The Ten Greatest Military Tacticians in History

History has seen several numerous leaders who led their empires to greatness. Famous for their brilliance, tactical knowledge, facing incredible odds, expanding their empires and defending their homelands, the following men are some of the most renowned leaders who ever lived.

Although ranking military tacticians is a challenging task, we have made an list of ten some of history’s best military strategists. These individuals have been studied throughout the ages for the notable feats they were able to accomplish and the strategies that they developed.

10. Saladin

Saladin
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Formally known as Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb, Saladin was the West’s nemesis during the Second and Third Crusades. However, for people in the Middle East he was and still is, revered as the one who re-captured Jerusalem and Levant cities and returned them to Muslim hands.

He is also recognized for his generosity and chivalry toward his enemies and Christians. Born a Kurdish Muslim in modern-day Iraq in 1137/38 AD, he worked his entire life to consolidate power in the Middle East and unite the warring Arabs against the Crusaders. He started by disintegrating the Shi’ite Fatamid caliphate in Egypt (which he did by betraying them while serving as vizier) then he aligned the government with Sunni Abassid caliphate.  He was later proclaimed the sultan of Egypt and Syria.  He also took control of Palestine and northern Mesopotamia through skillful diplomacy and military accomplishments.

His success did not come from utilizing new techniques. Instead it came by uniting and training hundreds of thousands of unruly Muslim forces. His best achievement against the Crusaders was at the Battle of Hattin on Northern Palestine in July of 1187. It was there that overconfidence, thirst and lack of military sense defeated most of the panicked and trapped Crusader army in one blow. Guy de Lusignan, King of Jerusalem, and other generals were captured and beheaded, except for Guy himself who was later ransomed. Within three months the Crusaders lost most of their territory and Jerusalem fell after a long siege, ending 88 years of Frankish rule over the city. This prompted the Third Crusade, which re-conquered some territory back but not Jerusalem, and ended with a peace treaty between Richard the Lion Heart and Saladin after three years of belligerence. Saladin fell ill and died in Damascus months later.

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  • Tom

    Great article, really enjoyed reading it 🙂

    Though, I might suggest you proof read it once more, as there’s a few errors. For example “knowing teh penalty for failure”
    Made me chuckle though 🙂

    • Stephanie Schoppert

      oops! Thanks for catching that, I actually make that mistake a lot and I’m usually better about catching it. I’ll definitely take another look for errors!

  • Darren

    Actually Napoleon wasn’t a short man. He was above average height for the age.

  • Merlyn Dicks

    Must be an American list I can think of at least 6 that should be on the list. Putting Patton on your must be a joke a braggart and a blowhard.

    • phil

      No list of this nature…would be worth reading…without including George Patton. Do some research on 3rd Army, WW2. You’ll become educated…quickly. Patton was the MOST feared American General..by The Nazis. He was a military genius.

  • Damian

    Congratulation, a very interesting material.

  • PK77

    Stonewall Jackson should be no 1, did so much with so little, a genius

    • Sara Marie Brown

      I was just about to suggest he should have been on the list. 🙂

    • Butch

      Agree! When Stonewall Jackson died General Lee said it was if he lost his right arm. The Southern cause afterwards declined.

    • Ivan Mihailov

      lol

  • Kat

    How was Suvorov left off this list? Seriously? Why is he always forgotten?

    • Andre Stefansky

      Agreed, he was a magnificent leader.

  • Bob

    Zhukov….Wellington ?

  • Bill

    Scipio Africanus??? Defeated Hannibal at every battle they fought.

  • Tom

    Interesting. It really is hard to do a 10 best, especially with a subject like this. If it were me and I was limited to 10 I’d have Scipio Africanus, as mention above, and drop Saladin. Also I might insert Frederick the Great and remove Sun Tzu.

  • bimal

    how did patton get on this list? he only fought against beaten foes.

  • Hector

    Where is General Robert E Lee?

    • confused

      I agree with you Hector, R.E. Lee conducted a masterful retreat through Virginia in 1864 anticipating where Grant would move to and using interior lines to be there to block Grant at every stage of the campaign. It’s hard to rate him offensively due to the poor quality of the majority of the opposing generals. The biggest mistake he made was not listening to Longstreet and outflanking the union army at Gettysburg.

  • lol this list is a joke

    lolllll

    This list is ridiculous. Hannibal at number one, and Scipio doesn’t even make the list? Hannibal himself even said that Scipio was a better general than he was.

