Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

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Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by ray245 » 2009-01-02 08:49am

As compared to the early Medieval era, it seems that the classical era usually have a much bigger army. However, the problem with a lot of historical source is they aren't accurate at times. Often, their numbers are exaggerated, by both sides of the conflict.

Moreover, while we do have sources for the size of these armies in a battle, it is much harder to find sources concerning the size of the standing army during a peaceful period and during war time. The size of the entire army of a state.

Romanticism and not looking at things in depth has led to inflation of numbers among many amateur 'historians' like myself. From the 1 Million standing army of Cao Cao in Romance of the 3 Kingdoms to the idea of 50 full strength legions after the end of the Roman Republic are several examples of inflated figures. In many amateur historical debate, like those Rome vs China debates, it is common to see people throwing out numbers like 1 million men on China's side.

Even then, when I am looking at the more reliable accounts of the size of armies used in a battle, there seems to be a huge disparity of numbers between Europe and Asia.

On one hand, we have the battle of Cannae, where the Romans managed to bring 80,000 troops to a pitched battle, one of the largest concentration of troops the Romans has ever field. On the other hand, Cao Cao army at the battle of red cliff is said to be as many as 200,000. So what is the plausible size of an army in a pitched battle, factoring the logistic and communication difficulties during the classical age?

Then there is a question of what is the plausible size of the nation's army. Is the figure of 800,000 men even plausible for those big empire, like the Persian empire, Roman empire, Seleucid empire, Han Empire and etc in the classical age?

Other than that, what is the size of the biggest standing army in the classical age, based on a reliable source? Is the armies brought to a major battle the largest army a state can field?


Do clarify with me, if I do not make much sense in my questions.
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by MKSheppard » 2009-01-02 07:23pm

From a mailing list I'm on:

The WRG book/magazine "Armies & Enemies of Ancient China" (Mar 1975) gives the following
Force Maximum percentages regarding army compositions:

Han Dynasty
Armoured Cavalry 50%
Unarmoured or Light Cavalry 50%
Tribal Auxilliary Unarmoured Cavalry 50%
Labour Troops (whatever they are!) 10%
Convict Combat Troops 10%
Armoured Infantry 50%
Unarmoured Infantry 50%
30% of the above two categories Crossbow Armed
Artillerists 10%
Charioteers 5% Scout and 5% War Chariots.

There's more information in the book.
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by Stark » 2009-01-02 08:33pm

How is that relevant to his question regarding army sizes and the factors constraining them? Cut + pasting stuff you don't even understand is worthless.

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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by Samuel » 2009-01-02 09:04pm

Labour Troops (whatever they are!) 10%
Combat engineers? Troops that were rotated into farming?
Even then, when I am looking at the more reliable accounts of the size of armies used in a battle, there seems to be a huge disparity of numbers between Europe and Asia.
China and India were very densely populated and the smaller area of combat made logistics easier.
On one hand, we have the battle of Cannae, where the Romans managed to bring 80,000 troops to a pitched battle, one of the largest concentration of troops the Romans has ever field.
That was during the Republic. Imperial Rome had a larger manpower base.
Then there is a question of what is the plausible size of the nation's army. Is the figure of 800,000 men even plausible for those big empire, like the Persian empire, Roman empire, Seleucid empire, Han Empire and etc in the classical age?
Yes. For Rome, you just need between one in fifthtieth to one in one hundred in the military depending on the population estimate you use.

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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by ray245 » 2009-01-03 03:37am

What about other factions and etc? The Macedonians?
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by Pelranius » 2009-01-03 06:51am

Shep: 50% of an army being armoured cavalry? Does that mean just the cavalrymen or does it include the logistical support and attached infantry?
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by PainRack » 2009-01-03 07:34am

MKSheppard wrote:From a mailing list I'm on:

The WRG book/magazine "Armies & Enemies of Ancient China" (Mar 1975) gives the following
Force Maximum percentages regarding army compositions:

Han Dynasty
Armoured Cavalry 50%
Unarmoured or Light Cavalry 50%
Tribal Auxilliary Unarmoured Cavalry 50%
Labour Troops (whatever they are!) 10%
Convict Combat Troops 10%
Armoured Infantry 50%
Unarmoured Infantry 50%
30% of the above two categories Crossbow Armed
Artillerists 10%
Charioteers 5% Scout and 5% War Chariots.

