Body Count of the Roman Empire
"Ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant"
"Where they make a desert, they call it peace." (Galgacus, Caledonian chief, from Tacitus: Agricola, 30)
Total Battle Deaths:
Pitirim Sorokin (Social and Cultural Dynamics, vol.3, 1937, 1962) estimated that Roman Armies suffered some 885,000 battlefield casualties throughout their nine-century history, from 400 BCE to 500 CE. (The Greeks lost some 305,000 men on the battlefield from 500 to 146 BCE.)
- VD Hanson: Carnage and Culture (2001): "[I]n five centuries [following Hannibal] enemies of Rome slaughtered nearly a half million legionaries on the battlefield."
First Punic War
(264 to 241 BCE) 400,000
Richard A. Gabriel, The Culture of War: Invention and Early Development, (1990) pp.110-111. “Polybius called this war the bloodiest in history, and it is probable that the loss of life on both sides, most of it Roman, approached four hundred thousand men.”
Second Punic War
(218 to 202 BCE) 770,000
- Theodore Ayrault Dodge, Hannibal: A History of the Art of War Among the Carthaginians and Romans (1891), p.610-611. To the 300,000 Roman battle deaths recorded by the Roman historian Appian (Pun. 20.134), Dodge adds 100,000 disease deaths for the Italian front, and the same again for Spain. His final estimate is 500,000 Roman and 270,000 Carthaginian soldiers dead of all causes.
- Will Durant, Caesar and Christ (1944)
- Lake Trasimene (217 BCE): "nearly all" in Roman Army of 30,000 killed.
- Cannae (216 BCE): 44,000 Romans and 6,000 Carthag. k.
- Zama (202 BCE): 20,000 Carth. k.
- TOTAL: 300,000 men killed (Appian viii 95)
- Cannae (216 BCE): 50,000-70,000 Romans and 6,000 Carthag. k. (Flexner, Pessimist's Guide to History)
Spain (150 BCE)
Galba massacres 8,000 surrendering Lusitani [http://www.ualberta.ca/~csmackay/CLASS_365/Misadmin.html#Galba]
Siege of Carthage (146 BCE)
- Population reduced from 500,000 to 55,000 (Durant, Caesar and Christ)
- Ben Kiernan, “The First Genocide: Carthage, 146 BC,” Diogenes 203 (2004), pp. 27–39.: 150,000 died in the fall of Carthage.
Marius vs. Cimbri & Teutoni
- B. of Arausio, 105 BCE: 80,000 C&T k.
- 1st B. of Aquae Sextiae, 102 BCE: 30,000 Ambrones
- 2nd B. of Aquae Sextiae, 102 BCE: >100,000 Teutoni
- B. of Vercellae, 101 BCE: 65-100,000 Cimbri
- [TOTAL: ca. 275,000-310,000]
Social War (91 to 88 BCE)
300,000 killed on all sides (C. Velleius Paterculus, The Roman History, 2.15.3)
Massacre of Roman citizens, 88 BCE
- Gibbon, Decline & Fall v.1: Mithridates: 80,000
- Durant, Caesar and Christ: 80,000
- Flexner, Pessimist's Guide to History: 100,000
First Mithridatic War (89–85 BCE)
Plutarch says 200,000 Pontics killed in combat. Appian says 160,000.
Third Mithridatic War (73–63 BCE)
Plutarch, “Lucullus”: In the 300,000 Pontics were killed fighting for Mithradates, plus 100,000 Armenians were killed fighting for Tigranes.
Sulla's Reign of Terror (86-80 BCE)
- Durant, Caesar and Christ:
- After B. of Colline Gate, 8,000 Samnite POWs k.
- Proscriptions: 4,700 senators etc. k.
- Flexner, Pessimist's Guide to History: 4,700 Roman supporters of Marius k.
- Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol.5: Sylla's purge, 4,700 k.
Servile Wars (134-71 BCE): 1,000,000
- Athenaeus, Philosophers at Dinner, 6.272 (cited in Zvi Yavetz, Slaves and Slavery in Ancient Rome, Transaction, 1988, p.78; Naphtali Lewis, Roman Civilization: Volume 2: The Roman Empire, Columbia University Press, 1990, p.245) "There were many of these revolts, and more than a million slaves were killed in them."
