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leedx7

Worst Roman Generals?

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In response to the "best" topic, who do people think were the worst?

 

Varus hardly distinguished himself in Germania?

 

Crassus made a balls up in Parthia?

 

Paulus & Varro were thrashed by Hannibal at Cannae?

 

Calvinus and Postumius were hmiliated at the Caudine Forks against the Samnites?

 

Maximus and Caepio were hammered by the Cimbri and Teutones at Arausio?

 

The massacre at Adrianople of Valens by the Goths?

 

Who was the worst General? And perhaps what was the worst defeat?

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Guest spartacus

When you ask who is worst general, do you mean at strategy, the loss of life, or the scale of defeat?

 

I think the one defeat that hit Rome hardest was Cannae, it is said that Rome never got over it, so with that in mind and to answer your question it would be jointly Paulus and Varro, but that said Varro was too hasty whilst Paulus wanted to exercise caution, so singulary my vote is for Varro

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For me it's hard to say. In terms of losses, Paulus and Varro (Cannae) made the worst mistakes, along with Maximus and Caepio (Arausio). As both lost huge numbers of men. Each battle, the equivalent of two army groups.

 

However, the slaughter of Quintus Varus's three legions (20,000 men), had huge consequences. It came in a time when Rome was establishing itself as the worlds greatest empire. This involved expansion of territory on that already held. Including a greater incursion and presence in Germania.

 

During these times, the army was made more professional, and loyal to the emperor, not governors. With a sum of 28 legions standing. Varus's loss made a huge gap in these plans, as well as border security. 10% of romes army was lost, which made a huge impact.

 

This was all due to Varus's incomptence, in leading his men into a trap, in an area that was obviously more to his enemy's advantage. As well, the closed forest did not give room for his men to coordinate counter attacks or defences. Only get cut down. Because of that loss, the Romans had to wait years before they had sufficient forces, to make another incursion, and try to find the slaughtered remains of their army.

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Strategy, loss of life, scale of defeat...hmmm...basically the worst combiniation of all three.

 

Cannae was a crushing defeat, but the Romans did recover and went on to dominate the Med and Europe so, although at the time it was a blow, it was not a loss that echoed through eternity as one quasi-ozzi general might have said. Also, the Roman defeat was arguably a combination of poor generalship and the horrible quality difference between Paulus/Varro, both more politicians thant military minds, and a certified military genius, Hannibal. It might be an interesting question to try and assess how other great/poor Roman Generals might have dealt with Hannibal's tactics?

 

The Varus disaster was, IMHO, much further reaching that Cannae and on this I have to agree with Sulla.

 

I would also argue that the defeat of Crassus was such that Rome decided to avoid any further Eastern advances and, as defeats go, it had a massive impact on future imperial designs.

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I've maintained here and in other discussions outside this forum that the Adrianople defeat was the defeat that eventually cost Rome the west. (Of course a victory only would've delayed the inevitable, but there was no chance after Adrianople, IMO)

 

Still I don't think Valens was the 'worst' general, that defeat was really a sign of the times.

 

Maximus and Caepio at Aurasio is a classic example of complete blundering incompetence all in the name of ego and personal glory. Of course, this situation was brought on by two competing Legates. Perhaps had they been singly in complete command, things may have turned out differently, but of course we will never know.

 

With that being said, its difficult to go against Varus as the worst commander. Obviously he was duped into the ambush, but part of a commander's job is to understand who the enemy is. Varus did attempt to save his army and didn't necessarily fold under the pressure, if the few ancient accounts can be beleived, but he certainly was inadequate for the job. Like already said, the Teutoburg disaster had far reaching consequences.

 

If not for his successes under Sulla and even against Spartacus, I might put Crassus in the worst commander position. Not only was his strategy of marching straight through deeply hostile territory a foolish one, but his battlefield tactics reeked of incopetence as well. After the death of his son, reports indicate that he completely lost it, effectively leaving his army without a commander.

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Valens at Adrianople was high on my list, but I don't know if this was poor generalship or the Roman arrogance of the time. It was certainly a decisive blow that cause the Roman world to shake. For plain poor generalship in a situation -- Crassus.

