A race of pseudo-humans army must plan a system of rations for a long campaign on a faraway land in which they cannot rely on foraging. The campaign’s expected to last somewhere between a few months to a couple of years.

Here are the details of the army:

  1. It numbers around 50.000 men, all will leave the country, leaving its defense in the hands of a separate defense force.

  2. It’s divided into brigades of 5.000, regiments of 1.600, and battalions of 500. There are many types of smaller divisions but they’re dismissible in this question.

  3. 2/3 of it is infantry and 1/3 is cavalry (half of it light, the other half heavy).

  4. Horses used by the heavy cavalry are very strong and can carry a lot of weight (aside from armour), but the light-breed cannot afford to carry anymore weight without compromising its speed.

  5. The soldiers’ health is very important to the army for a number of reasons, and must be kept in pristine condition, so they must provide soldiers with the bare minimum healthy intake of vitamins, carbohydrates, etc...

  6. It’s well trained and disciplined.

Details on the race:

  1. Their daily water intake is about two to three times bigger than a human’s.

  2. Aside from water, all other food consumption is similar to a human’s.

Country details:

  1. It’s a producer of limes, lemons, oranges, nuts, corn, potatoes, wheat, pig/cow/chicken/sheep/deer meat, and milk.

  2. Its manpower doesn’t allow it to make available more than 1 auxiliary for every 5 soldiers

  3. Despite having only 16th century technology, they have discovered the bottling and pasteurization/boiling method of food preservation.

So here comes the questions:

  1. How much food (in kg and calories), and what types of food, would the average soldier consume daily?

  2. How could this food be transported without compromising speed, maneuverability, and effectiveness?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ 1 auxiliary for every 20 soldiers does not describe a 16th century army. Even a much more efficient 20th century army with mechanized logistics has almost as many civilian support people as it does soldiers. $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 3:21
  • $\begingroup$ @pojo-guy It’s not meant to be a complete copy of a 16th century army, it has it’s unique traits and limitations, this being one of them. $\endgroup$
    – Jedboo
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 3:22
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You're on the right track recognizing that logistics is the mainstay of victory, But with 16th century tech, and in particular, water consumption at 2x what a human needs, you're going to need some serious quantity of camp followers just to keep them healthy. Historically, it was not unknown for camp followers to outnumber soldiers 2 or 3 to 1. $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 3:36
  • $\begingroup$ @pojo-guy but weren’t many of these followers sutlers or soldiers’ children & wives, instead of actual auxiliaries? The camp auxiliaries I’m talking about would be auxiliaries sanctioned by the state, and trained to follow the army at speeds and tend to it’s needs. Also, this army I’m talking about cannot compromise speed, so likely many of the non-professional camp followers wouldn’t be able to keep up the pace. If you still find it necessary for more professional camp-followers to be made available however, then I will change the number. $\endgroup$
    – Jedboo
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 3:50
  • $\begingroup$ Armies depend on civilian specialists for mundane logistics because they are better at it and less expensive than soldiers. If you want to move food and water at the pace your army is moving, you need teamsters and wainwrights. To keep your army armed and supplied with spare parts, you need blacksmiths, and to keep the blacksmiths fueled you need lumberjacks. To provide raw materials for said smiths, you need more wagons and wainwrights, which means more food and water shipments. One follower for every 20 soldiers is probably not enough to keep your army fed and watered. $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 4:08

5 Answers 5


With 16th century logistics, staying in the field for extended periods of time probably requires extensive foraging / raiding. There is an old adage about an army traveling on it's stomach....

Consider this: if it takes 1 lb of food (ignore calories for now) to feed 1 soldier for one day, then feeding 50 soldiers for 20 days is 1000 lbs of food and water. (This is probably a bit light, but it depends on how much water you need to carry, and water is heavy)

In 20 days, soldiers can probably travel 10 miles a day (possibly more, but lets assume no roads but not terribly rough terrain). How are you going to get the 200 lbs of food the 200 miles you have gone? Horses and wagons, probably. But you now have to feed two horses and the teamster for 20 days. Their food has weight, too. Perhaps they eat a collective 5 lbs of food a day (teamster 1, horses 2 each), so they need to carry an additional 100 lbs of food. Just being in the field for 20 days (not very long), and you have to carry 10% more food just to feed the people carrying food!

