In comparing figures like Attila the Hun and Alexander the Great we come to an era when generals—even heads of state—functioned as combatants. Since the close of the American Civil War, in which the side with the best generals lost an entire squad of them at the Battle of Nashville, it has been considered idiotic to put a general in harm’s way, let alone have him shooting and stabbing people on the front line. During the Falklands War between Britain and Argentina there was a stink over a British colonel getting killed in a small arms maneuver action. But in the age of muscle-powered weapons, generals faced this reality often. Even then, there were cultures in which the general was not supposed to fight—even in that meathead age being too valuable to risk in the meat-grinding lines.
Rome., for instance, had a martial culture which edified the general as a manager of troops and inspiring figure. The soldiers themselves would bodily prevent a leader like Julius Caesar from getting his hands dirty. They knew that his brains were their edge and they didn’t want to risk it. As late as the Civil War, when Robert E. Lee, not a fighting general, would become agitated and head closer to the front to address some issue, his men would turn on him and demand, “Lee to the rear!” and do anything, including suicidal attacks on superior numbers in entrenched positions, to make sure their father figure was not in harm’s way.
In the same war you hadmostly in the cavalry arm—men who fought at the tip of the spear and inspired their men in the old way, like Forest who cut five Yankees out of their saddles and Custer who paid for this habit at The Little Big Horn.
It helped when a man was an impressive combatant like William Wallace, but the important thing was his level of heroism. By putting himself in danger, the man who represented and in many ways was the unit, the army, the nation, the system, could inspire his men to great feats and turn the tide of battle. This characteristic was largely replaced by the Romans by developing a legionary culture [which our modern military still exemplifies to some degree] in which the men spent 30 years as a war clan, revering the eagles of their unit and their legion, carried by signifiers—or surrogate heroes. So, where Alexander or Pyrrus would risk their lives to break an enemy line, a Roman general like Julius Caesar would just take a standard and throw it into the enemy formation, challenging his men with unbearable humiliation.
At the end of the Roman period, with the splitting of the empire and the dominance of the Greek half, along with the introduction of the stirrup and renewed importance of cavalry operations, the hero king leadership of the ancient Hellenes under Alexander reemerged to replace the Roman managerial system.
I will conduct a survey of top generals from the period, each rated according to six characteristics. One of these characteristics will be heroism. This will not be a base skill but a bonus. Imagine if you will, rolling two dice against a value of 2-10 to see if the general could succeed in a task—meaning that 11 and 12 always fail.
Let us suppose Attila failed to commit his reserves by rolling against his tactical value and scoring equal to or less his value on the roll. You could risk Attila’s life and send him into the fray to fix it. If you roll less than the value he has success, equal to his value success and wounding, over his value by one success and a death roll, by two failure and a death roll. In designing table top war games this was how I learned how to valuate such things in the abstract, so I’ll use this 2-10 value system, with the heroism value really representing a desperate measure option, an option that eventually caught up with Alexander when he jumped into an Indus Valley fort his men didn’t want to attack, forcing them to break in and slaughter everyone in his defense, but at the cost of an arrow in his lung.
For the Heroism attribute, Alexander is the standard, the 10-rating, and every other hero general will be rated against him. He was the man who risked his neck in the front line in every battle—and even a siege, where Caesar would have been watching from an observation tower—even though he had the better tech level on his side. Someone like Wallace has to do that, when he’s faced with a better army, but Alexander just could not help himself.
These qualities will each be the subject of their own article and will be limited to the generals depicted in the Deadliest Warrior episodes.
1. Heroism [the value of risking the leader to cause a troop morale surge at a specific time and place on the battlefield]
The seventh installment of Hero generals will rate the personalities presented in the three seasons of The Deadliest Warrior according to this six point valuation system.
Since Sam J.’s bringing up of Caesar in comparison to Alexander, actually gave me the idea to do this, I will throw Julius Gaius Caesar into the mix as well, the epileptic Roman phenomena with a fey heroism score of 5.