Category Archives: Cohort VII Scutum Decoris

Roman Scouts

When it came to gathering intelligence for the Roman army, the exploratores and the speculatores were the units most often used. Although each unit had specific duties, their jobs did tend to overlap from time to time. Exploratores were generally used to gain information through the use of patrols at a distance from the enemy, whereas speculatores most often acquired enemy intelligence through undercover operations (Evov, 81). Both positions were important to the Roman army when it came to battle strategy and to provide protection from enemies when not in combat.

As previously mentioned, exploratores gathered information concerning the enemy by patrolling the areas around hostiles. When sent on a mission, their objectives were to provide the captain with details of enemy movement and activity. Also, they were to relay information regarding the conditions of the terrain and any strong or weak points within. They usually patrolled about a day ahead of the main army unit, constantly on the lookout for enemies and potential ambush sites (Ezov, 75). Aside from patrolling, they were used to verify information obtained from prisoners taken from the enemy or deserters. In addition to their previous duties, they were often selected to locate a camp site to be used by the army for a period of time. When choosing a site, they had a few factors to keep in mind: size of the army, location, and security from the enemy (Caesar, 2- 17).

The exploratore unit originated from the cavalry; it already had the great advantage of mobility. The typical soldier assigned to this unit would generally be native to the area due to his knowledge of the terrain. To this day, we still have little evidence regarding the size and organization of an exploratore unit; they were thought to be relatively small in size and because there was no official ranking for them, by default, they were under a centurion (Ezov, 79).

Athough the picture below contains models, it is assumed that this is how the exploratore units functioned. They traveled in small groups and on horses to remain highly maneuverable and quick.

In addition to the use of exploratores for reconnaissance missions, Caesar also used speculatores. Although they did have similar jobs, speculatores usually gathered information by working in disguise and spying on the enemy (Ezov, 80). Exploratores and speculatores both collected information about hostiles, but only speculatores were ever referred to as spies. Gathering intelligence regarding the enemy was their main duty, but in addition, they patrolled like exploratores, although they were usually involved guarding important people (Wikipedia).

Parallel to the situation of exploratores, we have little evidence to the size and organization of these units. Due to the particular missions of these men, conclusions can be drawn that most likely the units contained few men, if not alone, on a mission (Ezov, 83).

 Works Cited

Caesar, J. (1994) The Gallic Wars (trans. W.A. McDevitte and W.S. Bohn.).

Ezov, A. (1996). The “missing dimension” of c. julius caesar. Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, 45(1), 64-94.

Richmond, J. (1998). Spies in ancient greece. Greece & Rome, 45(1), 1-18.

Speculatores. (2011, October 14). Retrieved from

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Standard-Bearers of the Roman Legions

In the Roman Legions, standards were very important. Every century, cohort, and legion had a standard. These symbols represented their units, acted as a symbol of unity and pride, and served as a rallying point during battle (McManus). During the Roman Empire, there were many different kinds of signifers: aquilifers that bore the legion’s eagle, imaginifers that carried an image of the emperor, vexillifers who bore a banner with the legion’s name and symbol, and signifers that carried a signum, a tall pole with an open hand, the symbol of the legionaries’ oath of loyalty (Wikipedia contributors). All signifers wore animal-skin headpieces in order to be distinguished from the normal soldiers (McManus).

Scene 113. Roman standard-bearers. Used with permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell. Via

Signifers had rather dangerous jobs in battle, but had relatively good jobs in day-to-day life. On the front lines in battle, a signifer could only carry a buckler (small shield) and did not have a weapon to protect himself. Polybius, when describing who is selected for the position of signifer, described them as “the bravest and most vigorous among the soldiers” (Polybius, History, Book 6). Although they would have to also be literate and good with numbers in order to act as bankers for the many members of the legion. Outside of battle, signifers were in charge of the legionaries’ pensions, meaning they had clerk-type work that would be done indoors. Matyszak suggests that putting the pension in the hands of the standard-bearer was beneficial because the legionaries would fight all the harder to protect him during battle (80).  Signifers were counted as officers, so they received twice the pay of a normal legionary (Breeze), which is not surprising, given the importance of all their duties.