There's more information in the book.
I find the armoured cavalry figure unbelievable, considering that horses were in relative short supply and the iron required to field armour in high demand.
UNLESS the army compositions are referring to the special raider forces used against the Xiongniu...... Those weren't really armies in the sense.

The artilleriests also doesn't make sense. The Chinese placed heavy reliance on crossbows and ballistas, with later dynasties military encylopedias outright saying that the reason why the Chinese triumphed over other states were due to the power of their crossbows.
Labour troops is similarly too "small" a component, since Chinese texts regarding the three armies normally had the rear force being 1/3 of the force. Unless these labour troops are referring to engineers or some other stuff...................

Also, crossbows didn't wear armour routinely, not even leather.... Unless you're referring to helmets and the like?

Also, the Han dynasty didn't field armoured cavalry as the Europeans would understand them, as the ponies were too light. Skirmisher cavalry were unarmoured, whereas armoured cavalry had leather armour with elite unite like the Tiger Guards of Cao Cao having lamellar.

These figures are perplexing................. Mind elaborating?


Ray, the problem with classical armies is not the SIZE, but rather, how long can you sustain a force in a small area? Sanitation alone would be a difficulty, much less the issues of water and forage for animals.

The population losses from the Romance of the Three Kingdom period is in the MILLIONs, with IIRC over 50% population drop in major cities like Luoyang. I have to dig up essays again, but IIRC, the Chinese lost over a 1/4 of their populace during the several hundred years of war from population census done in the Yellow Turban era and the Jin Kingdom census.

Speed of such forces would also be problem. The concentration of armies was historically slow due to food supplies, roads, and the problem of walking:D Prior to railroads, naval support was vital for the concentration of large forces due to the speed and bulk of supplies/men they could carry. Well, that and the seas were generally "larger" in terms of movement space than land. One of the reasons used to support Sun Tzu brillance was that he supported and pioneered the creation of a Grand Canal to tie two major rivers together in the State of Wu, allowing them to project forces into the Central Plains from their peripheral geopolitical status..
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by ray245 » 2009-01-03 11:56am

PainRack wrote:
MKSheppard wrote:From a mailing list I'm on:

The WRG book/magazine "Armies & Enemies of Ancient China" (Mar 1975) gives the following
Force Maximum percentages regarding army compositions:

Han Dynasty
Armoured Cavalry 50%
Unarmoured or Light Cavalry 50%
Tribal Auxilliary Unarmoured Cavalry 50%
Labour Troops (whatever they are!) 10%
Convict Combat Troops 10%
Armoured Infantry 50%
Unarmoured Infantry 50%
30% of the above two categories Crossbow Armed
Artillerists 10%
Charioteers 5% Scout and 5% War Chariots.

There's more information in the book.
I find the armoured cavalry figure unbelievable, considering that horses were in relative short supply and the iron required to field armour in high demand.
UNLESS the army compositions are referring to the special raider forces used against the Xiongniu...... Those weren't really armies in the sense.

The artilleriests also doesn't make sense. The Chinese placed heavy reliance on crossbows and ballistas, with later dynasties military encylopedias outright saying that the reason why the Chinese triumphed over other states were due to the power of their crossbows.
Labour troops is similarly too "small" a component, since Chinese texts regarding the three armies normally had the rear force being 1/3 of the force. Unless these labour troops are referring to engineers or some other stuff...................

Also, crossbows didn't wear armour routinely, not even leather.... Unless you're referring to helmets and the like?

Also, the Han dynasty didn't field armoured cavalry as the Europeans would understand them, as the ponies were too light. Skirmisher cavalry were unarmoured, whereas armoured cavalry had leather armour with elite unite like the Tiger Guards of Cao Cao having lamellar.

These figures are perplexing................. Mind elaborating?


Ray, the problem with classical armies is not the SIZE, but rather, how long can you sustain a force in a small area? Sanitation alone would be a difficulty, much less the issues of water and forage for animals.
So how long can such a force be sustained? I mean the Romans for once are known for their huge number of full time standing legions. However, other empires and culture don't have a clear record on these matters as compared to the Romans.
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by Grandmaster Jogurt » 2009-01-03 02:05pm

On the matter of population, the specific time is very important for many civilisations. As late as the 17th century, China's population would fluctuate as much as down to half of its pre-decline population during periods of disease or war. From what I've read, PainRack underestimated the demographic loss during the Three Kingdoms period; I've seen the figures as low as 10-15% of the Han Dynasty's population. The censuses of the Jin Dynasty, at the least, show a mere third of the Han Dynasty's population (source).

