So I have a bunch of time on my hand and so I will spend the afternoon trying to rank the greatest Generals in history. You may not know it, but I happen to be a military history nerd. First lets get the list. We can rank them later. If the list is all we need, let’s do it in historical order from earliest to latest. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the contestants.
1. Cyrus the Great
2. Alexander the Great
3. Chandragupta Maurya
4. Hannibal Barca the Great
5. Scipio Africanus
6. Julius Caeser
7. Attila the Hun
Dark Ages Ages
8. Saladin the great
9. Genghis Khan/Subutai
Early Modern Times
11. Frederick the Great
12. Alexander Suvorov
13. Nadir Shah
16. Robert E. Lee
World War 2
17. Erwin Rommel
18. Hans Guderian
19. Georgy Zhukov
a. From the classical periods (candidates 1, 2 & 3), Alexander comes out as the best of the first three. Cyrus’ defeat to the massegetai and his subsequent death mars his record. Chandragupta’s record is marred by the fact that he never tried to advance his empire beyond India.
2. From the Roman Era (candidates 4-7) Hannibal lost only one battle, his last. Scipio might have beaten Hannibal, but is not in his league. The hannibal who was defeated at Zama was a very weary man from his 16 years spent in Italy living off the land with little support from Carthage back home. Had Hannibal won at Zama, he would have possibly ranked as the greatest general of all time. He took on the Superpower of the ancient world and crushed them in several battles and never lost in the 16 years in the Italian countryside. Caeser never fought anyone of note except an old ageing pompey who was well past his best. Attila’s record is marred by his defeats to Ardeshir in Persia and Aetius in Gaul. So Hannibal comes out as the greatest of the Roman times.
3. From the Dark Ages (candidates 8, 9 & 10). Saladin’s record is marred by his defeat to Richard the Lionheart. Tamerlane, Genghis and Subutai were all undefeated in battle. But in this I must give the edge to Subutai as he was a military Genius that Timur was not. Subutai/Genghis take this round also due to the chanceless nature of their victories. And also the span. Genghis/Subutai fought the chinese, the arabs, the Iranians, the Turks, the Russians, and also the Western Europeans and won all. Tamer fought the decaying mongols, the Turks and the Indians (who are always military pushovers). He did not make it to China and did not fight the Russians. Genghis/Subutai take this round both for the sheer breadth, speed and the staggering nature of their victories.
4. The modern period get’s interesting
a. Alexander Suvorov actually beat Frederick in battle and never lost a battle in his life. This puts him in the all time great leagues as Frederick is not called the great without reason.
b. Nadir Shah’s was once beaten by the Turks. He never fought the Russians. He defeated the Afghans, but not in their own mountains. He defeated the degenerate Mughals. And he did not face Baji Rao II, the real power in India. This weakens his claims.
c. Napoleon fought more battles than Alexander the Great, Julius Caeser and Hannibal combined. He was not beaten at Waterloo by the British under Wellington as Brits love to claim. He was beaten in waterloo by a European coalition that had less than 25% British and jointly led by Wellington and Blucher. Had Blucher not made it to waterloo, Napoleon would have eaten Wellington for lunch. Wellington is not really in Boney’s league. Robert E. Lee while a great General (if not for him, the south would have folded in 3 months instead of 4 years) does not begin to match Napoleon in longevity and breadth of Resume.
d. Of 17,18 and 19, I must give the vote to Georgy Zhukov as he was the unbeaten one among the lot and the greatest contributor to Nazi defeat. I mean Rommel and Hans lost. Ofcourse the odds were overwhelmingly against them, but in this cruel world we first look at the results and not the underlying conditions.
So without much Ado, I present you
The Narrowed down List
1. Alexander the Great of Macedon : Unbeaten at Battle, but a few close runs.
2. Hannibal Barca the Great of Carthage
3. Genghis Khan and Subutai of the Mongol Golden Horde : Unbeaten at battle. All comprehensive and total crushing victories.
4. Alexander Suvorov: Unbeaten at battle, but a few close runs
5. Napoleon Buonaparte
6. Georgy Zhukov: A few defeats, but not his fault.
The Top Rank
1. The Top rank is a no brainer. The golden Horde pair of Genghis Khan and Subutai for the fact that not only were they unbeaten, but also the comprehensive nature of all their victories against foes as diverse as the Chinese, the Persians, the Arabs, the Turks, the Russians, The Afghans, the Eastern Europeans and even a western European coalition.
