Zach – Welcome to another special edition of Minimum Wage Historian! I am joined by our good friend Anna Komemne, first woman historian and Byzantine Princess.
Anna – Thank you. It’s always great to be here.
Zach – It’s always good to have you. Next we have Henry the VIII, King of England!
Henry – Thank you, thank you. The food was excellent by the way.
Zach – Enjoy that Chinese buffet last night?
Henry – Certainly did!
Anna – I enjoyed the steamed dumplings myself.
Henry – General Tso’s chicken was quite delectable. Can we have him here? If he fights as well as he cooks he’s welcome in my army any time!
Zach – I’ll look into that….I’m not really sure he’s a real…well, next we have Cleopatra.
Cleopatra – I preferred the salad bar. When I get back to Egypt I shall institute salad bars in my palace.
Zach – Glad you liked it. And then we have Julius Caesar!
Caesar – Greetings Zach, Henry, Anna. And how are you this evening Cleopatra?
Cleopatra – Hello Julius. (winks)
Zach – And our last special guest panelist is Hua Mulan.
Mulan – It is a pleasure to be here. The buffet was better than the army food I am used to but I saw very little that was “Chinese” about it.
Henry – I was told that there’d be food here.
Zach – Well, I ordered out for pizza.
Henry – Oh, delightful.
Anna – I really enjoy this pizza you have here.
Caesar – I concur.
Zach – Well, what brings us here today is a topic that is too big for one unskilled historian. Our topic today is “Greatest ruthless conqueror.” Our contestants are Napoleon Bonaparte, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Hernando Cortes and Mehmet II.
Anna – Napoleon? Really?
Zach – Well, he’s annoying but he did stomp all over Europe.
Caesar – Ha! I know a thing or two about that.
Cleopatra – And Egypt, darling.
Caesar – I believe that you were the one that walked over me.
Henry – I never let a woman walk over me.
Anna – No, your girth would require a mountain climber for that.
Zach – Be nice you two. So, what criteria are we judging by?
Mulan – Military accomplishments. Number of victories versus defeats.
Anna – Casualties inflicted verses casualties sustained.
Cleopatra – How good of kissers they were. I’m only jesting.
Henry – Long lasting impact on history.
Zach – Who should we start with?
Caesar – I think we should start with Alexander.
Zach – Very well. Alexander the Great. Alexander took his armies from Macedonia all the way to India. He was unstoppable and undefeated.
Anna – But how was he so successful? He not only conquered all the unruly Greek city-states, but he also Palestine, Egypt and the powerful Persian Empire.
Caesar – He changed the classic Greek phalanx from a ponderous, slow moving formation to a lighter, faster, but more offensive unit. He lengthened the pikes and decreased the size of the hoplites’ shields. They were able to bring more pikes to bear and were able to move much faster.
Henry – Imagine a forest of spear points running at you at full speed. What could you do but run?
Anna – I doubt that you’d run.
Henry – Why, thank you. I am known for my bravery.
Anna – I was referring to your lack of ability.
Caesar – (laughs) Well, he killed thousands, but mostly all in battle. His modified phalanx’s in wedge formations charged forward rolling over everything that got in the way. Then Alexander used fast cavalry to strike where opportunities presented themselves. That was how he got King Darius. He charged in at a weak point.
Cleopatra – I think you paint his portrait too favorably. In India he slaughtered several cities that refused to submit. That cannot be ignored. He was as much a butcher as any other tyrant. He does however have perhaps the best military record of any general, but what made him “Great” was his impact on the culture. He spread Hellenic culture half way across the world. His general, Ptolemy was my ancestor after all. Greek rulers of Egypt. That’s rather significant I’d say.
Henry – Can you produce any male heirs?
Cleopatra – Pardon me?
Henry – Never mind.
Zach – Yes, he spread the Greek culture and infused it with the cultures of the areas he conquered. The Egyptians adopted Greek rulers, Palestine adopted Greek ways as well. The New Testament is much easier to understand if you understand the basic culture that it takes place in. The Greco-Roman-Hebrew culture is a complex one and it takes a little getting used to.
Mulan – He expanded on the military innovations of his father, but it was his daring on the battle field that won him his victories. He was vastly outnumbered many times, but he struck with power and precision at just the right spot. That is how he won.
