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Topic Subject:Caesar-A military genius?
Alex_the_Bold
Legionary
posted 24 April 2012 11:53 EDT (US)         
I have recently watched a quite intriguing documentary on TV, called "Battles BC" and I was quite surprised to learn after quite a few years of studying roman history that many modern historians believe that Caesar was not a militarily capable commander. In fact, his victories were attributed to the quality of the roman army alone.

I mean, OK we all know that Caesar was not some kind of god and that the roman army was the best of this era, but all these victories wouldn't have happened if there Caesar, the leading commander was not at least competent.

What do you think about Caesar's military brilliance?And with brilliance I mean tactical ability, the one both Hannibal and Alexander had.

Invincibility lies in defence, while the possibility of victory in the attack -Sun Tzu
Akouson me, pataxon de (hit me, but first listen to me)-Themistocles to Euribiadis prior to the battle of Salamis.
AuthorReplies:
Awesome Eagle
Spear of Mars
(id: awesomated88)
posted 24 April 2012 20:40 EDT (US)     1 / 21       
He wasnt a military genius but he was at least skilled in the use and command of his legions. His campaigns were swift and he used surprise very often when he took risks that other Roman generals wouldn't even dare think about. He did have a strong magnetism that drew people to him and he knew how to inspire his legions. After several battles in Gaul his legions were experienced and tough and could easily match the levys raised by Pompey.

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it- George Santayana
History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are- David C. McCullough
Wars not make one great- Yoda

[This message has been edited by Awesome Eagle (edited 04-24-2012 @ 09:43 PM).]

Punic Hebil
Centurion
(id: Punic Hoplite)
posted 24 April 2012 21:32 EDT (US)     2 / 21       
Exactly. He wasn't a new Alexander, but he did have the personality and know-how to get people to like him, as well as to inspire him. He was a great politician, and he used that political clout to get him the militarily active province (though it was due to luck he got the one he did) and used that opperunity to advance more politically.

Great military genius? No, competent yes. Great speaker and politician? Yes.

I am the Carthaginian who became an angel, and surrendered his wings for a life on the sea of battle.

My magic screen is constantly bombarded with nubile young things eager to please these old eyes. This truly is a wonderful period in which to exist! - Terikel the Deflowerer
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 25 April 2012 02:26 EDT (US)     3 / 21       
Caesar does not strike me as a battlefield wizard a la Alexander, but he was a genius of a general. In his day, and verily through to today, generals do more than just direct a battle. In the period before him, most generals were indeed simple battlefield commanders. By caesar's time, they were more and more involved with directing the entire war effort at an operational scale.

In this, Caesar did excel. He chose when to fight (as was standard for the day), where to fight (as per standard) but also often forced the enemy to meet him on a field of his choosing or used his famed speed to move and attack an enemy where he was not prepared to fight. He used his recon assets (Aedui cavalry, among others) better than most generals of his day, and used their intelligence to strike swiftly and deeply where it would hurt the most. His few defeats/draws were results of miscommunication or disobedience (Gergovia), adapting to new or unorthodox tactics and weapons (Britannia, though he figured out a counter quicker than most Roman generals would. Rome had a long history of losing the first battle against any new foe), or bad luck (Dyrrhachium, where Gallic deserters gave good intel to Pompeius).

His charisma and charm were legendary- and any good general needs the love and support of his men in order to make them perform miracles. Alexander had this, Pompeius (when he was younger) had it, but Caesar had it in barrels and tons.

Legions themselves were capable of winning battles as the documentary says- they did not need brilliant men to lead a war machine, and the sheer number of battles fought by the Roman army versus the percentage of brilliant men available provides ample probability that many commanders must have been of mediocre quality. Some, like Caepio, were in fact militarily incompetent, while others, like Sulla or Marius, were exceptional. Suetonius was frikkin lucky that the Britons assaulting his position on Watling Street were so thoroughly unorganized- all he had to do was order his legions into wedges, then let them do their thing. Varro found out the hard way that legions left to 'do their thing' can lead to disaster (Cannae).

But saying Caesar was no genius of a general is damned near insulting. He might not have been a genius on the tactical side, but he outshone every man of his time in the art of generalship.