This isn't taking into account other things like medicine, special equipment, replacement weapons / ammunition, tools, tents, etc. And the further you go, the more you need to carry with you. The more you carry, the more your teamsters and horses eat. And that's just the start of it...

A 16th century army would have cooks, medics, smiths (blacksmiths, gunsmiths, armorsmiths), navigators, engineers (bridges, forts, siege warfare), teamsters, cart wrights, animal handlers, special troops (archers / gunners, pikemen, cavalry, rangers / scouts), artillery, etc. That doesn't even start to consider non-official army personnel, like prostitutes, soldiers family members, and the king's favorite court jester.

Recruiting and supporting and army is a very costly affair. Modern logistics planners have a number they call the 'teeth to tail' ratio. It measures the number of people in an army that actually go out and fight, versus the number of support personnel. It will be pretty low, perhaps 1:10 for ancient armies, to 1:100 or more for advanced modern armies. (Technology takes a lot of support)

I bet you can find estimates of 'teeth to tail' for all sorts of fighting forces through the centuries if you google that phrase.

For your example, if we use my estimates, the troops alone consume 50000 lb a day, and the cavalry horses another 33000 lb of food and water. Your teamsters are going to have their hands full (and their bellies empty) keeping your army in the field for a year.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Damn, that teeth to tail ratio really is depressing to look at, but thanks for the vital info! $\endgroup$
    – Jedboo
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 12:37

Please refer to a book called Supplying war by Martin van Creveld. There's special part dedicated to water systems in supplying armies.

Two things:

  • For water armies always relied on local sources. In the 16 century it was not only for humans but all animals that went along. And they did bring a lot of them, horses for army, horses for carriages, oxes for carriages and eating. Carrying water for them would greatly pump up carts you need to take with you. So an ox that pull water barrels also drink that water so after few days maybe weeks he would drink all that he pulled. So his effectiveness is zero.
  • Food, This video talks about 18th century rations but also that this rationing stayed the same for 150 years. We can safely assume calories intake didn't changed much as soldiers had to do similar tasks and works in 16th century.

Now, for the $math$ I will take Grunwald Battle Polish Side. We know that in 30 of June army crossed river in Czerwinsk that was 140 km from Grunwald where they fought on 15th July.
The supplies that Polish army had to amass was projected to last for 5 weeks. From start till the planned attack on Malbork.
The crossing army consisted of 18 thousand of cavalry, 4 thousand of infantry, around 30 cannon and 8 thousand supply carts. Now you have 8 thousand carts. Even if you split that number by two (so two cart linked together) you end up with 4 thousand carters and 8 thousand draft animals.
26 thousand men
26 thousand animals

Totally ignoring fact that one knight could have up to 10 people serving him. So, ignoring the fact that we know that army did hunt and gather while they were moving AND assuming that animals eat grass that grow along the way.
We end up with 8 thousand carts for 26 thousand people for 5 weeks.
That means 4 carts was enough for 15 people.

Now we arrive at speed, maneuverability and effectiveness. Look at the start of math sections. 14 days to traverse 140 kilometres. 10km a day and it was a speed where whole army was traveling at once so supplies won't lag behind and enemy won't have the opportunity to attack and destroy it.


Food Quality Was lower

I needed about 4500 to 5000 calories a day when marching long distance under heavy load, or engaged in combat. Under pressure you can subsist off of as low as 2500 to 3000 per day for a short time but it wears you down, after 3 to 4 weeks at half rations under heavy activity you begin to become combat ineffective. Possibly sooner, varies man to man. An MRE weighed about 1 to 1.5 pounds and contained 1300 to 1500 calories. So I ate 3 per day minimum which equated to 3 to 4.5 pounds of food per day for a total of 3900 to 4500 calories. MREs are heavily vitamin fortified and protein and calorie enriched by artificial means so the food source during my wars were an order of magnitude more efficient that anything a 16th century soldier would have had.

