Top 12 Greatest Ancient Military Commanders

“The warrior doesn’t win the war by virtue along.” Ancient military commander leads thousands of their men in the vicious battle and triumphed over their enemy. Their flourishes speech prior to the battle, inspired thousands of their men in the battlefield, which is still invoked by various historians. Ancient Warfare were completely different than modern warfare. Numbers of armies and their strength were the primary factor considered to win the war. Some of the ancient military commander confutes it by showing the inconceivable strategy and tactics in the battlefield that are still adored and appraise by many historians. Here is a list of top 12 Ancient military commanders that are still remembered till today.

12. Tiglath-Pileser III (unknown -727 BC, Assyria)

Tiglath-Pileser III

Tiglath-Pileser III was the founder of a modern military force and the pioneer of the political system in Assyria Empire. During his reign, he expanded the kingdom that dominated in the Middle East for a century. In the first year of his reign, he defeated one of the powerful kingdom of Uartu, ruled by the Sarduri II. Sarduri II had expanded his kingdom in Asia Minor, northern Mesopotamia, western Iran, and Syria. It was one of the significant victory of Tiglath-Pileser III.

11. Chandragupta Maurya (340 BC – 298 BC, India)

Chandragupta Maurya

Chandragupta was the founder of the Mauray Empire and the ruler from Kshatriya Varna. He reunited the India into the single sub-continent. Chandragupta is usually considered as the first historical emperor of India. Before Chandragupta, India is divided into small private kingdoms. He conquered all the small kingdom and create a central government that established the unified central kingdom.

10. Leonidas (540 – 480 BC, Greece)

leonidas military commander

Leonidas was the military king of the Sparta. Leonidas, the third son of Anaxandrius II of Sparta, is mostly applaud for the extraordinary performance on the Thermopylae Battle. Leonidas fought against Xerxes and his army with his small, yet strong force. The 300 Spartan men fought the battle till their last breathe.

The Parisian army was outnumbered. Even though, the army was claimed to be millions, many historians’ questions about it, and the real figure was estimated between 100,000 to 150,000.

The smallest assembled forces of 300 Spartiates fought the war for seven days (3 day official war) holding the Persians armies of thousands. In the fifth and sixth days of battle, Leonidas and his army killed roughly 20,000 Persians’ army. On the seven days of battle, Leonidas sent all of his Greek troops and stayed in the pass with his 300 Spartans, 900 helots, and 700 Thespians. Leonidas and his armies had the glorious death that are still embraced by several legends.

9. Hammurabi (1810 -1750 BC, Babylon)

Hammurabi king of Babylon

Hammurabi was the first king of Babylon from the Amorite Dynasty. He abdicated the power from his father, Sin-Muballit in 1792 BC. Hammurabi is popularly known for the Hammurabi’s Code – one of the first written set of law. He is now widely praised by many historians as the ancient-law giver.

When the Elamites (present day Iraq) invaded the central plains of Mesopotamia from the east, Hammurabi allied with Larsa, and defeated them. After the defeat, he broke the alliance and invaded the cities of Lsin and Uruk, occupied by Larsa, forming the alliances with Nippur and Lagash. He then conquered Nippur, Lagas, and Larsa. His brilliant strategy was blocking the water source to the city until the city surrendered.

Apart from the brilliant fighting strategy, Hammurabi was widely popular among his people. He built many buildings, canal, and introduced the law system that was rare in his time. He tried to improve the life of the people throughout his reign.

8. Ramses II (1303 – 1213 BC, Egypt)

Ramesses II was the greatest and most celebrated Pharaoh of the Ancient Egypt. Although Ramesses primarily focused on the development of the empire by building cities, temples, and monuments, he was atrociously known for his bravery and strategy in the battlefield.

Ramesses commence several campaigns to secure the Egypt’s border. During his reign, the total army of 100,000 men held back the territories held by the Nubian and Hittite.

Battle of Kadesh was the earliest battle (1247 BC), where the strategy, army formation, and use of different tactics were first discovered. Despite of the technical error in the battle, he is widely known for his strategy and the size of the army in his reign.

