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The Top 100 Leaders in History

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DSMyers1 View Drop Down


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  Quote DSMyers1 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: The Top 100 Leaders in History
    Posted: 28-Dec-2008 at 04:50
Originally posted by Al Jassas

Hello DS
I think that those belonging to the Umayyad period and before should be put under Arabs. After the Umayyad well it depends. Abu Muslim Al-khurasani for example helped build the Abbasids and turn Persians to their support though he was Persian. So his position is tricky, he didn't exactly help Persians get independence but affected the Arab and Islamic world by his achievement. I would put him in Islamic which is more suitable.
Tughrul Beg should be put under Turks however since his achievements affected them only despite he saved the Abbasids from annihilation under the Buyihids and kept Arab countries.
Saladin I think should be put among the muslims. Though Kurdish by ethnicity he was Turkish by culture. He preferred them to Kurds and of course totally ignored Arabs and distroyed the last of their principalities. He preferred Bedouins over urbanised Arabs because they were more wieldy and demanded not much.

Good input!  I would prefer to not put "Islamic" or "Muslim" as a people/nation/country, since it isn't one exactly.  My philosophy was not to look at leaders of "religions," but of nations...  But it is rather hard to decide how best to split these out; and it makes a large difference in how they are ranked.  It is evident that Saladin was a leader, that is certain.  My formula doesn't work as well when I add another layer ("religious leaders") that overlaps the other areas...  I'll think about it more.  What are your thoughts?

Edited by DSMyers1 - 28-Dec-2008 at 04:51
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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31-Dec-2008 at 23:34

Dear DSMeyer1 and company, greetings from one of your British cousins!  I did my A-levels in history not too terribly long ago specialising in the Tudor period in particular, so I can be of some help to you on the British side of things at least.  I’ve been lurking on your splendid discussion board for a good spell and felt I should chime in with some background and analysis from a voice out of merry Albion, about my own country at least.  Since your fellow posters have done such a thorough job of this and posted at length, I suppose I owe you the courtesy of doing the same.

Britons in general can be a prickly lot when it comes to non-Brits elaborating on our history, especially by Yanks.  Not to worry in my particular case—I criss-cross the pond often enough on business that I’m quite fond of the States, even to the point of talking up your baseball World Series and our Cricket Test Matches on the same Pub night!  I’ve helped put together and judge lists like this before for students, as they represent an interesting and organised way to take stock of historical events and analyse and compare their importance, and by aggregating these lists among many people one can crystallise our understanding of them.  I would say that your list as currently compiled is overall well-done even from a skeptical Briton’s perspective, with just a handful of issues that really do require attention.  I’ll break my own response into two posts, the first giving some general clarifications on British history overall, the second squarely on my own expertise and background in the Tudor period.

Some general British history clarifications to kick things off:

-  We Brits do not consider William the Conqueror to be an Englishman, even though he is without doubt a central figure in English and British history by any reckoning.  Nor did he regard himself as an Englishman even by the most generous definition.  He was born and grew up in Normandy, was culturally Norman, first gained power as a Norman duke, and had merely the slightest connection to English culture after 1066.  He was the descendant of Vikings who adopted Latin French culture in what became Normandy, and spoke a dialect of what we today call Old French, one of many dialects that had grown out of the Latin first spoken by the Roman soldiers who followed Julius and Augustus Caesar into Gaul.  The bloke barely knew a phrase of English.  Even after the Conquest, William was predominantly in Normandy, putting down rebellions by Norman rivals or fighting enemies in France proper. 

William's preponderant focus on governing and administering was in Normandy and surrounding regions of the French kingdom, and he was ultimately killed in a battle against the French king, not in England.  So in the “lists of England” that I used to judge and advise on, William was left off as he was not English himself.  Oddly, even the French balk at considering him “French” as he was at war with the French king and ruled a separate domain—he was Norman and thus neither English nor French.  Although as you have recognised, on overall lists, he is a world figure crucial in shaping European history, and thus not far behind Olde King Alfred himself as a shaper of the region’s history and laws.

