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sylla

Caesar or Scipio: who was the best general?

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Just for the record; the title naturally refers to CJ Caesar the dictator and PC Scipio Africanus Major.

 

For Sir Liddell Hart, Scipio would have been the best; it

Edited by sylla

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Just for the record; the title naturally refers to CJ Caesar the dictator and PC Scipio Africanus Major.

 

For Sir Liddell Hart, Scipio would have been the best; it

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I rest my case.
Given your last line; is any debate invited here?
But of course!

 

Be my guest...

Edited by sylla

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I rest my case.
Given your last line; is any debate invited here?
But of course!

 

Be my guest...

May I take this a bit at a time? Firstly, it is useful that you use the word "best" as opposed to "greatest" giving us a much better defined debate. Would you redefine your conclusions with respect to optimal commanders, sub-optimal commanders and optimal armies. Staying within the appraisal of PCS, wasn't the army at Cannae optimal and badly led? If this wasn't the case and the huge defeat was purely down to the genius of Hannibal, then neither the legions nor their commanders were optimal leading to a conclusion that there were variances in the quality of both.

 

I have never looked to Zama as proof of Scipio's prowess. By that time he had learnt so much of his weakened enemy that it is simply not the best example. However his tactical genius at Ilipa must be seen as an example of the commander(s) heavily influencing the outcome of a battle regardless of the quality of the manpower at their disposal. PCS made tactical decisions at Ilipa that enabled the victory in Spain and those decisions were so radical that it could easily be concluded that a more conventional commander may not have carried the day. His plan was based on the "sub-optimal" Spanish part of his force advancing slowly in the centre whilst the "optimal" legions enveloped the weaker flanks of the Carthaginian army. This is a good example of an optimal commander and a sub-optimal army.

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While I agree on the futility of comparisons under very different conditions like i.e. Caesar vs. Ginghis there are things that we can still compare. In many cases the preconditions for victory that you state "effective weapons, trained soldiers, able officials and operative logistics" were depending on the commander because Alexander, Caesar, Pompey etc were not just battlefield generals handed an army and a mission like Paulus at Stalingrad but also political leaders that had the power to get weapons and provisions, select and train personal etc.

So we can compare Caesar and Scipio and see how they handled logistics (clear win for Scipio) training of soldiers (Scipio trained 2 defeated armies into victorious ones while Casar was handed a good one from start but he improved it remarkably) picking of high officers (Caesar's general were usually defeated when alone but I know nothing of Scipio's officers) etc.

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I rest my case.
Given your last line; is any debate invited here?
But of course!

 

Be my guest...

 

Can you clarify to purpose of the topic?

 

Are you looking for opinions on who was better, Scipio vs Caesar?

 

OR

 

Are you looking for opinions on the validity of making such anachronic comparisons?

Edited by barca

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Can you clarify to purpose of the topic?
The purpose is a nice debate by mixing the contributions of all of us; that naturally includes both of your options.
Are you looking for opinions on who was better, Scipio vs Caesar?
By now, I guess it is clear to everyone why I don't think that is determinable at all. If you think otherwise, I would really love to know why (and your choice between those commanders, of course).
Are you looking for opinions on the validity of making such anachronic comparisons?
I'm sure you have something to say on that issue that I'm not aware of; such stuff would be undoubtedly useful for me and other UNRV members.

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While I agree on the futility of comparisons under very different conditions like i.e. Caesar vs. Ginghis there are things that we can still compare. In many cases the preconditions for victory that you state "effective weapons, trained soldiers, able officials and operative logistics" were depending on the commander because Alexander, Caesar, Pompey etc were not just battlefield generals handed an army and a mission like Paulus at Stalingrad but also political leaders that had the power to get weapons and provisions, select and train personal etc.

So we can compare Caesar and Scipio and see how they handled logistics (clear win for Scipio) training of soldiers (Scipio trained 2 defeated armies into victorious ones while Casar was handed a good one from start but he improved it remarkably) picking of high officers (Caesar's general were usually defeated when alone but I know nothing of Scipio's officers) etc.

EDIT: Let me try a different approach:

 

- Logistics (i.e. "The time-related positioning of resources"): To what extent did it depend from the commander? In any case, I don't think any major logistic failure was reported from the armies under either Africanus Major or Caesar.

 

- Training: The Romans were defeated (which is not the same as untrained) only twice (211 BC) all along 12 years of Punic War II in Spain; and even then, reportedly entirely because of the Celtiberian treachery. The tale of the Cannae survivors in Zama couldn't have been anything but propaganda, simply because Zama was fought 14 years after Cannae.

