The Roman Empire was one of the Greatest Empire that ever existed on the Earth. It was great not only because the area it covered but also due to its contribution to present society. At its zenith the empire was the most powerful empire in the world in terms of economic, cultural, political and military forces. Under the leadership of Trajan the empire reached its greatest extent and covered 5 million squares of the territory which is roughly equal to an area of 48 countries in the 21st century. The Roman Civilization was the first civilization to use Republican System of Governance which paved the way for modern democracy. The Roman Empire contributed in the field of culture, religion, inventions, architecture, philosophy, and law and made a huge impact on the Latin and the Greek languages. From time to time the civilization witnessed a number of great rulers, military generals, social workers and philosophers. The Roman Empire was initially Republican but after a dictatorship period of Julius Caesar, his adopted son Augustus marked the end of Roman Republic. As mentioned earlier the empire was one of the largest empire in the world and to maintain such a large empire well skilled soldiers and generals were required. In fact the Roman Empire has witnessed some of the greatest and most famous generals of all time. These generals of the Roman Empire ensured that the empire does not disintegrate and they added more territory in the empire. There were many famous roman generals who with their military and administrative skills helped the empire to grow to a mammoth size. This article describes some of the greatest and most famous roman generals of all time. We would be discussing how these famous roman generals helped the Roman Empire, the famous battles fought and won by them as well as the important awards won by them for displaying courage and valor in the battlefield.
The Roman Civilization spans from 509 BC to 1452 AD but it can be broadly classified into four parts when the power was transferred from one hand to another. This classification would help the readers to understand the empire in a better way and would ensure that we are covering the exact era.
The Roman Republic Period: 509 BC–27 BC
The Roman Empire: 27 BC – 395 AD
The Western Roman Empire: 395 AD – 476 AD
The Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire): 395 AD – 1453 AD
List of Most Famous Roman Generals
- Gaius Julius Caesar (13 July 100 BC–15 March 44 BC) – Julius Caesar was a Roman General and politician. He played a major role in the events that led to the end of The Roman Republic and the rise of The Roman Empire. Julius Caesar is considered by historians as one of the greatest military commanders in history. Julius Caesar showed his excellent generalship in the wars like the Conquest of Gaul, his outnumbered victory at Pharsalus, Thapsus, and Munda. Under leadership of Caesar Rome extended its territory to the English Channel and the Rhine. He also became the first Roman general to cross Rhine and conducted the first invasion of Britain. Later in his life he centralized bureaucracy of the Republic and eventually proclaimed himself as “dictator in perpetuity“. He was assassinated by a group of rebellious senators led by Marcus Brutus in the Theatre of Pompey where around 60 men participated in his assassination and he was stabbed 23 times. The famous Latin Phrase “I came; I saw; I conquered” is attributed to him which he used in a letter to the Roman Senate after he had achieved a quick victory in his short wars.
- Scipio Africanus (236–183 BC) – Scipio Africanus was also known as Scipio the African or Scipio the Great. He was a Roman general is often regarded as one of the greatest military strategists of all time. His main achievements were during the Second Punic War where he defeated Hannibal at the Battle of Zama with his innovative battle tactics and earned the name “The Roman Hannibal“. Scipio Africanus helped to save the Roman Republic and set the stage for annexation of Mediterranean. According to historians during the skirmish at Ticinus he saved his father’s life by “charging the encircling force alone with reckless daring.” In his later life he was tried for bribery and treason which only meant to discredit him before the public but Scipio Africanus enjoyed so much public support that these allegations never succeeded. He died in the year 183 BC (approximately) aged about 53. His death is said to have taken place under suspicious circumstances and it is said that he demanded that his body to be buried away from his fatherland.
