionals talk logistics. Most books about Julius Caesar concentrate on the operations and battles, but this book tackles the logistics, answering questions about what the legionnaires, auxilia, and other troops ate while on campaign and how food, fodder, and other supplies reached the man in the field. It even contains modern recipes, plus a center color section, for Roman food, from hard tack to fish dishes. The trio also make the case that Caesar mastered the military ‘institution’ of Roman logistics, although he deviated occasionally from a secure supply chain when speed of operations outweighed the risk of starvation.

This is about as close to battlefield descriptions as you will get in this book — the emphasis, and rightfully so, concentrates on logistics. The calculations of how many tons per legion, kg per man, and the supply system as a whole are particularly interesting. It’s all fascinating data and analysis of the importance of maintaining logistics in ancient campaigning.

Two tweaks: First, I would have preferred several good maps with all the tribes, locations, and routes discussed in the book instead of the color food photos. Maybe you have the Sequani and Lucei tribal areas loaded into brain RAM, but alas, I have little idea where they are in Gaul when Caesar requisitioned supplies.

Second, I understand the idea behind Chapter 7’s discussion of supplies in WWII’s North African campaign and its ‘man ahead of his time’ comparison with Caesar’s 48-46 BCE campaign, but it seemed a bit off subject for this book as it took me away from the ancient era. To be fair, other historical comparisons (from 30 Years War to modern Afghanistan) are peppered within the book and those quick examples effectively highlight key points.

In any case, the level of logistical detail will please the most jaded of campaign grognards, the analysis of ancient texts supports the conclusions, and the writing zips along with clear, understandable prose. If you’ve become a bit jaded by ‘new’ books on Julius Caesar, you’re in for a treat. Maybe Caesar should be known for: I came. I supplied. I conquered. This book will tell you how he did it. Enjoyed it.

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