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

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

Post by Fingolfin_Noldor » 2009-01-17 07:51am

Maxentius wrote: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.
The Sassanids were pretty feudal if I recall?
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by Thanas » 2009-01-17 08:30am

Oberst Tharnow wrote: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.

To anyone who has had the idea of clicking on those links, do not believe a word they are saying. This is the classic example of people writing about something they do not understand anything about and I wonder how much you, Tharnow, really know about the subject if this is your idea. Heck, the size of armies page is full of mistakes and assumptions, and their idea about the late roman empire is straight from the 1920s.

I cannot warn you enough of those pages. Heck, let's look about how they describe the roman army since the second century:
Throughout the first and second centuries, the Roman strategy succeeded in repelling the repeated attempts at penetration by the Germans. It was not until 260 A.D. that the first significant penetrations succeeded when the Franks moved into Spain, the Alamanni moved into the Alvergne country, and the Goths crossed the Danube in large numbers. The Roman army, long garrisoned along the imperial frontiers, had begun to decay.
And of course they decayed because of...what, exactly? Why did they decay? How did they decay?
Many of the frontier posts had become large towns with large civilian contingents within them.
Eh....this had been taken place since 12 B.C. The point is....?
Training and discipline declined.
Aurelian and the performance of the roman army, especially the specialist late roman army, would beg to differ.
By the second century not more than one percent of the Roman army was comprised of native Italians, the rest being drawn from other nationalities of the empire still strongly socialized to Roman values and methods.
I see the authors are ignorant of the research done on the recruitment of the legionnaires, as well as the fact that roman authors encouraged recruiting from gaul and illyria because the people there were better recruits. This was not a decline, but an improvement in quality.
By the middle of the third century, however, the army had become hollow, and the German tribes broke through in great numbers to settle large tracts of imperial land.
By the middle...how nice to fail to mention that this was a period of internal unrest and that that was the problem, not a "hollow army". Bah.
The Roman response was to reorganize the army with militia troops, the limitani,
THE LIMITANEI WERE NOT MILITIA TROOPS. Goddamm it, that issue has been settled since the 1960s.
garrison the forts, and hold strong horse-born reserves at key garrisons within the empire that could rush to a point of penetration and stop the enemy advance.
A mixture of Luttwak as well as the belief there were cavalry reserves. Nevermind that this was done under Gallienus and was done 50 years before the limitanei....oh, and the reserves were not there to prevent barbarian incursions. Goddamm it, another issue that has been settled since over 30 years ago.
Most of the army by this time was comprised of barbarian soldiers in the pay of Rome.
WRONG. Studies have shown that at most 15-25% were composed of barbarians. And that does not mean those were more disloyal or worse soldiers.
As Roman reliance upon these barbarian military forces grew, the organizational structure and values of the legion began to erode until
WRONG. Where is the evidence for that?
, by the 4th century, the legions were no longer organized along traditional Roman lines.
This is getting ridiculous. Was Diocletian not a roman emperor? And define what the heck a traditional roman line means.
Instead, they reflected barbarian weapons, tactics, values, and were commanded by their own tribal chiefs.
WRONG. Goddamm it, hasn't this person read anything else besides Gibbon?
The fiction that they were paid allies of Rome continued until the 5th century when renewed waves of barbarian invasions crashed over Europe, effectively putting an end to the Roman military system.
The Roman military system continued to exist until the time of Heraclius. That is 300 years you forget to mention, you stupid idiot.
The gradual barbarization of the legions had an enormous impact on Roman military organization. The decline in the administrative and support structure of the legion led to its replacement with a number of barbarian military practices.
Such as....? The whole idea is idiotic.
In effect, the tribal military forces within the empire became a state within a state that was beyond the power of the central Roman state apparatus to control.
Suuuure it was.
The Battle of Adrianople administered a military coup de grace to a social order that was already dying from within.
This is beyond laughable. The Battle of Adrianople happened in 378 - way before the end of the roman empire. And it is funny that it was supposed to have been a coup de grace.....when the romans continued to use the same tactics and equipment almost 400 years later.



Those pages are nothing more than pages with no substance and a lot of nice-sounding buzzwords. If I had to grade them, they would not even be worthy of a first-semester student.
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by frogcurry » 2009-01-17 02:29pm

Not to change the topic, but I would have thought that the rural depopulation and agricultural decline that occured in the later periods in the western roman empire would have led to a reduced army size in terms of the troops fielded at any one place or time compared to the centuries before hand, due to reduced ability to feed and fodder a large army off the local land when manouvering.

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

Post by Thanas » 2009-01-17 02:34pm

Well, you first would have to prove that agricultural decline and rural depopulation did happen to such an extent. Then you would have to show me that somehow it was impossible for the Romans to rely on their existing logistics chain.

