Pyrrhus of Eprius vs Eumenes of Cardia, Who Was the Superior Commander?

Pyrrhus of Eprius vs Eumenes of Cardia

  • Pyrrhus of Eprius

    Votes: 6 60.0%
  • Eumenes of Cardia

    Votes: 4 40.0%

  • Total voters
    10
Sep 2019
48
Vergina
Pyrrhus of Eprius or Eumenes of Cardia, Who Was the Superior Commander?

Question has been on my mind a while thought I'd make it my first post. Arguably the two greatest commanders among Alexander's successors. Who do you think was superior? I lean towards Eumenes myself.
 
Last edited:
Oct 2018
1,690
Sydney
I'm inclined to lean towards Pyrrhus, since he had a reputation in ancient times for exceptional military brilliance (thus for example the claim that Hannibal viewed Pyrrhus as the second greatest commander in history - presumably ancient writers knew more about his achievements than we do), and because, despite his apparent lack of direction over the course of his reign, his career is nonetheless littered with achievements (e.g. twice defeating the Romans, twice becoming king of Macedon, defeating the Carthaginians on land, defeating the Mamertines, defeating the Illyrians, etc). But this is ultimately my gut feeling. I'm happy to be convinced otherwise.
 
Last edited:
Sep 2019
48
Vergina
Very good points. I'll add that both Pyrrhus and Eumenes were personally courageous in battle willing to engage enemy leaders in single combat: Pyrrhus vs Panatauchus and Eumenes vs Neoptolemus. Both were also very effective at commanding large bodies of solders and coordinating combined arms: infantry, cavalry, elephants. My feelings towards Eumenes are largely based upon the internal opposition was able to continually overcome and the fact that Antigonus was his main opponent. Though it should be noted that despite Eumenes battlefield successes he in the end was unable to overcome the above factors.
 
Oct 2018
1,690
Sydney
Yeah, the fact that they both engaged in single combat is a plus for both of them, and they were indeed both skilful commanders of infantry, cavalry and elephants. Regarding the eventual end of Eumenes, I suppose in his defence he was a Cardian former-secretary commanding Macedonians against other Macedonians. I seem to recall reading that this was a factor in matters of soldier loyalty. As for Pyrrhus, I think the fact that he twice defeated the Romans is a big plus. The Romans of course tended to win their battles. Even in a period like the Third Century Crisis most Roman battles ended in Roman victories. The Second Punic War is one of the few periods where the ratio is evidently more even, but in that case we're talking about Hannibal, an exceptional individual. Defeating the Romans once can have more to do with incompetent Roman commanders, ambush conditions, etc. But defeating the Romans twice, with each Roman army commanded by different generals, shows that Pyrrhus' victories cannot be dismissed as flukes. Defeating more than one Roman army appears to have been an unusual distinction that Pyrrhus shares with Hannibal, Boiorix & Teutobod, Shapur I, Shahrbaraz and certain others (I don't really count the Gothic leader Cniva - he won two battles over the Romans, but it was the same army under the same emperor). That said, Pyrrhus' generalship does not alone explain these victories. He also had the advantage that never before had the Romans faced elephants, Macedonian phalanxes or Companion and Thessalian cavalry.
 
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Mangekyou

Ad Honorem
Jan 2010
7,963
UK
Very good points. I'll add that both Pyrrhus and Eumenes were personally courageous in battle willing to engage enemy leaders in single combat: Pyrrhus vs Panatauchus and Eumenes vs Neoptolemus. Both were also very effective at commanding large bodies of solders and coordinating combined arms: infantry, cavalry, elephants. My feelings towards Eumenes are largely based upon the internal opposition was able to continually overcome and the fact that Antigonus was his main opponent. Though it should be noted that despite Eumenes battlefield successes he in the end was unable to overcome the above factors.

He was unfortunately never able to win over the Macedonians permanently. His ability in combat though was pretty high. Pyrrhus was a good tactician, but he didn't adapt to all factors. Every time he fought the Romans, it was the Romans who adapted, not him. Eumenes was driven out of his territories by Antiochus, but then survived for a period of time against him. Antiochus was never able to crush Eumenes. In fact, Eumenes was able to hold his own against Antiochus and inflict defeats/stalemate him. Only when he was betrayed by the silver shields and murdered was he beaten. That alone marks him out as a highly capable leader, imo.
 
