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Old December 26th, 2011, 12:25 PM   #51

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Nice thread guys.


Well most of the sources are clearly inflated, grossly inflated I would say. They are usually by a factor of 10. Anytime you find an odd number, divide by 10 and you would approach reality.


Accounts that tells the number of military units are more reliable. Regarding to the Persian empire, Herodotus tells that the invasion army had 29 miryarchs, each myriarch had 10,000 men, that means 290,000 men.

Curiously, he gives 2,641,610 fighting men, of which 541,000 were on the fleets, for the total invading forces. Now divide by ten... 264,000 men, around 210,000 on land.


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Modern historians makes some mistakes evaluating ancient numbers:


1. Number of men that could be supplied: wrong, ancient states (even modern ones) used to field even more men that they were able to properly supply. Armies experienced dramatic shrinks after some weeks on the move.


2. Lines of supply and carrying capacity of territory: wrong, ancient armies used to feed on the territory, ancient armies used to be feed not by the production surplus of the territory but by every food available on the territory. The crossing of armies by a territory was a total catastrophe for local populations. I've read some of these stimations taking into account the total population of the area plus the invading army, NO, invading armies were feed even with the seeds of peasants.

Ancient armies used to invade during summer, when the crops were farmed and granaries were full of supply. It's very difficult to know how good foragers were the soldiers in an army, but that would be exactly the key of the army supply success.


Look for example Boeotia, it have been stimated that around the 5th century, 50% of the territory was farmed https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/bit...pdf?sequence=1

In Ancient Greece productivity was around 600 kgs of grain per hectare, that mens 90 million kgs, 90 million kgs ready for an invading army in summer. Next year, productivity would have shrunk sharply if a parasite army were operating in the area.

This means that ancient armies were in critical problems if operations were extended for more than a year in the same area.
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Old December 26th, 2011, 03:25 PM   #52

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Originally Posted by Sargon of Akkad View Post
I'm sure that saying "one half of the Mediterranean against the other" sounds big in your head, but the Achaemenid Persian Empire was bigger than the whole Roman Empire at it's peak by 25% and contained nearly half the world's population of human beings at the time.
Serious estimates of the population of the Persian Empire vary from 18 million to 35 million. Population densities in the Mediterranean and the Middle East peaked during the Roman period. As result estimates for Roman population vary from 50 million to over 100 million. Economic activity in the Mediterranean peaked during the Roman period and probably only surpassed Roman levels in the 19th century, as archaeological data show the peak in economic activity during the Late Republic and Early Empire very clearly (these are found shipwrecks and lead pollution in artic ice which are proxies of trade and manufacturing, respectively):

Click the image to open in full size.

Roman tax revenues were 36,000 to 40,000 talents of silver while Persian tax revenues were 12,000 talents of silver, while the Roman state was less centralized and exploided their tax potential to smaller extents. The Roman Empire ruled a population much larger than the Persian Empire and such population enjoyed much better living standards, which enabled the Roman Empire to have greater resources and hence greater logistical capabilities.

Therefore I conclude that if the largest field army that the Romans could support was 400,000 strong (and this army also was supplied by sea not by local resources as the Persian army did) that the largest army that the Persians could mobilize surely was smaller than the largest army that the Romans could mobilize.

Also the Roman Empire was certainly larger than the Persian Empire in terms of arable land inside their borders and in terms of extension. The Roman Empire was 6,000 km west to east and 4,000 km north to south. The Persian Empire was 5,000 km west to east and 3,000 km north to south. Rome ruled all the civilized lands in Western Eurasia while the Persians ruled half of the civilized lands and some barbarian territories to the East that did not interest the Romans, who conquered only lands worth being assimilated into the empire.

This wikipedia page is nonsense. Full of crappy numbers that should never be taken seriously.

The population of the world at the time was 150-200 million, Persian population of 20-35 million would mean that the Persian Empire had 15-20% of the world's population. Probably up to 25% of the world's population at maximum. While I am a great fan of Alexander the Great, even I don't think that he did conquer half of the world's population in 3 years.

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What?! Of course the Persians had better logistical capabilities than the Gauls. That's like saying the sky is blue. Persia's logistical abilities were excellent, in many fields they were world-leaders, and anything they needed to know that they didn't already know they learned from the Assyrians, after they destroyed them.
True. At the time the Persian Empire was the largest empire, the most powerful and the one state with the greatest logistical capabilites ever, up to that point. But I am saying that the Roman state achieved much greater capabilities half a millennium later: The logistical capabilities of the Assyrians were smaller than the Persians which were smaller than the Romans.

