Nowadays, water-bottles, aka canteens, are routinely issued to soldiers who serve in warm climates.

Was it the case in ancient times? In the Middle Ages?

The case I have in mind is the Battle of Hattin where the lack of water was one of the reasons for the Crusaders' defeat. Counterfactually thinking, had they brought along water-bottles, the outcome could have been vastly different. It has always puzzled me that they seemingly neglected this, since after almost 90 years in the East, they should have grasped by then the importance of carrying some water with you. Can anyone shed light on this issue?

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    I think you are greatly underestimating the Crusaders' need for water. Sure, each one of them could (and probably did) carry a waterskin that could last them a day or two, but how about (for example) their horses? Typically a horse needs (minimum) a half gallon of water per 100 pounds of body weight daily. Also, waterskins (in some form or another) have been in use since at least as early as 3000 BC.
    – yannis
    Dec 3, 2012 at 12:31

1 Answer 1


According to "Logistics of Warfare in the Crusades", Ibn Battuta noted the use of personal water-skins in the ninth century:

People had the organizational skills and means to equip armies for crossing deserts and some glimpses of how this was done can be gleaned from Ibn Battuta, probably the only author to pay attention to such problems. Although he described in his travels a pilgrim caravan to Arabia in the fourteenth century, the experience gained in organizing and leading pilgrims was applicable to military purposes also and certainly the water vessels would have been identical. Animals were watered by pouring water into a large container made of buffalo hides so that a number of camels could drink at the same time. Water was stored in what Ibn Battuta called "large waterbags and ordinary water skins" carried on camels. During one Abbasid campaign in the ninth century, ka'k and water skins were supplied to frontline troops by a special support corps and a personal water skin became standard equipment for the Fatimid infantry.

The Wikipedia article on Roman military personal equipment suggests that each legionnaire carried a water-skin:

Military pack carried by legionaries. The pack included a number of items suspended from a furca or carrying pole. Items carried in the pack include:

  • Loculus: a leather satchel.
  • Water skin: Roman camps would typically be built near water sources, but each soldier would have to carry his water for the day's march in a waterskin.

So, it appears that at least some armies did issue personal water-skins to their soldiers.

  • Thanks for the nice answer. Follow-up question: is there anything known about the logistics of Saladin's army? Dec 3, 2012 at 17:09
  • @FelixGoldberg I don't know the answer to that. Please feel free to open a separate question though. I'm interested too :) Dec 4, 2012 at 16:13

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