7. Khalid Bin Walid (592–642 AD), Arabia

Khalid is a companion of the Prophet Muhammad who remained undefeatable in more than hundred battles. During his military leadership, Arabia united under a single political entity for the first time in the history. He was among the only three military generals who remains undefeatable in the battle. Khalid was also among the military commander other than Hannibal, who had successfully executed the pincer movement against a numerous superior opponent..

Khalid played a major role in the battle of Uhud, He played a vital role in commanding Medinan force after the death of Muhammad’s (pbuh) in the battle of Ridda wars. He conquered central Arabia and subduing Arab tribes. His fabulous tactics, lies in annihilating enemy troops rather than defeating them. He was an architect of the most of the early Muslim military doctrines.

6. Trajan (53 AD – 17 AD, Rome)

Tarjan Roman emperor

Tarjan dedicated his life for different military campaigns. He was mostly known for the conquest of Dacia (modern-day Romania and Moldova), that had troubled Roman throughout the decade. After Dacia, Trajan started a war with the Parthians and defeated them. He conquest Mesopotamia and created a new province.

5. Sun Tzu (544 BC – 496 BC, China)

Sun Tzu ancient military warrior of china

The Chinese military general, war strategist, and the author of “The art of war”, Sun Tzu changed eminently the way war was fought in the ancient time.  His book “The art of war” was followed by many military commander, nations and intellectual. It remained the most important military treatise in Asia for the last 2,000 years. In the 20th century, The Art of War started to influence in Europe and America in various fields like culture, politics, business, sport and also in modern warfare.

4. Julius Caesar (100 – 44 BC, Rome)

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar was the brilliant military general, lawgiver, builder, and politicians.  He was one of the most  famous figures in the ancient history. His influence created a significant impact in the ancient and the modern world. The word “emperor” was derived from his name in different languages – “kaiser” in German and “czar” in Russia. The month July was renamed from his name (Julius), which was previously known as Wuintilis in Rome.

He conquered Gaul (modern day – France, Switzerland, Belgium, and northern Italy). He was also the first Roman emperor that led a military expedition to Britain.

3. Cyrus the Great (600 – 530 BC, Persia)

Cyrus the Great

Cyrus the Great was the leader of the Persians who conquest the Medes and unified the whole Iran under the single ruler for the first time in the history. Cyrus became the first king of the Persian Empire and vision to established one of the largest empire in the world. Cyrus started to expand his territory from the western portion of present day Iran. He conquest the major nomadic tribe who lived in the eastern section of the Iran. He invaded the kingdom of Lydia and Greek and conquered it along with the cast of Antonia, which gave him access to the sea port of the Mediterranean.

He issued the first human right concept in the ancient world. All the inhabitants of the empire were free to practice their own religions and social customs. He made slavery of any kind illegal and prohibited the seizure of any farmer’s land and properties.

2. Hannibal Barca (247 -183 BC, Carthage)

Hannibal Barca

Hannibal was perhaps one of the audacious military commanders with the affluence military tactics and strategy. The young 8 years boy was raised loathe towards Rome by his father, Hamilcar, who fought Rome in the first Punic war. His ingenious military tactics, imperil risk taking behavior, makes him applaud by many historians.

Hannibal was mostly known for his courageous attempt to cross mountain Alps with his 50,000 infantry, 9,000 cavalry, and 37 elephants which was practically thought impossible at that time. The never-ending conflict between Rome and Carthaginians result 2nd Punic war, where Hannibal shows his brilliant military tactics. Despite of all his effort and greatest military strategy, his life mission to conquered Rome came to an end. He committed suicide to avoid falling into the Roman hands.

1. Alexander the Great (356 – 323 BC, Greece)

The military genius and the king of Macedon, Alexander is one of the most respected military commanders of all time. After the assassination of his father, Alexander inherit his power and became the king. The 20-year-old king continued his father’s mission to expand the kingdom. He took 50,000 armies on a 12 years march with a mission to expand his territory He expanded his kingdom Adriatic Sea to the Indus River in India and Danube River to the upper-reaches of the Nile which was thought to be obscure at that time.

See Also,

Top 10 important people of Greece

Final Conclusion:

Undoubtedly, Alexander the Great and Hannibal were the two biggest inspirational military commander of the ancient world. The list is based on the ancient period. Thus other greatest commander like Napoléon Bonaparte, Genghis khan are excluded from the list.

