Caesar's Great Success

Caesar's Great Success

Alexander Merrow, Agostino Von Hassell and Gregory Starace
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
Caesar's Great Success by Alexander Merrow, Agostino Von Hassell and Gregory Starace is subtitled Sustaining the Roman Army on Campaign. I'll be honest - the subtitle sells the book short and there is much more to it.

I found this to be a curiously interesting book. It purports to be about how Julius Caesar fed his legions on campaign, which is the main focus, but this is not the full story. It examines the wider logistic framework that Julius Caesar used, both that already existing when he began his campaigns and those that developed by him and were then expended upon by his successors. It helps very strongly that of the three authors, two are academics and one is a US Marine Corps lieutenant-colonel with much experience of expeditionary warfare. In each area, they know their stuff and walk you through the topics.

Sensibly, one of the opening chapters explains the campaigns that Julius Caesar conducted and these are many and varied: France, the Low Countries, Germany, the Balkans, Spain, Italy and North Africa. This gives a good understanding of the problems that the Romans faced at all levels and subsequent chapters go on to describe the logistic solutions the Romans developed. This covers everything from ensuring that the primary foodstuff (grain) and drink (sour wine – the book will explain more!) was available to the troops, how supply chains were maintained (and secured) all the way from Rome (if necessary) to the individual legionary and how the legions looked after themselves to reduce pressure on the chain behind them...this was a lot more than just going out and gathering nuts and berries as the authors make abundantly clear. Throw in some of the recipes for the food prepared by the legionnaires (and some of them look pretty good) and it is a fascinating read. There is a significant emphasis on the fact that no-one else would be as successful as the Romans in conducting this critical capability until perhaps the British in the American War of Independence in the 1770s.

The authors go on to make a detailed comparison with a modern campaign (Operation TORCH – the Allied invasion of North Africa in World war Two) and the parallels are clear as are some of the fundamental truths that must be observed. The final chapter examines the impact of the Romans in this arena which includes everything from French wine, the merging and blending of various cuisines (which we would now call 'fusion') and how they imported various foods around the empire – it would appear that my love of cheese is in some way due to the Romans!

It may not be everyone's cup of tea but I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Roman history; it explains the strong basis that the Romans built to conduct expeditionary warfare and give themselves freedom at the tactical, operational and strategic level. Students of logistics, both military and civilian, would also benefit from reading it. Finally, anyone with an interest in cooking might also enjoy this; some of the dishes described (and the accompanying recipes) actually look pretty good.

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