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Alexander the Great was antiquity\'s greatest commander
#1
Hello everyone.

I had a lot of fun, my primary aim, in compiling my own 'top military leaders of antiquity' list.

I would like to stress that I am merely an amateur, and my knowledge of military history is much more thorough with the West, so I apologize in advance if anyone feels I am too western-centric in my rankings, and/or if certain greats from the East are understated. I have done my best to mention Chinese and other Asiatic commanders, and many should add to the list etc., as well as suggest changes of all sorts to this piece of work.

War is not something to be happy about, but it is a powerful reality of history. Messiahs, diplomats, intellectuals, and philosophers have contributed to the twists and turns of history every bit as much as military leaders, but they have flourished only when protected by those very military leaders who could ensure the survival of their way of life. For the most part, the most significant and affecting leaders in world history have come not from the church, the governments, or the scholastic centers, but from the ranks of soldiers and sailors. Of course, no man knows the extent of his long-term impact upon history until long after his death.

Moreover, a vast list could be compiled piecemeal under a certain taxonomy: strategic, tactical, operational, revolutionary (guerilla leaders, to transpose a modern term), and naval commandeering, etc. How much credit do monarchs and emperors, of whom some weren't actually at the battlefield, and subalterns merit in certain campaigns? Obviously, we have to scrutinize each individual's work, as well as the independent value and context of our source-material. But I think I will arbitrarily bunch it together.

The circumstances of war may never be repeated, but the essence of major tactics and strategy have not changed. It is the methods of their applications, primarily due to the changes in technology, that have altered (defining 'essence' in this context could be questioned, I admit). Hence we can indeed compare the ancient commanders with the modern ones (IMHO), at least from this point of view. It must be understood, however, that modern supreme commanders did not directly lead into action ('modern' meaning since, let's say, since the time of Napoleon, or perhaps Marlborough a few generations prior, and I mean this very broadly). They directed affairs from far away, and direct leadership was delegated to not just senior officers, but the junior ones. I will add that ones with autocratic power, such as Alexander, answered to no government, which certainly facilitated his situation for conquest, in terms of decision-making. What if Hannibal had been the absolute ruler of Carthage? He merely could have ordered supplies and troops to be sent to him in southern Italy, something that proved could be effected, if not in huge landings, after his devastating victory at Cannae. The pressure might have been too much for even the indomitable Romans; no general has ever been so brilliant, against an enemy he figured would quail after devastating them so convincingly, as Hannibal. It's hard to choose between him and Alexander.

So, what makes a great general? Many things, of course, and no man is infallible. Understanding fully one's strategic and political climate? Adaptation, however circumscribed? Improvisation? Panache? Implementing sound policy (a morale objective) in weighing decisions in which the benefits outweigh the compromises, etc.? Magnanimity in winning over allies or appeasement? Non-hesitation? Flexibility? Exerting discipline and iron will into his troops? A balance of skillful execution of strategy and tactics? When not to be too rash and hectoring amid policy-making? A political understanding to support one's war? Luck? Advancing one's state's cause for many generations to come? All great ideas are simple (at least to a genius). Perhaps the biggest, if one is most paramount, attribute to a great battlefield commander is his ability to identify a 'simple' solution to victory before his opponent in battle. Logistically, exploiting the terrain and weather is invaluable. The greats had them all. Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart, the renowned theorist (among many attributes of his), purported that among the most important qualities in war is to strike at an opponents' Achilles Heel (there's more to that: I'm not quoting Hart verbatim in this simplistic fashion). But one must find that weak point, and a good commander will conceal it the best he can. For the most part, the great generals possessed the vision to identify the obvious and most viable situation to achieve victory more than his opponent.

With all things considered (I hope!), such as the the tactical brilliance of Epaminondas, Hannibal, and Narses, the acute understanding of building a brilliant instrument of war possessed by Philip II of Macedon (along with building a source of power), the scope and diversity of Julius Caesar's genius, I consider Alexander the Great to be the towering military figure of the ancient world (my cut off point is the year 600 A.D., to include a couple of greats) - from a specific and broad criterion. His ability to successfully adapt strategy and tactics to virtually every branch of warfare sets him apart from every other great commander, perhaps in all of history. He took his army some 20,000 miles in 13 years, not once suffering a major setback, let alone a defeat. His opponent always chose the battlefield and usually heavily outnumbered him. For what it merits, no other has successfully 'linked' the East and West, thus he was an immense cultural reformer, which is what he wanted to do. He indeed commanded an army much superior than what he faced, but he was often outnumbered (though far from the considerable manner the Greek polemic tradition would have us believe), and his battle dispositions at his great victory at Gaugamela were perfectly planned to accord with what Napoleon described as 'a well reasoned and extremely circumspect defensive followed by rapid and audacious attack'. Besides, the advantage of a superior force is merely potential. It is the commander that must effectively utilize what he/she has and lead it to victory. In this regard, Alexander shined as well as any other in military history (IMHO, of course).