To what extent did training depend on the commander? Aside from moral support (admittedly often critical) the direct personal influence of any general couldn't have been exerted beyond a fistful of men.

 

IMHO, both activities were for the Romans (actually for most armies) the net product of the collective centuries-long effort of a whole nation, hardly just the personal contribution from a couple of enlightened commanders.

 

- Picking of high officers: were this commanders really able to pick their legates? (With the possible exception of the Caesar's Civil War).

In any case, we know almost nothing about Africanus' legates, aside from Laelius, Silanus and his brother Lucius. We are far better informed on the regular success of Caesar's legates in Gaul, even by themselves (Labienus, Crassus Jr, Quintus Cicero, Aurunculeius Cotta, Galba, Decimus Brutus and so on). Caesar's legates were defeated mostly when fighting against his Roman peers, especially against Caesar himself (e.g. Labienus); Africanus' soldiers only fought against purportedly qualitatively inferior alien troops.

And of course, the ultimate criterion of comparison here is always the same; victory. We simply can't compare anachronic victories. We just can't know if the Barbarians were harder to defeat at the III or at the I century BC.

Edited by sylla

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I have never looked to Zama as proof of Scipio's prowess. By that time he had learnt so much of his weakened enemy that it is simply not the best example. However his tactical genius at Ilipa must be seen as an example of the commander(s) heavily influencing the outcome of a battle regardless of the quality of the manpower at their disposal. PCS made tactical decisions at Ilipa that enabled the victory in Spain and those decisions were so radical that it could easily be concluded that a more conventional commander may not have carried the day. His plan was based on the "sub-optimal" Spanish part of his force advancing slowly in the centre whilst the "optimal" legions enveloped the weaker flanks of the Carthaginian army. This is a good example of an optimal commander and a sub-optimal army.
The main problem of that assesment is that it takes for granted the absolute reliability of the utterly lavish apologetics written for Africanus Major; we must always (and especially in cases liike this one) favor factual accounts over mere figures and value judgments.

 

The narrative of the Spanish campaigns is particularly problematic.; e.g. if Africanus' army was really never defeated, why did it require five full years for clearing the Peninsula? Even worse; how was Hasdrubal Barca able to get to Italy with such an immense army? (reportedly more than half a hundred thousand men). We can't just left aside such strong and obvious objections.

 

On the other hand, if we are to take literally Polybius and Livy's accounts, winning the Spanish campaigns wouldn't actually seem so impressive (a paradoxical effect of overpraising); after all, all along the twelve years of Punic War II at Spain, the Carthaginians were purpotedly able to win only two times (strictly speaking, two phases of a single battle in 211 BC), and even then, the outcome was entirely attributed to the Celtiberian desertion; absolutely all other battles would then reportedly have been Roman victories.

 

In any case, the notable performance of many Iberian groups against the Romans both during and after Punic War II, either alone or under Punic command, strongly suggests that those warriors were not so "sub-optimal" after all.

Besides, please remember that the twin Roman defeats mentioned above for 211 BC were explained because of the Iberian desertion.

 

We can objectively consider Africanus Major as the best Roman commander of Punic War II with reasonable certainty, simply because he utterly defeated Hannibal, who had not only defeated in open field virtually any other Roman commander for years, but had also continued doing so up to his last moment in Italy, even with fewer men than in Africa.

Additionally, Zama was the culmination of years of brilliant African campaigns, definitively crushed the worst Roman enemy for centuries and opened the Mediterranean world to Roman conquest; its relevance can hardly be exaggerated.

Edited by sylla

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I have never looked to Zama as proof of Scipio's prowess. By that time he had learnt so much of his weakened enemy that it is simply not the best example. However his tactical genius at Ilipa must be seen as an example of the commander(s) heavily influencing the outcome of a battle regardless of the quality of the manpower at their disposal. PCS made tactical decisions at Ilipa that enabled the victory in Spain and those decisions were so radical that it could easily be concluded that a more conventional commander may not have carried the day. His plan was based on the "sub-optimal" Spanish part of his force advancing slowly in the centre whilst the "optimal" legions enveloped the weaker flanks of the Carthaginian army. This is a good example of an optimal commander and a sub-optimal army.
The main problem of that assesment is that it takes for granted the absolute reliability of the utterly lavish apologetics written for Africanus Major; we must always (and especially in cases liike this one) favor factual accounts over mere figures and value judgments.

