My List of the Greatest Commanders in History

Sep 2018
25
michigan
Now that this thread is alive again I would like to ask, why is Jiang Jieshi on the list? Most people consider him to be a man who allowed an ineffective command structure to waste away money and eventually lost. Why do you think he is eligible? I would like to hear your opinion Nobunaga.
 

Lord Oda Nobunaga

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Jan 2015
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Ontario, Canada
Now that this thread is alive again I would like to ask, why is Jiang Jieshi on the list? Most people consider him to be a man who allowed an ineffective command structure to waste away money and eventually lost. Why do you think he is eligible? I would like to hear your opinion Nobunaga.
Ultimately for his success in defeating the Warlords and holding on against the Japanese. Though to be honest that was one of my more hesitant choices.
Although I think a lot of his defeats were largely circumstantial such as Shanghai. He was not in a position to fight the Japanese, the fact that he withdrew to the east and held out is in my opinion rather impressive. If you want to make a case then go ahead.
 

Lord Oda Nobunaga

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Jan 2015
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Zhou Yu (175-210) - A general which served the Sun house in the state of Wu during the Three Kingdoms. He first served as an officer, administrator and strategist under Sun Jian and his son Sun Ce. Under Sun Quan he was given more commands and took part alongside Cheng Pu in the campaign against Huang Zu (a general under Liu Biao in Jing Province) in 208. In that same year he organized an army of 30,000 men and together with Cheng Pu and his ally Liu Bei he fought the massive naval battle at Chibi (Redcliff) which led to the Han Empire being divided into three states. Afterwards Zhou Yu, Liu Bei and Cheng Pu campaigned against Cao Ren in Jing Province. He died in the year 210 while planning an invasion of Yi Province in the west (under warlord Liu Zhang) and was succeeded in his duties by Lu Su.

Xie Xuan (343-388) - A general of the declining Jin Dynasty after the barbarians invasions which swept northern China. Xie Xuan served under the general Huan Wen in fighting the state of former Qin. He successfully defeated the King of Former Qin, a state created by sinicized Di people which had conquered the north by the 4th century. He commanded three campaigns along the Yangtze and Yellow rivers before his untimely death. With his victory against Former Qin at the Fei River, he successfully defended the Jin Dynasty and prevented the Di barbarians from conquering the south.

Mikhail Barclay de Tolly (1761-1818) - Due to his campaigns in Finland (1808/09), Russia (1812), Poland and Germany (1813) and France (1814). He was the driving force behind the Russian military reforms after 1808 (during which he commanded the war against Sweden) and the key Russian commander in opposing Napoleon in 1812 as well as directing the Russian effort in 1813, 1814 and 1815.

Yamagata Aritomo (1838-1922) - An officer during the Boshin "Revolution" he was instrumental in forming the Imperial Japanese Army and developing Japanese military doctrine and strategy. He was one of the generals which suppressed the Satsuma Rebellion and served in multiple positions including War Minister. He commanded the First Army in Korea during the Sino-Japanese War until December after he crossed the Yalu River. During the Russo-Japanese War he played a key role as Chief of General Staff.

Gunther von Kluge (1882-1944) - He had experience in Army commands and then finally Army Group command during the war, which gave him an advantage. He commanded 4th Army in northern Poland (under Bock), 4th Army as part of the central thrust in France and 4th Army (under Rundstedt) as part of the central attack in Russia and in the Battle of Moscow (under Bock again). At the end of 1941 he replaced Bock as commander of Army Group Center. Largely he had commanded the bloody defensive operations of Army Group Center from the very end of 1941 until 1944. Even carrying out strategic withdrawals such as Operation Buffel. He was also in command of one of the Army Groups in Operation Citadel, along the northern sector of the Kursk salient which included Orel. After Rundstedt had failed to defend Normandy, he was replaced by Gunther von Kluge. Generally being more competent he was nonetheless unable to hold the line, no counter offensive succeeded, and was forced to withdraw towards the Seine and Loire rivers. On 19 August he drank cyanide either for fear of implication in the Bomb Plot or for fear of defeat.

In addition to these I also threw in Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo and Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius.
Short biographies were written HERE by Duke Valentino.
 
