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Top 8 Greatest Generals in Ancient Rome

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Ancient Rome’s greatest generals were not just brilliant strategists. From emperors to governors, they wielded power through recruitment, political maneuvering, and winning the favor of the people. Some were born to soldiers, some to wealthy politicians. One man would have such an impact on history that he would eventually become the heir of three different emperors.

Also know, Who Was the Kindest Roman Emperor?

Here is the list of Greatest Generals in Ancient Rome

1. Scipio Africanus

Scipio Africanus was born in 236 BC into one of Rome’s five noble families. His father and uncle both died in the Second Punic War. At the age of 25, he followed his father and uncle into the military and secured a command position in the army.

Scipio proved himself to be one of the most cunning tacticians of war, and despite his many previous defeats, he finally won the war against Hannibal in 202 BC. In 218 BC, he participated in a battle where his father was held captive and attempted, but failed, to rescue his father.

In 209 BC, he established an impenetrable defense and succeeded in capturing Hannibal’s Spanish base. At the Battle of Baecula in 208 BC, he was able to defeat Hannibal’s brother, and finally completely defeated Hannibal’s army at the Battle of Zama in North Africa. Hannibal was then forced to sign a peace treaty ending the First Punic War.

2. Lucius Cornelius Sulla

Sulla was born in Puteoli near Naples in 138 BC. Although his family had a political background, they were not influential or wealthy. Nonetheless, Sulla was well educated and fluent in Greek (an indication that he had received a good education in Rome).

In any case, he rose through the elite ranks of military and political society. In 112 BC, during the Jugurthaean Wars, Sulla was involved in the defeat of King Jugurtha of Numidia.

After a long and persistent war, Sulla was sent to remove support for Jugurtha from his neighboring province of Mauretania. Sulla, a skilled negotiator, was able to capture Jugurtha and end the war.

3. Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus

Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, or more commonly Pompey the Great, was born into a wealthy Italian senatorial family. His father was a Roman nobleman, and under him he learned military strategy and political diplomacy.

His father died in 87 BC when Pompey was only 19 years old. Pompey the Great was commander-in-chief of the Roman Republic during its last turbulent decades. His name Magnus means ‘great’, and he was given this title by his people because he was an inspirational leader.

He was a commander in the civil war of Sulla in 83 BC, permanently defeating Gaius Marius and liberating Rome. His role in this victory earned him the reputation of a great general, but also earned him the nickname “The Teenage Butcher” by his enemies.

Pompey was given special privileges and a force of 120,000 men and 500 ships to carry out his mission against pirates in the Mediterranean. He succeeded in this task by dividing the Mediterranean into 12 zones.

4. Gaius Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar began his military career with the Siege of Mytilene in 81 BC. He soon became an unstoppable force in the military, and by the age of 31 he had become involved in Roman politics.

It was Julius Caesar who twice invaded Britain and helped its administrative ruler take the throne. In Egypt, he defeated Ptolemy XIII at the Battle of the Nile in 47 BC and crowned Queen Cleopatra.

One of his most famous achievements as a military commander was the conquest of Gaul against native tribes.

Although the Gallic tribes had strong military power, Caesar took advantage of the divisions within the Gallic tribes to force them into a corner where they had no choice but to surrender. This allowed Rome to secure the Rhine River as a border.

Caesar began a civil war in Rome against his old rival Pompey in 49 BC, which resulted in him being forced to flee to Macedonia after just 70 days. Caesar is said to have won the Battle of Pharsalus despite being outnumbered.

5. Constantine the Great

The early 4th century Roman emperor Flavius Valerius Constantinus is best known for converting to Christianity and introducing a system that created the “Roman Catholic Church.”

But he was also an astute general, suppressing several rebellions and establishing the beginnings of the Byzantine Empire. His reign was so great and influential that it is often considered the “line” dividing the Middle Ages from the Archaic Period.

Constantine was born in the late 3rd century to one of the four tetrarchs, leaders of the Roman Empire. He inherited part of the empire from his father, giving him jurisdiction over Britain, Gaul, and Spain, and providing him with the largest army known at the time. It was not Constantine who started the fight for supreme emperor over the empire.