 

The narrative of the Spanish campaigns is particularly problematic.; e.g. if Africanus' army was really never defeated, why did it require five full years for clearing the Peninsula? Even worse; how was Hasdrubal Barca able to get to Italy with such an immense army? (reportedly more than half a hundred thousand men). We can't just left aside such strong and obvious objections.

 

On the other hand, if we are to take literally Polybius and Livy's accounts, winning the Spanish campaigns wouldn't actually seem so impressive (a paradoxical effect of overpraising); after all, all along the twelve years of Punic War II at Spain, the Carthaginians were purpotedly able to win only two times (strictly speaking, two phases of a single battle in 211 BC), and even then, the outcome was entirely attributed to the Celtiberian desertion; absolutely all other battles would then reportedly have been Roman victories.

 

In any case, the notable performance of many Iberian groups against the Romans both during and after Punic War II, either alone or under Punic command, strongly suggests that those warriors were not so "sub-optimal" after all.

Besides, please remember that the twin Roman defeats mentioned above for 211 BC were explained because of the Iberian desertion.

 

We can objectively consider Africanus Major as the best Roman commander of Punic War II with reasonable certainty, simply because he utterly defeated Hannibal, who had not only defeated in open field virtually any other Roman commander for years, but had also continued doing so up to his last moment in Italy, even with fewer men than in Africa.

Additionally, Zama was the culmination of years of brilliant African campaigns, definitively crushed the worst Roman enemy for centuries and opened the Mediterranean world to Roman conquest; its relevance can hardly be exaggerated.

If the accounts of Polybius and Livy are so unreliable, where are or whose are the utterly reliable accounts that say that Hasdrubal left Spain which such a large army? You have an opinion that I do respect about the sub-text of Polybius'. Whilst I do understand why that is, there is no evidence whatsoever that your alternative interpretations of events are true. You have used your powers of reason to arrive at your conclusions, but those conclusions are not truths that can be based on pure reason - a priori. They are not either a posteriori truths; they are postulations.

 

Otherwise, I totally agree with you assessment of PCS. I only differ in as much as the accounts of why, for example, he needed five years in Spain can be explained by the existing consensus. This does nor mean that I am not being analytical and I can recognise sycophancy when I see it, but there's a limit by where the flattery ends a reasonable accounts begin.

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In any case, the notable performance of many Iberian groups against the Romans both during and after Punic War II, either alone or under Punic command, strongly suggests that those warriors were not so "sub-optimal" after all.

Besides, please remember that the twin Roman defeats mentioned above for 211 BC were explained because of the Iberian desertion.

 

 

No surprise there. The success of the post-PW II legions against the Helenistic kingdoms can be attributed to their use of the Gladius Hispaniensis more so than to their manipular formations.

 

The Gladius was a romanized version of the HispanoIberian sword or Falcata. The Romans must have recognized the value of those swords when they fought the Iberians. Hannibal brought Iberian mercenaries to Italy, and it is possible that his African Infantry may have carried a similar sword.

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In any case, the notable performance of many Iberian groups against the Romans both during and after Punic War II, either alone or under Punic command, strongly suggests that those warriors were not so "sub-optimal" after all.

Besides, please remember that the twin Roman defeats mentioned above for 211 BC were explained because of the Iberian desertion.

 

 

No surprise there. The success of the post-PW II legions against the Helenistic kingdoms can be attributed to their use of the Gladius Hispaniensis more so than to their manipular formations.

 

The Gladius was a romanized version of the HispanoIberian sword or Falcata. The Romans must have recognized the value of those swords when they fought the Iberians. Hannibal brought Iberian mercenaries to Italy, and it is possible that his African Infantry may have carried a similar sword.

 

The way that this post appears is a little mixed up. Either way, the Gladius Hispaniensis was not a derivation of the Falcata. The Falcata was derived from the Greek Kopis and differed greatly in design and application. The Falcata was a single edged weapon designed to slash down with a heavy blow that would horrifically split a helmet- and head - in two. The Gladius Hispaniensis was a short stabbing sword possibly adopted by the Romans after encountering the weapon in Punic War I in the hands of the Celtiberians or possibly well before in the conflicts with the Celts in the 4th century BCE.

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If the accounts of Polybius and Livy are so unreliable, where are or whose are the utterly reliable accounts that say that Hasdrubal left Spain which such a large army? You have an opinion that I do respect about the sub-text of Polybius'. Whilst I do understand why that is, there is no evidence whatsoever that your alternative interpretations of events are true. You have used your powers of reason to arrive at your conclusions, but those conclusions are not truths that can be based on pure reason - a priori. They are not either a posteriori truths; they are postulations.

