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Ancient army numbers
#31
As I have often said, I am of those few who seem to sometimes be stubbornly reluctant to dismiss the accounts of the ancients with a light heart. I think that we seem to greatly underestimate their capabilities. Contrary to common belief, the abundance of supplies, manpower, the organization and technical sophistication displayed were surpassed only until late into the Renaissance, where, though, political fragmentation made campaigns rather limited in many aspects. I may be wrong, of course, I do not claim expertise on the matter not having studied the matter in depth and I more or less have a formed opinion rested on evidence and studies I have picked up when studying other aspects of warfare, although I have read the occasional studies on logistics that fell into my hands too.

Anyways... It is true that a huge army needs huge amounts of supplies. The foraging parties are only able to gather a limited amount of food as is the capability of supplies ensured by allies. Yet, the common calculation of maximum days a force can remain unsupplied if carrying its own supplies only applies when the campaign is landbound and no ships are used. When ships could be employed, this capability was greatly expanded. How greatly is another question.

Yet, regarding Xerxes' invasion of Greece, I can hardly agree with many of the modern estimates.

1. First, Persia was indeed a vast empire and its resources could easily ensure supplies to even feed the full maximum of 5,000,000 soldiers and followers over the whole length of the campaign (and I do not maintain that as many people ever made it to Athens). Whatever the force gathered by Xerxes, these men would anyways have needed supplies even if garrisoned in forts or cities. So, this should not be a question of whether abundant resources were available but whether they could be stored and forwarded to the troops and followers instead.

2. The next question has to do with whether Xerxes could indeed have fielded such a great host. 2,5 mil men would form a healthy 10% of a total of 25 mil or the 5% of a total of 50 mil. The latter is one of the estimations I have read regarding the population of the Achaemenid Empire, although to me it sounds pretty conservative. I think that scholars seem to greatly underestimate ancient populations, which I personally deem much greater than those in medieval times, of which we have more evidence. The Byzantines often complained that their population was much lower than this of the ancients. The Greeks complained that certain barbarian peoples were a lot more populous than they were while their population was quite considerable according to the sources. I also believe that 2.5 million is too much, not because they would be impossible to muster but because there would be no need to do so. The problems that such a force would cause would be greater than those it would solve. Having a part (even the greater part) on standby as reserves ready to move in and take position, man garrisons etc would have made more strategical sense. Yet, when marching against an enemy that had proven so superior some years ago would certainly require a good superiority in numbers. These numbers should be enough to use as garrisons on the way, to conduct siege operations if necessary while the main force would march on and to be used in a major battle against a united Greek army. The 100,000 men at Plataea was only a fragment of the Greek forces and if we accept it we have to add to it even more as crews, a sizable army already sent and operating in Ionia, garrisons, the troops of the Greeks who didn't take part in the battle and those fighting for the Persians, maybe even sizable reinforcements coming from populous Magna Graecia... 300,000 men are but a minimum that comes to my mind, 400,000 or more would be even more probable to me (of course as a total of active forces in all branches of the army). The Persian army should include the navy, 1,200 ships of war do not really sound that much. The cost to build these ships would not be that great, just keep in mind how easy it was for the Athenians or the Romans and the Carthaginians to build many ships in short times, the last two of much greater size. The list given by Herodot is believable and they surely would not march against Greece with a fleet that would not ensure them total superiority in that area, especially when open sea lanes were crucial to supply the army. some 250,000 men alone would be used there plus some 30-50,000 more in the thousands of support ships that would have followed. The importance of fleet superiority is even more evident when Xerxes canceled the campaign while being master of the ruins of Athens, because of this loss. So, Xerxes left and allowed Mardonius to stay and fight with a force that could survive on the existent supply. Would Xerxes ever leave behind a force that would be inferior to the Greeks in number? Even this force should be awe inspiring. The Greeks would now have an excellent morale, would be able to gather as many forces as necessary, they would be familiar to the ground, they would surround the enemy, should the medized Greeks shift sides... Xerxes was forced to leave behind enough forces to secure the loyalty of the medized Greeks as well as scare off the victors of Salamina. Here, the 300,000 troops mentioned by Herodot sound plausible. 200,000 would to me be an absolute minimum. Less, in my opinion, would only incite uneasiness and disloyalty among the northern Greeks who would just shut their gates and come in terms with the Southerners.

In conclusion, I think that about 300,000 men should be accepted as crews and marines. Another 300,000 should be accepted as left behind under Mardonius and another force at least as great should be expected to be sent back with Xerxes (I doubt that the force he left behind would be inferior to that he took with him). These number about 1,000,000 soldiers nor reckoning camp followers, whose number would be really great, at least in the beginning of the campaign (until their supplies and stock would be exhausted and they would just return to the east).

Now, here I only occupied with numbers according to what I would see as a strategical necessity. Not with whether these numbers could actually be supplied.

