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Old November 7th, 2017, 06:44 PM   #21

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I suspect one reason some people find Caesar less impressive as a tactician compared to Hannibal or Alexander, is because he relied on cavalry far less than they did. Cavalry tactics make for the sort of dashing, flashy manoeuvres that people associate with tactical brilliance, and Alexander & Hannibal relied on the cavalry for the decisive actions in many of their most famous victories.

By contrast, Caesar's generalship on the battlefield was much more heavily weighted to relying on the foot over the horse. The cavalry played an important part in several of the key battles of his career (Alesia, Ruspina, Munda) but never in a manner as indispensable as, for example, Hannibal's cavalry at Trebia or Cannae, or Alexander's cavalry at Gaugamela or Hydaspes.
I feel like this is because Caesar never had a cavalry advantage in most of his battles. Whereas Alexander and Hannibal really did, which allowed them to utilise cavalry to devastating effect.
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Old November 7th, 2017, 07:21 PM   #22

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How would you guys define "operational" ability as compared to strategical and tactical ?
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Old November 7th, 2017, 07:57 PM   #23

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I suspect one reason some people find Caesar less impressive as a tactician compared to Hannibal or Alexander, is because he relied on cavalry far less than they did. Cavalry tactics make for the sort of dashing, flashy manoeuvres that people associate with tactical brilliance, and Alexander & Hannibal relied on the cavalry for the decisive actions in many of their most famous victories.

By contrast, Caesar's generalship on the battlefield was much more heavily weighted to relying on the foot over the horse. The cavalry played an important part in several of the key battles of his career (Alesia, Ruspina, Munda) but never in a manner as indispensable as, for example, Hannibal's cavalry at Trebia or Cannae, or Alexander's cavalry at Gaugamela or Hydaspes.
You are essentially correct, Caesar relied more on the power of the legion than cavalry. Cavalry was not as crucial since he essentially used it in a straightforward manner as a shock force to deliver a killing blow once the legions had already grinded the opponent down. Take Pharsalus as an example where Caesar used his cavalry forces as little as possible. What he did shows me that he does have tactical brilliance as he decided to place his cavalry with infantry troops into what was more or less a mixed unit and he completely neutralized Pompey's mass cavalry charge. What Caesar understood was that his strength was in the legion so his best course of action was to play to this strength, take a central position and smash the enemy center in a direct way. Though he also employed more subtle moves in his tactical engagements as he displayed at Pharsalus, but above all his goal was to keep his formation intact as it would be the key to wearing down an enemy after a matter of time.

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Good post, but I respectfully disagree with a few of your points.

1. Alexander did in fact usually use a method that was more direct [yet still complex] than Hannibal did; though Hydaspes remains the set piece battle for Alexander that demonstrates his skill at flanking and strategic maneuvers. Not only did he make a brilliant crossing whilst making Porus think he was still in camp, but during the battle itself Alexander displayed that he was able to adapt. He used a flanking strategy for both cavalry wings.

2. I don't really think Caesar displayed the same 'tactical flair' that Hannibal or Alexander did.

3. Interesting to note: Napoleon said that of Caesar's campaigns, the Gallic was the least impressive, since Caesar had a much more efficient and highly trained army under his command, and faced opponents that, on the whole, did not understand the art of war. Napoleon considered Caesar's African campaign as his masterpiece.
I actually had Hydaspes in mind, it was a good engagement with maneuver and subtle manipulation however it lacked the finesse which Hannibal displayed. As an operation it had a high potential for failure since Alexander was also acting brashly, so in that regard he did not have the planning and preparation of Caesar.

Actually I think that Caesar demonstrated his tactical aptitude at Alesia, Pharsalus, Ruspina and Munda. At Thapsus he showed his more pragmatic side when he subverted Scipio by attacking his camp.

