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Ancient army numbers
#1
Yes, Herodotus was certainly exaggerating the Persian numbers (bit of an ancient spin doctor methinks :wink: ) Of course even 20,000 would have looked a massive amount to the relatively few holding the pass at Thermopylae. I have read at least a couple of opinions from military logistical experts who feel that the Persian forces would have numbered at the most 60,000-100,000 it is a debatable issue I suppose, but doubtful that we would all ever agree on a set number and even if we did, how could we prove it? :-)
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Mark Hayes

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#2
Logistics in ancient armies is a highly debatable and difficult issue. I also believe that Herodot's numbers are inflated but I think we highly underestimate the logistical capabilities of ancient empires. Xerxes supposedly prepared for this campaign for three whole years (IIRC) and I seriously doubt he would engage in such a campaign without having a serious numerical advantage. The 100,000 men fighting on the Greek side at Plataea and the as many men serving as crews for the fleet are not at all improbable and Xerxes should be able to field much more than that. Actually, there was a very interesting quote I saw somewhere as to why the 100,000 Greeks at Troy should not be discounted as a LOW number because Greece at that time was much poorer than it was at the time the quote was written... And Diodorus also speaks against treating the huge numbers of the Persians armies with disbelief by stating that Asia in those times was much more populous (maybe he is flawed here?) and then bringing as examples as huge numbers amassed in more recent times, which he holds as well attested and uncontested. I think that such a discussion could be very interesting. We could examine and compare examples of what seem to be "ridiculously" inflated numbers and see whether they were indeed possible to amass or not... What I am certain of is a tendency to give very low numbers as global and local populations in ancient times which might be a reason why big numbers (whatever "big" might mean) sound improbable at first sight...
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#3
Quote: The 100,000 men fighting on the Greek side at Plataea and the as many men serving as crews for the fleet are not at all improbable and Xerxes should be able to field much more than that.
[..]
What I am certain of is a tendency to give very low numbers as global and local populations in ancient times which might be a reason why big numbers (whatever "big" might mean) sound improbable at first sight...
The Greeks were close to home and could raise large numbers far more easily than the Persians. Sure, the Persians had a far larger empire to raise soldiers from, but their borders could of could not remain unprotected. Therefore, an expeditionary army of more than a 100.000 would be possible (considering that Darius III mamanged to put 300.000 men in the field at Gaugamela, I think?) but I doubt that it would have been much larger. I don't think the Persians meant to destroy all of Greece and leave a wasteland.

If you look at the losses of the Grande Armee of Napoleon during the summer of 1812 (the winter losses were quite another matter), we can't expect armies of this size to travel such distances without a proper logistical system and not expect dreadful losses. Smaller armies (and I think that, say, 60.000 would still be a fairly large force), would stand a much better cjance of remaining intact.
How large were the largest Roman expeditionary armies?
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#4
A quick aside on military logistics pre-motorised manoeuvre (which brings it's own problems) - Napoleon's problems going into Russia.

Funnily enough, fodder for horses a killer; and you need to include the draught animals as well as the cavalry and remounts. The wastage rates are a bit of an eye opener. It doesn't take too much imagination to extrapolate this information for Xerxes' campaign.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16929522
Moi Watson

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#5
I think that this could be a very entertaining and educating discussion. Maybe we should make of it a new thread?
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#6
Quote:I think that this could be a very entertaining and educating discussion. Maybe we should make of it a new thread?

It certainly would!

More reasons for pet theories and associated pistols at dawn:mrgreen:
Moi Watson

Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, Merlot in one hand, Cigar in the other; body thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming "WOO HOO, what a ride!
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#7
Quote: ...I don't think the Persians meant to destroy all of Greece and leave a wasteland.

If you look at the losses of the Grande Armee of Napoleon during the summer of 1812 (the winter losses were quite another matter), we can't expect armies of this size to travel such distances without a proper logistical system and not expect dreadful losses. Smaller armies (and I think that, say, 60.000 would still be a fairly large force), would stand a much better cjance of remaining intact.
How large were the largest Roman expeditionary armies?

Seems we picked the same comparable example Robert (although mine does refer to the winter campaign). But did both army commanders expect a quick strike and not expect their logistic "tail" to end up wagging the front line dog?
Moi Watson

Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, Merlot in one hand, Cigar in the other; body thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming "WOO HOO, what a ride!
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#8
Quote:I think that this could be a very entertaining and educating discussion. Maybe we should make of it a new thread?
Done! Big Grin
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#9
Quote: Seems we picked the same comparable example Robert (although mine does refer to the winter campaign).
Which is why I chose for the summer losses - until recently I expected these to be moderate, not knowing that he already lost 200.000 men before he even reached Moscow, mostly due to disease and bad logistics.

