Greatest general of the middle ages

Jul 2013
60
NW Indiana
#2
I think it would help to refine the date range a bit. This range would include everyone from Charles Martel, Belisarius, Charlemagne and Khalid Ibn al-Walid to Subutai, Ghengis Khan and Tamerlane.
 
Mar 2016
919
Australia
#3
Like the poster above me said, you might get more interesting answers if you are more specific in your time period/region. The High and Late Medieval Eras were disproportionally dominated by Middle Eastern and Central Asian generals, while the Early Medieval Era was more evenly spread, with a greater focus on European and Roman generals. As such, I'll divide it into two distinct lists: Early Medieval, and High and Late Medieval. I'll also be listing them chronologically rather than based on a ranking.

Early Medieval (476 - 1066):
Narses (478 - 573)
Belisarius (500 - 565)
Maurice (539 - 602)
Heraclius (575 - 641)
Khalid Ibn al-Walid (585 - 642)
Charles Martel (688 - 741)
Charlemagne (742 - 814)
Otto the Great (912 - 973)
John Tzimiskes (925 - 976)
Basil the Bulgar-Slayer (957 - 1025)
Tughril (990 - 1063)

High and Late Medieval (1067 - 1453)
Robert Guiscard (1015 - 1085)
Alp Arslan (1029 - 1072)
El Cid (1043 - 1099)
Saladin (1137 - 1193)
Richard the Lionheart (1157 - 1199)
Genghis Khan (1162 - 1227)
Subutai (1175 - 1248)
Baibars (1223 - 1277)
Edward the Black Prince (1330 - 1376)
Timur (1336 - 1405)
Henry V (1386 - 1422)
Jan Žižka (1360 - 1424)
John Hunyadi (1406 - 1456)
 
Mar 2018
663
UK
#4
Subotai is so far above all the others (except perhaps Genghis Kahn, I don't know enough to say who did what) that it's basically insulting to have them on the same list. We only know of Richard Lionheard, Edward Black, and Henry V because most of us know more western European history than anything else. But it seems ludicrous to claim they were of comparable ability.
 

Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,669
Blachernai
#6
How does one rate a general's ability in relation to the military organization of the society that he's using? For example, I'm doubtful that Basil II was a particularly great general, but without the well-organized logistical base of the Byzantine state supporting him, he could not pursue such large campaigns year after year, something that most other medieval polities would have had a difficult time doing.
 
Nov 2010
7,515
Cornwall
#7
How does one rate a general's ability in relation to the military organization of the society that he's using? For example, I'm doubtful that Basil II was a particularly great general, but without the well-organized logistical base of the Byzantine state supporting him, he could not pursue such large campaigns year after year, something that most other medieval polities would have had a difficult time doing.
Very good point.

As an example El Cid is always my favourite. Unbeaten and probably unbeatable in the contect in which he fought. But whilst he undoubtedly had immense personal charisma, stunning victories against larger armies need to be taken in the context that he had around 3,000 professional 'lances', or knights/cavalry (plus various hangers on) whereas most of his Aragonese, Barcelona or Almoravid opponents had larger forces made up on a classic feudal scale or with the inclusion of dubious and unwilling allies. In the case of the first 2 many of the nobles' employees would be there, in the case of the Almoravids the Andalusians were notoriously dubious in both quality and enthusiasm.

He actually often used the headlong charge but almost always combined with a guile and cunning absent in many other commanders of his era, who failed lamentatbly against North African forces. His charges tended to be with great force and suddenly, when least expected.
 
Sep 2016
929
Georgia
#8
Subotai is so far above all the others (except perhaps Genghis Kahn, I don't know enough to say who did what) that it's basically insulting to have them on the same list. We only know of Richard Lionheard, Edward Black, and Henry V because most of us know more western European history than anything else. But it seems ludicrous to claim they were of comparable ability.
Funny how you mentioned only English. It would be more correct for you to say ,, know more English history than anything else ''.
 
Mar 2018
663
UK
#9
Funny how you mentioned only English. It would be more correct for you to say ,, know more English history than anything else ''.
Must admit that I am partially guilty of that. My French history is almost as good as my English, but my Spanish/HRE is further behind, and my Italian/Dutch/Scandinavian even further behind that.

Still, I think what I said is broadly true of this forum, and perhaps even of medieval historians as a whole.
 
Mar 2016
919
Australia
#10
Must admit that I am partially guilty of that. My French history is almost as good as my English, but my Spanish/HRE is further behind, and my Italian/Dutch/Scandinavian even further behind that.

Still, I think what I said is broadly true of this forum, and perhaps even of medieval historians as a whole.
You have to take into consideration the vastly different political environments that these generals operated in though. Genghis and Subutai were conquering warlords that emerged from the middle of nowhere and attacked literally everybody around them. Their armies were larger than almost any king in Europe could raise, and unlike in Europe they were not restrained by the Church or dynastic claims. European princes never intended to completely conquer their neighbours to build a great empire like Genghis did. They first and foremost wanted to defend the territory they inherited and intended to pass onto their heirs. Thus they fought less wars, and these wars were generally defensive in nature and relatively small-scale.