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Herodotus explains how Xerxes, the Persian emperor, discovers the exact size of his army in 480 BC:

'At Doriscus Xerxes was occupied in numbering his troops. The grand total, excluding the naval contingent, turned out to be 1,700,000. The counting was done by first packing 10,000 men as close together as they could stand and drawing a circle round them on the ground; they were then dismissed, and a fence, about waist-high, was constructed round the circle; finally other troops were marched into the area thus enclosed, and dismissed in their turn, until the whole army had been counted.'

Herodotus The Histories, translated Aubrey de Sélincourt, Penguin 1954, 1972, pages 465-6

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