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Greatest Ancient Military Power

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Poll Question: What ancient military power had the greatest army?
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Aster Thrax Eupator View Drop Down
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  Quote Aster Thrax Eupator Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: Greatest Ancient Military Power
    Posted: 22-May-2008 at 17:43
That's my point - luck on the Greek side. Look at Marathon!
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  Quote C.C.Benjamin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-May-2008 at 18:49
Originally posted by Vorian

Originally posted by Darius of Parsa

Originally posted by C.C.Benjamin



The Greeks were also very well motivated, and well organised, something the Persian army may not have been.


 
The Greeks knew about organisation, but the Persians did as well. Saying an Empire that stretches from India to the Sahara has bad organisational skills is pretty far fetched. The Persians were the masters when it came to military organisation and even in other economic and political forms.


I agree. Many people think the Persians were uncivilised barbarians just because Greeks name them barbarians, but the term just meant "foreigner" then. Actually Persians looked down on the Greeks who lived in poverty, called their villages cities and had no king to control them.

Persians lost because their equipment was meant for an entirely different way of battle.




I believe the Persians lost because, as Sun Tzu said, you should never advance relying on military might alone.

I don't think for a second that the Persians were uncivilized barbarians, but I do think that Cyrus "the great" won his empire by trickery and intimidation.  Very clever and effective ways of forming a giant empire, but it does not make for great warriors to defend it.

Logistical ability does not equal battlefield coordination.  Just because their men may have been well supplied, doesn't mean they were well disciplined in battle or fought in effective formations.  History has shown this to be the case, has it not?
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  Quote Vorian Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-May-2008 at 19:03
Originally posted by Aster Thrax Eupator

That's my point - luck on the Greek side. Look at Marathon!


What lucky thing happened during Marathon??? Greeks advanced in slow pace and accelerated abruptly when Persian let loose their arrows causing them to miss and not have time to reload. Then in the melee the sides managed to repell their enemies and help the center that was really battered. Then they pursuited the rest Persians and fought their rearguard in order to stop their retreat but failed having more casualties than in the actual battle
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  Quote Vorian Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-May-2008 at 19:07

I believe the Persians lost because, as Sun Tzu said, you should never advance relying on military might alone.

I don't think for a second that the Persians were uncivilized barbarians, but I do think that Cyrus "the great" won his empire by trickery and intimidation.  Very clever and effective ways of forming a giant empire, but it does not make for great warriors to defend it.

Logistical ability does not equal battlefield coordination.  Just because their men may have been well supplied, doesn't mean they were well disciplined in battle or fought in effective formations.  History has shown this to be the case, has it not?


The Persian parts of the army would surely be extremely disciplined and the Medans as well. many others wouldn't though. However you can't call Greek armies "disciplined" either unless you speak of the Spartans. At that time (before the Peloponnesian war) war was more ceremonial in Greece when the armies of a neighbor city would meet the other in a field organised from before and crush their phalanxes against each other. The one who won took the disputed lands etc. Organised Greek armies became the norm during the Peloponnesian war not before.

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  Quote C.C.Benjamin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-May-2008 at 19:12
Originally posted by Vorian


I believe the Persians lost because, as Sun Tzu said, you should never advance relying on military might alone.

I don't think for a second that the Persians were uncivilized barbarians, but I do think that Cyrus "the great" won his empire by trickery and intimidation.  Very clever and effective ways of forming a giant empire, but it does not make for great warriors to defend it.

Logistical ability does not equal battlefield coordination.  Just because their men may have been well supplied, doesn't mean they were well disciplined in battle or fought in effective formations.  History has shown this to be the case, has it not?


The Persian parts of the army would surely be extremely disciplined and the Medans as well. many others wouldn't though. However you can't call Greek armies "disciplined" either unless you speak of the Spartans. At that time (before the Peloponnesian war) war was more ceremonial in Greece when the armies of a neighbor city would meet the other in a field organised from before and crush their phalanxes against each other. The one who won took the disputed lands etc. Organised Greek armies became the norm during the Peloponnesian war not before.



Any army that used the phalanx formation was disciplined.  Do you think you could just grab a gaggle of men and put them into an effective phalanx?  Despite the fact war between Greek states was ceremonial, wars against outside influences (and there were a few) were not.

The fact that Greek armies of the time (Spartans aside) were raised from the populous does not mean they did not have military training. 

I think a definition of "discipline" in this context is needed.  I refer to the use of effective formations to prevent a numerically superior enemy from simply overrunning your position, and the training this would require to ensure that it actually worked.  If you mean "charge all at once when the horn is blown" then the Persians probably were quite disciplined.