I think that on the whole the Gallic campaigns were not that impressive except for on the scale of grand strategy. He successfully defeated multiple tribes and conquered Gaul. He also demonstrated his ability on the operational scale multiple times. But it is the revolt of Vercingetorix in which he showed a high degree of ability in pretty much every category. The insurgency of Vercingetorix is the sort of thing that gives nightmares to seasoned commanders. Someone else would have given up in the face of that but Caesar was a huge gambler.
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Old November 7th, 2017, 08:03 PM   #24

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Originally Posted by DIVUS IVLIVS View Post
I suspect one reason some people find Caesar less impressive as a tactician compared to Hannibal or Alexander, is because he relied on cavalry far less than they did. Cavalry tactics make for the sort of dashing, flashy manoeuvres that people associate with tactical brilliance, and Alexander & Hannibal relied on the cavalry for the decisive actions in many of their most famous victories.

By contrast, Caesar's generalship on the battlefield was much more heavily weighted to relying on the foot over the horse. The cavalry played an important part in several of the key battles of his career (Alesia, Ruspina, Munda) but never in a manner as indispensable as, for example, Hannibal's cavalry at Trebia or Cannae, or Alexander's cavalry at Gaugamela or Hydaspes.
This is a great point. Roman cavalry, while not necessarily bad during the Republic era, was not as special as it would become in the Imperial era, nor was it anything to match the Macedonian or Punic cavalry. It was it's flexible, yet disciplined infantry which gave Rome it's edge.
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Old November 7th, 2017, 08:21 PM   #25

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You are essentially correct, Caesar relied more on the power of the legion than cavalry. Cavalry was not as crucial since he essentially used it in a straightforward manner as a shock force to deliver a killing blow once the legions had already grinded the opponent down. Take Pharsalus as an example where Caesar used his cavalry forces as little as possible. What he did shows me that he does have tactical brilliance as he decided to place his cavalry with infantry troops into what was more or less a mixed unit and he completely neutralized Pompey's mass cavalry charge. What Caesar understood was that his strength was in the legion so his best course of action was to play to this strength, take a central position and smash the enemy center in a direct way. Though he also employed more subtle moves in his tactical engagements as he displayed at Pharsalus, but above all his goal was to keep his formation intact as it would be the key to wearing down an enemy after a matter of time.



I actually had Hydaspes in mind, it was a good engagement with maneuver and subtle manipulation however it lacked the finesse which Hannibal displayed. As an operation it had a high potential for failure since Alexander was also acting brashly, so in that regard he did not have the planning and preparation of Caesar.

Actually I think that Caesar demonstrated his tactical aptitude at Alesia, Pharsalus, Ruspina and Munda. At Thapsus he showed his more pragmatic side when he subverted Scipio by attacking his camp.

I think that on the whole the Gallic campaigns were not that impressive except for on the scale of grand strategy. He successfully defeated multiple tribes and conquered Gaul. He also demonstrated his ability on the operational scale multiple times. But it is the revolt of Vercingetorix in which he showed a high degree of ability in pretty much every category. The insurgency of Vercingetorix is the sort of thing that gives nightmares to seasoned commanders. Someone else would have given up in the face of that but Caesar was a huge gambler.
Hydaspes- Acting brashly as in dividing his army in roughly half and basically using only one of the 2 to face the whole Indian army at heavy numerical odds?

Hydaspes was more offensive in nature, sure, and with the greater risks involved I can see how one might see it as lacking in finesse in comparison to Hannibal's tactics most of the time, as the latter left fewer things to chance and, as you also say, the same is true with Caesar in regards to his battle preparation. If we are to look at the subtle manipulation of Alexander's grand battlefield tactics at places like Gaugamela, Pelium, Jaxartes, or Hydaspes however, I don't really see how those are lacking in finesse in comparison to the other 2.

If we are simply talking about those 4 battles, then I would only give Hannibal an advantage in finesse due to a more indirect approach (a defensive-offensive vs. Alexander's more largely offensive approach) against abler enemies. If we are to take the complexities of Hannibal's defensive-offensive and Alexander's more offensive approaches, then I don't see how they aren't equally complex or fine in their respective manipulation of dispositions and other elements on the battlefield.
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Old November 7th, 2017, 08:48 PM   #26

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Whether or not Alexander preferred different tactical approaches to Hannibal, does not necessarily mean Hannibal was better. Perhaps Alexander didn't need to use 'indirect flair'. Anyway, as stated above, Hydapses is a brilliant example of Alexander adjusting his normal battle tactics and executing a brilliant tactical plan.



