Overestimated historical states

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Koprulu Mustafa Pasha, Aug 11, 2019.

  1. Gloss Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2014
    I honestly don't see how one can argue for those numbers when they basically indicate very high mobilization levels, which we can only justify in nomadic armies or modern industrial armies. Is there anything outside those figures(whose sources are clearly not that good, see below) that indicates we had those napoleonic-sized armies running around?

    He pretty much did what he could: https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistori..._people_knew_their_quoted_numbers_of/drn48gt/

    You can't use exaggerated figures from one side to support exaggerated figure on the other, you assume the Greek wouldn't be surprised by 50k men because you assume that the sizes given for the Greek armies have are true, which we have no reason to believe to begin with.

    Even using some estimates of the Greek population(3 million Greek speakers in the Aegean?) and pretty high mobilization rates(2%) the total amount wouldn't make the Greek army that much larger than the Persian forces which clearly would be comparatively scarier given it's a seemingly unified invading force compared to the divided Greeks.
     
    John7755 يوحنا likes this.
  2. Fabius Maximus Unus qui nobis cunctando restituit rem

    Joined:
    Apr 3, 2013
    Location:
    Perfidious Albion
    Yes, but that's just one part of the empire. When you look at the size of the Achaemenid domains, I don't think it at all surprising that they should be able to raise an army several times larger than that of Assyria.

    I'm not denying that Herodotus tried his best to come up with an accurate figure, simply pointing out that he didn't break his figures down by nationality, in the form of "The Persians supplied this many thousand troops, the Medians that many..." He does in some cases (estimating the number of Libyan charioteers and the like), but in general he doesn't.

    I'm not sure that 2% would count as a high mobilisation rate -- maybe for a professional army, but for short-term militia like the Greek cities tended to use, they should be able to put more of their manpower into the field, especially when facing a major crisis like the Persian invasion. Athens in the fifth century apparently had 150-350,000 people, and the city was certainly able to mobilise more than 3,000-7,000 people at a time.

    And I don't "assume that the sizes given for the Greek armies have are true" (although they may well be at least reasonably accurate, since presumably Greek historians would have had access to more reliable lists of Greek forces than of Persian ones). It's just that the Greek reaction to the Persian invasion, both during the war and in the aftermath, only really makes sense if the Persian host was strong enough for its defeat to be a military upset. An invasion force of 15,000 would be about what a large city-state could put into the field if it tried, so there would be no reason to treat it as an unusually great threat. An invasion force of 50,000 would be beyond the ability of any single city to raise (except perhaps in a "The city is besieged, let everybody who is physically capable grab a spear and man the defences!" situation), but still not more than the anti-Persian league would be able to raise, so again it wouldn't merit the historical reaction to it.
     
    VictorVanBakker and Don Quijote like this.
  3. John7755 يوحنا Historical Inquiries

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2014
    There were times when the armies sent by the Abbasid caliphate were only 15k or say the Sassanid imperial armies generally were under 20k. Is your opinion that a single Greek city state could raise an army larger than the Sassanid empire and likewise match them in quantity on the battlefield? That is an untenable position in my view.

    Once more, the Achaemenids could not levy troops from such a wide territory for a standing army or one for such a far campaign, especially considering the difficulty the Achaemenids held in even keeping its satraps from rebelling or simply refusing to do anything worthwhile. You say just one part of the empire, but this is the most populated sector of the empire in terms of urban and agricultural sophistication and one area that provided the vast mass of Assyrian soldiery, while other areas were simply vassals who could give their soldiers, but only after a period of time. My point, was the Assyrians practiced a far more stringent and skilled levy system and were by far more effective in their war making possibilities than the Achaemenid empire and in the areas that they drew their large numbers of recruits, we have a population decline and decay under the Achaemenid period. It is not much to say that this is an issue for you who is attempting to glorify the Achaemenids far above their predecessors in the region. You also are assuming that the Achaemenids represent all of its constituents enough to gain levies form them. Achaemenid imperial complex was an Elamo-Persian entity, first and foremost, it did not have the ability to simply levy from its diverse populace with impunity, it was barely even able to levy taxes from its diverse empire, much less gather 200k+ troops.
     