2. Alex’s claim is weakened by the fact that he did not take over Magadha as his troops rebelled. But Given that the magadha king, Dhana Nanda was a corrupt whore-monger, Alex would have won. But what weakens his claims were his struggles in Afghanistan, a nation that the Great Khan just blew away.
3. Suvorov’s claim is weakened because his campaigns did not match the Great Khan in breadth.
4. Napoleon and Hannibal’s defeats rule them out of the All time best
5. Zhukov’s victories too did not have the scale of the Khan’s and the German defeat was inevitable.
The Battle for Second Place
1. Napoleon Vs Hannibal: While hannibal lost only one battle (Zama) to several by Napoleon (Russia, Egypt, Waterloo), Napoleon fought several more battles against much more diverse foes. So many similarities between the two that I am beginning to think that Boney was really Hannibal re-incarnated. This one is very close to call. I want to give them a tie. But Boney edges out Hannibal for the breadth of opponents he fought. And the re-incarnation is always better than the original, right?
2. Alexander of Macedon Vs Alexander Suvorov. Both unbeaten commanders. Alex of Macedon apart is possibly the most over-rated military commander in history. He defeated a degenerate, corrupt and cowardly Persian emperor. Did not fight the Romans. Did not fight magadha. Did not fight China. But he was also the only western commander to beat mounted archers. Something the Romans never managed. Suvorov defeated the degenerate Ottoman Empire handily kinda like Alex defeated the Persians. But he also had a great foe called Frederick the great whom he defeated handily. Alex by contrast did not have that great foe. Suvorov also defeated the armies of revolutionary france which were kicking ass in Europe at that time. But he never faced Boney in battle. Had he faced and beaten Boney, he would have been a contender for the #1 spot with the great Khan. But it never happened. So we will never know. Suvorov also had much more resources in men and materiel than Alex commanded. So I will have to go with Alexander of Macedon on this.
3. What of Georgy Zhukov: He stopped the meanest land based war machine of it’s time, the German Wehrmacht. Before that he handily defeated the Japanese land forces in 1938-39 and scared them so much, they did not dare attack in 1942 when Russia was in real stress. The German wehrmacht is the only land based force that can compare to the Mongols in mobility and Napoleonic France in leadership. He stopped them and beat them. But he also had almost unlimited manpower and lost 2 soldiers for every one of the Germans. Zhukov never really fought the Americans. And Zhukov could not really have lost against the Germans. The Germans were overstretched, outnumbered and outgunned. An argument can be made that Rommel is actually a greater general than Zhukov. I think Zhukov ranks below Suvorov in greatness.
Goes to Napoleon Bonaparte for the breadth of his opponents. The Russians, British, Austrians, Spanish, Prussians, Italians. The strategic genius. He edges out Alex inspite of his defeats for the sheer breadth of his conquests and variety of his opponents. As for Ol’ Alex, Personally I feel that Any of Julius Caeser, Gaius Marius or Scipio Africanus would have been more than a handful for Alexander of Macedon.
Alexander and Hannibal take joint third place. Though hannibal lost at Zama, he was no longer the same man who crossed the alps. 16 years in the Italian country side, cut off from your country, living off the land, receiving no support from your cowardly countrymen will do that to a man. Had Hannibal won at Zama, he would certainly have ranked above Napoleon and competed for the title of GOAT (Greatest of All Time) directly with his awesomeness the great khan.
Least of the best
The final Roundup
1. The Golden horde combo of the Great Khan and Subutai
2. Napoleon Buonaparte alias Bony
3. Joint shared by Alex of Macedon and Hannibal Barca
4. Alexander Suvorov
5. Georgy Zhukov
The greatest Land based Fighting machine of all time
The next post, if I find some more time to kill will be about the greatest land based forces in history. Contenders include Alexander’s Army, The Romans of Caeser’s time, the Huns, The mongol Golden Horde, the napoleonic armies and the wehrmacht. Before analysis, my gut feeling on how the rankings turn out is as
1. The Golden horde who blew away everything before them
2. The German Wehrmacht of World War 2: who almost won against overwhelming odds
3. The Armies of Napoleonic France: Less successful than the wehrmacht in Russia
4. The Roman fighting machine from 200 BC – 100 AD: Never subdued the Persians
5. Alexander’s Macedonians: Romans would have beaten ’em.
Aaah! if the War Nerd (http://www.nsfwcorp.com/desk/war-nerd) comments on this, I may pass out from Joy.