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Really only 300 Spartans

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  Quote Mosquito Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: Really only 300 Spartans
    Posted: 21-Jul-2006 at 09:13
Famous battle of Thermopylae. Most of people belive that 300 Spartans stopped great army of persian king. In fact the defenders of the mountain pass were not hundrieds but thousands of Greeks. The most forgotten are the brave 700 soldiers of the city of Thespie who died together with Spartans and fought to the bitter end with their allies from Peloponez, after all the other allied Greek units left.
 
My question is, how many Spartans were really at Thermopylae? I found mixed sources, some of them claiming that Spartan army was really about 1000 soldiers. Each Spartan hoplite had servants and squire's who also were taking part in combat. If there were 300 Spartans and each had 2 squiers, it means that Spartan unit at Thermopylae really counted about 1000 soldiers. But i really have no idea if every spartan soldier had 1 helper, 2 or more.
As for Thespians they also didnt come alone to the Thermopylae and also had some number of squiers but i dont know if their helpers were skilled soldiers too and if they actually took part in the battle.
 
So, does anyone really have an idea how many soldiers from Sparta fought there?
 
 
 


Edited by Mosquito - 21-Jul-2006 at 09:15
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  Quote Perseas Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Jul-2006 at 10:30
Thats a complexed issue. There are many different accounts from ancient sources. One modern source with numbers that i find possible is the one of Peter Green:
 
300 Spartans, 900 Helots, 700 thespians and 400 Thebans.
 
That gives a sum of 2,300 men.
 
There is a problem to define the exact number of the greek side, mainly because of the following Herodotus epigram where he says exactly: 
 
"Here against three hundred thousand Persians, Four thousand Spartans fought it out and died"
 
One explanation could be that there were many Helots among the greek force but many scholars have argued the number of 4,000 doesnt represent the casualties in the final debacle. Herodotus though, do mention Helots among the dead at Thermopylae (Her, VIII. 25. 1).
 
Other ancient sources give different numbers. Justin related to the same story, stated that they were six hundred men from the greek side while Isocrates said that a thousand of them went against seven hundred thousand Persians.
 
 
A mathematician is a person who thinks that if there are supposed to be three people in a room, but five come out, then two more must enter the room in order for it to be empty.
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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Jul-2006 at 10:56
It was not the numbers that made a difference at that battle. It was the terrain. Throughout history that has been the greatest equalizer.
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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Jul-2006 at 11:02
And lets reduce the Persians to more managable and likely numbers shall we? Definatly not 2.5 million. Not 250,000 either. Most military men I know doubt it could be more then 50,000, 80,000 max, considering it was expeditionary warfare and the empire was very over extended as it was.
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  Quote Emperor Barbarossa Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Jul-2006 at 11:55
I agree with Spartan about the Persians. 250,000 men could never have been assembled, their army was probably around 40-80,000.

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  Quote conon394 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Jul-2006 at 12:04

Mosquito

 edit: oops sorry Perseas I posted in a old window and did not notice I was just restating much of the same ground you posted.

It really depends on a couple of factors: what you choose to call a Spartan; which of the literary traditions/records you give more weight too; and any assumptions you make about the bias of those accounts.

 

Now in the strictest and most accurate sense there were very likely only 300 (+1) Spartans at Thermopylae, those being Leonidas and his bodyguard the 300 Hippes.

These men were the only ones you could call Spartans or more accurately Spartiates; that is full citizens of the polis Sparta, who would have undergone the harsh life of the agoge.

This is essentially what Herodotus claims only 300 Spartiates plus Leonidas.

 

If you look at the alternate version of Thermopile provided by Ephorus (via Diodorus), the implication is that Leonidas originally took with him in total 1000 Lacedaemonians: 700 Perioeci and 300 Spartiates (Diod 11.4.2, 11.4.5). Diodorus however states at 11.9.2 that only the 300 Spartiates remained at the end, 700 Perioeci Lacedaemonians being sent back with the other Peloponnesians.

