Strangely enough, this is the only book ever (at least to my knowledge) presenting a serious study of the logistics related to such an extensive campaign as Alexander’s conquests of Asia. We take his expeditions for granted as he moves from one battlefield to the next and from one city or fortress to the next one, but there is so much more involved! In his Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army (ISBN 0520042727), Donald Engels underlines a considerable amount of facts and figures to make you look at it all from a very different angle.
As he takes his reader treading in Alexander’s footsteps, Engels makes me discover what true preparations for such campaigns meant – and I’m certainly not the only one!
I had no idea for instance, that Alexander would plan to cross to Asia at the right time of the year to reap the upcoming harvest in order to get enough food for his men and fodder for his horses and pack animals. Engels calculated the daily quantity of food and water each man needed, based on thorough analysis made by the American Army, and he did the same for the pack animals and the horses. If you multiply those quantities by the number of men and beasts, multiplied by the number of days such provisions should last, you obtain unbelievable figures!
I had no idea that horses definitely needed a full day rest after trudging on for four, maximum five days! Unlike us human being, they cannot go on day after day.
I had no idea that when Alexander split up his forces during the winter months (for instance between Gordion and Lycia in 334-333 BC, or between Bactra, Maracanda (today's Samarkand) and Nautaca in 328-327 BC) the main thought behind this decision was to make sure there was enough forage for man and beast.
I had no idea that timing was so basically tributary of the terrain. One example is when Alexander has to retrace his steps across the Pillars of Jonah Pass because the Persian King Darius showed up in his back near Issus. Engels has figured out that at its narrowest part the pass would allow only two cavalry horses or four infantrymen to march through at the same time. Setting a pace of one such entity per second, multiplied by the number of troops, he manages to produce an irrefutable timetable. An amazing conclusion when you read that Alexander fanned his troops out almost immediately to be in place to face the Persian army!
And finally, I had no idea how accurate Alexander’s bematists were. They are rarely mentioned in any history book but it is beyond believe to read how precise their step counts even over long distances were, matching almost exactly today’s equivalent in English miles.
As a matter of course, Donald Engels consulted ancient authors like Arrian, Plutarch, Diodorus, Curtius, and many modern writers. Interestingly, he also consulted the notes and topographic maps made by the English when they crisscrossed the regions of Afghanistan and India for instance. The location and usage of old Royal Persian Roads and the ancient Silk Road are other precious assets.
This all means that in the end, Engels is able to retell Alexander’s conquests based on all the facts that he collected from these different sources, which he analyzed and translated into practical figures leading to a practical day by day progress of the king’s troops! A titanic job, but a very rewarding one!
He shares his theories and mathematics with the reader in many additional comparative tables, including an analysis of Alexander’s troops at different times of his conquests. Detailed local maps further clarify the king’s march through fertile valleys, skirting deserts and crossing mountain ranges towards newly founded Alexandria’s. A few Appendixes provide extra information about food rations, the battlefield of Issus, the horrible march through the Gedrosian desert, etc.
For those who really want to take a closer look at the genius of Alexander, this is the book to read!