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The Size of the Army of Xerxes in the Invasion of Greece 480 B.C.1

  • F. Maurice


1. I happened to be staying in Constantinople in the late summer of 1922 as the guest of General Sir Charles Harrington, and I was there when the Chanak crisis of that year arose. I visited the Narrows of the Dardanelles at a time when Kemal's leading troops were approaching the Asiatic coast of the Dardanelles, and there was then naturally much debate as to whether and how he would attempt to cross into Europe. It occurred to me at the time that it would be of interest to study what Xerxes had done 2402 years previously, and on returning to Constantinople I borrowed a Herodotus from the American College, and when the crisis had died down I went back with it to the Dardanelles. In that district, during the dry season, the problem of water supply looms large, and I was at once struck on reading Herodotus by the fact that this had been also Xerxes' chief difficulty, in that portion of his march which took him from the Scamander, the modern Mendere, across the Hellespont to the Hebrus, the modern Maritza.



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2 The map revised by the General Staff, War Office, from which the attached map has been prepared.

3 Munro, , ‘Some Observations on the Persian Wars,’ The Journal of Hellenic Studies, XXII, 1902, p. 294.

4 History of Greece, Vol. V, p. 49.

5 Herodotus, Vol. IV, p. 129.

6 The History of Greece, Vol. II, p. 285.

7 The History of Greece; translated by Ward, A. W., Vol. II, p. 247.

8 The History of Greece to the death of Alexander the Great, Vol. I, p. 287.

9 Griechische Geschichte, Vol. II, p. 671.

10 The Great Persian War, p. 138.

11 Herodotus: The 7th, 8th and 9th books, Vol. II, p. 164.

12 Die Perserkriege und die Burgunderkriege, p. 210.

13 Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. IV, ch. 9.

14 Vide infra, para. 17.

15 Vide infra, para 49.

16 The Lissus enters the sea about 20 miles west of Doriscus and is not shewn on my map. It is only mentioned here as confirming the fact that the march took place during the dry season.

17 Macan, Vol. I, Part 1, p. 32 note, mentions that there are fifteen rivers between the Hebras and the Spercheios, not one of which is recorded to have failed.

18 Vide infra, para 10.

19 The Teucrians of Gergis inhabited the hills between Lampsacus and the Scamander. Cf. Rawlinson, Vol. III, p. 263 note.

20 Vide infra, para. 21.

21 150,500 combatants and 60,000 noncombatants. Vide infra, para. 21.

22 Vol. IV, p. 202.

23 p. 293.

24 Vide infra, para. 21.

25 For the amount of water required vide infra, para. 21.

26 For further comments on this passage, vide infra, para. 44.

27 Vide infra, para. 27.

28 Vide infra, para. 25.

28 Rawlinson, Voi. IV, p. 44, note 6.

30 Vol. V, p. 19.

31 Vol. II, p. 288.

32 Vol. IV, p. 22.

33 Wavel, , The Palestine Campaigns, pp. 102–4.

34 Vide Leake, , Tour in Asia Minor, p. 290.

35 On the Palestine scale the daily requirements in water of 210,000 men and 75,000 animals would be 1,300,000 gallons of water a day. British experience on active service is that a horse requires an average of 8 gallons a day. Small Asiatic horses would need less. Camels require 10 gallons a day, and after three or four days' abstinence will drink as much as 20 gallons at one time. Vide Animal Management, War Office, 1908.

