Was Khalid bin Walid the greatest general ever?

Jul 2018
11
Pakistan
#1
Khalid won around 50 pitched battles in his life. He was outnumbered in more than 90% of them. He faced the might of the Sasanian and Byzantine Empires but managed to outmaneuver and defeat every army that came against him. His enemies were always better equipped and trained then his own men but he still won. He also used nearly every tactic in the book successfully (double envelopment, single envelopment, oblique order, psychological warfare etc). I am sure this puts him at no. 1 on any list of great generals. What do you think?
 
Jan 2016
463
Macedonia
#3
He's in the top 6 of all time in my book. As regards the sources, the only thing that can definitely be said that is unreliable is the numbers of his and his opponents' forces. Even if one chooses to totally disregard sources like Waqidi, Baladhuri, Tabari etc., Khalid's impact on the Middle East from 632 to 638 is undeniably enormous, which one understand if they just look at the maps:



The common argument, of course, is that the Romans and Persians were worn down. There is a level of truth in that, but then again, the Romans had been even more worn down after the Second Punic War, yet the Seleucids and Macedonians not only weren't able to beat them in the next decade when they tried to, but were decisively defeated by them. So, beating two empires - even worn down - with a rag-tag army of Bedouins who were good at small-level skirmishes but hadn't witnessed a serious pitched battle until then, requires exceptionally high quality of generalship and is one of the great military deeds of history, a "human tsunami" unprecedented until then and bested only by that of the Mongols six centuries later.

In my book he is not number 1 (that has to be Genghis Khan followed by Alexander and Napoleon), but he is up there with Hannibal, Caesar, Timur and Marlborough.
 
Jul 2017
2,143
Australia
#4
A bit off topic, but not sure how Alexander is above Napoleon :)

Anyway, I'm quite sure there were other generals who contributed to that expansion, and I've read in a few books that Walid's command history is very shaky and uncertain.
 

macon

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
3,372
Slovenia
#5
A bit off topic, but not sure how Alexander is above Napoleon :)

Anyway, I'm quite sure there were other generals who contributed to that expansion, and I've read in a few books that Walid's command history is very shaky and uncertain.
Alexander, Caesar and few more are above Napoleon because of Napoleon's Russian campaign with it's set of blunders.
 
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macon

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
3,372
Slovenia
#6
Khalid won around 50 pitched battles in his life. He was outnumbered in more than 90% of them. He faced the might of the Sasanian and Byzantine Empires but managed to outmaneuver and defeat every army that came against him. His enemies were always better equipped and trained then his own men but he still won. He also used nearly every tactic in the book successfully (double envelopment, single envelopment, oblique order, psychological warfare etc). I am sure this puts him at no. 1 on any list of great generals. What do you think?
I would put him somewhere in a lower part of top ten. There are no clear and precise primary sources about his career as I understood from posts of more learned posters.
 
Likes: vukan
Jul 2018
11
Pakistan
#9
A bit off topic, but not sure how Alexander is above Napoleon :)

Anyway, I'm quite sure there were other generals who contributed to that expansion, and I've read in a few books that Walid's command history is very shaky and uncertain.
There certainly were other generals but none of them was of the caliber of Khalid. As for his command history, its not as bad as you think. The Prophet (PBUH) and the 1st Caliph, Abu Bakr, placed immense trust on him and Caliph Abu Bakr used him to defeat the false prophets and apostate tribes. He then directed him against the Sasanian Empire to fight the first expansionist battles of the Rashidun Caliphate. He was removed from command by the 2nd Caliph, Umar, because Umar did not like the fact that the Muslim soldiers believed that victory was assured if they fought under Khalid. Khalid was replaced by Abu Ubaida to emphasize the fact that victory came from Allah and not Khalid. It is a testament to Khalid's generalship that Abu Ubaida handed over command of the Muslim army to Khalid before the crucial Battle of Yarmok and Caliph Umar later regretted his decision and decided to appoint him supreme commander of the invasion of Persia but, unfortunately, Khalid had died by then.
 
Jan 2015
5,076
Ontario, Canada
#10
I would argue that there isn't enough information to really know that much about Khalid's campaigns. There is also a lot of misinformation. Look at Al-Tabari's histories (a primary source) a lot of the claims made about Khalid and his campaigns are not mentioned by Al-Tabari.

Some examples.
The Sassanids do not appear to have sent armies commanded by important generals until much later. Early on Khalid's campaigns in Mesopotamia were against smaller local forces and only in the desert regions. Khalid never actually invaded the interior of Mesopotamia, he actually campaigned in the desert west of the Euphrates.

There are claims that if he were allowed to follow up his success and pressed on Ctesiphon then the city would have fallen. But what evidence is there to support this? Soon after other generals were sent to invade Mesopotamia and they were defeated, the city did not fall until years after.

Khalid's maneuver in which he marched through the desert to invade Syria while impressive, was actually ordered by the Caliph, Khalid wanted to attack Ctesiphon. Caliph Umar's decision paid off against the Byzantines, the fact is that Umar was involved strategically in these campaigns.

The size of the Byzantine forces at Yarmouk are most likely greatly exaggerated. In fact the size of the Persian armies and other Byzantine armies are exaggerated as well. As mentioned before a lot of the forces Khalid fought were local troops which would not have outnumbered his own. The Arabs also had many successful generals from the time of Muhammad to the campaigns of Umar and Uthman. At the time of Uthman's reign Khalid may have been the most renowned but he was by no means the only successful general.

The claim that Khalid's army was weaker, numerically smaller or at a severe disadvantage cannot be true either. The Arabs could strike through the desert and had good supply, certainly a maneuver advantage. The Arab armies had been at constant war for over a decade, the armies inherited by the Four Caliphs had already been veterans since the time of Muhammad. They were not severely outnumbered most of the time. By contrast both the Sassanids and Romans had been involved in a costly war for over two decades. There were no real advantages that they could play on in a war against the unified and religiously motivated Arabs. Maybe their only chance early on would have been to hold them with fortresses along the desert regions but that would risk those forces being outmaneuvered and isolated and then picked off, leaving the Romans and Persians with insufficient forces to defend the much more important cities and fertile areas of the interior.
 
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