Aurelian - the Greatest Roman Army commander in its history?

caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,308
Aurelian seems to have those personal qualities common to successful Roman military conquerors. A good grasp of strategy, capable organiser, strict and focused leader. One god, one people? A man who probably wasn't hindered by tradition. His rise from the lowest ranks to command of Rome's legions is telling. Granted, some of that must be good fortune and circumstance, but he was clearly impressing a lot of influential people. Difficult to compare commanders in my view because they don't generally fight the same war with the same army. Aurelian would be a strong opponent if you gave him enough time.
 
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Oct 2018
1,546
Sydney
Since the purpose of this thread is an appreciation of Aurelian's military qualities, I have come across some great quotes:

Epitome de Caesaribus 35.2: 'That man was not unlike Alexander the Great or Caesar the Dictator; for in the space of three years he retook the Roman world from invaders, while Alexander in thirteen years, through immense victories, reached to India, and Gaius Caesar, in a ten-year period, subjugated the Gauls and, for four years, contended against citizens. In Italy, that man was victor in three battles: at Placentia, beside the Metaurus River and the Altar of Fortuna, and, finally, at the Ticenensian Fields.'

Potter 2014, The Roman Empire at Bay, 2nd ed., 264, who is also commenting on Aurelian's many reforms (and there were many): ‘It is arguable that no man since the time of Augustus was to accomplish more, in less time, for the central government than did Aurelian, ... Aurelian was plainly smart, and he combined intelligence with a great energy.’

Potter 2014, 271: ‘Aurelian remains one of the most compelling figures of the third century. The restoration of a centralized empire was by no means a forgone conclusion after a decade in which it had been effectively divided, and forms of coexistence between the rival powers had begun to emerge. It was due to Aurelian’s diplomatic and military ability that the empire was reformed as it was. But he was not, as we have seen, an unmixed blessing. One legacy of his reign was severe inflation, and a whole series of other problems that he appears to have ignored remained to vex his successors. The interior provinces of the Roman Empire remained highly militarized, and there was much work to be done if the central government was to regain the monopoly of internal force that it had enjoyed prior to the disasters of the 250s.’

Watson 1999, Aurelian and the Third Century, 158 (on his reforms, but relevant to his military qualities): ‘All these measures … demonstrate a military attention to detail and a drive towards efficiency.’
 
Oct 2018
1,546
Sydney
Incidentally, it is notable that Aurelian made use of clemency during his campaigns, at least in part as a means of provoking defections. This strategic use of clemency played important roles in the defeats of both Zenobia and Tetricus. Numerous cities under Zenobia defected to Aurelian in the knowledge that they would not be sacked, and Tetricus famously turned himself over to Aurelian and was rewarded with the office of corrector of Lucania.
 
Mar 2016
1,222
Australia
The unfortunate thing about Aurelian's reign, as well most of the 3rd century emperors, is that sources are very scarce, vague and incomplete, so we can't get the same level of detail and comprehensive in his many military campaigns as we can for someone like Julius Caesar. Certainly Aurelian's achievements seem pretty amazing considering how short the span of time was during his reign, easily rivaling the achievements of Caesar during the civil war on a grand scale. It's the same problem we have with Charlemagne - the man personally led military campaigns for over 40 years and almost all of them were successful, which would naturally suggest he was a great commander, but unfortunately the details of these campaigns and battles are extremely vague and not detailed at all. If they were he would probably be ranked as one of the greatest commanders, rather than just a great king.
 
Oct 2018
1,546
Sydney
The unfortunate thing about Aurelian's reign, as well most of the 3rd century emperors, is that sources are very scarce, vague and incomplete, so we can't get the same level of detail and comprehensive in his many military campaigns as we can for someone like Julius Caesar. Certainly Aurelian's achievements seem pretty amazing considering how short the span of time was during his reign, easily rivaling the achievements of Caesar during the civil war on a grand scale. It's the same problem we have with Charlemagne - the man personally led military campaigns for over 40 years and almost all of them were successful, which would naturally suggest he was a great commander, but unfortunately the details of these campaigns and battles are extremely vague and not detailed at all. If they were he would probably be ranked as one of the greatest commanders, rather than just a great king.
As I briefly noted above, similar can be suggested about Constantine. He fought highly successful, initiative-seizing, fast-moving, deep-striking campaigns against Maxentius and (twice) against Licinius, but the sources provide insufficient details, and most are more concerned with demonstrating his divine approval than explaining what actually happened.