35a The Troad, unlike the Gallipoli peninsula, has been frequently explored by historians and archaeologists, and reports extending over a period of nearly 150 years are available. These confirm generally my estimates of the water supply. The most detailed and useful for my purpose is that of Dr.Forchhammer, P. W. (Geographical Journal, 1st Series, Vol. XII, 1842), who had the advantage of having a naval survey party at his disposal. Dr. Forchhammer says, ‘Only two of the rivers of the plain contain running water in the driest season of the year, that is, in the months of August and September. It may happen in a very dry season that the bed of the Mendere dries up, as seems to have been the case when it was seen by Dr. Sibthorpe in September 1794, but the inhabitants assured me that this river at all times, even in the heat of summer, has a small shallow stream of water, and that was certainly the case when I saw it in August.’ A small shallow stream of water would obviously not supply water for a large army. When I saw the Mendere in October the average width of the stream below Bunarbashi was 20 feet and the average depth 6 inches. The other river to which Dr. Forchhammer refers is the Bunarbashi Su (the Homeric Scamander), which is a narrow stream produced by the overflow of the forty springs of Bunarbashi. These springs furnish a constant supply of good drinking water. It seems to me possible that the army passed through the Mount Ida range by the pass which comes out at the modern Ezine, and that when Herodotus (VII. 42) speaks of it holding Mount Ida on the left hand, he is referring to the western part of the range, the modern Kara Dagh. The army on reaching the Mendere opposite Ezine would not have found sufficient water in the river and therefore, instead of marching straight across to Chanak (Abydos), made the detour down the valley to get below the Bunarbashi springs. These springs probably supplied most of the drinking water, while the Mendere was used mainly for watering the animals.

36 A War Office report dated February 1920 on the route from the Melas through Callipolis says of its resources: ‘Water scarce—supplies nil except at Gallipoli.’

37 Professor Filon, F.R.S., has made the interesting suggestion that troughs for watering horses might have been erected in the open ground about Gallipoli and in the open ground at the northern end of the salt marsh, north of Eski Tuzla and midway between the Melas and Aenos. This is a possibility which would have overcome some of the difficulties of watering the horses, the water troughs being kept filled by convoys from the Melas.

38 Or probably, in 480 B.C., the sea.

39 I have found it difficult to believe that the legatus of the Augustan legion exercised direct command over each of his ten cohorts, of his velites, and of his auxiliaries. The Roman legion acted tactically in three lines, a relic of the division into hastati, principes and triarii, and for effective action in battle concerted action by each line was necessary. It is difficult to understand how this concerted action could have been obtained unless each line had a commander. I am therefore disposed to think that the functions of the tribunes were normally more important than the historians indicate, and that the legatus exercised his command through three of the legion's tribunes, a commander of the light troops, and one or perhaps two prefects of auxiliaries; i.e. he had in battle to deal with five or six subordinate commanders.

40 For an elaboration of Munro, argument in Chapter IX of the Cambridge Ancient History vide his paper in Vol. XXII of the J.H.S., 1902, p. 294.

41 Vol. V, p. 40.

42 A pre-war brigade of British Infantry 4000 strong occupied a distance of a little more than two miles of road space. The principal armament of the Persian army was spears. Men with spears would require a greater interval between sections of fours than men with rifles; the length of the British rifle is 3′ 8½″. I have, I think, then, been conservative in putting the length of the column of the 10,000 at six miles.

43 The length of the column being six miles.

44 Length of column twelve miles.

45 The first day's march being that from the Scamander to the Koja Chai.

46 Vol. V, p. 40.

47 Vol. II, p. 671, note.

48 Para. 13.

49 Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. IV, p. 270.

50 Vol. I, Part 1, p. 77, note.

51 Vol. I, p. 286.

52 There would appear to have been in Herodotus' mind a distinction in this passage between the actual crossing of the Hellespont and the passage into Europe.

53 The main cause of the delay at Thermopylae was the time required by the Persian army to close up its long columns of march. through mountainous country.

54 Munro, , Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. IV, p. 271, makes a similar suggestion but without reference to the ground. This suggestion does not imply that no numbering of the army took place. While the arrangement of the march indicates that the organisation and staff work of the Persian army were highly developed, it is not to be supposed that they had elaborated a system of regular returns of strength. The losses during the march through Asia must have been heavy and, as Professor Filon has suggested to me, it would have been very advisable to ascertain the exact strength and to make good deficiencies from the contingents arriving from Thrace. Herodotus, VII. 100, suggests some such procedure, and that a record was made by Xerxes' scribes.

55 Vol. I, Part 1, p. 80, note.

1 I desire to acknowledge my indebtedness to Mr. J. A. R. Munro, Rector of Lincoln College, Oxford, for much valuable advice.

The Size of the Army of Xerxes in the Invasion of Greece 480 B.C.1

  • F. Maurice


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