 

Herodotus indirectly implies the same thing at 7.228.1 where he quotes the epitaphs for the fallen as saying 4000 Peloponnesians fought. These conflicts with earlier total of only 3100 Peloponnesians (7.202); but  add in the missing 700 Perioeci and 4000 sounds like a rather fair round number for 3800.

 

In general the Spartiates certainly have some number of Helots with them as baggage carries, and some seem to have been killed. But did they fight, were they killed as just that many more Greeks by the Persians etc, is difficult to say.  The Helots would have had little in the way of arms or armor their relationship to their Spartiates oppressors was generally one of hatred (unlike the rather more personal and potentially varied or even close relationship between the other Greeks and the assistants who might have been slaves or sometimes younger relatives).  But in any case the assistants of the Hoplites in general were at best light infantry and not a skilled force at that, one designed to fight in a unit or such.  In the case of Helots it is hard to see that the Spartans would have had any interest in training the helots to fight or arming them in any really effective way.

 

At 7.229.1 Herodotus seems to imply only one helot per Spartiate, and the particular helot in question fled the battle.  Herodotus also notes that the Persians accidentally confused some dead helots for Spartiates (8.25.1), but for all practical purposes they could have simply been trapped and killed as just that many more Greeks.

 

Considering that the Spartiates were fighting mostly light infantry and archers, the combat potential of the helots is illuminated by considering the famous victory of Iphikrates over a Spartan regiment during the Corinthian war (about a century after the Persian Wars). Iphikrates using peltasts supported by regular Athenian hoplites succeeded in largely destroying the Spartan unit in a running battle with his missile armed skirmishers. Now the Spartiates would almost certainly have had a helot or two on hand as servants, yet these several hundred men played no actual role in the fight, they could not and did not act as any kind of effective light infantry screen for the Spartiate hoplites.



 

Some more edits:

 

Emperor Barbarossa

I just dont see any reason to diminish the Persian that far.

It would imply they decided to completely ignore the lesson of Marathon; they needed more than 2:1 odds to beat hoplites. Considering the Greeks could field around 30,000 or so hoplites Xerxes invasion seems rather foolish.

 

Sparten

What makes you sat the Emimpire was overextended?

Alexander could field 60,000+ troops for his invasion of Persia, without a secure naval supply line.

The Persians were rather good at logistics, had regular access to naval supply, had almost unlimited wealth, controlled directly (or at least access to) most of the key grain exporting regions of the Eastern Med, had been preparing the invasion for years it seems unrealistic to suggest that at best they only sent 20,000 more troops than Alexander.





Edited by conon394 - 21-Jul-2006 at 12:21
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  Quote Mosquito Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Jul-2006 at 12:34

Conon:

In modern works many authors claim that some number of helotes was trained to fight and served as skirmishers, javelins, light infantry.

If Spartiates were taking them in number higher than their, those holotes had to be trusted because all those spartan units had them behind when were facing enemy.
 
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  Quote Mosquito Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Jul-2006 at 12:51
And i wouldnt call the helotes a one class by definition hostile to the Spartiates. Even in the concentration camps the Germans had prisoners who were reciving more food and opressing other prisoners.
For sure some of the helotes had higher status in the spartan society and some lower. Some could have been even in very friendly relations with their masters.
I assume that part of the helotes didnt have to work but was even trained in fight and was helping the Spartans to keep order in Lacedemon.
Let say it, 5000 heavy Spartan infantry wouldnt be able to rule for centuries the tens thousands of helotes if big part of those helotes didnt support them.


Edited by Mosquito - 21-Jul-2006 at 12:52
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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Jul-2006 at 13:11
Originally posted by conon394

 

Emperor Barbarossa

I just dont see any reason to diminish the Persian that far.

It would imply they decided to completely ignore the lesson of Marathon; they needed more than 2:1 odds to beat hoplites. Considering the Greeks could field around 30,000 or so hoplites Xerxes invasion seems rather foolish.

