How Big Were the Armies in Ancient Greece?

When we think of ancient Greece, we often envision epic battles fought by brave warriors. But have you ever wondered just how big these armies were? Let’s delve into the fascinating world of ancient Greek warfare and explore the size of their armies.

The Hoplite Army

The hoplite army was the backbone of ancient Greek warfare. Hoplites were citizen-soldiers who fought in a formation called a phalanx. These heavily armored infantrymen were armed with spears, shields, and swords.

Fun Fact: The word “hoplite” comes from “hoplon,” which means shield in Greek.

Athens vs. Sparta

Athens and Sparta were two prominent city-states in ancient Greece with different military systems. Athens relied on a naval force called the trireme, while Sparta had a formidable hoplite army.

In times of conflict, Athens could field an army ranging from 20,000 to 30,000 hoplites. This number might seem impressive, but it pales in comparison to Sparta’s military might.

At its peak, Sparta maintained a standing army of around 8,000 highly trained hoplites. This number may not seem substantial at first glance, but it is essential to consider that Sparta had a smaller population compared to Athens.

Mercenaries and Allies

Apart from their core hoplite armies, both Athens and Sparta employed mercenaries and sought alliances with other city-states to bolster their forces.

  • Mercenaries: Mercenaries were professional soldiers hired by the Greek city-states. They came from various regions and often fought for the highest bidder.
  • Alliances: City-states would form alliances to pool their military resources and increase their overall strength. These alliances could be temporary or long-lasting, depending on the situation.

Thucydides’ Account

Thucydides, an ancient Greek historian, provides insights into the size of ancient Greek armies in his work, “History of the Peloponnesian War.” According to his accounts:

Athens: During the Peloponnesian War, Athens deployed an army of approximately 20,000 hoplites supported by a significant number of allied troops.

Sparta: The Spartan army that invaded Attica during the Peloponnesian War comprised around 60,000 men, including both hoplites and light-armed troops.

The Impact of Numbers

It’s important to note that ancient Greek warfare was not just about sheer numbers. Factors such as training, discipline, strategy, and leadership played crucial roles in determining victory or defeat on the battlefield.

Key Takeaway: While Sparta had a smaller population than Athens and fielded a smaller army in terms of numbers, their rigorous military training and cohesive phalanx formation gave them a significant advantage in battle.

In Conclusion

Ancient Greek armies varied in size depending on the city-state and specific historical context. Athens could field an army ranging from 20,000 to 30,000 hoplites, while Sparta’s standing army comprised around 8,000 highly trained soldiers.

Mercenaries and alliances also played a role in augmenting these forces. However, it is crucial to remember that success in ancient Greek warfare relied on more than just numbers; factors such as training, strategy, and discipline were equally important.