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Xerxes army

Printed From: History Community ~ All Empires
Category: General History
Forum Name: Military History
Forum Description: Discussions related to military history: generals, battles, campaigns, etc...
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Topic: Xerxes army
Posted By: Aucatag
Subject: Xerxes army
Date Posted: 14-Nov-2005 at 07:26

According to Herodotus, when Xerxes invaded Greece (Second Persian War) he brought with him an army of almost 1,700,000! (including navy, infantry and others)

Most Histians now only claim that it was only 300,000.

Is this really possible?, I'm sure Herodotus was just enlarging the number to make Greece out to be more great for defeating a greater army. But then again imagine if Xerxes drafted every able man from the ages of 18-50 from all over the empire it might be possible for him to get that number. And Herodotus is able to explain where all those troops cam from (Book Seven; the Histories).

If he did muster an army of this size would he have been able to support it?



Posted By: Alkiviades
Date Posted: 14-Nov-2005 at 08:20

In short: NO!

More eloquently:

This is a subject of great controversy - ie. the numbers of Xerxes' army, why Herodotus is bullsh*tting us so badly and excactly how badly is Herodotus bullsh*tting us. Actually, Herodotus specifies the combatants only at 1.7 million. He then proceeds to add the shipcrews and several others, and bring this number up to 2.7 million. He then assumes that the non-combatants following the army should be of an equal number and proceeds at specifying that Xerxes rode into Greece with no fewer than 5.4 mi. people

I have done some extensive research on the subject, in order to write an article on Thermopylae for a military history magazine, and i must say even though Persia could muster so many men (and even more) they couldn't possibly move such an army and supply it even for a day.

The conclusion I've come to (from my reading) is that the army Xerxes mustered and moved into Greece, consisted of 300.000 to 360.000 fighting men, a similar number of followers (non-combatants) and a smaller number of shipcrews and others.

Posted By: demon
Date Posted: 14-Nov-2005 at 10:26

Quote If he did muster an army of this size would he have been able to support it?

Dude, I've organized dinners for 200 families, and believe me, it is unbelievable.  You use this bot that can fit around 5 average american adults and fit it up with soup.  You cut thousands of chicken legs.  And it takes like 3 hours- even with all available help.  I just can't imagine an army 300,000 strong - which would need around 1500 chefs, 1 per 200 men, with many of those soldiers aiding the lunch.  Distributing it would be another problem, although you can argue that they would cook simple stew.  However, think about the ingredients- where to get that much water, staples (rice, potato, wheat etc), veggies, etc? 

I'm not saying that 1.7 million was that impossible.  My point is Xerxes was confident enough for an invasion on that scale, he better have had the logistics he could count on, especially if he was going to migrate 1.7 million men and feed them and camp them.

This reminds me of this Campaign done by Sui against Koguryo in Asia.  Korean records say an army of 3 Million, though the rational number would be 300,000.  The emperor of Sui basically ordered all troops to carry one whole bag of rice that the soldier would eat throughout the campaign.  What soldiers actually did was to trash it secretly, little by little to alleviate their burden.  Soon, when the war dragged on deep within enemy territory, they were basically screwed because they were going to run out of rice.  Eventually Sui was defeated, because they drained their entire treasuring in this campaign.


Posted By: Travis Congleton
Date Posted: 14-Nov-2005 at 11:14

This from a man who gives us the casualties number from Marathon at 192 Greeks killed and 6400 Persians killed.

Now, I don't dispute 192.  Yet if you multiply it by 100 then divide by 3.  Guess what you get.


ANSWER: 6,400 !!

Logistics, in any day and age, can, in itself, be a formidable opponent.

Posted By: AlbinoAlien
Date Posted: 14-Nov-2005 at 11:30

It seems to appear alot in history that anyone who tries to move an army around over that of the hundreds thousands point collapses. i wonder if anyone can find a army which did number in the millions that did succeed in its conquest?

people are the emotions of other people

(im not albino..or pale!)

.....or an alien..