That same source shows armed forces as high as over 10% of the total population during the Three Kingdoms period, which would allow armies in the hundred-thousand range (though certainly not in any long-range campaign, such as against Rome), but an army of one million would require nearly 15% of the entire population of all three kingdoms. Likewise, the highest number I've seen in figures of Rome's standing army is less than 400 thousand from Gibbon, which is less than 1% of the army. This site claims that Rome had a peak percentage of 10% in the military at one point, so if it's reliable, we can see that Classical militaries could raise armies of up to 10% of the population, but standing armies were much smaller. As the large armies of the Three Kingdoms period were coincident with the loss of the majority of the population, it seems likely that such armies were devastating to whatever region they were stationed in, however, and thus unsustainable for long periods.

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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by Knife » 2009-01-03 06:31pm

ray245 wrote:As compared to the early Medieval era, it seems that the classical era usually have a much bigger army. However, the problem with a lot of historical source is they aren't accurate at times. Often, their numbers are exaggerated, by both sides of the conflict.
The medieval period was on of fiefdom and bad times to put it succinctly. The armies of antiquity were large due to a large infrastructure. Follow on armies were small due to the *kingdoms being small* effect. When you come to the Crusades where multiple nations make a multi national army; you get a large army in the field. You have to distinguish a Kingdom and an Empire. The army of an Empire is different from an army of a Kingdom. A Nation of nations is different from just a nation.
Moreover, while we do have sources for the size of these armies in a battle, it is much harder to find sources concerning the size of the standing army during a peaceful period and during war time. The size of the entire army of a state.
Non starter. An Empire is different from a nation state or a city state. Rome (for a classical example) had a base standard Roman army coupled with the local axillaries. What those add on troops were depended on where that Legion was.
Romanticism and not looking at things in depth has led to inflation of numbers among many amateur 'historians' like myself.
Agreed. A danger to us all. Damned internet. If I can find a way; I want a....what? Classical education on this topic that won't deter my RN degree. Thanas? Or whom ever; detail a good Uni course that does this? I am a Romaphile after all.
From the 1 Million standing army of Cao Cao in Romance of the 3 Kingdoms to the idea of 50 full strength legions after the end of the Roman Republic are several examples of inflated figures. In many amateur historical debate, like those Rome vs China debates, it is common to see people throwing out numbers like 1 million men on China's side.
If you are some what competent, it is already apperent on the stupid numbers game, that the upper limit of one against the other upper limit is STUPID!
Even then, when I am looking at the more reliable accounts of the size of armies used in a battle, there seems to be a huge disparity of numbers between Europe and Asia.
You are on a Star War V Star Trek site. Boil it all down and you should, via the history of the place, understand that mere tactics and even over all strategy of a nation is dependent on the other enemy. Numbers of troops and armorment depends on whom they attack. The equation stays the same, only the variables change.
On one hand, we have the battle of Cannae, where the Romans managed to bring 80,000 troops to a pitched battle, one of the largest concentration of troops the Romans has ever field. On the other hand, Cao Cao army at the battle of red cliff is said to be as many as 200,000. So what is the plausible size of an army in a pitched battle, factoring the logistic and communication difficulties during the classical age?
Read above. Armies and their tech are direct respondents to the threat they oppose. The army that defeated Napoleon in Russia was defeated ...easily, by British and French forces in the Crimean war.
Then there is a question of what is the plausible size of the nation's army. Is the figure of 800,000 men even plausible for those big empire, like the Persian empire, Roman empire, Seleucid empire, Han Empire and etc in the classical age?
Easy answer? Yes. A nation of nations has the advantage of raising levies of each nation to do it's bidding.
Other than that, what is the size of the biggest standing army in the classical age, based on a reliable source? Is the armies brought to a major battle the largest army a state can field?
Hard to say due to the time period you refer to. Ancient Roman wars, Persian wars, Chinese wars. Hell, combined forces like Greece or other Empires. Hard to say.

