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Thread: The Commanders of Military History - a Compilation

  1. #21

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    A general who apparently didn't think his forces were good enough to meet Caesar's in the field...

  2. #22
    Freddie's Avatar The Voice of Reason
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    A general who was ordered to stop Caesar at all costs....

  3. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by Alexander Beats Hannibal
    Actually, Pompey's army was made up almost entirely of fresh levvies. Pompey himself was against fighting Caesar's more experienced troops in a pitched battle, but was forced to by the Senate.
    You are right, I've done some more research, and Pompeys army existed out of levies. But don't underestimate these troops. I'm pretty sure that the Pompean levies were way better than the Persian battles during Alexander the Great. They might lacked experience, yet they were quite good trained for ancient tactics, and commanded by good commanders and a great general.

    Quote Originally Posted by Alexander Beats Hannibal
    He wasn't given control in Spain until he was well into his 20's, and he had already fought in battles against Hannibal, and served under his father. This was typical of Romans, and all armies. It doesn't make Scipio special.
    Commanding a large province and thousands of troops isn't normal for a 26-years old young man. Usually, a Roman would serve as a tribune in his twenty. In my opinion, a general has to show a great talent for commanding, when he's only 26. Most generals won their battles when they were in their fifties or sixties. Many legendary generals commanded troops at a young age: Pompey, Scipio Africanus and Alexander.

    Quote Originally Posted by Alexander Beats Hannibal
    The exact reason Hannibal is overrated. History was passed down to us by the Romans. They called him a genius because then they could explain why they lost to them, instead of just admitting they ****ed up badly.
    Interesting theory, but it sounds strange to me. Hannibal had to be a genious: he was able to survive years in Italy, with the mighty Romans next to his door! In most situations were the Romans screwed things up, they replaced the commander and sent extra troops, so the situation would be solved in a few years. The Romans were quite experienced in the art of war, they had enough troops, and capable commanders (Fabius Maximus). They just couldn't beat Hannibal, and that's a fact.

  4. #24

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    IMO Genghis Khan is the best because like many people said he had to fight the whole way to the top, at one point he was even a slave in his childhood, and he didn't inherit any army or have any army given to him like Alexander or Julius Caesar. He defeated all his opposition, even his half-brother and his anda to become leader, then after uniting the Mongols he created a united army, insituted government, laws, and written language; things the Mongolians never had. He was able to basically make walled cities obsolete and basically ended the long age of fortified walled cities, he was able to travel through the toughest terrains and beat every enemy eventually creating the largest land empire ever.

    I also believe he defenitly united east and west through the trade routes and expansion more than Alexander because he brought the knowledge from the far east to Europe, while Alexander only united the eastern world that the Europeans were already in contact with.

  5. #25
    Legio XX Valeria Victrix's Avatar Great Scott!
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    ABH, I understand your reverence for Alexander, but I do NOT understand why you seem to feel the need to belittle every other general who rivals Alexander's brilliance, particularly other ancient generals like Caesar or Hannibal. Can you explain that?!?

    Caesar was no tactical dullard...a level-headed analysis would conclude that he had tactical and engineering genius very near to that of Alexander, and he accomplished a great deal in his lifetime, if not as much as Alexander, but still a great deal. You also seem to forget that he fought the Civil War of 49-45 BC, against fellow Romans, known to this day for their discipline, elan, and flexibility...and yes, that even includes the levied ones.

    If you want to criticize Caesar for fighting levy troops under Pompey, then you should also observe who Alexander fought against. With the exception of Greek mercenaries at the Battle of Granicus, most of the thousands of troops he fought against were levies as well. The major difference between Roman and Persian levies were that the Roman levies were trained in the iron discipline of the Roman legion, whereas the Persians received little training and even less discipline. True, their lack of battle experience was the same, but in the end, lexander faced less trained troops than did Caesar. Granted, he fought them in huge numbers, larger than Caesar, but the fact remains that they were less trained and disciplined.