  4. dandan_noodles Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 13, 2015
    No, he didn't. He gave very large, broad totals, but he never said how many Persians, how many Medes, how many Lydians, etc. The closest he gets for 480 is the fleet, and the most extreme example of mobilization there is Cyprus, which probably had a population of about 200,000 and sent 150 ships with crews of 30,000, or about 15% of the population, fairly par for the course for Greek cities, especially since most of them didn't require any weapons. Moreover, there's a school of thought that the fleets were paid for by the Great King, which would make this level of mobilization much less onerous. It's not an absolutely infallible method, but the more detail a historian goes into, the more reliable the totals are usually considered.
     
  5. Gloss Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2014
    But I don't think many ancient historians even manage to do that even when they provide far more realistic figures.

    For very localized conflict it would be more normal, so you could justify some alrealdy low figures in various engagements, but it's a strain nonetheless. This begs the question of why is it necessary then for the Persian army to have been bigger than a relatively unprofessional Greek militia, you could justify the surprise on other grounds.

    Attica had up to 300k people, Athens+Pyrhaeus had together likely up to 70k in the classical era, in any case I really wonder why you are so confident that the Athenians had necessarily more men than that. Outside the primary sources for the specific engagements, is there anything else that would make you think the Greeks had to have an army of that size? To me the only thing that would support those figures is the string of other primary sources that have big numbers too, which isn't the best thing to have tbh(especially because we would ultimately have to cherry-pick to have consistent and reasonable results)


    After having failed to help the Anatolian Greeks, have many Greeks subjugated in the first invasion and after having to coalesce into an anti-Persian coaltion and after having many Greeks abandon their homes during the second invasion, I don't think you need the Persian army to be 100k+ big to have a victory be surprising or the invasion be considered massive, considering it's clearly still the biggest single army peninsular Greece ever saw on its soil and headed by a unified force and not a coalition.

    If by tried you mean if it went to almost total war then yes.

    I'm not sure why you think 50k was clearly within the ability of the Hellenic league, which didn't even control or enjoy support from all of Peninsular Greece.
     
  6. dandan_noodles Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 13, 2015
    @John7755 يوحنا
    Yes, less developed societies could often mobilize a larger proportion of the people for combat, but they also usually had less people to work with; it's my view that these mostly evened out, and the Romans generally weren't confronted by overwhelming numbers. In 225, the Gauls supposedly invaded with 50,000 foot and 20,000 horse, but the Romans raised a quarter million men in response, and at the decisive battle at Telamon put ~100,000 men on the field.
     
  7. Gloss Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2014
    I think I exaggerated how specific Herodotus was, but he clearly went about it more meticulously than many other historians that provided more realistic figures in other contexts and yet he is completely wrong.

    I need some real proof that any pre-modern settled country could send 15% of its population, virtually the majority of its male population of young age, to fight a non-local war. It's just way over the top.
    Which is a clearly flawed method, given there is no actual real reason to believe one source over the other and we are still applying filters to the primary sources without even getting realistic results.

    Do you think the Romans really put 100k men on the field though?
     
  8. Fabius Maximus Unus qui nobis cunctando restituit rem

    Joined:
    Apr 3, 2013
    Location:
    Perfidious Albion
    I mean, the usual figure given for the Athenian forces at Marathon is 10,000. To pluck another example at random, at Aegospotami at the end of the Peloponnesian War the Athenians and Spartans had 170 and 180 ships, respectively, which assuming a standard crew of two hundred men per ship would equate to 34,000 and 36,000 on each side. Again, at Syracuse in 415 the Athenians sent some 34,000 men in their initial expedition (soldiers and sailors combined) and later reinforced them with 73 triremes (= 14,600 men, assuming the 200-man crew), 5,000 hoplites and an unspecified but large number of light troops, making a total commitment of 54,000+. Granted this was an unusually large expedition, but it shows what was possible for a Greek state if it really tried. So an army of 15,000 definitely wouldn't have been seen as enormously large, and an army of 50,000 probably wouldn't, either.