Zach – But how does he rank? Okay, we’ll use a scale of one to ten and show the results at the end. First criteria: It’s a bit morbid, but let’s look at body count, actual and ratio. By most vague guestimates his armies killed around a million people, including during battles and razing cities. His ratio of casualties versus enemy casualties was very high. As for battles won or lost he fought ten large battles and lost none of them. 10 – 0. Not bad at all! Next is territory gained. His empire went from Macedonia to India and about 5.2 million square kilometers.
Caesar – Very impressive, even by Roman standards.
Zach – Next is innovation. Much of the ground work for the changing of the phalanxes was done by his father but we do need to give him some credit. Then we have “Lasting Effect.” Alexander spread Greek culture far and wide and altered the areas he conquered for centuries to come. And last we have the “Evil Meter.” Alexander fought for no great cause other than himself. He slaughtered civilian populations and ran one of his own generals through with a spear. He also named about a billion cities after himself which shows a certain…hubris if that’s not too light a word.
Mulan – He was a self serving, egotistical, arrogant jerk. I didn’t go off to fight for my own personal glory.
Anna – He served nothing but himself and didn’t care how many had to die.
Zach – So we can say that he ranks fairly high on the Evil Meter.
Henry – Sounds like a horrible man. Who’s next?
Zach – Let’s go with Genghis Khan next.
Cleopatra – What a brute. He lacks any hint of civilization that my dear Julius has.
Mulan – Mongols! Disgusting creatures.
Zach – Yes, indeed he comes from Mongolia and his name was Temujin. His father was a chieftain but when he died of food poisoning, he left Temujin and his mother, Hoelun, desolate and with nothing. She was a tough woman and managed to keep her small family alive for years while other tribes wanted to kill them. They lived in desperate poverty for years until Temujin was captured and held as a slave. He escaped and joined up with his childhood friend, Jamuha. Together they were like a buddy cop movie, jumping over car hoods, and shooting badguys while back to back.
Mulan – They were barbarians. They had no central leader. They constantly fought amongst themselves like rabid dogs.
Zach – True. Temujin saw all this constant anarchy, so he gathered his forces and began conquering all the other tribes in an effort to bring order and peace and end the constant murder that was going on. Also, he despised nobility. The idea that someone received privileges due to birth was disgusting to him. He had been at the mercy of nobles all his life and determined to fight the Man. In his clan a person rose up through merit alone.
Caesar – Very democratic of him.
Cleopatra – So, he wanted to reform the Mongols and make them a bit more civilized. As I understand it, he also wanted revenge against the Chinese for interfering with the Mongol tribes and pitting them against one another.
Mulan – He was jealous and nothing more.
Zach – Well, for a barbarian he had a very hungry mind. He had holy men from every religion; Taoism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity. He brought doctors, philosophers and scholars to his court. He adapted the best parts of all the civilizations he conquered.
Henry – Indeed! He conquered a great deal! From China to Europe and the Asia Minor. That’s a lot to devour!
Caesar – He devoured quickly and kept it down for a long time. Descendents of his family had maintained power until the 1900’s. He changed the political face of Asia for centuries.
Cleopatra – Long lasting effects indeed!
Anna – His forces came to the boarders of the Eastern Roman Empire and went to the walls of Vienna.
Zach – Alright, let’s look at his forces. He had hordes of horse archers that rode very fast and struck very quickly. They stayed out of range of their enemies and showered arrows down on them. They also adopted innovations from the different cultures they met. They used Chinese gunpowder and medicine and invented paper money because they got tired of carrying their loot with them.
Anna – So then, where does he stand in our judgment? Now for our body count, as you call it? According to my research he…and this is really a guess, killed between 30 to 40 million people in his wars across Asia. Not only was he ruthless on the battlefield, but ruthless to the civilians living in cities. He was known for slaughtering the populations of cities in order to cause terror to other cities.
Henry – And victories? Didn’t he fail in conquering Japan?
Anna – That was after Temujin died so it cannot count. However, he did lose some early battles but he won countless others.
Zach – We’ll say its 100 victories to 3 losses. That’s more than respectable.
Cleopatra – Innovations?
Mulan – He ate mice and wore rotten furs.
Anna – He invented money and spread medicine, philosophy, and technology from China to Europe while going along the Silk Road. He invented laws to govern the Mongols, laws that declared that everyone was equal under the law with no exceptions. Not to mention bringing gunpowder to Europe.
Caesar – Land taken. 5.2 million square kilometers. That’s the largest empire ever. It didn’t last as long as the Roman Empire though.
Zach – And now the Evil Meter. How does he rank?
Mulan – The highest.
Cleopatra – He slaughtered millions and millions.