3. Now regarding the supply capabilities, we tend to calculate the maximum that could be transported by beasts of burden and then subtract their consumption of it as they followed the columns. Yet, Xerxes, always kept being supplied by cargo ships which would be able to transport 50-150 tons of supplies each with minimum loss due to self-consumption. A myriad as that described above needing about 25 tons of supplies with 5,000 horses (more demanding numbers than those necessary in Xerxes' army) would then need one 100 ton cargo ship of supplies per 4 days. 100 such myriads would require 25 cargo ships per day. Does this sound much? It actually is not if for the last three years (the time Xerxes was supposedly preparing for the enterprise) he had amassed his supplies in Asia Minor. Just 1,000 cargo ships would be enough to feed 200 myriads for 40 days without making trips back and forth as they would certainly have done (time required 2-8 days at most for the trip back and forth) and without any forage gathered or offered on the way. As for water, Greece has a lot of water, many streams and rivers in regular distances and I also would propose that a really huge army like that would not march in a single line and make s single camp but rather march in a number of columns of more manageable lengths, hours or even days distant from each other. The first one, the van, could live off the land and tributes while the rest would be supplied by the fleet. Yet, it is true that multiple columns marching through different routes to better feed off the land as was the norm in the Napoleonic campaigns would be impossible, due to both the nature of the terrain and the need to remain near the shore. Of course, beasts of burden would also follow with a minimum supply transported to be able to feed the army for a number of days should need arise.

4. Land produce to me is partly irrelevant for Xerxes' campaign before leaving Mardonius back. If the Persian state was able to feed xxx.xxx soldiers at home, it could feed them abroad as long as it could transport the supplies to them. That the Persian Empire could feed not 1 or 2 but 50 million people there is no doubt. Yet, there is a very interesting question regarding the capability of Central and Northern Greece feeding Mardonius' army. No question, it would be difficult. It would surely be taxing to the local populations but the question is how taxing? First we have to ask ourselves how great the population asked to maintain these troops was. Thessaly, Boeotia, Macedonia and Thrace would send in supplies for sure. The king could still forward supplies via land routes by compensating his allies (still dependencies) from his own stock which he would now be reluctant to send by ships, not just because of the Greek supremacy at sea, which was not effected along Macedonia and Thrace anyways but also because of the upcoming winter. More supplies would undoubtedly have been left back by the king himself, maybe for a month, along with beasts for slaughter. Now, regarding the population of Thessaly, Boeotia and Macedonia (I leave Thrace outside the calculation), it would surely have amounted to many times such a number. So, with Persian gold, threats and promises of reward, I personally believe that feeding 200-300,000 souls would not be overly taxing, probably would have amounted to like 15-25% or less of the stored provisions in the area in question even with no further assistance coming in the winter.
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#32
Unfortunately George, I'd have to disagree root and branch. Were Greece invaded by the numbers Herodotus proposes you'd be speaking Farsi.

Quote:If the Persian state was able to feed xxx.xxx soldiers at home, it could feed them abroad as long as it could transport the supplies to them. That the Persian Empire could feed not 1 or 2 but 50 million people there is no doubt.

Of course the lands under Persian control could feed themselves. Just as the various ancient communities of Europe could. Thus the various lands fed what soldiery lived from its produce. That is an entirely different matter to assembling such a multitude in the one place and doing so.
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#33
Regarding the battle of Plataea and without wishing to maintain that the number of 300,000 men given by Herodot is certainly not inflated, the sources do not describe a battle as improbable as sometimes claimed.

Herodot does not mention how many of the 300,000 men are light infantry, so a great deal of them would certainly have also been light. Then he does not describe a massed Persian attack but on the contrary, he has Mardonius attack with the troops about him and then the army gradually preparing and entering the battle. So, the first onslaught was actually made with a small part of the total army, the rest taking its time to engage. And then, we have Artabazus still marching to the battle when Mardonius was already defeated! This shows that the battle was, according to Herodot, actually quite short and that a great many "barbarians" never even saw battle! And on top of that, Diodorus, in his short account also mentions of a deep Persian battle-line, addressing the issue of how the Persians would have deployed at a relatively narrow ground.

All these factors could be used as arguments as to how the numbers offered by Herodot could be reconciled with the accounts of the battle. Again, I do not suggest that he was 100% right, but I would not dismiss his numbers lightly as I also wrote in the post before this.
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#34
Quote:Unfortunately George, I'd have to disagree root and branch. Were Greece invaded by the numbers Herodotus proposes you'd be speaking Farsi.

Macedon post=306609 Wrote:If the Persian state was able to feed xxx.xxx soldiers at home, it could feed them abroad as long as it could transport the supplies to them. That the Persian Empire could feed not 1 or 2 but 50 million people there is no doubt.

Of course the lands under Persian control could feed themselves. Just as the various ancient communities of Europe could. Thus the various lands fed what soldiery lived from its produce. That is an entirely different matter to assembling such a multitude in the one place and doing so.

