Top 10 Greek Generals of the Classical Period

Feb 2019
536
Thrace
Honorable mentions: Thrasybulus and Cimon

10. Lysander (greatest Spartan military leader IMO)

9. Miltiades (the original Greek military genius)

8. Themistocles (Greatest naval commander of ancient Greece)

7. Parmenion (General of both Philip and Alexander, enough said)

6. Iphicrates (as our diocletian says, very underrated general. Great reformer.)

5. Xenephon (Theodore Ayrault Dodge: "the centuries since have devised nothing to surpass the genius of this warrior." Indeed an all-time great)

4. Alcibiades (universally praised by ancient sources as the greatest military genius of his age, undefeated on both land and sea)

3. Epaminondas (One of the most innovative generals in history)

2.Philip II

1. Alexander
(Philip and Alexander obviously first two places by the sheer grandeur of their campaigns)
 
Sep 2019
68
Vergina
Great picks thus far thanks! Looks like everyone put Alcibiades expect me, I was going to but decided on Thrasybulus instead. Donald Kagan's seems to think that he was the real underrated genius of the period. Any thoughts on Thrasybulus vs Alcibiades?
 
Nov 2019
8
USA
Antigonus Monophthalmus, sure he may have been defeated at the end, but not many generals during his time could last as long as he did and continue fighting on the front lines in their late seventies.
 
Feb 2019
536
Thrace
Great picks thus far thanks! Looks like everyone put Alcibiades expect me, I was going to but decided on Thrasybulus instead. Donald Kagan's seems to think that he was the real underrated genius of the period. Any thoughts on Thrasybulus vs Alcibiades?
I'd say the ancient sources are in agreement with respect to the latter's status as a general during his own time. I love Thrasybulus as well, not just as a commander, but because he seems to have been a sincere ideologue.

Since Alcibiades could never really complete a project anywhere because of his suffocating personality, his legacy as a general will inevitably be underrated by some historians such as Kagan.
 
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Lord Oda Nobunaga

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
5,635
Ontario, Canada
I usually don't make these kinds of lists because of how subjective they are, but I'll give it a shot.

10. Thrasybulos

9. Alkibiades

8. Dionysius I of Syracuse

7. Agesilaos II

6. Kimon

5. Lysandros; I don't have much to say about this one. Sparta had been at war with Athens since 431 BC, Lysander was not called to be Navarch until 307 BC and up to then the war had alternated from stalemate to minor Athenian gains. Even when the Spartans seemed that they were winning, it was always short lived success. Due to the Spartan ability to gain Persian support in the form of money, supplies and sometimes direct support from satraps in Anatolia, the Spartans were able to put a fleet out to sea in order to starve out the Athenians. Although some setbacks, Lysandros was able to defeat the Athenians continuously, dominate the Aegean Sea, finally capturing the Athenian fleet as it was docked and forcing Athens to make peace. Later in his career he attempted to be the dominant figure in Sparta and ordered further campaigns against Athenian rebels and to support the Ionians against the Persians. After which a coalition of states opposed Spartan control. It was during the Corinthian War that Lysandros ordered campaigns into Boeotia to fight the Thebans and he was killed in battle. Spartan power gradually declined over the next thirty years. Given that he was the first noteworthy naval commander which the Spartans had and he successfully defeated Athens then it makes to include him.

4. Themistokles; As the leading citizen of Athens, the architect of Athenian hegemony and the victor of the naval battles which defeated the Persians, he undoubtedly deserves to be on this list. Honestly I could have just as easily put him in third place. He was present at Marathon and believed in the Persian threat as well as Athen's need to dominate the seas and claim hegemony in Greece. He was actually responsible for having the city state build its massive fleet, but also convinced them to fortify Piraeus as the natural port of the city, due to its important position. When the Persians finally invaded he convinced the city states to form a coalition and readied the city for war, as well as formulating the strategy for war with the Persians. During the war he battled the Persians in two naval battles, and won the resounding success at Salamis. This not only led to the Persian withdrawal but also cemented Athenian naval power in the Aegean. When the Persians invaded overland and took Athens, he also convinced the citizens to evacuate, and as the city was burned (presumably by the Persians) he then set to work on rebuilding the city after the Persians were defeated. In addition to all of this he also rapidly ordered the construction of the walls of Athens and used diplomacy to dupe the other members of the coalition (they didn't want Athens to build walls) as well as keeping the Delian League together (in spite of the Spartan withdrawal). Ultimately he was ostracized from the city and defected to the Persians, where he did relatively little.