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Oct 2018
1,690
Sydney
He was unfortunately never able to win over the Macedonians permanently. His ability in combat though was pretty high. Pyrrhus was a good tactician, but he didn't adapt to all factors. Every time he fought the Romans, it was the Romans who adapted, not him. Eumenes was driven out of his territories by Antiochus, but then survived for a period of time against him. Antiochus was never able to crush Eumenes. In fact, Eumenes was able to hold his own against Antiochus and inflict defeats/stalemate him. Only when he was betrayed by the silver shields and murdered was he beaten. That alone marks him out as a highly capable leader, imo.
By adapt, we're talking about this? :p

Pyrrhus2.jpg

I kid. The Romans of the period in general seem to have been quite adaptable. After all, only twenty years later they would deal with the Carthaginians by inventing the corvus. I suppose Pyrrhus had less reason to be adaptable, since he had a proven battle-winning formula (phalanx, elephants on the flanks, and reserve cavalry to inflict the deciding blow), and he would have expected Rome to negotiate after one or two defeats, something that any rival Hellenistic rival would do. But Rome didn't play by those rules, as their later wars with Carthage made abundantly clear. To Pyrrhus' credit, when the Romans at Ascalum attempted to stick to difficult ground and thus deny Pyrrhus' phalanx the advantage it had at Heraclea, Pyrrhus responded decisively, seizing advantageous ground during the night and thus being able to fight with effectiveness on the following day.
 
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Mangekyou

Ad Honorem
Jan 2010
7,963
UK
By adapt, we're talking about this? :p

View attachment 24053

I kid. The Romans of the period in general seem to have been quite adaptable. After all, only twenty years later they would deal with the Carthaginian by inventing the corvus. I suppose Pyrrhus had less reason to be adaptable, since he had a proven battle-winning formula (phalanx, elephants on the flanks, and reserve cavalry to inflict the deciding blow), and he would have expected Rome to negotiate after one or two defeats, something that any rival Hellenistic rival would do. But Rome didn't play by those rules, as their later wars with Carthage made abundantly clear. To Pyrrhus' credit, when the Romans at Ascalum attempted to stick to difficult ground and thus deny Pyrrhus' phalanx the advantage it had at Heraclea, Pyrrhus responded decisively, seizing advantageous ground during the night and thus being able to fight with effectiveness on the following day.

It was a clever move by Pyyrhus, showing his experience, but even in the open ground, it was openly fought, until the elephants again were able to play the decisive part. The general trend was that the Romans adapted in each battle.
 
Oct 2018
1,690
Sydney
Interestingly, the latest book about Pyrrhus discusses his military writings (Sekunda 2019: The Army of Pyrrhus of Epirus: 3rd Century BC, pp. 10-12). It appears that he wrote:

- A book of Taktika (on how to draw up an army)
- A book on generalship
- A book on castramentation (alternatively this was a chapter in his book on generalship) - Hannibal supposedly claimed that Pyrrhus was the first person 'to teach the art of castramentation' (Livy 35.15.8)
- A book on siege devices
- A book on siegecraft, concerning mines, the construction of covered ways and the associated practicalities.
 
Oct 2018
1,690
Sydney
Sekunda also collects anecdotes that attest to Pyrrhus' great reputation (p. 3):

'When asked who was the best general, one of the most successful of Alexander the Great's successors, Antigonus Monophthalmus 'the One-Eyed', replied: 'Pyrrhus, if he lives to be old' (Plutarch, Pyrrhus 8.3) ... In a conversation between Hannibal and Scipio Africanus, when the latter was sent on a Roman embassy to Ephesus, Scipio asked Hannibal who was the greatest general of all time, to which Hannibal replied 'Alexander'. On being asked who was the second best, Hannibal replied 'Pyrrhus' - and then claimed third place for himself (Livy, 35.14.5-12). ... Modern opinion judges Pyrrhus to have been a fine tactician but perhaps a poor strategist, too inclined to lose focus if distracted by some new perceived opportunity. Nevertheless, the following opinion passed on him by an unknown writer was preserved by Justin, a historian of the 3rd Century AD: 'And such, they say, was this man's grasp of military science that he remained consistently undefeated in his campaigns against the mighty kings Lysimachus, Demetrius and Antigonus; while in those against Illyrians, the Sicilians, the Romans and the Carthaginians, he was never the loser and very often emerged the victor. It is certainly true that the fame of his achievements and the glory surrounding his name brought worldwide renown to his hitherto small and insignificant country' (Justin 25.5.4-6, trans. Yardley).'