- Spartacus Revolt (73 BCE): 6,000 rebellious slaves crucified along Appian Way. (Flexner, Pessimist's Guide to History)
Gladiators (ca. 264 BCE to 435 CE): 3,500,000
- Based on the number of amphitheaters uncovered by archaeologists, the frequency of festivals, etc., Keith Hopkins and Mary Beard (The Colosseum, pp.92-94) estimate 8,000 deaths in the arena each year all across the empire, including training accidents. This would multiply out to a maximum of 5.6 million deaths during all 700 years of recorded gladiatorial combat, or (more likely) to 3.2 million deaths if they sustained this death rate for no more than the 400-year peak of the games between Spartacus and Constantine.
- Donald Kyle, Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome (1998) points out that most victims of the arena were noxii, or doomed convicts. My question: Does this put the games into the same moral category of, say, the public execution of thieves in Early Modern England?
- Michael Grant, Gladiators (1967): M.Grant tallies >23,000 gladiators fighting under imperial auspices between 106 and 114 CE. Was this total typical? Is it complete? Who can say, but if it's close, then that means some quarter million gladiators per century (100/9x23=253). This yields about a million in the 4 centuries between Spatacus (revolt: 73BCE) and Constantine (outlawed the games: 325CE). How many of these died in the arena? Practically all of them, eventually.
- Other numbers: "thousands" fought in the millennial celebration under Arab Phil (248CE).
- Over 10,000 fighters in 8 special games under Augustus, in addition to uncounted regularly scheduled games.
Durant, Caesar and Christ
Caesar's Gallic War (58–51 BCE): ca. 700,000
- Velleius Paterculus, Roman History 2.47: 400,000
- Plutarch's Lives "Caesar" ¶14: out of 3 million Gallic soldiers engaged in the wars, 1 million killed and 1 million captured.
- It was a more brutal era than today, and the emperors were allowed wide latitude in passing sentence on people suspected of crimes against the state. No emperor was completely immune from the temptation to execute on a mere suspicion:
- Tiberius (14-37 CE)
- Suetonius says that at the height of the treason trials, not a day passed without an execution. He also mentions that there were as many as 20 executions on some days. We can take these as the minimum and maximum execution rates -- 1 to 20 per day. The geometric mean of these two extremes would come to 4½ per day, which is a credible daily rate for the really bad years. This comes to 1632 per year, or 38,000 over a 23-year reign; however, this is the peak rate. Most years would be far less. Let's arbitrarily cut it down to a quarter:
- TOTAL: 9,500 (rounded)
- Suetonius describes the tyrannical execution of 36 specific victims during the reign of Tiberius. Assuming that our estimated total above is more or less correct, this means that for every political killing described by Suetonius, 260 are undescribed. If we apply this ratio to the other emperors, then we can get the total number of democides for them as well.
- Caligula (37-41 CE)
Suetonius describes 35 individual killings. Using the Tiberius ratio, this indicates (rounded to the nearest quarter thousand) 9,000 victims.
- Claudius (41-54 CE)
- Suetonius describes 12 individual killings, indicating 3,000 victims.
- Suetonius specifically states that Claudius was responsible for the deaths of 35 senators and 300 knights over the course of his reign. These two numbers show a ninefold increase in victims with one reduction of rank (approximately), indicating that if we were to drop down one more rank, we would find that maybe 2,600 plebian citizens had fallen victim to Claudius as well, bringing the total to around 2,935. This roughly supports our first estimate.
- Nero (54-68 CE)
Suetonius describes 22 individual killings, indicating 5,750 victims.
Boudica's Revolt (Britain, 60 CE)
According to Tacitus, 70,000 Romans and provincials and 80,000 Britons were killed. TOTAL: 150,000
Jewish Wars (between 66 and 135 CE) 350,000
- Durant, Caesar and Christ
- Revolt of 68-73 CE: 1,197,000 Jews killed acc. to Josephus ix 3. 600,000 killed acc. to Tacitus v 13.
- Revolt of 115-116 CE: 220,000 people k. in Cyrene and 240,000 k. in Cyprus
- Revolt of 132 CE: 580,000 k.