Do clarify with me, if I do not make much sense in my questions.
No you don't. Your a kid with kid questions.
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But as far as board culture in general, I do think that young male overaggression is a contributing factor to the general atmosphere of hostility. It's not SOS and the Mess throwing hand grenades all over the forum- Red

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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by ray245 » 2009-01-04 12:22am

Knife wrote:
The medieval period was on of fiefdom and bad times to put it succinctly. The armies of antiquity were large due to a large infrastructure. Follow on armies were small due to the *kingdoms being small* effect. When you come to the Crusades where multiple nations make a multi national army; you get a large army in the field. You have to distinguish a Kingdom and an Empire. The army of an Empire is different from an army of a Kingdom. A Nation of nations is different from just a nation.
However, doesn't small kingdoms also have the ability to muster a sizable force in the Classical age? The kingdom of Macedon is also able to muster a large army for a kingdom of their size.
Non starter. An Empire is different from a nation state or a city state. Rome (for a classical example) had a base standard Roman army coupled with the local axillaries. What those add on troops were depended on where that Legion was.
Then what about the Roman Republic during the days of the 2nd punic wars? They are not an empire during that time.
If you are some what competent, it is already apperent on the stupid numbers game, that the upper limit of one against the other upper limit is STUPID!
Which is why I am asking, what kind of size is plausible, even for an major empire.
You are on a Star War V Star Trek site. Boil it all down and you should, via the history of the place, understand that mere tactics and even over all strategy of a nation is dependent on the other enemy. Numbers of troops and armorment depends on whom they attack. The equation stays the same, only the variables change.
Even then, there is a limitation on the size of an army one can muster. While numbers of 1 million for an army in the classical era is a ridiculous figure, we have to ask ourself, if figures like 500,000 men plausible?

I know that the size of the army differ in size all the time, however, one can still question what is the upper limit for a field army in regards to their empire size. In terms of percentage.

Is a figure of 15 or more percent of men under arms in comparison to the entire nation a plausible figure? Is a figure of 30% plausible?
Read above. Armies and their tech are direct respondents to the threat they oppose. The army that defeated Napoleon in Russia was defeated ...easily, by British and French forces in the Crimean war.
How much troops employed and how much troops they CAN employ is two different question. For example, Hannibal by right is able to field a much larger army, if the Carthaginian Senate is supporting Hannibal. Yet Carthage never get the chance to field a larger army in Italy.
Hard to say due to the time period you refer to. Ancient Roman wars, Persian wars, Chinese wars. Hell, combined forces like Greece or other Empires. Hard to say.
I mean the largest record for a standing army, for the entire classical age.
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by Samuel » 2009-01-04 01:38am

However, doesn't small kingdoms also have the ability to muster a sizable force in the Classical age? The kingdom of Macedon is also able to muster a large army for a kingdom of their size.
His army was about 42000. Concidering he had the population of all of Greece to draw upon, it wasn't comparitively massive.
Then what about the Roman Republic during the days of the 2nd punic wars? They are not an empire during that time.
Italy was filled with numerous independent cities that were their allies and subjects.
Is a figure of 15 or more percent of men under arms in comparison to the entire nation a plausible figure? Is a figure of 30% plausible?
No. The needs of agriculture mean that if you raise too many men the harvest suffers and the populance starves. This was a problem in Europe during and after WW2- with a much lower tech level, it gets worse.

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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by Knife » 2009-01-04 02:00am

ray245 wrote:
Knife wrote:
The medieval period was on of fiefdom and bad times to put it succinctly. The armies of antiquity were large due to a large infrastructure. Follow on armies were small due to the *kingdoms being small* effect. When you come to the Crusades where multiple nations make a multi national army; you get a large army in the field. You have to distinguish a Kingdom and an Empire. The army of an Empire is different from an army of a Kingdom. A Nation of nations is different from just a nation.
However, doesn't small kingdoms also have the ability to muster a sizable force in the Classical age? The kingdom of Macedon is also able to muster a large army for a kingdom of their size.
Look at classical Macedonia on a map man.
Non starter. An Empire is different from a nation state or a city state. Rome (for a classical example) had a base standard Roman army coupled with the local axillaries. What those add on troops were depended on where that Legion was.
Then what about the Roman Republic during the days of the 2nd punic wars? They are not an empire during that time.
The republic at that time owned all of Italy and started to expand along the Med. Even at that point, the Roman Republic considered the Med as a Roman Lake. If not by name, they were a nation of nations.


