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Two Drunk Psychopaths
Attila the Hun versus Alexander the Great: the Deadliest Warrior: #2-2

In many ways this is the worst episode of this series. I viewed this thing three times. Only one of the experts is truly competent to handle the weaponry. What really struck me was the feminine quality of these men. Only the Hungarian horseman struck me as manly, let alone warlike. Alexander would have barked, “I fuck real men, get these sissies away from me.”

The worst part about this match-up was the fact that the weaponry of Alexander’s army was so diverse as to be represented in such a scenario. The older expert on Alexander did recall that Alexander used artillery to awe and disperse horse archers, but doesn’t seem to realize that Alexander had added horse archers of his own and was in the process of expanding the weapon base of his army. If Alexander would have gone to China instead of Indian, he would have showed up with a predominantly horse archer force. To him the army was just a tool. To Attila, the army was what he was—a tribal weapon set, a way of life.

In terms of physical abilities, Alexander didn’t do too well anytime he got away from the badass maniacs that surrounded him. His favorite tactic was to put himself in danger he couldn’t fight his way out of and shame his men into saving him—thereby butchering untold enemy.

This should have been Attila versus Cleitus the black—oh, but Alexander killed him in a drunken rage. The thing both of these figures have in common was extreme alcoholism, of which they both seem to have died—though whether it was Alexander’s wine or what was slipped into it that did him in is anyone’s guess.

The horse archer deserves credit for his work.

Thankfully UFC great Rashad Evans was on hands to put some Macedonian-quality ass behind the xyston. Note that Rashad asks the expert what the back spike is for and the guy says it was just a counterweight! Rashad knew better. It’s pointy for a reason. The fact is Alexander’s horsemen had no stirrups and Attila’s did. This meant that the Macedonian spear thrust [executed overhand] would pivot the rider down, his spear having driven through some poor bastard running for his life and placing him like an American Indian archer laying alongside the horses neck with the spear point coming out of the poor dying bastard behind him, which means the back spike is now his underhanded thrusting point as he pivots back to upright in case some not-yet-dead bastard is now before him. This type of lancer is like a horseback pendulum of death.

The lasso was simply stupid.

The work with the swords was poor and the kopish, which was descended from Egyptian, to Argive to Macedonian and ended as the Roman falcata, was not just a chopper but a downward thrusting weapon. The expert’s description of it as a “cutting” weapon was too generalized. The Greeks used the words machaira, for instance to denote a cleaving weapon, another blade for reaping, another one for chopping. This was actually demonstrated well by the actor who portrayed Alexander in the terrible Oliver Stone movie. The inward-curving sword is perfect for downward chopping and thrusting. The xyston was for the enemy horseman, pinning his ass to the saddle with a downward thrust into the guts. The kopish was for the poor bastards on foot that you ride down until sundown after the enemy cavalry is driven from the field. That blade was used to break shield arms and to thrust into the cavity between the collar bone and cervical spine. It is also good for getting around round shields, techniques which the shrill Billy Idol-like spokesman of the Alexander pair demonstrates on the training floor but fails to integrate into a testing model.

As stupid as the Scythian axe demonstration was it is interesting in that the Scythians were Caucasian predecessors of the Huns and actually served against Alexander’s army at Arbela and beyond.

The pankration discussion was wrong, in that Rashad states that the ancients had no rules, when they did. Of course, in military combat the few rules [no biting, gouging or stepping out of the open ring] would go out the window.

This brings us to the nagging question of this series, is that there was not a neutral expert to suggest testing parameters based on tactics for each of these weapons. For instance the Hunic axe demonstration was a crude two-handed affair when the thing was used from horseback in one hand. Ironically, most of the testing usages of hand weapons are so flawed that the stunt coordinators often come up with better tactical deductions for the theatrical closing battle.

In terms of man-to-man, Alexander does not have a chance. But in any action involving significant manpower, Alexander takes it. He was never called Alexander “the Pretty Good.” The man was great, the most brilliant military actionist in history. As soon as it becomes a battle and not a duel—he wins.

The horse is the fascinating aspect to this episode. The testers will get better at accounting for this animal in episodes to come.

