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Who was the better general?

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    Posted: 10-Aug-2005 at 19:31
Who was the better general Belisarius or Narses the eunuch?
Belisarius restored North Africa to the empire and secured Sicily but was unsuccesful in the rest of Italy against the Ostrogoths.  When Justinian, out of jealousy, tried to check Belisaurius' growing prestige by recalling him from the west and obliging him to retire, he oppointed Narses the Armenian eunuch in his stead who was succesful in securing Italy and driving the combined forces of Ostrogoths, Franks and Alamanni across the Alps.

So which general do you think deserves more credit in bringing the western territories back into the Imperial fold? Take into consideration the circumstances surrounding Belisarius' reassignment and Narses's age (he was nearly 74 at the time).


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  Quote pikeshot1600 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10-Aug-2005 at 20:44
I think Byzantium was lucky enough to have them both! 
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  Quote Belisarius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10-Aug-2005 at 21:42
Well obviously I am going to say Belisarius, but I will actually give some reasons.

Belisarius was able to do so much with so few men, and even less imperial support. He retook North Africa with minimum ease and retook Italy with a ridiculously small expeditionary force. Theodora did her best to make sure Belisarius was given as little supplies as possible. On the other hand, Narses had full support of the Byzantine court. The reason why he could not completely subjugate Italy was because he simply did not have enough men. His genius can be seen in Rome, where he fended off 50,000 Goths with only 5,000 soldiers, the only time in its history that Rome has ever withstood a siege.

Another reason why he deserves more renown is his character. The way Theodora demonized him and influenced Justinian to be jealous of him was completely unwarranted. Belisarius was perhaps the most loyal of Justinian's followers. The way he was disrespected and humiliated, any other man would have refused to return to Constantinople. However, he did so without question time and again. He turned down a chance to be king of the Goths because of his loyalty to his emperor.

Given that Narses was also an excellent general, Belisarius was simply better.
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  Quote Heraclius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10-Aug-2005 at 23:13

 I agree with Belisarius' comments.

 Belisarius could well have lost the battles in North Africa against the Vandals, it wasnt a pushover. The troops Belisarius had were of more than quiestionable loyalty as likely to fight the Romans as the Vandals or Ostrogoths, infact Belisarius' Hunnic contingent only decided its loyalty when the battle was going the Romans way. They could easily of annihilated the Roman army ending the expedition there and then.

 Belisarius was starved of money, men and supplies to the point were it seemed the only thing stopping the expedition turning into a complete catastrophe was Belisarius himself.

 Narses was a high quality general undoubtedly, quite a remarkable man especially considering his advanced years well into his 70's when he was on campaign even into his 80's I believe. 

 However like the above Belisarius says he had the support of the Byzantine court and was given some 35,000 men by Justinian. Belisarius was given only 15,000 in the expedition to North Africa where victory was far from certain.

 Belisarius achieved what he did with few men and little support he was similar to Aetius, in that in poor circumstances he managed to achieve what looked the impossible and is easily Aetius equal which is no small feat.

 What I admire most about Belisarius is his loyalty, most men would not have tolerated a master like Justinian, lets not forget Belisarius was offered the title of "emperor of the west" by the goths and refused. He lived and fought for the empire and seldom did anything that benefited himself over the empire. He deserved better than Justinian really had the empire had Belisarius 100 years earlier maybe there'd of been no need for a reconquest.

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  Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11-Aug-2005 at 02:11
Basically Belisarius and Narses were two different types of generals, though both remarkably capable men. Belisarius was imaginative, brilliant, inspirational, brave. Narses conducted his battles (Taginae comes to my mind most prominently) with the precision and accuracy of a mathematician.