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ShieldWall
Legionary
posted 25 April 2012 04:46 EDT (US)     4 / 21       
I've never thought of him as a particularly brilliant commander, very capable certainly, but not up there with the best. His main tactic was to march extremely quickly to surprise the enemy and defeat them before their forces had properly assembled and there doesn't seem to be much more to him than this.

But a note of caution - always important when it comes to revisionist history - we must remember that in its day the conquest of Gaul was considered to be a very impressive if not unlikely achievement, so in a political scene where everyone around him is also a military man, he must have been exceptional in some way. Still, you wonder what would have happened in the Civil War if Pompey's legions had consisted of the tough veterans that Caesar had at his disposal.
Thompsoncs
Legionary
posted 25 April 2012 07:06 EDT (US)     5 / 21       
I'd say he was a military genius. That is proven by the results of the Gallic campaign and the civil war.

Caesar might not have been the very best on actual battle tactics, though he was still at least capable in that. He obviously got himself in trouble at the Sambre, in Britannia, Gergovia and Dyrachium.

But being a military genius is more than just being a good fighter or a good tactician on the battlefield. Some say that a good start is 1/2 the work. Caesar, with some exceptions, always forced his enemy in bad positions and lured them to fight on his conditions. He even surprised Pompey by advancing on rome with a single legion (soon followed by more, but still it's a piece of courage and cunning that his enemies had not expected).

He was also very able in consolidating his conquests. It's no use to conquer land and lose it soon after. Within 10 years he conquered a very large piece of land, inhabited by fierce tribes who loved independance. In fact he did it so well, that they after 2 uprisings they were broken into submission and the area remained peaceful a long time after.

Winning battles is good, but winning wars and maintaining your conquest that is the work of a genius.
Alex_the_Bold
Legionary
posted 26 April 2012 17:34 EDT (US)     6 / 21       
Winning battles is good, but winning wars and maintaining your conquest that is the work of a genius
Never before have truer words been heard in these halls...

Indeed, winning all the battles but ultimately losing the war is not at all good.Let's just remember Hannibal, who won the battles and lost the war, and Pyrrhus whose high-casualty victories costed him the war and created a new term; Pyrrhic victory.

Invincibility lies in defence, while the possibility of victory in the attack -Sun Tzu
Akouson me, pataxon de (hit me, but first listen to me)-Themistocles to Euribiadis prior to the battle of Salamis.
Marcus Jullius
Legionary
posted 16 November 2012 04:38 EDT (US)     7 / 21       
I believe Caesar was a military genius as in the battle at Alesia an "adequate" commander would of panicked but Caesar defeated the gauls with a well thought of and calculated cavalry charge from behind aswell as coming out to fight the battle with his troops gave them great inspiration. One thing that Caesar could of improved on was his reconnaissance although it was believed he didn't trust his mercenary cavalry. Also Pompey was a great general who might have had inferior troops but had the numbers to compensate. Alexander was also a brilliant commander on the field but often let his personal passion and narcism get in the way at times like when he foolishly nearly killed himself in India. Caesar on the other hand was also a great politician and did many great things for rome as the senate he overthrew was very corrupt. Caesar was strictly goal driven and his army would of never followed just a capable commander to overthrow the senate they protected.
Alex_the_Bold
Legionary
posted 16 November 2012 04:53 EDT (US)     8 / 21       
Caesar was strictly goal driven and his army would of never followed just a capable commander to overthrow the senate they protected
As a matter of fact, after the Marian reforms, it was a common tendency for the soldiers to follow their general against Rome. Sulla's legions did that too...

Invincibility lies in defence, while the possibility of victory in the attack -Sun Tzu
Akouson me, pataxon de (hit me, but first listen to me)-Themistocles to Euribiadis prior to the battle of Salamis.
Agrippa 271
Legionary
posted 16 November 2012 22:45 EDT (US)     9 / 21       
Rome was never really what I would consider a great representative government. Bribery was rampant by the Late Republic, and although Caesar made some improvements and removed a regime of corrupt politicians, he established a precedence for absolute, or close to, imperial power.

Personally, I find Caesar fascinating, but I hate authoritarian governments, and I hate regimes with large, (in my opinion) overly-empowered central governments. I think that it tends to lead to oppression. Maybe not immediately, but within a couple of generations it will happen.