    Now, I am not trying to say that Caesar was better than Alexander, or vice cersa. They were both military geniuses of the highest order in my opinion, but the bottom line is that both were human, and had flaws in their personalities. Both were ruthless butchers when you look at the way they deal with thier enemies, but history forgives them that due to their accomplishments.


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  6. #26
    Freddie's Avatar The Voice of Reason
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    Quote Originally Posted by Legio XX Valeria Victrix
    ABH, I understand your reverence for Alexander, but I do NOT understand why you seem to feel the need to belittle every other general who rivals Alexander's brilliance, particularly other ancient generals like Caesar or Hannibal. Can you explain that?!?

    Caesar was no tactical dullard...a level-headed analysis would conclude that he had tactical and engineering genius very near to that of Alexander, and he accomplished a great deal in his lifetime, if not as much as Alexander, but still a great deal. You also seem to forget that he fought the Civil War of 49-45 BC, against fellow Romans, known to this day for their discipline, elan, and flexibility...and yes, that even includes the levied ones.

    If you want to criticize Caesar for fighting levy troops under Pompey, then you should also observe who Alexander fought against. With the exception of Greek mercenaries at the Battle of Granicus, most of the thousands of troops he fought against were levies as well. The major difference between Roman and Persian levies were that the Roman levies were trained in the iron discipline of the Roman legion, whereas the Persians received little training and even less discipline. True, their lack of battle experience was the same, but in the end, lexander faced less trained troops than did Caesar. Granted, he fought them in huge numbers, larger than Caesar, but the fact remains that they were less trained and disciplined.

    Now, I am not trying to say that Caesar was better than Alexander, or vice cersa. They were both military geniuses of the highest order in my opinion, but the bottom line is that both were human, and had flaws in their personalities. Both were ruthless butchers when you look at the way they deal with thier enemies, but history forgives them that due to their accomplishments.

    Can I ask what is your opinion on the Gauls who Caesar fought and defeated? Would you say they are a bunch of cowards and wimps or ferocious warriors who lacked just a bit of discipline?

  7. #27
    Ummon's Avatar Indefinitely Banned
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    Not counting that Vercingetorix managed to give them some discipline too.

  8. #28
    Freddie's Avatar The Voice of Reason
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ummon
    Not counting that Vercingetorix managed to give them some discipline too.
    Your right but you have to admit he is the exception to the rule.

  9. #29
    Legio XX Valeria Victrix's Avatar Great Scott!
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    Spartan JKH,

    Wow, man, excellent post! I thought I was a military history aficionado, but you put me to shame with all those guys!

    One thing, though: Get Joshua Chamberlain outta there! Chamberlain is one of the most celebrated figures of the American Civil War, but his fame (and himself) are overrated, and not just a little, but craazy overrated.

    Chamberlain was not a military man, he was an academic. One of the reasons he is so celebrated is because his writing is so clear and eloquent, which is all well and good, but it does not make him an excellent military commander. Furthermore, he was only a low level officer for most of the war, commanding only regiments and brigades in combat. Almost all the other people on your list were great army commanders, or subordinate commanders of the higher orders of military organizations. To put it simply, Chamberlain's lowly status should not allow him to equate with the other true greats of military history because he was not in a high enough position to display the same kind of tactical brilliance as they.

    A case in point, for Chamberlain: The so-called "charge" of the 20th Maine at Gettysburg was not even a charge as it was ordered. The movie Gettysburg has to a great degree furthered this myth, that Chamberlain did something so amazing by charging a tired enemy force when he ran out of ammunition to defend a critical position that somehow, if it fell, would win the battle for the Confederacy and end the Union. The truth is much different.

    After repeated attacks were beaten off, Chamberlain's 20th Maine was strung out in a single file along the crest of Little Round Top's rear slope. He needed to redress his line, and fill holes opened by casualties falling out. He ordered his color company (the company that holds and guards the regiment's flags), commander by a officer named Holmann Melcher, to move forward and act as a guide for the rest of the regiment to guide off of. As Melcher moved the colors forward, the other companies of the regiment thought this was a signal to charge (which shows that Chamberlain in fact was kind of a poor commander by not informing his other officers that the movement was just to redress the line and not to charge). Chamberlain ordered no charge, nor did anyone. It was the product of a misunderstanding, and not intended by Chamberlain. But, when it succeeded in driving off the Confederates, he, in his elegant prose, decided to take full credit for it, and wrote that it was his idea to charge all along.