The military machine left to Alexander from his great father Philip II was a scientifically balanced army, forged to possess mobility and security; it was seemingly the world's first standing army (the Assyrians and their predecessors were probably 'standing', in that they were not a 'citizen army'), raised by perhaps the world's first universal military service (we can always find presaged conditions). But Philip II's son took his machine and succeeded, perhaps, beyond his wildest dreams. Again, a brilliantly constructed army is just potential (albeit hardly a trivial asset); advantages in troop quality and technology only produce positive results if the army is used effectively, hence it is the commander who must exploit that asset, in this case a complex amalgam which entailed careful precision amid battle, with prudent control to attain victory. Alexander practiced the efficacy of combined arms to a further degree than his father did (he changed very little: the specialization function of each arm of light and heavier troops, mounted and on foot, was lain by Philip, even though a crack unit of horse-archers in India appeared with the son yet not the father). He also introduced the use of reserves on the battlefield that could take advantage of any unforeseen opportunities or reverses against the front lines. Furthermore, Alexander was the first great commander to use catapults tactically on the battlefield (second, actually, pending any doubts on the issue of 'field artillery' usage by the Phocian Onomarchus against Philip II in 353 B.C.); in the Balkans, he lined the machines hub-to-hub along the bank of the Apsus River to cover the crossing of his withdrawing troops against the attacks upon him by the Illyrian tribes under Cleitus and Glaucius. Contrarily, six years later in 329 B.C. on the other side of the 'world', he effectively used catapults to drive the Scythians from the riverbank of the Jaxartes as he conducted an opening amphibious assault against them; he subsequently scattered the nomadic horse-archers, hitherto deemed unbeatable, in a brilliant display of combined-arms. He created a situation that neutralized their steppe-style tactics. Almost certainly, Philip II achieved something similar over a decade prior in the Dobruja (Dobrudzha or Dobrogea, more appropriately to locals, I presume). But we have no details, only Justin's account, which reveals only the verdict that Philip clearly defeated the Scythians of that region.

Though Alexander's empire did not endure as Rome's did, nor was as vast as that of the Mongols, his legacy probably outlasts any other military figure, other than the great Prophet Mohammed, and possibly Constantine I (Augustus can probably not be considered a military commander). Alexander's work was one of near cosmogony. He was a genius. He was a madman. He was a visionary. He was a mass-murderer. He was a liberator. He was intoxicated with power. He was chivalrous when not opposed. Was really he all of these? Was he really any of these? Militarily, he could smash his enemy. Diplomatically, he could win over numerous peoples with his panache. But he was not singular in possessing these attributes; no man is infallible, and his story indeed reveals the darker side of human nature to the fullest; power is a dangerous asset if not handled judiciously. If used as an end rather than a means to accomplish something, it will destroy those who are seeking those ends. But the fact we speak of him today in a manner of attraction and fascination means he got his wish - he will live forever.

"If anyone has the right to be judged by the standards of his time, and not by the standards of our time, it is Alexander".

-Hermann Bengtson

This is the list of whom I think were the ten greatest commanders, from Sargon to Narses. I decided to integrate naval leaders into the third TIER; Themistocles could be raqnked # 1 as the Classical World's greatest leader at sea. I decided to present an assessment of only Alexander, and why I think he would be ranked # 1, if one must be chosen. I will gladly discuss the other greats (and not so greats) amid possible discussions. These I rank in the first TIER; ranking is a sterile pursuit, if trying to be conclusive; there really is not such thing as 'the greatest general of all time'; it's like proclaiming which is the greatest doughnut. But I think it's just fun to present an opinion of who is 'the best', which is conducive to forming a base to trigger entertaining debates. I guess my point is - this all trivial fun.

TIER 1

This is my 'top 10' list.

Alexander III (Alexandros III Philippou Makedonon) King of Macedon 'the Great' (Gaugamela, 331 B.C.)

Hannibal (Hannibal Barca) (Cannae, 216 B.C.)

Publius Cornelius Scipio Scipio Africanus Major (Campi Magni, 203 B.C.)

Gaius Julius Caesar (Pharsalus, 48 B.C.)