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If you agree that the Romans could have fielded an army of 200,000 on each side, then the Persians, with their larger empire and expansive bureaucracy, could easily have matched them. To say that you think 50,000 men was their likely limit is just silly.
I don't think that 50,000 men was their limit. Though 50,000 men in 500 BC was probably the largest army ever fielded in human history up to that point. The entire Persian Empire probably could field hundreds of thousands of men into their military, but they couldn't concentrate all these soldiers in a single place. The Roman Empire perhaps could have fielded up to 3-4 million soldiers at their peak if they mobilized all their resources for war (assuming an adult male population of 20 million at that they mobilized 15-20% of their adult male population), however they couldn't concentrate all their troops in a single point. Also, the Roman Empire never mobilized all their resources for war after the Second Punic War, when they only had Italy (at fraction of it's peak population).

One should note that a single field army is always and everywhere only a fraction of the strenght of the armed forces of a country.

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In fact, Mardonius actually recommended using an army of around 50-70,000 picked Persian and Saka warriors for the invasion, as they would be the best and most reliable troops, but Xerxes determined that it did not fit the dignity of the king of the world to march against the Greeks with such a paltry force.
Divide the 50,000 to 70,000 number by 10 and I think you will get a more sensible number for a force of picked elite warriors.

Last edited by Guaporense; December 26th, 2011 at 04:24 PM.
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Old December 26th, 2011, 03:59 PM   #53

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Well most of the sources are clearly inflated, grossly inflated I would say.
No. Most ancient sources have correct sensible numbers. Thucydides numbers, for instance, are all probably correct in it's order of magnitude.

The Persian numbers tend to be hugely inflated because it was a Greek source writing it's history agaisnt the Persian invaders. So it exagerated to increase the glory of the Greek victories: "a huge uncoutable army of millions invaded Greece and our forces of a few tens of thousands defeated this massive invading horde."

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They are usually by a factor of 10. Anytime you find an odd number, divide by 10 and you would approach reality.
Perhaps. That would be true if the ancient source had access to the correct number and inflated it by a factor of 10. However how to we know that Herodotus had the correct numbers?

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Accounts that tells the number of military units are more reliable. Regarding to the Persian empire, Herodotus tells that the invasion army had 29 miryarchs, each myriarch had 10,000 men, that means 290,000 men.

Curiously, he gives 2,641,610 fighting men, of which 541,000 were on the fleets, for the total invading forces. Now divide by ten... 264,000 men, around 210,000 on land.
That makes sense. The Persian Empire could have mobilized hundreds of thousands of soldiers for an invasion and only a fraction of this total force would be present at individual engagements with the Greeks. For instance the Persian force at Plataea could be like 60,000-70,000 strong, a huge army at the time.

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1. Number of men that could be supplied: wrong, ancient states (even modern ones) used to field even more men that they were able to properly supply. Armies experienced dramatic shrinks after some weeks on the move.
Yes, but that number of soldiers that matters is the number that they can deploy in battle and that's the number that they can supply. If they gather a larger army than they can supply their army will shrink quickly and by the time of the battle it would have been the number of soldiers they could supply.

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2. Lines of supply and carrying capacity of territory: wrong, ancient armies used to feed on the territory, ancient armies used to be feed not by the production surplus of the territory but by every food available on the territory. The crossing of armies by a territory was a total catastrophe for local populations. I've read some of these stimations taking into account the total population of the area plus the invading army, NO, invading armies were feed even with the seeds of peasants.
That depends on the army that we are talking about. The fully professional Roman army was feed on their monetary payments and so could pay for the food they consumed, which means that they probably imported the food they consumed during campaign. At the Battle of Philippi the Roman armies were too large to be able to feed on the soil and hence had to import food from the local port, which was a vital strategic point in the battle because of this.

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Look for example Boeotia, it have been stimated that around the 5th century, 50% of the territory was farmed https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/bit...pdf?sequence=1

In Ancient Greece productivity was around 600 kgs of grain per hectare, that mens 90 million kgs, 90 million kgs ready for an invading army in summer. Next year, productivity would have shrunk sharply if a parasite army were operating in the area.
Well, Boeotia probably wasn't 50% farmed and grain wasn't the only thing that the ancient greeks grew.Also I have read that Attica had carrying capacity of less than 40 inhabitants per square kilometers, which means that it couldn't support a fraction of the population of Athens which had to be feed on imported grain. This source implies, assuming 600 kg productivity, that they could grow 30 tons of grain per square kilometer which would mean that they could support up to 120 people per square kilometers in Boeotia using domestic sources, which I think it is too much.

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This means that ancient armies were in critical problems if operations were extended for more than a year in the same area.
Not all ancient armies.

The armies of the Roman Empire and of Athens, more developed ancient economies, supported their forces with monetary payments which mean that the soldiers brought their food which means that an army created demand for food when it passed on a territory. This lead to the supplying of the needs of the army though merchant ships at sea, since the extra demand created this market which merchants would be happy to supply given the low costs of sea transport in classical antiquity and the high degree of development of sea trade.

