April 3, 2011

From a Supplyline: 4

Filed under: supplyline — Tags: , — admin @ 6:12 pm

Today I have a little time on my hands. I’ve been enjoying some solitude in the forest adjacent to our castella. From here I can still hear the sounds of our legionaries and cavalry as they come and go from the fort. It’s not true solitude but such as it is, I find it most welcome.
I am sitting on my mess blanket enjoying a jug of wine and find myself wondering about the evolution of Roman supply lines over the decades.
It seems to me that our supply lines started because of the army, we exist because the legions exist. As the army grew and our empire expanded, supply lines grew to support our soldiers and citizens in the provinces.
I find it interesting that now some of the army exist because of us, the supplylines.
I estimate that at least half of the soldiers in our castella are there to work in and protect my supply line. The auxiliary and cavalry travel with each supply convoy as equipment, food and other supplies are moved through.
On return journeys I have the convoys transport our wounded soldiers back for medical treatment or take others home on leave. The convoy also carries military equipment going back to our larger castra murata (walled forts) where they will be repaired by one of our skilled craftsmen.
If we have found rich pasture and foraging the return convoys will carry these provisions back to where they are needed. Along the way the soldiers will fill empty amphorae with water for use back at the castra murata.
I hope you can see that our supply line is very efficient. Whenever I can, I make sure our carts, mules and oxen are carrying loads on each journey they make.
I love my job, planning and organising our supply columns and serving in our army.
I must say, this solitude and wine have been good too, but now I must re-direct my thoughts and make my way back to the castella. I still have some arrangements to make for the supply convoy leaving tomorrow morning, not least because I must go with it and meet up with my general at his camp.

December 12, 2010

From a Supplyline: 3

Filed under: supplyline — Tags: , — admin @ 1:38 pm

My master’s military campaigns are meticulously planned, my role is to plan the routes, time the journeys and keep my customers fully replenished with food and other goods. In this I am ultimately responsible to my Emperor, he pays the soldiers and deducts the cost of supplies from each soldier’s pay. The amount does fluctuate according to the mood of the Emperor and his relationship with the legions, but I have known this levy to be as high as two-thirds of their daily pay.

In large campaigns my supply line relies on 2 main sources. The primary source is the land and surroundings we are moving through and here I obtain food and other supplies from the local people and traders.

For my secondary source I contract with Roman merchants who supply me with goods from many other parts of our empire. These arrive by land, river and sea, some of them before our campaign starts and the remiander through shipping arrangements I make at various points in our campaign.

As I plan the supplies I need at each stage in the campaign I research the potential routes I have been given by my general and find out as much as I can about the geography and conditions of the territories we will travel across. Wherever possible I talk to people who have travelled in these areas to understand the weather patterns, the main crops and the growing and ripening seasons. Our army will go hungry unless we time our marches to coincide as much as possible with crop harvesting seasons.

I have a team of researchers who task it is to find out this information for all parts of our empire and for the lands which surround ours. Enemy spies are everywhere, even in Rome, by having a wide field of interest I hope not to give away any secrets about upcoming events.

Of course, an army on the move doesn’t stay a secret for long. One advantage for me is that word soon spreads among the trading community and enterprising merchants set up supply lines and approach me to buy from them on future contracts.

As we move through different regions our provincial officials and the local people are a vital source. Farmers and traders come to us to sell their crops, they provide fodder for our animals and offer services such the grinding of corn and baking of bread.

You may be surprised to learn that at times during a campaign as much as 70% of the food and supplies our army consumes comes from the large merchants I have already mentioned. These individuals are extremely influential, they are well connected with the Emperor and with the most powerful families in Rome. These large merchants have very well developed supply chains and have established relationships with other merchants and provincial officials throughout our empire.

Extraordinary isn’t it that my supply chain reaches into most parts of the known world.

There are another group of merchants we call “lixae”, these merchants make their living by following the army and selling goods to anyone they can. I find them something of a nuisance and have often suspected that some of them steal my supplies and sell them back to me for a tidy profit! Other than keep my eye out for such practices I find myself unable to do much about them as they have “permission” to travel and trade with us, I can only imagine how much they are indebted to certain individuals in order to receive their permission.