Well firstly, as Salaminia pointed out in the ongoing threat I'm involved in called "Philip II of Macedon: Best Captain/General Europe Ever Produced?" [Ancient History thread] it is somewhat unfair to compare the siege operations of Alexander and Philip to those of Roman generals since siege operations had undergone vast improvements during this wide space of time [300 years approx.]. Regardless, Philip and Alexander both have great examples of brilliant siege operations [for their time].

Don't get me wrong, Caesar was a brilliant tactician. Pharsalus is my favorite example [although I think Pompey's numbers were smaller than reported for a number of reasons, and Caesar's were probably higher]. However, the tactical complexity of Gaugamela I feel is more impressive.



He's definitely up there. It's gonna be hard arguing for Alexander since he was the first of the greats! [if you don't include Philip, I personally do]
Agreed. I would only differentiate Hannibal and Caesar from Alexander in the greater difficulty in opposition and related circumstances faced by the former 2 in comparison to the latter. If we're talking about the quality of tactics employed by each relative to what they were facing, then I would be hard-pressed to argue that Alexander was inferior to Caesar in battlefield tactics. The edge I give to Hannibal, and only slightly, above the other 2 is due to facing the toughest opponents and using a kind of indirect approach whereby fewer things were left to chance on the battlefield. His careful control over all elements of the battlefield was the best of the 3. He didn't gamble quite as much and tended to use 'hook, line, and sinker' the most often.

The main flaw I see with Alexander's battlefield style is that I feel his constant 'lead from the front' command approach put himself at personal risk too much and it left him less able to control/monitor the battle as a whole than was the case with the other 2 who, more often than not, led either from the rear or at least somewhat behind the main line.

If comparing Gaugamela to Pharsalus, I can certainly understand seeing the former as holding greater appeal due to the larger scale of battle and, in particular, the vastly greater numbers of cavalry involved. Otherwise, I can't really rate either battle as inferior, as each commander used just the right sequence of tactics in their respective situations in order to win decisive victories.
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Old November 7th, 2017, 09:43 PM   #27

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You are essentially correct, Caesar relied more on the power of the legion than cavalry. Cavalry was not as crucial since he essentially used it in a straightforward manner as a shock force to deliver a killing blow once the legions had already grinded the opponent down. Take Pharsalus as an example where Caesar used his cavalry forces as little as possible. What he did shows me that he does have tactical brilliance as he decided to place his cavalry with infantry troops into what was more or less a mixed unit and he completely neutralized Pompey's mass cavalry charge. What Caesar understood was that his strength was in the legion so his best course of action was to play to this strength, take a central position and smash the enemy center in a direct way. Though he also employed more subtle moves in his tactical engagements as he displayed at Pharsalus, but above all his goal was to keep his formation intact as it would be the key to wearing down an enemy after a matter of time.
No one is questioning Caesar's tactical brilliance per say, he employed combined arms tactics at Pharsalus, mixing infantry and cavalry in an effective manner. The question then is, is that example demonstration of greater combined arms tactics than Alexander? I don't believe so. Not including the awesome campaigns in the mountains of Iran, displaying Alexander's excellent flexibility, we could use Gaugamela as a prime contrast that really does demonstrate a level above Pharsalus. Alexander held off the Persian left wing cavalry by feeding in squadrons one at a time, effectively minimalising the Persian advantage in numbers. Once sufficient detachments had been drawn away from the center, Alexander deftly organised a wedge of infantry and cavalry that struck at the weakened Persian center. I personally think this was that one level above Pharsalus in terms of combined arms.


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I actually had Hydaspes in mind, it was a good engagement with maneuver and subtle manipulation however it lacked the finesse which Hannibal displayed. As an operation it had a high potential for failure since Alexander was also acting brashly, so in that regard he did not have the planning and preparation of Caesar.

Actually I think that Caesar demonstrated his tactical aptitude at Alesia, Pharsalus, Ruspina and Munda. At Thapsus he showed his more pragmatic side when he subverted Scipio by attacking his camp.

I think that on the whole the Gallic campaigns were not that impressive except for on the scale of grand strategy. He successfully defeated multiple tribes and conquered Gaul. He also demonstrated his ability on the operational scale multiple times. But it is the revolt of Vercingetorix in which he showed a high degree of ability in pretty much every category. The insurgency of Vercingetorix is the sort of thing that gives nightmares to seasoned commanders. Someone else would have given up in the face of that but Caesar was a huge gambler.
I think nuclearguy answered the Hydaspes question quite well for now.

