Top 10 Roman Generals (Byzantine allowed)

nuclearguy165

Ad Honorem
Nov 2011
4,865
Ohio, USA
I think Lucius' reputation suffered from the controversial post-battle investigations. The sources tend to shift credit to RW commander Eumenes or in Appian's case LW commander Ahenobarbus. Eumenes did begin the battle brilliantly by attacking the Seleucid left when it was out of formation and at the battle's end dispatched cavalry to shore up the Roman left.

Noting Eumenes, Ahenobarbus, Lepidus' contribution I give Lucius the most credit for the victory. Lucius demonstrated great generalship in the pre battle maneuvers moving his camp three times, each closer to the Seleucid lines, and offering battle. This gave the Romans the initiative and intimidated the Seleucid army. Lucius chose his ground well and forced the larger Seleucid army into a narrow position. He had units in place that blocked Antiochus flank attack on the Roman left. He understood that Antiochus had superior missile units and ordered his legionaries to quickly lock with the enemy. He personally oversaw the annihilation of the Seleucid center.

Some authors present the battle as a very close run affair where Antiochus shattered the Roman left routing entire legions and nearly turned the flank. Other's view it as a limited success on the Roman extreme left and not a serious danger to the army. I lean towards the latter and think Antiochus' success has been exaggerated. I can't imagine him shattering any legions and regardless he had been effectively stopped by Lepidus at the Roman camp prior to Eumenes cavalry support. In my assessment Lucius always had complete control of the battle and was not in danger of being defeated at any time.

If you're looking for a good source on the subject I recommend, Kenneth W. Harl's article Legion over Phalanx: The Battle of Magnesia in the book Macedonian Legacies.
Reading about this battle, it seems that Eumenes probably delivered the first major shattering blows but that the Romans were never in any danger of losing it and that the Seleucid attack on the left was only a temporary scare. Here, the Seleucid success was likely gained at the expense of light troops or cavalry but certainly not any legionary infantry (whether allied or Roman). The position Scipio had found was simply too good for them to lose. The Romans also managed to essentially drive the Seleucid elephants back onto their own center and, following up with infantry exploitation, that essentially ended the battle, which happened shortly after Eumenes smashed the Seleucid left.

The only problematic issue of the battle are the traditionally reported numbers and casualties for each side. Traditionally, this as listed as about 30-40,000 for the Romans and Pergamenes and 70,000 for the Seleucids. The casualties are also only listed as about 400 or so for the former and a whopping 50,000 or so for the latter. Clearly, this is ludicrous. The more accurate numbers, according to Grainger, are probably closer to 50,000 in the Roman-Pergamene force and the same or slightly higher (certainly no more than 60,000) for the Seleucids. In addition, it's unlikely that the Roman side losses were any less than 4,000 or that the Seleucids suffered any more than 15,000 casualties, at most. However, this doesn't change the decisive outcome of the battle in pushing the Selecids out of Asia Minor over the course of the following months.
 
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Sep 2019
187
Vergina
Here, the Seleucid success was likely gained at the expense of light troops or cavalry but certainly not any legionary infantry (whether allied or Roman).
I am of the same opinion but we seem to be in the minority. I found two more works that cover the battle and both have Antiochus routing Roman legionaries. Taylor in Antiochus the Great and Pietrykowski in Great Battles of the Hellenistic World, state that the Roman's flexible open order formation made them vulnerable to mass cavalry attacks such as the one Antiochus launched.
 

nuclearguy165

Ad Honorem
Nov 2011
4,865
Ohio, USA
I am of the same opinion but we seem to be in the minority. I found two more works that cover the battle and both have Antiochus routing Roman legionaries. Taylor in Antiochus the Great and Pietrykowski in Great Battles of the Hellenistic World, state that the Roman's flexible open order formation made them vulnerable to mass cavalry attacks such as the one Antiochus launched.
Yeah, that's a rather inane outlook for them to have on the capabilities of legionaries. In reality, those were safe as long as they weren't hit in flank or rear and, of course, they were in less danger of that happening or otherwise losing formation than the phalanx would be. The phalanx simply had more direct offensive power on reasonable (not too broken) terrain.

Hopefully they aren't mistaking legionaries with auxiliaries or light troops. Still, every account I have read of the battle has the routed troops as those latter 2 and cavalry rather than any of the main legionary line.
 
