An Army Marches On Its Stomach

Napoleon Bonaparte? Frederick the Great? Thomas Carlyle? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Proper logistics are crucial to any successful military campaign. The importance of food supply is highlighted in a well-known aphorism. Here are four versions:

  • An army marches on its stomach.
  • An army marches on its belly.
  • An army travels on its stomach.
  • An army goes upon its belly.

This saying has been ascribed to the famous leaders Napoleon Bonaparte and Frederick the Great. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in the 1858 work “History of Friedrich the Second, Called Frederick the Great” by the prominent philosopher, essayist, and historian Thomas Carlyle. The saying occurred in the description of an unsuccessful military endeavor. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

They were stronger than Turk and Saracen, but not than Hunger and Disease. Leaders did not know then, as our little Friend at Berlin came to know, that “an Army, like a serpent, goes upon its belly.”

The referent “little Friend at Berlin” was ambiguous, but a later volume of this work by Carlyle clearly ascribed the adage to Frederick II, i.e., Frederick the Great.

Frederick II died in 1786 and Napoleon Bonaparte died in 1821. An instance of the aphorism was attributed to Frederick II by 1858 and to Bonaparte by 1862. In each case the long delay reduced the credibility of the linkage.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading An Army Marches On Its Stomach


  1. 1858, History of Friedrich the Second, Called Frederick the Great by Thomas Carlyle, Volume 1, Book 2, Chapter 6: The Teutsch Ritters or Teutonic Order, Quote Page 83, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

The Person Who is Clever and Lazy Qualifies for the Highest Leadership Posts

Helmuth von Moltke the Elder? Erich von Manstein? Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord? Douglas MacArthur? Frederick the Great? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: In self-help books I have repeatedly seen a two-by-two matrix used to evaluate individuals. The four elements in the matrix were labeled: Brilliant & Lazy, Brilliant & Energetic, Dumb & Lazy, and Dumb & Energetic. Curiously, the brilliant and lazy were extolled above all others.

Sometimes a different vocabulary was employed. Brilliant was replaced by smart, bright, clever, or intelligent. Energetic was replaced by industrious or diligent. Dumb was replaced by stupid.

This four-class categorization has been ascribed to several German generals, e.g., Helmuth von Moltke, Erich von Manstein, Carl von Clausewitz, and Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord. Would you please explore the origins of this matrix?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in January 1933 in a periodical called “Army, Navy & Air Force Gazette” based in Great Britain. A passage attributed to German General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord described the placing of officers into four classes.

The text was reprinted under the title “Selecting Officers” in the “United States Naval Institute Proceedings” in March 1933 1 and in the “Review of Military Literature: The Command and General Staff School Quarterly” in September 1933. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

General Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord, the present chief of the German Army, has a method of selecting officers which strikes us as being highly original and peculiarly un-­Prussian. According to Exchange, a Berlin newspaper has printed the following as his answer to a query as to how he judged his officers: “I divide my officers into four classes as follows: The clever, the industrious, the lazy, and the stupid. Each officer always possesses two of these qualities.

Those who are clever and industrious I appoint to the General Staff. Use can under certain circumstances be made of those who are stupid and lazy. The man who is clever and lazy qualifies for the highest leadership posts. He has the requisite nerves and the mental clarity for difficult decisions. But whoever is stupid and industrious must be got rid of, for he is too dangerous.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Person Who is Clever and Lazy Qualifies for the Highest Leadership Posts


  1. 1933 March, United States Naval Institute Proceedings, Professional Notes: January 1 to January 31, Section: Germany: Selecting Officers, Start Page 437, Quote Page 448, The Institute, Annapolis, Maryland. (This document states that the material from “Army, Navy & Air Force Gazette” was published January 19) (Verified on microfilm)
  2. 1933 September, Review of Military Literature: The Command and General Staff School Quarterly, Volume 13, Number 50, Section 1: Abstracts of Foreign-Language Articles, Selection of German Officers, (Excerpt from “Army, Navy & Air Force Gazette” of UK; dated January 18, 1933), Quote Page 23 and 24, Published Quarterly by The Command and General Staff School Library, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. (Special note: QI has not yet seen the issue of “Army, Navy & Air Force Gazette” containing the excerpt; this data is from “Review of Military Literature”) (Verified with scans from Combined Arms Research Library Digital Library)