Purely for fun, I thought I’d talk about something that’s long interested me. Who would you pick for the best military leaders of all time?
There are a lot of factors you can use to quibble with here. Someone might have been technically brilliant, and yet circumstances drew them a raw deal, so that they never got a chance to shine. You could argue some other guys lucked out; they were in the right place at the right time, so that they looked better than they were.
So to give it some context, here are the parameters: if Earth was being attacked by aliens and you could go back in time to pick out one leader to save us, who would be on your list of candidates?
I’ll start with the no-brainers, in their chronological order.
1. Alexander the Great
2. Julius Caesar
3. Genghis Khan
You could make an argument that Caesar was a brilliant politician who happened to be an above average general, so that technically he doesn’t belong. But the man was in the habit of winning, and that’s what we’re looking for; there’ve been periods in history when the best leader was the one with the organizational skills.
Onwards with the best of the rest:
5. Khourush the Great
Who? You probably know him as Cyrus the Great, but his real name was Khourush. He founded the Persian Empire by starting with a small client state and then conquering everyone in sight. He built the largest empire the world had yet seen. Alexander was fascinated by Khourush and studied him intensely. In turn, Caesar was fascinated by Alexander, and Napoleon by Caesar.
You know it’s tough company when the founder of the Holy Roman Empire can only get slot #6. Charlemagne often gets dropped off lists of great leaders, and I don’t know why, because it’s not like unifying Europe is easy. Maybe it’s because he lived at a time when military technology had reduced the craft to a level of “see-enemy-hit-enemy.”
7. Scipio Africanus
After the battle of Cannae, at which Hannibal’s army slaughtered 50,000 Romans, including most of the leadership team, a junior officer named Scipio was given command, at the age of 25. At that time, Rome’s control had been reduced to her city walls.
Scipio reconquered Italy. Then he reconquered Southern France. Then he reconquered Spain. Then he took back the Mediterranean. Then he invaded North Africa. Then he conquered Carthage.
Scipio never lost a battle, and he did it against Hannibal, widely considered the greatest commander since Alexander. There wouldn’t be another such match of titans until Napoleon faced Wellington.
Speaking of which …
10. I’m open to suggestions!
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—This post is part of a series written by Soho Crime author Gary Corby. Corby writes historical mysteries set in the world of classical Greece. He’s written The Pericles Commission, The Ionia Sanction, Sacred Games, and, most recently, The Marathon Conspiracy.