Philip II King of Macedon (Chaeronea, 338 B.C.)

Belisarius (Flavius Belisarius) (Dara, 530 A.D.)

Epaminondas (Leuctra, 371 B.C.)

Narses (Narseus) (Busta Gallorum, 552 A.D.)

Gaius Marius (Aquae Sextiae, 102 B.C.)

Han Xin (Jingxing, 205 B.C)

TIER 2

These commanders are the next level. I do not rank these; they are listed chronologically by their deaths. If leaders are not specified as being a monarch or 'something significant', then they were generals. I realize this is all very debatable, and many could be replaced by others etc. It's difficult to judge whose accomplishments were more important than those of others, and/or why a leaders can be placed above another. Much has do to do with issues not indicative of an individual's ability.

Sargon King of Akkad 'the Great'

Tuthmosis (Thutmose) III Pharaoh of Egypt

Cyrus II (K?ruš) Achaemenid King of Persia 'the Great'

Cimon (Kimon)

Agesilaus II KIng of Sparta

Pelopidas

Iphicrates

Timoleon

Seleucus I Diadochi of Alexander and Seleucid Founder 'Nicator'

Pyrrhus King of Epirus

Hamilcar Barca

Philopoemen the Last of the Greeks

Sulla (Lucius Cornelius Sulla) Felix

Quintus Sertorius

Lucius Licinius Lucullus Ponticus

Pompey (Gnaeus Pompeius) Magnus

Surena (Eran Spahbodh Rustaham Suren-Pahlav)

Publius Ventidius Bassus (praenomen or cognomen?)

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa

Drusus (Decimus Claudius Drusus) Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus

Germanicus (Nero Claudius Drusus) Germanicus Julius Caesar

Tiberius (Tiberius Claudius Nero) Roman Emperor

Agricola (Gnaeus Julius Agricola)

Trajan (Marcus Ulpius Trajanus) Roman Emperor 'Optimus Princeps'

Cao Cao (Cao Mengde) Emperor of the Later (Eastern) Han Dynasty and King of Wei

Zhuge Liang (Chu-ko Liang) Founder of the Shu Kingdom 'the Hidden Dragon'

Aurelian (Lucius Domitius Aurelianus) Roman Emperor 'Restitutor Orbis'

Shapur I Sassanid King of Persia

Constantine I (Flavius Valerius Constantinus) Roman Emperor 'the Great'

Julian (Flavius Claudius Julianus) Roman Emperor 'the Apostate'

Flavius Stilicho Magister Militum

Attila the Hun 'the Scourge of God'

Flavius Aetius Dux 'the Last of the Romans'

Theodoric King of the Ostrogoths 'the Great'

These are the rest, listed in chronological order by their deaths.