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31 thoughts on “Top 12 Greatest Ancient Military Commanders”

    • @Nicholas Iseman: Genghis Khan did not belong to ancient world – the list mostly runs in BC. If we are going there, we should start with Atilla the Hun.

    • Genghis is not considered as an Ancient Warrior. His timeline is PAST what is classified as an Ancient timeline among Scholars.

      • Hi Persian,

        I have not included Genghis Khas in the article because all the military commanders are from the ancient period.

    • Lol yea right khan had a giant army of like 300,000 troops he had way better technology and he wasn’t even a good military general he was only a good empire builder and economics expert. His generals did most of his commanding for him.
      Alexander had 2 mil square miles to cover in 12 years with an army of 50,000 and by the time he was done he had lost less than half. He is also know as the greatest general to ever live by many historians. If he had lived as long as khan Alexander would have probably been close to conquering most the know world back then. Have u seen his river battle during his invasion of India? That was genius.

    • Sure, how can you say that Genghis Khan was better than Alexander the Great, yet the all the military tactics used by the Mongolian leader around the 1200s was from Alexander the Great, But for me although Khan influences the next generation’s military he can not be better than Napoleon I Bonaparte the Great, because all the military commanders are issued by the Napoleonic wars timeline, instead young General Napoleon I Bonaparte the Great was better than Alexander the Great and even Genghis Khan.

  1. Scipio Africannus of Rome never lost a battle and he soundly thrashed Hannibal at Zama. He should certainly be on the list.

    Khalid Bin Walid never beat anybody who was any good which is why I suspect he is put on the B.C. list even though he lived way past that time.

    Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon somehow always gets overlooked on ancient commander lists. He crushed both the Assyrians AND the Egyptions and conquered some 16 kingdoms including the supposedly impregnable city state of Tyre (long before Alexander did).

    • Scipio Africanus never lost a battle because he never faugh a truly difficult one. He always avoided ones that seemed unfavorable let to him. His only true achievement is defeating Hannibal. And his “thrashing” of Hannibal at zama is more complex than you have probably read. When the Romansun agreed to a ceasefire, their only demand was that Hannibal must vacate Italy immediately. When Hannibal returned to Africa the numidian king deserted the carthaginian cause and sided with rome. So Hannibal went into battle with Scipio lacking any good cavalry force plus his infantry was made up of bruttians, conscripts essantialy from lower Italy that he brought back with him. And witness accounts say that the infantry battle was even and only changed when the numidians attacked Hannibalso flanks and rear. Do some research before making suggestions.

      • Because defeating Hasdrubal wasn’t difficult :\

        I agree, though, the Battle of Zama had a lot of luck and excellent timing by the Cavalry, but that’s not to say that Scipio hadn’t done his research. He studied Hannibal well especially after the traumatizing events at Cannae and it was clear that Hannibal inspired Scipio to think deeper about battles (Ilipa).

      • That Scipio avoided battles he might not win shows him to be a good commander. Was it not Chingis Khan who (perhaps apocryphally) said “Never fight a battle you cannot win”?

  2. Khalid bin Walid was one of the best military commanders of all time. ‘He was written as BC because he did’t fight anyone good’ is an uneducated and futile comment to be writing. Khalid bin Walid fought in over 100 battles with armies of 30,000 plus whilst his own army consisted of 10,000 people. Furthermore the battles were one on one sword fighting and he proved to have excellent horse riding and sword fighting showmanship. He conquered the Byzantines and Romans who were the super powers of the time. And everyone knows that the Romans had an undeniable military strategy.With intense fighting in each war where he broke nine swords in one battle alone and having over 100 of these battles with an average of 30,000 opponents in most of the battles. You would be foolish and the jester of historians to be saying that he didn’t ‘fight anyone good’. He has been a legendary soldier and his legacy is still remembered and known today not only by the 1.6 billion Muslims around the world but also by historians and intellectual professionals, not like yourself.

    • This post is full of errors: 100 battles with average of 30,000 this is simply ridiculous, “he conquered Byzantines and Romans” is a mistake, Byzantines and Romans is the same empire (Eastern Roman). Moreover, he conquered only the middle east part of the byzantine lands and helped a lot by a) the internal religious tensions within the empire and b) the catastrophic situation of the two main powers Byzantium and Persians after a 20 years war.