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Oct 2018
1,512
Sydney
I haven't read the entire thread, so maybe you have already discussed these individuals, but I note you have listed the following third-century figures:

"Ardashir (Sassanids) (180-242)
Shapur the Great (Sassanids) (215-270)
Lucius Domitius Aurelianus (Rome) (214-275)"

You then list these ones as uncertain:

"Cniva (Goths)
Gallienus (Roman Empire) (218-268)
Claudius Gothicus (Roman Empire) (210-270)
Odenathus (Rome/Palmyra) (220-267)
Marcus Aurelius Probus (Roman Empire) (232-282)
Diocletian (Roman Empire) (244-311)
Maximian (Roman Empire) (250-310)
Galerius (Roman Empire) (260-311)"

I agree with Ardashir, Shapur and Aurelian being included. In all cases we are working with not a great deal of information, but as I noted previously, I rank Aurelian the highest among third-century military leaders, and Shapur second-highest. Aurelian reunited the empire through his wars against Palmyra and the Gallic Empire, and his victories over the Iuthungi and Goths were among the most decisive victories of the century. He also fought a phenomenal number of successful campaigns with a space of only five years, had been a highly successful cavalry commander under Claudius Gothicus, and when he died his troops were left shocked and thirsty for vengeance, and had no choice of replacement (deferring the decision to the senate), a rarity for the third century when soldiers and officers were typically fickle in their loyalties. Aurelian's tactics speak to innovation (e.g. his use of cavalry at Immae, and club-armed Palestinians at Emesa), and his cohorts at Emesa demonstrated considerable tactical flexibility. He marched his armies with speed and determination, but he also used religious propaganda and repeated shows of clemency to undermine support for his enemies, a strategy that saw Zenobia suffer from mass defections and encouraged Tetricus to surrender himself.

As for Shapur, he inflicted massive defeats on multiple Roman armies, captured the emperor Valerian, captured major Roman fortresses, twice sacked Antioch, and with his armies plundered Roman Mesopotamia, Syria, Cilicia and Cappadocia on repeated occasions. Gordian III died from wounds sustained during his defeat against Shapur (the first time this happened to a Roman emperor), and Philip the Arab was made to agree to a humiliating peace treaty. Shapur also overthrew the Arsacid Monarchy in Armenia, turning Armenia into a vassal state.

Ardashir deserves to be included. As the King of Persis, he created the Sassanian Empire by consolidating his power, and by defeating the Parthian King of Kings Artabanus IV, his various allies and the Parthian usurper Vologases VI. He asserted control over most of the former territories of Parthia, and he also managed to destroy one of the three Roman armies that Severus Alexander sent against him, although his own forces also took a beating during that campaign, and so the war ended without decision. He later renewed the pressure against Rome, and captured Nisibis and (together with Shapur) Hatra, but his achievements against the Romans do pale in comparison with those of Shapur. He was defeated by the Arsacids in Armenia, but overall he was an impressive military leader.
 
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Oct 2018
1,512
Sydney
As for your uncertain picks, I do think that Galerius deserves inclusion. Galerius strikes me as the third most impressive military leader in the third century Roman-Persian world. He was Diocletian's go-to man for military campaigns, and his victory over Persia was the most decisive Roman victory in the east of the third and fourth centuries. The resulting Treaty of Nisibis favoured the Romans so much that the Persians spent the years 337 to 363 repeatedly trying to reverse what Galerius had won. Seven new Trans-Tigritanian territories were added to Roman territory, Armenia was securely brought within the Roman sphere of control, Iberia (Georgia) was added to the Roman sphere, and Aurelius Victor claims that Galerius would have extracted more territory had Diocletian ordered him not to. Julian's disastrous campaign would reverse these achievements. But I acknowledge that I've already argued this (#325).

We've already discussed Odainath. I think the fact that he inflicted a defeat on Shapur (although his capture of the concubines is indeed probably an exaggeration), twice invaded Persian Mesopotamia without suffering a defeat by Shapur, and maintained the loyalty of the Roman east speaks to his energy and talents, but I respect that his achievements may not be enough to be worthy of inclusion.

I definitely give Cniva an honourable mention for sacking Philippopolis and for twice defeating Decius. The second victory of course led to the deaths in battle of Decius and his son Herennius Etruscus, the first time a Roman emperor suffered such a fate. Whether or not that's enough to justify Cniva's inclusion, I'm not sure. The fact that he twice defeated the Roman imperial army does indicate that his more famous victory at Abrittus wasn't a fluke.