TIER 3

BEFORE COMMON ERA

Etana King of Kish 'the Shephard', Enmebaraggesi (Me-Baraggesi) King of Kish, Enshakushanna (En-shag-kush-ana) King of Uruk, Eannatum King of Lagash, Entemena King of Lagash, Urukagina (Uruinimgina) King of Lagash, Lugalannemundu (Lugal-Anne-Mundu) King of Adab, Lugalzagesii (Lugal-Zage-Si) King of Umma and Uruk, Rimush King of Akkad, Manishtushu King of Akkad, Naram-Sin King of Akkad, Dudu King of Akkad, Inkishuc Gutian King, Utuhegal (Utu-Hengal) King of Sumer, Urnammu (Ur-Engur) Founder of the 3rd Dynasty of Ur, Pithana Hittite King of Kussara, Anitta Hittite King of Kussara, Hattusili I (Labarna) Founder of the Old Kingdom of the Hittites, Mursilis I Hittite King, Tuthmosis (Thutmose) I Pharaoh of Egypt, Tuthmosis (Tuthmose) IV Pharaoh of Egypt, Tudhaliya I Hittite King, Suppiluliumas Hittite King, Mursilis II Hittite King, Muwatallis Hittite King, Rameses II Pharaoh of Egypt, Merneptah Pharaoh of Egypt, Barak ('Lightning'), Gideon (Jerub-baal) Judge of the Israelites, Wu Wang (Chi Fa) Founder of the Chou Dynasty 'the Martial King', Tiglath Pileser I King of Assyria, Chou Kung (Chi Tan) Duke of Chou, David King of the Kingdom of Israel, Ashurnasirpal II King of Assyria, Shalmaneser III King of Assyria, Tiglath-Pileser III King of Assyria, Sargon II (Sarru-kinu) King of Assyria, Marduk-apla-iddina II (Merodach-baladan) Chaldean Usurper of Babylonia, Sennacherib (Sin-ahhe-eriba) King of Assyria 'the Moon God', Esarhaddon (Assur-ahhe-iddina) King of Assyria, Pheidon King of Argos, Ashurbanipal (Assur-bani-apli) King of Assyria, Ji Zhonger Duke Wen of Jin, Nabopolassar (Nabu-apal-usur) King of Babylonia, Necho II (Nekau) Pharaoh of Egypt, Cyaxeres (Hvakhshathra) King of Media, Nebuchadnezzar II (Nabu-kudurri-usur) King of Babylonia, Alyattes King of Lydia, Astyages (Istovigu) King of Media, Croesus King of Lydia, Harpagus (Arbaku), Gobryas (Gaubaruva) Arstibara ('Lance Carrier') of Darius, Wu Zixu (Wu Yun), Sun Wu Sun Tzu ('Master Sun'), Cleomenes I King of Sparta, Darius I Achaemenid King of Persia 'the Great', Callimachus, Miltiades the Younger, Artaphernes Satrap of Sardis 'the Elder', Datis, Leonidas I King of Sparta, Mardonius, Gelon Tyrant of Syracuse, Pausanius, Leotychides, Xerxes I Achaemenid King of Persia, Teres I 1st Odrysian King, Myronides, Nicodemes, Cincinnatus (Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus), Pericles (Perikles), Gaius Servilius Ahala, Phormio, Sitalkes Odrysian King 'the Great', Pagondas, Brasidas, Demosthenes Son of Alcisthenes, Hannibal Son of Gisgo, Gylippus, Alcibiades (Alkibiades), Agis II King of Sparta, Himilco, Lysander (Lysandros), Thrasybulus Brave-Willed, Dercylidas Sisyphus, Conon, Wu Qi (Wu Ch'i), Agesilaus II King of Sparta, Pharnabazus II Satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia, Dionysius I Tyrant of Syracuse, Datames Satrap of Cappadocia, Marcus Furius Camillus, Artaxerxes II King of Persia 'Mnemon', Bardylis Illyrian king, Xenophon, Philomelus, Onomarchus, Dionysius II Tyrant of Syracuse, Sun Bin, Marcus Valerius Corvus, Titus Manlius Torquatus Imperiosus, Memnon Memnon of Rhodes, Agis III King of Sparta, Darius III (Codomannus) Achaemenid King of Persia, Spitamenes (Spitamaneh) Sogdian Warlord, Chares Chares of Athens, Parmenio the Old General, Coenus, Leosthenes, Craterus Diadochi of Alexander, Perdiccas Diadochi of Alexander, Sun Bin, Antipitar Diadochi of Alexander, Eumenes Diadochi of Alexander, Antigonus I Diadochi of Alexander 'Monophthalmos' ('One-Eyed'), Chandragupta Maurya Mauryan Founder 'Sandracottus', Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus, Agathocles Tyrant of Syracuse, Ptolemy I Diadochi of Alexander 'Soter', Demetrius I (Demetrius Poliorcetes) Diadochi of Alexander, Britomaris Chief of the Senones, Publius Cornelius Dolabella, Lysimachus Diadochi of Alexander, Olympiodorus, Ptolemy King of Macedon 'Ceraunus', Spurius Carvilius Maximus, Appius Claudius Caudex, Manius Curius Dentatus, Antiochus I King of Syria 'Soter', Bai Qi, Wang Jian, Li Mu, Lian Po, Xanthippus, Marcus Atilius Regulus, Asoka Mauryan Emperor, Adherbal, Gaius Lutatius Catalus, Gaius Duilius, Wang Jian, Ming T'ien, Chao T'o, Lucius Aemilius Papus, Gaius Atilius Regulus, Lucius Caecilius Metellus, Cleomenes III King of Sparta, Publius Cornelius Scipio the Elder, Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Calvus, Gaius Flaminius, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, Titus Otacilius Crassus, Tiberius Sempronius Longus, Marcus Claudius Marcellus, Hasdrubal Barca, Gaius Claudius Nero, Quintus Fabius Maximus Cunctator, Mago Barca, Syphax King of the Masaesylii, Titus Manlius Torquatus, Marcus Valerius Laevinus, Marcus Livius Salinator, Attalus I King of Pergamum 'Soter', Hsiang Yu (Xiang Yu), Liu Bang (Gaozu) Han Founder, Manius Acilius Glabrio, Muttines (Mottones), Lucius Cornelius Scipio Asiagenes, Manius Acilius Glabrio, Antiochus III King of Syria 'the Great', Prusias I King of Bithynia 'Cholos', Marcus Fulvius Nobilior, Mete Han Shanyu of the Xiongnu 'Maodun', Lucius Valerius Flaccus, Titus Quinctius Flamininus, Philip V King of Macedon, Antiochus IV King of Syria 'Epiphanes', Judas Maccabaeus the Hammer, Lucius Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus, Gaius Laelius, Eumenes II King of Pergamum 'Soter', Masinissa King of the Massylii, Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus Minor, Viriathus, Eumenes III (Aristonicus) Pretender to Pergamum, Li Guang (Li Kuang) The Flying General, Lucius Caecilius Metellus Dalmaticus, Wei Qing, Ho Qu-bing, Quintus Caecilius Metellus Macedonicus, Decimus Junius Brutus (Callaicus), Gaius Tuditanus Sempronius, Wei Qing, Liu Che (Wu Di) Han Emperor, Jugurtha King of Numidia, Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus, Quintus Lutatius Catulus, Sulla (Lucius Cornelius Sulla) Felix, Quintus Sertorius, Spartacus, Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius, Mithridates VI (Eupator Dionysus) King of Pontus 'the Great', Ariovistus King of the Suebi 'Friend', Ambiorix Chief of the Eburones, Tigranes II King of Armenia 'the Great', Cassivellaunus (Cassibelanus) King of the Catuvellauni, Gaius Scribonius Curio, Publius Licinius Crassus, Marcus Licinius Crassus Dives, Vercingetorix King of the Arverni, Pharnaces II King of Pontus, Juba I King of Numidia, Titus Atius Labienus Magistratus Plebeii, Orodes II (Hyrodes) King of Parthia, Publius Cornelius Dolabella, Pacorus I King of Parthia, Mark Antony (Marcus Antonius), Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, Titus Statilius Taurus, and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus.