  3. This list needs to include Epaminondas. He’s the father of the tactics Phillip II introduced to the Macedonians, and later his son. Phillip was tutored by Epaminondas while the Thebans were destroying the Spartan empire. Oh yes, did I mention, Epaminondas destroyed Spartan dominance in Greece, and was about to take the city but died in the battle that was meant to be the Spartans last gasp (Mantinea). Due to Epaminondas’ death the Thebans backed off, but Epaminindas’ revolutionary tactics again carried the day.

  4. Scipio Africannus being left entirely off this list but having the dude that he ultimately defeated at Number 2 is pretty insane to me. Otherwise this list seems cool, I admit some ignorance to overall ancient military history but I do know Scipio should find a spot somewhere on here.

  5. Ramses II was an overrated egomaniac. He was a self-promoter and his reputation is based on his own bragging. He was out-generaled at Kadesh and only got out of being hacked down by the Hittites because they broke discipline and went for the baggage train. He also lucked out that by chance there were some Egyptian “cadets” nearby (not through any forethought on Ramses’ part), who helped get him out of the encirclement on the second day. Like Harold at Hastings, the Hittites had that battle won, but did not win because of a breakdown in discipline. The only difference is that the Hittites at Kadesh at least gained a tactical victory because they held the battle field at the end of day two. After Kadesh, Ramses was more than happy to sign a peace treaty.

  6. Umm Julius Ceaser was not an emperor of Rome he was a dictator in the “ROMAN REPUBLIC” the first emperor is Imperator Augustus also known as Octavian in the “ROMAN EMPIRE”

  7. Hi Lavezzi,

    All the military commanders listed in the article are from Ancient period. Thus other greatest commander like Napoléon Bonaparte, Genghis khan,,Tamburlaine, Attila, II. Mehmed are excluded from the list.

  8. Bud, Alexaxander never lost a battle in his entire 13 years of campaigning. Name another military leader with that record and I will remain silent

    • Didn’t Alexander lost to Burma when he was marching
      east towards south east asia. I believe Alexander lost to Burma and all the elephants.

  9. Didn’t Alexander lost to Burma when he was marching
    east towards south east asia. I believe Alexander lost to Burma and all the elephants.

  10. No matter what the enemies say, Ramesses II will always be one of the best . Literally had an army of 100000, some of the best tactics and ruled from an empire Africa to the Middle East and controlled the Mediterranean. What about Thutmose III who had 350 cities under his rule and 17 military campaigns?

  11. Alexander lost to porus in India and he can never be the greatest general. He was just a good general who defeated Darius an egomaniac who commanded an inefficient army.
    Other than that, Alexander just defeated some tribes.
    As he lost to a small time king in India, he can never be the greatest commander …

    The best ancient military commander was Cyrus the great…a true commander..

    In AD, it has to be
    1) Khalid bin Waleed
    2) Chengis Khan
    3) Subatai (Chengis general )

    Let me explain why I kept Khalid at the top.
    Khalid bin waleed, fought one on one with the best fighter of enemy before the start of every single battle. He killed more than 100 best enemy fighters demoralising the enemy force.
    Neither Alexander, Cyrus, chengix Khan, Napoleon or anyone else did this..

    Also Khalid came from a desert and went on to defeat the Eastern Roman empire and sassinaid Persian empire who were the superpowers of the time with no resources available.

    His total force was max 30,000 out of which cavalry was about 10,000 and that too poorly equipped. If you see Roman’s and the Persians who has vast resources,manpower, money , war equipment khalids forces didn’t come any where near …

    So for me, Khalid was, is and will be the greatest general of all time.

  12. Perhaps, but Subedei takes some beating. Chingis lost battles, Subedei never did even when having to coordinate vastly dispersed Forces: something Khalid never managed to do. Subedei was a military genius while Khalid was a great battle commander

  13. Before trying to define the position of Khalid-ibn-Walid, whether he is the first or last or what ever….one has to read the history of Khalid during his Generalship, especially the battles at yarmouke, in which he completely broke/ destroyed the eastern wide flanked wing of the well known Roman empire and how he destroyed the great Persian Empire in the east. It is clear that the western scholars defy facts, because,….. HE IS A MUSLIM… Therefore, they have not the courage to acknowledge that he is at least one of the 1st Three best Military Commanders of all times.

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