 

Sparten

What makes you sat the Emimpire was overextended?

Alexander could field 60,000+ troops for his invasion of Persia, without a secure naval supply line.

The Persians were rather good at logistics, had regular access to naval supply, had almost unlimited wealth, controlled directly (or at least access to) most of the key grain exporting regions of the Eastern Med, had been preparing the invasion for years it seems unrealistic to suggest that at best they only sent 20,000 more troops than Alexander.



Two reasons.
1) 250,000 troops thats in modern terms about a field army, thats 3 or four corps. To support this, you need a huge logistical base and thats when you are opertaing near your supply base. Now, the Persians were nowhere near their supply base, they were operating on exterior lines. And while their supply system was good, it was not a modern system. To put this in some persepective, in the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, (which had a similar number of troops) the US Supply line collapsed, the artillery was literally without shot and shell, the troops were scavenging for rations, spares and ammo, the tanks has no gasoline. And this in far more favourable circumstances then Xerxes. Their is no way he could have ever supported such a large army, period. 80,000 troops is frankly being generous still. maintaing sucg large armies away from their supply lines did not begin to become possible until the Napoleonic wars (canned food) and the US Civil War (railroads).
BTW same for old Alex.
 
2) The Empire was an empire based in Fars province in Iran. It had extended to the Indus (and beyond) in the east, to the Danube in the West, the Nile in the South, as well as central Asia. Look at a map and you will begin to see how over extended this is.
 
 
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  Quote conon394 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Jul-2006 at 13:18

Mosquito

In modern works many authors claim that some number of helotes was trained to fight and served as skirmishers, javelins, light infantry.

I am aware of that; perhaps foremost of all right now would be P Hunt in Slaves, Warfare and Ideology in the Greek Historians.

I disagree, however. One of the biggest problems with the ideal is that there is simply real evidence to that effect.  I simply cannot think of a situation where the Spartans faced with a tactical situation that clearly called for light infantry, and in fact used a body of helot light infantry. The helots were absent against  Athenian Peltasts in the 4th century, at Plataea the Spartans did send their supposed force of helot skirmishers to deal with anyone thay in fact specially called for the Athenian arches

Sure, later in the 4th century the Spartans do start using helot troops, but the critical point is as freed soldiers, and preferably serving a long way from Sparta and on high risk ventures (Brasidas Thracian campaign, or in Asia Minor for example).

And i wouldnt call the helotes a one class by definition hostile to the Spartiates. Even in the concentration camps the Germans had prisoners who were reciving more food and opressing other prisoners.

 

Yes but would the same Germans, give those quisling prisoners rifles, and deploy them with a hand-full of SS troops to fight Allied troops who would free said prisoners? 

But in any case I need to check a few references, but I think I can make a fairly good case that the helots had in general very little love for the Spartans.

For sure some of the helotes had higher status in the spartan society and some lower. Some could have been even in very friendly relations with their masters.

I assume that part of the helotes didnt have to work but was even trained in fight and was helping the Spartans to keep order in Lacedemon.

Let say it, 5000 heavy Spartan infantry wouldnt be able to rule for centuries the tens thousands of helotes if big part of those helotes didnt support them.

The equation is no so stark, dont forget the Perioeci, I rather suspect they fulfilled the additional policing role you would assign to the supposed favored and trained helots.

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  Quote Maziar Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Jul-2006 at 14:01
Another fact is how could persians collect 2.5 mio men together? I dont know how many people lived around the whole persian empire at this time, but i am sure it is impossible to collect 2.5 mio combat ready men out of the whole population.
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  Quote Mosquito Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Jul-2006 at 21:08
Originally posted by conon394

 

Yes but would the same Germans, give those quisling prisoners rifles, and deploy them with a hand-full of SS troops to fight Allied troops who would free said prisoners? 

