How Big Were Armies in Ancient Greece?

In ancient Greece, armies played a significant role in warfare and were instrumental in shaping the political landscape of the time. The size of these armies varied depending on several factors such as the city-state involved, the period in history, and the specific military campaigns being undertaken.

City-States and their Armies

Greece was divided into several city-states, each with its own distinct military system. Some of the most prominent city-states included Athens, Sparta, Thebes, and Corinth. These city-states maintained standing armies to protect their territories and assert their dominance over neighboring regions.


Athens, known for its democratic system of government, had a powerful navy but a relatively smaller land army compared to other city-states. During the 5th century BCE, Athens had an army of around 13,000 citizen-soldiers called hoplites who were armed with spears and shields. These hoplites formed the backbone of the Athenian land forces.


Sparta was renowned for its formidable military culture and discipline. The Spartans had a professional standing army known as the Spartan Hoplites.

At its peak during the 5th century BCE, Sparta could mobilize around 8,000 well-trained and highly disciplined hoplites. This number may seem small compared to other city-states; however, it is important to note that Sparta’s strength lay in its elite warrior class.

Size of Ancient Greek Armies in Battle

While city-states maintained standing armies, during times of conflict or invasion they would often form alliances or coalitions with other states. Hence, armies could vary greatly in size depending on whether they were fighting independently or as part of a larger force.

During the Persian Wars (499-449 BCE), Greek city-states joined forces to repel the invading Persians. At the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE, approximately 10,000 Athenians and around 1,000 Plataeans faced an estimated Persian force of 20,000 to 30,000 soldiers. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the Greeks emerged victorious.

Sieges and Naval Warfare

In addition to traditional land battles, sieges and naval warfare were also common in ancient Greece. During sieges, armies would encircle fortified cities and attempt to breach their defenses. The size of armies involved in sieges varied depending on the size and importance of the city under attack.

Naval warfare was a significant aspect of Greek military strategy, particularly for city-states with strong naval capabilities like Athens. The Athenian navy played a crucial role in the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE) against Sparta. At its peak, the Athenian fleet consisted of hundreds of triremes – warships propelled by oars with a crew of around 200 men each.

In Conclusion

The size of ancient Greek armies varied depending on numerous factors such as city-state strength, alliances, and specific military campaigns. While some city-states like Athens had larger armies during certain periods, others like Sparta focused on quality over quantity by training a small but highly disciplined force.

Ancient Greek warfare encompassed various types of engagements including land battles, sieges, and naval conflicts. These different types of warfare required different army sizes to achieve success.

  • Athens had around 13,000 citizen-soldiers during the 5th century BCE
  • Sparta had approximately 8,000 well-trained hoplites at its peak
  • The size of armies in battle could vary greatly depending on alliances and coalitions
  • Athenian navy consisted of hundreds of triremes during the Peloponnesian War

Understanding the size and composition of ancient Greek armies provides valuable insights into the military strategies and capabilities of this fascinating period in history.