-  Among Napoleonic War figures, we place both the Duke of Wellington and Horatio Lord Nelson right highly, with Nelson a bit higher.  It was Nelson’s defeat of the French and Spanish fleet at Trafalgar in 1805 that established the British Navy as the ruling power of the seas for the entire 19th century, this on top of his other exploits, and Nelson was thereby a critical historical shaper.  Britain’s navy had become right powerful in the 7 Years War that came to a close in 1763, but during your American Revolution just over a decade later, you Yanks and the French under de Grasse proved a major headache to our ships, and even in the Indian Ocean the French more than matched us in the 1780s.  So whilst the 7 Years War made us the major seafaring power and essentially made the British Empire as a global imperium, it was Nelson who confirmed our navy as indisputably the most powerful vis-à-vis the French and Spaniards.  Wellington was a pivotal figure in his own right as well, as the Iron Duke together with the great Prussian Gebhard von Blücher finally defeated Napoleon for good, and Wellington proved fundamental in restructuring our armed forces overall. 

- I realise Churchill is a difficult figure to peg, for his recency if nothing else—it is still a bit difficult to know how his work will play out in the next century.  The more recent historical treatises have indeed not been too flattering to him, which in fact is hardly unusual.  In the early 20th century after all, British PM’s like Palmerston and Disraeli were placed very highly on such influence-ranking lists by British schoolboys, whilst today, they naturally do not hold the same prestige.  Still, speaking as objectively as a patriotic Briton can be on this topic—I still believe that Churchill will continue to command respect in the century to come, even if some of his shine continues to wear off, and I would suggest that both your #37 global ranking and the #50-70 or so that others have suggested basically flank where we would rank him, perhaps around global #50-55 or so would be most proper, and around #6-7 on the Britain-only list.  I agree with your contributors’ points that durable, constructive institutions and innovations are the benchmark measure of a historical figure, and this is the standard we used for the aggregate rankings.  Churchill will fare well on this point. 

If anything, I suspect that Churchill’s influence is overestimated for WWI and WWII, but underestimated as a figure in combating Communism and introducing postwar institutions, which is where most of his innovations derive from.  Churchill’s WWI contribution was indeed largely a failure at Gallipoli, and WWII was perhaps mixed particularly when Singapore is accounted for, as Churchill himself was stout-hearted enough to admit—and it is true, it was mainly under Churchill and Attlee’s watch that our empire was destroyed.  However, the British Empire had begun to crumble in the decade after WWI, a foolish war we never should have been lured into, which visited a ghastly wound on our finances, power, and soldiery—and even before that, as Dominion Status was initiated well before 1914, so the Empire’s dismantling cannot and should not be laid entirely at Churchill and Attlee’s feet. 

By any estimation, however, Churchill was among the few figures who early on realised the grave threat of both fascism and Communism, and even as too many others were enamoured with the USSR’s system, Churchill realised the Soviet threat far earlier than even his closest allies, with his aim to “strangle it in its cradle.”  We often forget today that before, during, and after WWII, the USSR had repressed information on Stalin’s atrocities and he had many admirers.  Churchill knew better, and he was the critical figure in mobilising the free world to confront both of these menaces.  He was then central at introducing the postwar economic and political institutions that helped stabilise the world, whilst framing the strategic posture of the free world as embodied in the Iron Curtain speech—at your Westminster College, no less. 

-  Your other contributors have addressed this and I will add my assent: Even I as a Briton—and my fellow Britons no doubt, who take this topic seriously—will concur with your placing George Washington in the Top 5 globally, even if so much of his great influence occurred at our expense.  As a contrast and as has been cogently discussed here, not a single European monarch of the post-Roman Imperial period, when Europe had fractured into rival states, would outrank the major ancient figures—the main Roman Emperors, the founding figures in China, India, and the Arab world—in terms of influence.  This is so, if merely because the ancients set in place the shared international foundations and institutions that the post-Roman countries and their overseas empires all had in common, even as their administrations and their cultures differed markedly with each other. 