- Gaius Marius (157 BC – January 13, 86 BC) – Gaius Marius was a Roman general and uncle of Julius Caesar. Gaius Marius was a successful Roman general and military reformer and he introduced important reforms in Roman army like authorizing recruitment of landless citizens, eliminating the non-popular military formations and reorganizing the structure of the legions into separate cohorts. Gaius Marius was an effective Roman General but at the same time he was known for his harsh and ambitious man harboring contempt for the nobility. He held the office of consul for an unprecedented seven times during his career and played a critical role in the fall of the Roman Republic and the birth of the Roman Empire. He participated in many war and was famous for defeating the invading Germanic tribes (the Teutones, Ambrones, and the Cimbri). Gaius Marius defeated the Numidians and Germans and changed the format of the legions which saved Rome from repeated German invasions. He also achieved victories at Vercallae and Aquae Sextiae and his great military skills and tactics earned him the nickname “the third founder of Rome.“
- Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (29 September 106 BC – 28 September 48 BC) – Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus commonly known as Pompey or “Pompey the Great” was Roman General and political leader who fought against Julius Caesar during the late Roman Republic. He gained immense success as a general while he was 24 years old and then became first consul without meeting the normal requirements for office. He joined as a military commander in Sulla’s Second Civil War. Sulla was impressed by his military skills that he gave him the nick name Magnus meaning “The Great“. Pompey was one of the Greatest Roman General that Roman Empire has ever witnessed. He was famous for his tremendous bravery and fighting skills in the battlefield which even provided inspiration to his men. On the other hand he was also an outstanding strategist and organizer, who could win campaigns without displaying genius in the battlefield, but simply by constantly outmaneuvering his opponents. Even during his fight with Caesar in the battle of Battle of Pharsalus he was not ready to attack first but was persuaded by other Roman Generals to attack and was eventually defeated in the battle. Throughout his life Pompey fought many battels and gained victory in Sicily, defeated Mithridates VI of Pontus and ended the Third Mithridatic War. He also march through Syria, the Levant, Judea and fought against the pirates of Mediterranean. All of his campaigns added multiple new provinces to Rome. Pompey married to Caesar’s daughter Julia and later on he along with Julius Caesar and Marcus Licinius Crassus formed a military-political alliance known as the First Triumvirate. After the death of Julia Caesar, Pompey and Caesar parted their ways and fought for the leadership of Roman Empire. Pompey was defeated at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC, he sought refuge in Egypt, where he was assassinated. According to historians when Caesar was given Pompey’s seal-ring he cried. In the history of Roman Empire Pompey was a great man who achieved extraordinary triumphs through his own efforts yet in the end was murdered through treachery and now remembered as a man outmaneuvered by Caesar.
- Trajan (18 September 53 – 8 August 117 AD) – Trajan served as the Roman emperor from 98 to 117 AD. Under the leadership of Trajan the Roman Empire attained its greatest territorial extent. He was not only famous for his military skills and expansion of Roman Empire but also for humanitarian rule, extensive public building programs and implementing social welfare policies. Under the leadership of Trajan the Roman Empire witnessed an era of peace and prosperity which earned him the title of Senate Optimus Princeps (“the best ruler“) and he is remembered as second of the Five Good Emperors of the Roman Empire. Trajan is remembered as a successful Roman General and King who presided over the greatest military expansion in Roman history, leading the empire to attain its maximum territorial extent. Trajan rose through the ranks of the Roman army, serving in some of the most contested parts of the Empire’s frontier. Roman Empire had ineffectual Emperor Marcus Cocceius Nerva and he was forced to choose Trajan as new Emperor. After becoming emperor, he personally conquered Dacia and part of Parthia, becoming the first Roman general to step foot in the Persian Gulf. He annexed the Nabataean Kingdom and created the province of Arabia Petraea. He also conquered Dacia and it enriched the empire greatly as the province of Dacia possessed many valuable gold mines. Trajan won the war against the Parthian Empire and sacked its capital Ctesiphon. He also annexed the Armenia and Mesopotamia. As a civilian administrator, Trajan is best known for his extensive public building program, which reshaped the city of Rome and left numerous enduring landmarks such as Trajan’s Forum, Trajan’s Market and Trajan’s Column. In late 117, while sailing back to Rome, Trajan fell ill and died of a stroke in the city of Selinus. He was deified by the Senate and his ashes were laid to rest under Trajan’s Column. He was succeeded by his adopted son Hadrian.
- Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix (138 BC – 78 BC) Sulla was another great Roman general and statesman. He is famous for the reviving Dictatorship in the Roman Republic and his March on Rome. He was also one of the few Roam General who held the office of consul twice. Sulla was a skillful general and he achieved numerous successes in his wars against his opponents in foreign territory and in Roman Empire. He captured the Jugurtha and fought against the Mithridates’ generals in Greece and besieged Athens. He also defeated Carbo and his allies in the Civil War as well as defeated the Samnites on the doorstep of Rome. Sulla played a major role in the Social War and brought it to a successful conclusion. For his role in the Social War he was awarded Corona Graminea (The Grass Crown). This was the highest Roman military honor which was awarded for personal bravery to a commander who saves a Roman legion or army in the field. Unlike all other Roman military honors, it was awarded by acclamation of the soldiers of the rescued army, and consequently very few were ever awarded. Sulla marched into Rome over a dispute on the control of the eastern army command and defeated Gaius Marius. He again marched into Rome in 83BC and established dictorial rule. Although Sulla is known for his great military skills he is also remembered for reviving the dictatorship in Roman Republic which finally ended the Roman Republic.
- Lucius Domitius Aurelianus Augustus (214 AD – 275 AD) – He was commonly known as Aurelian and he served as the Roman Emperor for a short period of time from 270 to 275. Very few Roman Generals fought as many major battles in a short period of time as it was fought by Aurelian. He inherited a fractured empire beset by barbarian invasions. With no delay he defeated the Alamanni after a devastating war and went on defeating the Goths, Vandals, Juthungi, Sarmatians, and Carpi. Aurelian also restored the Empire’s eastern provinces after his conquest of the Palmyrene Empire in 273. The following year he conquered the Gallic Empire in the west, reuniting the Empire in its entirety. Aurelian’s short reign reunited a fragmented Roman Empire while saving Rome from barbarian invasions. His successes were instrumental in ending the Roman Empire’s Crisis of the Third Century and it earned him the title Restitutor Orbis or “Restorer of the World“. He was born in a humble circumstances and rose through the military ranks to become emperor. In 275 AD Aurelian marched towards Asia Minor for another campaign against the Sassanids and he was murdered while waiting in Thrace to cross into Asia Minor. The city of Orleans in France is named after Aurelian.
- Constantine the Great (27 February 272 AD – 22 May 337 AD)– Constantine the Great also known as Constantine I or Saint Constantine was a Roman General and served as Roman Emperor from 306 to 337 AD. Constantine was the longest serving Roman Emperor after Augustus and ruled the Roman Empire for almost 31 years. After the death of his father he was claimed Emperor by the army at Eboracum and finally he emerged victorious in a series of civil wars against the emperors Maxentius and Licinius and become the sole ruler of both west and east Roman Empire by 324 AD. Under the generalship of Constantine the Roman Empire reached its zenith in terms of culture, architecture and territory. In military the Roman army was reorganized to consist of mobile field units and garrison soldiers who were capable of countering internal threats and barbarian invasions. Constantine pursued successful campaigns against the tribes on the Roman frontiers i.e. the Franks, the Alamanni, the Goths and the Sarmatians. He built a new residence at Byzantium and renamed the city Constantinople after himself. Constantine played a very significant figure in the history of Christianity and its spread in Europe. He commissioned the construction of The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem which later became the holiest place in Christendom. Constantine was the first Roman Emperor who converted to Christianity and ordered tolerance for Christianity in Roman Empire. At the time of his death he was planning a great expedition to end raids on the eastern provinces from the Persian Empire.
