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Why did the Roman Empire grow so much?

Charismatic leadership. Political system. Law. Tax. Military. There are many reasons to be considered. Yet, we also have to discuss the “logistics.”

What did the Roman logistics look like? Nanami Shiono mentioned it as just like Toyota’s Just In Time system.

The Latin word “Logisticus” originates from the Greek word for “Logic.” Then, it connected with calculations. In the Roman military, every legate had two high-level staff. One was responsible for the accounting, the other for the base or the operations. At least initially, the word “logistics” was tied to logic and calculations.

When we talk about the logistics of the Roman Empire, we must talk about the road. “All roads lead to Rome.” Very famous jargon. But the Roman network of roads didn’t just connect to Rome, the capital. Instead, the road connected everywhere. This network of roads allowed the military to move around fast. This allowed the Romans to keep a relatively small military. Despite its territory covering a significant area of Europe, the Middle East, and northern Africa, the military never held more than 200,000 soldiers. The current city of Rome has more police. (Of cause, the work is different.)

The roads were carefully engineered and constructed. It has multi-layers of sand, stones, and cement. They tried to be as straight as they could be. And they build bridges to cross a river. These constructions were done with the highest level of engineering. The fact that they still exist around their former territories after centuries explains how well-engineered these things are. The concrete the Romans were using was better than what we use today. It has a self-healing functionality. On top of the road, vehicles with wheels moved around. Some wheels use metals for protection. It caused horrible noise issues, and Romans in the city woke up to this noise. The noise issue of the city never changes.

On top of these highly engineered roads, the Romans placed a high honor on their maintenance of it. The road usually gets its name from the sponsor or the politician who implemented it. But those who provided additional maintenance were captured in the monuments. There were positions inside the government that was responsible for maintenance.

So how was the thing actually operating?

To understand, I read the stories of Hadrian.

Hadrian is the 14th emperor of the Roman Empire. He is also the third emperor of the “Five Good Emperors.”

During his reign, he spent more than half of the time traveling around the territory. He was called the “traveling emperor.” In some locations, the trip was necessary since there was a problem. Other, he came to “shake up” things.

It was common for him to see the training of the military. The Roman training wasn’t just training. There were casualties. Yet, he visited those training to ensure the military was up to the expected level. And during such training, the emperor stayed in a similar tent (he had his private tent) and ate the same food. After such training, he would visit the backyard, first to the hospital. The hospital was open to the locals.

One of his big nemeses during the trip was “warehouses”!!! There was a tendency for the frontline to store things like food and weapons in fear of shortage. Yet, the truth was that most stored stuff was useless at the time of use. Swords get rusted. Food and arrows got rotten. For such reasons, Hadrian hated the warehouse. Instead, he focused on creating a network of the supply chain. They contracted with a local supplier to deliver food and weapons. The contract included the aspect of quality. Any items below the agreed standard were rejected. Another nickname for Hadrian was “Efficiency driving devil.”

Was Hadrian unique or typical for the Romans? It is hard to say. Most generals have experience in managing operations early in their careers. They had to think about the “flow” all the time. They had to guard a long defense line with few soldiers. They had to send information quickly. They knew that flowing water was clean and healthy (and it was the army’s responsibility to provide clean water). They cared about the flow of money. Besieged in a castle was not their strategy.

Of course, the Roman Empire and TPS have very little in common. But I love how Shiono summarized how she observed what these two were doing.

People come up with similar policies when they set similar objectives and determinations.

- Nanami Shiono

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