Many, many great military commanders have emerged amongst the myriad strands of human history. Napolean, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Hannibal, Patton, Frederick the Great, Huayna Capac, Julias Caeser, Sargon II, Cao Cao, the list goes on and on and on. But far fewer never lost a single battle. Below I’ve compiled a list of some of history’s undefeated generals, with some information about each one. Many of these generals I had not heard of before, but discovered them during my research.
Alexander the Great – not for nothing is this commander called Great. The son of Philip II of Macedon, a great commander in his own right, Alexander inherited the title of King of Macedon at the age of 16. He quelled Greek revolts against his rule before invading the Balkans, Persia, Egypt, and India. He died in Babylon at the age of 32. In 16 short years, he had created an empire that stretched from the Adriatic Sea to the Indus River, from the Nile in Egypt to modern-day Kandahar in Afghanistan. Sadly, within a few years of his death, his mighty empire was torn apart by civil wars between his generals and heirs.
Sources: Wikipedia – Alexander the Great
Alexander Suvorov – A general in the Russian Empire who earned the title of generalissimo, the highest military rank in the Empire. Born in 1730 into a noble family, Suvorov joined the military in 1748, and honed his skills fighting the Prussians during the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). He then battled Poland, followed by the Turkish Ottoman Empire. He achieved many great victories against the Turks, including a successful capture of the supposedly “impregnable” fortress of Izmail. After these victories, he was immediately sent back to Poland to quell revolts there. Several years later he came out of retirement to participate in an invasion of Italy, which was then under the control of French Revolutionary forces. During the campaign, Suvorov was forced retreated his starving forces across the frozen Alps, a spectacular military feat compared with Hannibal’s crossing of those same mountains some 2,000 years before. Suvorov died the following year.
Sources: Wikipedia – Alexander Suvorov; Joseph Cummins – The War Chronicles: From Flintlocks to Machine Guns, pg. 27; R. R. Milner-Gulland, Nikolai J. Dejevsky – Atlas of Russia and the Soviet Union, pg. 114; Richard Harris Barham – The Ingoldsby Legends, Volume 2, pg. 29-30
Jan Žižka (c.1360-1424) – Czech general and a member of the Hussites, followers of religious reformer Jan Hus. He fought against the Teutonic Knights in the Battle of Grunwald, but started rising to prominence during the Hussite Wars. He successfully repelled invasions by the Holy Roman Empire (Germany) and Hungary, and led troops during a subsequent civil war. Following his victory in the civil war, he launched an unsuccessful but tactically brilliant invasion of Hungary. Ever an innovator, Žižka helped pioneer the Wagenburg (“wagon fort”), where the Hussites would arrange wagons and carts in a circle or square formation surrounding their troops, from which they could fire on enemy troops with crossbows, guns, and artillery.
Sources: Wikipedia – Jan Žižka; André Crous – “Jan Žižka biopic in the works”; Mikulas Teich – Bohemia in History, pg. 90
Khalid ibn al-Walid – A companion to the Islamic prophet Mohammed, al-Walid was a brilliant commander who led the forces of Medina under Mohammed and subsequently served under Mohammed’s successors, Abu Bakr and Umar ibn Khattab. Between the years 632 to 636 he united Arabia under the Caliphate and conquered Syria and Mesopotamia, among other victories. He fought over a hundred battles, including major battles, minor skirmishes, and personal duals. Ultimately, he was relieved of command by Umar ibn Khattab, who believed that al-Walid’s victories were causing Muslim’s to trust in Al-Walid instead of in God. On his deathbed, he expressed to his wife his regret that he did not die as a martyr in battle. His wife replied that “You were given the title of ‘Saif-ullah’ meaning, ‘The Sword of Allah’ and, the sword of Allah is not meant to be broken and hence, it is not your destiny to be a ‘martyr’ but to die like a conqueror.”