- Septimius Severus (11 April 145 – 4 February 211) – Septimius Severus was Roman emperor from 193 AD to 211 AD. Septimus through the cursus honorum started the Third Century trend of imperial usurpation after assassination of Pertinax in 193 during the Year of the Five Emperors and deposing the incumbent emperor Didius Julianus. After seizing power he fought against Pescennius Niger who was defeated in 194 at the Battle of Issus in Cilicia. In the same year Severus waged a short campaign beyond the eastern frontier of Roman Empire annexing the Kingdom of Osroene as a new province. He also defeated Albinus three years later at the Battle of Lugdunum in Gaul. His relations with the Senate were never good and after seizing power with the help of the military he executed of a large number of Senators on charges of corruption and conspiracy and replaced them with his own favorites. In 197 AD he increased the number of legions from 30 to 33 and introduced three new legions I, II, and III. He also raised the annual wage of a soldier in the legions from 300 to 400 denarii. Septimius Severus expenditures on military were costly to the Roman Empire and his actions turned Rome into a military dictatorship but in spite of all this he was popular among the citizens of Rome as he eradicated large corruption within the Roman Society. After consolidating his rule over the western provinces he waged another brief but successful war in the east against the Parthian Empire thereby expanding Roman Empire to the Tigris River. Septimius Severus ambitions were cut short when he fell fatally ill in late 210 and died in early 211 AD.
- Lucius Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus (229 BC – 160 BC) – Aemilius Paullus was a Roman General is most notably known for the Battle of Bydna in which he destroyed the army of Perseus and conquered Macedon putting an end to the Antigonid dynasty. He served two-time consul of the Roman Republic and was also famous for adding the Greek Territory into the folds of Roman Empire. After the fulfilment of his military service he was elected consul for the first time in 182 BC. Thereafter he began his military expedition against the Ingauni of Liguria. In 171 BC king Perseus of Macedon defeated a Roman army and it resulted in start of The Third Macedonian War. As consul Aemilius Paullus was appointed by the senate to deal with the Macedonian war. As soon as Aemilius Paullus took command of the battle he won the decisive battle of Pydna. Finally Perseus of Macedonia was made prisoner and the Third Macedonian War ended. When he returned Rome after the battle he was welcomed by the Roman people in a heroic way. The Roman Senate awarded him the nickname Macedonicus. In 160 BC he fell ill and died during his term of office.
- Quintus Sertorius (123–72 BC) – Quintus Sertorius was a brilliant military commander and he is remembered for his military skills against Civil War in Hispania and in the Sertorian War. Before appointed as Military General Quintus Sertorius was working as jurist. His first campaign was Battle of Arausio and he is remembered for showing unusual courage in the battlefield. Quintus Sertorius also worked under Gaius Marius in 102 BC and he fought the Battle of Aquae Sextiae in which the Teutones were decisively defeated. When Civil War broke between Optimates and Populares in Roman Empire Quintus Sertorius joined the side of Populares. After the end of Civil War and defeat of Populares Sertorius went to Hispania as proconsul representing the Populares. The Roman officials in Hispania did not recognize his authority but Sertorius assumed control as he had an army. Sertorius sought to hold Hispania by sending an army under Julius Salinator to fortify the pass through the Pyrenees however Sulla’s forces under the command of Gaius Annius broke through and Quintus Sertorius was killed by treachery.
- Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus Augustus (244–312) – Diocletian was a Famous Roman General who serverd as Roman Emperor from 284 to 305. Diocletian became Roman EMperor amid chaos in Roman Empire but Diocletian defeated his opponents and became emperor. Diocletian’s reign stabilized the Roman Empire and marked the end of the Crisis of the Third Century. Diocletian defeated the Sarmatians and Carpi between 285 and 299 and went on defeating the Alamanni and usurpers in Egypt between 297 and 298. His victory against his enemy secured the Border of Roman Empire and established the largest and most bureaucratic government in the history of the Roman Empire. Diocletian introduced the “Rule of Four” in which each emperor would rule over a quarter-division of the Roman Empire.
- Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (62 BC – 12 BC) – Agrippa was a Roman consul, military general and architect. He is notably known for his fight against Mark Antony in the Battle of Actium. He helped Octavian to win crucial battles against the assassinators of Julius Caesar and thereby making him the first Roman Emperor. Agrippa and Octavian were of same age and even both studied together and became close friends. When Caesar was assassinated he fought along with Octavian and advised him to defeat the enemy and consolidate his power. Throughout his life Agrippa fought many important battles like Battle of Philippi, war with Germanic tribes and war against Sextus. Due to his military strategies he became only person in Roman Empire to win battles on land and as well as on sea. He was also the second Roman General after Julius Caesar to cross the Rhine River and fought war in the farthest area of Roman Empire. Agrippa was not only a good Roman General but also a statesman. He look after the Roman Empire in the absence of Octavian and even his powers were almost equal to that to Ocatvian. Agrippa was the main force behind the construction of many baths, porticoes and gardens as well as the original Pantheon. He was also famous for his knowledge on the subject of geography. It was under his supervision that a complete survey of the Empire made was carried out. Agrippa died in 12 BC at the age of 51 and Emperor Augustus honored his memory by organizing a funeral. Augustus personally oversaw the education of all of Agrippa’s children.
- Marcus Claudius Marcellus (268 – 208 BC)– Marcus Claudius Marcellus was also known as Sword of Rome for the role played by him during this life to consolidate the Roman Empire and defeat the insurgents of Roman Empire. He was one for the finest military leader and specialist in Hand-to-Hand combat. He is remembered for his role in Gallic War of 225 BC and the Second Punic War. Marcellus won the award of Spolia Opima which was most prestigious award a Roman General could win for killing Gallic military leader and king Viridomarus in hand-to-hand combat in 222 BC at the battle of Clastidium. Marcellus was a skilled fighter in his youth and was raised with the purpose of entering in the military service. He was known for his skills in Hand-to-Hand combat and he once saved the life of his brother when they both were surrounded by enemies in Italy. In the Second Punic War Marcellus led the campaign to take back Sicily, and afterwards helped protect Rome from Hannibal during his long stay in Italy, taking back strategic cities and outmaneuvering Hannibal before being killed in an ambush.
- Quintus Fabius Maximus (280 BC – 203 BC) – Quintus Fabius Maximus was a Roman politician, military general and he served as Roman Consul for five times. He was also appointed as dictator twice and saved the Roman Empire from the attacks of Hannibal when there was no military commander and whole of Roman Empire was in chaos. He is widely regarded as the father of guerrilla warfare due to his strategy of targeting enemy supply lines when he was outnumbered in war. Fabius Maximus was born in the year 280 BC and during his first consulship he defeated a tribe of Gauls and driven them into the Alps. Later he was appointed as dictator by the Roman Senate when Consul Gaius Flaminius was killed in the Battle of Lake Trasimene and Roman Empire faced a massive defeat. Fabius Maximus has not won as many as major battles as the previous Roman Generals fought but he definitely helped and saved Roman Empire at their darkest hour.
- Julian (332 AD – 363AD) – Julian was also known as Julian the Apostate and he served as the Roman Emperor from 361 to 363. He was the member of Constantinian dynasty and his most notable victory was over the Alamanni in 357 at the Battle of Argentoratum where he fought against the Germanic Army which was three times larger than his army. After a civil war in the Roman Empire he was proclaimed Emperor when his rival Constantius died and no one left in the empire to question his authority. According to historians Julian was “A military commander, a theosophist, a social reformer, and a man of letters“. Julian was the last non-Christian ruler of the Roman Empire and it was his desire to bring the Roman Empire back to its ancient Roman values in order to save it from dissolution. After taking control of Roman Empire he initiated campaign against the Sassanid Empire. He was initially successful in his campaign but later faced a strong resistance form Sassanid forces. He was wounded in the battle and died in 363 AD.