    The Persian army would mostly be made up of levies who probably wouldn't have much if any more training than the Greeks. So numerical superiority would be necessary for them to be confident of victory.

    I've quoted some battles above to indicate the sort of numbers involved. Also, the accounts of the Peloponnesian War involve Athens and Sparta fighting simultaneous campaigns across the Aegean, which implies the ability to mobilise large numbers of troops.

    Note that the reason many Greeks abandoned their homes was that they didn't expect to be able to defeat the Persian army in battle, whereas if the two forces had been of similar size we'd expect the Greeks to stand and fight before evacuating their cities.

    Because a good-sized city-state like Athens could put together an army of ten thousand or so, so a league of several city-states should be able to put several tens of thousands into the field.
     
    VictorVanBakker likes this.
  9. Gloss Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2014
    That is if numerical difference is the only differentiating factor, which to me seems an unfounded assumption to make, especially when that's the basis of an already shaky argument.

    Well they involved multiple city states and entire leagues too, you don't need dozen of thousands of troops for each relevant city state to have that.

    Maybe they weren't of similar size or strength and the Greeks didn't actually have the ability to mobilize that many men, that's also an option.

    Well you are again using primary sources on their own. Why are the sources to be trusted on their own to begin with? @John7755 يوحنا mentioned Sassanids and Abbassids, but I'd mention also the Byzantines, where did all those men go after late Antiquity? Are we to actually believe that peninsular Greece alone had the ability to provide for about as many or even more men than the Byzantine empire between the 7th and 12th century? Because that's consequence of the assumptions you make.
     
  10. dandan_noodles Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 13, 2015
    I think you're making assumptions and letting that drive the evidence more than is necessarily warranted. We should be at least willing to entertain the idea that ancient armies represented a large portion of their population, insofar as it accords with what's logistically possible on campaign. 225 BC represented about 5% of the population of Roman Italy; when you compare soldier pay rates to state finance, there's pretty close correspondence between the fiscal footprint of armies and their share of Roman annual revenue (all of it, but they probably didn't spend money on much else). When we look at population density (basically the suitability of a region to campaigning -> requisitions), an army could generally meet its supply needs by sending an advance party to coerce the local authorities into aiding them in gathering the necessary supplies. In Roman Italy, if each household had about a week or two's worth of bread on hand, the advance party would only need to be about a day ahead to ensure the necessary provisions.

    There's no one fool proof method, but if there's a 1) detailed breakdown of manpower that produces a 2) financially and 3) logistically feasible total that's 4) consistent across time periods, it's worth considering that maybe ancient states were good at mobilizing manpower. If we're going to set a percentage ceiling for the mobilization rate of ancient armies, we should probably start high. Incidentally, the population totals most commonly used for ancient Greece and Roman Italy are often done using your method in reverse; historians accept the army totals and try to extrapolate population sizes from that.
     
  11. Gloss Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2014
    Which those numbers are clearly not. If they were then we would have seen this pattern of high mobilization continue throughout most of history, which we don't.

    I don't think reasonable assumption to make that the Roman state spent money virtually only on the army even at that specific point in time.

    The Italian army in 1866 was even smaller than this supposed 250k figure, when Italy had 3-4 times the population of Roman Italy at that time. Mobilizing 5% of your population(meaning a lot of your working age male population), amassing 40% of them for one engagements is an extremely arduous task for any nation.