AFTER COMMON ERA

Marcus Plautius Silvanus, Publius Sulpicius Quirinius, Arminius (Hermann der Cherusker) Chief of the Cherusci, Gaius Silius, Juba II King of Numidia and Maueritania, Publius Cornelius Dolabella, Cunobelinus (Cynfelyn) King of the Catuvellauni, Caratacus (Caradoc) King of the Catuvellauni, Publius Ostorius Scapula, Liu Xiu (Han-Guang Wu Di) Han Emperor, Aulus Plautius, Boudicca (Boadicea) Queen of the Iceni, Gaius Paulinus Suetonius, Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo, Vespasian (Titus Flavius Vespasianus) Roman Emperor, Eleazar ben Yair, Cerialis (Quintus Petillius Cerialis Caesius Rufus), Titus Flavius Josephus (Yosef Ben Matityahu), Ban Chao, Decebalus (Diurpaneus) Dacian King 'the Brave One', Bar Kochba (Simon bar Kochba), Marcus Aurelius, Sun Jian (Wentai) the Tiger of Jiang Dong, Yuan Shao Benchu, Severus (Lucius Septimius Severus) Roman Emperor, Zhang Liao (Wenyuan), Zhuge Liang (Chu-ko Liang) Founder of the Shu Kingdom 'the Hidden Dragon', Liu Bei Shu Emperor, Maximinus I (Gaius Julius Verus Maximinus) Roman Emperor 'Thrax', Ardashir I Sassanid Founder of Persia, Lu Xun (Boyan), Sun Quan (Zhongmou) Founder of the Wu Kingdom, Gallienus (Publius Licinius Egnatius Gallienus) Roman Emperor, Publius Septimius Odaenathus Prince of the Roman Colony of Palmyra, Postumus (Marcus Cassianius Latinius Postumus) Emperor of Gaul, Iberia, and Britian, Claudius II (Marcus Aurelius Claudius) Roman Emperor 'Gothicus', Shapur I Sassanid King of Persia, Septimia Zenobia (Znwbya Bat Zaddai) Queen of Palmyra, Liu Can (Shiguang) Emperor of the Han Zhao State, Constantius II (Flavius Julius Constantius) Roman Emperor, Shi Le (Shilong) Founder of the Jie State (Later Zhao), Ran Min (Yongzeng) Emperor of the Ran Wei State 'Jinu', Shapur II Sassanid King of Persia, Maximianus (Magnus Maximus), Fritigern (Frithugairns) Visigoth Chieftain, Athanaric (Apanareiks) Thervingi King, Flavius Bauto Magister Militum, Arbogast (Flavius Arbogastes) Magister Militum, Theodosius I (Flavius Theodosius) Roman Emperor 'the Great', Flavius Stilicho, Alaric I King of the Visigoths, Ataulf (Atawulf) King of the Visigoths 'Noble Wolf', Wallia (Valia) King of the Visigoths, Coel Hen Duc Brittanniarum 'Old King Cole', Flavius Constantius (Constantius III) Magister Militum, Bonifacius (Count Boniface) Comes, Rugila (Ruhas, Rua) the Hun, Bleda (Buda) the Hun, Theodoric I King of the Visigoths, Avitus (Eparchius Avitus) Western Roman Emperor, Ardaric King of the Gepids, Cunedda ap Edern Wledig, Majorian (Julius Valerius Maiorianus) Western Roman Emperor, Aegidius Magister Militum, Marcellinus Magister Militum, Ricimer (Flavius Ricimer) Magister Militum, Gaiseric (Geiseric, Genseric) King of the Vandals and Alans, Childeric I King of the Salian Franks, Euric (Evaric) King of the Visigoths, Odoacar (Odavacer) King of the Heruli 'Rex Italiae', Ambrosius Aurelianus (Aurelius Ambrosius), Riothamus (Riotimus) King of the Brittones, Clovis I King and Unifier of the Franks, Chlodomer (Clodomir) King of the Franks, Theodoric (Fl?vius Theodericus) King of the Ostrogoths and Ruler of Italy 'the Great', Arthur 'Dex Bellorum' (legendary; yes, the legend we know so well, perhaps the same leader known as Owain Ddantgwyn, or Owain Danwyn), Cadwallon I (Cadwallon ap Einion) King of Gwynedd 'Long Hand', Azarethes, Eran Spahbodh, Mundus, Priscus General Priscus, Totila (Baduila) King of the Ostrogoths, Ceawlin Saxon Bretwalda of Wessex, and Bayan I Avar Khagan.