As you probably saw, I do not actually say that Herodot is right. I just dispute the belief that the Persians were unable to support such a great host. I personally believe that the numbers would be nearer to 1 mil instead of Herodot's 2,5 mil. In my opinion, 2,5 mil soldiers would make the campaign even easier for Greeks to gain the victory over the Persians. Logistically they might have managed. Stratagically, they would not have, not in such a limited theater. I also have maintained that from the x mil followers, most if not all would have abandoned the campaign after mere weeks, a matter Herodot does not discuss. Yet, from all of his numbers, I find his account of Xerxes' navy most plausible.
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#35
Oh! And by the way, when someone speaks a language very well, we say that "he speaks this language farsi!" Maybe someone made such a comment in the past? Big Grin Big Grin
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#36
Quote:In my opinion, 2,5 mil soldiers would make the campaign even easier for Greeks to gain the victory over the Persians. Logistically they might have managed. Stratagically, they would not have, not in such a limited theater. I also have maintained that from the x mil followers, most if not all would have abandoned the campaign after mere weeks, a matter Herodot does not discuss. Yet, from all of his numbers, I find his account of Xerxes' navy most plausible.

There are precious few areas in Greece where Xerxes could muster a force of a million men. There are precious few places where he could deploy - usefully - 300,000. Such a battle line (if only infantry - cavalry would take further room) would have to be some ten or more kilometres long at a depth of 30.

The ships are another matter.Wallinga claims a standing Persian navy of 600 ships after the conquest of Phoenicia and Egypt. This he then conveniently doubles (after the defeat of the Ionians and the take over of thier naval resources) to make Herodotus' 1,200.

The Persians are landlubbers and to argue they had a "standing navy" complete with shipyards and slipways is, to my mind, more than a stretch. Whenever the Great king needed naval resources he had them built and or supplied from sea-going subjects. The classic example is Pharnabazus' fleet ("loaned" to Conon) that promted such alarm in Sparta. In all likelyhood this was being prepared and constructed for Egypt. In the end it was used to bring Persia's wayward ally Sparta to heel.

No matter the financial resources of the Persian Empire, triremes were prodigiously expensive critters to man and maintain. The King would never stump to maintaining a full time navy.

As I wrote earlier, Herodotus seems to realise that his naval numbers are over the top. With the Greeks - in full-on desperation mode - mustering some 330 ships for Artemesium (and Athens luckily supplying a majority) he felt the need to "rationalise" the Persian fleet. Note that all the ships destroyed are fighting ships (the grain ships and others are "beyond counting") and we are back to some 600 - that recurrent figure.

Lastly, if we are to believe that Xerxes took 1,207 fighting ships to Greece as well as grain ships and others "beyond counting", just what did the coastal states of the eastern Mediterranean do for an entire sailing season? They would seem reduced to trading and sailing in dinghies.
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#37
Herodotus seems to be very careful in his calculations in VII.184-187. He is also rather sober when it comes to the logistics required. He isn't just blurting out numbers; he is really thinking about them.

But the science of people-counting is very inexact. This still happens today. For example, for decades the press would talk about the 500,000 people who would go see the Indy 500 every year. (The race organisers would never say attendence figures.) Just a few years ago, an enterprising reporter actually counted all the chairs to discover that the speedway had only 257,325 seats. So even into the twenty-first century, with all our computers and statistics and crowd-monitoring cameras, estimates of crowds were off by a factor of two.
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#38
Quote:
Gaius Julius Caesar post=306562 Wrote:I wonder.
The Persian empire was vast, had excellent roads, an efficient communication system, well organised goverment of it's provinces. It could draw on manpower from the heart of civilisation, and was able to cross the Hellespont on a pontoon bridge.
But it couldn't organise, mobilise, equip and supply a vast Army?
By any standard before the intersection of booming population, fossil fueled industry, and conscription in the late 19th century, tens of thousands of warriors in one place was a vast army. Six hundred triremes, or 120,000 men, certainly is a vast force! All we can really say about the Persian invasion force was that it had tens of thousands of soldiers (the majority Median, Persian, Bactrian, and Saca infantry with some Greeks and Indians and cavalry), hundreds of triremes, and scared the chitons off the Yauna-beyond-the-sea.

I think there were also Ethiopians, and others from the Middle east as well. All I am saying is when you have a huge army, be it 120,000, or 300,000...you also need the vast logistics train.
He had years to organize this, and the absolute power to get it done.

I wonder if the comparison of the Romans 800 years later, after the region had been plundered and taxed to death by them, in Antioch would really be a reasonable comparison?
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#39
Hi George,

Quote:As I have often said, I am of those few who seem to sometimes be stubbornly reluctant to dismiss the accounts of the ancients with a light heart. I think that we seem to greatly underestimate their capabilities.
Well, some may do this with a light heart, I’m not one of them. On the other hand, numbers are to be treated with extreme caution when dealing with sources in general, as we have to with Ancient sources. The biblical number of Israel being able to field a million men-at-arms are no different than the million men invading Greece.

Regarding the invasion of Greece by Xerxes army, I have no doubt that this army was large, that much is clear from the sources. Whether we are to trust the estimates presented to us by the sources is quite another matter. Overestimating an army is quite a normal practice, and I generally mistrust round numbers such as ‘100.000’, but that’s me.