    Edit:Fixed a sentence

    What did ancient states do that many medieval and even early modern states weren't able to?
    None of those actually applies, what is this detailed breakdown of manpower anyway? How can Italy raising 250k men in the 3rd century be consistent with Italy NOT doing that during the late Imperial Roman era or literally anytime until the late 19th century?
    Maybe bad and older population estimations do that, but I'm fairly sure archaeology and other methods are also often used as a basis for many of those better estimations.
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2019
    darthfanta likes this.
  12. Workable Goblin Chronicler of the Pony Wars

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2009
    Location:
    Canterlot
    I don't understand this objection. Is it really so hard to believe that nations at different times and in different places might have had different tolerances and degrees of difficulty in mobilizing their population, depending on their economic structure and bureaucratic capacity? Heck, in this thread we literally just had a discussion about how bureaucratic centralization damaged Byzantine (and Chinese) ability to mobilize militias in times of national emergency by destroying the incentive for local elites to raise and lead local populations against invaders. Similarly, the United States Army is smaller now than it was during World War II despite the population being much bigger; does that mean that accounts of World War II are obviously lies? No, obviously not. For a variety of reasons, it simply isn't necessary or desirable to mobilize as many people now as it was in the 1940s, or even the 1950s or 1960s, so we don't.

    The fact that a later state or the same state at a later time had smaller armies than alleged to have been the case earlier just plain doesn't prove anything, because there's so many reasons this could be the case other than "they actually didn't have a larger army". It's at best suggestive that there might have been exaggeration in the numbers presented.
     
  13. darthfanta Offline

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2015
    At the same time,you have to realize that wars lasted far shorter in those days. They were often on off affairs,so people are expected to be far more militarized,but at the same time return to their normal occupation once the war was over.
     
  14. Gloss Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2014
    No it's not hard, what is hard to believe is armies of countries where most of the economy was based on a majority of farmers with low levels of surplus food manage to employ as many people in military campaigns as did countries with far better technology and larger population.

    We can't start from the assumption that ancient states magically had the ability to do so and work our way backwards interpreting every little thing to fit.

    Which is a different debate entirey, if the variability was so big that some states were able to raise 5-10 times as many people as others just through state/bureaucracy structure, we would clearly see that, were most ancient states coincidentally similar enough that they didn't overwhelm one another numerically? Does that apply to medieval and early modern states conveniently too?

    Because that's what we are talking about, it's not about some countries raising double as many men as others, it's a huge gap, Barbarian armies supposedly somehow employing more men than 18th century states did.

    This is a pointless comment for obvious reasons, I'm not comparing an army in peace time and another at war plus the difference in my examples is far bigger.

    We have little reasons to believe those sources to begin with, so there is no reason to say that someone that doesn't believe in them has to prove they are impossible, that's not how it works.

    So did early modern and medieval armies.
     
  15. dandan_noodles Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 13, 2015
    This is a question I do struggle with, but I don't think 'well every ancient historian must be wrong' is necessarily the logical conclusion. There are lots of attested changes in war making over time, and many more changes in society and politics that would have reverberated through warfare. For example, ancient cities and tribes usually relied on a levy of all free men able to bear arms for war. The Romans stopped doing this in the Principate; it is believed the Germans continued to do this into late antiquity, but by the Early/High middle ages, this had ceased to be the case. If this is true, it would go a long way towards answering this question; the question would then become why did elites call less upon levied troops in the middle ages, and that would become its own discussion.

    Why? There's no education budget, no EPA, no universal healthcare, pretty much all tax collection is farmed out to wealthy landowners; pretty much the sole function of the ancient city-state was making war.

    They had different kinds of armies and different kinds of societies. An undertrained citizen militia fighting with their own swords and javelins is much easier to improvise than the professional troops needed as full time garrisons on far-flung frontiers, or a modern regular army with issued firearms, expensive artillery, engineers, medical services, professional education systems, etc.

    Polybios breaks down Roman manpower in his account of the Gallic War of 225; records of Roman censuses broadly corroborate these figures. Army numbers reported in Herodotos (for Greeks anyway), Thucydides, and Polybios are commonly used in conjunction with archaeological evidence, and quite often support each other. An archaeological survey of Roman Apulia corroborates Polybios's numbers for the number of Messapians etc. in the region able to bear arms, for instance.

    What do you think is the peak mobilization possible for an ancient state?
     