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  Quote C.C.Benjamin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-May-2008 at 19:37
Originally posted by Vorian

Originally posted by Aster Thrax Eupator

That's my point - luck on the Greek side. Look at Marathon!


What lucky thing happened during Marathon??? Greeks advanced in slow pace and accelerated abruptly when Persian let loose their arrows causing them to miss and not have time to reload. Then in the melee the sides managed to repell their enemies and help the center that was really battered. Then they pursuited the rest Persians and fought their rearguard in order to stop their retreat but failed having more casualties than in the actual battle


Yes!  Exactly!  I don't see any evidence of luck at Marathon.

The Greeks managed a double envelopment of the portion of the Persian forces that didn't run away or get drowned in the swamps surrounding the plain.   The Greeks had superior formations, superior armour and superior weaponry. 

I think the Greek victory was inevitable.
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  Quote Vorian Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-May-2008 at 19:47
Originally posted by C.C.Benjamin





Any army that used the phalanx formation was disciplined.  Do you think you could just grab a gaggle of men and put them into an effective phalanx?  Despite the fact war between Greek states was ceremonial, wars against outside influences (and there were a few) were not.

The fact that Greek armies of the time (Spartans aside) were raised from the populous does not mean they did not have military training. 

I think a definition of "discipline" in this context is needed.  I refer to the use of effective formations to prevent a numerically superior enemy from simply overrunning your position, and the training this would require to ensure that it actually worked.  If you mean "charge all at once when the horn is blown" then the Persians probably were quite disciplined.



Mate, the usual training for a Greek hoplite was during his time in the army before he gets 20 (of course varied in every city) and after that maybe some training every summer for 2-3 weeks. That's why many phalanxes broke before contact with the enemy.

Now about Persians, you give them too little credit. Persian cavalry would perform really difficult maneuvers in battle encircling the opponent, throwing javelins, giving pursue to those that fled. Traditional Persian tactic was to swarm the enemy with arrows until he is weakened enough and demoralised to break from the attack of the cavalry. They were using combined arms when the Greeks knew only infantry and a few slaves throwing rocks and javelins. When the Greeks learned the value of combined arms, they conquered most of the known world.

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  Quote C.C.Benjamin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-May-2008 at 20:29
Originally posted by Vorian

Originally posted by C.C.Benjamin





Any army that used the phalanx formation was disciplined.  Do you think you could just grab a gaggle of men and put them into an effective phalanx?  Despite the fact war between Greek states was ceremonial, wars against outside influences (and there were a few) were not.

The fact that Greek armies of the time (Spartans aside) were raised from the populous does not mean they did not have military training. 

I think a definition of "discipline" in this context is needed.  I refer to the use of effective formations to prevent a numerically superior enemy from simply overrunning your position, and the training this would require to ensure that it actually worked.  If you mean "charge all at once when the horn is blown" then the Persians probably were quite disciplined.



Mate, the usual training for a Greek hoplite was during his time in the army before he gets 20 (of course varied in every city) and after that maybe some training every summer for 2-3 weeks. That's why many phalanxes broke before contact with the enemy.

Now about Persians, you give them too little credit. Persian cavalry would perform really difficult maneuvers in battle encircling the opponent, throwing javelins, giving pursue to those that fled. Traditional Persian tactic was to swarm the enemy with arrows until he is weakened enough and demoralised to break from the attack of the cavalry. They were using combined arms when the Greeks knew only infantry and a few slaves throwing rocks and javelins. When the Greeks learned the value of combined arms, they conquered most of the known world.



Could you give me an example of a battle where they did break before they even reached the enemy?  I'm not familiar with one.

I'm not suggesting the Greeks were the masters of warfare (I realise that came later with the Macedonians), I'm saying that the Persians were inadequately equipped to actually win.  

The Persian use of combined arms is an interesting comment.  I think a suitable analogy is thus:  Two children see an adult, and they want to knock him down.  They think to themselves: "we'll go one on either side, so he can't focus on us both, and we can get him from two angles".  They leap up, and get pushed over by the adult at the same time, because they just aren't capable of knocking him over, no matter what tactics they are using.

Heavy spear infantry vs cavalry and archers is not pretty, especially when they are as physically fit as the Greeks would have been.  To charge the 200m in heavy armour to reach the Persian archers (which completely surprised the Persians) is something that, frankly, is way beyond me.  I doubt I could run 200m without dying anyway.  Having to then fight and kill dozens of them, personally, afterwards is something I could not have done. 