Which is why I am asking, what kind of size is plausible, even for an major empire.
You are on a Star War V Star Trek site. Boil it all down and you should, via the history of the place, understand that mere tactics and even over all strategy of a nation is dependent on the other enemy. Numbers of troops and armorment depends on whom they attack. The equation stays the same, only the variables change.
Even then, there is a limitation on the size of an army one can muster. While numbers of 1 million for an army in the classical era is a ridiculous figure, we have to ask ourself, if figures like 500,000 men plausible?
Durring the Punic wars, Rome was able to levy new legions from the plebs due to the available manpower.

[quoteI know that the size of the army differ in size all the time, however, one can still question what is the upper limit for a field army in regards to their empire size. In terms of percentage.

Is a figure of 15 or more percent of men under arms in comparison to the entire nation a plausible figure? Is a figure of 30% plausible?

[/quote]

In WWII, America actually jumped to having women work the lines while all available and willing men fought in the army. It literally changes the rules of the culture of whom could and couldn't work at what job, due to the larger culture rule of whom could fight. Basically, any nation can devote X troops as long as they have enough people left over to run the major industries.


How much troops employed and how much troops they CAN employ is two different question. For example, Hannibal by right is able to field a much larger army, if the Carthaginian Senate is supporting Hannibal. Yet Carthage never get the chance to field a larger army in Italy.
That is logistics and an entirely a different question.
Hard to say due to the time period you refer to. Ancient Roman wars, Persian wars, Chinese wars. Hell, combined forces like Greece or other Empires. Hard to say.
I mean the largest record for a standing army, for the entire classical age.

Again, hard to say.
They say, "the tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots." I suppose it never occurred to them that they are the tyrants, not the patriots. Those weapons are not being used to fight some kind of tyranny; they are bringing them to an event where people are getting together to talk. -Mike Wong

But as far as board culture in general, I do think that young male overaggression is a contributing factor to the general atmosphere of hostility. It's not SOS and the Mess throwing hand grenades all over the forum- Red

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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by Knife » 2009-01-04 02:03am

Samuel wrote:
No. The needs of agriculture mean that if you raise too many men the harvest suffers and the populance starves. This was a problem in Europe during and after WW2- with a much lower tech level, it gets worse.

There was a reason why there was a *season* for war. It wasn't planting nor harvesting season.
They say, "the tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots." I suppose it never occurred to them that they are the tyrants, not the patriots. Those weapons are not being used to fight some kind of tyranny; they are bringing them to an event where people are getting together to talk. -Mike Wong

But as far as board culture in general, I do think that young male overaggression is a contributing factor to the general atmosphere of hostility. It's not SOS and the Mess throwing hand grenades all over the forum- Red

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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by PainRack » 2009-01-04 07:12pm

Grandmaster Jogurt wrote:On the matter of population, the specific time is very important for many civilisations. As late as the 17th century, China's population would fluctuate as much as down to half of its pre-decline population during periods of disease or war. From what I've read, PainRack underestimated the demographic loss during the Three Kingdoms period; I've seen the figures as low as 10-15% of the Han Dynasty's population. The censuses of the Jin Dynasty, at the least, show a mere third of the Han Dynasty's population (source).
My apologies. You were right.
The massive infrastructure damage in the Central Plains severely damaged their agricultural output. War over roads and canals would had crippled their transport capabilities even further.
As the large armies of the Three Kingdoms period were coincident with the loss of the majority of the population, it seems likely that such armies were devastating to whatever region they were stationed in, however, and thus unsustainable for long periods.
I should note that the 1 million army is outright stated as propaganda in the RoTK novel as well as the historical extract. The novel pegs Cao Cao force as being 830 thousand, with the historical extract IIRC placing the forces at Red Cliff to be approximately 300-400 thousand. Math of supply troops and spacing then further reduces this to 200 thousand soldiers odd.
In WWII, America actually jumped to having women work the lines while all available and willing men fought in the army. It literally changes the rules of the culture of whom could and couldn't work at what job, due to the larger culture rule of whom could fight. Basically, any nation can devote X troops as long as they have enough people left over to run the major industries.
Hasn't this been shown to be a myth? While the nature of the jobs changed, there was only a mild statistical difference in the number of women working in Britain and America during WW1 and 2........... The difference was that women were stuck in low paid, low status work such as housekeeping and etc.
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by Knife » 2009-01-05 01:25am

PainRack wrote: Hasn't this been shown to be a myth? While the nature of the jobs changed, there was only a mild statistical difference in the number of women working in Britain and America during WW1 and 2........... The difference was that women were stuck in low paid, low status work such as housekeeping and etc.
I honestly don't know.
They say, "the tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots." I suppose it never occurred to them that they are the tyrants, not the patriots. Those weapons are not being used to fight some kind of tyranny; they are bringing them to an event where people are getting together to talk. -Mike Wong

But as far as board culture in general, I do think that young male overaggression is a contributing factor to the general atmosphere of hostility. It's not SOS and the Mess throwing hand grenades all over the forum- Red

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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by Thanas » 2009-01-05 12:05pm

Knife, I'll put my debate post in plainspeak as soon as I have a bit more breathing time.

