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The Greatest Generals In History

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The great general Napoleon himself repeatedly declared that Caesar was the greatest general of all time, and he isn’t alone in this assumption. A great case can be made for the dictator for life of rome but more points towards him just being one of the greats instead of the best. The argument of the greatest generals has been a long and heated one. Although Julius Caesar had an astounding military career, generals throughout time prove he has been eclipsed by others in his line of work.

Generals cannot win a battle by themselves, they need troops and weapons to fight their wars for them, or alongside them. Napoleon admits this in his statement of“Soldiers generally win battles; generals get credit for them”.Attila the hun, and julius caesar, had an ability that very few people in history had. they could keep multiple peoples together as one army and keep them all in line(Mark, “Attila” 1) (Mark, “Gaius” 1). Generals need to be able to mold their troops into a fighting force to match their abilities.“Philip [of Macedon] inherited a weak, backward country with an ineffective, undisciplined army and molded them into a formidable, efficient military force”(Wasson, “Although” 1). Alexander and his father aimed to unify their troops to feel as one fighting force. A simple idea that greatly unified their troops was matching uniforms, this provided a feeling of unity(Wasson, “No” 2)(Wasson, “Although” 1).

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Most generals prefer to stay in the back lines or in tents at their encampment, But a sign of the greatest generals is their willingness to struggle with their men. During [Caesar’s] time at sea his crew was taken hostage by pirates(Mark, “Gaius” 1). The three hundreds last stand gave the greeks enough time to reorganize and defeat the persians later; Leonidas was enshrined as a war hero in athens(the athenians hated the spartans but revered leonidas)(Mark, “Leonidas” 2). While learning how to command scipio took to the front lines and learned from and used his father’s defeats, he watched as his father’s roman legions were decimated by Hannibal’s troops, Scipio rose to the occasion and brought his father and his armies to safety(Mark, “Scipio 1). Scipio’s father and uncle were slain in an effort to cut off Hannibal’s supply lines; Scipio was learning over and over how to lose a battle which was key in his development as a general and a soldier(James 1). Philip of macedonia gave everything including parts of his body to fight with his soldiers. In the third social war he lost an eye and broke his whole leg and lost much of his shoulder.(Wasson, “Although” 2)

Wars are fought not by pure strength but with the use of cunning and sharp minds. “Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War. Even the spartans had to use strategy to stand against their most powerful foes. Facing over ten-to-one odds Leonidas chose the thermopylae pass as the ground they would make their stand, it is heralded as one of the greatest strategic advantages in history.(Mark, “Leonidas” 1) Attila was so smart that he used a mistaken letter to march his armies on rome. Claiming he was owed half the empire as dowry for a marriage he made up(Mark, “Attila” 5). Scipio was a master of strategy, adapting as needed to situations; he sent hannibal’s own elephants against him slaughtering hannibal’s forces without even meeting them on the battlefield(Mark, “Scipio” 2). Philip of macedonia used his military genius to create an army that used a phalanx better than ever before(Wasson, “Although” 1).

In the end, however actions speak louder than words. During Caesar’s time as a captive he told the pirates he was going to hunt them and kill them; He kept his word, crucifying them but having their throats slit out of mercy for their suffering,due to their leniency to him as a captive(Mark, “Gaius” 1). In gaul he established a grand province ruling and defending the land as he conquered it. In a show of force to scare off germanic tribes caesar built a bridge to march his troops around then destroyed it.(no german invasions took place while Caesar’s troops remained in Gaul (Toynbee 2). Then Caesar invaded britain(thought a myth by the roman people) he spent many months fighting the “Blue men” but only took control over then southern half of the great island. (Toynbee 4) Meanwhile a rebellion had started in gaul; The british isles decimated his forces due to storms and bad weather but his troops survived and he marched back to gaul to deal with the surging rebellion.(Mark, “Gaius” 3). The rebels spent months rampaging the land but eventually halted after they burned the crops that fed them; this lead to starvation and Caesar being able to defeat them in one swift blown.(Toynbee 5)

Alexander knew that actions defined men, so he said “Now you fear punishment and beg for your lives, so I will let you free….” Phillip used his enemies sons for safety to steal mines from athens then act kind giving them back only to retake them soon after.(Wasson, “Although” 2) while some used actions to prove themselves while other literally gave everything they had in their life’s work. Zhuge liang served as “Prime Minister” and “Grand Strategist” for 34 years straight, never being demoted; The only reason he stopped serving the Shu kingdom was his life was cut short from overworking himself(Aaron 3)(Alex 1). The allied greeks are believed to have won the battle but a shepherd betrayed them by revealing a pass that looped behind the troops for a sneak attack; Leonidas ordered all but the 300 spartans to retreat to keep them safe. The three hundred lasted a while but finally succumbed to exhaustion and died. None of the 300 lived.(Mark, “Leonidas” 2)

A key element in the rise of many powerful generals was their ability to create a persona that would define them and last longer than they would in the world. Attila was a master of inflating his character in the minds of others, he convinced all his followers and other people from other countries that his sword was bestowed upon him by the god mars(Mark, “Attila” 4). Scipio inflated his name in his victories to make his name more powerful than the roman senate, they were forced to agree to anything he wished because the people would riot when he was denied(Mark, “Scipio 2). During his reign Attila became known as “the Scourge of God” because the christian world thought he was there to punish them for their disobedience(Mark, “Attila” 5). Caesar’s audacity was a strength throughout his life, he made sure people knew his intentions and his worth(Mark, “Gaius” 1).

Although Julius Caesar had an astounding military career, others such as ;Attila the Hun, Alexander the Great, and hundreds of others proved that, sometimes there is not a greatest, just many greats who reached another level and can’t surpass each other. Where Caesar shined others were able to keep pace with him. At the same time other generals were able to best Caesar but he was close on their heels. The argument of the greatest general of all time may never be decided, but many names have been etched in stone and will be remembered for generations to come. From grand ambition to mere happenstance these men have made a mark on history the rest of us can only dream of.


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