In effect your guys would need to eat more than I did to get the same nutritional value. Canned foods without vitamin and nutrient enrichment is actually far far less in nutritional value than fresh food. Pasteurization breaks down and destroys about half of a foods nutritional value, and it only loses more as it ages. Clear into the early 1900's people didn't understand this and long expeditions still suffered from scurvy because of it. People really didn't understand what caused scurvy until very recently, and it wasn't until the inter-war period following WW1 that artificially enriching food came into use. Today practically everything you eat that isn't fresh has been nutritionally fortified in some way. We don't just have more food today, we have better food. Incredibly better food. I'm not sure how your army will overcome this and keep its 16th century motif going. The only viable solution I have is the one they actually used in the 1600's, pillaging what you can't carry from the local populace.

As for water, I would routinely drink 3 to 5 liters of water per 24 hours while engaged in heavy activity or combat. I have no idea how your alien fellas are going to be supplied with and carry 6 to 10 liters of clean water a day. It compressed my spine 2 inches after 4 years just carrying what I did. Water is heavy, and if its not clean you get sick and can't fight. You can't always rely on local sources since poisoning wells, ponds, streams and rivers is the oldest area denial tactic in history.


The short answer is that the type of campaign you are hoping to represent, was simply not an option for the period described. Most campaigns lasted for three to four months – between the planting- and the harvesting periods. Soldiers were not ‘professional’ as we know today, but in smaller, distributed communities served multiple roles – e.g. also had to help out with the farming activities.

When the army did campaign, their provisions had to be drawn from the surpluses of the farming yield. However, most farming occurred within a framework of feudalism and was subsistent. Surpluses were rare, and had to be supplemented by trade. Therefore, armies on campaigns often suffered hunger (until as late as the Napoleonic era), and this, (along with the related diseases) was the main cause of casualties.

When on campaign, any army of this period would have three sources for provision: what they could take with them, (see previous point), what they could forage, pillage or barter for, and what they could capture from the enemy. The problem is one of planning – it is generally a good idea to know what you are in for, and not plan on capturing enemy stores, so these were mostly a welcome addition to the current. Logistics for water almost exclusively consisted of taking from the rivers and other sources – especially in Europe, with its abundant sources. Fodder for the animals could be supplemented by grazing – not as effective a food source for the beasts, and it required more time for the animals to feed (and large meadows), but it was possible. Soldiers were often paid a stipend to pay for food, and quartering, and when that was not forthcoming, would simply take what they needed. As such, some parts of Europe which suffered the Thirty-Years War still bear the scars (as do those areas of Italy which witnessed Hannibal’s invasion – or so I’m told).

That brings us to the primary source – such provisions that the army could take with them. As other responders have accounted, the army needed a baggage train of waggons – these often exceeded the number of the army itself. However, the baggage train was seldom intended to support the army for the duration of the campaign – these merely served as a first echelon. Many of the campaigns for the period followed the flow of rivers, (or hugged the coast), since boats and barges are more effective at the transportation of large volumes than convoys of waggons (and less susceptible to enemy disruption). These typically served as a second echelon from which the first echelon could draw down on. The third echelon potentially offers you the opportunity to make your story realistic – this consisted of a chain of forts, which were also used as depots. The Romans, for instance, would campaign every year for a few months, every time consolidating their gains by building forts at the logical extremes of the campaign’s progress. Any long range venture can therefore be visualised by the string of mutually supporting forts, each containing its own garrison, and of course, stored provisions. For the next year, the Romans were not required to start the campaign from scratch, (or carry everything with them), but they could pick up where they had left off on the previous campaigning season, thereby push in deeper again into enemy territory for the time available. This, along with their engineering efforts at building roads and bridges, ensured better logistics all along the campaign route, except at the ‘tip of the spear’.

