Greatest Roman victory and greatest Roman defeat (753 BC - 1453)

#3
Well.. the Battle of Edessa was arguably a great defeat, Valerian ending up a footstool for Shapur I is certainly something no Roman emperor ever experienced before. It was such a blow to Roman morale at that time.
That defeat is certainly a contender. The capture of the emperor would have been such an embarrassment, and it had serious consequences, what with Shapur's second invasion of Syria and Anatolia, his second sack of Antioch, Odaenaith of Palmyra taking matters in the east into his own hands, numerous usurpers appearing throughout the empire in a short space of time (Macrinus, Quietus, Ingenuus, Regalianus, Valens, Piso, Postumus), Postumus' establishment of a Gallic empire, and the Gothic and Alemannic raids exploiting imperial instability.

Although it makes for a great story, I don't personally buy the footstool anecdote. Among the surviving sources, it first appears in the De Mortibus Persecutorum of Lactantius, a highly polemical work that seeks to present and emphasize the horrible fates of persecuting emperors like Valerian as evidence for divine Christian justice. He appears to be alluding to Psalm 110:1: The Lord says to my lord, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool." This serves to emphasize the impression of divine punishment. The story reappears in the history of Orosius (a less competent Christian polemicist), and also appears in the Epitome de Caesaribus, but is absent from all other accounts. In distinct contrast, the Al-Tabari claims that Valerian was given the job of overseeing the building of a dam in Persia, using captive Roman labour. It's my understanding that, although a late source, the Al-Tabari is considered to be fairly reliable, and the fate would be more fitting for a former emperor. In any case, none of this takes away from the fact that Edessa was clearly a terrible defeat!
 
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Likes: Scaeva
Sep 2017
690
United States
#4
Greatest Victory: Alesia

To me Alesia is representative of the best aspects of the Roman military. Unmatched combat engineering, iron discipline, superior training/equipment, logistical ability, tactical innovation, strategic foresight, and an energetic, impressive commander who fought alongside his troops.

Worst Defeat: Adrianople

Though I was tempted to go for the more standard Cannae or Teutoberg, I eventually decided on the less conventional Adrianople. That's not to say there weren't strong moments from the battle (certain groups of infantry were able to push as far as the Gothic camp) but it demonstrated a lot of the worst aspects of the Roman military. Impulsive, glory-driven command, lack of adequate reconnaissance, lack of control over impetuous units, heavy encumbrance, and unreliable auxiliaries/elites.

What also makes it stand out is its context. Cannae was brutal, but the Romans took the punch and came back. Teutoberg was humiliating, but the Empire at large was fine. While Adrianople I don't believe is as devastating as it was initially made out to be, it was a pretty big blow. Much of the ERE's core army was destroyed, including many veteran, well-trained/equipped, elite troops. It killed many administrators, officers, and other leaders (not least of which being the Eastern Emperor). But most of all, the Goths, unlike the Germans of Teutoberg, were now permanently in the Empire's borders and were failed to be expelled. It showed that Roman military might was waning and that migrating into the Empire was possible, and shattered the veneer of power of the legions.

(Bonus) Greatest Defeat: Fall of Constantinople (1453)

The last stand of the heirs of Romulus, though it ended in the final fall of the Empire, showed Roman spirit at its best. The few defenders energetically guarded the city's magnificent defenses, nearly succeeding in repelling the Ottomans as they had before. Although the Turks eventually broke through, the Byzantine troops fought until the end, with the last Roman Emperor leaping into the fray to take down multitudes of the enemy with him.
 
#5
Greatest Victory: Alesia

To me Alesia is representative of the best aspects of the Roman military. Unmatched combat engineering, iron discipline, superior training/equipment, logistical ability, tactical innovation, strategic foresight, and an energetic, impressive commander who fought alongside his troops.

Worst Defeat: Adrianople

Though I was tempted to go for the more standard Cannae or Teutoberg, I eventually decided on the less conventional Adrianople. That's not to say there weren't strong moments from the battle (certain groups of infantry were able to push as far as the Gothic camp) but it demonstrated a lot of the worst aspects of the Roman military. Impulsive, glory-driven command, lack of adequate reconnaissance, lack of control over impetuous units, heavy encumbrance, and unreliable auxiliaries/elites.