    • HootOwl

      Plus, only one single elephant survived the crossing of the Alps. One! Sparticus, Stonewall Jackson and Bobby Lee should have made the list too, along with Scipio.

      • Davis K.

        Spartacus was amazing, but his victories were short lived because he couldn’t keep his army together (half of them split to Gaul), and he was eventually trapped by Crassus’ forces. This list is more deserving of tacticians that left a victorious legacy behind them. If anything, Joan of Arc deserves to be on this list.

  • confused

    I’m confused by the title of “The Ten Greatest Military Tacticians in History” since most of the people on the list were great Military Strategists or at the Operational level not Tacticians. Wikipedia defines Military Tactician as: In contemporary military science, tactics are the lowest of three planning levels: (i) strategic, (ii) operational, and (iii) tactical. The highest level of planning is strategy: how force is translated into political objectives by bridging the means and ends of war. The intermediate level, operational, the conversion of strategy into tactics, deals with formations of units. In the vernacular, tactical decisions are those made to achieve the greatest immediate value; strategic decisions are those made to achieve the greatest overall value, irrespective of the immediate results of a tactical decision.

  • jim

    Nathan Bedford Forrest wasn’t on the list.

  • Naathan

    You mentioned Sun Tzu. Why no Zhuge Liang? I was actually expecting him to be in first place… the man single handedly made an army of over 100,000 retreat by the power of reputation alone.

    • Ivan Mihailov

      great story that, i think there has to be some mythological element in it:) Even so, myths are created for the legends:)

  • Timbot2000

    Subotai? Belisarius? Zhukov? Scipio Africanus? Zhou Yu?, Cao Cao?….Alexander Magnus, latin? Seriously? Alexander of Macedon people.

    • Davis K.

      Subutai alone deserves to be top 3

  • Carmen

    Where are Chief Joseph and Geronimo?

  • No George Washington? who defeated The British Army? Or Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson?

    • Washington was one of the greatest generals in American history, but he was no tactician. He influenced the tactics of guerrilla warfare, and he was great in inspiring his men and leading them on the battlefield, but he lost many battles, and, as a young officer, he basically starts the French-Indian War all by himself, and was defeated.

      • And also, we got kicked by the British so much, we had to make friends with the French so they can come help us in the nick of time.

      • thatpageguy

        He learned from the French and Indian War, something the British never did. Also, don’t forget that that was his first experience in leading men into combat.

    • jim

      The truth behind the American Revolution is that if the French did not enter to help the Americans and if Washington did not get Baron Friedrich von Steuben to train the Americans at Valley Forge it would have been a lost cause. Washington was a great leader but not one of the greatest tacticians.

    • thatpageguy

      A number of people here discounting Washington. While he may or may not be in the Top 10, he proved to be the best general, perhaps, in the 18 Century. His escape from the British in New York was brilliantly done, as was his victory in the Battle of Trenton. He was also excellent in manoeuver, keeping out of the clutches of the much better British Army and his “army” was usually a rag tag collection of poorly trained militia. Considering how little he had to work with, it was a major accomplishment that he didn’t lose the war.

      • Georg Morrison

        “his escape from NY”? Really? Here’s a concept to ponder: If you’re opposed by the largest Navy in the world, and you have NO navy, is it wise to place your army on an ISLAND? (Hint: “no.”) When Washington’s army departed Cambridge, MA (their HQ in 1775/1776) it numbered about 20,000 including camp followers. By the time he had been kicked out of NY following multiple defeats, it was down to about 2,000 with desertions decreasing it each night. Howe didn’t bother chasing him as soon the army would be gone. Howe couldn’t print the new loyalty oaths being signed by Americans fast enough. TO HIS (G.W.’s) CREDIT, Trenton turned things around, but only in regards to the British having to be wary. Americans fantasize “We won,” but the reality is that following an election in Britain the war party was out, the peace party was in, and they were pretty-sure we’d come crawling back anyway.

    • Ivan Mihailov

      Please, give me a break… I believe even Pattons name was here just to put 1 american here so there be less whinning. Suvorov, Bayazid the Lightning, El Cid… many others should be in his place. I am Bulgarian and for near 1500 years of history my ppl had many great generals but like Tervel or Krum or Vazov, but i will not suck out of my fingers something to put them in this list

      • Chris Nicholson

        Yeah, when I think of world powers, I think of Bulgaria.