Thanks and enjoy, James Smile
"A ship in harbor is safe - but that is not what ships are built for."

James K MacKinnon
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#2
Love the article. Incidentally, I just finished reading Pressfield's "The Virtues of War" about Alexander the Great. Truly a thrilling book about a thrilling man.
Michael D. Hafer [aka Mythos Ruler, aka eX | Vesper]
In peace men bury their fathers. In war men bury their sons.
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#3
Quote:"If anyone has the right to be judged by the standards of his time, and not by the standards of our time, it is Alexander".

-Hermann Bengston
In fact, it´s Bengtson, not Bengston. Smile
Christian K.

No reconstruendum => No reconstruction.

Ut desint vires, tamen est laudanda voluntas.

LEGIO XIII GEMINA

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#4
Spartan JKM

So why does Leonidas deserve to be in TIER 3.

He lost the only significant battle he ever fought, was not noted as being involved in any of the strategic decisions of the campaign, etc. Take away Herodotus’s post victory pro-Spartan, pro-hoplite, pro-aristocratic tendencies and I don’t see how he compares to Memnon of Rhodes, Brasidas or Iphicrates too pick a few other T3 names. I don’t have my Polyaneus handy but unlike the other 3 I just noted I think it’s interesting that (as far as I recall) no body of tactics or quotes accumulated to Leonidas unlike other of your TIER 3commanders.

Sure he died for country but remember what Patton is supposed to have said (in loose paraphrase): don’t die for your country …make the other dumb SOB die for his country…
Paul Klos

\'One day when I fly with my hands -
up down the sky,
like a bird\'
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#5
It's a pitty we don't know more about many of these men. Caesar, Alexander and Hannibal are well documented, for others we have only little pieces and no detailed reports.

Septimius Severus for example, it's not quite clear what was actually his achievement, militarily, and what was his generals'. Some believe he was more like Augustus with his generals doing most of the work but we don't know. Would be great to have the works of Marius Maximus, senator and the general in charge of Severus' forces besieging Byzantium.

The informations on Traian's campaigns are also very limited. With other generals it's even worse Cry
RESTITVTOR LIBERTATIS ET ROMANAE RELIGIONIS

DEDITICIVS MINERVAE ET MVSARVM

[Micha F.]
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#6
Good article. I enjoyed it, and I'd like to echo Cinna's comments in that I would love to see more information about Sargon, but there is very little available.
AVETE OMNES
MARIVS TARQVINIVS VRSVS
PATER FAMILIAS DOMVS VRSVM
-Tom
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#7
Good article..!
B.H. Liddle Hart would rate Scipio Africanus as number 1. Simply because he had to deal with Hannibal and his tough army instead of Darius and the Persian army.

