In his Tuesday Morning Quarterback column, Gregg Easterbrook assails the tendency of ancient authors to overstate the size of military expeditions:
In the 2004 Brad Pitt demi-epic “Troy,” the fleet assembled by the Greek king Agamemnon to sail against Troy is depicted as hundreds of sail vessels stretching as far as the eye can see. This also is nonsense. Assuming it actually happened, the Trojan war is thought to have occurred about 700 years before Thermopylae. At that time it is likely there were no more than a few hundred thousand people living in Greece. A population of that size could not have built a fleet of hundreds of ships, especially considering this was 3,300 years ago when all work would have been done by hand. Population estimates in ancient times are thought to have been routinely inflated by chroniclers. Exodus says that “600,000 men on foot,” plus women and children, fled Egypt when God parted the waters. Most likely all Egypt in the time of Moses had a population of less than 1 million. But even inflated populations could not have built hundreds of warships 3,300 years ago!