3. Epaminondas; The leading general in Thebes after Sparta became the dominant power. His tactics and maneuvers led to Sparta being pushed out of Boeotia, all of Boeotia falling under Theban sway, the Thessalians being dominated by Thebes, much of the Peloponnese falling out of Sparta's control and permanently crippling that state, and the Athenians being severely humiliated. In the past Thebes was a minor power which had been dominated by the Persians and had allied with Sparta against Athens, then with Athens against Sparta. In fact Thebes had not been a major power in the area since the Bronze Age, when the city overthrew and conquered Orchomenos. During the Archaic Period they spent much of their time competing with neighboring cities and coming into conflict with Athens briefly, which led to their siding with the Persians. For this reason the Theban Hegemony, of which Epaminondas greatly contributed, was exceptional in the history of Thebes. To further add, Epaminondas' tactics and feats at Leuctra and Mantinea (among others), put him in the forefront of the military leaders of the Classical Era. Due to his death at Mantinea the Theban hegemony collapsed, however Theban hegemony could only be short lived due to their inherent disadvantages compared to Athens.

2. Philippos II of Makedonia; For the first time in history the Greeks had been united, under Philip of Makedonia no less. He survived intrigues, became king and then took a weak barbarous nation and defeated the leading Greek states of his day. In fact there was no precedent for a unified Greece prior to Philip's conquests, not even as far back as the Bronze Age when Mycenae dominated the Aegean and the Peloponnese, nor when Thebes defeated Orchomenos, not even when Athens controlled the Delian League, or when Sparta dominated the peninsula, or even when Thebes defeated Athens and Sparta. Philip's conquest then put Makedonia on par with the powerful Achaemenid Dynasty.

1. Alexandros III of Makedonia; Hard to top his achievements in the Classical era. This was before Caesar or Hannibal or many other of the great conquerors. Prior to this there were only the Persians, the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the Assyrians and centuries upon centuries of ancient history in the Levant. But in Greece and basically all of Europe, not very many before Alexander. He conquered the known world, don't know what else there is to say.
 

Lord Oda Nobunaga

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
5,635
Ontario, Canada
Peisistratus
The Tyrant of Athens?

Classical Greece isn't really my best area. But @Duke Valentino might have something to say in the thread.

Didn't really have justification for the other five picks. Just threw them in because maybe they were good enough. Didn't really know what order to put them in either.
 
Nov 2008
1,417
England
Alexandros III of Makedonia; Hard to top his achievements in the Classical era.
True. Even the magnificent legions of Trajan would have found it difficult to stand up to the fully integrated forces of Alexander. They most likely have been thrown off balance, being too inflexible to respond to fast-changing tactical demands.
 
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Oct 2018
1,725
Sydney
I usually don't make these kinds of lists because of how subjective they are, but I'll give it a shot.