How to make this work for your story? You will need a solution to produce a farming surplus, have a professional army (one not involved in the day-to-day survival of the society), have a ‘river-faring’ tradition, perhaps allow some foraging, perhaps even a set of allies on which you can rely, and finally: a multi-year wars, constantly pushing in deeper, and then consolidating gains with engineering works before the onset of winter.

  • $\begingroup$ You’ve pointed out some important details, but I feel like that you’re not considering that these soldiers might be professionals, and not farmers soldiering in between the planting and havesting, sure the thirty years war hasn’t arrived yet, but feudalism is in shambles. But thanks for all the important info! $\endgroup$
    – Jedboo
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 14:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Jedboo - my response serves to illustrate the actual campaigning considerations for a comparable period, based on the history of warfare. In this section, I disregard military professionalism, since it is a later development. As it may, in my last paragraph, I offer suggestions towards mitigating these in fiction. These suggestions include the need for the army to be professional. $\endgroup$
    – Quintin
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 10:20
  • $\begingroup$ Well, isn’t military professionalism already alive in the 16th century? I understand that most huge armies still had a large degree of non-professionalism, but weren’t most armies composed of professional soldiers by the, or at least professional mercenaries $\endgroup$
    – Jedboo
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 10:25
  • $\begingroup$ The precursors for standing armies were emerging at this time and the importance of mercenaries contributed to that shift in trend. However, the use of mercenaries reflect on the nature of warfare - the 'professional soldier' had to move from war to war in order to ply his trade. There was a debate at the time around mercenaries, given their cost - suggesting the un-palatability of a large standing army. Things were changing, and the 'officer's corps' was particularly fluid, well into the Napoleonic era. I'll double-check for any examples of professional armies of the time. $\endgroup$
    – Quintin
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 12:02
  • $\begingroup$ #2: But if there were any, these would have been the exception. The bottom line for any war-lord is: soldiers eat, and soldiers demand pay. Skimp on either of those, and your own army may switch sides. $\endgroup$
    – Quintin
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 12:06

To attempt to answer the size of the tross. (And not much more...) For humans. As a reference for further deliberations.

A translation of an encyclopedia article1 from 1920 on tross sizes per Swedish Army regulation of 1696 (Warning, some non-English links ahead...):

An infantry regiment2 had 137 orderlies3, 72 company tross boys, 290 officer horses and 104 draught horses (each officer had at least one riding horse).

A cavalry regiment4 had (besides 204 officer horses) 200 "personal draught horses" and 424 "tross clippers" with a personnel of 33 company servants, 157 stable boys, and 200 tross workers (one per 5 riders).

An additional tross with extra food etc could also accompany the regiment aside from the regulated one.

And, for your comment on a "long campaign on a faraway land in which they cannot rely on foraging," the Swedish army invaded Russia, 1 January 1708 to 1 July 1709. Although, the Russians eventually did defeat them.


1: "Nordisk Familjebok", 1920; OCR scan in project Runeberg. Also found on Swedish Wikipedia. There are some Swedish jokes about what Nordisk Familjebok contains, especially with respect to racial profiling etc, so we can only hope the source is in line with encyclopedia objectivity á la 1920...

2: Around the time Karl XII was king (1697-1718) an infantry regiment consisted of 8 companies and 1200 men

3: The exact Swedish term is "kalfaktor", translates to orderly or Batman...

4: This cavalry regiment had 4 companies and 400 men... which suggests a discrepancy with respect to the number of men in a cavalry regiment alluded in the original text (5×200 riders, and 204 officer horses).

  • $\begingroup$ Very informative answer, I didn't even know what a tross was until now. Thank you! $\endgroup$
    – Jedboo
    Commented Apr 17, 2019 at 23:51

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