In the meantime, let me answer the question with regards to the size of the Roman army.

The general consensus among historians seems to be that the largest numbers appeared in the Late Roman empire. By this I mean numbers of standing, state-equipped troops. This does not include local forces, which were quite numerous, especially in the Principate - Italy for example was kept brigand-free by the forces of the local cities. But we have no numbers for them and hardly any evidence regarding their organization. We know they existed, but that's about all we know.

In the Principate, the highest estimate speaks of 450.000 standing troops (both legions and auxillia units). For the late Roman army, this gets more sketchy, since reliable estimates are hard to come by due to the scarcity of evidence.

The highest numbers I have seen speak of a total of 645.000 standing troops stationed according to this map. 339.000 of those are mobile field armies, whereas the rest are provincial troops who are not commonly expected to fight outside a province. This figure made public by A.H.M. Jones uses the Notitia dignitatum as a basis. However, note that people have critizised this figure for using a unit strength that is too high, especially regarding the border troops, especially regarding the province of Egypt. Nevertheless, considering that the Late Roman Empire was heavily militarized, I would suggest that the overall gist of the numbers posed by Jones are correct.

Of course, that does not mean that this was the effective strength. Historians have shown that the units were always not up to the ideal strength and having only 85% of the paper strength (and even only 50% in some provinces). So I would suggest that the total troop number was somewhere around 500.000 troops in total.

However, that does not mean that the romans could field armies to that extent. The largest Roman armies we know of numbered in the 70-80.000 men, and the ideal army is often described in ancient sources as having 12-20.000 men (figures which welll reflect the field armies in Jones's estimates), numbers which are in sync from what we know of most Roman armies in major battles.

A good example would be the army of the then-Caesar Julian in Gaul at the battle of Strassbourg, which numbered 2460 riders (500 mounted archers/medium cavalry, 600 cataphractarii - super-heavy cavalry and 1360 heavy cavalry) and around 11.000 infantry (8400 being heavy infantry).
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by PainRack » 2009-01-05 07:57pm

ray245 wrote:So how long can such a force be sustained? I mean the Romans for once are known for their huge number of full time standing legions. However, other empires and culture don't have a clear record on these matters as compared to the Romans.
This deserves to be highlighted. We do know the Romans and the Chinese were able to sustain long range campaigns, with the Romans sustaining long range SIEGES for years. However, this was only possible due to the advent of ships and naval supply.

The Xiongniu campaign demonstrate how vital water transport was, as the Chinese weren't capable of even projecting a full scale defensive campaign till the naval supply routes to the North were completed. Han Wudi determination aside, much must be spoken of the Han dynasty success in agriculture, the opening up of agriculture/military colonies on the border as well as improved roads.


We should also note the use of naval supply by the state of Wu, when it supported naval/land campaigns in Korea and the Liaodong pennisula during the end of the ROTK period. Unfortunately, the numbers of several hundred thousand seems inflated, and probably include tribal auxilaries, in particular, the Liaodong offensive which was Wu supporting the tribal cavalry in that region in their uprising.


One should also note the military capabilities of Cao Cao. During the battle for Red Cliff, he had just completed a grueling campaign to subdue Xiangyang and fears of an uprising caused him to detach more troops against Ma. Also, one of his generals were despatched with an army to the North to fight against the insurrection staged in the Liadong pennisula during this time period. Unfortunately, I don't have the chinese sources depicting that campaign....... My knowledge of it comes purely from some off-hand reading from the Personnel entry in The Three Kingdoms.
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by ray245 » 2009-01-08 12:51pm

Thanas wrote:Knife, I'll put my debate post in plainspeak as soon as I have a bit more breathing time.

In the meantime, let me answer the question with regards to the size of the Roman army.