I think that was partly because Belisarius was underesourced whereas Narses was provided for quite reasonably. But basically rather than calling on better than the other I would say they were both men well outfitted for the situations they encountered. They both had their weaknesses, Narses was a feeble old eunach and Belisarius was cuckolded and often lacked the ability to draw the unquestioning obedience of his men (see the free-lancing of John the Bloody).
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  Quote Belisarius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11-Aug-2005 at 13:59
There was another skilled general in Justinian's employ named Mundus. He fought alongside Belisarius in the Nika Riots and in Persia. He was supposedly of great ability as well, but was killed in battle as he made his way to Italy through Illyria.
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  Quote Heraclius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11-Aug-2005 at 14:30

 How would you guys rate Belisarius against the likes of Scipio, Caeser, Aetius, Heraclius, The 3 good comnemi etc etc?

 With as little bias as possible *Belisarius*  

 

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  Quote Belisarius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11-Aug-2005 at 14:45
Well I shall try.

I tend to see Heraclius and Aetius as more 'by the book' generals, and while good, they can only go so far.

A lot of Scipio's success can be attributed to the fact that his soldiers were of much better quality and he fought against a singular opponent that he spent years studying.

Ceasar was more of a reactionary general. He would see what an opponent did and acted accordingly.

Belisarius was also a reactionary general like Ceasar, with perhaps a dash more of daring. He was known to charge against superior numbers, superior quality, or both. Dara and Rome are two examples of where he did this. To me, Belisarius is a mix of Ceasar and Alexander. He has Ceasar's imagination, and Alexander's daring.

I can not say much about the Comneni as I do not know much about their generalship and the fact that they suffered major defeats against equal or lesser forces.


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  Quote Heraclius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11-Aug-2005 at 15:11

 I brought up the Comnemi because even though defeats were suffered Myriokephalon (sp?) being the big one, they lived at a time when the empire was in major decline so there achievements in preserving it and expanding it as they did are brilliant. 3 brilliant soldier emperors similar to Trajan for example, except of course Trajan lived in a much more forgiving and prosperous age.

 Belisarius is up with the greats but its odd thats he's one of the least well known generally.

 I should mention one general who is evern more forgotten than Belisarius these days, Pompey the great, people remember his defeat by Caeser but before that he was staggeringly good and for that part of his life deservant of mention IMO.

 Caesers achievements are well known and well documented so no need for me to sum him up.

 Aetius, I like Aetius again because like the Comnemi he lived at a time when the empire was in massive decline bordering on imminent collapse, yet for over 2 decades he basically held the western empire together such as it was. Im sure some would dispute his settling of barbarians within the empires frontiers as "holding it together" but I dont see what else he could do in the circumstances. 

 Like Belisarius he would probably have been a better emperor than the ones they had to luck to be subordinate to, although Aetius was effectively the western emperor in all but name considering the inaction of the *true* emperor.

 Scipio, revived a Spanish campaign that looked dead and buried after his father and uncle were defeated and killed and the expedition close to collapse. The only general at the time id of trusted legions to considering the poor quality of the consuls, without his brilliance and understanding of suprise he'd never of destroyed the Carthaginian hold on Spain. Some of the tricks and deceptions he used to take an unexpected victory were stunning. He practically single handedly revolutionised the roman army in terms of cavalry and altering deployments and breaking with the norm.

 His final confrontation with Hannibal was an anti climax since Scipios army was better and on land of his choosing, its funny Zama it resulted in a brutal slogging match with zero subtlety both great generals cancelling each other out.

 Im sure people will have alot to say about the greatest roman/byzantine general.

 

 



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  Quote Belisarius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11-Aug-2005 at 15:28
Actually the Comneni, at least the first three, ruled over a Byzantium that was on an upward climb. They had retaken much of Anatolia and had stablized the situation in the Balkans. Byzantium's reputation as a major power was restored under them.

Belisarius' lack of recognition has everything to do with the fact that no one really cares about Byzantine history, except us of course.
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  Quote Heraclius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11-Aug-2005 at 17:04

 The Comnemi arrived at a time when Asia Minor was practically lost, infact I think just before the 1st Crusade all of Asia minor was lost, except perhaps the odd outpost. The Comnemis ability in the field and the stability they introduced brought about the revival. 3 emperors ruling 99 years between them instilled a stability the empire hadnt known for a century since Basil II.