 
They did. There were SS units from occupied territories like for example Norwegians and Danish from SS Viking division, Russian and Ukrainian SS divisions. Not to mention that about 250.000 Poles, many against their will were drafted into regular German army - Wehrmacht.
That was nothing unusual. Many times in history the conquered people fought in the armies of conquerors against their enemies.
 
I didnt say that Spartans would arm and train all the helotes. But even if they did it with 5% or 10% of them they would get additional soldiers.
And when the Spartiates were fighting, their helotes on behind them had their extra equipment like sustitute spears, shields etc and could have attacked them from rear what never happed.
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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-Jul-2006 at 00:22
Originally posted by Maziar

Another fact is how could persians collect 2.5 mio men together? I dont know how many people lived around the whole persian empire at this time, but i am sure it is impossible to collect 2.5 mio combat ready men out of the whole population.
Oh he could probably find 2.5 million men. Supplying them now thats another matter.
 
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  Quote conon394 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-Jul-2006 at 14:18

Two reasons.

1) 250,000 troops thats in modern terms about a field army, thats 3 or four corps. To support this, you need a huge logistical base and thats when you are opertaing near your supply base. Now, the Persians were nowhere near their supply base, they were operating on exterior lines. And while their supply system was good, it was not a modern system. To put this in some persepective, in the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, (which had a similar number of troops) the US Supply line collapsed, the artillery was literally without shot and shell, the troops were scavenging for rations, spares and ammo, the tanks has no gasoline. And this in far more favourable circumstances then Xerxes. Their is no way he could have ever supported such a large army, period. 80,000 troops is frankly being generous still. maintaing sucg large armies away from their supply lines did not begin to become possible until the Napoleonic wars (canned food) and the US Civil War (railroads).

BTW same for old Alex.

2) The Empire was an empire based in Fars province in Iran. It had extended to the Indus (and beyond) in the east, to the Danube in the West, the Nile in the South, as well as central Asia. Look at a map and you will begin to see how over extended this is.

First I certainly did not mean to suggest I accept Herodotus at face value, I am not defending 2.5 million men, even 250,000 is probably too high unless you include all sailors and rowers in the fleet and sundry camp followers. I do think however reducing Xerxes army to 40-80,000 on the basis of an assertion of logical impossibly is untenable.

Taken a whole (particularly your second point), you seem to be arguing that the Persians packed up the army and its supplies at Persepolis and marched all the way to Greece, that is not the case however.

I dont understand the basis for your conclusion that the Persians were operating with exterior lines (of supply?). They were operating inside the empire and very much attached to their supply lines and depots right up to the Macedonian boarder.  In reality the Greek army at Thermopylae was farther from is supply base than the Persians were.

Consider (all references from Herodotus):

  1. The Persians prepared for the invasion for four years, before mobilizing and amassing their troops for the final march on Greece in year 5 (7.20.1).  Note Moreover that the first concentration point of the army was Cappadocia. Thus until than most units were effectively dispersed, and even after the concentration in the south of Asia Minor, the Persians seem to have picked up units form the western parts of the Empire as they traveled (that is the Thracians were not marched to Cappadocia and back).
  2. The Building of the bridge over the Hellespont, and the construction of the Athos canal and the bridging of the Strymon were undisturbed and carried out in an orderly fashion (7.22.1). The Persians established operational bases at Elaeus and the Chesonese, supply depots were maintained for the works by the Phoenicians (7.23.4 in other words sea based supply from the one of the two main supply reserves established by Xerxes- see below).  The Persians operated with complete impunity, no Greek force ever ventured beyond Thessaly, Persia had complete naval superiority and the freedom to use naval supply.
  3. Over the 4 year build up Xerxes amassed supplies for his army at Phoenicia and in Egypt (7.25.1). Considering the bulk of those supplies were essentially not perishable either the military wears, grain, dried beans or lentils and dried fruit I dont see any reason to argue a lack of modern tech was a problem.
  4. The Persians established supply depots along the route of march, notably in Thrace, Tyrodiza, Doriscus, Eion and Macedonia.
  5. Also it is worth noting that the fleet is clearly indicated as operating in disconnected squadrons, and only collecting for reviews, repairs and battle although Herodotus does not say as much I see no reason to doubt that the army operated in the same fashion.

