Are there any notable studies of the impacts of ancient battles on civilian populations and the environment outside warfare?

What happened to farms and villages that lie in the path of ancient armies? Were they simply pillaged and burned? Ancient armies must have killed tremendous numbers of wild game.

I know there's no universal policy regarding slash-and-burn tactics, but is much known about the overall impact of ancient military adventures on the environment?

  • 2
    Are you asking if there are any studies of logistics? (your second paragraph). The third paragraph is about "forage". What has your preliminary research shown?
    – MCW
    Jan 22 '18 at 23:45
  • No, I'm not interested in logistics. I just mentioned Napoleon to put things in perspective; I'm interested in the impact Napoleon's army had on the civilian population and the environment as he marched between battles. Jan 22 '18 at 23:53
  • @David Blomberg. I think this is potentially a good question but I'm confused by your references to both Napoleon and ancient times. Your questions, excepting the 2nd para, all refer to ancient times. Suggest you focus on one or the other. Jan 23 '18 at 2:53
  • I edited out Napoleon and focused the question on ancient history. In all periods there were foraging armies, but successful empires such as Imperial Rome built supply networks to ensure their armies could operate at maximum efficiency wherever necessary. Which is also why no armies on the scale of Rome's operated in Europe after Roman logistical organisation disintegrated, and why Chinese armies were relatively massive in the same period.
    – Semaphore
    Jan 23 '18 at 7:26
  • @Lars Bosted - Yes, I should have elaborated. I meant to specify non-mechanized military forces; those that "traveled on their stomach." In that sense, Napoleon was very similar to Alexander the Great. Jan 24 '18 at 0:28

"War is hell." Why do think this expression came to be? Invading armies lived of the land. That is, they pillaged what they needed from the enemy. Two birds with one stroke: every cartload taken from the enemy was a cartload less for the enemy and multiple cartloads that didn't have to come from the motherland. Even Sun Tzu recommends to pillage of the enemy for that reason.

The villagers were left with little or nothing at all. How (and/or: if) they survived wasn't a problem for the invading army. As far as I know there were very little rules with regard to warfare, pillaging or the treatment of prisoners. Some rules were adhered to (ransoming rich POW's) others much less so (churches and temples were often looted anyway).

'The environment' is a fairly new concept. It didn't exist in ancient times. The effect of ancient (Roman, Hunnic and other large armies) were close to zero on the environment. The burning and pillaging didn't last long enough to affect the environment, and the depopulation was (from an environmental point of view) only beneficial for the environment.

Care for wildlife was completely absent in ancient times. The Roman army had hunting on its peacetime roster, to supplement the legionary meal. In ancient times meat was expensive and anything with legs was edible. This was on campaign of much more importance. A few roasted sparrows or slice of badger can liven up your hard tack considerably.

With regard to Napoleon: his logistics were totally incapable of supplying the army, long before Moscow. Even if he had taken the coastal route and took St. Petersburg, where his army could be supplied by sea, that was totally insufficient either. By land towards Moscow: too silly to even speak of. Which makes me wonder why a) he decided to invade anyway and b) why he was/is considered one of the greatest generals of all time. The entire Russian campaign isn't a credit to the man. But that is a very different question.

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    Mostly agree, but regarding expressions: Bellum se ipsum alet is much more fitting for the Q. Jan 23 '18 at 0:51
  • Yes, Napoleon really missed the boat on his invasion of Russia. From what I've read about Alexander the Great, he attempted some equally stupid things, but he was rescued by his own soldiers, who were ready to mutiny. Maybe Napoleon's soldiers were the dumb ones. ;) Jan 24 '18 at 0:30
  • @DavidBlomstrom worst on my list is Hannibal. During his march through the Alps, his men worried about avalanches. "Nothing to worry about!" said the great Hannibal. Stamped his feet on the ground. And .... caused a massive avalanche. The avalanche killed half his army + most of his elephants and his chance to win the war.
    – Jos
    Jan 24 '18 at 1:56
  • @Jos - Wow, I never heard that story before. However, I take issue with the claim that Hannibal CAUSED the avalanche. I know a little about avalanche seminar in Alaska one year. A person standing on a mountain slope can cause an avalanche, but there's no way a person down on the ground with his elephants is going to start an avalanche. Jan 25 '18 at 0:58
  • @Jos - I checked out your story and learned that they were actually on a slope, which would make the story plausible. I'm still a little suspicious, though. I think Hannibal lost a lot of troops and animals to attrition - falls, small rock slides and avalanches and attacks by mountain tribes. I wonder if the mega-avalanche story is well documented or supported. Jan 25 '18 at 1:11

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