Works Cited


Breeze, David J. “Pay Grades and Ranks below the Centurionate.” The Journal of Roman Studies 61 (1971):130-135. Print.


Matyszak, Philip. Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s (Unofficial) Manual. London: Thames & Hudson, 2009. Print.


McManus, Barbara F. “The Roman Army in the Late Republic and Early Empire.” VRoma. The VRoma Project, June 1999. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.


Polybius. History: Book 6. Trans. Oliver J. Thatcher. Constitution Society, 1999. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.


Rockwell, Peter. Photo of Roman standard-bearers on Trajan’s Column. n.d. The Stoa Consortium. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.


Wikipedia contributors. “Signifer.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 5 Dec. 2011. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.


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The Battle of Zama: Aftermath

Carthage was reduced to a fraction of its empire at the end of the Second Punic War. (Picture in public domain.)

The Battle of Zama took place at Zama, near Carthage, in October of 202 BC. Publius Cornelius Scipio led the Roman army and extra Numidian cavalry against Hannibal and his Carthaginian troops. The Romans soundly defeated the Carthaginians, which brought an end to the Second Punic War (Wikipedia contributors).

According to Polybius, Scipio set the terms for a treaty and told the Carthaginian ambassadors. The ambassadors returned to Carthage to tell their senate, and Hannibal persuaded them to accept the “lenient terms” (Polybius). The terms of the treaty included parts beneficial to both sides, though naturally favoring the Romans. Carthage was to be a client state of Rome, but would be able to retain all territory owned prior to the war, as well as all property. Carthage would still rule itself, and no Roman garrison would be set in the city. In return, Carthage needed to return all prisoners of war and deserters to Rome, pay a tribute of 10,000 talents (200 a year for 50 years), and provide corn and pay the Roman army while they waited until Rome replied to the treaty. Also, Carthage had to give up 100 hostages (males between the age of 14 and 30), and give up their war elephants and all warships except 10 triremes. If crippling any potential land or sea force wasn’t enough, Rome forbade Carthage from making war on any nation outside of Africa, and required permission to war within Africa. F.E. Adcock suggested the Romans crippled the Carthaginian navy because they had a policy of making their states keep weak ones, so Rome wouldn’t have to build up a strong navy (118).

Masinissa, of the Numidians that had helped the Romans, was crowned as the King of greater Numidia. Scipio was given the name “Africanus”, and was proclaimed a war hero (“Results of the Second Punic War”).


Works Cited

“Results of the Second Punic War.” United Nations of Roma Victrix., 2003-2011. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “Battle of Zama.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 9 Dec. 2011. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.

Adcock, F.E. “‘Delenda Est Carthago.’” Cambridge Historical Journal 8.3 (1946): 117-128. Print. 6 Feb. 2012.

Polybius. Histories: IV. Trans. W.R. Paton. Ed. Jeffrey Henderson. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000. Print.

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Battle of Zama (strategy & tactics)

The Battle of Zama took place between the Romans, accompanied by the Numidian cavalry, and the Carthaginians with Scipio as the commander of the Roman forces and Hannibal as the leader of the Carthaginian troops. This confrontation between the Romans and Carthaginians marked the end of the Second Punic War, which had been occurring for many years. It took place on the plains of Zama Regia in the fall of 202 BC.

Romans marching and making camp- Use by permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell

Previous to the battle, the Romans utilized diverse mental tactics to psych out their opponents and prove dominance. As they won each battle, the Romans intentionally mangled the bodies of their fallen foes to demonstrate their ruthlessness and display an example of what the next enemy could expect to occur (75 Zhmodikov). They also made a camp each night, not only out of necessity, but to show their superiority as a force. The Romans had enough sophistication to build an entire village in one night and have it taken down by morning in order to be ready to march.

