There really is not much written about logistics in the literature of classical Greece. To be honest, there is not an awful lot written about logistics in the entire ancient world. It is not the sort of thing that chroniclers and historians were particularly interested in. On that basis, I suppose, wargamers are their heirs.
I am aware of one or two items of scholarship on the subject. The main resource, which everyone refers to, is D. W. Engels, Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army (Berkeley, UCP, 1978). The problem here is that I have not read it (yet). I will get around to it; the last time I checked it was still in print.
After that, Adrian Goldsworthy has an appendix to The Roman Army at War 100 BC – 200 AD, wherein he discusses how Roman armies managed to survive in the field. I think there are a couple more scholarly (and thus hideously expensive) books available on the subject as well.
Recently, I ran across a paper by J. F. Lazenby entitled ‘Logistics in Classical Greek Warfare (War in History 1 (1) 3-18). He makes a number of interesting observations about logistics and, I suggest, his points are germane until the horse and sail became less important in the supply of armies. In that sense, we can probably treat logistics as more or less the same until, say, the American Civil War when steam power, both on railways and rivers, became useful.
Now, during the Peloponnesian wars, it seems to me, most troop transport over any distance was by ship. Greece is a fairly difficult land to move large bodies of troops across, and if you read Thucydides and Xenophon I think you will find that armies marching over distance was rather a rare thing.
As an aside, I do have a sneaking suspicion that, apart from the one or two big battles, the Peloponnesian wars were largely a process of raiding, devastating crops and nipping off home again before the enemy had time to react. Most of the actions of which so much is made seem to me to have been pointless scraps in muddy fields between a few hundred men. But perhaps Thucydides’ cynicism has infected me.
Anyway, the standard distance for a day’s march was between 10 – 20 miles, although on good roads more could be achieved. Xenophon, on his way to Cunaxa, along good Persian roads and not needing to scout or use guides, managed 18 – 25 miles a day, and could possibly do more for a short period.
Baggage, by which we mean the soldier’s kit, weapons, armour, food, bedding, tents and so on, was carried, some by the soldiers themselves, some by servants and some by pack animals or waggons. The maximum load for a porter would be about 100 pounds. Pack animals could carry about four times as much and waggons, well, it depends on the waggon, but say about 1000 pounds.
Now, of course, this gives us some problems. Firstly, all these porters, pack animals and draft animals have to be fed (and paid, too, but that is a bit of a different problem). Each man additional to the fighting force would still consume the same quantity of food, need bedding and so on. So if, as Goldsworthy suggests, the minimum feed was three pounds of bread and one of meat per day, a single porter can carry sufficient for himself for 25 days, or for himself and the soldier he serves for 12 days.
Of course, pack animals and draft animals could carry much more. A single draft horse could manage food for a man for 100 days, assuming that it could be preserved for that long, or for one hundred men for a day. A waggon, of course, could supply 250 men for a day.
Now, armies tended to be around the ten thousand mark. This would require 40 waggons, or 100 pack horses or 400 servant porters for a day, just for the food. When we look at the problem from this point of view, some of the slowness of movement and the lengthy rests start to make sense. It is, in fact, easier to supply an army in a fixed position from a magazine somewhere in the rear. Teams of 40 waggons or 100 pack horses a day are, in that case, perfectly reasonable. Armies in motion are more difficult to keep in supply.
At this level we can start to believe that, for example, at Plataea, the Spartans had 7 servants per soldier. This, of course, may be reported as it is unusual, but supplying the Greek army on station, as it were, could require significant amounts of servant, slave or helot labour.
Frequently, of course, local markets were set up where the troops could buy food. This, however, required some friendly locals with food to spare, or who were too frightened to resist. This could lead to further problems. An army on the march, or a navy passing by, could not necessarily afford the time to storm cities because they refused to sell food. Furthermore, as the Spartans used to their advantage, an enemy based in a country with no markets had to scatter over a wide area and was, therefore, vulnerable to a surprise attack. (Thucydides 8.95 for an example).
If we add up the time it takes for individuals to buy, prepare, cook and eat food, it is not that surprising that armies tended to move rather slowly. Indeed, in the English Civil War 10 miles a day was regarded as being the average; not much had changed since Xenophon’s day. Even simple breads take an hour or two to make and bake. Only so much can be prepared in advance.
So, while, yes, I am banging on again about logistics, to some extent I do not think I am emphasising them excessively. They had a massive influence on the routes armies took, the speed of movement, the security of the camps and even, as I have observed, on the chances of being surprised and defeated, all as a consequence of the basic need to feed people.
To some extent, then, as wargamers, we ignore logistics at the peril of making our armies live in fantasy worlds where no-one eats.