    Another thing that Chamberlain loved to gussy up was the importance of the position itself. Little Round Top was indeed a dominating feature of the Gettysburg battlefield, but Chamberlain likes to portray it as the 20th Maine vs. the entire Confederate army with the stakes being the survival of the United States. It simply is not that way at all. Chamberlain's 20th Maine was one of 12 regiments or so (8,000 men total) who fought on that hill for the Federals. Furthermore, the entire Federal Sixth Corps (19,000 men) was just arriving and taking positions behind the hill at the very monet his "charge" was taking place. If Chambwerlain and the 20th Maine had been driven off the hill, then an entire Sixth Corps division (5,000 men or so) could be dispatched to retake it from the exhausted, casualty depleted 3,000 or less Confederates that might have occupied it. Simply put, the 20th Maine did NOT save the Union on July 2, on Little Round Top. Period.
    Last edited by Legio XX Valeria Victrix; July 11, 2005 at 01:38 PM.


    "For what is the life of a man, if it is not interwoven with the life of former generations by a sense of history?" - Cicero

  10. #30
    Legio XX Valeria Victrix's Avatar Great Scott!
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    Quote Originally Posted by Freddie
    Can I ask what is your opinion on the Gauls who Caesar fought and defeated? Would you say they are a bunch of cowards and wimps or ferocious warriors who lacked just a bit of discipline?
    I think that the Gauls are nothing to sneeze at. They could be very formidable adversaries in their own way. On some occasions, though, as Caesar himself relates, they did turn and run when the situation began to go against them. But explain to me a military situation that Alexander faced where his opponents did not do the same? It is human instinct to flee when you are in grave danger, and when there is no chance of winning then why stay and risk death? The Persians fled too after Alexander flanked them at Gaugamela.

    That said, of Caesar's two main opponents, the Gauls and the Pompeiians, I agree that the Pompeiian troops generally were of higher quality, even the levies.

    When you think of Alexander, you think of his four main battles, Granicus, Issus, Gaugamela, and Hydaspes, with a possible fifth at Tyre. Caesar fought four main battles just against the Pompeiians: one in Italy, I can't recall the name, Capua, I beleive, Pharsalus, Thapsus, and Munda. This is not to mention the battles against the Gauls: Bibracte, the Sambre, Alesia, Gergovia. Just more food for thought.


    "For what is the life of a man, if it is not interwoven with the life of former generations by a sense of history?" - Cicero

  11. #31
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    I congratulate you on compiling this thorough list. Though this is quite a subjective topic, you have done pretty good research and it isnt like some of the other "greatest general" lists. I would agree that Selucus I Nicator, and also Pyrrhus should be a bit higher.

  12. #32

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    ...Speed.
    ...The one factor that unites the very best Commanders was their speed of advance.
    ...Alexander would often win battles before they began by moving before his opponents were ready for them.
    ...In a time when most armies moved 10-12 miles a day, Alexander would move at over 30 on an extended basis. He was often able to rush strong positions before the defenders could deploy. He was the pioneer in maneuver combat.
    ...Alexander was willing to do anything to win, one of the first to initiate night-time attacks on sleeping enemies, willing to devastate enemy villages/towns in the rear of defending armies, always ready to accept submission or treachery with ultimate victory the only thing important to him.
    ...Alexander would always win any war he fought, even if he had to lead the charges himself. Very amusing to hear someone talk of him never relying on his 'Lucky Star' when his very survival at the head of his troops depended on luck. Alexander was seriously wounded eight times with his reckless disregard for his own personal safety. Eight times he could have easily died from his wounds. If THAT isn't lucky, I don't know what luck is.
    ...Without luck, he would have died at the Granicus.