 

Otherwise, I totally agree with you assessment of PCS. I only differ in as much as the accounts of why, for example, he needed five years in Spain can be explained by the existing consensus. This does nor mean that I am not being analytical and I can recognise sycophancy when I see it, but there's a limit by where the flattery ends a reasonable accounts begin.

There are two false-dilemma fallacies here.

First, you want me to either absolutely accept or absolutely reject Polybius & Livy.

Second, you want me to blindly accept Polybius & Livy just because I have no better alternative sources.

 

Plainly, absolutely no source should be blindly or uncritically accepted (unless of course we are debating religious dogma).

Livy and Polybius are actually excellent sources. The evidence on Hasdrubal's army obviously came from them and analogous Classical sources (e.g. Appian). I'm just trying to read them critically, just with a minimum of critical rationalism, the same as any science is expected to analyze any evidence.

 

I just pointed out the inherent unreliability of two specific points of our sources.

It's extremely hard to explain why Africanus' conquest of Punic Spain required so many years if his army was never defeated, or to describe Hasdrubal's army as an utterly defeated force when it invaded Italy in 207 BC.

If you can satisfactorily explain those facts, be my guest.

Edited by sylla

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In any case, the notable performance of many Iberian groups against the Romans both during and after Punic War II, either alone or under Punic command, strongly suggests that those warriors were not so "sub-optimal" after all.

Besides, please remember that the twin Roman defeats mentioned above for 211 BC were explained because of the Iberian desertion.

 

 

No surprise there. The success of the post-PW II legions against the Helenistic kingdoms can be attributed to their use of the Gladius Hispaniensis more so than to their manipular formations.

 

The Gladius was a romanized version of the HispanoIberian sword or Falcata. The Romans must have recognized the value of those swords when they fought the Iberians. Hannibal brought Iberian mercenaries to Italy, and it is possible that his African Infantry may have carried a similar sword.

 

The way that this post appears is a little mixed up. Either way, the Gladius Hispaniensis was not a derivation of the Falcata. The Falcata was derived from the Greek Kopis and differed greatly in design and application. The Falcata was a single edged weapon designed to slash down with a heavy blow that would horrifically split a helmet- and head - in two. The Gladius Hispaniensis was a short stabbing sword possibly adopted by the Romans after encountering the weapon in Punic War I in the hands of the Celtiberians or possibly well before in the conflicts with the Celts in the 4th century BCE.

Far as I know, the exact origin of the gladius Hispaniensis is still disputed, even if it was Spanish at all.

In any case, as MS aptly described, the gladius was at the end of the day just another nice short sword, not black magic.

If it was so effective, it was arguably exactly because of the way it was used under Roman manipular tactics.

Tactics and weapons were here clearly no alternative of each other, but simply strictly complementary.

 

The performance of the Iberian armies was indeed surprising after reading their description as sub-optimal soldiers by some of our Romanophile sources.

It's evident that such good performance can't be explained just by the use of the gladius:

First, even if it was really Spanish, it's clear that most Iberians didn't use it. The Iberians were literally hundreds of tribes and groups, and their weapons were definitively not uniform.

Second: again, the gladius was not magic; far as I'm aware, no Iberian army ever used the manipular tactics that made the gladius so effective in Roman hands.

Edited by sylla

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The way that this post appears is a little mixed up. Either way, the Gladius Hispaniensis was not a derivation of the Falcata. The Falcata was derived from the Greek Kopis and differed greatly in design and application. The Falcata was a single edged weapon designed to slash down with a heavy blow that would horrifically split a helmet- and head - in two. The Gladius Hispaniensis was a short stabbing sword possibly adopted by the Romans after encountering the weapon in Punic War I in the hands of the Celtiberians or possibly well before in the conflicts with the Celts in the 4th century BCE.

 

What type of sword did these Celtiberians have?

 

The greeks did have the kopis as well as the xiphos. The kopis primarily for cutting and the xiphos for thrusting as well as cutting, but not as effective at cutting.

 

The Iberians may have had more than one type of sword. Regardless of the specifics, it appears that somehow the Gladius originated in Spain, and it was an upgrade from the previous hoplite sword. There must be another discussion on this issue in this forum, and I'll see if I can find it.

 

The point I was trying to make was that the Iberians were not to be underestimated as soldiers. They were known for their swordmanship.

 

Edit:

 

I am adding additional information on the origin of the Gladius:

 

http://wildfiregames.com/0ad/page.php?p=1564

 

According to this article it originated from the Iberian Espasa

Is anyone familiar with Wildfire Games in terms of historical accuracy?

Edited by barca

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