Henry – But he did it because he wanted to bring equality, justice and order to the world.
Anna – And how many tyrants have used that excuse?
Cleopatra – But he did fight for love!
Henry – Love? What do you mean?
Cleopatra – Oh, it’s a fantastic love story. He married his childhood sweetheart, Borte. He loved her but she was captured. He, with his friend Jamuha, fought and won her back.
Anna – Now that is lovely.
Caesar – Who’s next on our list?
Zach – Umm….let’s see…Ah! Hernando Cortes.
Anna – A very mercenary man.
Cleopatra – Indeed! Greed led him to the New World.
Mulan – He and a handful of men came over to Mexico, gathered some local allies and conquered an entire empire. He lost only a handful of his conquistadors but killed hundreds of thousands of Aztecs…and that’s not even counting the smallpox.
Caesar – He did suffer some losses during the Noche Triste when he and his men fled from Tenochtitlan. However, that was nothing compared to what he inflicted on the Aztecs when he returned.
Henry – His army and muskets didn’t hurt his odds either. He had tough, savage, armored and powerful soldiers. The Aztecs were afraid of his horses and thought he was a god. If my enemies thought I was a god I would be in a very good position indeed.
Anna – And how successful was he in battle? How many casualties?
Caesar – He lost 400 conquistadors and killed around 230,000 Aztecs, including almost all of their nobility.
Mulan – That’s a record to boast of. I wish our casualties had been that light.
Zach – And his attack on Tenochtitlan was almost ingenious. He brought portable boats down into Mexico valley and mounted cannons on them. The little boats went up and bombarded the city from the water. Then his other cannons and troops went up the causeways over the lake and began leveling the city block by block in order to bring his cavalry into the fight.
Anna – And innovation?
Caesar – Not really. Just raw brutality and excessive greed.
Zach – Well, he couldn’t have destroyed an entire empire with only a handful of men and be an idiot.
Anna – Agreed. He was a man that could see the opportunities that others did not. When he saw an opening he went for it with everything he had.
Henry – And that was his talent. No innovation really, but he used what he had to maximum effect.
Caesar – And land conquered?
Anna – The Aztec empire was around 800 square miles but led the way to the entire area of Mexico and Guatemala. He opened Mexico up for occupation by Spain and so the entire southwest of the United States. Perhaps he hadn’t conquered or killed much, but his percentages were spectacular. Few people had conquered so much with so little. If we look at the percentages of men and casualties, it would have been if Robert E. Lee’s army conquered the entire world and the Netherworld as well.
Zach – So, how does he rate on the evil meter?
Mulan – Again, we have a cruel man that fought for greed and his own vanity. Fighting for oneself and no higher cause is a terrible thing. He destroyed an entire empire only to gain what gold it had. It’s hard for me to imagine a more evil thing.
Zach – Next on our list is the Sultan Mehmet II. He was Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and was famous for conquering Constantinople. By all accounts he was a highly intelligent and educated man.
Anna – He was a heathen and a…I should hold my tongue. He destroyed my beloved city of Constantinople.
Henry – Well, he spread his empire into Eastern Europe and destroyed the last remains of the Roman Empire.
Caesar – That is hard to say. There were only a few thousand defenders and Constantinople. Most of the populace had fled already. Out of all our contestants, he had probably killed the least.
Cleopatra – He did conquer a lot of territory and defeated many armies. Not to mention, his conquest of Constantinople was brilliant.
Caesar – Right! There was a great chain across the harbor so he packed up his ships and carried them across land. Then his highly trained troops, his Janissaries stormed the walls after his giant cannons blew holes in them.
Cleopatra – What was that quote he said when he walked through the ruins of the Byzantine palace?
Anna – “The spider weaves the curtains in the palace of the Caesars;
the owl calls the watches in the towers of Afrasiab.”
Mulan – He won against a crusade by the Hungarians. Then tore to pieces what little remained of the Byzantine Empire that had held back Islamic expansion for centuries. But when he tried to conquer Hungary they turned him back. I must declare it a draw. But then Vlad III Dracula waged a war of hit and run and ambushes against him. Dracuala boasted of impaling thousands of Turks. So Mehmet turned his full attention against Dracula and during a night attack, I’ve done such myself, Dracula struck deep into Mehmet’s camp and almost killed him right there. He lost other battles, won some and was turned away from Italy.
Cleopatra – I dare say this isn’t looking too good for his record. He did great job at Constantinople but progressed only with great difficulty in the rest of Europe.