In the end, Attila and Alexander had the following things in common:

-Extreme psychopathy

-Out of control alcoholism

-Heir to a weapon system superior to competing forms

-Implicated in the assassination of their predecessor

-Died after a drinking bout

Differences in the men and material are:

-Alexander’s horsemen had no stirrups

-Alexander thought he could become a God and committed at least 12 genocides toward that end

-By contrast, Attila was primarily a state-level extortionist, content to pillage and move on rather than annihilate communities in order to make the world shudder. His terror tactic played into emerging Christian sensibilities and was terrible in its own right.

These guys were both extreme assholes—may the worse man win.

Twerps, Goons and Meatshields: The Basics of Full Contact Stick-Fighting

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Bruno DiasDecember 13, 2016 2:19 PM UTC

Thanks for the explanation James.
BDecember 13, 2016 5:12 AM UTC

You should look into the story of how Alexander became a kosher Jewish name.

As far as Greek generals go, my personal favorite is Xenophon. Who wasn't even a general or a soldier by trade until he found himself asked to lead 10k Greek mercenaries out of Mesopotamia after their generals had been slaughtered at a party. He did, got everyone home, retired and wrote a book about it.

He also wrote the other Socratic dialogues. His are much better than Plato's.
responds:December 13, 2016 8:29 AM UTC

Thanks for the memory jolt, B.

I read most of Xenophon's work.

He is one of my favorites.

Gene Wolfe dedicated his Soldier of the Mist to him—called him "the Old Colonel."

he ended up leaving Athens for Sparta, where he thought his sons would be better raised.

I would like to do an adaptation of the Anabasis some day.

Thanks for reminding me—we'll throw him in the mix for this project too. He wrote a book on caring for horses and finished Thucydides account of the Pelopenesean war—butchered that spelling, anyways, it means Red Face Island.
Bruno DiasDecember 11, 2016 8:58 PM UTC

James, i still don't understand why do you tuhink that, in a duel scenario, Attila would destroy Alexander. Could you, please, explain that a little better?
responds:December 12, 2016 8:39 AM UTC

Sure Bruno,

I am not even factoring the composite bow as it was not a dueling weapon.

-Attila, based on diet, and Alexander's unremarkable stature for his time, was certainly larger. Small edge there.

-Attila had a better dueling sword. Small edge there.

-Attila would be a better horseman by a slight margin. They were both fantastic horseman, but Attila was in the saddle probably five years younger. Slight edge.

-Attila had stirrups. I don't know enough about horsemanship to rate the advantage, but there is more versatility and better horse-to-weapon leverage transfer. Consider that Attila could rise up and beat down in his stirrups, where Alexander would have to keep hugging the horse flanks with his knees.

-Alexander was not among the best wrestlers in his class, where Attila very probably rose to dominance partially based on his physical prowess.

-Alexander retains the advantage in training and armor, so I still see it as competitive but not too close.

On the other hand, some of Alexander's goons like Black Cleitus and Dioxiphos [both of whom he had killed or killed], and his companion Hephaestion, would butcher Attila, as they were essentially world class athletes with weapons, selected from a wider talent pool than Attila.

There was a Persian satrap at the Granicus that had Alexander dead to rights until Cleitus hacked off his arm. There was also the fact that Alexander had to be rescued from a tiger or lion he was hunting in a game preserve.

Alexander was possibly the best general in history and was one of the most heroic heads of state on record, but he was not a dominant combatant. When this was brought up he quipped that although he was not a winning athlete, he would win if he only had to compete against other kings.

I am working on a rating system for combatant/generals of the ancient-medieval period.

Thanks, Bruno.
Sam J.December 11, 2016 2:17 AM UTC

"...Julius Caesar was a phenomenon..."

I've reconsidered a bit and were Caesar's opponents really so less than Alexanders? I don't think so. Both Caesar and Alexander had professional lawnmower armies. They had a set pattern that just chewed right through the opposition. Industrial killing. The distance Caesar had to go was a long ways.

Netherlands to Rome, Italy is 1,024 miles or 1 648 kilometers

I can't easily find a map of his travels for some odd reason. I get maps of Hannibal and the American civil war searching for "map of Caesar's army path"????? Here's one that shows movement. He also invaded Britain. No small feat.


distance from Greece to India

5,787 km= 3,596 miles but it's to the center of India. map:,12.9240043,3z/data=!4m13!4m12!1m5!1m1!1s0x135b4ac711716c63:0x363a1775dc9a2d1d!2m2!1d21.824312!2d39.074208!1m5!1m1!1s0x30635ff06b92b791:0xd78c4fa1854213a6!2m2!1d78.96288!2d20.593684

Definitely farther than Caesar but logistics wise Caesar had no real technological advance over Alexander except being more organized.