Death is a (vastly) preferable alternative to communism.
"Idiocy knows no national or cultural borders. Stupidity can strike anyone, anywhere." -- Terikel
Vasta
Legionary
posted 19 November 2012 17:27 EDT (US)     10 / 21       
Bribery was really no more rampant at the end of the Republic than at any other point... and it never really changed after that. It was just the way to get things done. If the supreme power was gone, then you just had competition for the lower offices.

As for armies following their generals, it was the failure of the Roman government to realize that they created this situation. If there had been some type of pensioning system or what have you provided by the state and land reform, things might've gone pretty differently. Instead, most of those in power wanted to maintain the status quo and protect their own interests (which is reasonable).

Those generals and other men given special powers (Pompey raising an army as a private citizen to fight the Marians) were able to step into positions of patronage because they provided their men with what they needed.

Another component of this that is often overlooked is the nature of aristocratic competition at Rome. It was an integral part of their culture to strive to be the first in gloria. The conflict escalated - 10 days of thanksgiving becomes 15 days, conquering the East became crossing to Britain, one triumph became a triple triumph, etc... As long as this was part of their mindset, eventually someone had to win. Augustus perceived this and to protect himself and his family, just changed the game - instead of competing for triumphs and supreme power, one competed to serve the Emperor and was greatly rewarded for service.

Also, a point I've made before, but I'll bring up again: the Senate at the end of the Republic was no more corrupt or immoral than any before. Caesar was not waging civil war to defend the tribunes' rights or stop the aristocracy's abuse of the people, he was concerned with protecting his dignitas. If you look at what little actual ruling he did, he was concerned with preserving the status quo, particularly as regards debt relief. If Caesar really did care about the people, he could have forgiven debts or change the terms of contracts. Instead, his first acts upon entering Rome were to guarantee that property rights and debts would be maintained. Lepidus or Catiline are better candidates for being men who actually were looking for a revolution that might benefit the disenfranchised.

Finally, even though the Principate was a monarchy, it really wasn't that authoritarian. If you were the old aristocracy, yes, you felt that your freedoms were limited (see the Senatorial historians), but the general populace was much better off. The Empire, other than it's actual rulers, was essentially a meritocracy and there was legitimate potential for social mobility in ways that the Republic never provided. If you were a good enough bureaucrat in your town, you could actually expect to get a position within the government in Rome.

Sure, you could never rule the Empire (unless you lucked into a big enough army, that is), and it was frowned upon if you ran around the city claiming that Caligula was a moron who nailed his sister, but other than that, the world was really open to you.
Alex_the_Bold
Legionary
posted 24 November 2012 16:04 EDT (US)     11 / 21       
...Caesar...established a precedence for absolute, or close to, imperial power...
Actually, Caesar was no different from Pompey, Sulla, Marius and every Roman general during the late Republic who created a loyal army and tried to gain absolute power. He was just luckier and more skillful politically than most of his contemporary adversaries. If he faced a general as good as Sulla, he would have had less chances of winning that war. However, I wonder why no Roman prior to Sulla tried to obtain the dictatorship or march against Rome...

Invincibility lies in defence, while the possibility of victory in the attack -Sun Tzu
Akouson me, pataxon de (hit me, but first listen to me)-Themistocles to Euribiadis prior to the battle of Salamis.
markdienekes
Legionary
posted 11 May 2013 09:26 EDT (US)     12 / 21       
I think Caesar showed touches of tactical brilliance too - though obvious at the battle of Pharsalus where Pompey would strike with his cavalry, the cohorts prepared by Caesar to engage them worked a treat - so too his tactical ability at Ruspina which prevented the destruction of his army.

http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=WadVUvp2qlAC&pg=PA15&lpg=PA15&dq=battle+of+ruspina&source=bl&ots=m8gxD6-5_h&sig=-OsVJmVskXhQH_HDXDW8Y46IQKs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=dlSOUcvLJ4PjPPzkgMAJ&ved=0CE8Q6AEwBA
Shadowcran
Legionary
posted 10 July 2013 20:44 EDT (US)     13 / 21       
Every poster who has said he was not a military genius have written good traits, all different, about his military experience. If you tabulate them together, he qualifies as genius.

Attacking when enemy is not ready? Straight out of Sun-Tzu. The enemy should have zero excuse for allowing this to happen. You don't wait for them to fight you in strength if opportunity presents itself. Otherwise, prepare to lose precious troops.