Thus it is that Augustus, Saul of Tarsus (if you consider him an administrative as well as religious leader), Constantine the Great, Mohammed and the major Islamic Empire-builders (which I admit to knowing very little about), Alexander the Great, Confucius, Genghis Khan, and the founding figure of the Chinese empire—my apologies as I also know next to nothing about this for China or for India—always outrank the many European and other monarchs after the Fall of Rome split Europe into rival kingdoms, with their own rival overseas possessions in the Americas and elsewhere after Portuguese and Spanish empire-building began in the late 15th century.  I suppose others have made this point before me, but one thing that I, as well as a person from Brazil, France, Paraguay, Canada, Austria, Russia, Japan, Egypt, Germany, Finland, Korea, or the Netherlands could all agree on, is that Emperor Augustus, Mohammed, the founder figure in ancient China, Saul, and Constantine are immensely influential for all of us whatever our country in the 21st century, even though we would all differ on post-476 A.D. monarchs in France, Spain, England, Sweden, the German regions or anywhere else, who may have had national importance (both for their own countries and overseas settler realms) but little in the way of cross-national and cross-cultural importance. 

This also applies to even most leaders in the post-monarchical period of the West, with just one exception—your own George Washington, who does stand with the great ancients as a world foundational figure.  It is interesting to note that Washington had to not only distinguish himself as a leader, but to earn his leadership position in the first place.  It does seem that this meritocratic vetting has, throughout history, in general produced stronger and far more influential leaders than the monarchical system, in which family connections and associated incompetence seem to have hobbled even the better monarchs overall.  The monarchs inherit their power rather than earning it, so they do not necessarily have to demonstrate true skill and merit.  Which I suppose is one reason why even in Britain our rulers have been ceremonial for centuries, with the real power elsewhere...  But it is intriguing that so many of the top leaders in history were self-made, and had to earn authority in a new system that they themselves had to fashion, before they could exercise it: Mohammed, Saul, Washington, Constantine, Genghis, Augustus, all of them had to shape their own power centers or at the very least prove their worth in the midst of a power vacuum, which may be one reason for their subsequent innovativeness and importance.

As for George Washington, even before your little rebellion—er, American Revolution (we’ve gotten over it by now—mostly, I suppose)—Washington was a main early figure in the 7 Years War that decided control of the eastern coast of North America, India, the South Pacific and even the heart of Europe.  The first military engagement of this first true world war in 1754 was Washington’s expedition against the French near Fort Duquesne, and in fact Frederick the Great of Prussia, who was allied with us, launched his challenge against Austria in Saxony only when he learned of Washington’s exploits in North America.  So even before his subsequent genius as a soldier and statesman, young Washington was pivotal for us and for the map of Europe as a whole: The 7 Years War decided the administration of the Eastern Seaboard in North America and launched British power projection in South Asia and the South Pacific, as well as the state arrangement in Central and Eastern Europe with the Anglo-Prussian alliance that defeated the Austro-Franco-Russian alliance.  Washington then, of course, defeated us against nearly impossible odds—it still boggles the mind that we lost the colonies as we did.  (Ah, so perhaps we have not fully gotten over it.) 
But fortunately for the world, Washington turned out to be a temperate, enlightened leader.  His renunciation of power as President was the defining example in modern history of a leader embracing checks and balances in deed as well as in word, and of course he was the leader of your Constitutional efforts at your Convention, and this is the founding example for Constitutionalists across the world.  So Washington is a rare modern, yet truly international figure in what he innovated and introduced to the world, which puts him at the same front rank as the great institution-builders of antiquity.  Though woe still betides us when we reflect on what we lost in our conflict with you, nobody will begrudge you that powerful impact of your founding father.
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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01-Jan-2009 at 00:06

With that, I’ll get to my own expertise, on the Tudor period:

-  Among the Tudor monarchs, Henry VII is generally placed highest in the British rankings, mostly because it was he who initiated the Age of Exploration and settlement for England and in so doing commenced our admittedly slow path to imperial power overall.  The Spaniards and the Portuguese had begun Europe’s maritime empires by 1492 and 1493, but fortunately for us, Henry VII was a far-sighted king who knew how important it was to chart the waters of the North Atlantic, and he followed just a few years later with the Caboto voyages backed by his own prestige and royal charter.  Henry is more responsible than any other figure for getting our first foothold in North America, and fortifying it economically with the fishing trade. 