The general consensus among historians seems to be that the largest numbers appeared in the Late Roman empire. By this I mean numbers of standing, state-equipped troops. This does not include local forces, which were quite numerous, especially in the Principate - Italy for example was kept brigand-free by the forces of the local cities. But we have no numbers for them and hardly any evidence regarding their organization. We know they existed, but that's about all we know.

In the Principate, the highest estimate speaks of 450.000 standing troops (both legions and auxillia units). For the late Roman army, this gets more sketchy, since reliable estimates are hard to come by due to the scarcity of evidence.

The highest numbers I have seen speak of a total of 645.000 standing troops stationed according to this map. 339.000 of those are mobile field armies, whereas the rest are provincial troops who are not commonly expected to fight outside a province. This figure made public by A.H.M. Jones uses the Notitia dignitatum as a basis. However, note that people have critizised this figure for using a unit strength that is too high, especially regarding the border troops, especially regarding the province of Egypt. Nevertheless, considering that the Late Roman Empire was heavily militarized, I would suggest that the overall gist of the numbers posed by Jones are correct.

Of course, that does not mean that this was the effective strength. Historians have shown that the units were always not up to the ideal strength and having only 85% of the paper strength (and even only 50% in some provinces). So I would suggest that the total troop number was somewhere around 500.000 troops in total.

However, that does not mean that the romans could field armies to that extent. The largest Roman armies we know of numbered in the 70-80.000 men, and the ideal army is often described in ancient sources as having 12-20.000 men (figures which welll reflect the field armies in Jones's estimates), numbers which are in sync from what we know of most Roman armies in major battles.

A good example would be the army of the then-Caesar Julian in Gaul at the battle of Strassbourg, which numbered 2460 riders (500 mounted archers/medium cavalry, 600 cataphractarii - super-heavy cavalry and 1360 heavy cavalry) and around 11.000 infantry (8400 being heavy infantry).
In comparison to the figures I have heard about ancient Chinese wars, the figures are almost similar.

I have never understood where did the 'China has more troops than Rome' and the million untrained Chinese peasant army idea comes from.

To many amateur historians, most people always think of China as a nation with tons of untrained infantry.

Another question I would like to raise is, how well trained is the army of the Persian empire. The Achaemenid Persian empire.

Many historians always said that the Persian army is a huge bunch of untrained rabble. However, if the army is really that untrained to begin with, the army cannot even exist, given that Infantry will be hard pressed to understand order in the first place.

The Persian army that was destroyed by Alexander must have some training at the very least.
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by PainRack » 2009-01-10 08:06pm

ray245 wrote: In comparison to the figures I have heard about ancient Chinese wars, the figures are almost similar.

I have never understood where did the 'China has more troops than Rome' and the million untrained Chinese peasant army idea comes from.

To many amateur historians, most people always think of China as a nation with tons of untrained infantry.
Because compared to the Romans, that was true.
Permament standing professional armies were much smaller, and the Chinese relied more on long term conscripts for their enlisted manpower. Don't confuse the generals and leaders for the common soldiers.

But then again, compared to the Romans, virtually every classical army was a ton of untrained infantry:D
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by Thanas » 2009-01-16 10:55am

ray245 wrote:Another question I would like to raise is, how well trained is the army of the Persian empire. The Achaemenid Persian empire.

Many historians always said that the Persian army is a huge bunch of untrained rabble. However, if the army is really that untrained to begin with, the army cannot even exist, given that Infantry will be hard pressed to understand order in the first place.

The Persian army that was destroyed by Alexander must have some training at the very least.
Well, this gets a bit complicated. The vast majority of the persian army was composed of levies, which had little or no training, or at least not state-supervised training. However, the majority of the army was not really there to fight, but to construct roads and serve as servants to the fighting forces.

And the majority of the Persian fighting forces are surprisingly well-trained. First, there are the various cavalry forces. Thracian cavalry was used by Alexander as well. The Iranian nobles and the nomad cavalry, while somewhat suffering from a lack of discipline, nevertheless had a reputation for being tough fighters. You have to understand that prior to Alexander, no opponent had fielded cavalry that could go toe-to-toe with them in battle - and if Dareios had used them in a more competent fashion, they might have had carried the day at Gaugamaela or Issos.

Then, there is the infantry. A large part of the Persian infantry were actually greek mercenaries. That is one of the problems of the Alexander movie of 2005 - it should have shown large lines of hoplites battling each other instead of barely-armed persians charging hoplites. Do you know the famous mosaic depicting Alexander charging at Dareios? The troops guarding Dareios are all greek hoplites and are depicted as such. The greek mercenaries were very, very disciplined. Remember the march of the 10.000 by Xenophon? Those 10.000 had been originally mercenaries in persian service. At Gaugamaela the greek mercenaries fought to the last man.