Both the Romans and the Carthaginians used similar battle layouts, but each tweaked their tactics with personal techniques. Hannibal utilized a traditional phalanx line of troops consisting of three rows with a cavalry on the wings, but also had war elephants as a unique weapon of war. Scipio, on the other hand, used a maniple formation of troops consisting of three lines with a large cavalry on the wings. The first two lines consisted of lighter infantry men known as the Hastati and the Principes (67 Zhmodikov). The last row consisted of heavy infantry men called Triarii; they were only used as back-up so they rarely saw much fighting. Although the Romans had fewer infantry troops, they made up for it in number and skill of cavalry troops. This became an important factor in the outcome of the battle; the terrain highly favored cavalry troops.

As the battle commenced, Hannibal unleashed his elephants on the Roman lines, which Scipio had anticipated. Scipio then used the maniple formation in order to allow his troops to move apart and permit the elephants to run right past them; it worked. In addition, the Romans blew loud horns as the elephants approached in an attempt to scatter them from their charge (Scullard 1930). As the lines clashed, they met in deadlock and each side repeatedly gained and lost ground with their opponent. It wasn’t until the superior Roman cavalry joined the battle, victorious over the Carthaginian cavalry, that the Romans were able to surround the Carthaginians and slaughter them. Roughly 20,000 Carthaginians were killed and another 20,000 were taken prisoner, while only 5,000 Romans were slain during the battle of Zama.

Works Cited

Rockwell, P. (1999). Romans marching and making camp- trajan’s column. Retrieved from

Sabin, P. (2000). The face of roman battle. The Journal of Roman Studies, 90, 1-17.

Scullard, Howard Hayes (1930), Scipio Africanus in the second Punic war, CUP Publisher Archive .

Zhmodikov, A. (2000). Roman republican heavy infantrymen in battle. Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, 49(1), 67-78.

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The Battle of Zama

The Battle of Zama was fought in October of 202 BC between “a Roman army led by Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus” and “a Carthaginian force led by the legendary commander Hannibal.” (Battle of Zama)

Scipio set himself apart from other historical leaders by using scouts and spies from both his own, and the Carthaginian army to benefit his cause. When Hannibal came to Zama, “he sent spies to ascertain the place, nature, and strength of the Roman general’s encampment.” The Roman soldiers caught them, and brought them before Scipio to decide their fate, but rather than punishing them, he “appointed a tribune to show them everything in the camp thoroughly and without reserve,” and then “gave them provisions and an escort, and dispatched them with injunctions to be careful to tell Hannibal everything they had seen.” This reaction was so far from the norm that it seemed to charm Hannibal into “a lively desire for a personal interview with” Scipio, at which meeting he proposed a treaty which, although not successful, seemed to hint at some intimidation by Scipio’s tactics. (Polybius)

Hannibal’s terms for a new treaty (Now that they had broken the previous one) were unnacceptable to Scipio, and eventually told Hannibal the Carthaginians “must submit [them]selves and [their] country to us (The Romans) unconditionally, or conquer us in the field.” Hannibal chose to attempt the latter.

Scipio had also been studying Hannibal’s techniques for years. “Having been at Cannae,” He knew most of Hannibal’s tricks, and was able to “trump [him] with a few minor adjustments.” Having seen the use of war elephants before, he knew how to counter them in a battle. After they were taken care of, he used Hannibal’s own “battle strategy from Trebbia and Cannae” (Billau) to defeat him. One might say that he had been gathering intelligence for fourteen years, and it served him well.

Charlotte Mary Yonge, 1880, Hannibal and Scipio meet to discuss terms.




“Battle of Zama.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 09 Dec  2011. Web. 16 Feb 2012. <;.

