I’m reading about the Punic Wars, and I reeled when I read that in the Battle of Ecnomus, the Carthaginians and Romans each fielded as many as 150,000 men. (Well, “fielded” is probably the wrong term, since it was a sea battle. But the tactics of the time meant that the Carthaginians would try to sink the Romans by ramming them, while the Romans would try to position their ships to board the enemy and kill the crew in hand-to-hand combat. So with all the spears and swords, perhaps you could say the men were “fielded”…) So that’s 300,000 souls engaging in a battle over the course of one day!
This got me thinking. Not about naval battles, but about pitched battles on land. What was the largest one? I mean measured by the number of people appearing in one place at one time for the purpose of killing each other.
The largest battle on British soil involved a paltry 80,000 men.
About 300,000 Ottomans showed up on May 29, 1453 to end the Byzantine Empire.
Xerxes marched into Greece with 2.5 million men, if the contemporary historians are to be believed (though most modern scholars apparently don’t). But it doesn’t seem like this entire force was ever brought to bear in a single event.
The Battle of the Bulge in WWII had about 1.3 million participants, but I’m not sure it’s fair to measure a 6-week long engagement against the 1-day affairs of the ancient world.
The Battle of Kursk had 2.2 million participants, but again, lasted two months, so it’s hard to compare. Use your own measuring stick.
What was the biggest? And what’s the best standard to settle this question?