[PW] " An Army Marches on Its Stomach "

T.F. Mills phasco at earthlink.net
Fri Dec 30 00:07:32 PST 2016

A few thoughts, but unfortunately not definitive.

The Napoleon attribution (no source) made into Bartlett's some time between the 10th (1919) 
and 13th editions (1955.)  Either Bartlett was originally more reluctant to include unsourced 
attributions, or this particular one had not yet gained enough traction.

Trevor Royle's Dictionary of Military Quotations (1989) repeats the unsourced Napoleon 
attribution, and on the same page gives the similar unsourced Friedrich II attribution (with the 
addition of the snake phrase.)  

Napoleon ranks with other famous men as a great source of misquotes and non-quotes.  The 
practice goes back to ancient times when writers had no restrictions on making up stuff and 
attributing them to greater authorities than themselves.

Shannon Selin includes this quotes in a top ten that Napoleon never said:


suggesting that the closest he came was:

"The basic principle that we must follow in directing the armies of the Republic is this: that 
they must feed themselves on war at the expense of the enemy territory."

and she soures that to:  Ralph Keyes, The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where and When 
(New York, 2006), p. 79.  Keyes goes on to say that Friedrich probably didn't say it either.

My own take is that Napoleon and Friedrich probably would have regarded "an army marches 
on its stomach" as an insultingly banal attribution.   The ancients, like Alexander, knew such 
basic principles.

And yet, few megalomaniacs get to field conquering armies far from home, and that's when a 
cute quote such as this comes into play.  Most armies are for home defence (even if that 
"home" is imperial maintenance), so it is the rare general who must tackle the problem of 
supply and transport over long and unfamiliar distances (at least until the 20th century).  It 
may come as a surprise that supply and transport wasn't generally militarized until the time of 
Napoleon, the task being left to civilians until then.  (Even artillery was civilian until the early 
18th century.)  The British militarized supply and transport in response to early experiences in 
with Napoleon.

As for the serpent mixed metaphor, the origin may be another misquote conflated into the 
Friedrich attribution.  I just had it in hand and then lost it.  Somebody said that an ILL-FED 
army crawls around on its belly like a serpent.

T.F. Mills 
(Colorado, USA)

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