of the Persian army
Xerxes I, king of Persia, had been preparing for years to continue
the Greco-Persian Wars started by his father Darius. In 481 BC,
after four years of preparation, the Persian army and navy arrived
in Asia Minor. A bridge of ships had been made at Abydos. This
allowed the land forces to cross the Hellespont. Herodotus of
Halicarnassus, who wrote the first history of this war, gave
the size of Xerxes's army as follows:
|Arabs and Libyans
|Greek allied troops
This is the account for the land armies present at Thermopylae.
Regarding the total number of forces Xerxes assembed to invade
(land army, fleet crew etc), this number needs to be nearly
doubled in order to account for support troops and thus Herodotus
reports that the total Persian force numbered 5,283,220 men,
a figure which is regarded erroneous by modern estimations. The
poet Simonides, who was a near-contemporary, talks of four million.
Ctesias of Cnidus, Artaxerxes Mnemon's personal physician, wrote
a history of Persia according to Persian sources that unfortunately
has not survived, and gives 800,000 as the total number of the
original army that met in Doriskos, Thrace, after crossing the
Hellespont. Modern scholars have given different estimates based
on knowledge of the Persian military systems, their logistical
capabilities and supplies available along
the army's route.
Modern estimations tend to consider the
figures given in ancient texts as miscalculations or exaggerations
on the part of the
victors. It is assumed that if Herodotus' 300,000 estimate at
Mycalae were to be accepted, then the land army at Thermopylae
could not have surpassed 500,000, and the total Persian presence
in Greece would be estimated at 1,000,000. This accounts for
one fifth of Herdotus' record. Others give an upper limit of
250,000 total land forces and 500,000 for the expedition. The
main reason most often given for these values is a lack of water;
Sir Frederick Maurice,] a British general in World War I, was
among the first to claim that the army could not have surpassed
175,000 due this reason. A minority of scholars have suggested
land force figures lower than 100,000, while a popular view supports
a range of 100,000-150,000 or 150,000-200,000. The subject has
been hotly debated, but the current consensus rests on the theory
that Herodotus confused Persian terms for chiliarchy and myriarchy
(one thousand and ten thousand). This suggests that the actual
size of the Persian land forces would be around 210,000. All
those estimates concern the land forces alone, whereas the entire
Persian presence, including support troops and fleet crew, would
almost double this number, dividing Herodotus' five million figure
The numbers given by Herodotus on the Persian
fleet are considered largely realistic. It is generally maintained
or his sources had access to official Persian records of the
forces involved in the expedition, and it is more likely the
numbers on the fleet were given precisely, whereas the contigent
of the army may have been listed in general terms rather than
exact figures. Whatever the real numbers were, it is clear that
Xerxes was anxious to ensure a successful expedition by mustering
an overwhelming numerical superiority by land and by sea.
Based on the fact that Xerxes led a multi-ethnic army and not
just a Persian one, a second school contends that some ancient
sources do give realistic numbers. According to the texts the
Greeks at the end of the battle of Plataea mustered 110,000 (Herodotus)
or 100,000 (Pompeius) troops: 38,700 hoplites and 71,300 or 61,300
peltasts respectively, the difference probably being 10,000 helots.
In that battle, according to Herodotus, they faced 300,000 Persians
and 50,000 Greek allies. This gives a 6-to-1 ratio for the two
armies, which proponents of the school consider a realistic proportion.
Furthermore, Munro and Macan argue for realism based on Herodotus
giving the names of 6 major commanders and 29 μυρίαρχοι (muriarchoi)—leaders
of the baivabaram, the basic unit of the Persian infantry, which
numbered about 10,000 strong. As troops were lost through attrition,
the Persians preferred to dissolve crippled baivabarams to replenish
the ranks of others. It is therefore likely that the units were
at full strength. Adding casualties of the battles and attrition
due to the need to guard cities and strategic objectives obtains
a force of 400,000 minimum.
According to this view, there was no lack of water. The available
surface water in Greece today satisfies the needs of a much larger
population than the number of Xerxes's troops, though the majority
of that water is used for irrigation.
Other historians' estimates include:
- Nicholas Hammond accepts 300,000 Persians at the battle
of Plataea, though he claims that the numbers at Doriskos were
- The metrologist Livio Catullo Stecchini argues that
Ctesias's figure of 800,000 battle troops for the Persian
army is accurate and that Herodotus's
of 1,700,000 includes both battle and support troops.
- Dr. Manousos Kampouris
argues that Herodotus' 1,700,000 for the infantry plus 80,000
cavalry (including support) is realistic for various reasons
including the size of the area from which the army was drafted (from
to Pakistan), the lack of security against spies, the ratios of land
troops to fleet troops, of infantry to cavalry
troops to Greek troops.
- On the other hand, Christos Romas believes
that the Persian troops accompanying Xerxes were a little
Size of the Greek army
According to Herodotus, the Greek army included the following
To this number must be added 1,000 other Lacedemonians mentioned
by Diodorus Siculus and perhaps 800 auxiliary troops from other
Greek cities, bringing the total up to 7,000. Diodorus gives
4,000 as the total of Greek troops, and Pausanias 11,200. Modern
historians, who usually consider Herodotus more reliable, prefer
his claim of 7,000 men.
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