Quote: ut did both army commanders expect a quick strike and not expect their logistic "tail" to end up wagging the front line dog?
Napoleon expected to confront the enemy, beat him in the field and negotiate terms. This had always been his way, and succesful at that, only the Russians did not play ball. He defeated them but Alexander (what's in a name) simply refused to negotiate. napoleon then simply did not know what to do.

Xerxes' campaign was incomparable to that. He expected to beat every army, take every city or accept their surrender. You can't really compare the 19th c. to the 5thc. BC I think.. :wink:
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Robert Vermaat
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THE CAUSE OF WAR MUST BE JUST
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#10
I will only write one word before I leave, I will catch up tomorrow,

...ships...

this might be the greatest difference between the two endeavors.

Rob, I think you accidentally deleted the whole thread about the Thermopylae film?
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#11
Quote: You can't really compare the 19th c. to the 5thc. BC I think.. :wink:

Well...not sure I agree with that entirely.

There are some very striking differences, but the perhaps the assumptions made by both leaders that they would not face much opposition were their downfall.

A more modern maxim is that no plan survives contact with the enemy and flexibility within the contraints of logistical supply, is a given. Logistics does not stop a strategic plan but it will certainly make an impact on the scheme of manouevre.

And do you really think Xerxes did not expect the Greeks to negotiate an alliance? After all they did not draw him very afr into Greece, they just extended the period of time he probably expected to be there. And a large army would be required as it would become an instant army of occupation.
Moi Watson

Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, Merlot in one hand, Cigar in the other; body thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming "WOO HOO, what a ride!
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#12
Guys let's not forget logistics. No matter what an ancient author says, there is no way some army could defy the simple need for food amd water. Just to give an idea, the average army had at least an equal sized supply train and camp foower trail. Which means 300 thousand would mean 600 thousand individuals. The average individual drinks 2.5-3 liters of water a day, but in southern Europe/Middle east it's likely more. Let's pick 3. So that gives us a whopping 1.8 million liters of water every day. And that's just water. Food - even more. Then include pack animals as well. Factor in the wages of the troops.... Overall, 300 thousand is a highly unrealistic figure to field without modern technology - no matter if it's in the heartlands or not. Not to mention 40 thousand feudal cavalry almost doubling the need for all the horses for each rider, his slaves and personal pack animals - which is irrelevant because most cavalry estates had been located in Cappadocia, Syria and Lydia, which were firmly in Alexander's hands by 330. Even the highest modern estimates don't go over 94 thousand troops at Gaugamela, and that's based on speculation rather than hsrd logistics.

Let alone 1207 triremes - 241'400 sailors, who need supplying, at sea, with little access to resources further than a few kilometers inland. Not to mention the ridiculous expense of building and maintaining such a gargantuan fleet.

p.s. In the case of Persians, their armies couldn't have been too big on principle, because they were composed of a body of Iranian citizens issued land for service, in an early quasi-feudal sustem, supported by auxiliaries (to a certainly exaggerated extent - since the only troops the Greeks engaged were Iranic, during the campaign of 480).
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#13
Moi,

Of course there are a lot of comparable details in armies of the 5th c. BC and the 19th c. AD, but the differences on the other hand are so huge that you really can't compare the essentials of the wars in terms of the goals and the plans.

And before I have to split off yet another thread about Xerxes' goals and plans :wink: let me say that I don't know anything about what Xerxes planned or expected from the Greeks (apart from that I feel that they should have submitted to him after his Grande Armee entered Greek lands), or how he responded during the campaign. Yes, they planned to stick around (as in fact they did), living off the land. And seeing the Persians did not starve, they were probably able to gather suppies within Greece, something I doubt they could have done with an army of 300.000. But that's my guesswork.
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THE CAUSE OF WAR MUST BE JUST
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#14
Exactly. As far as estimations go, Duncan Head has made one for Plataea based on frontage - he came up with about 45 thousand infantry and some cavalry (he speculates 15 thousand but I doubt such high numbers - logistics again).
Real name - Peteris Racinskis
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#15
Each to their own Robert - it's what makes us individuals :wink:

My point really is that due to the enormous logistics required Herodotus' numbers are to be highly questionable which is where we all came in.

So essentially I think we we are agreeing on the main part of the thread and no, I can't tell you what Xerxes was thinking either - no one can. But one can make assumptions and speculate which is half of the fun of this fascinating subject.

Or I think its fun anyway Big Grin
Moi Watson

Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, Merlot in one hand, Cigar in the other; body thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming "WOO HOO, what a ride!
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