Overall the 2003 invasion of Iraq is perhaps the worst possible example for perspective.

Xerxes invasion was not a phased, Rumsfeld-esq campaign based on the lasted hi-tech mumbo-jumbo theory of warfare (that would be Darius sea-born dash across the Aegean) lighter and faster and all that; Rather the Xerxes spent 4 years setting up for a very large invasion, that occurred on his own time table exactly when he had all the logistical pieces in place. The US was rushing itself in the invasion in 2003, and had not spent 4 years building up troops and supplies. Besides the logistical requirements of the modern US army per capita (or rather per soldier) are fantastically beyond the same per trooper requirements faced by Xerxes, not to mention Xerxes had no fuel constrains to worry about nor Tanks, nor F-15s etc.

Nor do I see any particular reason to sight the lack of canning as an important bar to Persian armies. Perhaps if the average Persian grunt expected fresh beef for dinner maybe it be a factor, but seeing as the likely Mediterranean diet of grain, dried lentils or beans and dried fruits would do just fine I see no particular reason doubt that the Persians did indeed have the capability to build the supply depots Herodotus notes.  Even then you are ignoring the evidence from shipwrecks and literary sources that oil packed fish and salt beef was exported and traded, that is it could be effectively preserved and stored over the long term.

Finally consider Athens in the late 5th century a fair amount; half or more of it 300,000 to 400,000 residents was fed on imported food stuffs the fifth century Classical world could feed several hundred thousand people by sea-based imports. Xerxes had in effect no financial bar to his desires, unlike the US in 2003 Xerxes was not borrowing money , but rather drawing on an immense reserve of capital. If he wanted to burn his resources I dont see any reason why a man who commanded the agricultural Mecca of Egypt and was sitting on piles of silver and gold and chose too invest 5 years in planning and execution could not put 100,000 200,000 men in the field.



Edited by conon394 - 23-Jul-2006 at 10:22
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  Quote Mosquito Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-Jul-2006 at 14:32
I agree with Conon about the number of soldiers in Persian army. 40.000-80.000 wouldnt have been such a great threat because the Hellens were able to mobilise an army of the same size.
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  Quote clement207 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23-Jul-2006 at 09:34
If 40,000 to 80,000 was not a threat then there number should be 250,000 thousands?
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  Quote Mosquito Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23-Jul-2006 at 09:46
well, Greek historians talk about millions. Imho any number between 250.000 - 500.000 soldiers for the size of persian army is possible.
Napoleon took to Russia 500.000 people without all this long logistic preparations that were made by Xerxes.
Feeding such army wasnt a problem, the food was being left on the  army route and they didnt even had to carry it. Later the fleet was supplying army. Remember that 2000 years ago the daily meal of soldier was just a handful of grain.
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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23-Jul-2006 at 11:45
U can find similar outnumbered situations like this in every nations military history.Acording to my opinion this is not incredible,but amazing.Incredble things r different in battles ( fighters counting fight without arm,foot,..head..?!!,or enter to battle after no water and food about weeks..and win..?!!)
 
In Turkish Military History U can find;
 
Outnumbered victories; Kanije 1601(famous),Azov 1683-96
Outnumbered defeats;  Kagul ,Rimnik(Suvorov's time),Didgori
 
here,acording to me thermoplai can be match by Azov
 
And,dont forget that;All those battles have their own reasons about aftermath.
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  Quote clement207 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-Jul-2006 at 20:43

But in all battles logistics still do play an important part.

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  Quote Penelope Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27-Aug-2006 at 00:57
Originally posted by Emperor Barbarossa

I agree with Spartan about the Persians. 250,000 men could never have been assembled, their army was probably around 40-80,000.
 
I seriously doubt that the Persian army had less than 80,000 myself.
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