The current trend seems to suggest that depopulation was not an empire-wide phenomenon and that all in all, the roman empire of the fourth century was not weaker when compared to that of the principate in economic turms. In fact, some programs (like the supply of meat, whine and olive oil to the city) seem to suggest that it was even more wealthier and productive.
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by ray245 » 2009-01-17 10:44pm

Thanas wrote:^Well, the majority of the Persian army are levies. Just not all of them, and not all of the levies are worthless.
I think the problems with levies and professional army can work vice versa.

For example, the Song dynasty is the dynasty to have the most professional army as full time soldiers. Which goes to show that just because the troops are paid full time does not mean they are going to be good soldiers.

Too many ameturs historians I have met online seems to go nuts over the idea of a professional army in ancient times.
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by Serafina » 2009-01-18 12:37pm

Thanas wrote: What Thanas wrote
Damn...

Is the site completly useless, or does it "only" contain lots of errors about the roman empire?
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by Thanas » 2009-01-18 02:14pm

I have only read the late Roman and the Byzantine sections, and those were worthless...as their army numbers page. But I guess that's the result if you let a politics specialist and not a historian write that page.

In all honesty, I would discard it and read real books instead.
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by ray245 » 2009-01-18 02:47pm

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.
Just a side note, did the Hoplites form the majority of the army at Gaugamaela? And from what I have read on that battle on many other sites and some books, it seems that there is a huge Persian infantry presence there as well, much larger than the Hoplites.

Mainly because another guy said this to me.
I ALREADY said there were Greeks present at Gaugamela. But you said a "majority" of the Persian infantry were Greek mercenaries (which is simply untrue). The only battle where a majority of the Persian infantry was composed of Greek mercs was at the Granicus....I think you need to watch the movie more thoroughly. If you watch it, you'll see that Alexander's phalanx is constantly in danger of being outflanked. Although not as accurate as it could've been, there's no movie that better shows Hellenistic warfare than "Alexander."
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by Serafina » 2009-01-18 02:50pm

Well, thanks for the advice - i knew the page was not 100% accurate (given its size and authors), but there is a lot of difference between "inaccurate" and "so wrong its wothless".
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by Thanas » 2009-01-18 03:45pm

ray245 wrote:Just a side note, did the Hoplites form the majority of the army at Gaugamaela?
No. Both at Issos and Gaugamela the greek mercenaries numbered around 10.000 according to modern estimates.
And from what I have read on that battle on many other sites and some books, it seems that there is a huge Persian infantry presence there as well, much larger than the Hoplites.
Yes.
Mainly because another guy said this to me.
I ALREADY said there were Greeks present at Gaugamela. But you said a "majority" of the Persian infantry were Greek mercenaries (which is simply untrue). The only battle where a majority of the Persian infantry was composed of Greek mercs was at the Granicus....I think you need to watch the movie more thoroughly. If you watch it, you'll see that Alexander's phalanx is constantly in danger of being outflanked. Although not as accurate as it could've been, there's no movie that better shows Hellenistic warfare than "Alexander."
And I won't answer to this one because I have no interest in third-person debate. If that person wants to debate with you, that's fine. But if he wants to debate with me, he has to come here.
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by Guardsman Bass » 2009-01-18 09:00pm

Interesting, Thanas. Do you have any suggestions for readings into this matter (English is my first language)? I know you provided some good recommendations in another History Forum thread about Byzantium.
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by Thanas » 2009-01-19 07:31am

^Which issue? The greek hoplite, ancient armies in general or the transformation of the late Roman army?
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by Guardsman Bass » 2009-01-19 07:59pm

The latter - transformation of the late Roman army. Sorry I wasn't more specific. "Ancient armies in general" would be nice, too, if you know any.
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by Thanas » 2009-01-20 07:35am

Hmm. It really is too bad that you cannot read German, because the most influential research on the Late Roman Army (for example, the groundbreaking study of the Late Roman army on the regimental basis by Hoffmann, D., Das spätrömische Bewegungsheer und die Notitia Dignitatum I, Düsseldorf 1969) has been done by the Germans. However, there are some good works in English as well:

- Elton, Hugh, Warfare in Roman Europe Ad 350-425 is probably the best general English description of the warfare of that time. It should be noted that he is arguing against some mainstream scholars, though, especially in his treatment of the barbarian factions. If you accept his conclusions, his book is valuable, if you do not, you should read it nevertheless. His factual arguments are almost always correct and I cannot praise his concise writing style highly enough.

The following are specialist questions, but they are nice to know nonetheless. Still, if you have read Elton, you probably know more than 90% of amateur historians already.

