There were so many great Roman war generals due to the fact that the Roman Empire lasted for centuries and there were so many wars and battles between the Romans and the peoples they endeavoured to conquer. Here we take a look at some of the more famous Roman Generals who are credited with being the best Roman war leaders.
Constantine the Great
Constantine the Great
Constantine the Great is probably most known for the fact that he was the first Roman leader to convert to Christianity, while he also is credited with the development of the Byzantine culture. Constantine was the son of army officer Flavius Valerius Constantius and Helena his wife. Constantine was raised in the court of the emperor of the Eastern Empire in Nicomedia now known as Turkey.
Constantine was a great Latin speaker and spent a good deal of time studying Christian beliefs that were always around him in some form or other. Constantine crossed to Britain with his father the emperor and fought many battles in the north of the country until the death of his father in York in 306 AD. Constantine was declared emperor by his troops and concentrated on fighting a number of civil wars in Rome while setting up base camp in Gaul.
The Arch of Constantine in Rome
Constantine invaded Italy in 312 AD defeating his brother in law Maxentius in the Battle of Milvian Bridge. Constantine professed that he had been given orders from God in a dream and was the one true emperor. Following the Battle of Milvian Constantine entered into an alliance with Licinius who had been western emperor for some time. Constantine then became western emperor, while Licinius became emperor of the east. Licinius eventually was defeated by Constantine who took over his territory in 316 AD. By 324 AD Constantine was sole emperor of both east and west. He renamed Byzantium Constantinople rebuilding the city that was to become his "second Rome".
Constantine always believed that it was his conversion to Christianity that had steered him toward success in all the battles he fought to become supreme emperor. He believed that he was God's chosen instrument and that he had been aided by a divine power. Constantine began the building of the Church of St Peter in Rome and such were his beliefs that he even took a mobile chapel along with him during his battlefield campaigns.
Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus
Scipio as he became known is hailed as one of the greatest war generals of all time and lived from 236 BC to 183 BC. His most notable achievement was the defeat of the Carthaginian leader Hannibal in the Battle of Zama that ended the second Punic War. It was following his resounding victory that he was given the name Africanus in 201 BC.
Scipio was born into a prestigious family with his father, grandfather and great grandfather being consuls of Rome. Scipio is also mooted to have saved his own fathers life at the battle on the Ticinus River even though at the time he was very young. Scipio was married to Aemilia and had two sons. His father and uncle were killed in battle in Spain in 211 BC.
Scipio was made leader of the Roman army that was to attack Spain in 210 AD a position he relished as he was eager to avenge his father's death. Scipio's objective was to drive the Carthaginians out of Spain, while also preventing supplies and reinforcements getting through to Hannibal and his troops. His objective took four years and with a combined naval and land force Scipio was invincible.
Scipio successfully landed at Carthago Nova and attacked the city capturing Spanish hostages, the silver mine, collected supplies and gained a superb base from where he was able to advance south. Scipio divided his forces and defeated Hasdrubal Barca at Bailen, while Barca fled to join his brother Hannibal.
The Battle of Zama
This was Scipio's famous victory over Hannibal following the breaking down of the peace treaty between the two adversaries. Scipio secured the best land masses in terms of water supply and terrain and was ready to face the irrepressible Hannibal. Scipio firstly completely destroyed Hannibal's elephants enticing them into corridors between his infantry. He then attacked with his cavalry driving the Carthaginians away and attacking Hannibal's army from the rear.
Once victory was sealed it signalled the end of a long drawn out war between the two sides. Scipio was deemed benevolent when it came to dealing with Carthage and Hannibal himself. Following his victory Scipio was awarded the role of princeps senatus or Head of the Senate a post he held until his death in 183 BC. His notable successful battles include
- The Battle of Ilipa
- The Battle of Locri Epizephyrii
- The Battle of Dertosa
- Assault on Cartagena
- The Battle of Baecula
- The Battle of Bagrades
Gaius Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar is probably one of the most famous Roman emperors and generals there is. Many books, films and documentaries have been made about this man who is legendary when it comes to the wars and battles he led and the victories he achieved. Caesar was a superb politician, writer and an absolute genius when it came to all things military. Caesar was born around 100 BC into a noble Roman family but little did they know how the boy would become probably the most famous Roman of all time.
Caesar joined the army in 85 BC after the death of his father and was awarded a civic crown almost immediately following a successful battle. Caesar wore the laurel leaf crown all his life thereafter. He fled Rome in 82 BC as he opposed the policies of the dictator Cornelius Sulla and his life was under threat. He returned to Rome in 78 BC when Sulla had died. Caesar led campaigns in Spain in 69 BC achieving some success, while he also discovered a statue at this time of Alexander the Great a leader he admired greatly.
Caesar would put on extravagant gladiator shows and soon became very popular with the public although this did cause him to get into debt. He became high priest and consul in 59 BC and joined forces with Marcus Crassus the wealthiest man in the world which meant his mounting debt problem could be solved. Caesar launched his brilliant invasion of Gaul campaign in 58 BC which he successfully won living in Gaul until 51 BC. He defeated a worthy opponent in Vercingetorix by constructing a bridge in just ten days over the River Rhine in order to attack the Germanic army.
The Siege of Alesia in 52 BC was a great victory. Caesar laid siege on Vercingetorix and his thousands of troops eventually defeating them even though Caesar was outnumbered four to one! His tactics were brilliant and Vercingetorix surrendered, while Caesar returned to Rome as the all-conquering hero. Caesar fought worthy campaigns in Britain too, while eventually he married Cleopatra who gave birth to their son Caesarean.
Caesar invaded Rome in 45 BC and became sole ruler, in fact dictator is probably a more descriptive title, for the remainder of his life. Caesar changed the Roman Republic making it the Roman Empire with many Roman emperors that followed to reign after his death. The death of Julius Caesar is probably the most well documented of any leaders death thereafter. Caesar was attacked by sixty senators and assassinated by stabbing twenty three times.