But even if we disregard the level of ancient source trustworthiness, we can ask questions about more practical matters.

Your first question rightly regards logistics. However, you don’t seem to question the amount of supplies. Why not? The Persian empire, though vast, was not a vast exporter of food. It controlled Egypt and Asia Minor of course, but we can hardly expect the local populations to have starved while their food was being transported to the Greek War effort.
But even leaving that question aside, did the Persian state indeed have the logistical capabilities to feed such a vast host? I’m no expert, but I have not yet come across any evidence that tells us that they did. I’d love to be proven wrong though.

Next question, army numbers. From your post I seem to understand that you consider the Greek forces to have been a certain number and from that that a vastly superior number of Persians was needed, making a very large force acceptable?
Where did this large Persian army come from? Even when we look at far better documented campaigns (Xenephon, Alexander) we never hear of armies even a fraction of the numbers (5 million!!) that you seem to find acceptable. Even the largest numbers given to the entire Roman army (Agathius, more than 600.000) is dwarfed by that number. I really don’t understand where you find such a number, apart from perhaps taking some percentage of an estimated total of the Persian population?
The same goes for the Greek forces for that mater: a 100.000 at Plataea as a fraction of the Greek forces – are there sources available that ever mention all Greek armies, added together, as 500.000? If they had been able to muster such forces, the Romans would never have managed to gain a foothold! Or had the Greek population shrunk that much by the time of the Roman invasion? Or are you counting every man, woman and child involved in keeping the warrior in the field? I believe the ratio is 5 to 1, so for every soldier you’d need 5 non-combatants? That would explain large armies but not large fighting forces.

Also, the matter of logistics is to be considered. Greek forces, being close to home and able to be supplied locally, would logically represent a much higher percentage of the population than an invasion force far away from home.
Considering the Persian fleet, I can understand how their crews would inflate the numbers of the army, but the crews would not have been soldiers but sailors from the Levant, a force than would always have a certain number – you can’t easily train ship’s crews within a short time. You have to work with what you already have: building warships is one thing, but training as many new crews is quite another. A number of 300.000 seems excessive. If they had numbers like these, they would have crushed the Greek navies due to vastly superior numbers alone.

Quote: Land produce to me is partly irrelevant for Xerxes' campaign before leaving Mardonius back. If the Persian state was able to feed xxx.xxx soldiers at home, it could feed them abroad as long as it could transport the supplies to them.
And is exactly the question. Back to the question asked before – where is that superior Persian organization that could feed armies twice the size of the entire Roman army at it’s highest estimate? Indeed, if the Persian empire ever counted as many as 50 million inhabitants it could probably feed them, and that they an administration worthy of their salt is also a given. But that’s not the same as fielding a million men and feeding them by sea and land. Napoleon tried to do that with a force of 600.000 in the early 19th century and failed miserably. I just don’t see that the Persians, essentially a tribal kingdom fresh out of the bronze Age, succeeded in a much, much more complex operation with a vastly larger force where the French, quite adapt at these operations, failed.
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#40
Quote:Well, some may do this with a light heart, I’m not one of them. On the other hand, numbers are to be treated with extreme caution when dealing with sources in general, as we have to with Ancient sources. The biblical number of Israel being able to field a million men-at-arms are no different than the million men invading Greece.

I agree. I myself am critical of Herodot's numbers but I also am critical of superficial "studies" that easily dismiss "huge" armies because in the opinion of their authors, the ancients just did not have the manpower or the technology to support them. I generally find that there is a great issue regarding actual capabilities of the eras in question. Of course some accounts are less plausible than others, some being openly mythical, I just point out that we have to be more careful when we are talking about the capabilities of the ancients. As you may have read, although I do believe that the Achaemenid Empire COULD have organized even a campaign as great as Herodot's assertions, I would find such numbers improbable because they would just be useless in the operations, draining resources without offering anything in the process.

Quote:Regarding the invasion of Greece by Xerxes army, I have no doubt that this army was large, that much is clear from the sources. Whether we are to trust the estimates presented to us by the sources is quite another matter. Overestimating an army is quite a normal practice, and I generally mistrust round numbers such as ‘100.000’, but that’s me.

Of course. The thing is what would "large" mean for a campaign such as that and what parts of that force should we include in these numbers.


Quote:But even if we disregard the level of ancient source trustworthiness, we can ask questions about more practical matters.

The ancients also made that discussion. Diodorus, Polybius... they did address the issue of trustworthiness, especially when it concerns large armies. Of course there is an issue that can never be fully resolved. To get nearer to the probable truth, though, we should establish some rules that show us the capabilities of armies in the eras in question first. This does not of course mean, that because the capability might exist, it would also be stretched to its upper limits. Many more factors would ordain strategical decisions apart from initial availability of supplies.