Billau, Daneta, and Donald Graczyk. “Hannibal: The Father of Strategy Reconsidered.” Comparative Strategy. 22.4 (2003): 335. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.

Polybius. Evelyn S. Shuckburgh. Translator. Histories. London: Bloomington, 1962. Web. <;.

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by | February 16, 2012 · 11:27 pm

Roman Military Tech at the Battle of Zama

The Battle of Zama was fought in October of 202 b.c.e. which was the deciding battle in the Second Punic war and brought Carthage under Roman control. The battle was fought in North Africa near Carthage. The forces involved were Hannibal and his 51,000 troops and 80 war elephants for Carthage against Scipio Africanus and his 40,000 Roman soldiers. The battle was a decisive victory for the Romans with casualties on the Carthaginian side over 20,000 and the same number captured. The Roman force suffered 5,500 casualties in comparison. (Wikipedia)

The military technology used at this time was the standard load-out for the Romans. From the Archeological and Documentary evidence found for this time period the following weapons and armor are assumed to have been used by the Romans:

Gladius Hispaniensis: The basic short sword used by the Romans that was adopted from Spain.

Gladius Hispaniensis

Pila: The throwing weapon of choice for Legionaries.


Pugio: The dagger that was the fallback weapon when all else had failed.

Also used at this time was Artillery that threw heavy pieces of debris or other pieces of material. The exact information regarding the artillery pieces are sketchy at best due to the lack of physical evidence to verify what they did exactly. The artillery was constructed with information gathered from Defectors from the Greek forces of the time thus enabling the Romans tech without the pain of trial and error. (Bishop)

The standard armor kit for the Roman soldiers at this point was a Chain or Ring Mail. This was light enough for desert campaigning while also providing the protection needed for close combat. The last piece of protective equipment that was used was the Scutum, or large shield that provided the protection needed to wage war in the Phalanx formations that Romans favored. (Zhmodikov)

Possibly the most telling information we have regarding the military tech of this time is summed up in the following statement:

“Our ignorance of the equipment and garb of Republican Soldiers is almost total: for not only is the archaeological evidence lacking, but also there is hardly any representational material to help fill the gaps.” (Bishop)


Works Cited

Bishop, M.C. Roman Military Equipment: from the Punic Wars to the fall of Rome. Oxbow: Oxford, 2006. Print.

Wikipedia. Battle of Zama. February 2012. Web. February 2012.

Zhmodikov, Alexander. Roman Republican Heavy Infantrymen in Battle. Verlag, 2000. Web.



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Logistics of Alexander the Great: Fleet as Troop-Transport

The coastline of the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf from the Indus River (far right) to Susa (top left). The markers indicate known or possible areas noted by Nearchus. Image copied from “Nearchus” page at

When Alexander the Great’s troops refused to continue on the Indian campaign, Alexander ordered a fleet built on the Indus river and appointed Nearchus as its admiral. The voyage of the fleet began in September 326 BC (Lendering) and ended at Susa in early 324 (Wikipedia contributors). Along the way, they fought various “barbarian” tribes living along the coast (Arrian, Indica).

The fleet consisted of 800 ships, consisting of “ships of war, merchantmen and horse transports, besides others carrying provisions as well as troops” (Arrian, Indica, 363). Nearchus’ fleet ferried about 1/6th of Alexander’s soldiers: 17,000 – 20,000 men total (Lendering).

They had to sail very close to the coast in order to find fresh water and food, sometimes stolen from the barbarians they fought, sometimes left for them by Alexander and his troops marching inland (Arrian, Campaigns, 256). Before Nearchus set out, Alexander took some ships down both arms of the Indus river to see which would be easier to sail down. He set down garrisons of grain and supplies and dug wells along the Eastern fork, though according to J. R. Hamilton, Nearchus most likely ended up going down the Western branch (perhaps forced by the barbarian attacks) (503).