- Nicasie, M., Twilight of Empire. The Roman Army from the reign of Diocletian until the Battle of Adrianople, Diss. Leiden 1997. It fills the gap from Diocletian to Elton's work. The trouble with this work is though that it argues against Isaac, B, The Limits of Empire. The Roman Army in the East, 2nd rev. Ed., Oxford et al 1992, so you should read that one as well to understand Nicasie.
- Mann, J.C., Power, Force and the Frontiers of the Empire, Journal of Roman Studies (JRS) Vol. 69 (1979), pg 176 onwards, deals with Luttwak and is in general an excellent read about how Diocletian changed the strategy (not much, if you are wondering).
- von Petrikovits, H., Fortifications in the North-Western Roman Empire from the Third to the Fifth Centuries A.D., in: JRS Vol. 61 (1971), pp. 178-218, deals with a much misunderstood topic - roman fortifications.
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by Guardsman Bass » 2009-01-20 02:45pm

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

Post by PainRack » 2009-01-21 04:07am

ray245 wrote:I think the problems with levies and professional army can work vice versa.

For example, the Song dynasty is the dynasty to have the most professional army as full time soldiers. Which goes to show that just because the troops are paid full time does not mean they are going to be good soldiers.

Too many ameturs historians I have met online seems to go nuts over the idea of a professional army in ancient times.
Eh.............. No. The Song Dynasty has been traditionally badmouthed, but its military difficulties were a condition of its era. Yes, the classic Chinese critics badmouth the Emperor for dictating military strategy and forbidding generals to have flexibility in their response, however, at most, that affected the original battles against the Liao.

The romantics similarly complain about how traditional peasant soldiers made better soldiers, thus arguing that the current Song military is weaker but examination of this issue is difficult and best attributed to propaganda.

I am unable to go into the specifics, but the Song dynasty military could be seen as worse off due to China relatively weaker economic position to its opponents, the Jin and Liao were virtually Northern Chinese states that had incorporated the full range of agriculture and nomadic lifestyles, unlike the Xiongniu which had a weak economic base. While military adventures did reverse some of Song resource problems, her later failings at the basin would rob her of prime horse grazing land, leaving her military weaker in terms of cavalry. Lastly, the profesionallism of the military were relatively successful, do not compare the ending era of the Song with its prime.

As for profesionalism, given that the state infrastructure for classical states relied on tribute and the economies were relatively barter or goods based, with limited cash economies, its not unreasonable to see why classical states would find it easier to rely on conscript labour/armies instead. The pay for profesional generals in the Han dynasty was calculated as either a landhold, or payment in rice and other goods. Ditto to the Romans salt.
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by Thanas » 2009-01-21 03:29pm

Ditto to the Romans salt.
What?
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by PainRack » 2009-01-21 10:49pm

Thanas wrote:
Ditto to the Romans salt.
What?
I was under the impression that part of the Romans salary, on top of denarii were paid off in goods such as salt, clothes and equipment during the Republican era..............

If I'm wrong, please correct me.
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by Thanas » 2009-01-22 06:10am

Hmm. I admit that I have only done research on the imperial pay system, but since the republic professional army only existed for ~60 years before turning into the Imperial Army, I don't think they are the ones to use as an example when talking about professional Roman armies.

I would be most interested in your source.

Anyway, for the imperial period the roman soldier was paid entirely in money - on paper. A large part of his income (one third/one quarter) was kept by the treasury to pay for his rations, which included salt. As much as a second third was kept for his equipment and clothes. So you can say that indirectly they were paid in salt and clothes, however this was always based on money.
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by ray245 » 2009-01-22 07:56am

Which reminded me of another issue.

Just how important is salt in the classical age? What is the value of salt?

I have read that Salt monopoly is even controlled by the government of many empires in the past. Although I never got the chance to read up on the specific details.
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Re: Size of Armies in the classical era, from Rome to China

Post by PainRack » 2009-01-22 08:23am

Thanas wrote:Hmm. I admit that I have only done research on the imperial pay system, but since the republic professional army only existed for ~60 years before turning into the Imperial Army, I don't think they are the ones to use as an example when talking about professional Roman armies.

I would be most interested in your source.

Anyway, for the imperial period the roman soldier was paid entirely in money - on paper. A large part of his income (one third/one quarter) was kept by the treasury to pay for his rations, which included salt. As much as a second third was kept for his equipment and clothes. So you can say that indirectly they were paid in salt and clothes, however this was always based on money.
Shrugs... Methinks its more likely I confused this bit. Thanks for correcting me.
Which reminded me of another issue.

Just how important is salt in the classical age? What is the value of salt?

I have read that Salt monopoly is even controlled by the government of many empires in the past. Although I never got the chance to read up on the specific details.
Without salt, you can't have dried rations which means you can't mount long range military campaigns or naval voyages. The Romans opened up colonies which have as their primary economic product salt in North Africia. The Chinese nationalised the salt industry as the salt merchants were growing too powerful during the Han era.
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