  16. darthfanta Offline

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2015
    The difference is that early modern armies stressed far more on mercenary and standing forces.They are far more expensive to maintain.In regards to medieval armies,the problem is that city-states of the antiquity most likely have a greater percentage of freemen than the Middle Ages despite the presence of slaves.Citizens were fully expected to be able to fight, and most likely did have some form of military training since childhood.The problem with the Middle Ages was that the bulk of the population consisted of serfs and that the population relied on the lord to provide protection in exchange for providing tax revenues.Most of the serfs simply do not fight,nor are they trained to.
     
  17. Gloss Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2014
    Do you actually struggle with it though? I have to ask because you seem to be able to believe such high numbers without any skepticism, I don't think one can entertain ancient historians as a whole when they come up with such numbers.

    But if it's all contingent on choice why would anyone stop doing it? Why would someone purposefully limit its manpower and forces? Ultimately there must be a financial, logisticial and strategical reason to do so, it can't be all political and economic structures, otherwise I'd argue we would see those structures converge towards the most military capable states if structures alone allow for such huge armies to be raised. Anything else, like individual unit quality, would pale in confront to the ability of one state to mobilize so many more men.

    Also I think we shouldn't seek easy explanations such as the elimination of the full freemen levy, because we would actually need to see if such a thing is actually possible to begin with in settled societies and whether it was ever actually used, especially in societies with large amount of freemen.
    The Romans spent plenty on public works, specifically in the imperial era they also had subsidies of various kinds, internal and external. Even the professional Roman army of the late principate didn't compromise all of the state expenditure(it amounted to about 60-65%) and left a lot of room for other stuff.

    https://www.princeton.edu/~pswpc/pdfs/scheidel/041201.pdf

    And modern armies have a lot better technology, demographics and bureaucratic structures, if you want to compared relatively untrained levies then the Romans still levied armies on the relative scale of Napoleonic mass levy(well quite bigger apparently, 2-3% vs 5% or 10-14%).

    Which census exactly? Also I'm not sure why we have to entertain the idea that Hannibal had an actual 1:30 ratio disadvantage and that the Italians could mobilize upwards of the 10% of their population, at some point we must be able to say that X historian is wrong regardless of what supposedly good sources he had, which is kinda my point, that the ancient historians shouldn't be trusted when talking about specific numbers, especially when we are able to see that they exaggerate enemy figures a lot(barbarian armies for Rome, Persians for Greeks at least)

    Archaeological evidence such as?

    I'm being repetitive but you should link when you mention such things. Also what does it mean, "able to bear"? I don't doubt there were 50k male adults in the regions.

    Depends on the nature of war but it shouldn't go much above 2-3% for non-local conflicts for agricultural based countries. That's just a general figure, obviously specific cases the ceiling could be higher or lower(though not to the levels ancient historian go)
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2019
    John7755 يوحنا likes this.
  18. Gloss Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2014
    BTW @John7755 يوحنا , those figures you gave for the Assyrians, Abbassids and Sassanids, where did they come from or how did people go about estimating them?
     
  19. Sertorius126 Badass guerrilla fighter

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2018
    And they were unwise to think so, because they were at the end of the day, and the smartest of them knew it.





    But that’s the point, Roman armies were becoming more and more professional, it wasn’t just in Gaul this was happening.

    Shields can be overbearing in a way that well crafted armor isn’t. If one of the many pila thrown by the legions got stuck in them, they became too heavy to be wielded and essentially useless.

    Romans had barely just managed to have standard equipment for all their soldiers, and they were significantly more advanced than the Gauls. How could the more distant tribes inhabiting the north actually match them in equipment?


    From the De Bello Gallico “Many among the legionaries dared jump upon the ceiling of shields formed by the phalanxes, and having pulled away the shields with their hands, they attacked the enemies from above. The barbarians on the left wing were pushed back and routed, but on the right wing they put our men in danger with their numerical superiority”

    It wasn’t that the “phalanxes” were solid enough to push back the Romans, it was their numbers that did. I’m not saying that they didn’t overlap their shields, but from there to actually compare it to a real phalanx is a long shot.