Posted By: Belisarius
Date Posted: 14-Nov-2005 at 14:11

It does not seem likely for such an army to have existed, or even necessary. At this point in history, 5.4 million might be twice the entire population of Greece.

However, the difficulty, or in this case the impossibility, lies in logistics, as was mentioned several times.

"It is easier to talk than to hold one's tongue."

Posted By: Alkiviades
Date Posted: 14-Nov-2005 at 16:47
There are several practical problems, even if Xerxes could somehow provide his army with 1400 tons of korn and 200 tons of meat everyday (that would be the amount of food needed to feed the combatants - 1/2 kg. of korn for the warriors and a small amount of meat + korn for the officers). Xerxes stayed in Greece... for how long? About a year? well, that would make 511.000 tons of Korn and 73.600 tons of meat... and that's only the 2.7 mi. combatants... heck, Greece (from Byzantium to Illyrikon and from Macedonia to Crete) at that time didn't have more than 1.7 mi. people in total.

Besides logistics, a 2.7 mi. army (never mind the followers) with the road system of the time (ie. no roads, actually)... well... how the feck would they march such a force? if they'd deploy in enough width to actually stay in some contact (so that the last men don't arrive a month after the first men) they'd have to move in something like a 500 men front... don't even get me started on how many weeks such a force would have to get through Thermopylae...

Posted By: Imperator Invictus
Date Posted: 14-Nov-2005 at 16:56
I think 300,000 is still stretching it. I'd say more like 50,000 men.

300,000 is about the size of the largest city in that part of the world. A city of 300,000 men take a whole economy to feed.

Posted By: Alkiviades
Date Posted: 15-Nov-2005 at 03:09

Nah, you are getting to the other end - I would call that an extreme fallacy as well. As I said, displacing a huge myth with another, similarly innacurate, just in order to act the revisionist way, is not productive.

I could write an essay about the logistics of the Persian army to convince you, but I think that would be a bit too much. Just think logical here for a moment.

The lands Xerxes conquered while advancing towards Athens, hosted a little more than 1.5 million people (Thrace, Macedonia, Thessaly). The Thessalian cities, only, could muster 3.000 elite cavalry, 8.000 hoplites and certainly more than 20.000 light infantry on their own. Macedonia could muster at least 1.000 cavalrymen and 12.000 infantrymen. The Thracian tribes were strong and numerous - although not united. Could you imagine a 50.000 strong army advance unscathed through those lands, and nobody do anything about it?

That would be such a stretch of imagination, I can't even calculate the odds for it to happen. Also, the Greeks were not noted as "cowards" in any instance of their history. Would you imagine all the Greek city states either succumb to the invader (like the aforementioned and also Thebes and host of others on Greece mainland did) or flee in panic (like the athenians and others did) in the face of a ...50.000 men army? 50.000 Persian army, nevertheless?

Not to mention other hard facts. The Imperial Spada (the standing army of the Persian empire) in Dariush's times (just before Xerxes, that is) numbered 89.000 men. I can assume he took at least the whole Spada with him, and probably he took also a multitude of other men. Another fact: we have several sources mentioning the pains he got in to erect deposits with provisions from the Bosporos to the Tembi feed 50.000 men? They could be fed off the land easily. Why dig a huge canal to avoid going around mound Athos? You know, even today you can see the traces of the canal in Athos. Dig such a cannal in a matter of months with 50.000 pairs of hands? No frigging way, he'd need at least 200.000 just to get the work done - and who'd feed those 200.000 and fend off any looters and threats to the working men?

See, the minimal numbers don't stand the trial of logic or sources. Herodotus is grossly exaggerating, but we shouldn't grossly underplay the numbers of the Persian army, because it would be a similar mistake.

Posted By: BigL
Date Posted: 15-Nov-2005 at 03:28

Roman manpower of the empire was very large yet the most men they could muster in battle was like 70,000.If romans can only feed that much how come persia could support an army of 300,000.

Posted By: Alkiviades
Date Posted: 15-Nov-2005 at 04:05

Not a valid comparison, for too many reasons. The  Their largest ever was the army at Cannae, I believe. About 74.000 men. The largest expedition army, would be the force Caesar led into Gaul, no?

