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Thread: How many miles per day did ancient armies cover when marching?

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    Default How many miles per day did ancient armies cover when marching?

    Specially the most popular ancient armies such as the Romans, the Macedonians, the Carthaginians, etc. When they were in a hurry to get to a particular destination, how many miles per day did they advance at the most?
    Last edited by twgamer20197; April 02, 2021 at 02:23 PM.

  2. #2
    conon394's Avatar hoi polloi
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    Default Re: How many miles per day did ancient armies cover when marching?

    Well with the caveats that you have to consider the terrain, weather and what just how desperate the 'army in question' was...

    For Alexander whole army and all the auxiliary forces you are looking at a range of ~7 to ~19 miles. Now you slim that down to elite troops cutting loose from logistics and on some kind of urgent march Alexander could ~35 miles but not sustained add another 10 if we are talking all cavalry and likely no care about over working the horses. (1.)

    1. Alexander the great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army (pg 145 ff Appendix five)
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    Sir Adrian's Avatar the Imperishable
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    Default Re: How many miles per day did ancient armies cover when marching?

    Iirc a roman legionnaire was expected to be able to march up to 40 kilometers per day
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    Default Re: How many miles per day did ancient armies cover when marching?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sir Adrian View Post
    Iirc a roman legionnaire was expected to be able to march up to 40 kilometers per day
    Was that 40 km a day (25 miles) over Roman roads? I imagine the distance would be less if travel was over rougher ground with no good roads.



    Harold Godwinson marched his army 200 miles, from Stamford Bridge to Hastings,in about a week or about 27 miles per day, but England was well settled by his time, so Harold likely had okay roads to travel by. Over rougher terrain and in poorer weather travel time would be slower.

    Also, if you planned on a long campaign or siege, you likely had a bigger bulkier baggage train slowing your rate of travel.

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    conon394's Avatar hoi polloi
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    Default Re: How many miles per day did ancient armies cover when marching?

    Harold Godwinson
    At that rate one supposes he was requisitioning on the fly from the locals. Not much room for carrying anything you did not need for the fight at the end of the march at that rate.

    baggage train
    Yep now you are down to the slowest oxen/draft horse (or if you are a Mongol at least some times your sheep)
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    Tribunus
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    Default Re: How many miles per day did ancient armies cover when marching?

    In the specific case of Godwinson, I feel as though he probably marched a (semi?-) professional core group of carls up and down the country, and gathered levies closer to each of his battles in 1066. IIRC he actually raised and then stood down the fyrd more than once, as they were needed for harvest.

    As Conon says I think the kings levied supplies and local troops to be assembled at points along the way, the Godwinson system dealt with Tostig and Hadrada so he may have actually cracked the code of how to deal with foreign (by which I mean Danish and other Norse) intervention in the British Isles, its just the Normans came over the top with the third wave of attacks and papal support (which surely abetted Norman rule).
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    conon394's Avatar hoi polloi
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    Default Re: How many miles per day did ancient armies cover when marching?

    papal support (which surely abetted Norman rule)
    Indeed. As I recall reading from a historian I forgot the point was no matter how good the dukes of Burgundy up to Charles the Bold were their ambitions were sort of doomed because they could not get either the Pope or HRE to recognize them as kings of their holding outside of France. They could self gussy up their title of Duke to something grand sounding but... They simply did not get in the in crowd. And of course than one bad timed death left all the tiny pieces up for grabs.
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    But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place; some swearing, some crying for surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left.

    Hyperides of Athens: We know, replied he, that Antipater is good, but we (the Demos of Athens) have no need of a master at present, even a good one.

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    Default Re: How many miles per day did ancient armies cover when marching?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sir Adrian View Post
    Iirc a roman legionnaire was expected to be able to march up to 40 kilometers per day
    40 km (25 miles) a day sounds like an awful lot if that is meant to be sustained over a long time. That is a daily marathon. I doubt that figure greatly in the light of my own military experience, although the Romans moving as a full field army with carriage animals is not comparable to the kind of modern guerilla-style marches in which everything from ammunition to tents, food, and water containers must be carried manually.
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    Jurand of Cracow's Avatar History and gameplay!
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    Default Re: How many miles per day did ancient armies cover when marching?