  13. #33
    Freddie's Avatar The Voice of Reason
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    Spartan JKM I forgot to say that your post was excellent the way you have gone about your answer is suburb. You have casted any personal bias aside and have evaluated each commander on there own merits and come to a conclusion. Although I disagree with your conclusion the way in which you have gone about answering the question deserves recognition.

    If only other people (*COUGH* ABH *COUGH*) would cast aside their bias and look at things logically in the way you have we could have a lot more open and better though out discussion. But generally these forums are relatively intelligent compared to a lot other forums Iíve posted on.

  14. #34
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    Hmmm...I just read a fairly extensive description of Gaugamela a week or so ago, which gave me a little more understanding of Alexander. Personally, I'm more of the opinion that his enemies were so much weaker and less disciplined than his army, that his victories could have been achieved by a much lesser leader. However, the fact that he not just won, but won by odds of as many as 500 Persians to every Macedonian warrior certainly gives him more credit. I think it's impossible to tell how he would have fared against an army that was entirely (not partially, as in the Greek mercenaries who were much tougher for him to beat) of a quality comparable to his own. But I'm now knowledgeable enough about the subject to decide that. I would say that Frederick the II ought to be much farther up on the list, I would have put him at the bottom of Tier 1 personally. He didn't create his army in the same way some of the others on the list did, but he certainly used it to incredible effect. And he didn't cut a swath through weak enemies either, he held his own while outnumbered more than 4 to 1 over the course of many years. The 7 Years War had him pitted against Austria, Russia, and France, with England helping only intermittently (I think, I may have gotten the latter 2 mixed up), and he ended up fighting a multiple front war against powerful enemies. He was able to brilliantly maneuver his troops so that he had sufficient manpower at all of his major battles, while leaving many areas calculatedly unmanned. Just my two cents.

  15. #35

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    What many people forget is that the peak of military skill is not to defeat your enemy in the field, but to defeat your enemy without ever going into the field.

  16. #36

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rowan11088
    Hmmm...I just read a fairly extensive description of Gaugamela a week or so ago, which gave me a little more understanding of Alexander. Personally, I'm more of the opinion that his enemies were so much weaker and less disciplined than his army, that his victories could have been achieved by a much lesser leader.
    Sorry, but this is really :wub:. So, you're saying that a 'much lesser leader' could win the battle? Hmm, okay, can I pick a commander from TIER 3, to take Alexanders place? I've choosen Boudicca. She was, a 'much lesser leader'. Do you really think she would've been able to invade one of the largest empires ever with only 20000 men, willing to face half a million Persians? The Persians didn't had an all-levies army, do you really think that they could've maintain an empire with levies?

    Let's take a look at the numbers of men during the battle:

    Persia:
    35,000 cavalry
    150,000 Persian infantry (could've been 200,000 or more)
    6,000 Greek mercenaries
    200 scythed chariots

    Macedonia:
    7,000 cavalry
    40,000 infantry

    Okay, Darius' infantry could've been crappy. But he still had 35,000 cavalry (men from tribes, born in the saddle, no levies on a horse), 6000 Greeks and 200 chariots. I think Boudicca would've been crushed easily by the force. You can say that the quality of Darius' troops was much lower, but it's wrong to say that it was just a bunch of farmers in uniform.

    Alexander also fought against king Porus. He had a trained army (Indians were dedicated warriors for life), and he had 200 elephants.

  17. #37
    Ummon's Avatar Indefinitely Banned
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    Actually, he is right, Alexander's enemies had armies which were composed mostly of rabble and levies (bad levies, under western terms), overall.

  18. #38

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ummon
    Actually, he is right, Alexander's enemies had armies which were composed mostly of rabble and levies (bad levies, under western terms), overall.
    What I'm trying to say is that Alexander faced skilled commanders, with armies of less quality but more quantity. 'Less quality' doesn't mean he only fought levie armies: he fought chariots, elephants, Greek mercenaries, Persian cavalry, Scythian cavalry, etc.

  19. #39
    Ummon's Avatar Indefinitely Banned
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    Darius was a mediocre, if not bad commander. Porus was nothing special. The best he faced was Memnon, and Alexander wasn't able to prevail clearly until Memnon misteriously died.