However, after the revolt of Maximian and Maxentius, Constantine had no choice but to use his own army to take control of Rome. His army moved throughout Italy, capturing fortresses such as Turin and Verona without much trouble. When he arrived at the gates of Rome, the people there turned their backs on Maxentius. One text records a crowd taunting the emperor, warning that Constantine was “invincible.”

Once emperor, Constantine went on a propaganda campaign to destroy all images of Maxentius and had writers literally rewrite the history books to portray him as a tyrant. Constantine also embarked on a massive construction spree, making the Circus Maximus 25 times larger and building a New Rome in what is now Istanbul.

Among the apocryphal stories of Constantine the Great are claims that he killed a lion in one-on-one combat, that he declared his leadership of Rome by sending paintings to his rivals, and that he boiled his wife to death in her bathwater.

6. Gnaeus Julius Agricola

The British governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola was the first general to conquer the island in Rome’s name. Agricola was born into a political family and began his career as a military tribune in England.

He took part in suppressing Boudicca’s rebellion, defeated the Welsh Celts, and won numerous battles against the people of Brigania (northern England).

In 71 AD, Agricola extended Roman rule to the top of the island for the first time. He then launched the first Roman expedition into Ireland and is said to have provided refuge for the exiled king.

Irish legend confirms this story, calling the king Túathal Techtmar. The king is said to have soon returned to Ireland and regained his throne.

Agricola was eventually recalled back to Rome and awarded a victory medal and a bronze statue. He was offered the post of Governor-General of Africa, but was elected to retire instead.

7. Pompeii the Great

Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, or Pompey, was a general and statesman, a student of Sulla and an associate of Julius Caesar. Pompey was a general at the young age of 22 and led three legions of soldiers he had personally recruited to fight alongside Sulla in his march against Marius.

After driving Marius’ followers from Sicily, Pompey oversaw the island and became very popular there. He was sent to Africa and recaptured Numibia in just 40 days. For this, Sulla bestowed on him the title “Great King”. Plutarch writes that at this time the general was so young that he had not yet grown a beard.

Through a series of political maneuvers, Pompey was able to become a consul (magistrate) at a young age, and upon Sulla’s death he once again led an army and helped put down the civil war that broke out in Rome. By the age of 35, he had suppressed several rebellions, including that of Spartacus, and achieved two victories.

Pompey, who could easily make enemies even among his old friends, was renowned as a great general and cautious statesman. Unfortunately, he eventually sided with Julius and fought against him to become dictator. He was eventually assassinated.

Most of what we learn about Pompey today comes from a single text. The Life of Pompey, written by Plutarch, is part of a series of biographies Pompey wrote about great figures of antiquity who died less than 100 years ago.

8. Septimius Severus

From 193 to 211 AD, the Roman emperor Lucius Septimus Severus seized power by force and murdered the previous emperor, Didius Julianus. During his reign, he defeated two claimants to the throne, expanded Rome’s territory into upper Mesopotamia, and expanded its eastern frontier as far as the Tigris.

Severus may have killed Julian, but it was in revenge for the death of Pertinax, who was killed by his own guards. When Severus seized power, he dismissed the entire Praetorian Guard and executed anyone involved in Pertinax’s death.

Severus gained great loyalty, especially since he received a 25% pay increase for all soldiers. He was also the first emperor to insist that some imperial troops remain in Italy as reserves and to launch campaigns in Africa and England. Unfortunately, his illness worsened while he was in England and he passed away before he had the chance to take over Scotland.


These are just some of Rome’s greatest generals. Rome’s borders expanded and the provinces prospered under their political leadership. They inspired patriotism among their people and showed that anyone could rise to the ranks of the Roman Republic and Empire through military achievements.

This increased respect for rulers and members of the elite class, which reduced the likelihood of rebellion in the Roman Empire.

The biggest problem with a great empire like the Roman Empire was that it was difficult to rule such a large area. Eventually, the system began to collapse due to corruption and rebellion in the dependent kingdoms.

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