Remember that shortly after he had first founded the Tudor Dynasty itself, Henry VII was ruling a bitterly divided nation, but he proved to be magnanimous and efficient.  His mercantile marine efforts and work on promoting the trade with the North Sea enterprises, were what made England financially sound in the first place for the entire 16th century.  Henry VIII is important also of course.  His breaking away from Rome was of major historical import, and it was Henry VIII above all who first assembled what would become the Royal Navy.  But Henry VIII was not as foundational a figure as his father was in settlement and the mercantile trade companies, and unlike his father, Henry VIII was less capable at managing the crown's finances-- all of which were the pillars of the British Empire itself.  For further background if you like, John Guy is our chief Tudor historian who can help to shed more light on this period.

-  Now, I am obliged to address the final Tudor monarch in some depth as I see others have done this already.  On the basis of the historical figures you have placed in the 100-200 and 200-300 rankings, even ranking Queen Elizabeth I at #90 as some of your contributors (I am presuming American) have advised, would be extremely generous—in the most thorough analysis, she would most properly be ranked in the #125-150 range among world history figures, and perhaps at #11 or 12 among British and English figures, which is where the aggregate of these sorts of rankings generally places her.  Placing her higher than this would be one of those glaring oversights that would undermine the viability of your entire rankings, particularly in the eyes of always skeptical Britons—which would be a pity because, as I will happily reaffirm here, your lists in general are exceptionally well-researched and rendered, with this one severe exception.   

