As we examine history, there are literally thousands of men (and women) who have proven that they were amazing strategists and tacticians on the battlefield. There is no doubt that they were exceptional military commanders and achieved both victories and respect as a result of their immense military knowledge.
However, there are those select few that demonstrated extreme genius and the unique ability to lead and inspire. While there are several who understand battlefield action, there are very few who are true leaders as well and those are the one that made this list.
Here is our list of the 10 most brilliant military commanders in history.
Attila the Hun
During the years 434 through 453 AD, the leader of the Hunnic Empire was Attila the Hun. The Hunnic Empire extended from Central Asia in the east, all the way to modern Germany in the west.
Attila was considered to be one of the most frightening adversaries in the world at that time. He was a sworn enemy of the Roman Empire. Attila’s penchant for cruelty was legendary and he wasted no time crushing those who stood in his way. He successfully invaded the Balkans two times and was one of the few who marched through the fearsome Gaul – feats that even the mighty Romans hadn’t done.
William the Conqueror
William the Conqueror fearlessly led the Normans in their famous invasion of England. This was the last time in history that England got conquered and dominated by a foreign power. His big feat was when his army hammered the English during the battle of Hastings, after which he marched into London.
England’s attempts to resist William’s advances were futile as he gradually took control of England and started his reign there. He would go on to implement several major reforms to existing Anglo-Saxon culture in England which ushered in the new Anglo-Norman culture.
There are many who would not put Adolf Hitler on this list, simply because they refuse to give him any credit because of his evil deeds. Like him or not, Hitler was both daring and brilliant when it came to military strategy.
To begin with, he led Nazi Germany as well as the Axis Powers in conquering the majority of continental Europe, and in addition, they occupied certain parts of Asia and Africa. He actually defeated and then conquered France while at the same time, he held off the Allies during World War II.
His well-trained armies would go on to achieve many victories as they innovated and mastered military tactics like the Blitzkrieg and the Luftwaffe – which were very effective. In the end, Hitler’s armies were overcome for various reasons such as over extension, too many fronts, and too much firepower from Allied forces.
Ghengis Khan established and ruled the mighty Mongol Empire; which is still the biggest contiguous empire in all of history. The Mongols occupied a huge region in central Asia. Genghis managed to achieve this feat by uniting several nomadic tribes and various throughout northeastern Asia. In addition to this, they strategically raided large regions in China and all through Asia.
The massive Mongol Empire went on to occupy the majority of Eurasia and pivotal parts of Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and even the Middle East. Ghengis Khan planned and executing sweeping campaigns by defeated the Jin and Western Xia dynasties, and the powerful Khwarezmid Empire through the use and excellent military tactics.
Napoleon was a very famous and flamboyant general that enjoyed popularity in the French Revolution. While he demonstrated great brilliance on the battlefield, perhaps his great achievements were political. Through great leadership and charisma, he would go on to assume complete control of the French Republic – earning the title of Emperor of the French.
Napoleon would later become the King of Italy, the Mediator of the Swiss Confederation, as well as Protector of the Confederation of the Rhine. And even after being exiled to the island of Elba, he managed to reform both the island’s economy and government.
One of the most famous people of this list, Julius Caesar is recognized as a great leader of the Roman Empire. Not as many people realize what a great military commander he also was. During the years of the Roman Republic, many political leaders went into the military for two reasons: 1) prove their leadership, and 2) earn a fortune from booty they captured.
It is well documented that Julius Caesar had a very high IQ. This became very clear as he went into the wilderness and defeated a massive Gaul army that was a made up with many tribes led by Vercingetorix – perhaps their most powerful leader. This campaign led to Rome giving him a Triumph parade – which was a great honor for military heroes.
Caesar also helped Cassius defeat the famous gladiator and slave revolt led by Spartacus. And then he soundly defeated Roman rival Pompey in a Civil War against great odds. These events led him to become the first Emperor of the Roman Empire, as the Roman Republic was dissolved.
Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great was a great leader who established the Achaemenid Empire around 550 BCE through his military conquests. This ancient empire was centered in Persia and stretched from the Aegean Sea to the Indus River. This empire was the result of Cyrus the Great conquering the powerful nations of Lydia and Babylonia. In fact, even the Holy Bible credits him with liberating the Jews from slavery in Babylonia.
Cyrus was known to be an extraordinary diplomat. He was known to show tolerance to those he had conquered. After conquering Babylonia, the nations of Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine eventually fell under his rule as well.
Alexander the Great
The story of Alexander the Great is extraordinary because his amazing accomplishments were achieved before he had even reached the age of 30. What make this even more amazing is that he was also the King of his nation, and not merely a military commander. He was known to take his sword and join his troops in battle.
Alexander began his career by conquering the neighboring nation of Greece. This was followed by his conquering the powerful Persian Empire. He went on to defeat and conquer many cities in Egypt, Carthage, and India. His desire was to continue marching east, but his troops were suffering from exhaustion and his generals convinced him to return to Persia. He later died under questionable circumstances – some claim it was from malaria, but his official cause of death is not known.
Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee is the second most recent military commander on this list. During the Civil War, he quickly established his value as an effective leader and was given control of the Northern Army of Virginia.
His great military skill and genius was demonstrated by the number of times he repelled superior Union Armies. No military leader in the entire Civil War took part in as many major battles as General Lee. And he managed to win almost every one of them.
President Lincoln’s objective was to destroy Lee’s army from the start of the war, but was unable to accomplish that goal – evening after hiring several different generals. General Lee defeated all of them on Virginian soil. It wasn’t until Lee marched north that he was defeated on the battlefield.
The most remarkable thing about Lee’s military victories was that he always had far less soldiers than the opposing armies – and his soldiers always had far less provisions than the Union army did. These two facts are a great testament to both his military skill and his ability to inspire.
When it comes to military skill and leadership, it is hard to find anyone that was more effective than Hannibal Barca. He had a goal to invade Rome. He began amassing his invading forces in the Spanish city of New Carthage – which is currently Cartagena. This is where he supposedly gathered an assortment of mercenaries, which included the famous elephants.
The Romans expect to engage the Carthaginians in Sicily, but Hannibal marched his army across Southern Europe, crossed the snow covered Alps, and invaded northern Italy – which was the last thing the Romans expected.
For almost 20 years, Hannibal’s army ravaged the Italian peninsula. In most major battles, his army was greatly outnumbered, but he somehow won almost all of those battles.
Hannibal was a master at two things: 1) learning the weaknesses of his enemies, and 2) how to use terrain to gain an advantage.
Perhaps most famous was the Battle of Cannae where Hannibal had less than 40,000 men that faced a Romans army of over 50,000 men. Knowing that Consul Varro – who was leading the Roman army that day – was very aggressive, so Hannibal lured them into a trap. The Romans found themselves penned against a Lake and then Hannibal promptly crushed them. The Romans lost over 40,000 men, while Hannibal lost less than 6,000 of his soldiers.
Amazingly, Carthage provided very little support to Hannibal in terms of reinforcements and supplies. He not only had to feed his troops from Roman farms and lands, he also had to reinforce his army along the way. For year after year, countless Roman armies tried to expel Hannibal and his army from Italy, but they all failed. He was finally defeated on the battlefield by Scipio, but they was unable to capture Hannibal.
Even more amazing about Hannibal was that his armies consisted of soldiers from many different nations. For that reason, Hannibal spoke many languages and was able to inspire them all.
Is there any doubt that these are the 10 Most Brilliant Military Commanders in History?