I'm unsure about Gallienus. He certainly has been unfairly maligned. Yes his reign was characterized by disaster, especially the year 260, but the crises of 260 appear to partially stem from the fact that Valerian was captured. One thus questions how much Gallienus should be blamed. In many respects he was impressive. He survived simultaneous usurpations in Gaul, Illyricum, Greece and Syria, he defeated an Alemannic invasion of Italy, he defeated the Heruli at Nessos, and he created a mobile reserve with a strong cavalry contingent in order to respond rapidly to usurpations and invasions. He was a survivor. He ruled longer than any other emperor of the post-Severan/pre-Tetrarchic years, despite the crises of 260, and when he was assassinated by some of his officers, the soldiers became mutinous and needed to be calmed down with a donative. He was pragmatic as well. He married a Marcomannic princess, and he employed Odainath to restore order in the east, awarding him the title of Corrector Orientis Totius in exchange for his continued loyalty. One might fault him for his failure to personally avenge the capture of his father on Shapur, instead relying on Odainath, or for his failure to overthrow the Gallic emperor Postumus, despite the fact that Postumus had executed his son. He did twice defeat Postumus in battle, but he also failed to finish him off. Is his failure to obsess over Shapur and Postumus further evidence of pragmatism, governed by the weakness of the Central Empire? Or it it evidence for personal weakness? His victories over Postumus and his defeat of his former general/usurper Aureolus show that he was successful against other Roman armies. He is a bit of an enigma I suppose.

The Roman sources of late antiquity appear to have over-hyped the successes of Claudius Gothicus, on account of the fact that he was retrospectively claimed to be the ancestor of Constantine. He did win a great victory over the Goths, thus his cognomen, but his campaign was not a quick, wholly successful nor wholly decisive affair. As the leader of the cavalry, Aurelian played a major role in Claudius' success, and the Goths of the lower Danube did not cease their raids into the Balkans until later, when Aurelian, as emperor, crossed the Danube and attacked their homeland. However, Aurelian, for all his military skill and success, had a less rosy reputation among the pro-senatorial and Christian authors on account of his execution of senators and plans to persecute Christians respectively. Claudius also appears to have sent a military expedition against Zenobia that was defeated, and he failed to assist the city of Autun when it rebelled against the Gallic emperor Victorinus in allegiance to Claudius. Perhaps Claudius was simply unable to send help, but in any case, Roman historians ignored/covered up this event (we know of it through a couple of references in panegyrics, including one by a teacher located in Autun). He did also defeat an Alemannic incurision into Italy, but a larger invasion happened soon afterwards, and it was left to Aurelian to deliver the decisive final victory.

Often considered in the same breath as Aurelian and Diocletian, a large amount of praise for Probus stems from the Historia Augusta. This text is the most unreliable Roman history that one can use, to the degree that some scholars suggest that it is a parody or a literary exercise of some kind. Its biography of Probus may as well be a panegyric (it has been speculated that the writer was being supported by the Probi of the fourth century, a powerful aristocratic family). It is generally agreed that most of the biography could be fiction. For us, he's pretty hard to judge, since the source material for his reign is just so badly lacking, even by third-century standards. He was as energetic as Aurelian when it came to fighting campaigns along the frontiers and travelling the empire. Perhaps then he really was an exceptional leader. Aurelius Victor compares him to Hannibal, and assess him as being as militarily competent as Aurelian minus the cruelty. However, Probus faced quite a lot of usurpations (Saturninus, Bonosus, Proclus, Carus, an anonymous usurper in Britain) and revolts (Ptolemais, Isaurian brigandage, gladiators, Frankish farmers) during his reign, a high amount even by third-century standards. The historian Clifford Ando has suggested that he might have lacked the finesse, influence or authority to preserve support among his subordinates and subjects. Then again, he did defeat all of those usurpations with the exception of that of Carus - he was killed by his own troops before he could face Carus in battle. Ultimately, Probus seems to defy a critical assessment due to the exceptionally poor record of his reign, but probably the literary praise should count for something.