Quote:Your first question rightly regards logistics. However, you don’t seem to question the amount of supplies. Why not? The Persian empire, though vast, was not a vast exporter of food. It controlled Egypt and Asia Minor of course, but we can hardly expect the local populations to have starved while their food was being transported to the Greek War effort.

I thought I was clear on that. My opinion was that these men, whether 100,000 or 100,000,000 would anyways consume supplies at home. The problem was not the availability of supplies but the capability of transporting the supplies to the troops. There was no need to have the population starve. Xerxes had 3 years to organize the collection of supplies and this time was more than enough to make the provisions amassed in the supply centers necessary for the campaign. So, it was a matter of organizing the existent resources rather than having to produce more of them.

Quote:But even leaving that question aside, did the Persian state indeed have the logistical capabilities to feed such a vast host? I’m no expert, but I have not yet come across any evidence that tells us that they did. I’d love to be proven wrong though.

This is the key question of course. To this I maintain that the use of ships was crucial. What kind of evidence would you like to come across? Simple math can back this assumption up if we take for granted that enough cargo ships were available and adequate organization in matters of the science of logistical support, which I would not personally doubt. As I support, campaigning away from the sea is very different to campaigning near it AND at the same time enjoying sea lane control.

As evidence, I would urge us to look up the attested amount of grain that was daily imported to Athens via the sea lanes. I do not at the moment remember the sources but it was a considerable amount of shipments every day, clearly showing that this was no territory of the unknown. Herodot also writes of merchant fleets sailing to Athens with provisions. So, if such supply fleets already operated in the Aegean - and feeding the Athenian population was no simple task, since Attica itself was not sufficient - and the rest of the Mediterranean, I can see it as self-evident that such a mechanism would have easily worked to support the Persian army as it marched along the Greek coastline.

Again, being able to support a huge army does not make it necessary for the army to have been huge, just possible. Had it been a landlocked campaign, the capabilities would have been vastly inferior.

Quote:Next question, army numbers. From your post I seem to understand that you consider the Greek forces to have been a certain number and from that that a vastly superior number of Persians was needed, making a very large force acceptable?
Where did this large Persian army come from? Even when we look at far better documented campaigns (Xenephon, Alexander) we never hear of armies even a fraction of the numbers (5 million!!) that you seem to find acceptable. Even the largest numbers given to the entire Roman army (Agathius, more than 600.000) is dwarfed by that number. I really don’t understand where you find such a number, apart from perhaps taking some percentage of an estimated total of the Persian population?

Right. First, I wrote that I do consider Herodot's numbers inflated. I do not agree with his numbers, yet NOT on reasons of capability but of strategical necessity. Secondly, I raised the question of what his numbers depicted. Herodot calculates a total of 5 mil but half of them are camp followers. Camp followers were not normally supplied by the army and certainly not if there was any want of supply. Thus, 2.5 mil of this total, even if indeed following the army, although it could be a rule of the thumb for Herodot who does not further analyze their numbers of course, would actually only follow the army for as long as their own supplies were adequate. Some would have been better organized, some would have connections and knowledge of how to procure more supplies but most would not. So, most of this huge train would have been back in Asia before Xerxes marched south of Macedonia. Herodot does never again talk of this throng of followers and this could be a reason why. So, subtracting that, we would have been left with 2.5 mil, vast indeed, but half of the initial number. Even that number I, as already stated, find too much. Yet, a mil (in ALL branches), I would personally not find too much. What is important in the figures I hold as probable is the fact that I keep Herodot's account of the Persian navy and make all reductions in the numbers of the land army. So, I believe the 250-300,000 men employed in the navy are very plausible AND probable and personally would suggest a Persian land force of 700,000 men (which is less than 1/3 the account of Herodot). So, in my opinion, the Persians would have been half as many but their land force 1/3 that. I indeed accepted that mustering such a number (2.5 mil)would indeed have been possible, but again, being possible does not mean that it happened. I just wanted to refute the "they couldn't" argument. The US being able to field today millions upon millions of troops does not mean that this is what they would send to Iraq, my point being that it is other reasons we should be looking for rather than availability of manpower. And yes, strategically, if the Greeks were expected to be able to field great numbers, Xerxes would also be expected to invade with a force superior in numbers by far. The strategical reasons for that would, to me, be more interesting to discuss, so that we might find out what numbers would have made this campaign probable to succeed.

Quote:The same goes for the Greek forces for that mater: a 100.000 at Plataea as a fraction of the Greek forces – are there sources available that ever mention all Greek armies, added together, as 500.000? If they had been able to muster such forces, the Romans would never have managed to gain a foothold! Or had the Greek population shrunk that much by the time of the Roman invasion? Or are you counting every man, woman and child involved in keeping the warrior in the field? I believe the ratio is 5 to 1, so for every soldier you’d need 5 non-combatants? That would explain large armies but not large fighting forces.

