Was Khalid bin Walid the greatest general ever?

Nov 2018
23
Montenegro
#31
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?
Also the great Byzantine-Sassanid yielded horrible results for both empires, non have gained anything from the war. If you start looking deeper you see that Byzantine and Sassanid Empires were constantly at war if not with each other than with there neighbors. If the Caliphate fought the full strenght of there armies they would be completly annihilated. Even in 10th century the Eastern Roman Empire was the most populous states in the world with over 10 milion people. By some estemates equal to China at that moment. Islamic conquests were successful beacause there enemies were weakend by wars that came before, but also that the Islamic armies adopted technology of the people they conquered. Proof of instablilty inside the Islamic Caliphate is constant rebelions and coups, look how Umayyads came to power and the way how they were striped of there power. How slaves became leaders and mercenaries (Seljuks- a turkish tribe) became the dominant power in the region.How Egypt broke away from the Islamic Caliphate, adopting Shia as state religion. Birth of Ibadi and other heretical teachings of Islam. Turks became leaders of many islamic states at that moment Mughal Empire, Persian Empire.
The point I want to make is it was really difficult for them in the early middle ages to control a vast territory, it costs more than you can make. Soldiers would not fight for free. This was the most important factor in my opinio that allowed Islamic Caliphate to spread accross the known world.
 
Likes: macon
Jan 2016
462
Macedonia
#32
Sorry I forgot to respond to this.

The other generals who commanded troops in the Ridda Wars and subdued the rest of Arabia.
To my knowledge Khalid didn't command troops in the conquest of Yemen or Oman etc. Though he was a strategic adviser to Abu Bakr. Was he appointed to command all the troops as the overall commander?

I don't doubt that Khalid was likely the best general Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman had. But what I am suggesting is that sources are very skewed in favour of the Arabs and by extension Khalid himself. Due to this I approach the subject cautiously. Also throwing it out there that Muhammad is underappreciated and often overlooked.
afaik Yemen was conquered either through an underground Muslim guerrilla warfare or through some kind of treachery from inside its non-Muslim Arab leadership - I think its former Persian governor (who had converted to Islam) was somehow involved.

also afaik, Khalid started as an adviser, and when the many corps were created, he was assigned one corps. At the end of the war he had become the undisputed commander-in-chief of all the Muslim forces, that's what historians agree upon.
 
Jan 2015
5,075
Ontario, Canada
#34
Harold Lamb wrote a number of histories and biographies. He also wrote novels.
Right but in Gabriel's Subutai book he was citing a novel written by Harold Lamb.

That's like if I used All Quiet on the Western Front as a source for WW1. Or The Last Kingdom as a source for the Viking Conquests. They all have nuggets of real history but they aren't a source.
 
Feb 2018
148
US
#35
Right but in Gabriel's Subutai book he was citing a novel written by Harold Lamb.

That's like if I used All Quiet on the Western Front as a source for WW1. Or The Last Kingdom as a source for the Viking Conquests. They all have nuggets of real history but they aren't a source.
Yeah, Gabriel's Subutai book is trashed by academic historians, and that Lamb citation was definitely bad lol. The one bright spot about it are chapters 7 and 8, where he isn't as stymied by a poor grasp of source material and can work from his strengths. David Curtis Wright said "As a biography of Sübötei, Gabriel 2004 is an utter disaster." I also don't trust his works after reading that.

On topic, I suspect Khalid is going to be forever limited by the hazy sources about his conquests, much like a number of Chinese generals who were known to have done great things but by unknown methods against unclear opposition. Byzantine sources are few and reticent, while Islamic sources are hagiographies in general. It does speak to his prowess that they fully praise him despite being out of favor with Umar. But that he accomplished extraordinary things and was a lynchpin of one of the most improbable and wide-scale conquests in history is clear. I would also argue that while the Byzantine/Sassanid war devastated both their economies and was the primary reason why the Byzantines had to withdraw to Anatolia after losing one army (versus losing multiple during the Sassanid wars), the quality of their Syrian forces and the Yarmuk army should have been very high given their great experience in the war.

Don't forget the Ridda Wars, where he forced all the Bedouins to unite under a central government in less than three months (ask Genghis Khan how difficult it is to unite nomadic tribes). His campaigns from October 632 to January 633 for the unification of Arabia are among some of his most brilliant.
Fully agreed!
 

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