What also makes it stand out is its context. Cannae was brutal, but the Romans took the punch and came back. Teutoberg was humiliating, but the Empire at large was fine. While Adrianople I don't believe is as devastating as it was initially made out to be, it was a pretty big blow. Much of the ERE's core army was destroyed, including many veteran, well-trained/equipped, elite troops. It killed many administrators, officers, and other leaders (not least of which being the Eastern Emperor). But most of all, the Goths, unlike the Germans of Teutoberg, were now permanently in the Empire's borders and were failed to be expelled. It showed that Roman military might was waning and that migrating into the Empire was possible, and shattered the veneer of power of the legions.

(Bonus) Greatest Defeat: Fall of Constantinople (1453)

The last stand of the heirs of Romulus, though it ended in the final fall of the Empire, showed Roman spirit at its best. The few defenders energetically guarded the city's magnificent defenses, nearly succeeding in repelling the Ottomans as they had before. Although the Turks eventually broke through, the Byzantine troops fought until the end, with the last Roman Emperor leaping into the fray to take down multitudes of the enemy with him.
Thanks for a very thoughtful response! Alesia and Adrianople are strong picks.
 
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Sep 2017
690
United States
#6
Thanks for a very thoughtful response! Alesia and Adrianople are strong picks.
I guess Alesia is a pretty textbook example, and had the benefit of having Julius Caesar, but to me it just represents all of the strong points of what made the Roman Army so effective.

A victory which I wouldn't say was the greatest but was the most 'quintessential' in the idea of the armored and disciplined legions defeating a rabble of barbarians was the Battle of Watling Street.

Manzikert was also up there for me in terms of greatest defeats, but Adrianople edged it out. I just find both more grave overall than battles like Trebia, Cannae, Carrhae, etc.
 
#7
One could view Julian's victory at Strasbourg in a similar manner to Watling Street - despite being outnumbered, the advantages of the Roman army saved the day.

Yes, I agree. Cannae, Trasimene, Carrhae and Teutoberg were spectacular defeats but with considerably less consequence than Adrianople and Manzikert.
 
Apr 2019
57
Ireland
#9
Greatest Defeat - Cannae 216 BC
Rome was supreme in Italy and had recently acquired Sardinia and Sicily as provinces, Carthage was at the height of its power or possibly just was passed it. For me this defeat was Rome's worst, at the time Hannibal had the potential to capture Rome and separate her from her allies, both of which as it transpired failed to happen. The losses suffered were also reported as being huge.

Greatest Victory - Metaurus 207 BC
What a difference 9 years makes... This was decisive in so far as Hannibal was denied reinforcement by the defeat of Hasdrubal.

Agree with many of the other suggestions, Carrhae was certainly an absolute trouncing.
 
Jan 2016
1,085
Victoria, Canada
#10
I'd put up the 1204 siege of Constantinople as a candidate for the greatest Roman defeat. Other defeats did great regional damage, and in the case of 1453 finished off what had effectively been a city state for the better part of a century, but the sack of Constantinople was absolutely catastrophic on a level approached by no other disaster in Roman history. The Roman state of the late 12th century was going through a rough patch, as it had many times before, but it was not -- unlike, say, the western Roman state of the 450's -- anywhere near the brink of collapse. The Roman government, tax system, military, etc. were under pressure but still functioning well, the war with the Bulgarians wasn't going great but enemy advances were still being halted and pushed back, the defences of Asia Minor were holding, the Normans had been repulsed, and the Angeloi even had the free resources to erect new bathhouses and make additions to the palace. The Fourth Crusade essentially entered as a rogue element and managed, through a series of unfortunate events (depending on your point of view), to make its way over to Constantinople and eventually into the city, completely destroying the status quo of the last 500 years of Roman history -- the Roman capital of 850 years was half burnt down, looted to hell and back, and reduced from a population in the range of 400,000 to 30-40,000 (if that), the Venetians seized Islands and fortified outposts throughout the Aegean, Crusader states were set up throughout Greece, Thrace, and the Marmara, the Turks took the opportunity to seize large swathes of south-west Anatolia, and a scattered Roman resistance in three polities established itself in Epirus, Trebizond, and Western Anatolia.

The Roman Empire in 1200 (minus Pontus):



Its remnants in 1212:



The Roman government in Asian exile did manage to maintain itself and, over the course of the early-mid 13th century, reconquer the better part of the Roman heartland -- as well as enact an admirable resuscitation of Constantinople, though the city would never approach its former heights -- but the instability and loss of 1204 would, nonetheless, contribute greatly (if indirectly) to the subsequent disasters of the 14th century.
 

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