Caesar definitely displayed his tactical brilliance in those said battle. I, however, am of the opinion that Alexander's battles show greater tactical depth and complexity.

Indeed. As Napoleon said, if Caesar only had the Gallic campaign to his name, it wouldn't be sufficient to make him legendary as he is.

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Agreed. I would only differentiate Hannibal and Caesar from Alexander in the greater difficulty in opposition and related circumstances faced by the former 2 in comparison to the latter. If we're talking about the quality of tactics employed by each relative to what they were facing, then I would be hard-pressed to argue that Alexander was inferior to Caesar in battlefield tactics. The edge I give to Hannibal, and only slightly, above the other 2 is due to facing the toughest opponents and using a kind of indirect approach whereby fewer things were left to chance on the battlefield. His careful control over all elements of the battlefield was the best of the 3. He didn't gamble quite as much and tended to use 'hook, line, and sinker' the most often.

The main flaw I see with Alexander's battlefield style is that I feel his constant 'lead from the front' command approach put himself at personal risk too much and it left him less able to control/monitor the battle as a whole than was the case with the other 2 who, more often than not, led either from the rear or at least somewhat behind the main line.

If comparing Gaugamela to Pharsalus, I can certainly understand seeing the former as holding greater appeal due to the larger scale of battle and, in particular, the vastly greater numbers of cavalry involved. Otherwise, I can't really rate either battle as inferior, as each commander used just the right sequence of tactics in their respective situations in order to win decisive victories.
I've tried to argue in the other thread mentioned that quantity factors aren't as important as tactical decisions. For example, I feel that Philip's Chaeronea and his battle against Bardylis [the first battle of his career] are extremely impressive displays of tactics. I mean, here we have Philip, a petty king with an army of 10,000 men, most demoralised heavily from a previous loss against the Illyrians, the first battle of his life, use echelon tactics and applied pressure with infantry plus cavalry at the weak point of the enemy line whilst delaying/holding the strong enemy center [hence the use of echelon]. This literally created the tactics Alexander would use in Persia. But I better stop there, I'm a bit biased towards Philip.

I agree with you there, and this is where I somewhat see a contrast between father and son. Where Philip used Homer [Iliad] for pragmatic purposes [inspiration for the sarissa, close order of the phalanx to name some], Alexander wanted to be the heroes. That's why I believe that Philip, especially in later years, refrained from leading from the front, and instead attempted to command from the rear, observing the field. This would essentially make him one of the first of the new generals who led from the back, whereas Alexander reverted back to the old school 'lead from the front' principle.

I don't personally think the scale of Gaugamela was much larger IMO. This is because I'm of the belief that the Persian army was probably 50,000-100,000 strong maximum.
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Old November 7th, 2017, 10:02 PM   #28

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No one is questioning Caesar's tactical brilliance per say, he employed combined arms tactics at Pharsalus, mixing infantry and cavalry in an effective manner. The question then is, is that example demonstration of greater combined arms tactics than Alexander? I don't believe so. Not including the awesome campaigns in the mountains of Iran, displaying Alexander's excellent flexibility, we could use Gaugamela as a prime contrast that really does demonstrate a level above Pharsalus. Alexander held off the Persian left wing cavalry by feeding in squadrons one at a time, effectively minimalising the Persian advantage in numbers. Once sufficient detachments had been drawn away from the center, Alexander deftly organised a wedge of infantry and cavalry that struck at the weakened Persian center. I personally think this was that one level above Pharsalus in terms of combined arms.




I think nuclearguy answered the Hydaspes question quite well for now.

Caesar definitely displayed his tactical brilliance in those said battle. I, however, am of the opinion that Alexander's battles show greater tactical depth and complexity.

Indeed. As Napoleon said, if Caesar only had the Gallic campaign to his name, it wouldn't be sufficient to make him legendary as he is.