  20. #40
    Spartan JKM's Avatar Semisalis
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    APPRECIATION ALL AROUND, EVERYONE!!!

    I just came to the site since last night to check if a 'few' people might have responded; boy, am I delighted with what I have been reading (disagreements are a good thing; variance allows us ti open up and learn). Thank you.

    Not just me, but the interaction is great. I don't know where to start. Alexander has dominated the thread, and many have touched on excellent points.

    I would like to mention, succinctly, something about Epaminondas and Philip II: I feel they were not overrated at all. The very reason I placed them so high is the colossal influence of their work - an influence which was not inadvertant.
    The tactics designed by Epaminondas, which entailed the oblique battle line, were revolutionary. His echelon deployment was the solution to the problem of numerical inferiority in a pitched battle involving standard, frontal engagements. The principle of concentration of force was first applied brilliantly by him. He also synchronized cavalry with infantry, all of it perfectly timed in tempo amid the battle. It was, as far as we know on a substantial level, the first Western example of a commander utilizing combined arms so eficaciously in battle. Any detailed search on Epaminondas and/or Battle of Leuctra will explain this in detail (not to mention many books). Whether Hannibal or Frederick the Great, many subsequent greats elaborated on the innovations of this great Theban. Had he not died in battle at Mantinea in 362 B.C., the Greek states may not have been in the polarized condition they were when Philip II descended upon them a little over 2 decades later. Epaminondas also ushered in the strategic forced march, or strategic pursuit. Philip II would take this to art form. Without this innovation, Alexander's conquest would have been unimaginable.
    Philip II was a master of military science. He learned the lessons delivered by Epaminondas, both military and political, and utilized them outstandingly. The phalanx he re-organized was far more complex one than that of the Greeks, and he added the great striking force of the Macedonian army - the heavy cavalry. This tremendous unit attacked in wedge formation, and was the largest integrated cavalry force (with infantry) by proportion of any army of the ancient world. The heavy cavalry would be incorporated into the strategic pursuit. Philip took a backward nation and developed the most sophisticated and powerful arms ever known in the West. His work beared fruit at his brilliant win at Chaeronea in 338 B.C. Logistically, he replaced oxen and mules with horses, thus speed and mobility was greatly increased. He reduced all things, such as pack animals, that impeded celerity. Basically, Philip developed the lightest, fastest, and most maneuverable army the Western World had ever seen!

    Alexander did not, by any means, create anything substantial for his army, except for a corps of super-heavy cavalry, the Sarissophoroi, which used a long spear. He didn't even preserve democracy in Greece, but the idea of people ruling themselves was already sreading westwards. But this does not automatically mean he wasn't the greatest military commander ever. Of course it comes down to our subjectivity. Amid the Greek city-state wars throughout the beginning to mid 4th century B.C., Persia was on the verge of doing economically what she was unable to do militarily. Persia was using its money to suck the Greek city-states, in a state of strife, into it like a giant black hole. Alexander changed all that. His great conquest shifted economic, as well as military, power inexorably from the Asia to Europe. He indeed attacked a very decadent empire, but the scope of his success was simply awesome. He was one man who marched this incredible military machine, designed by his father, some 15,000 miles over 13 years, never suffering a setback, let alone a defeat. No individual, in my opinion, in military history matches this. A few come very close.

    Regarding Gaugamela, he was outnumbered about 5 to 1 (maybe more), in both cavalry and infantry. Darius III, hardly a great captain, lured him into Asia to a ground of his own choosing. There were no mountains or body of water to protect Alexander, as had been the case at Issus. Darius' line overlapped his by nearly a mile. It seemed no amount of strategy could circumvent this handicap. The victory was an uncanny display of poise, speed, and troop dispositions, particularly the reserve echelons of infantry, from Alexander, and a paltry one by the Persian king, who fled before the battle was swinging towards one's favor.

    We could go on, but I'll leave it there......for now!!

    Again, thanks everyone, Spartan JKM :original:
    Last edited by Spartan JKM; July 11, 2005 at 08:15 PM. Reason: injection of trivia

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