Did you include the Roman general Venditius..? He was the only one who was successful against the Parthians...

Johnny
Johnny Shumate
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#8
Greetings,
I agree with Alexander as the greatest Commander of antiquity and even modern times - nobody can compare or come close....

Quote:So why does Leonidas deserve to be in TIER 3.
He lost the only significant battle he ever fought
:x x oops:
If it were not for the bravery of Leonidas and the Spartans and Thespiaens under his command, who stood defiant against overwhelming odds, Greece would probably have fallen to Persia.
It was Leonidas's stand that inspired them to fight and win...if it hadn't been for that traitorous :evil: Ephialte :evil: and the Phokians who were unable to hold the Anopaia path, who knows what would have happened.. !
My rant out of the way.....your turn... :wink:
Interesting article here.... Thermopylae
regards
Arthes
Cristina
The Hoplite Association
[url:n2diviuq]http://www.hoplites.org[/url]
The enemy is less likely to get wind of an advance of cavalry, if the orders for march were passed from mouth to mouth rather than announced by voice of herald, or public notice. Xenophon
-
Reply
#9
Quote:What if Hannibal had been the absolute ruler of Carthage? He merely could have ordered supplies and troops to be sent to him in southern Italy, something that proved could be effected, if not in huge landings, after his devastating victory at Cannae. The pressure might have been too much for even the indomitable Romans; no general has ever been so brilliant, against an enemy he figured would quail after devastating them so convincingly, as Hannibal. It's hard to choose between him and Alexander.
I disagree. IF Hannibal had been the ruler of Carthage he would never have been able to leave North Africa. The 'council' would have tried to steal his throne... Unlike Alexander, Hannibal would not have been able to rule and conquer at the same time.

Now, on the other hand, if Hannibal's brother had been king.... :wink:
Robert Vermaat
MODERATOR
FECTIO Late Romans
THE CAUSE OF WAR MUST BE JUST
(Maurikios-Strategikon, book VIII.2: Maxim 12)
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#10
Quote: Yes, and what a battle....nearly everybody knows the names of Thermopylae and/or Leonidas ... whereas most could not tell you the name of the Spartan commander at Platea. I can't offhand...

Ahh but the thing is the original post is about best commanders, not just famous ones. That Leonidas is famous is a fact, but was he a good commander?

Given the limited evidence I think you can credibly argue that there is either simply not enough information to judge his abilities, or to support an argument of brave but unskilled and ineffective. What I don’t think you can argue is was a good as say Iphicrates.

Politically Spartan kings like Agesilaus and Cleomenes dominated the political field in Sparta; the same does not seem to be true for Leonidas.

Tactically everyone of course knew there were ways of turning the pass; I would tend to say a good general puts reliable troops with the covering force – the Tegeans or Thespians to support the Phocians.

Quote: If it were not for the bravery of Leonidas and the Spartans and Thespiaens under his command, who stood defiant against overwhelming odds, Greece would probably have fallen to Persia.

I disagree, Greece falls or not based on the success of the navy – all Leonidas had to do was hold up the Persian army in an ideal position, after Marathon had already shown that the mainland Greek hoplite phalanx was better than the best infantry the Persians had in a close fight (i.e. a frontal infantry fight, not some running battle).

Quote: it was Leonidas's stand that inspired them to fight and win...

His death was very inspiring, after the Greeks won, but at the time I don’t see the Greeks being all that cheerful about it. The navy at Artemisium was not exactly cheering when it left and Herodotus describes it as a disaster (8.27).

Compare the Lamian war - Nobody talks a lot about the battle of Crannon, except to mention in was somehow a ‘crushing’ defeat for the Greeks in 322 BC (and of course because there is no detailed report about the battle). The reality is that Crannon was not much of a defeat; the Athenian lead Greeks outnumbered by Antipater almost 2:1 fought Alexander’s veteran troops and marshals to a standstill and retired in good order. The Athenians were simply out resourced; they provided the bulk of the army and the entire Greek navy. With part of their fleet tied down watching Antipater’s fleet, the remainder (~170-180+) ships was overmatched by Kleitos and the 240 or so ships he brought from Asia in a series of 2 or 3 battles around Amorgos. Crannon was something of a dice roll by the Greeks with the Macedonian fleet victorious it was worth one last try to get lucky; if they could pull off a smashing victory and maybe kill another Macedonian general or two, than they might still have a chance. A close fought, even battle was not enough (unfortunately).