- [TOTAL: Adding gives a total of 1,920,000 ± 300,000 k. in the Jewish Wars according to ancient sources]
- Most historians assume that Palestine simply couldn't support a population large enough to produce death tolls as large as these. Among the population estimates are
- Anthony Byatt, "Josephus and population numbers in first century Palestine." Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 105:51 (1973): 2,265,000 inhabitants
- C. C. McCown, 'The Density of Population in Ancient Palestine', Journal of Biblical Literature, 66:425 (1947): less than 1,000,000 inhabitants
- Harnack, Die Mission und Ausbreitung des Christentums (1924): 500,000 inhabitants
- Seth Schwartz, Imperialism and Jewish Society, 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E. (2001): 500,000 inhabitants
Matthew White, The Great Big Book of Horrible Things (Norton, 2012) p.52: "A reasonable estimate would be something like 350,000 deaths all told, which would be around onethird if the original population was 1 million, or one-half if it was 700,000, or one-fourth if it was 1.4 million."
- Gibbon, Decline & Fall v.2 ch.XVI: < 2,000 k. under Roman persecution.
- Ludwig Hertling ("Die Zahl de Märtyrer bis 313", 1944) estimated 100,000 Christians killed between 30 and 313 CE. (cited -- unfavorably -- by David Henige, Numbers From Nowhere, 1998)
- Catholic Encyclopedia, "Martyr": number of Christian martyrs under the Romans unknown, unknowable. Origen says not many. Eusebius says thousands.
Seleucia (167 C.E.)
Putnam's Home Cyclopedia, G.P. Putnam & Co, 1852, p.417: 400,000 massacred by Cassius Avidius, a Roman general under M. Aurelius
A Military Dictionary and Gazetteer: Comprising Ancient and Modern Military..., Thomas Wilhelm, 1882, p.310: 300,000 k.
“Seleucia”, Encyclopaedia Britannica 11th ed. (1911)
"In the war of Marcus Aurelius and L. Verus against the Parthians, Seleucia was taken by Avidius Cassius in 164, and then the Romans did what the Parthians had not dared to do: they burnt down the great Greek town with 300,000 inhabitants (Dio Cass. lxxi. 2; Zonar, xii. 2; Capitol. Vit. Veri, 8; Eutrop. 8. Io; Ammian. Marc. xxiii. 6.24; xxiv. 5.3)"
Probus's German War (277 C.E.)
Emperor Probus informed the Senate that he had killed 400,000 Germans (Historia Augusta [http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Historia_Augusta/Probus*.html])
General population decline during The Fall of Rome
- Colin McEvedy, The New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History (1992)
- From 2nd Century CE to 4th Century CE: Empire's population declined from 45M to 36M [i.e. 9M]
- From 400 CE to 600 CE: Empire's population declined by 20% [i.e. 7.2M]
- Paul Bairoch, Cities and economic development: from the dawn of history to the present, p.111
"The population of Europe except Russia, then, having apparently reached a high point of some 40-55 million people by the start of the third century [ca.200 C.E.], seems to have fallen by the year 500 to about 30-40 million, bottoming out at about 20-35 million around 600." [i.e. ca.20M]
- Francois Crouzet, A History of the European Economy, 1000-2000 (University Press of Virginia: 2001) p.1.
"The population of Europe (west of the Urals) in c. AD 200 has been estimated at 36 million; by 600, it had fallen to 26 million; another estimate (excluding ‘Russia’) gives a more drastic fall, from 44 to 22 million." [i.e. 10M or 22M]
Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
- Volume One:
- Severus invasion of Britain: 50,000 Romans
- Caracalla's purge of friends of Geta: 20,000
- Maximin's Purge of Magnus et al: 4,000
- 167 CE - Under Marcus, sack of Seleucia: 300,000
- Bructeri tribe destroyed by neighboring tribes: >60,000
- 251 CE - Siege and fall of Philoppopolis to Goths: 100,000
- 269 CE - Battle of Naissus: 50,000
- Deliverance of Gaul after death of Aurelian: 400,000 invaders k.