Alright, I'll be brief (haven't got much time, anyway)

- The main reason is this: Rome didn't have to muster a larger army than what they did. They made sure, through political means, that they'd never face a huge army themselves without adequate allies. When they ventured into Asia Minor to face Antiochus, for instance, who had great manpower and ammassed a 70.000 strong army, they had only one Consular army (two legions, 20-24.000 men) but their local allies (the Pergamenes with king Evmenes) provided them with enough troops to render the numerical advantage of Antiochus minimal.

- Rome had a very different military structure than Persia. The Persian army, and that is known from a dozen sources, even Persian ones, counted on numerical superiority to bring down any opposition. OTOH, the Romans in very few of their battles had numerical superiority (usually fought outnumbered, from marginally to vastly). The Persian army was a missile-based, light infantry army. The Roman was an army of well-trained massed heavy infantry. The Romans, as Alexander before them and the rest of the Greeks before Alex, didn't need total numerical superiority to win an engagement - they needed local superiority at a specific time/space.

- Persia in the times of Xerxes had a huge manpower pool. Appr. 50 million inhabitants. Rome came into the realms of a similar to Persian manpower pool, only at the end of the 2nd century and even at that time Rome didn't have nominal mastership over their conquests (= they didn't contribute directly into the Roman manpower pool, only as "allies", unlike the lands under Persia - those had to contribute men).

There are a million other reasons, but suffice to say, YOU will have to defend your point as well. What makes you think Persia couldn't muster and move such an army as I am suggesting and how do you account for all the arguments I brought forth? Coherent replies, please, and serious arguments, not just a "no way man, can't be done" or similar aphorisms...

Posted By: Constantine XI
Date Posted: 15-Nov-2005 at 06:54
The most credible sources I have read of state that even more than food supplies there was a more critical resource which the Persian army could not advance without: water.

Because of this, the most reliable historians I have read of estimate the Persian army being about 220,000-240,000 due to the availability of water supplied during the march through Thrace, Macedonia, Thessaly and into Greece itself.

It is not the challenges a people face which define who they are, but rather the way in which they respond to those challenges.

Posted By: Alkiviades
Date Posted: 15-Nov-2005 at 08:02

The estimations that place the Persian force under 300K all belong to the late 19th and early 20th century and - frankly - are just revisionist opinions and completely undocumented when it comes to data, sources, logic, sanity, knowledge of the historical context, knowledge of the Persian military system etc. etc. etc.

The best they sport is either a disdain for Herodotus or a vague knowledge of modern military logistics - hardly tools fitting to describe the distant past.

A certain prof. Livio Stecchini, on a site devoted to Iranian history, propagates the 720.000 + non-combatants theory. I still find this number too high, but that's my opinion. OTOH, this gentleman has a solid set of arguments and writes a very good essay.

You can read it here: - p


Posted By: Travis Congleton
Date Posted: 15-Nov-2005 at 08:32

Alkiviades: "The best they sport is either a disdain for Herodotus..."


Herodotus also thought himself fancy for using a formula to made up casualty numbers at Marathon that conventiently match.

(192*100 / 3)

Posted By: Alkiviades
Date Posted: 15-Nov-2005 at 08:44
Numbers are easily manipulated to perform one or another "magic" - while it's just the arbitrary choice of formulas that provides the "magic". I can "prove" to you that the Pyramids are deposits of cosmic standards - if I choose the right arbitrary numerology. So, your picking of an arbitrary analogy doesn't prove that Herodotus has done so before you.

Posted By: AlbinoAlien
Date Posted: 15-Nov-2005 at 11:04
I think we can all agree that however herodotus's purposeful mistake, the victory of the greeks was still a magnificent one.

people are the emotions of other people

(im not albino..or pale!)

.....or an alien..

Posted By: Keith
Date Posted: 18-Nov-2005 at 18:56


If he did muster an army of this size would he have been able to support it?





1. food issues

2. water

3.the land was to small

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