As appealing a figure as Elizabeth I still is on several levels, she committed ruinous missteps late in her reign in particular that hobbled England as a power for over a century to come, and as a matter of the reign’s success and influence, her ultimate record is at best mediocre.  Sadly, England at the end of Elizabeth’s reign was militarily weak, economically devastated, and broken as a naval power for the next 150 years, and we’d critically lost the sea-power and settlement initiative to Spain, which not only fortified Spain’s position as mistress of the seas but solidified her hold on the Americas, to the exclusion of the English and others. 
Your other contributors have supplied details, but I’m still not sure the significance of the late Elizabethan naval and economic decline has been fully conveyed.  As one of my own study mates observed during our A-levels, studying Elizabeth’s reign vis-à-vis the Spaniards is a bitter exercise in asking what might have been.  Note that we need not even consider Elizabeth's loss of Calais early in her reign, which deprived us of a Continental port also of value for power projection.  We were still well-poised to deliver a crushing blow to the Spaniards from 1589 and replace them as ruler of the seas, while becoming one of the major if not the major power in the Americas.  But things went so horribly wrong for us from 1589 onward that Spain not only regained the initiative, but foreclosed our settlement attempts, pushed our navy to a ruinous state, and dragged our finances to a crippling lack of solvency.  (You Yanks see the results of this every day I suppose, as the very existence of Latin America and Latinos in such span and numbers, even well into North America, is a consequence of the collapse of the Elizabethan navy and military effort in the 1590s.)  Elizabeth’s policy failures in 3 very much core areas—naval defeats and loss of sea power against Spain, the bloody quagmire in Ireland, and England’s crippling debt by 1603 as a result of the wars—undermined us as a great power for more than a century. 
To be a bit more specific: A common A-level topic for those of us who specialise on the Tudors, and one that often finds its way into the examiners’ docket, is why England was so slow as a colonising nation in contrast to the Iberians.  The Portuguese and Spaniards swiftly established ruling structures in the Americas and Asia shortly on the heels of the Columbus, Cabral, and Da Gama voyages.  Henry VII in England sent Caboto to North America merely a few years after Columbus, and Caboto placed the English standard on Newfoundland soil.  However, although Spain and Portugal were well-established as imperial powers by the late 16th century, England remained weak and unable to project power for the most part until well into the 18th century. 
As you have duly taken note of, James I began our colonisation at Jamestown in 1607, and then we moved very, very slowly in North America.  Our imperial power waxed during the wars against Louis XIV in the early 18th century, but only in the 7 Years War in the 1750s and 1760s did we become a top maritime power, capable of the global power projection that made the British Empire what it was.  So Spain and Portugal were centuries ahead of us as colonisers and Empire-builders, and a depressingly large part of this is that England was decisively defeated by Spain at sea in the England-Spanish War of the late 16th century, during Elizabeth’s reign.  In fact, England’s disasters at Coruna, the Tagus, and the Azores in 1589, and then at Puerto Rico and Porto Belo in 1595 and 1596—which others have made reference to—were not only severe reversals: they were in fact, the two worst naval defeats that the English navy has ever suffered, and they were compounded by many other naval defeats and an unpunished Spanish raid on western England, as your contributors have taken note of.
We never recovered from those losses against Spain, which cost England dearly in ships, soldiers, and financial wherewithal.   Elizabeth was compelled to abandon any plans of colonising for the duration of the century—which had chiefly been the aim of Sir Walter Raleigh, following in Caboto’s footsteps.  There were many reasons for this failure, but Elizabeth showed a frustrating vacillation at authorising and fully supporting decisive actions by Drake and other expeditioneers, and this was at the heart of the 1589 and 1595 disasters—as even her own Privy Council readily acknowledged.  There were financial issues as in any conflict, but the tepid approach to the operations gave us the worst of both worlds, with strategic disasters becoming extremely expensive in their failure. 
Spain not only seized effective control of the Atlantic routes for most of the 17th century after defeating the Elizabethan navies, but the Spaniards also swept across the Americas, blocking English access to settlement and to Spanish shipping, reinforcing Spanish economic and administrative control over the Americas and spreading it northwards into the North American mainland.  By 1603, the last year of Elizabeth’s reign, England was so weak navally and militarily, and economically exhausted, that James I could only start us on the colonising path in 1607 essentially on Spain’s terms, by the 1604 treaty.  That is why we moved so slowly as a coloniser—Spain had decisively established herself as the chief maritime power by defeating England in the late 17th century, and we were so badly weakened that we needed more than a century to gain the initiative back. 
These woes were compounded by the miserable war that Elizabeth had been carrying out against Ireland for decades even before the Desmond rebellion, and which enflamed itself by 1594—miserable because it was precisely the kind of frustrating, drawn-out conflict that financially devastates a larger power such as England.  Elizabeth’s policies toward the Irish were unwise to say the least, harshly punitive to the clans, religiously intolerant, and restrictive in the countryside, and they merely succeeding in provoking the Gaelic chieftains to join forces, which was rare given the clan-based society of the time.  She was never able to take down let alone capture the Earl of Tyrone, who survived into James I’s reign, and Elizabeth then authorised a policy to burn down the Irish croplands as a way to break the Irish resistance. 
This policy was a ruinous failure and backfired, as it only further unified the Irish clans and made provisioning of the English garrison in Ireland even more difficult and expensive.  So the Irish War dragged on and pushed England into more than £3 million debt when Elizabeth’s reign had concluded, a staggering total for the time, with more millions of pounds in obligations as ship money was disseminated and crown territory was sold off.  So England lacked the sea power by the late Elizabethan period to settle or project power and we were too deeply mired in debt especially from the Irish War, which exacerbated the Crown-Parliament conflicts later—and so, whilst Spain and Portugal continued their march and knitted together what we today call Latin America, even into North America itself, we English were sidelined. 
It was indeed with William Pitt the Elder’s reforms more than a century later, that England finally became the maritime power and empire-builder, with control over the shipping routes, that Spain had been after her naval fortifications and defeats of the Elizabethan navy in the late 1500s.  The Anglo-Prussian alliance was initially losing badly to the French, Russian, Swedish, and Austrian-led alliance in the 7 Years War in the 1750s, both in North America and the Continent of Europe.  But Pitt streamlined our forces with great efficiency, and it was his crushing victory that made Canada and the East Coast of what would become your USA, into a British rather than a French colony.  Whilst of course, also paving the way for a British administration of the lands in the South Pacific, and in India with Clive’s great victories of the French.  So the contributors here are quite right—it was Pitt, above all others, who was the major shaper of the British Empire.  Henry VII took the first small step just before 1500 via Caboto and 250 years later, it was Pitt who finally, and quite rapidly I might add, turned us into the great, world-straddling maritime power that made the British Empire into the chief global force, comparable to what the Portuguese and Spaniards had enjoyed during their own heydays in the late 16th century.
Notice again, that this ascending to great power status for the British with our 7 Years War victory, was close to 160 years after the close of Elizabeth I’s reign in 1603, as it would be another century after the last Tudor before we were able to sufficiently build back up our maritime power and finances to overtake not only Spain but the Dutch and French, who had themselves taken Spain’s place by 1700.  We in England naturally revel in the exploits of the late Elizabethan poets and playwrights in particular, delight in the splendour of her court, and we recognise and appreciate Elizabeth’s firm hand in moulding the delicate religious settlement from Henry VIII’s time. 
But the record is what it is, and for a ruler, the first considerations must always be their leadership decisions in crucial conflicts, their innovations and institutions, and the financial stewardship that allows power projection at all.  And the sad truth is, Elizabeth’s management in the war against Spain went terribly wrong from 1589 onward to the great detriment of the English nation, especially for the next century, compounded by very poor management of the bloody mess in Ireland and a resulting guerrilla war and financial pressure, that collectively sank the English Exchequer and Crown into crippling debt by 1603—all immensely damaging outcomes whose consequences are salient today. 
Thus here is what would be the aggregate Top 15 British list for us, our most influential and successful leaders.  Again, we do not include William the Conqueror on this list at all for reasons noted before—he was a major figure for Britain, but he was not a Briton or an Englishman himself.  The same would go for Canute, though he would be far lower on the list regardless—and also for Giovanni Caboto, who as an explorer did so much for our nation under the charters of Henry VII, but who was Italian, not English by any measure.

