Human history is full of great wars and battles and these military conflicts gave rise to several such great military leaders who proved their bravery, skills and military leadership during these wars and battles. But there are few such military leaders and commanders who are regarded as the greatest military leaders of all time due to the long lasting effects they produce on the geopolitical situation of the world. Following is the list and brief description of such great military leaders who changed the world with their military leadership abilities for a long time and they are remembered till now. The list is presented here in chronological order.
Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great was the founder of first Persian empire, the Achaemenid Empire. He became King of Persia in 559 BC and established the Achaemenid Empire in 550 BC after capturing Media from his maternal grandfather Astyages. In 547 BC, Cyrus captured Lydia (now Anatolia) while Babylonia came under the Persian rule in 539 BC. At the time of death of Cyrus the Great, Achaemenid Empire span from Indus River in the east to Mediterranean in the west. The empire, founded by Cyrus the Great with his leadership qualities, lasted till 330 BC and only Alexander the Great was able to end the Achaemenid Empire of Cyrus the Great.
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great is perhaps the most famous military leader and conqueror. Alexander became King of Macedonia in 336 BC at the age of 20 years after death of his father Phillip II of Macedon. Alexander initially suppressed the rebellions and united all the Greeks to fight against their common enemy Persia. Then he started campaign against the Persian Empire in 334 BC. In just four years, the Achemanid Empire came to an end at the hands of Alexander the Great. But Alexander didn’t stop here and captured areas of central Asia and western India before his death in 323 BC. At the age of 32 years, Alexander conquered areas in North Africa (Egypt), Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Persia etc. Alexander fought several battles during his military career and always remained undefeated which makes him one of the greatest military leaders of all time. His conquered areas came under the powerful effect of Hellenistic civilization after his death.
Hannibal Barca was a great Carthaginian military commander who is known for his military tactics and skills that he applied during the Second Punic War against the Roman Republic. Hannibal achieved so much fame for this war that it is also known as the Hannibalic War. His biggest achievement was crossing the Alps with thousands of soldiers and several elephants to invade the Roman Empire in Italy. It was considered impossible at that time. The Romans stunned at this successful journey and Hannibal inflicted crushing defeats to Roman Republic in the initial battles of Second Punic War. He is also known as the master of pincer movement and used this maneuver too perfectly to defeat the huge Roman army (more than 10 times his own army) in the famous Battle of Cannae in 216 BC. Though, Romans recovered from their early losses and the war ended with Roman victory but the bravery, adventure and military marvel of Hannibal is celebrated to this day which earned him a place in the list of greatest military commanders of all time.
Julius Caesar was a Roman political and military leader. He is known for playing a major political role in changing Roman Republic to Roman Empire but his military achievements are also great. His main military achievement was the conquest of Gaul (now France and Belgium) which eliminated the danger of Gallic tribes as Gaul became a province of Roman Empire while he was also the first Roman leader to invade Britannia. Soon after Gallic Wars, he had to fight the Great Roman Civil War (also known as Caesar’s Civil War) from 49 to 45 BC. After defeating his opponents, he became a dictator of Roman Republic and remained at this place till his assassination in 44 BC.
Attila the Hun
Attila the Hun was a great military leader and king of Hunnic Empire from 434 to 453 AD (till his death). During his rule, he united all the tribes of Hun Empire and ruled most of the eastern and central Europe. He was the most feared warrior by Eastern and Western Roman Empire who called him Scourge of God. Attila initially invaded unsuccessfully against Persia and then attacked the Eastern Roman Empire in 440 AD despite a treaty. He defeated the Byzantine army several times but could not invade Constantinople due to its better defensive measures. Later, he turned his attention towards Balkan and forced the Western Roman Emperor to pay him tribute. In 451, he invaded Roman Gaul (modern-day France) where his advances were halted by the alliance of Romans and Visigoths. His last invasion was on Italy in 452. He occupied and plundered several areas of Italy but left Rome without invasion after negotiations. In 453, Attila died. He proved to be not only the greatest but also the last king of Hunnic Empire as it collapsed soon after his death.
Khalid ibn al-Walid
Khalid ibn al-Walid was the greatest Muslim military commander who was responsible for most of the earlier Muslim conquests of Iraq and Levant. Khalid proved his military skills even before his conversion to Islam as he played the most important role in the defeat of Muslims during Battle of Uhud while fighting for Quraysh. After his conversion to Islam, his initial biggest success was the Battle of Mu’tah during which he managed to save his small army from 33 times larger army of a rival Arab tribe and their Roman supporters. This battle earned him the title of Saifullah (Sword of Allah) from Muhammad (PBUH). Later during the caliphates of Abu Bakr and Umar, Khalid defeated several times the numerically and technically superior armies of the then two superpowers, Byzantine Empire and Persian Empire. Muslim conquest of Iraq and Syria is credited to his military marvel and leadership qualities. He never lost a battle against any opponent. During every battle, he used the strength of his military very effectively. He was not only the greatest warrior of his time but also one of the greatest of all time.