- Constantius delivers Gaul: 6,000 Alemanni
- Constantine v. Licinius
- B. of Cibalis: 20,000 lost by Licinius
- Hadrianople: 34,000
- Naval B. at Byzantium: 5,000
- B. of Chrysopolis: 25,000
- TOTAL: 1,154,000 listed here
- Volume Two:
- Volume Three:
390 CE - Punishment of Thessalonika: 7-15,000
Catholic Encyclopedia "Thessalonica": Theodosius massacred 7,000
B. near Aquileia: 10,000 aux
406 CE - Stilicho & Franks v Vandals and Alans: 20,000 Vandals
Theodoric v. Burgundians: 20,000 Burgs
Relieving siege of Narbonne: 8,000 Goths
Franks v. Gepids: 50,000
451 CE - Chalons: 162,000 or 300,000 (Gibbon: "exaggerations")
Gepid revolt: 30,000 enemies of Ardaric
4,096 Roman herded away to death by Hunneric
Natanleod lost 5,000 fighting Cerdic
TOTAL: 389,096 listed here
- ASSESSMENT: In these volumes, Gibbon specifically enumerates around 1.8M killings. If we assume that these numbers are more or less sort of accurate, and Gibbon focused on the bigger, more noteworthy body counts (i.e. these events represent slightly more than half the death toll), then the decline and fall of the West Roman Empire killed about three million people directly -- and many millions (5M?) indirectly (see McEvedy, below)
(Extremely Preliminary and Debatable) TOTAL:
- All Punic Wars: 1.0M
- Gladiators: 1.0M
- Slave Wars (Servile Wars): 1.0M
- Cimbri-Teutoni War: 0.3M
- Social War: 0.3M
- Mithridatic Wars: ca. 0.5M
- Gallic War: 1.0M
- Juleo-Claudian Paranoia: 0.028M
- Jewish Wars: 0.4M
- Boudica's Revolt: 0.15M
- Decline and Fall: 7.0M
- TOTAL: over 13.0M
The East Roman (Byzantine) Empire
- Nike Revolt (532 CE)
PGtH: 30,000 massacred in Hippodrome
- Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:
- Volume Four:
- 532 CE - Nike Revolt: 30,000 massacred in Hippodrome
- Cabades lost 50,000 besieging Amida. 80,000 inhabitants massacred.
- Battle of Dara: 8,000 Persians
- Romans v. Moors, outside Carthage: 60,000 Moors
- 537 CE - Belisarius defends Rome: 30,000 + 5,000 Goths
- 538 CE - 300,000 adult males massacred by Ostrogoths and Burgundians in Milan
- ca. 552 CE - Lombards v Gepids: 40,000 Gepids
- Siege of Topirus: Sclavonians massacred 15,000 males
- According to the Byzantine historian Procopius, throughout Justinian's thirty-two-year reign, each annual inroad of Barbarians killed 200,000 inhabitants of the Roman empire, which would come to a total of 6.4 million people. Gibbon doubts this "incredible estimate", as the area under attack probably couldn't even support this many people.
- Battle of Phasis: 10,000
- Battle of Tagina: 6,000 Goths
- Byzantine reconquest of Italy: 50,000 laborers died of hunger in Picenum.
- Reign of Hormouz in Persia: 13,000
- Roman expediton against Gepids: 60,000
- 12,000 Roman POWs massacred
- 614 CE - Persian Shah Chosroes allows massacre of 90,000 Christians in Jerusalem
- 622-28 CE - War between Heraclius and Persians: 200,000 soldiers
- 514 CE - Religious War: "exterminated" 65,000 "fellow-Christians"
- 20,000 Sarmatians and 100,000 Roman subjects in Sarmatian War
- Monophysite riot in Alexandria: 200,000 Christians k.
- Volume Five:
- 32,000 Bulgarians k. in Thrace
- Siege of Amorium: 70,000 Moslem and 30,000 Christians.
- ca. 850 CE - 100,000 Paulicans executed by Empress Theodora (Gibbon,Chapter 54; also: “Paulicians”, Encyclopaedia Britannica 11th ed. (1910))
- In Italy, k by Hungarians: 20,000 (to p.166)
- Marcianopolis, or Peristhlaba: 8,500 Russians
- Catholic Encyclopedia
"Jerusalem": >90,000 Christians died when city fell to Persians, 614 BCE
- Notable Doctrinal Conflicts within Early Christianity
- From Gibbon, above
- Constantinople: Riot between Arians and Catholics: 3,150 trampled.
- 514 CE - Religious War: Rebellion of Vitalian "exterminated" 65,000 "fellow-Christians"
- 538 CE - 300,000 Catholics massacred by Arians in Milan
- Monophysite riot in Alexandria: 200,000 Christians k.
- ca. 850 CE - 100,000 Paulicans executed by Empress Theodora
- TOTAL: 665,000
- From Aletheia, The Rationalist's Manual (1897)
- 1,000,000 perished during the early Arian schism.
- 1,000,000 during the Carthaginian struggle.
- Wm Manchester, A World Lit Only By Fire: riot after Council of Nicaea (325 C.E.), >3,000 Arians k.
- Catholic Encyclopedia "Persecution": 16,000 Christian victims of Persians (339/340 AD)
Last updated March 2011