No, we have to make additions. At the time of Plataea, there would be a large army operating against Mardonius, another one in Ionia, the crews of the Greek fleet, the armies of the Greek states that were not taking part in the campaign, those that would stay as garrisons and reserves and of course those that belonged to the medized Greeks which would as easily turn against the Mede if he was unquestionably beaten. To these, one could also add the (or a part of the) Greeks of Magna Graecia and Sicily, who at the time fought against a similar threat, a huge invasion of Carthaginians in Sicily. If you only add up these numbers you will find a total of "Greek" ACTIVE army attested (in very plausible numbers) actually larger than my proposed 300-400 thousand. In Greece proper alone, more than 200,000 would be actively employed against the Persians, no garrisons, reserves or levies counted, if we only accept the 100,000 men at Plataea as possible (to me this is a very possible number and was not viewed by the Greeks as very high or improbable).

As for the Romans, had the Greeks united, they would indeed never have gotten a foothold. They warred with Greek allies against fragmented Greeks. And of course, just because one can muster great armies, that doesn't mean that this will indeed happen. You need men back home, both as standing army and as financially active members of society. In these number I do not count camp followers who would not be many in domestic campaigns or in those where the hope of booty would be limited. I consider the total Greek population of the Mediterranean as quite larger than that of the rest of Italy. The issue is that they were very fragmented and usually (and correctly so) viewed as individual separate entities (Greece proper, Northern Greece, Islanders, Ionia, Cyprus, Magna Graecia, Sicily, Western colonies, Black sea Greeks, Cyrenean Greeks). Every one of these groups was very sizable, some more, some less. I think that 300-400,000 could and maybe did operate against the Persians in all theaters (a part offensively, another defensively as garrisons).


Quote:Also, the matter of logistics is to be considered. Greek forces, being close to home and able to be supplied locally, would logically represent a much higher percentage of the population than an invasion force far away from home.
Considering the Persian fleet, I can understand how their crews would inflate the numbers of the army, but the crews would not have been soldiers but sailors from the Levant, a force than would always have a certain number – you can’t easily train ship’s crews within a short time. You have to work with what you already have: building warships is one thing, but training as many new crews is quite another. A number of 300.000 seems excessive. If they had numbers like these, they would have crushed the Greek navies due to vastly superior numbers alone.

I agree. As far as the Persian crews are concerned they were indeed trained men in their trade. You seem to believe that these ships were manned and trained by the Persians. They were not. There was not a single ship with Persian crew. They were all provided by their dependencies and were manned by adequately trained men. The list Herodot provides is very plausible :

300 Phoenician and Syrian ships.
200 Egyptian ships
150 Cyprian ships
100 Cilician ships
100 Ionian ships
100 Pontic ships
70 Carian ships
60 Aeolian ships
50 Lycian ships
30 Pamphylian ships
30 Dorian ships
17 Cycladian ships

None of the above numbers are improbable and room for more ships in Asia is of course aplenty, in my opinion. Fielding ships was never a problem, manning them was. Each of the listed Achaemenid dominions certainly had the manpower to do so. Combat experience, trained officers and knowledge of Greek waters is another thing. Training and combat experience, knowledge of tactics and generalship were in this era of great importance. 1,200 ships could even up the odds a bit, much less than that would have been easy prey, in my opinion, for the Greeks. The ships were fast, naval battles did not resemble those of the later Roman times. Knowledge of the waters was very crucial, since winds, currents, reefs, "hidden" bays and availability of safe harbors played a much greater role than normal circumstances on land. The Persians were quite aware of the Greek superiority and they also feared the loyalty of their own troops, just see how many of the ships in the Persian army are actually Greek! How probable would you consider that Xerxes would ever have set out on a campaign where supply by the sea was crucial if he didn't feel some kind of security in his fleet? Had he only half that many ships of which 1/3 would be manned by Greeks, that would only leave him with 400 triremes of questionable quality and 200 of questionable loyalty against a comparable in number and superior in quality and experience Greek navy. Should the Greeks in his own fleet hold back, the Athenians alone would have had the upper hand.

Quote: And is exactly the question. Back to the question asked before – where is that superior Persian organization that could feed armies twice the size of the entire Roman army at it’s highest estimate? Indeed, if the Persian empire ever counted as many as 50 million inhabitants it could probably feed them, and that they an administration worthy of their salt is also a given. But that’s not the same as fielding a million men and feeding them by sea and land. Napoleon tried to do that with a force of 600.000 in the early 19th century and failed miserably. I just don’t see that the Persians, essentially a tribal kingdom fresh out of the bronze Age, succeeded in a much, much more complex operation with a vastly larger force where the French, quite adapt at these operations, failed.

I personally think that the population of the Persian Empire was much larger than 50 mil, even though this is the number often quoted. Nevertheless, I think that in reality, the Achaemenid endeavor would have been better organized and easier to support than that of Napoleon against Russia. I do, personally, believe that the sophistication of these times is grossly underestimated and I do think that ships make all the difference. Had Napoleon the ability to safely support his army through the Baltic in a single march against Petersburg, what would be more similar to the Persian campaign, had he enjoyed uncontested naval superiority, then I do not see how he could have failed to get there and back with no problems regarding provisions whatsoever. Even with abundant supplies in his depots in Poland, Napoleon had no effective means to get them to the front.As I stated in my very first post, ships actually make all the difference.
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#41
Quote:There are precious few areas in Greece where Xerxes could muster a force of a million men. There are precious few places where he could deploy - usefully - 300,000. Such a battle line (if only infantry - cavalry would take further room) would have to be some ten or more kilometres long at a depth of 30.