Well trained and disciplined army is also given as reason he was NOT a genius. A lot of generals in history cannot achieve this. Remember, they didn't train themselves.

On the battlefield, yes, he was ordinary. However, his management and pre battle tactical skills made a lot of these battles a cakewalk. Win before the fight even takes place.

You've got to take anything you hear on HIstory Channel with a huge grain of salt. From what I've read from other posters, even those I disagree with, you all can give better history insights than the History Channel's, even if you have a hangover, haven't slept in days or even be completely comatose.

Sympathy for the Guilty is Treason to the Innocent.
Awesome Eagle
Spear of Mars
(id: awesomated88)
posted 13 February 2014 05:44 EDT (US)     14 / 21       
Old thread, But does anyone know a good book or website that deals with the History of the Roman Legions- as in follows the movement and story of the Xth Legion or others?

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it- George Santayana
History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are- David C. McCullough
Wars not make one great- Yoda
Vasta
Legionary
posted 13 February 2014 15:26 EDT (US)     15 / 21       
What level of sophistication are you looking for? Scholarly work or more of a popular narrative that can just give you an overview?
Awesome Eagle
Spear of Mars
(id: awesomated88)
posted 13 February 2014 17:05 EDT (US)     16 / 21       
i suppose a combination of both. I would like to know the basic historical overview of location and story etc, but reinforce that knowledge with the scholarship.

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it- George Santayana
History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are- David C. McCullough
Wars not make one great- Yoda
Vasta
Legionary
posted 13 February 2014 21:30 EDT (US)     17 / 21       
Dando-Collins (2002), "Caesar's Legion" is a study of the Tenth, including its permutations in the Empire when it wasn't really the Gallic legion anymore. It was fine, I suppose. Interesting enough, but he places way too much stock in the supposed ethnicity of recruitment. Dando-Collins is a pop historian and has gone and written a whole bunch of other legionary studies in similar fashion. He also, I see, has written a "history of every single legion."

I forget how well he did his modern research/what his bibliography looks like, but I'd start from there. I'll delve into my own bibliographies too, because I could've sworn there was a really comprehensive book that just came out called like "The Legions" or something, with very up-to-date archaeology.

How good is your German, too? There's a guy named E. Ritterling who wrote around the middle of the 20th century that has done some of the most important work on the topic. There's a few English articles, a database search informs me, but the big ones are all in the Deutsch, as it were.
Awesome Eagle
Spear of Mars
(id: awesomated88)
posted 14 February 2014 15:00 EDT (US)     18 / 21       
How good is your German, too? There's a guy named E. Ritterling who wrote around the middle of the 20th century that has done some of the most important work on the topic. There's a few English articles, a database search informs me, but the big ones are all in the Deutsch, as it were.
Very poor i am afraid. SO i think sticking with English will be best.
I forget how well he did his modern research/what his bibliography looks like, but I'd start from there. I'll delve into my own bibliographies too, because I could've sworn there was a really comprehensive book that just came out called like "The Legions" or something, with very up-to-date archaeology.
Awesome, thank you very much for the recommendation, and for the research that you have done for me.

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it- George Santayana
History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are- David C. McCullough
Wars not make one great- Yoda
Vasta
Legionary
posted 14 February 2014 16:34 EDT (US)     19 / 21       
If you can, sign up for the Bryn Mawr Classical Review and Classical Journal Book Review (I think the latter might be dependent on membership in the Classical Association of the Middle West and South, though). That's the best way to see what the newest books are.

Otherwise, get an account with L'Annee philologique, which is the mother of all Classics search engines. Any time I'm writing or doing research, that's where I begin. You might need access through a university though.

http://www.annee-philologique.com/
Pitt
Tribunus Laticlavius
posted 17 February 2014 04:39 EDT (US)     20 / 21       
I rather miss the vast, apparently unlimited, access my university had to online journals. JSTOR is a treasure trove.

AwesomeEagle, make the most of it!

"Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French." - P.G. Wodehouse, The Luck of the Bodkins
Awesome Eagle
Spear of Mars
(id: awesomated88)
posted 18 February 2014 22:33 EDT (US)     21 / 21       
I think i should become a Hermit one day- in the hope that i might actually get some reading done- both of my book pile and the never ending articles.

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it- George Santayana
History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are- David C. McCullough
Wars not make one great- Yoda
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