The Persians didn't think the Greeks would be able to do it either.  The Persians went forward, assuming they had a massive war machine that was capable of annihilating everything before them.

I'm sure the Persians did have plans, tactics and strategy, but they were beaten before they started, IMO.  It was only the Greek's sheer arrogance and idiocy (Greece is under attack and they are all fannying about at the Olympic Games? Were they mental?) that allowed the Persians to get as far as they did.


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  Quote Efraz Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-May-2008 at 21:42
I agree Greeks were very skilled warriors. Maybe the their traditional tactics, personal heroisms, strategic minds and all in all their "skill" in all things military surpasses Romans(and everyone in the Ancient times maybe).

But the question was not "who were the most skillful fighters?" Who had the most powerful army in the period? Who WAS the GREATEST military power?

Originally posted by C.C.Benjamin

I
 If they had had the organisational skills and sheer bloody-mindedness of the Romans, the Greeks could easily have been the rulers of ancient Europe, far earlier than the Romans.


But they haven't been.... Romans had what it takes. Organizational skills and ability to maintain social peace are also factors that makes you a Great military power.

Romans military superiority over Greeks was in their hybrid system not only in the tactics. In Greece, lower classes did fight yes, but they provided cheap units. The most powerful units were maintained(and formed) by upper classes. And the were few in numbers.

But Rome, in the early republican period, mostly solved the conflicts of plebians and patricians. After plebians were recruited in the legions by masses Rome had the largest  qualified standing army ever. Being recruited in the legions and ascending in ranks were improving your life and rights as a Roman citizen. Plebians spent years in the army unlike any other lower class militia. And became experienced warriors, formed strong units with their sheer numbers. The mob fought and died for Roman Senatus.

Greek aristocracy and free people fought for themselves. They have nearly never formed a professional standing force. Simply every able young man was a warrior.(Ephebos) The took good training yes but not having a professional standing army you have a hard time conquering or/and keeping the lands you conquered. Alexander was an exception. Even he faced oppositions of his army to move further into India. Arrianos narrates the incident.

his soldiers told him they will not go further, they don't want to die so far away from home, before they cherished their victories and fortunes of war.

Alexander replied: "I am staying and moving further into India. You can go home and tell there that you left your king in an alien country by himself"(this is not exact but very close) :))) such an attitude he needed :)

Heroic yes, but few. Never could form a vast and long living Empire like Rome.
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  Quote Vorian Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23-May-2008 at 01:44
Originally posted by C.C.Benjamin



Could you give me an example of a battle where they did break before they even reached the enemy?  I'm not familiar with one.



Examples about battles, I can't really remember but ancient authors have claimed many times that the sight of the Spartan army putting their spears in final position with perfect unison was enough for many phalanxes to break down.


I'm not suggesting the Greeks were the masters of warfare (I realise that came later with the Macedonians), I'm saying that the Persians were inadequately equipped to actually win.  

The Persian use of combined arms is an interesting comment.  I think a suitable analogy is thus:  Two children see an adult, and they want to knock him down.  They think to themselves: "we'll go one on either side, so he can't focus on us both, and we can get him from two angles".  They leap up, and get pushed over by the adult at the same time, because they just aren't capable of knocking him over, no matter what tactics they are using.


You are underestimating the Persian greatly. Look, I am Greek and like them better (LOL) and certainly love to say they were better and they were in many aspects. Persians conquered almost all the known world and built the first great empire, you can be sure they knew a great deal about war.


Heavy spear infantry vs cavalry and archers is not pretty, especially when they are as physically fit as the Greeks would have been.  To charge the 200m in heavy armour to reach the Persian archers (which completely surprised the Persians) is something that, frankly, is way beyond me.  I doubt I could run 200m without dying anyway.  Having to then fight and kill dozens of them, personally, afterwards is something I could not have done. 


For this I want to make something clear :
The range of the medieval weapon is unknown, with estimates from 165 to 228 m (180 to 249 yds). Modern longbows have a useful range up to 180 m (200 yd). A 667N(150 lbf) Mary Rose replica longbow was able to shoot a 53.6 g (1.9 oz) arrow 328.0 m (360 yd) and a 95.9 g (3.3 oz) a distance of 249.9 m (272 yd).[10]


This is about the longbow millenia later and one of the best bows ever. Persian bows of the time couldn't strike effectively through armor longer than 100 meters away probably.
So the Athenians run a lot less than 200 meters.

a)They got into range
b)Persians fire
c)Athenians run suddenly causing first volley to miss
d)Persian archers most likely didn't even fire a second volley since when you got a wall of men charging 80 meters away you would throw the bow and grab your spear.