Tariq bin Ziyad
Tariq bin Ziyad was a Muslim Berber warrior and general who commanded the Muslim armies to conquer Iberian Peninsula. Tariq bin Ziyad invaded Hispania in 711. After initial successes by Tariq, he defeated the numerical superior army of Visigothcs in 712 in the decisive Battle of Guadalete during which King Roderic of Hispania was also killed. This victory paved the way for the Muslim capture of Visigothis capital Toledo and other important areas of Hispania. Tariq bin Ziyad is known as the founder of Muslim rule in European Hispania. Hispania (al-Andalus) remained under Muslim control and influence for around next 800 years which shows his campaign to be a long lasting one. Tariq bin Ziyad is famously known for burning his boats after reaching Gibraltar in order to create the feelings of victory or death in his soldiers after ending every way of retreat. This resulted in their victory against far superior army.
Charlemagne was the king of Franks and Lombardy and the first Holy Roman Emperor. Charlemagne became king of Franks in 768 and later captured Lombardy in 774. He was appointed the first ever Holy Roman Emperor by pope in 800 Ad due to his services for Christianity. Charlemagne also protected the southern borders of his empire by creating a buffer zone at Pyrenees between Franks and Muslim Hispania. Later, this buffer zone proved important to halt the further advances of Muslims in Europe.
Salah-ud-Din Ayyubi (commonly known as Saladin in West) was a Muslim Kurdish leader and military commander who achieved fame during the Third Crusade (1189-1192). In 1187, Saladin captured Jerusalem from Christians after which the combined Christian forces started the Third Crusade in 1189. Despite severe efforts from the Crusaders, Saladin managed to save Jerusalem from going in the hands of Crusaders. His encounters with Richard the Lionheart and his treatment of the Christian prisoners are still remembered.
Genghis Khan was the founder of Mongol Empire who expanded the rule of the Mongols from a small area of Today’s Mongolia to northern China in the east and Central Asia and Eastern Europe in the west. After subjugating all the rival tribes in Mongolia, Genghis Khan entered China and then took control of central Asia after defeating the Khwarizm Empire in just 20 years (1207-1227). Southern Russia, Georgia and Armenia also came under wrath of the Mongols. The reasons behind such a large scale conquests by Genghis Khan were the unification of his men under the laws of “Yassa”, using the technology and war tactics of his opponents and assassinating anyone coming in his way. On several occasions, he killed even the whole population of area. Genghis Khan is known as one of the greatest and merciless leaders in the history.
Timur the Lame or Tamerlane is known as the greatest warrior king of the second half of 14th Century. After became sole ruler of Transoxiana, Timur remained at war against various opponents for the next 35 years (1370-1405) and expanded his empire to modern day Afghanistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and parts of India, Russia etc. During his rule, he defeated every great opponent of that time and one of them was the Ottoman sultan Bayazid Yeldrim. Timur prepared to conquer China but died before the start of this campaign in 1405. His military successes make him one of the greatest military commanders of all time.
Peter the Great
Peter the Great was the founder of Russian Empire. He became Tsar of Russia in 1682 and transformed Russia in to an Empire after several successful wars. The most famous war was the Great Northern War that he fought against Swedish Empire. The war lasted from 1700 to 1721. Despite initial losses, Peter continued his efforts and the war ended with a victory for Peter. The Northern war resulted in the emergence of Russian Empire as a new world power and it reduced the influence of Swedish Empire. Apart from reforms, Peter the Great is also known for his military leadership qualities which transformed Tsardom of Russia to Russian Empire.
Napoleon Bonaparte is known as the greatest French military leader and emperor who rose to fame after French Revolution. During French Revolution, Napoleon showed his military leadership abilities by crushing several rebellions and foreign interventions. Napoleon became French Emperor in 1804. During his reign, Napoleon defeated different coalitions three consecutive times (wars of third, fourth and fifth coalition) between 1803 and 1809. Napoleon was later defeated during the War of the Sixth Coalition due to defection of Napoleon’s allies and his rule completely ended after defeat in the War of the Seventh Coalition. But despite these defeats, Napoleon is regarded as one of the greatest military leaders by his supporters and opponents alike due to the role he played during Napoleonic Wars.