    I'd say 20 km per day on average for longer periods. In shorter spans, an outburst possible.
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    Default Re: How many miles per day did ancient armies cover when marching?

    To give a reference point, the Finnish military guidelines state that in the moderate load of personal gear (23kg or 50lbs) only while maintaining full combat readiness 15 km (9 miles) a day in terrain is the preferred daily distance and from 20km up to 30km at most in road conditions.

    Increasing the daily distance from the lower end quickly increases the risk of men becoming unable to walk, which can be very detrimental to the unit as a whole. It is hard to say how much the open caliga-style footwear of Roman soldiers in the warmer Mediterranean climate affects as opposed to the modern closed boots in colder climates.
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    conon394's Avatar hoi polloi
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    Default Re: How many miles per day did ancient armies cover when marching?

    Quote Originally Posted by Septentrionalis View Post
    To give a reference point, the Finnish military guidelines state that in the moderate load of personal gear (23kg or 50lbs) only while maintaining full combat readiness 15 km (9 miles) a day in terrain is the preferred daily distance and from 20km up to 30km at most in road conditions.

    Increasing the daily distance from the lower end quickly increases the risk of men becoming unable to walk, which can be very detrimental to the unit as a whole. It is hard to say how much the open caliga-style footwear of Roman soldiers in the warmer Mediterranean climate affects as opposed to the modern closed boots in colder climates.
    Basically the key there.

    It really depends on terrain, who is doing the marching and why. Thus as I noted above Alexanders exceptional marches are singular flying column type events intended to gain surprise.They are not something that falls into sustained. Sir Adrian's number is a high number from a poor Roman source and without context. A bit better is from Vegetius. He provides 20 miles (32 km)(*). But in context he also implies an unencumbered force, building no camp but rather matching to and from fixed garrisons (and presumably on roads). Toss in baggage and the need to say move Triplex Acies (formed for hostile territory and ready to deploy for battle and protecting the baggage) and I'm betting move falls back to something about maybe half to a bit more on average.

    * also note he his doing moralizing thing here as well about great the Romans used back in the days of yore when they marched up hill both ways in the snow kinda thing. But 20 miles does fall in the range of what you might expect from guys on good terrain/roads starting and leaving from well established posts that are well supplied and not in any danger of attack.
    Last edited by conon394; May 09, 2021 at 06:47 AM.
    IN PATROCINIVM SVB Dromikaites

    'One day when I fly with my hands - up down the sky, like a bird'

    But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place; some swearing, some crying for surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left.

    Hyperides of Athens: We know, replied he, that Antipater is good, but we (the Demos of Athens) have no need of a master at present, even a good one.

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    Tribunus
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    Default Re: How many miles per day did ancient armies cover when marching?

    I can't find my old text books with bits from the Arthashastra, I think Kautilya realistically thought a typical classical (and this probably holds true for the medieval armies too) could move about 10-16 km a day tops, what with the various arms (ranging from chariots to elephants to more familiar arms like cavalry and infantry), their status ("nobles" high caste and wealthier individuals could campaign with enormous retinues), army sizes (I think the wealth anfd administrative sophistication meant some Indian states could assemble impressive forces) and varying terrain.

    From memory I think the French advisors who fought Clive of India mention something similar but thats a vague flicker of a memory.
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    Default Re: How many miles per day did ancient armies cover when marching?

    Quote Originally Posted by conon394 View Post
    Basically the key there.

    It really depends on terrain, who is doing the marching and why. Thus as I noted above Alexanders exceptional marches are singular flying column type events intended to gain surprise.They are not something that falls into sustained. Sir Adrian's number is a high number from a poor Roman source and without context. A bit better is from Vegetius. He provides 20 miles (32 km)(*). But in context he also implies an unencumbered force, building no camp but rather matching to and from fixed garrisons (and presumably on roads). Toss in baggage and the need to say move Triplex Acies (formed for hostile territory and ready to deploy for battle and protecting the baggage) and I'm betting move falls back to something about maybe half to a bit more on average.