Henry – He did conquer the Balkans and the Crimea, both very troublesome areas. Where is that pizza?
Mulan – Yes. I too am hungry and I desire pizza.
Anna – I’m hungry as well.
Zach – I ordered it already and it should be here soon.
Mulan – And Mehmet on the Evil Meter? Couldn’t we have found a better name for that?
Zach – No, we couldn’t. Well, he…
Anna – He’s the worst. He destroyed the city of the Caesars and of Constantine. He was a vile destroyer.
Zach – Well, he didn’t do anything horrible for his times and he fought for his empire and his religion. At least he had a cause.
Mulan – Right! The last contestant.
Anna – Must we really?
Zach – Yes, we must. Josephine made me promise to include him.
Anna – (groans)
Mulan – Napoleon Bonaparte.
Cleopatra – Was he really short?
Zach – No, that’s a myth. He was average height for his time and the shortness thing comes from English propaganda and a slight mix up in the English and French system of measurements.
Caesar – So, Napoleon was a Corsican who enrolled in the French army as an artillery officer. There he learned how effective artillery could be. That was the secret of his success. He made his artillery mobile and concentrated his firepower where it was most needed at the right times.
Mulan – A technique still used by you Americans.
Zach – That’s right. In the artillery our motto was “Shoot, move, communicate!” Napoleon didn’t invent anything and technology stagnated during the Napoleonic wars. What made him so innovative was that he used what he had in a completely new manner. He was almost always out numbered and innovated the idea of Total War. Instead of merely taking the field, his goal was to destroy the enemy and their means of resistance.
Cleopatra – He had trouble in Egypt! He never got the hang of handling the navy.
Henry – It isn’t that he didn’t have the hang of it, its that the English were so much better! (laughs loudly)
Caesar – he took over almost all of Europe except for England.
Zach – I’m sure Sir Winston Churchill could relate to that.
Mulan – What are the casualties?
Anna – At the battle of Leipzig there were over 90,000 casualties and that is just one battle in the very long and bloody war. Some estimates say about two to three million dead because of his wars. Some say as much as seven million.
Mulan – And why this bloodshed?
Caesar – He fought for his ideals of the Revolution. He wanted to throw down nobility and create a state where all were equal under the law. He even wanted equality for the Jews. He changed the face and history of Europe and not to mention warfare itself.
Cleopatra – And his success?
Mulan – He took all Europe and it took several countries gaining up on him. He used mass conscription to create an enormous army.
Anna – My fellow historian Victor Davis Hanson does not have a high opinion of him. He said “After all, the military record is unquestioned—17 years of wars, perhaps six million Europeans dead, France bankrupt, her overseas colonies lost.”
Cleopatra – But Wellington, when asked who was the greatest general of the day, answered: “In this age, in past ages, in any age, Napoleon.”
Zach – We can’t deny that he was a great general. For over a decade he fought almost undefeated against all of Europe and always outnumbered. How many other generals can fight England, Germany and Russia at the same time? He was also loved by his soldiers. I can’t say I ever loved any of my officers, so for me that says something.
Mulan – He was an arrogant man that craved power. He claimed to fight for the revolution but then crowned himself emperor. Hypocritical I think.
Zach – Our friend, Matilda Countess of Tuscany would be interested to know that when Napoleon took Italy, he used the “Iron Crown of Lombardy” to crown himself king of Italy.
Caesar – So, let’s see the final score! Remember, the more evil, the lower the score.
Alexader the Great:
Casualties inflicted versus taken. 8
Victories versus Defeat 10
Lasting Effect 6
Land Taken 8
Evil Meter 2
Casualties inflected versus taken 7
Victories versus Defeat 10
Lasting Effect 7
Land Taken 10
Evil Meter 4
Casualties inflected Versus Taken. 10
Victories Versus Defeat 6
Lasting Effect 7
Land Taken 6
Evil Meter 2
Casualties inflected versus taken. 5
Victories Versus Defeat 5
Lasting Effect 5
Land Taken 5
Evil meter 7
Casualties inflected Versus taken 8
Victories Versus Defeat 9
Lasting Effect 8
Land Taken 8
Evil Meter 8
Zach – The winner is……Napoleon!
Anna – No! This must be a mistake.
Mulan – We should have had Emperor Quin in there.
Henry – Well, he wasn’t really French. He was Corsican after all. And he never beat our navy!
Zach – Where did Caesar and Cleopatra run off to?
Anna – They left a little while ago.
Henry – Who cares about those two love birds? Where’s the blasted pizza?