Some of the fleet was lost to the summer monsoons, a few more ships lost to squalls as they were travelling, and sometimes men were lost in the fights with the coastal barbarians. Though there were a few losses, most of the fleet arrived safely in Susa, where they met with Alexander and the surviving troops and the navy had a great celebration (Arrian, Indica, 429).


Works Cited


Arrian. Arrian II: Anabasis of Alexander, Books V-VII. Indica. Trans. P.A. Brunt. Ed. G.P. Goold. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983. Print.

Arrian. The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander. Trans. Pamela Mensch. Ed. James Romm. New York: Pantheon Books, 2010. Print.

Hamilton, J.R. “The Start of Nearchus’ Voyage.” Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte 43.4 (1994): 501-504.

Lendering, Jona. “Nearchus.” Livius. Livius.Org, 2009. Rev. 1 Jan. 2009. Web. 9 Feb. 2012. <;

Wikipedia contributors. “Nearchus.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 11 Jan. 2012. Web. 9 Feb. 2012.

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Alexander and the Animal Train

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.


Works Cited

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


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The Women and Changes of Alexander the Great

From the moment that Alexander III of Macedonia was born, he was born into a world that was for his taking. After the death of his father, Philip, Alexander started his rein to take over the world in 336 BCE and would keep going until his death in the summer of 323 BCE. Alexander had to “reaffirm Macedonian power in Greece, Alexander defeated Persian forces in a first battle at the River Grancius in northern Asia minor.” (Brosius, 31)

The problem that Alexander faced, that may have been even more difficult than trying to rule the world, was that Alexander had to win over the countries he had invaded. Alexander took prisoners of war such as noble men and women, and made them a part of his court in order to understand the culture of the Persians. One of whom was Barsine. “Alexander, esteeming it more kingly to govern himself than to conquer his enemies, sought no intimacy with any one of them, nor indeed with any other women before marriage, except Barsine, Memnon’s widow, who was taken prisoner at Damascus.” (Plutarch, Life of Alexander, 21.7-9) Alexander knew that he had to get married in order to win the heart of the Persians and to better communicate with them, but Barsine did not cut it. She was too “Greek” and European, and not Persian enough. Though being a noblewoman, he could not take the risk. The picture below is of what the Persian noblewoman looked like. (Livius)

This had led to Alexander falling in love with Roxane (Roshanak). She was a prisoner of war at the young age of sixteen and Arrian wrote “Alexander fell in love with her at sight; but, captive though she was, he refused, for all his passion, to force her to his will, and condescended to marry her.” Ultimately, Roxane was Alexander’s first official wife even though he had a child with Barsine.

With falling in love with Roxane, Alexander fell in love with Persian culture. The most prestigious interesting thing that the Persians did that the members of Alexander’s court from Macedonia loathed was “Proskynesis.” “When the Persians meet one another in the roads, you can see whether those who meet are of equal rank. For instead of greeting by words, they kiss each other on the mouth; but if one of them is inferior to the other, they kiss one another on the cheeks, and if one is of much less noble rank than the other, he falls down before him and worships him.” [Herodotus, Histories 1.134] Alexander started to use proskynesis and his followers did not believe that he was losing his heritage, as pride was a huge issue for the Macedonians. However, Alexander believed that to rule over the Persians, he had to change himself and his people and have a good medium. He thus forced many of his soliders to marry Persian woman after he had concurred another part of the Persian empire.



Works Citied:

Brosius, Maria. The Persians: An introduction. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Primary Source: Herdotus, Arrian, Pulrach

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Feeding the 5,000 (A Dozen Times Over)

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.



Following water and skirting around deserts to ease the way



Works Cited


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–.

Plutarch. (1936). De Fortuna Alexandri. IV, Loeb Classical Library edition. Retrieved February 08, 2012, from*/1.html

Van Mieghem, Timothy. “Logistics Lessons From.” Quality Progress. Jan 1998: n. page. Web. 9 Feb. 2012.


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