10. Thrasybulos

9. Alkibiades

8. Dionysius I of Syracuse

7. Agesilaos II

6. Kimon

5. Lysandros; I don't have much to say about this one. Sparta had been at war with Athens since 431 BC, Lysander was not called to be Navarch until 307 BC and up to then the war had alternated from stalemate to minor Athenian gains. Even when the Spartans seemed that they were winning, it was always short lived success. Due to the Spartan ability to gain Persian support in the form of money, supplies and sometimes direct support from satraps in Anatolia, the Spartans were able to put a fleet out to sea in order to starve out the Athenians. Although some setbacks, Lysandros was able to defeat the Athenians continuously, dominate the Aegean Sea, finally capturing the Athenian fleet as it was docked and forcing Athens to make peace. Later in his career he attempted to be the dominant figure in Sparta and ordered further campaigns against Athenian rebels and to support the Ionians against the Persians. After which a coalition of states opposed Spartan control. It was during the Corinthian War that Lysandros ordered campaigns into Boeotia to fight the Thebans and he was killed in battle. Spartan power gradually declined over the next thirty years. Given that he was the first noteworthy naval commander which the Spartans had and he successfully defeated Athens then it makes to include him.

4. Themistokles; As the leading citizen of Athens, the architect of Athenian hegemony and the victor of the naval battles which defeated the Persians, he undoubtedly deserves to be on this list. Honestly I could have just as easily put him in third place. He was present at Marathon and believed in the Persian threat as well as Athen's need to dominate the seas and claim hegemony in Greece. He was actually responsible for having the city state build its massive fleet, but also convinced them to fortify Piraeus as the natural port of the city, due to its important position. When the Persians finally invaded he convinced the city states to form a coalition and readied the city for war, as well as formulating the strategy for war with the Persians. During the war he battled the Persians in two naval battles, and won the resounding success at Salamis. This not only led to the Persian withdrawal but also cemented Athenian naval power in the Aegean. When the Persians invaded overland and took Athens, he also convinced the citizens to evacuate, and as the city was burned (presumably by the Persians) he then set to work on rebuilding the city after the Persians were defeated. In addition to all of this he also rapidly ordered the construction of the walls of Athens and used diplomacy to dupe the other members of the coalition (they didn't want Athens to build walls) as well as keeping the Delian League together (in spite of the Spartan withdrawal). Ultimately he was ostracized from the city and defected to the Persians, where he did relatively little.

3. Epaminondas; The leading general in Thebes after Sparta became the dominant power. His tactics and maneuvers led to Sparta being pushed out of Boeotia, all of Boeotia falling under Theban sway, the Thessalians being dominated by Thebes, much of the Peloponnese falling out of Sparta's control and permanently crippling that state, and the Athenians being severely humiliated. In the past Thebes was a minor power which had been dominated by the Persians and had allied with Sparta against Athens, then with Athens against Sparta. In fact Thebes had not been a major power in the area since the Bronze Age, when the city overthrew and conquered Orchomenos. During the Archaic Period they spent much of their time competing with neighboring cities and coming into conflict with Athens briefly, which led to their siding with the Persians. For this reason the Theban Hegemony, of which Epaminondas greatly contributed, was exceptional in the history of Thebes. To further add, Epaminondas' tactics and feats at Leuctra and Mantinea (among others), put him in the forefront of the military leaders of the Classical Era. Due to his death at Mantinea the Theban hegemony collapsed, however Theban hegemony could only be short lived due to their inherent disadvantages compared to Athens.

2. Philippos II of Makedonia; For the first time in history the Greeks had been united, under Philip of Makedonia no less. He survived intrigues, became king and then took a weak barbarous nation and defeated the leading Greek states of his day. In fact there was no precedent for a unified Greece prior to Philip's conquests, not even as far back as the Bronze Age when Mycenae dominated the Aegean and the Peloponnese, nor when Thebes defeated Orchomenos, not even when Athens controlled the Delian League, or when Sparta dominated the peninsula, or even when Thebes defeated Athens and Sparta. Philip's conquest then put Makedonia on par with the powerful Achaemenid Dynasty.

1. Alexandros III of Makedonia; Hard to top his achievements in the Classical era. This was before Caesar or Hannibal or many other of the great conquerors. Prior to this there were only the Persians, the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the Assyrians and centuries upon centuries of ancient history in the Levant. But in Greece and basically all of Europe, not very many before Alexander. He conquered the known world, don't know what else there is to say.
I appreciate the inclusion of Dionysius.