So what is my point … Basically just that had the Greeks won the naval battles around Amorgos, I suspect we would hear quite a bit more about Crannon the Greek ‘victory’ that cemented the autonomy of the Greeks from Thessaly southward.

Leonidas was in something of a similar situation at Thermopylae – he had virtually no chance of influencing the course of the war except by loosing (which he did). The naval fight was going to be decisive; either at Artemisium or the fall back position. If the Greeks had lost at Salamis, I think we would mostly just remember the related ineptitude of Leonidas and how he managed to get 300 Spartans and some other odd Greeks killed at Thermopylae to no effect (In a quixotic fight for Greek freedom in the face of overwhelming Persian superiority – funny that really, the usual narrative is all gushy positive about Greeks fighting Persians but then turns all realist about fighting Macedonian rule 180 years later, ‘lost cause’ and all that…).

So really for all that Leonidas is a heroic figure in hindsight after a Greek victory over Persia, what does he really bring to the table to compare with Iphicrates? Iphicrates enjoyed a long career, won several significant battles on both land and sea, and would seem to have been a recognized innovator in both equipment and tactics during the 4th century.

But in any case I’ll happily admit I am arguing a somewhat polemical anti CW point…
Paul Klos

\'One day when I fly with my hands -
up down the sky,
like a bird\'
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#11
Hi,
interesting list. Just don't see Titus Labienus, a man who contributed significantly to Caesar's successes in Gaul and who then almost destroyed this great military genius in Africa.
Greetings
Alexandr
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#12
Quote:
conon394:2x6ux18u Wrote:So why does Leonidas deserve to be in TIER 3.
He lost the only significant battle he ever fought
:x x Yes, and what a battle....nearly everybody knows the names of Thermopylae and/or Leonidas ... whereas most could not tell you the name of the Spartan commander at Platea.

Well, same with Y Gododdin - we know every name of the warriors, and what a battle it was!
Yet they lost and their defeat make no difference whatsoever in the outcome of the formation of Northumbria.

Their commander is not remembered as one of the British'greatest generals!
Robert Vermaat
MODERATOR
FECTIO Late Romans
THE CAUSE OF WAR MUST BE JUST
(Maurikios-Strategikon, book VIII.2: Maxim 12)
[Image: artgroepbutton.jpg]
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#13
I'm fine with Leonidas being in Tier 3... however, Themistokles, Iphikrates, Kimon, Agis III, Kleomenes, etc. etc. were all better commanders. Unfortunate that we didn't get to see any subsequent battles from Leonidas to better judge him. Confusedhock:
Michael D. Hafer [aka Mythos Ruler, aka eX | Vesper]
In peace men bury their fathers. In war men bury their sons.
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#14
Quote:...Hannibal. It's hard to choose between him and Alexander.

Indeed. But Hannibal surrounded and destroyed a numerically superior force which was unprecedented. And he had more obstacles to overcome than Alexander, IMO. Not that Alexander's feats were "a walk in the park", but he inherited an already great army which he perfected. Alexander also inherited a wealthy kingdom that served as a power base to launch and supply his army from. Hannibal enjoyed none of these advantages or at least not to the same extent as Alexander.

And there's more to being a great general than winning battles - you have to inspire loyalty in your fighting men. It's easier to inspire loyalty when you're constantly winning battles like Alexander. But Hannibal had to keep his army together for 15 years after his great victory at Cannae.

So, I vote for Hannibal over Alexander as the greatest.

Now changing the subject to Marcus Antonius ("Mark Antony" :roll: ), can someone PLEASE tell me what HIS greatest accomplishment was ? Why is he worthy for consideration as a great general ?


~Theo
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#15
Quote:
Arthes:7a2pbuq5 Wrote:
conon394:7a2pbuq5 Wrote:So why does Leonidas deserve to be in TIER 3.
He lost the only significant battle he ever fought
:x x Yes, and what a battle....nearly everybody knows the names of Thermopylae and/or Leonidas ... whereas most could not tell you the name of the Spartan commander at Platea.

Well, same with Y Gododdin - we know every name of the warriors, and what a battle it was!
Yet they lost and their defeat make no difference whatsoever in the outcome of the formation of Northumbria.

Their commander is not remembered as one of the British'greatest generals!
They don't tend to make lists like that about the Britons...only the Romano Britons and the Saxons....and Mynyddawg was from North of the Vallum...!
Cristina
The Hoplite Association
[url:n2diviuq]http://www.hoplites.org[/url]
The enemy is less likely to get wind of an advance of cavalry, if the orders for march were passed from mouth to mouth rather than announced by voice of herald, or public notice. Xenophon
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