Then, there are of course the various levies of varying quality, however it should be noted that some of them could have been found in Alexander's army as well - the Thracians for example.

Finally, there are the Immortals, and I do not think I need to highlight their devotion and discipline. They too had a reputation of either gaining victory or being completely annihilated in the pursuit of it. Finally, the cardaces were also quite disciplined if Arrian is to be believed.

So I would say that the quality of the troops varied, but it cannot be claimed that as a whole, persian discipline was inferior to the makedonian version. In fact, what defeated the persians was the superior combined-arms techniques of the makedonians (especially the combination of the Hypaspists and Pezhetaroi), internal unrest and of course the mistakes of Dareios, which Alexander exploited perfectly.
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by ray245 » 2009-01-16 11:09am

Thanas wrote:
ray245 wrote:Another question I would like to raise is, how well trained is the army of the Persian empire. The Achaemenid Persian empire.

Many historians always said that the Persian army is a huge bunch of untrained rabble. However, if the army is really that untrained to begin with, the army cannot even exist, given that Infantry will be hard pressed to understand order in the first place.

The Persian army that was destroyed by Alexander must have some training at the very least.
Well, this gets a bit complicated. The vast majority of the persian army was composed of levies, which had little or no training, or at least not state-supervised training. However, the majority of the army was not really there to fight, but to construct roads and serve as servants to the fighting forces.

And the majority of the Persian fighting forces are surprisingly well-trained. First, there are the various cavalry forces. Thracian cavalry was used by Alexander as well. The Iranian nobles and the nomad cavalry, while somewhat suffering from a lack of discipline, nevertheless had a reputation for being tough fighters. You have to understand that prior to Alexander, no opponent had fielded cavalry that could go toe-to-toe with them in battle - and if Dareios had used them in a more competent fashion, they might have had carried the day at Gaugamaela or Issos.

Then, there is the infantry. A large part of the Persian infantry were actually greek mercenaries. That is one of the problems of the Alexander movie of 2005 - it should have shown large lines of hoplites battling each other instead of barely-armed persians charging hoplites. Do you know the famous mosaic depicting Alexander charging at Dareios? The troops guarding Dareios are all greek hoplites and are depicted as such. The greek mercenaries were very, very disciplined. Remember the march of the 10.000 by Xenophon? Those 10.000 had been originally mercenaries in persian service. At Gaugamaela the greek mercenaries fought to the last man.

Then, there are of course the various levies of varying quality, however it should be noted that some of them could have been found in Alexander's army as well - the Thracians for example.

Finally, there are the Immortals, and I do not think I need to highlight their devotion and discipline. They too had a reputation of either gaining victory or being completely annihilated in the pursuit of it. Finally, the cardaces were also quite disciplined if Arrian is to be believed.

So I would say that the quality of the troops varied, but it cannot be claimed that as a whole, persian discipline was inferior to the makedonian version. In fact, what defeated the persians was the superior combined-arms techniques of the makedonians (especially the combination of the Hypaspists and Pezhetaroi), internal unrest and of course the mistakes of Dareios, which Alexander exploited perfectly.
Ah I see. It seems to me that the problem of saying the Persian army is primary made up of untrained levies is well documented among a number of Historians as well. Historians such as Aryeh Nusbacher for example. I remember in the show Time commanders that they said the Persians are simply a bunch untrained levies who don't want to fight, which makes me go :wtf: .



There are many books and documentary which simply describe how well trained the Macedonians are, and how untrained the Persians are.
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by Thanas » 2009-01-16 01:26pm

^Well, the majority of the Persian army are levies. Just not all of them, and not all of the levies are worthless.
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by Maxentius » 2009-01-16 03:19pm

As far as I'm aware, later incarnations of the Persian Empire also sought to form more of a professional core of infantry, the Sassanids in particular.
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by Serafina » 2009-01-17 07:35am

Read A short History of War.
A nice explanation about changes in warfare, including army size.

Size of armies

Logistics and transports are the most important reason for changes in army size.

Oh, and lots of figures for historical armies include the supply personell and camp followers. Given that, at times, those were at a 2:1 ratio to actual soldiers, you can slash down lots of those figures by a large margin.
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