Popular history tells us that Napoleon said “an army marches on its stomach“.
However, he was not the first military leader to understand that combat is only one part of a successful military campaign.
Alexander the Great’s ‘greatness’ was not owing to his ability to dream up bold moves and cut a dashing figure in the saddle: he was a master of supply chain management and could not have succeeded otherwise.
Authors from Greek and Roman eras who recorded his deeds had little to say about something so apparently unglamorous as how he secured supplies for his army. Yet, from these same sources, many little details can be pieced together that show the overall supply chain picture and how Alexander managed it.
SCM Globe has created a model of Alexander’s supply chain that supported his campaign in Afghanistan. This model is based on information from historian Donald W. Engels’ book, Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army.
Using logistics as a competitive advantage
Alexander’s army had a logistics structure that was fundamentally different from other armies of the time.
In other armies, the number of support people and camp followers was often as large as the number of actual fighting soldiers. This was because armies travelled with huge numbers of carts and pack animals to carry their equipment and provisions. And those carts and pack animals needed many people to tend to them.
In the Macedonian army, the use of carts was severely restricted. Soldiers were trained to carry their own equipment and provisions. Other contemporary armies did not require their soldiers to carry such heavy burdens but they paid for this because the resulting baggage trains reduced their speed and mobility.
The result of the Macedonian army’s logistics structure was that it became the fastest, lightest and most mobile army of its time. It was capable of making lightning-fast strikes against an opponent, often before they were even aware of what was happening. Because the army was able to move quickly and suddenly, Alexander could use this to devise strategies and employ tactics that allowed him to surprise and overwhelm enemies that were numerically much larger.
The picture that emerges of how Alexander managed his supply chain is truly an interesting one.
Continue reading how he maintained a supply of provisions to some 64 000 troops and 10 000 cavalry horses by going to SCM Globe.com.