“A number of nations and empires have claimed the title of ‘world’s biggest’ over the past 4,000 years. Here is a breakdown of history’s largest armies.“
CHINA’S COMMUNIST LEADERSHIP is directing the People’s Liberation Army to “be ready for war”.
In a series of speeches delivered late last year, President Xi Jinping called upon his country’s military to continue with its program of force modernization while stepping up training and increasing overall preparedness.
Although insiders believe this tough talk may be nothing more than a shot across the bow of top army brass who have allowed corruption to fester within the nation’s military, the sabre rattling has set off alarms bells throughout the region.
“Is the Chinese leadership preparing for something?” wondered Kyle Mizokami of The Week. “Are they gearing up for a military operation, or merely the option to carry one out?”
While Beijing’s true intentions remain uncertain, one thing is clear: Since the end of the Cold War, China has emerged as one of the planet’s most formidable fighting forces. With more than 2.2 million men currently under arms, the PLA is by far the world’s largest military. Only the U.S. and India come close with 1.4 million and 1.3 million troops respectively . North Korea and Russia round out the top five with 1.1 and 1 million-man armies. 
Of course, China hasn’t always been among the planet’s preeminent military powers. A number of nations and empires have claimed the title over the past 4,000 years. Here is a breakdown of history’s largest armies.
The First 10,000-Man Army
For a time, Chinese emperors controlled the largest armies of the ancient world. In 2000 BCE, the Xia Dynasty maintained a fighting force of 12,000 men – a considerable feat in the primitive Bronze Age. The only western civilization to come close to that during he same era were the Uruks of Mesopotamia. The short-lived empire dominated the Tigris and Euphrates with an army of just 4,000 troops in the third millennia BCE.
The Pharaoh’s 100,000
Ancient Egypt produced history’s first 100,000-man army in 1,250 BCE, during the reign of Ramesses II.  Before his death at the then-unheard-of age of 90, the mighty pharaoh, who would become known as the “Great Ancestor”, unleashed his massive military in a series of campaigns against the Hittites, the Nubians and the Libyans.
The Half-Million Mark
The 6th Century BCE Persian emperor Cyrus the Great was able field 500,000 spearmen, archers and mounted warriors. His was the first army ever to break the half-million-man barrier. In fact, the civilization is still considered to be history’s largest empire proportionally — up to 44 per cent of the Earth’s inhabitants at the time (a total of 50 million people) lived under the Persians. Cyrus’ descendants were eventually bested by Alexander the Great in the 4th Century BCE. The world’s next 500,000-man army emerged during the height of the Mauryan Empire of India around 300 BCE. By way of comparison, at the peak of Roman power in 400 CE, the emperors’ legions never exceeded 475,000 men.
The Mongols’ Million
The Mongol army shattered the million mark in the late 13th Century. No other army up to that point had ever achieved such power. From its beginnings as a nation of nomadic herders, the Mongols emerged as a fearsome and near-unstoppable fighting force under their first emperor Genghis Khan. After a century of bloody conquest, the Mongols controlled virtually all of Asia and much of Eastern Europe. Yet within a single lifetime, the vast empire would disintegrate into a patchwork of warring factions. A century later, China’s Ming Dynasty would build a million-man army of its own. The next largest military on earth at the time belonged to the Ottomans. At 100,000 men, it was only a tenth as large as China’s, but it was still the mightiest in the western world. 
Modern Mass Armies
Conscription allowed Napoleon to put an unprecedented 2.5 million Frenchmen in uniform between 1800 and 1815. Over the next century, Europe’s increasingly modern and industrialized militaries would expand considerably, setting the stage for the prolonged bloodbath that was the First World War.
By the time of the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, Imperial Russia’s vast military had swelled to just under 6 million soldiers. Only Germany, with 4.1 million men in arms came close to matching the Tsar numerically. By 1918, no country had more troops in the field than France. As many as 8 million men were fighting for the Third Republic by the Nov. 11 Armistice — nearly 45 percent of the country’s adult male population! For its part, Germany put a total of 5 million soldiers on the front lines between 1914 and 1918. But even that wasn’t enough to counter the 42 million the combined Allied powers had mustered by the war’s end. 
History’s Largest Army
Six years of secret Nazi rearmament had transformed Germany’s token 100,000-man self-defense force as proscribed by the Treaty of Versailles into a powerful 4.7-million-man war machine by 1939. It was the world’s largest at the time when war broke out. German troop levels would more than double over the next four years, topping 11 million men in 1943. But by 1945, the United States’ military had reached a peak strength of 12 million soldiers, sailors and airmen. At no time before or since has a nation had so many of its citizens in uniform.  Even the Soviet Union, as formidable as it was in the final year of the Second World War, never exceeded 11 million.
Following the victories in Europe and the Pacific, the massive armies of World War Two were cut back significantly. At the height of the Cold War (between 1960 and 1970), the United States reached a maximum force level of 3 million men. During the same period, the Soviet Union had 4.4 million men in uniform.  By 1980, China’s army was once again the world’s largest at 4.8 million.  It’s remained the largest ever since.
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