 

Let's march a bunch of miles in the hot desert without proper water supply and fight on ground of the enemy's choosing. DUMB. And then let's not adapt well to the tactics of our enemy but stick ridgedly to what we know. Then in retreat lets not listen to expereinced officers. Only the discipline of thel egionares saved them. Crassus was better on the battle field of the politics of the Republic and he should have stayed there.

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Yes Cannae takes the biscuit. I don't blame Paulus for that entirely though as it was not his turn to command. By all accounts he was against attacking from the position the romans found themselves in. Also, there is Gaius Curio's expedition in North Africa against a Scipio and Cato. Curio's defeat was nothing on the scale of Cannae or Carhae but it does show a surprsing lack of judgement on Caesar's part by choosing Curio.

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How about the battle of Teutonburg forest..your forgetting what a great disaster that was, it stoped the advance of the Romans in the region for the rest of Imperial History.

 

I see as that was one of the most desesive battles in history and the commander also named Varus I think, was an incompitent governor from Syria.

 

Sorry about spelling,

Zeke

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..it seems after 10 years we still havent settled who was the worst Roman general! :)

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Varus and Caepio are somewhat tied in my book.  Arausio was a dreadful defeat - eighty thousand Roman soldiers killed or captured because two pigheaded commanders refused to work together.  But the Battle of Teutonburg was more consequential in the long run.

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The great disaster at Arausio is mentioned above, and Quintus Servilius Caepio surely deserves consideration as worst commander.   Apparently, because they were political enemies, Caepio willfully refused to cooperate with Gnaeus Mallius Maximus who was consul in 105 and legally his superior officer (Caepio was only proconsul);  allowing both armies to be destroyed in detail by the Cimbri and Teutones.  Caepio was recalled, stripped of his proconsular imperium (I believe the only Roman commander so punished) and convicted by the people in the sensational "Gold of Tolosa" trial.  He was stripped of his priesthood, exiled and his property confiscated to the ruination of his family according to Livy.

Edited by Pompieus
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Colleen McCullough's account of that battle in her MASTER OF ROME series is phenomenal.  She really  made you feel like you were there.

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In the interests of accuracy, Caepio's conviction was not, apparently, over the "Gold of Tolosa" business (probably a prosecution for peculatio (embezzlement) which he evidently escaped), but due to a later conviction for perduellio (treason) because of his part in the disaster at Arausio.  He had already been stripped of his imperium and expelled from the senate by direct votes of the people.

 

There was a legend that the "Gold of Tolosa" included booty stolen by the Gauls when they sacked the sacred precincts of Delphi in 279BC.  And since it was gold stolen from the gods, it was cursed, and anyone who possessed it was sure to come to a bad end -  like the 'Hope Diamond or King Tut's Treasure. 

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Losing a battle means that the other guy was a better general, not that the loser was a bad one, and the scale of the defeat does not mean an equivalent lack of military ability. After all, Napoleon lost at Waterloo.

 

So for a true stinker at matters military, may I promote the claims of one Quintus Marcius Philippus, general during the Third Macedonian war; a man who was actually and undeservedly successful? This is a leader who took his army - including elephants - on a journey  through the narrow mountain paths of the Olympus range - a march from which when committed there was no turning back. Philippus eventually brought his men down into Macedonia , exhausted and starving, into a narrow valley with no chance of escape or resupply. The head of the valley could have been blocked by a few hundred men, especially as there was a large defensible temple ideally situated for that purpose.

 

Thus the Roman army was led into a position where it must surrender or starve. As it was a strong, well-equipped army army, it was only put in this position with great difficulty, and the huge self-restraint required to ignore several more militarily feasible options. Had Philip V still being running Macedon, it would have been game over. However, his son Persues decided that the only  logical reason that the Romans would have made such a crazily suicidal move was if they had outflanked him elsewhere, so he pulled his army back to defend the capital.

 

So, by literally incredible stupidity, Philippus gave Rome the bridgehead in Macedonia that they needed to win the war. It is yet not too late for his amazing lack of talent to be recognized.

Edited by Maty
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