How Alexander Perfected his Supply Chain
Plutarch credits Alexander The Great with “greatness of soul, keen intelligence, self-restraint, and manly courage.” All excellent traits, but are they enough to keep an army fed and watered as he “shower[ed] the blessings of Greek justice and peace over every nation” he could reach for over a decade?
Alexander, son of Philip II, led what some have called “the most formidable military expedition ever to leave Greece,” heading an army of approximately “43,000 infantry and 5,500 cavalry,” plus camp followers and animals on an “eleven year” campaign from Macedonia all the way to “the Indus Valley.” (Hemingway)
Engels estimated that the “65,000 personnel” alone of Alexander’s convoy would have consumed 195,000 pounds of food and 32,500 gallons of water each day. Each man could only carry about ten days’ worth of rations (3lbs a day) and water ( ½ gallon, 5lbs a day) at a given time. Pack animals could ease the burden a little and carry some extra supplies, but each animal needs its own ration (20lbs grain and 20lbs forage a day) and water (80lbs a day) in addition to that of the men, the baggage animals, and the cavalry horses. So how did Alexander manage to supply an army that needed 511,000 pounds of food and 158,900 gallons of water every day?
First, he planned his route carefully. As the map shows, he didn’t try to blaze straight across deserts; he followed water when he could, keeping to lush, green riverbanks with ample fresh water and easy naval access. Equal care was given to the timing of each stage of the campaign. “In addition to synchronizing his troops’ actions with harvest cycles …He timed his departure so the 30-day supply of rations, carried by sea transport, would last until 10 days after harvest at the first destination city. This provided a seamless supply of food and water for his men.” (Van Mieghem) Each conquered city was used wisely as a base or for its farm land. Of course, some cities didn’t need to be conquered; some surrendered, and willingly offered alliances and supplies, to avoid being crushed by Alexander’s army.
He also “maximized swiftness of action and flexibility of the army by eliminating the usual [camp followers]…” and by “order[ing] forced, or double-time, marches to conserve supplies in difficult circumstances.”
Alexander’s knowledge of logistics proved to be one of his most effective tools in extending his reach across so much of the known world, and carving his name into the history of our culture.
Engels, D. W. (1978). Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army. Berkely: University of California Press
Hemingway, Colette, and Seán Hemingway. “The Rise of Macedonia and the Conquests of Alexander the Great”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/alex/hd_alex.htm
Plutarch. (1936). De Fortuna Alexandri. IV, Loeb Classical Library edition. Retrieved February 08, 2012, from http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Moralia/Fortuna_Alexandri*/1.html
Van Mieghem, Timothy. “Logistics Lessons From.” Quality Progress. Jan 1998: n. page. Web. 9 Feb. 2012. http://www.proactiongroup.com/news/logisticslessons.pdf