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Sep 2019
187
Vergina
Hopefully they aren't mistaking legionaries with auxiliaries or light troops. Still, every account I have read of the battle has the routed troops as those latter 2 and cavalry rather than any of the main legionary line.
They are going off Justin in this regard:
a battle was fought with Antiochus; in which one of the Roman legions, on the right wing, being beaten back, and fleeing to their camp with more disgrace than danger.
(Justin 31.8.)
 

nuclearguy165

Ad Honorem
Nov 2011
4,865
Ohio, USA
They are going off Justin in this regard:

The Roman right? I though Antiochus' attack was on the Roman left. It makes much more sense this way because Hellenistic commanders such as Antiochus would always station themselves on the right. I hope that wasn't some typo in the Justin translation.
 
Sep 2019
187
Vergina
The Roman right? I though Antiochus' attack was on the Roman left. It makes much more sense this way because Hellenistic commanders such as Antiochus would always station themselves on the right. I hope that wasn't some typo in the Justin translation.
You are correct it should be left wing. Its not a typo in the translation, I have a physical copy of J.C. Yardley's new translation and it says the same as Watson's old version. Maybe Justin is writing from Antiochus perspective or he just got confused? The next lines speak of the camp so he is definitely talking about the Roman left even if he said right.
 
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Oct 2018
2,092
Sydney
Without having the Latin in front of me, Justin may have intended the reader to think from the Seleucid perspective but wrote that bit ambiguously, or he became confused in relaying what Trogus wrote.
 
Oct 2018
2,092
Sydney
I guess I'm yet to be convinced either way. We shouldn't underestimate how formidable a legion was from the front, and I can't think of another example where cavalry routed the Romans from the front in a straight fight (however, I think the mention of the line's open-order formation as a potential disadvantage is interesting). But it seems to me, from what I have learned so far, that the cavalry attack could have hit the legions from both the front and flanks, after having routed the turmae. That would perhaps reconcile Livy's and Justin's accounts, and would seem to accord with that Alexandrian/Hellenistic style of looking for gaps and weaknesses and exploiting them with a cavalry attack. Just a thought.
 
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Duke Valentino

Ad Honorem
Jul 2017
2,367
Australia
I guess I'm yet to be convinced either way. We shouldn't underestimate how formidable a legion was from the front, and I can't think of another example where cavalry routed the Romans from the front in a straight fight (however, I think the mention of the line's open-order formation as a potential disadvantage is interesting). But it seems to me, from what I have learned so far, that the cavalry attack could have hit the legions from both the front and flanks, after having routed the turmae. That would perhaps reconcile Livy's and Justin's accounts, and would seem to accord with that Alexandrian/Hellenistic style of looking for gaps and weaknesses and exploiting them with a cavalry attack. Just a thought.
You might find Delbruck's section on Magnesia helpful:

In Livy and Appian we have only completely fantastic reports on the battle of Magnesia. The Syrian army was said to be outfitted with scythed chariots, camel riders, the levies of sixteen different peoples, Indian elephants far superior to the African ones. It was more than twice as numerous as the Romans (according to Florus, twenty times as strong), four times as strong in cavalry; although it was drawn up in a very deep formation, the front was still so long that, in the foggy weather, the flanks could not be seen from the middle. Nevertheless, there was no question of an envelopment by the widely extended mass. Not even 400 of the Romans and their allies were killed, whereas the Syrians lost 53,000.

There appears as a special feature of this battle the division of the sarissa phalanx into 10 subunits, with 2 elephants placed in each of the intervals. Probably this arrangement, too, belongs among the fantasies of the fiction writer to whom we are indebted for the entire battle account. All foolishness has its limits, even that of a Syrian king who has Hannibal in his service and yet does not understand how to employ him. As we know, elephants are most effective against cavalry. They do not drive in on infantry who are arrayed in close order; on the contrary, it can easily happen that they are driven back by missiles. Or on the other hand they storm forward, and then it is possible to let them pass through the battle line as the soldiers spring aside. In any case, there arises for the soldiers of the phalanx the worst thing that they have to fear, a wide gap in their front, where the Roman maniples can drive in and take them from the flank. This is all the more sure to happen because of the fact that the elephants have difficulty keeping pace with the marching phalanx unit, but, as soon as they begin to suffer from the enemy missiles, they charge against the foe as fast as possible (provided that they do not turn about).

To whoever still believes that it is methodologically permissible and proper to arrive at a historically presentable account from such battle reports by means of critical examination, I would make the request that he try that, first of all, with the two battle accounts by Appian of Cannae and Naraggara, and if that has succeeded, then I shall have no further objection to his trying it also with the account of Magnesia.
Warfare in Antiquity, 398-9.

He has some further analysis on the battle that challenges contemporaries of his time who tried to justify the accounts, I can post if you wish.
 
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