Sources: Wikipedia – Khalid ibn al-Walid
Maurice, Count of Saxony (aka Maurice de Saxe) – A Saxony German who fought in French service, Maurice was born in 1696 and started serving in the military at age 12. The many wars he participated in include the War of the Spanish Succession, the Great Northern War (between Russia and Sweden), a campaign against the Ottoman Empire, the War of Polish Succession, and War of the Austrian Succession. He died in 1750, a legendary hero in France.
Sources: Wikipedia – Maurice de Saxe; Memim Encyclopedia – Maurice de Saxe
Muqali – A Mongol general who served under Genghis Khan, the founder of the Mongol Empire. Originally in service of a rival to Genghis Khan, Muqali was captured and subsequently joined Genghis. Though perhaps not as overall a great a general as his fellows Jebe and Subutai, he was indispensable to Genghis in the Mongol invasions of China. In his seven years of service, he reduced the northern Chinese dynasty of Jin to a single lone province. He even managed to maintain a vigorous invasion of China when most of his forces were dispatched to help invade the Khwarazm dynasty (in Central Asia and modern-day Iran). On his deathbed he proudly declared that he had never suffered defeat.
Sources: Wikipedia – Muqali; Leo de Hartog – Genghis Khan: Conqueror of the World
Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck – A German commander who led Gemany’s forces in that country’s East African campaign during World War I. With a combined German-African army that never numbered more than 14,000, he managed to hold off British, Belgian, and Portuguese forces totaling around 300,000. He battled across modern-day Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. A master at guerilla warfare and fluent in Swahili, he managed to attract recruits, mostly African, and launched raids to acquire more food and ammunition. Historian Charles Miller opined that “It is probable that no white commander of the era had so keen an appreciation of the African’s worth not only as a fighting man but as a man.” On November 25, 1918, Lettow-Vorbeck had to surrender his undefeated army to the Allies.
Sources: Wikipedia – Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck; Steven J. Rauch – World War I: A Student Encyclopedia, Spencer Tucker and Priscilla Mary Roberts, eds., pg. 1089; Dean Nicholas – “Video: The Funeral of Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck”
Scipio Africanus – Arguably Rome’s greatest general, Scipio, later dubbed Africanus due to his successful African campaigns, expanded the burgeoning Roman Republic’s territories beyond the Italian peninsula. Born in approximately 236 B.C., Scipio joined the military at an early age, fighting against Carthage in the Second Punic War. Though he fought in armies that saw defeat at that hands of Carthage, once Scipio himself, ate age 25, was given troops to command, he never lost a single battle. While the Carthaginian general Hannibal busied himself invading the Roman homelands in Italy, Scipio battled Hannibal’s brothers in what is modern-day Spain. Highly successful in this endeavor, he was unanimously elected consul and invaded the Carthaginian home territories in Africa. He famously squared off with Hannibal, who up to that point had been undefeated, and thoroughly crushed Hannibal’s Carthaginian forces. After over a decade of subsequent political service, he retired to his country seat at Liternum.
Sources: Wikipedia – Scipio Africanus; socionaut – “B.H. Liddell Hart’s ‘Scipio Africanus: Greater Than Napoleon’ (Steak Knives)”; Daniel A. Fournie – “Second Punic War: Battle of Zama”
Zafar Khan – A commander under the Khilji dynasty, which ruled the Delhi Sultanate in what is now India and Pakistan, is known primarily for his successful attempt to repel invasions by the Chagatai Khanate, a break-away state from the Mongol Empire, in the 1290s. The Mongols were supposedly so terrified of Zafar that, afterward, whenever their horses refused to drink water, the Mongols would ask them if they’d seen Zafar Khan. Zafar ultimately was trapped and killed during a battle against the Mongols when he pursued them too recklessly once the Mongols started retreating.
Sources: Wikipedia – Zafar Khan; Sunil K. Saxena – History of Medieval India, pg. 70-71
So, the above is what my research came up with. I know the list is not exhaustive, so who did I miss? If you want more historical articles, then recommend a topic and I’ll see what I can do.