    Yes, and it’s a shame we don’t have the details of those battles, but that defeat was probably more due to Carbo’s incompetence than anything. Charging recklessly against the enemy is one thing, which is what the Gauls do in most of book 2’s encounters, charging in orderly manner is another. It’s not that the Gauls never did so, but most of the time the Romans took high ground and the Gauls attacked them.


    At Telamon at least the Celts easily managed to match the Romans, who had fortuitously received reinforcements a short while before.

    I still can’t remember an instance where a Roman general blamed his failure upon his soldiers honestly, I might be wrong about that.
     
    VictorVanBakker likes this.
  20. John7755 يوحنا Historical Inquiries

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2014
    Not necessarily. The Sassanid empire had standing armies in late antiquity and large noble houses. Of these, traditionally, armies only were 12,000 in number! The above posters are suggesting seriously that the city state of Athens alone can produce an army in excess of Sassanid field armies! Why would Rome even bother with the Sassanids and Arsacids, when they can easily dig deep and levy 120k warriors from Greece in a few months and conquer Iran whom with only 120k soldiers would overwhelm totally numerically. So much for Rome, they must have been quite incompetent!

    Rome itself must be questioned as a ridiculous entity. It possessed around 400-500k warriors in the era of Mare Nostrum. This out of 50 million inhabitants of the empire, is approximately .009% of the population! Yet small Greek city states are able to levy 10% of their population for armies of 15k (even assuming Athens had a population of 150,000, which is silly, considering that a huge amount of these were slaves, women and children; I suppose Athens had access to some sort of Soviet era mass conscription mechanism). Returning to Rome, if they had this skill to recruit such large numbers in Italy, why did they not do so and stop posturing as having issues protecting their borders? It seems nearly comical, that Rome is having issues protecting their borders when they could just levy 10% of their population and gather 5 million warriors to guard every single fortress with 100k soldiers.

    Achaemenid statistics do not work either. If we assume 49 million population at their height, an army of 2 million would comprise 4% of the total empire. Is anyone of the opinion that a massive polyglot empire, ruled by a minority of Elamo-Persians who experience frequent satrap revolts, is able to conscript 4% of their entire population? If I am not mistaken either, this would be that 2% of the world (which I do not buy that the empire possessed this much percentage of the world population) population was levied to invade Greece alone! Assyria, an empire with greater militarist focus and similar population was only able to levy 90k warriors in a population of some 11 million at least, comprising an estimated .008% of the populace. If your view is that the Elamites-Persians were that superior in conscriptions than the greatest military power of the ancient near east, then there is nothing more to say.

    This is all simply estimates of populaces. We know most of these societies were unaware of even their total populaces. If a civilization lacks the ability to levy even income taxes or have census data, how can they feasibly collect 4% of the population for war? A major difference, for some states, such as Assyria, we have records of their soldier numbers that were not of a history account, but rather hard data found within ruins. So, we are comparing fanciful claims of historians that reported every even he heard through narration against hard datas? Even if we accept the data as @Fabius Maximus does, you then have to trust the conception that the Elamo-Persians were vastly superior in troop collection as Assyria. For instance, if the Elamo-Persians collected .008% of their population, their army would be in total 392k soldiers approximately. At Roman levels, it would be 442k soldiers.

    @dandan_noodles You seem to be switching the goal post. We know steppe empires could levy larger percentages of their populace than most peoples. We also understand that a host of migratory people can unleash large numbers in an instant. However, to assume these practices existed in the Achaemenid empire or Rome to any serious degree, is not reasonable. Assyria also levied soldiers essentially every year to invade peoples in the old and Middle Kingdoms, yet do we believe that every free man in Assyria legitimately campaigned every year?

    Even in China, most battles in the 7th century under the Tang have less than 80k soldiers combatting. At Suiyang, the combat over this location lasted a year and the Yan forces sent 100k over an entire year to take the location! In the wars in Korea, the Tang armies are less than 40k always and the Koreans vary and are always below 50k. At Talas, the Anxi protectorate arrived with no more than 25k warriors. Is the opinion of the opposing posters, that Greek city states could levy greater numbers of soldiers than the Tang Dynasty!?
     
    Bluesock likes this.