Last edited by Guaporense; December 26th, 2011 at 04:23 PM.
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Old December 26th, 2011, 04:47 PM   #54

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If you've got sources for the population of the empire, I'm happy to see them, the 50 million figure I see is from Wikipedia and a few other websites, but nothing that I'm going to concretely commit to. All I can say at present is that it does not seem unreasonable, given the figures that someone (can't remember who now, sorry!) posted figures for areas under Rome a 4 centuries later. I don't think that there would have been as many people there when it was under Persian rule, but given how pre-modern population growth graphs are steadily incremental, they couldn't have been a vast amount more.
Well, ancient population densities have been estimated to have increased by factors of over than 10 in some areas over 4 centuries though archaeological field surveys.

The population of the Persian Empire, according to the book, The Dynamics of Ancient Empires is estimated to be:

Low end - 17 million, High end - 30 to 35 million

Most of the population of the Persian Empire was in lands that later were incorporated into the Roman Empire, those lands had about 25-30% of the population of the Roman Empire. If the Roman Empire had 60 million inhabitants, those lands would have a population of 15 to 18 million, if these lands (the whole of Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine and Egypt) consisted of 2/3 of the population of the Persian Empire and these lands had population densities there were 2/3 of those of Roman times, then the whole Persian Empire would have had a population of 15 to 18 million.

Clearly, for all intends and purposes, the Roman Empire had a much larger population and a larger share of the world's population than the Persian Empire. If the Persian Empire had 50 million inhabitants, it would mean that the Roman Empire would have to had well over 100 million inhabitants, which is a possibility.
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Old December 27th, 2011, 05:17 AM   #55

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Depends. The population of 500BC was very different from that of 0AD. The Med was quite a backwater, still, and the overall population of the world was lower.
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Old December 27th, 2011, 05:31 AM   #56

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Originally Posted by Guaporense View Post
Serious estimates of the population of the Persian Empire vary from 18 million to 35 million.

Divide the 50,000 to 70,000 number by 10 and I think you will get a more sensible number for a force of picked elite warriors.
Just to address the two points you've made I feel to be most pertinent, as time is fairly short for me at the moment.

I'm not talking about the Roman Empire of 500 years later, I'm talking about the Persian Empire of roughly 500BC. 18-35 million is more than enough manpower for the Persians to create an army of a million men.

It seems very unlikely to me for Mardonius to suggest that they take 5-7,000 men to conquer Greece. Having fought the Greeks under Darius, he was a very experienced commander with a number of victories under his belt, and he would have had a good knowledge of what the Greeks could muster.

Presuming that the 10,000 Spartiate number is accurate, and I've not heard anyone suggest it wasn't, there's no way he'd suggest committing such a paltry invasion force to defeat a formidable foe. In the first expedition, which was lost at sea, the Persians lost 20,000 men, according to Herodotus. This is a perfectly reasonable number, but by your rationale you're suggesting that he thought he could take Greece with 2,000 men - which is absurd.

I really don't think that ancient authors were so bad with figures as to get these relatively modest numbers wrong by a factor of ten.
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Old December 27th, 2011, 06:17 AM   #57

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Then again, 50 thousand Persians? That is the total number of Persian troops the empire could muster - the three standing units and two reserve ones. Maybe 50 thousand Persians+Medes+Kassites+Scythians? Remember, the loss of 50 thousand Persians would cost the Achaemenids their empire, since the army was the basis of their power.
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Old December 27th, 2011, 08:01 AM   #58

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Depends. The population of 500BC was very different from that of 0AD. The Med was quite a backwater, still, and the overall population of the world was lower.
The most desenly populated areas of the world in 500 BC were Greece, Egypt, Asia Minor, Syria and Mesopotamia.

By 1 AD the regions of the Western Mediterranean had their relative populations upgraded to the same relative levels as these regions while Greece and Mesopotamia lost population density* and Egypt, Syria and Anatolia gained population.

*Greece and Mespotamia only reached their former ancient population peaks in the 500-330 BC period by the 20th century. Mesopotamia had estimated 6 million inhabitants in the classical period while Iraq in 1920 had 3 million inhabitants. Greece had 2.2 million inhabitants in 1890 while at the time of Alexander it was significantly more (around 3.5-4 million).
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Old December 27th, 2011, 08:40 AM   #59

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Originally Posted by Guaporense View Post
The most desenly populated areas of the world in 500 BC were Greece, Egypt, Asia Minor, Syria and Mesopotamia.
And guess who ruled them in 500BC.
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Old December 27th, 2011, 09:24 AM   #60

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And guess who ruled them in 500BC.
Persia of course. It was the largest and most populous empire that had ever existed at the time.

However you claimed that the Mediterranean was a backwater. That's incorrect, the western mediterranean was a backwater while the eastern mediterranean was the center of the ancient world.
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