    * also note he his doing moralizing thing here as well about great the Romans used back in the days of yore when they marched up hill both ways in the snow kinda thing. But 20 miles does fall in the range of what you might expect from guys on good terrain/roads starting and leaving from well established posts that are well supplied and not in any danger of attack.
    If Harold's army could manage 27 miles a day for a week in friendly territory, and we know from history it did, I can imagine the Romans could as well under the same circumstances.

    At a normal walking pace of 3 miles an hour, walking 24 miles would take 8 hours. That leaves about 2 hours to take down the camp in the morning and 2 hours to set up camp in the evening while still in daylight, and 12 hours of sleep and rest between. Could experience troops set up a simple camp in 2 hours or take it down? I think they could, if they didn't have to worry about being attacked.

    If the weather was good, soldiers could sleep out in the open. Romans used mules to carry supplies which could walk 27 miles and keep up. Not sure is they could keep up that pace if they had to carry all their own food supply, but in friendly territory you could requisition supplies.



    If you are carrying siege equipment and more supplies, and using oxen, your pace will be slower. Laden ox I read travel only as slow as 1 mile per hour.

    I read where Polish cavalry went on 50 mile raids, so I imagine a cavalry force could travel more than 25 miles a day, though feeding the horses would be more of an issue for a longer march.
    Last edited by Common Soldier; May 11, 2021 at 09:46 PM.

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    Default Re: How many miles per day did ancient armies cover when marching?

    Quote Originally Posted by Septentrionalis View Post
    To give a reference point, the Finnish military guidelines state that in the moderate load of personal gear (23kg or 50lbs) only while maintaining full combat readiness 15 km (9 miles) a day in terrain is the preferred daily distance and from 20km up to 30km at most in road conditions.

    Increasing the daily distance from the lower end quickly increases the risk of men becoming unable to walk, which can be very detrimental to the unit as a whole. It is hard to say how much the open caliga-style footwear of Roman soldiers in the warmer Mediterranean climate affects as opposed to the modern closed boots in colder climates.
    Modern combat soldiers often carry more weight they ancient soldiers of the past, what with their weapons, ammunition, and other gear. Modern combat soldiers can carry up to 90 lbs. Roman troops likely carried less weight than that. As I said, Harold's did 27 miles a day for a week, and fought a hard battle at the end of that march.
    The 30 km per day on roads for a modern soldier seems rather short compared to what we have historical armies actually doing, but that is no doubt having the modern soldier carrying all their own supplies, which the ancient soldier might not have been. If you are just carrying a helmet, shield, spear and sword, your combat gear probably weighs less than a modern soldier's combat gear.

  15. #15

    Default Re: How many miles per day did ancient armies cover when marching?

    Quote Originally Posted by Common Soldier View Post
    Modern combat soldiers often carry more weight they ancient soldiers of the past, what with their weapons, ammunition, and other gear. Modern combat soldiers can carry up to 90 lbs. Roman troops likely carried less weight than that. As I said, Harold's did 27 miles a day for a week, and fought a hard battle at the end of that march.
    The 30 km per day on roads for a modern soldier seems rather short compared to what we have historical armies actually doing, but that is no doubt having the modern soldier carrying all their own supplies, which the ancient soldier might not have been. If you are just carrying a helmet, shield, spear and sword, your combat gear probably weighs less than a modern soldier's combat gear.

    Do you imply modern soldiers have a better level of fitness than the ancient Roman legionaries?

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    Jurand of Cracow's Avatar History and gameplay!
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    Default Re: How many miles per day did ancient armies cover when marching?

    Quote Originally Posted by twgamer20197 View Post
    Do you imply modern soldiers have a better level of fitness than the ancient Roman legionaries?
    I think they do. They're problably not exactly comparable to the chickens but the food today is quite different than it was in the past.

  17. #17

    Default Re: How many miles per day did ancient armies cover when marching?

    I think that there is some confusion here about ancient sources stating what distance a Roman legionary should be able to cover (thanks Conon394 and Cyclops for corroborating information) and what is a realistic sustained marching distance. Modern armies have very similar expectations for a single forced march, but none that I have heard of expect that sort of output as a sustained daily march even for elite units. There is just too much wear and tear.

