For as long as humans have been able to sharpen sticks and stones, they have fought each other over resources such as land and water or for a myriad other reasons, including religion, ideology, or independence. But it is not until antiquity that humans began forming what could be considered standing armies.
The earliest known fighting forces emerged in Mesopotamia thousands of years ago, numbering just a few thousand trained soldiers, or about the size of one U.S. Army brigade today. (This is every rank in the U.S. Army.)
To determine the largest armies in history, or the evolution in the size of military forces over the years, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed several sources that specialize in history or military. We ended with a compilation of some of the most impressive forces throughout the years. Many of the armies to make this list have total personnel counts that are relatively small compared to later, much larger armies. Still, these armies were unmatched in size and strength at their time. It is important to note that army sizes, even for more modern times, are often estimates and that different sources often have widely diverging estimates.
It was not until Egypt in the 13th century B.C. that history showed evidence of an army of 100,000 soldiers. It would take more than 2,700 years for the first million-strong standing army to emerge from China’s Ming Dynasty in the 15th century. Four centuries later, Napoleon Bonaparte would amass the largest army in history up to then. It would take seven nations and the death of millions of soldiers to end the 15-year Napoleonic Wars at the Battle of Waterloo.
Skip forward to the first half of the 20th century to find the largest armies ever amassed. At their peaks, the World War II armies of the U.S., Germany, and Russia easily topped 10 million troops in a six-year global conflict that pitted 70 million soldiers against one another and cost the lives of up to 50 million people, led by 18 million Russians, 5.8 million Poles, and 4.8 million Germans. (These are the wars in which over 1 million people died in battle.)
Today’s armies are small in comparison. Though some sources maintain India has the largest army, others maintain The People’s Republic of China has the largest armed forces. Either way, both would be smaller than the German forces of World War I.
Here are 15 of the largest armies in world history
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