1.      Alfred the Great

2.      William Pitt the Elder

3.      King Henry VII

4.      Oliver Cromwell

5.      Robert Clive

6.      Winston Churchill

7.      King Henry V

8.      King Henry VIII

9.      Horatio, Lord Nelson

10.   Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington

11.   Queen Elizabeth I

12.   King Henry II

13.   King Edward I

14.   Sir Francis Drake

15.   Margaret Thatcher

By the by, I’m from Reading in the south of England, so if any of you Yanks are in town, be sure to stop by into one of the pubs when you're free.  Most of the places are reasonably Yank-friendly-- my personal favourite is the Sahara on Gun Street, at least when I'm not overseas somewhere on business.  Life isn’t quite as harried for us Limeys as it seems it’s become Stateside for you, at least if my own job schedule during US stretches is any indication, so you’ll find us in the pubs by 6 in the evening if not earlier.  If you're so inclined, be sure and wear something distinctly American, perhaps with an emblem hinting at an interest in history, and if I’m there, I’ll look out for you and strike up a conversation.  And the pint’s on me.  A Happy New Year to all of you.
Cheers, Bailey

Edited by Cantabrigian33 - 07-Jan-2009 at 21:26
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Bernard Woolley View Drop Down

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  Quote Bernard Woolley Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Jan-2009 at 02:21

Originally posted by Sintergeorge

So in summary, this is where Alexander's tremendous legacy for the modern world lies. He was not much of an administrator himself-- he's not an Augustus or a Qin Shi Huangdi, and he didn't add much over and above what the Persians had already established in terms of administration. What he did do, was to 1. firmly establish that East-West conduit that shaped both East and West (the Hellenistic world) and 2. be so central in establishing ancient intellectual centers-- which we sometimes take for granted in our own technological world today but which, in Alexander's ancient time, were not the sort of thing that rulers necessarily did as a standard procedure.


The Judeo-Christian cultural impact of today depended crucially on the successor states to Alexander's conquests, and that Near Eastern-Hellenic hybrid that grew up in the Levant at the time (and which, again, was in no way inevitable). The Babylonian ideas and the way Alexander so firmly ensconced much of their intellectual heritage as far as India (their mathematical and timekeeping systems for example), plus so much of what we consider "classical architecture" throughout the Mediterranean-- Alexander's victories had a world-changing impact on that. His successors may have been responsible for actually setting up the administration, but it was Alexander who actually established that East-West conduit in the first place.

