Let's say you're in charge of a group of laborers anywhere from the Iron Age to the Middle Ages.

Your job is to build a dike made of earth, a couple of meters high and presumably about the same width (since the angle of repose of shoveled earth isn't very steep). You have shovels and any other tools of the era.

How many man-days of labor does it take per meter of dike?

Primary sources would be best, but modern reconstructions using historical techniques would be acceptable.

  • Welcome to History @rwallace. Unfortunately, I cannot see how this is related to History. If you want to keep the question open then I suggest making any History aspect that you have in mind clear. – andy256 Apr 13 '15 at 22:19
  • 2
    @rwallace, I've edited the question to try and put it in a historical context. If my edit changed the question too much, feel free to edit it further -- as long as it stays tied to history. – Joe Apr 14 '15 at 2:42

Julius Caesar is alleged to have completed a 25 mile double circumvallation (11 miles inner, 14 miles outer) of Alesia in 30 days, with approximately 50,000 men - though at all times, of course, some of those had to be on guard duty. This circumvallation would have been a 8 foot or so ditch in front of a similar mound, on which a 12-15 foot wooden wall was built, with fortified camps acting as keeps and with towers at regular intervals.

If we assume half the men on guard duty at a time, with 12 hour days, that is

5,280 * 25 = 132,000 feet of fortifications

built in

25,000 * 30 * 12 = 9,000,000 man-hours

or approximately

9,000,000 / 132,000 = 68 

labour-hours per foot of fortifications.

Other than the fortified camps, which would have been assembled initially with materials from the Legionnaires regular pack, all materials would have been manufactured for single use at this one location. Most of the artillery (catapults, mangonels, and such) would likely have come from the Caesar's baggage train. Also the head count is strictly fighting men, and camp followers capable of assisting in the construction might have been an equal number - though none of them would have had to provide guard duty. This provide an upper limit to accompany the lower limit above, of perhaps 200 labour-hours per foot of fortification, giving a estimated range of 65-200 labour hours per foot of fortification.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.