The Persians didn't think the Greeks would be able to do it either.  The Persians went forward, assuming they had a massive war machine that was capable of annihilating everything before them.


That's true. They underestimated the greeks and kept doing so until Salamis.


I'm sure the Persians did have plans, tactics and strategy, but they were beaten before they started, IMO.  It was only the Greek's sheer arrogance and idiocy (Greece is under attack and they are all fannying about at the Olympic Games? Were they mental?) that allowed the Persians to get as far as they did.




true too.




Edited by Vorian - 23-May-2008 at 01:46
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  Quote Vorian Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23-May-2008 at 01:50
Btw, on the poll itself:

I haven't voted nor will I for a simple reason. The ancient period spans form Egypt and Assyria to 300AD.

Assyrians were the best of their time, and so were Babylonians, Persians and Greeks and then Romans. Romans went though many phases, the early republican army is nothing in front of the marian army that we know from the movies. In other words, create another poll giving a less extended timeline.

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  Quote IDonT Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23-May-2008 at 16:25
Originally posted by C.C.Benjamin


The Persian use of combined arms is an interesting comment.  I think a suitable analogy is thus:  Two children see an adult, and they want to knock him down.  They think to themselves: "we'll go one on either side, so he can't focus on us both, and we can get him from two angles".  They leap up, and get pushed over by the adult at the same time, because they just aren't capable of knocking him over, no matter what tactics they are using.

 
That is a simplistic and flawed explanation of what a combined arms army operate.   Terrain dictates your tactics and arms.  The holite army is good as long as it fights in a terrain that gives it suites it. 
 
Combined arms creates what is known as synergy.  Where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  
 
Here are some examples of the era.
 
1.)  Macedonian Phalanx and Companion Cavalry
2.)  Horse Archers and Armored Cataphracts
3.)  Crossbowmen and Halbearders/pikeman
 
The Persian army has been wholly under estimated due to the fact that most of our sources come from Greek authors and the Achemenid's collapse during Alexander's conquest.  Nobody conquers that large of a land area and hold it for several hundred years by being military enept. 
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  Quote Vorian Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23-May-2008 at 18:06
The Persian army has been wholly under estimated due to the fact that most of our sources come from Greek authors and the Achemenid's collapse during Alexander's conquest.  Nobody conquers that large of a land area and hold it for several hundred years by being military enept.


Actually Herodotus remarks on the bravery of the Persian troops many times.
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  Quote C.C.Benjamin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24-May-2008 at 10:13
Originally posted by Vorian


Examples about battles, I can't really remember but ancient authors have claimed many times that the sight of the Spartan army putting their spears in final position with perfect unison was enough for many phalanxes to break down.


Ah that is a bit different though, isn't it?  Smile

If you had the Spartan's reputation, I'm sure your average farm-hand would probably would leg it.  I don't think this was a common occurance (at least, I haven't read anything to suggest it was).

You are underestimating the Persian greatly. Look, I am Greek and like them better (LOL) and certainly love to say they were better and they were in many aspects. Persians conquered almost all the known world and built the first great empire, you can be sure they knew a great deal about war.


Perhaps, perhaps.  They did indeed build a great empire (though not the first), but Cyrus did decide the current generation of Medes didn't have any particular military experience, and were ripe for conquest.

Then he used cunning to defeat the Babylonians and Massagetae (possibly), until the Massagetae queen called him out and took him apart.  

His descendants spent their time bullying smaller nations and generally failing (from what I've seen) to impress anybody, until Alexander knocked them out.  So yes, it was a large empire, but no, I don't think it was incredibly impressive. 





For this I want to make something clear :
The range of the medieval weapon is unknown, with estimates from 165 to 228 m (180 to 249 yds). Modern longbows have a useful range up to 180 m (200 yd). A 667N(150 lbf) Mary Rose replica longbow was able to shoot a 53.6 g (1.9 oz) arrow 328.0 m (360 yd) and a 95.9 g (3.3 oz) a distance of 249.9 m (272 yd).[10]


This is about the longbow millenia later and one of the best bows ever. Persian bows of the time couldn't strike effectively through armor longer than 100 meters away probably.
So the Athenians run a lot less than 200 meters.[/quote]

Ah, the source I read (not that I recall what or where it was off the top of my head) said that they had a range of 200m. 


a)They got into range
b)Persians fire
c)Athenians run suddenly causing first volley to miss
d)Persian archers most likely didn't even fire a second volley since when you got a wall of men charging 80 meters away you would throw the bow and grab your spear.