That East-West conduit already existed, Alexander just took it over. Not only did the Persian empire already incorporate the same territories as Alexander's, minus Greece, but the Greeks themselves were already making significant inroads into that empire as traders and soldiers before Alexander's conquest. Greek influence in the Levant and Egypt appears to have been significant well before Alexander. It's probably fair to say that international exchanges sped up after Alexander, in the same way that they sped up after Genghis Khan, but these were quantitative changes, not qualitative ones.


Originally posted by Sintergeorge

And while Alexander's empire didn't stay united as a single unit, it *did* remain under the Hellenic cultural sway for centuries, evolving into the Eastern Roman Empire and ultimately the Byzantine Empire. Without Alexander doing that, what became Christianity-- such a fundamental identifying characteristic of the West-- just would have stayed, most likely, as nothing more than a curious and somewhat isolated Eastern cult (perhaps within a still-hegemonic Persian state, or something replacing it in the region).

Again, that's a tenuous link at best. There are a thousand 'what-ifs' that could have prevented or ended Christianity, not least of which was the rise of Rome - which developed in a region that was never part of Alexander's empire and swept away all of the Macedonian successor states. It was Rome, after all, which gave rise to the Byzantine Empire (not one of the successors) and Byzantium's borders didn't match those of any successor state.

I can't help but make another comparison to your opinion on Genghis Khan, which I'm sorry to say I still find hypocritical:

Originally posted by Sintergeorge

It's notable in fact, when comparing Qin Shi Huangdi and Genghis, that ultimately Genghis Khan's Mongol Empire not only collapsed a century after it had been initiated-- Mongol power was essentially pushed back to a small region in the nomadic steppes (corresponding more or less to Mongolia today), and the Mongol conquerors were overthrown and ultimately absorbed into the Chinese state that Qin Shi Huangdi had initiated, rather than the other way around. Whereas Qin Shi Huangdi's institutions in China were ultimately so durable (both administratively and culturally), Genghis left much less behind in terms of durable institutions. Genghis still ranks highly simply because he was more or less the engine for so many Eurasian developments later (transmitting much Chinese technology to the West, the safe roads that Marco Polo traveled on to Cathay, the Golden Horde and Il-Khanates, the Mughals themselves), but Qin Shi Huangdi-- who after all, for his time, was also an extraordinary conqueror in his own right-- innovated far more in the way of effective administrative structures and durable institutions.

The Mongol successor states lasted just as long as the Macedonian ones, and the history of China, India, Iran, Russia, and everywhere in between is unthinkable without them. If we're evaluating the subsequent effects on history of a leader's coquests, it's probably worth mentioning that there were two Chinas when Genghis Khan conquered them. It is, of course, possible that they would have been brought back together without him, but it's equally possible thay they would have grown further and further apart over time - in which case Qin Shi Huang Di's legacy today would be that much smaller. It would also be difficult to imagine what Iran, the Middle East and surrounding regions would look like had the Abbasid Caliph not been overthrown - a Muslim regime would have been far less likely to overthrow the institution completely, thereby leaving the way open for competing claims to the caliphate. Indeed, without the string of events leading to the founding of the Safavid Dynasty, would there be an Iran at all? It's also practically impossible to imagine what Russian history would be without the Golden Horde, or what Indian history would look like without the Mughals.

As for founding cities and spreading knowledge, Genghis encouraged both. If anything, the traffic of ideas that came about as a result of the Mongol conquests was far beyond what happened after Alexander.

I could go on, but I just wanted to make the point that the further you go in evaluating the knock-on effects of a leader's actions on later generations, the closer you get to being able to make just about any argument you want.

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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27-Jan-2009 at 23:00
Read more on William the Silent of The Netherlands here:
I think he belongs in the top 10.
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  Quote DSMyers1 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Jan-2009 at 00:04
Excellent work, Cantabrigian33!  Thanks!
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Alia Atreides

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  Quote Penelope Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31-Jan-2009 at 09:51
Kangxi Emperor, his reign of 61 years makes him the longest reigning Emperor of China in history.
The direct use of force is such a poor solution to any problem, it is generally employed only by small children and large nations.
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