Correct, yet, not all had to be used simultaneously. Xerxes needed strategical depth and the ability to lose a battle or two without losing the campaign. A huge army would not only ensure survivability but also the cooperation of many Greeks and dissent among those set against him, speed (since he could engage in side campaigns and sieges without having to keep his army immobile) and of course the ability to keep garrisons in key positions and the loyalty of his allies. There would have been a balance between all those factors and it is up to us to debate whether that would be 100 thousand, 300 thousand, 1 mil or more men.

Quote:The ships are another matter.Wallinga claims a standing Persian navy of 600 ships after the conquest of Phoenicia and Egypt. This he then conveniently doubles (after the defeat of the Ionians and the take over of thier naval resources) to make Herodotus' 1,200.

The Persians are landlubbers and to argue they had a "standing navy" complete with shipyards and slipways is, to my mind, more than a stretch. Whenever the Great king needed naval resources he had them built and or supplied from sea-going subjects. The classic example is Pharnabazus' fleet ("loaned" to Conon) that promted such alarm in Sparta. In all likelyhood this was being prepared and constructed for Egypt. In the end it was used to bring Persia's wayward ally Sparta to heel.

No matter the financial resources of the Persian Empire, triremes were prodigiously expensive critters to man and maintain. The King would never stump to maintaining a full time navy.

I agree. This is what Herodot also proposes. There is not a single Persian or Lydian ship listed. All are vassal forces, probably in part subsidized by the royal treasury. Ships did not last long and their upkeep was very expensive. This is why large fleets were usually only built once needed and were not kept as a standing force. Of course, some would be kept, according to necessity. I think that Roman and Carthaginian practices in this field are good parallels.

Quote:As I wrote earlier, Herodotus seems to realise that his naval numbers are over the top. With the Greeks - in full-on desperation mode - mustering some 330 ships for Artemesium (and Athens luckily supplying a majority) he felt the need to "rationalise" the Persian fleet. Note that all the ships destroyed are fighting ships (the grain ships and others are "beyond counting") and we are back to some 600 - that recurrent figure.

I do not agree with that assessment. If Herodot had realized that he had to "raionalize" his numbers, I believe that he would have done so. I believe, that, regardless of whether he is right or wrong or how right or wrong, Herodot believes in his numbers.

Quote:Lastly, if we are to believe that Xerxes took 1,207 fighting ships to Greece as well as grain ships and others "beyond counting", just what did the coastal states of the eastern Mediterranean do for an entire sailing season? They would seem reduced to trading and sailing in dinghies.

They would have been guarded by adequate forces of maybe 200-400 warships, ships traveled the Mediterranean by the thousands, so I do not see problems arising there too. I do not personally see 1,200 triremes draining the naval power of the eastern Mediterranean and that does not mean that I maintain that this number would have been kept as a standing navy during peace. I think this was wartime provision only, as ws ordained for this specific campaign.
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#42
Quote:None of the above numbers are improbable and room for more ships in Asia is of course aplenty, in my opinion. Fielding ships was never a problem, manning them was. Each of the listed Achaemenid dominions certainly had the manpower to do so.

The numbers are not at all probable. If command and control was difficult for much more than 60-70,000 infantry, how more so for 1,207 triremes?! If these are fully manned you're speaking of near a quarter of a million men - and this is, of course, to totally ignore the grain and other supply ships that could "not be counted". The men who manned these ships - including the supply ships - had to be experienced sailors; those on the triremes even more so. One can only imagine the number of pier-side whore houses going bankrupt in the eastern Mediterranean over this campaign.

On the numbers of infantry and cavalry it is a salutary point that we never hear of anything approaching the numbers accorded to Achaemenid armies in the Diadoch or later Hellenistic period. Antigonus, Lysimachus and Seleucus fought for Asia with a combined total of some 134,000 infantry and 20,500 cavalry. Antiochus III, in defence of his realm, fielded 70,000 infantry. Raphia saw some 140,000 men on the field. These are the largest Hellenistic battles that we have some figures for. None of them - none - approach the plainly ridiculous figures for Achaemenid armies in the Greek sources. Whilst we're on invasion figures, just what on God's Earth was Hannibal thinking invading Italy with a measly 50,000??

