In one of Alexander’s early campaigns, he traveled through Asia Minor in an attempt to conquer the Persian Empire. Alexander wanted to fight the Persians to silence them, in contrast to his father who wanted to form peace treaties with the Persians while he was on the throne. The conquest of Alexander began in the year 334 BC with 48,100 soldiers, 6,100 cavalry, and a fleet of 120 ships. (Rosiman. 2010) Accompanying his army was a baggage train which carried supplies for the soldiers.
The animals in the baggage train were an important component to the army; they frequently carried large loads of food and other necessary items such as siege equipment or cookware for the soldiers. Baggage trains consisted of anywhere from 520 to 1500 animals. (Shean. 171) Typically horses, mules, and camels were used due to their ability to carry large loads, but still keep a rapid pace. Horses and mules could carry about 200 pounds and camels were able to carry around 300 pounds. Oxen and donkeys were not utilized because they weren’t as quick and, therefore, slowed down the progress of Alexander’s conquest. Animals were generally superior to man in their ability to carry large loads, but their downfall was in the recovery process. After multiple days of hard work, the animals were not able to promptly recover with a little nourishment and rest like man. For this reason, a careful watch was kept over the animals, “the transport animals of an army shall be regarded as worth their weight in gold, no care or supervision can be too great or too strict.” (Engels. 1980)
Alexander’s army encountered harsh conditions along the way that took an extra toll on the animals. The greatest difficulty for the animals was traveling through the desert. The extreme heat, lack of water, and sandy terrain drained their energy. Marching through the sand was complicated; the uneven soil caused them to stumble frequently and the sand didn’t support their weight like solid ground (Arrian. 2010). Instead, their feet seemed to sink through the sand rather than walk in it.
The camel in the photograph above is the type of pack animal that Alexander would have used for his campaign. Although camels are well known for their ability to store water, they need to drink as much as other pack animals, but are able to go for longer periods of time without taking a drink.
Arrian. (2010). The landmark arrian : the campaigns of alexander. (J. Romm, R. Strassler Eds.). (P. Mensch Trans.). New York: Pantheon Books. (Original work published 2005)
Engels, D. (1980). Alexander the great and the logistics of the macedonian army. (pp. 126-130). Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Roisman, Joseph; Worthington, Ian (2010). A Companion to Ancient Macedonia. John Wiley and Sons.
Shean, J. (1996). Hannibal’s mules: The logistical limitations of hannibal’s army and the battle of canne. 216 b.c. Historia: Zeitschrift fur Alte Geschichte, 45(2), 170-174.
warsame90. (2008). Camel pack animal transporting nomadic materials. In Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Eylcamel.jpg