As for Diocletian, he strengths lay elsewhere. He won victories over northern barbarians and crushed the Egypt-based usurpation of Domitianus. However, Diocletian's most famous battle was the Battle of the Margus in 285, when, as a usurper, he was fighting against the existing emperor Carinus. He actually lost (or was on the verge of losing) his most famous battle. However, Carinus' officers and praetorian prefect were in cahoots with Diocletian, and Carinus was cut down by one of his own tribunes either during or after the battle. That's how Diocletian won, which says something about his strengths and weaknesses. Indeed, once he made Galerius Caesar in 293, Diocletian tended to give the toughest campaigns in the east to Galerius.

Maximian campaigned successfully against Germans, Moors and the Bagaudae, and he deserves credit for defeating two Germanic invasions of Gaul and for counter-invading Alemannia. However, he proved incapable of defeating the British emperor Carausius, who ruled for seven years in Britain and northern Gaul. Instead, from 293 onward, he relied on his Caesar Constantius and his praetorian prefect Asclepiodotus to reunite Carausius' territories with the rest of the empire. He lost the support of his own troops when he tried to overthrow his own son Maxentius, and he eventually launched a failed usurpation against Constantine with fatal results. So I don't think that he's deserving of inclusion.
 
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Oct 2011
421
Croatia
I would say that Emperor Heraclius definitely deserves inclusion. He is among the best military commanders in history, IMHO. He started off with a wreck of an empire (basically Constantinople and some coastal areas), **** army and disastrous strategic position. He raised and trained a completely new army, invaded Persia and spent basically his whole time there doing a very successful impersonation of a wrecking ball. By the end of it, he had completely reversed strategic situation, and Roman Empire was well on the way to recovery while Persians tore themselves apart. If not for Muslims, Empire may well have recovered, thrown barbarians out of the Balkans and gone onto reenacting Justinianic era.

EDIT: That being said, his timing could have been better. In fact, it could be argued that his rebellion created the very situation he later resolved.
 
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Lord Oda Nobunaga

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Jan 2015
5,606
Ontario, Canada
As for your uncertain picks, I do think that Galerius deserves inclusion...
Thanks for the feedback.
Not much I can say. Although as far as I know about these commanders, I can agree with the assessment. I haven't discussed a lot of them, I only really started doing it now with the ones I added for update 3.

Just to clarify, the uncertain list is all the commanders which I did not do an analysis of or read in depth. There is nothing special about them other than that they are commanders. So it is just process of elimination. Really it just means that I didn't knock them out or bump them into the main list.

I would say that Emperor Heraclius definitely deserves inclusion...
Thanks. I did already include Heraclius. I think the reason he is often overlooked is because of the Arab Invasions. But his career actually seems very good when one considers his extremely perilous circumstances, both militarily and in the sense that Rome was having a massive decline.

So that you guys can check I put List 2 HERE, on page 20. The few biographies I posted in the recent posts are going into update 3. I will post update 3 eventually.

In addition to that list I am also making a list with all the names of the generals that I did not include and that I decided not to put in the main list. I call this one the "Other Commanders" which I can post in case anyone is curious.
 
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Oct 2014
24
Britain
By which standards are you judging the Greatness of these commanders. For example are we reviewing there victories/defeats. Fighting pitched battles or conducting sieges.
What are we focusing on, tactical excellence or sound use of operational art ? or are we looking at the manner in which they designed organised and conducted campaigns and major operations and linked this to imperial or supra national policy depending on the prevailing social system and era.
It just seems like the list you have compiled has a serious amount of names on it, and that you may have a need to categorise for clarity, or shorten it to make a comprehensive enquiry.
 

Lord Oda Nobunaga

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
5,606
Ontario, Canada
By which standards are you judging the Greatness of these commanders. For example are we reviewing there victories/defeats. Fighting pitched battles or conducting sieges.
What are we focusing on, tactical excellence or sound use of operational art ? or are we looking at the manner in which they designed organised and conducted campaigns and major operations and linked this to imperial or supra national policy depending on the prevailing social system and era.
It just seems like the list you have compiled has a serious amount of names on it, and that you may have a need to categorise for clarity, or shorten it to make a comprehensive enquiry.
Yes all of those things. But they have to be in an overall command. So unit commanders don't count. Mostly I don't look at defeats so much as I look at success. Needs to have more than one success, can't just be a tactical victory in battle but an actual success.

I was going to divide it further by time period. The list is chronological because I don't care to assign numerical values. Too subjective. I'll give an example when I post some of the "Other Generals List" later.