- Oct 2018
You can consider and argue 'greatest' and 'worst' any way you wish. To repeat something in the title, Byzantine history counts.
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.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.
Thanks for a very thoughtful response! Alesia and Adrianople are strong picks.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.
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.Thanks for a very thoughtful response! Alesia and Adrianople are strong picks.
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