I've tried to argue in the other thread mentioned that quantity factors aren't as important as tactical decisions. For example, I feel that Philip's Chaeronea and his battle against Bardylis [the first battle of his career] are extremely impressive displays of tactics. I mean, here we have Philip, a petty king with an army of 10,000 men, most demoralised heavily from a previous loss against the Illyrians, the first battle of his life, use echelon tactics and applied pressure with infantry plus cavalry at the weak point of the enemy line whilst delaying/holding the strong enemy center [hence the use of echelon]. This literally created the tactics Alexander would use in Persia. But I better stop there, I'm a bit biased towards Philip.

I agree with you there, and this is where I somewhat see a contrast between father and son. Where Philip used Homer [Iliad] for pragmatic purposes [inspiration for the sarissa, close order of the phalanx to name some], Alexander wanted to be the heroes. That's why I believe that Philip, especially in later years, refrained from leading from the front, and instead attempted to command from the rear, observing the field. This would essentially make him one of the first of the new generals who led from the back, whereas Alexander reverted back to the old school 'lead from the front' principle.

I don't personally think the scale of Gaugamela was much larger IMO. This is because I'm of the belief that the Persian army was probably 50,000-100,000 strong maximum.
I agree that the Persians probably had no more than 100,000 men at Gaugamela. Its very possible that upwards of 30,000 of this host was cavalry. Alexander had 40,000 infantry and 7,000 cavalry. Give or take, that means a total of nearly 150,000 men, with 40,000 of it being cavalry.

At Pharsalus, Caesar had perhaps 22,000 men to about 45,000 (if we're not to, as you say, take the higher and likely exaggerated figures) for Pompey. Caesar had 1,000 cavalry to Pompey's 7,000. This is 8,000 cavalry out of perhaps 65-70,000 men. You be the judge.

What I think really stands out about Pharsalus and what, to me, puts it on line with Gaugamela at least, is the sheer ingenuity with which he used very marginal resources and, above all, with how well he used his infantry. Even with his relatively small number of cavalry, he used it as an effective lure for Pompey's cavalry to run into Caesar's own prepared infantry, his so-called '4th line.' He then advanced his 4th line (and perhaps cavalry as well, but I'm not completely sure) in a flanking maneuver against the enemy left, while at the same time running his main line and especially his 3rd reserve line into Pompey's main line in a great and well-timed display of tactical shock which routed Pompey's army.

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Old November 7th, 2017, 10:08 PM   #29

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I agree that the Persians probably had no more than 100,000 men at Gaugamela. Its very possible that upwards of 30,000 of this host was cavalry. Alexander had 40,000 infantry and 7,000 cavalry. Give or take, that means a total of nearly 150,000 men, with 40,000 of it being cavalry.

At Pharsalus, Caesar had perhaps 22,000 men to about 45,000 (if we're not to, as you say, take the higher and likely exaggerated figures) for Pompey. Caesar had 1,000 cavalry to Pompey's 7,000. This is 8,000 cavalry out of perhaps 65-70,000 men. You be the judge.
I'm more inclined to believe that the Persians only had some 50,000. I also don't believe it was logistically possible for the time to operate a mass of even 20,000 cavalry.

No, I don't believe Caesar has 22,000 men at all. That's literally choosing to take Caesar's own word at face value. I can go more into depth about the numbers at Pharsalus that I've come up with if you're interested.
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Old November 7th, 2017, 10:20 PM   #30

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I'm more inclined to believe that the Persians only had some 50,000. I also don't believe it was logistically possible for the time to operate a mass of even 20,000 cavalry.

No, I don't believe Caesar has 22,000 men at all. That's literally choosing to take Caesar's own word at face value. I can go more into depth about the numbers at Pharsalus that I've come up with if you're interested.
Well, they were separated into 2 wings, with perhaps more on the Persian left. I could totally see 18-20,000 on their left and perhaps 10-12,000 on their right. That way, it is not in one huge mass. 50,000 seems too low, due to the vastness of the Persian Empire and that this was the last great field army they could put together, as well as having 2 years between Issus and Gaugamela in which to do it. Do you think it was not possible for any ancient army to be larger than 50,000 men? Everything I've read suggests to me that what the Persians had there WAS the largest army ancients could possibly put together onto one field. Besides, if cities of hundreds of thousands could exist, then how would an army of 100,000 be impossible?

What do you think were the respective strengths of the combatants at Pharsalus?
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