    I challenge you to pick up a load of 30kg and walk 30km, then spend the evening building a campsite and all the guard posts et cetera, and then walk the same distance the next day. And the day after. It may be feasible to you if you are a special individual, but you have to remember that it has to be feasible to everyone in a large unit. I have done some 32km in that load once when I was a young man, and my feet hurt so much in the end that every step felt like being hit on the bottom of my foot. And I was in the officer school, having been selected for tougher training than the regular "legionaries", if you will.

    The Romans may have had carriages for those who become unable to walk. Most modern militaries do not in circumstances of not having motorized transport to begin with. And the leaders have to make sure that no one is left on the way. As an officer, I would never even attempt to have my men march a sustained 30km a day in full kit.
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    Tribunus
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    Default Re: How many miles per day did ancient armies cover when marching?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jurand of Cracow View Post
    I think they do. They're problably not exactly comparable to the chickens but the food today is quite different than it was in the past.
    This is a whole other can of worms. My old dad used to insist the medieval peasant had to "push five drunken bums out of the way just to get out of bed" and walk everywhere, and for fitness your average ancient or medieval person would be twice as fit as a lazy sedentary modern person. They weren't immortal gods though, they broke and became cripples and died like flies because life was so hard.

    He had some kind of point. Despite lower population (density and absolute) ancient societies generally had more human capital than resources. This is part of the reason Romans used slaves for mining or professional rowers for galleys (occasionally slaves too) even when they theoretically had the tech to build steam engines. Military manpower was more scarce but generals were still happy to spend the lives of their men: there was natural selection happening on the hoof in the armies of the era.

    If you walk or ride everywhere from birth instead of being driven you build solid aerobic fitness. One example would be sherpas in the Himalayas who despite being on average barely two thirds the weight of their European guests lug heavier loads up mountains, and they do this for a living.

    https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsan...so-much-weight

    You could argue about specific phenotypes etc but in the west the current generations are the product of a century of unrivalled medical care, wealth and indolence. US Civil War photos show lined strained faces that look un-American to me because they are so wasted and battered, but they were normal then. The current generation does not look or exercise like most of our ancestors had to.

    So I think there was an expectation that soldiers in the past would consistently perform at a level we would consider extreme because they were raised and trained to a different level, and there was less concern for injury and loss of life, especially among the infantry.
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    Morticia Iunia Bruti's Avatar Praepositus
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    Default Re: How many miles per day did ancient armies cover when marching?

    But are this not modern expectations?

    People thought medieval people had less problems with cancer, but the opposite is the case:

    https://www.theguardian.com/society/...earch-suggests

    Were they really fitter or is that our expectation of the "ancient golden age" or was the average proletarian, who lived from public grain mostly and spent his time in the Colosseum not like our today TV armchair fatty?
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    Tribunus
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    Default Re: How many miles per day did ancient armies cover when marching?

    Quote Originally Posted by Morticia Iunia Bruti View Post
    But are this not modern expectations?

    People thought medieval people had less problems with cancer, but the opposite is the case:

    https://www.theguardian.com/society/...earch-suggests

    Were they really fitter or is that our expectation of the "ancient golden age" or was the average proletarian, who lived from public grain mostly and spent his time in the Colosseum not like our today TV armchair fatty?
    Well as I say its a complex question but in short I think they usually walked more and usually died younger. So they were probably more inured to painful marching than most moderns and their commanders were less careful of their health, hence its likely past soldiers marched further than some modern troops might be expected to.

    There are always outliers. In my youth I holidayed with families in the Otway districts of my home state and sometimes we spied Cliff Young, a weird local farmer who would shuffle about in his gumboots. He'd shuffle down the road to a funeral in Colac. In his gumboots. Thats about 50 kilometres. Each way. In one day.

    Oh and he beat 6 professionals in an ultra marathon from Sydney to Melbourne, when he was over 60 years old, by running the entire way without sleeping. It took him five days and its about 900 km.

    Apologies for posting a wiki link but its a handy round up. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cliff_Young_(athlete)

    People think the stories about the Silver Shields and/or hypaspists serving past the age of 60 are unlikely but I just think of Cliff Young.
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