It remains an unfortunate fact that, as far as the Hellenocentric sources are concerned, one Greek or Macedonian must defeat at least ten effete Persians. Either that or we must be prepared to believe that Cyrus - who certainly well knew what he was marching into - relied upon some 13,000 Greeks to win his battle against the King's 900,000 strong army (or 1,200,000 had the King's bastard brother not been late). Xenophontic literary flatulence.
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#43
Quote:Correct, yet, not all had to be used simultaneously. Xerxes needed strategical depth and the ability to lose a battle or two without losing the campaign. A huge army would not only ensure survivability but also the cooperation of many Greeks and dissent among those set against him, speed (since he could engage in side campaigns and sieges without having to keep his army immobile) and of course the ability to keep garrisons in key positions and the loyalty of his allies. There would have been a balance between all those factors and it is up to us to debate whether that would be 100 thousand, 300 thousand, 1 mil or more men.

There is precious little "speed" in the mustering and moving of 300,000 or a million men. Such numbers to an ancient supply chain are nothing more than so many encumbrances. The mobility of Mardonius' forces between Xerxes' departure and Plataea do speak to large figures.
Paralus|Michael Park

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#44
Quote:The numbers are not at all probable. If command and control was difficult for much more than 60-70,000 infantry, how more so for 1,207 triremes?! If these are fully manned you're speaking of near a quarter of a million men - and this is, of course, to totally ignore the grain and other supply ships that could "not be counted". The men who manned these ships - including the supply ships - had to be experienced sailors; those on the triremes even more so. One can only imagine the number of pier-side whore houses going bankrupt in the eastern Mediterranean over this campaign.

I disagree. Why is it so difficult for an advanced military culture such as the Achaemenid Empire or the Greeks controlling such numbers?

1. The crews need not have been experienced but trained. Training crews in a matter of a single season was the norm, and was done by all (Macedonians, Romans Carthaginians etc) in the 3 years of the Achaemenid preparations it would be quite easy. All the peoples supplying the ships and crews were seafaring peoples and there would be no problem finding the crews. Long experience was not required, although of course some would have been more experienced than others.

2. Why would there be any financial problem in those regions? Peoples who gave crews would not give land forces. 250,000 men absent for a season would not strain manpower resources of the Eastern Mediterranean, why would it?. Why would 20,000 Ionians make such a difference? Or 40,000 Egyptians? 60,000 Syrians and Phoenicians sounds taxing but considering that this would be the most reliable part of Xerxes' navy, I guess that some compensation would have been given.

Quote:On the numbers of infantry and cavalry it is a salutary point that we never hear of anything approaching the numbers accorded to Achaemenid armies in the Diadoch or later Hellenistic period. Antigonus, Lysimachus and Seleucus fought for Asia with a combined total of some 134,000 infantry and 20,500 cavalry. Antiochus III, in defence of his realm, fielded 70,000 infantry. Raphia saw some 140,000 men on the field. These are the largest Hellenistic battles that we have some figures for. None of them - none - approach the plainly ridiculous figures for Achaemenid armies in the Greek sources.

And then we have reports of huge Indian and Chinese armies, of huge Celtic armies, how about the Gauls at Alesia? How about the Roman and Carthaginian armies that fought in the naval battles of the Punic wars? How about the Carthaginian armies attested in Sicily? Or other later accounts of Ottoman or Arab campaigns. And then we have the many attestations of smaller Achaemenid armies. Why weren't they inflated by the same propagandist historians? No, I am against outright dismissing huge numbers because "they are too big" There are other, better reasons to do so and I DO NOT SAY THAT WE SHOULD NOT.

Quote:It remains an unfortunate fact that, as far as the Hellenocentric sources are concerned, one Greek or Macedonian must defeat at least ten effete Persians. Either that or we must be prepared to believe that Cyrus - who certainly well knew what he was marching into - relied upon some 13,000 Greeks to win his battle against the King's 900,000 strong army (or 1,200,000 had the King's bastard brother not been late). Pure piffle.

? While the non-hellenocentric sources say what? And why should Cyrus completely rely on the Greeks of the tyrant Clearchus to beat his brother? Who says so in the sources? Yes, they were the most efficient part of his army, yes, he rested many of his hopes on them but in the end, he valiantly charged Artaxerxes and tried to decide the contest himself. Greek sources are nothing like what you describe them to be. The Persians are generally held in high regard and they are credited with numerous victories over Greeks, shrewed generalship and admirable morals and conduct. Of course they are also at times scorned and accused as are Greeks... I maintain that Greek historiography is surprisingly neutral. I would expect a much bigger (yep, I had initially written "bugger" here :oops: :oops: ) bias in favor of anything Greek than is actually present.
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#45
Quote:There is precious little "speed" in the mustering and moving of 300,000 or a million men. Such numbers to an ancient supply chain are nothing more than so many encumbrances. The mobility of Mardonius' forces between Xerxes' departure and Plataea do speak to large figures.

Speed is relative. Marching 100,000 men is slower than doing so with 10,000 men and so on, yet, a single fort or city not capitulating is a bigger stall than anything else. Imagine the Persians having to spend just 1 month in front of a city, laying it in siege... The campaign would be over before it had even started. This is what I meant with speed. Having your main force marching at half speed while having other armies taking care of any such problems is crucial to speedily come to Greece proper and thus also minimize supply issues.

What do you mean about the mobility of Mardonius' forces?
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