        • Ivan Mihailov

          Wait, where is said great military tacticians from great powers?:) I am sorry, but 1000 years more history tend to give ginda more battles, generals etc.:)

  • Kenneth Penney

    Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. It’s possible that he would be worthy for this list.

    • Piotr Del Real

      Napoleon was greatly outnumbered. He didn’t stand much of a chance winning against even an average general.

    • Experiment625

      He also had superior numbers.

  • Elvey *Viking for Elf Warrior

    Let us forget the dribble and just list the top 100 Generals in Everyone’s History. After all, Genius on the battlefield is still GENIUS!!!

  • DanO

    Frederick the Great! “Hats off gentleman, if he were alive today we wouldn’t be here.” -Napoleon upon entering the tomb of Frederick the Great. Just saying.

    • Georg Morrison

      Thanks for bringing “Old Fritz” to the list. Curious that of Napoleon’s “top eight” – which included three ‘ancients’ listed here, Fred was omitted. His back-to-back wins at Rossbach and Leuthen deserve to be remembered by EVERYONE. On 5.December 1757 Frederick’s army, outnumbered nearly two-to-one, and having marched 170 miles on winter roads in twelve days, decisively defeated the Austrian army, killing 3,000, and capturing 20,000 men (a number unprecedented in history!) and 116 cannon. Napoleon later described the battle as “a masterpiece. Of itself it suffices to entitle Frederick to a place in the first rank among generals.” Frederick proceeded to take Breslau five days later, capturing another 18,000.

    • Experiment625

      He gets credit for installing a military system.

  • Rommel,seriously Nathan B.Forrest should have been on it.

    • David Hoover

      Rommel wasn’t as great as people think. As soon as the Allies realized he had broken their code and changed it, he was done for soon after.

      • Georg Morrison

        Rommel’s reputation rests on the fact that he opposed the British – who always admire those that whup them (more books on Napoleon by British authors than any other nationality). Hitler never cared about North Afrika. If Rommel had been a ‘first stringer,’ he’d have been posted to Russia where ALL the big fighting was going on.

  • 34th Infantry

    General MacArthur doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He went from New Guinea to Japan with fewer casualties then Ike took just in the Battle of the Bulge. Plus the landing at Inchon was a masterpiece.

    • D_Kellhr

      C’mon,
      I will admit that MacArthur was a genius at Inchon, where he conceived and personally directed a brilliant attack, but the Army’s work was a minor sideshow in the Pacific theater of WWII.. It was the Marines and the Navy who did the heavy lifting there. And while MacArthur can claim some credit for being in overall command, it was really his subordinates in the Navy and Marine Corps who led and won the great island-hopping battles of WWII in the Pacific.

      • William Hipps

        MacArthur was not in”overall” command in the Pacific, he was commander of the “Southwest Pacific Ocean Area” which included the area west of the 160 degree east longitude. Admiral Nimitz was Commander in Chief, Pacific, which included every thing east of 160 degrees east, plus the Gilberts, Marshals and Marianas. MacArthur wheedled Roosevelt into giving him permission retake the Philippines and Okinawa, which he could not have done without the cooperation of Nimitz!

  • Fred Pomeroy

    Since it says military, I am surprised at your elitism. Naval officers are also military. Perhaps you should consider Dutch Admiral Michiel de Ruyter, Korean Admiral Yi Soon Shin, or British Lord Admiral Sir Doctor Horatio Nelson.

    • David Hoover

      Upon whom Gene Roddenberry based Captain James Tiberius Kirk!

  • JoCar
  • Robert Coates

    Every one of these men was a military success and a political failure. Conquering a country does not count for much if you cannot govern it afterwards.

    • Davis K.

      This discussion is about warfare, not politics.

    • D_Kellhr

      I disagree with Robert Coats. Conquering a country counts plenty. Especially if you are a soldier. A General’s job is to win battles and wars. It is absolutely not a soldier’s job to govern, unless you are one of the few who believe that governments should be run by the military.
      If not, then you must consider that is the politicians who must make wise decisions about when and whether to wage war, and about whether military victories can be politically sustained afterwards.
      So when a conquered country like Vietnam or Afghanistan or Iraq falls, don’t blame the soldiers or their Generals. They did their job correctly – Instead, you should blame the politicians.

  • Trace

    Hello? Robert E. Lee? Stonewall Jackson? Nathan Bedford Forrest?

  • Davis K.