When we are in a hostile area my supply line is always stretched. Supply trains are attacked and the goods they carry can be lost or damaged, our pack animals can be targeted and killed in order to slow us down and with the hope of having our soldiers go hungry. My general may wish to move faster through certain territories and we all go onto short rations to conserve our supplies.

Our progress can be impeded by bad weather, heavy snowfall or rains can maroon us in one area for many days, depleting our food and severely lowering our morale. If the area is sparsely wooded it is particularly bad and the cold gets deep into our bones through the lack of wood for fires to cook food and to keep warm. On such days I find myself longing for the intense summer heat we get at home in the hills close to Rome.

November 21, 2010

From a Supplyline: 2

Filed under: supplyline — Tags: , — admin @ 1:34 pm

I keep my general’s army supplied with food, weapons and other items wherever they go. This isn’t an easy task, our army can cover up to 10 miles a day when they are travelling on our Roman roads and at the end of the day they are tired, hungry and have little tolerance for any breakdown in their supply lines.

I use several modes of road transport in my supply line. The first is the soldiers themselves, they are responsible for their immediate food ration and depending on the circumstances they may be carrying enough grain and other food to last them 3 days together with enough water to last them each a day and a night.

Circumstances in the field can be extreme to say the least, the climate and terrain we are travelling in may substantially alter the design of the supply line and seasonal changes in weather patterns will alter the quantity of food and water we need.

Other modes of road transport available to me are pack mules and oxen teams. Both of these are capable of carrying much larger loads than individual soldiers, and in all truth they have greatly contributed to the success of many of our campaigns. Probably like your transportation assets they come with their own challenges, the biggest of these is their speed, or rather their lack of it when compared to the soldiers.

Roughly speaking the oxen teams can only travel at one quarter of the speed of the contubernium, although that differential is reduced if the soldiers are using pack mule teams to carry their tents and weapons.

A second challenge for us is maintaining these assets. They have their own needs for food and water and can also break down and need replacing.

When I first started to work in supply line the speed differential greatly puzzled me, how could we possibly keep the army adequately supplied when an army cover perhaps 10 miles a day when they are marching and the baggage team could only cover around 3 miles? Surely a recipe for disaster?

Disaster isn’t allowed, it would be the death of me, literally! The answer to running a successful supply line lies in making detailed plans and executing them well and on a timely basis.

I would expect in the decades and centuries to come that these principles will continue to hold good. Those of you reading this journal in some future age will be able to judge the accuracy of my statement, and you may, as you read on, find other similarities between my supply line and yours. I’d certainly like to believe so.

November 12, 2010

From a Supply Line: 1

Filed under: supplyline — Tags: , — admin @ 4:39 am

My customers are unforgiving, they are not the kind of people to be messed with, they want their supply line to give them what they want, where they want it and at the time they want it.

Product availability¬† is the key to my success¬† and ultimately to that of my superior, in fact it may be a matter of life and death, his and mine! The supply line, which I’m in charge of, must be meticulously planned, preferably months in advance, although sometimes I’m only given a few weeks or days notice. Change happens on the fly, the number of customers can be very different from one day to the next and the delivery point can be miles away from where I was told it would be.

The products I procure are a mix of seasonal and standard stock items, my suppliers may be local or overseas and it’s important for my team to recognize that even my local suppliers must change from one month to the next. Procurement is a constant headache and my buyers spend most of their time on the road.

There is no I.T. software to assist me and my transportation assets seem to have a mind of their own!

You see, I am responsible for procurement and logistics for my master who is a most distinguished, successful and capable Roman general. Whether we are in barracks or out on a field campaign I must ensure that our soldiers are adequately supplied and fed, as I mentioned earlier, to fail in my task would not be acceptable, it is a matter of life and death. I hope that you return to these pages soon, I will be sharing some of my supply line stories with you.