From the beginning of man, conflict has always been a part of our society. Whether it pit one tribe against another or entire empires against the world, conflict seems to be a way of life. To prepare for conflict, it often helps to have the largest armed force. For this installment, we’re taking a trip through military history and showcasing the ten largest armies, from WWII to as far back as 500 BC.
Roman Empire (312 AD)
Mauryan Empire (300 BC – 200 BC)
During the Iron Age of ancient India existed an empire that was touted as one of the largest of its time. It should be no surprise, than, that the Mauryan Empire was also home to one of history’s largest armies. Reaching an approximation of over 600,000 soldiers, the Mauryan army took part in the conquest of Magadha under the direction of the empire’s founder, Chandragupta Maurya. While Maurya’s forces engaged the Magadhan army, Maurya and his generals worked behind the scenes in Magadhan to create a civil war within the kingdom. Despite having the larger army, it was actually the emperor’s cunning that helped him take control of the city. The large-scale army consisted of 600,000 infantry, 30,000 cavalry, 9,000 war elephants, and an espionage system that was quite advanced for the age.
Persian Empire (500 BC)
For those that have watched the movie 300, the Persian Army seems like a force to be reckoned with, and at around 500 BC, it most certainly was. Estimates from Greek writers conflict one another, especially in the case of Greek historian, Herodotus, who estimated that the Persian army was 1.7 million strong. Other sources point to a less drastic number of around 800,000 and Herodotus is thought to have included non-combatants in his final figure. Regardless, the large, persistent force was one to be feared, especially the 10,000 strong Immortals, who made up the Persian army’s heavy infantry. When an Immortal was slain, another immediately replaced him, ensuring that the number remained at 10,000.
Ming Dynasty (1400 AD)
Where most military structures are built from enlistment, the Ming Dynasty handled things a bit differently. Soldiers of the Ming Dynasty military didn’t willingly step forward, but were rather chosen from birth based on their social class. Being a soldier in the Ming Dynasty meant that you were among the lowest of social classes and there was little to no regard for your life. Ming soldiers were cannon fodder, easily replaced by another of their kin when they fell. The Ming Dynasty military was believed to have been over 1 million units strong at its peak around 1400 AD, though low morale was often attributed to this inherited position.
People’s Republic of China (Current)
Current figures of the People’s Liberation Army show a figure of around 2.2 million active soldiers, but just prior to the 1980’s, that figure was considerably larger. During the ‘80’s, the PLA saw a period of reduction so the country could focus on economic development; but just prior to that, during the 1970’s, the focus was on making the PLA stronger, allocating resources to pull PLA influence from politics and fill key positions within the military structure. It is during this time of military focus that the PLA was estimated to have a military of 4.7 million soldiers split among naval and land troops.
Though France’s participation in World War II is generally regarded as tragic, the country’s part in the First World War is far more active. By the end of the war on November 11th, 1918, France had suffered more than 1.4 million military casualties and had immobilized over 8,000,000 men for the cause. The militaristic movement in France seemed to peak in 1914, when the threat of war with Germany was at its height, bringing their standing military to just over 3,000,000 troops at the time. When the four year war was over, it was estimated that France population lost a ratio of 1 citizen for every 20.
Imperial Japanese Army (1945)
Though Germany was getting a bulk of the attention during World War II, another superpower was touting quite a sizable army of approximately 6 million at its height in 1945. The Imperial Japanese Army, or Army of the Greater Japanese Empire, experienced around 2.2 million deaths during the war with another 810,000 MIA and 7,500 held prisoner. While the Japanese were involved in the war at its start, actually having invaded China in 1937, two years prior to the official declaration of war, the military power’s most noted action didn’t occur until 1941, when it was involved in the bombing of Pearl Habor in the United States.
Soviet Union (1943)
Taking what may be the greatest hit during World War II was the Soviet Union. The persistent military force that made up the Soviet Union’s defense against Germany saw as many as 8.6 million casualties during the massive war. In 1943, the military force had approximate 11 million troops fighting for it. Despite seeing a massive hit to even its civilian population, over 8.6 million civilian deaths by 1939, and the massive hardships the Soviet army faced during the war, the Soviet will very rarely dropped, risking everything to ensure Germany’s Reich would eventually crumble. To put this figure into perspective, that’s like the current population of Greece, Belgium or Bolivia.
The German Reich (1944)
If you’re planning to eradicate an entire subculture and take over the world, chances are you are going to want a massive fighting force behind you. Not even considering the supernatural claims that revolved around Hitler’s Third Reich, Germany’s army reached terrifying proportions at a staggering estimate of 12 million troops by 1944, just prior to the end of World War II. What’s even more impressive than that number is the fact that the German Reich only had approximately 1.4 million soldiers in 1938, a number that skyrocketed to over 4 million a year later, months before the September invasion of Poland. Of the over 12 million that served under Hitler’s command, it is estimated that almost 3.5 million were killed during the war.
The United States (1945)
During World War II, the United States sported the largest combined army to ever exist. It led the Allied Powers second largest army, the Soviet Union, by an impressive 1 million troops and just barely squeaked by the German Reich. In 1945, the estimated count of United States’ armed forces stretched beyond 12,200,000. Making up this large military force was the Army with an estimated 8,267,950 men, the Navy with 3,380,820 sailors, the Marines with 474,680 infantry, and the Coast Guard with 85,780 members. The war ended with the United States’ military losing only 3.3% of its forces.