    Genghis Khan at 9? Seriously? He is top 3, if not number 1. Had Genghis not died and his general Subutai not been relocated, he would’ve conquered Europe and changed history:

    -Most mobile army in the world until the 20th century (and this was back in the 1200s, so that says a lot)
    -Utilized revolutionary tactics (ie. feigned retreat)
    -Decimated armies exponentially larger than his
    -Had the worlds largest postal service at the time
    -Ruled the Silk Road with an iron fist, keeping it virtually bandit free for hundreds of years.

    Even early gunpowder empires were at the mercy of Mongol tactics (Temujin vs the Turks before his untimely death). It’s safe to bet that no pre-industrial army in history would defeat Genghis Khan and his general Subutai.

    • David Hoover

      Ugh! Decimated? Decimated means to kill ONE TENTH, not to destroy.

    • Ivan Mihailov

      fiegned retreat is a common step horse archers tactics since the huns,,,,

      • Dagon

        Actually the Parthians also used it.

    • William Hipps

      Gunpowder was invented by the Chinese, which was part of the Mongol Empire at that time.

  • Rommel and Patton both studied who? The father of Total War. The man who saved Lincoln from losing reelection in 1864.

  • djibson

    Napoleon at # 2? He stranded and abandoned an entire army in Egypt, lost half a generation of french men in Russia and finally gave up after losing most of the rest of that generation in Belgium. There were essentially no men left in France who could fight. GENIUS.

    • Piotr Del Real

      Napoleon almost conquered all of Europe by himself. The last people to do that were the Romans roughly 2000 years ago! He overthrew the Spanish Throne and put his brother on it and conquered much of Europe. Everyone makes mistakes and just because Napoleon made some doesn’t make him a bad general. He was one on the greatest generals of all time.

    • D_Kellhr

      Fair enough, Napoleon hadsome big failures. But In fairness i think he should be given credit for ten times as many successes in battle.

  • Moishe the Beadle

    Where’s the prophet Muhammad? He’s the only one on this list who has 1.6 billion followers with an organization of 57 Islamic countries (OIC).

    • Bill Reich

      That is a major problem with the way the question is worded. “Tactician” really doesn’t apply to most of the people named. Their genius was in the broader field of strategy. The Prophet’s leadership was in the even broader fields of grand strategy and policy.

      • Moishe the Beadle

        The ProMo’s greatest “inventions” were jihad, the killing of apostates and the category of Dhimmitude for non-believers. Those were and still are the overarching strategy of Islam even today.

  • TheLastBattalion

    I really think that Stonewall Jackson should have been on the list.

  • David W. Landrum

    Glad they put Sun Tzu in.

  • Jack Diep

    What about Zhuge Liang from the Three Kingdoms? His strategic abilities are as successful, if not more successful, than Sun Tzu’s. Not to mention the legends of some of the actions he has done to outwit his opponents – the “calling” of the east wind to set a blaze on an entire army, the gathering of 130,000 arrows by sending a fleet of boats covered in straw, and the infamous Empty Fort where he stands alone on the gate playing music and drove an entire army away from the fort. Talk about preventing head-on combat.

  • Clayton E. Benignus

    The Top Ten Strategists is only one third of the story. There needs to be a Top Ten for Strategists and a Top Ten for Logisticians. Tacticians win Battles but lose Campaigns to Strategists. Strategists win Campaigns but lose Wars to Logisticians. Hannibal was a GREAT Tactician but could not win against Fabius or Scipio the Younger. Washington stank as a Tactician but was a BRILLIANT Logistician. Guderian and Rundstedt were SUPURB Strategists but Zhukov and Koniev had the Logistical Skill. Kutuzov logistically defeated Napoleon.

    By all means, tell the rest of the story.

  • William Hipps

    Although George Patton was a brilliant tactician, he did not participate in the Italian campaign. The led the American forces in the Sicilian campaign, but was relieved by Eisenhower after the scandal of him slapping two US soldiers suffering from “shell Shock” (PTSD). He was later rehabilitated and given command of the “First US Army” in England in the run up to D-Day. That was a “Ghost ” army, used as a diversion to fool the Germans as to the target of the D-Day Invasion. After the invasion, he was given command of the Third Army and the rest is history!

  • HCB63

    This list cannot be complete without Subotai the Valiant. He was Genghis Khan’s greatest Orlock and tactician of nearly all of the Mongol conquests in China, Korea, Russia, Georgia, the Kwarizim Empire and Eastern Europe. His brilliance was second to none, and his contemporary students included both Patton and Rommel, and his tactics are studied by militaries around the world.