 All 3 were excellent generals and did recover much territory but when they came to power originally the empire was in a very sorry state. Very similar to Claudius II Gothicus and Aurelian along with other soldier emperors, they dragged the empire out of the crisis of the 3rd century and basically saved it from annihilation.



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  Quote Raider Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12-Aug-2005 at 03:12

I think the Comneni were more politians than generals. The reorganization they did is much worthful than their military activities.

Though for example Manuel Comnenus was a brave fighter. There is a case when he was nearly killed because of his baldness. He was able to do good battle plans (see: battle of Zimony), but he listened to astrology in his military strategy.

 

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  Quote Heraclius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12-Aug-2005 at 09:36

 Manuels problem was he tried to do everything at once and was very impatient in the designs of his plans. He could muster an army of 100,000 men but didnt use them properly, had he directed them against the Turks earlier whilst they were still divided then Anatolia will have been recovered. Instead he ahad a treay with the Turks during which time one group gained ascendancy over all others and created a strong more unified turkish state.

 Manuel spent to much time embroiled in western politics and endless schemes with the holy roman empire for the conquet of southern italy and sicily. Which was not a priority, his defeat at Myriokephalon was mostly due to the fact he allowed himself to be convinced by his generals that he should attack, similar to Manzikert a battle that could of and should of been avoided.

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  Quote Raider Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-Aug-2005 at 03:03

 

I think He was a gambler, who took the risk that he could lose everything or win everything. And he lost, altough he had some minor success.



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  Quote Belisarius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18-Aug-2005 at 21:23
He was not a gambler. If he was, he would have tried again. The forces assembled at Myriokephalon was not exactly 'everything'. The resources that the Byzantines had at the time could have easily let them regroup the next year with a larger army, and perhaps be better prepared.

It really seems strange to me why the Byzantines chose to suppport Rum against the other Turks rather than just conquer them, especially during times of weakness.
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  Quote Heraclius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18-Aug-2005 at 22:52

 Yes that was Manuels failure, he had the chance to smash the Turks there and then, but seem to have decided it could wait. By the time he got back to the Turkish problem, the turks of eastern Anatolia had been unified, Myriokephalon was a mess like Manzikert, it should not have happened, and need not of happened. Almost identically to Manzikert the sultan offered peace pre-battle but Manuel was persuaded to not accept and the battle was joined.

 Unfortunately for Byzantium there was no Alexius to pick up the pieces from Myriokephalon like there had been at Manzikert and 30 years later the greatest catastrophe occurred and the empire effectively doomed.

 To quote Norwich and at the risk of seeming like im overly reliant on him but he just has so many quotable parts of his book its incredible he sums Manuel up brilliantly I think, bettered only by his one of Justinian and Basil II.

"It is impossible not to feel sorry for him. Of the five Comnenus EMperors, he was the most brilliant and imaginative; and these very qualities were perhaps his undoing. His father and grandfather had worked slowly and patiently to restore the dameg done by Manzikert. His own quicksilver mind saw possibilities everywhere; and once seen they were immediatiely pursued."

 "Had he concentrated on the situation in the East, he might have re-established Byzantine power throughout Anatolia. But he remained fascinated by the West, and allowed his attention to be taken up in turn by Italy and Hungary, Serbia and Venice, the Western Emperor and the Pope. He gained many victories, but he consolidated none of them; he left the empire in a worse state than he found it"

 

 

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  Quote Ahmed The Fighter Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Aug-2005 at 02:39

Belisarius was a great genral he gained his victorious over outnumbered enemies but for Belisarius it was not problem the reconquest of Italy and northafrica was a great achievments in that time in the empire.

Narses was a good general too but i think his age stopped him finally he could do more if he was younger but his achievment with more troops and resources.

Atius stopped Attila in the worst time for the empire he did an impossible thing no one in that time could do it.

Pompay the great capable general but his defeated against Caesar made him unknown but his victorious in the east was too great.

Caesar no need to talk about Caesar my favorite general.I think he is the greatest military leader in the whole history not Alexander the great

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