Archers vs heavy infantry.  Ouch!


That's true. They underestimated the greeks and kept doing so until Salamis.


Yeah I know. I  think the whole war was a bit of a debacle really.  It makes for some great quotes ("Ye Gods, Mardonius, what men have you brought us to fight against? Men that fight not for gold, but for honour.") and to quote Pierre Brosquet, it's magnificent, but it isn't war.





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  Quote C.C.Benjamin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24-May-2008 at 10:20
Originally posted by Vorian

The Persian army has been wholly under estimated due to the fact that most of our sources come from Greek authors and the Achemenid's collapse during Alexander's conquest.  Nobody conquers that large of a land area and hold it for several hundred years by being military enept.


Actually Herodotus remarks on the bravery of the Persian troops many times.


Wasn't that in reference to Alexander's conquest, specifically the battle of the Persian Gates?

But yes, I think the Persians probably were brave, but just not very good!
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  Quote Darius of Parsa Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24-May-2008 at 16:09
No it was not a reference to The Battle of The Persian Gates, but rather all Persian battles from Cyrus' world campaign to Xerxes' campaigns to Ariobarzan and his last stand.
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  Quote ehecatzin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24-May-2008 at 17:23
well...I think the poll is very biased, and focuses on nations from diferent periods of time, but anyway I went for Romans, I think that while dicsipline was the trademark of any decent army, the Romans had a unique quality, adaptability, they learned from their enemies, adopted whatever worked, ditched anything useless,  army composition, armor, weapons, tactics, and used it themselves, it is in deed a fantastic quality.
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  Quote Penelope Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24-May-2008 at 18:24
Im guessing that the reason the Chinese arent on the list, is becuase he ran out of space.
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  Quote Kerimoglu Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26-May-2008 at 16:10
It is Interesting, I was reading Flavius, Vegetius Renatus' "Epitoma Rei Militaris" which has a sentence saying: O, the mighty Emperor of Rome and whole Earth, tell me which of Northern nations are weaker than us in battlefield? - I'd say none. Tell me which of Southern nations are less smarter than us in war? - I'd say none. Name me any roman that is stronger than Spanish or than Lakedemonians!? But then, you might as, mighty Emperor, howcome you can control all of those nations mentioned above? Has not Mars itself was born in Dacia? Then why, my Emperor it happens so that our armies crash all of its enemies? - The answer is discipline and traning. This is the answer. Because true Romans know how to chose new soldiers and what to teach them in order for them to have the ability to fight with all enemies under all sircumstances.

That makes me believe that Roman military "school" was even stronger than Chinese and it is also interesting that even during the times of Republic (as far back as 200 B.C.), except discussions in Senate, various articles regarding military issue were being publish by various militarymen and statesman and there were always information war and debates that resulted with improvement of the military job.


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  Quote Penelope Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31-May-2008 at 18:38
Originally posted by Kerimoglu

It is Interesting, I was reading Flavius, Vegetius Renatus' "Epitoma Rei Militaris" which has a sentence saying: O, the mighty Emperor of Rome and whole Earth, tell me which of Northern nations are weaker than us in battlefield? - I'd say none. Tell me which of Southern nations are less smarter than us in war? - I'd say none. Name me any roman that is stronger than Spanish or than Lakedemonians!? But then, you might as, mighty Emperor, howcome you can control all of those nations mentioned above? Has not Mars itself was born in Dacia? Then why, my Emperor it happens so that our armies crash all of its enemies? - The answer is discipline and traning. This is the answer. Because true Romans know how to chose new soldiers and what to teach them in order for them to have the ability to fight with all enemies under all sircumstances.

That makes me believe that Roman military "school" was even stronger than Chinese and it is also interesting that even during the times of Republic (as far back as 200 B.C.), except discussions in Senate, various articles regarding military issue were being publish by various militarymen and statesman and there were always information war and debates that resulted with improvement of the military job.


 
Very good point indeed. But since China was never conquered by Rome, we will never know what the outcome would have been. The chinese may have been able to repell them, had they attempted an invasion, who knows, especially when you take into consideration that the Roman Empire, at its greatest extent, was still smaller than the empire of China. Not saying that size really matters though lol.


Edited by Penelope - 31-May-2008 at 18:48
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