I think the times when Caesar was almost defeated by the Gauls he was extraordinarily outnumbered. I'm not trying to take anything away from Alexander but the same applies to Caesar.

I want to add another great. The Germans in WWII. Holy smokes they ruled. I'll tell you one of their secrets was their squad level machine guns. This one.

Their strategy was to use this massively fast firing gun with super quick barrel change and just blast the enemy into submission. It worked. The rest of squad carried as much ammunition for the gun as they could as it chewed it up. The idea is that you only get a quick shot at the enemy. Best to send a vast amount of lead in his direction in spurts. US Army policy was to never attack this thing while it was firing. They were told to wait until barrel change to attack. Any time before that was suicide. Sen. Bob Dole got hit trying to knock one these out I believe. There's training videos on this I've seen. They wanted to train the troops to not be frightened of the thing was so damn frightening. Watch Hitler's buzz saw...

The design was fantastic. (I'm a little nutty and can get really excited by impressively designed machinery). It was designed by a guy who designed stamped and pressed machinery for consumer goods. It was dirt cheap to make, quickly done with stamped metal and riveted together. It's action is very slick. Using two round bars of metal to lock in a two round slots and then using gas to unlock the bolt. The barrel could be changed really fast. Had to change them or they would melt from the heat. So they would cycle barrels allowing some to cool while firing. They used an asbestos glove to grab the barrel and remove it. Watch this barrel change. So slick. We should just copy these and give them to our troops.

The M60 stole a lot of the ideas from the MG42.
responds:December 11, 2016 10:28 AM UTC

Caesar actually had tougher opposition than Alexander, who had an army further ahead of its time. But in terms of operational theaters and logistics there is no Comparison. Caesar had roads and internal naval lines throughout the civil war. Civil wars are much easier as you use established logistical nets and know your enemy intimately.

As a fighter, I can tell you that going against a guy I have fought and trained with, even if he is better than I am, is much easier on a mental level than going against an unknown quantity.

Caesar did not campaign in mountains. Alexander subdued Afghanistan, something only Genghis Khan and Tamerlane did.

Caesar did not venture into the unkown other than a probe into Britain and a bridge across the Rhine. Alexander invaded the unkown as an army of discovery.

Caesar dealt with a handful of national polities, Alexander dealt with dozens.

There truly is n comparison in scope. It's like comparing U.S. Grant to Napoleon.

Grant, like Caesar campaigned primarily as a commander of actions in well-known lands. Gaul was well known to the Romans 100 years before Caesar.

Caesar didn't really fight, like Alexander, didn't lead a special unit. Roman leadership—unlike what you see in Gladiator—was not that dynamic but managerial. The Romans themselves admitted that their generalship lacked and that it was the legionaire that one the day.

In terms of siegecraft there was an equality of sorts, with Caesar at Alisha being one of history's few double siege's and Alexander taking Tyre, Gaza and numerous mountaintop strongholds. The Roman army was unsurpassed in siegecraft with Masada and Rome Jerusalem being wonders of the art.
IshmaelDecember 10, 2016 4:43 PM UTC

Good point about one on one meeting, I agree, bet he was not so tough if the hard ass guards failed! How about a Atilla and Genghis duel?
responds:December 10, 2016 3:49 PM UTC

Attila would butcher Alexander in a duel.

Alexander did not even win wrestling contests in school.
Sam J.December 9, 2016 8:55 PM UTC

"...The man was great, the most brilliant military actionist in history..."

Ummm...Julius Caesar? Julius Caesar was a phenomenon. I guess you could take points away from Julius Caesar due to his opponents. Alexanders were top of the line. Julius Caesar's had poor organization.
responds:December 10, 2016 3:59 PM UTC

Julius Caesar is on all ancient top ten lists.

Like Alexander he had a better army than half of his opponents [Celts and Britons] but the same essential army as his opponents in the Civil Wars, so he actually gets better points for opposition.

The comparison is problematic in that Alexander crushed his opposition very one-sidedly except one battle, while Caesar had many close goes. Alex also fought in so much more operational theaters, on a vaster scale and with more primitive logistics.

Essentially, comparing the two is like comparing a top ten pro with an all-time-great in boxing—They're really on a different plane. I'll work up a top 10 list of ancients to address this.

Good pick, Sam J.