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There are 12 clans of Aiel, however the Shaido Aiel seem to be disproportionately strong. In the battle of Cairhien, Shaido had the support of other clans, however in later battles they grow more and more strong (especially with the number of Wise Ones).

How is it that the Shaido Aiel are stronger then the other clans?

Is it because many Aiel leave their clans behind and join Shaido because of Rand? Or they were already strongest clan in the Aiel, despite their reputation as "sneaky thieves".

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You are partly right that it's because of other Aiel siding with them, but that's not the only thing. Several factors contributed to the Shaido becoming such a problem.

  • As you mentioned, many Aiel refused to accept what Rand revealed, and left their clans to fight with the Shaido while still in the Waste. These are referred to as the "Brotherless" Aiel.
  • Many more of the Aiel simply walked away and refused to follow their clan leaders, and Rand, out of the Waste. They threw down their spears and just abandoned their people. The Shaido Aiel did not suffer these losses, because their leader proclamied the whole thing a lie.
  • Once they were across the Dragonwall, Couladin allowed his Aiel to pillage the wetlanders and take their stuff while Rand tried to rein them in and prevent war. Over time, many of Rand's Aiel just abandoned him and went back into the Waste.
  • Rand assigns his remaining Aiel to a number of important jobs, including scouting, policing conquered cities, etc. The Shaido, on the other hand, are primarily focused on one goal -- attacking wetlanders. This makes them seem far more dangerous.
  • Eventually, we learn that the Shaido were being aided by Sammael (sort-of), which gave them an advantage over Rand.

It's important to note that the Shaido alone are not stronger than all of Rand's Aiel combined. By most estimates, Rand has between 400,000 and 500,000 Aiel following him at any given time, while the Shaido alone number maybe 160,000. But note that Rand has eleven clans of Aiel with him, meaning the Shaido's number is almost four times as much as any other single clan.

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  • "meaning the Shaido's number is almost four times as much as any other clan" is what really bugged me. How can they be so powerful despite their reputaion? Or is it because of it?
    – Arcane
    Sep 14, 2016 at 4:08
  • Those numbers only reflect the Aiel that came across the Dragonwall, and stayed. My impression is that the Shaido were already a relatively large clan (they had almost as many septs as the Tardaad), but that Rand's actions drove a lot of non-Shaido away, giving the Shaido a huge advantage.
    – KutuluMike
    Sep 14, 2016 at 10:58
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Another factor to consider is that, by all account, the Shaido brought their entire clan over - not just their warriors. The clans following Rand brought as many warriors as they could, but left behind enough to defend their holds, presumably along with many of the 'civilian' Aiel. During Faile's captivity and Sevanna's chapters, mention is made of Aiel craftsmen and blacksmiths. Little to no mention is made of such among the Wise Ones or chapters taking place in the Aiel camps outside Cairhien or Caemlyn.

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