Were Napoleon/Alexander/Hitler/Other Conquerors really that great? At least compared to great civilian leaders?


So this may seem like more of an opinion question, but I’d very much like to hear someone more knowledgeable tell me what is wrong or right about this thought I’ve been having lately:

I often see lists of great leaders that include the titans of history: Washington, Augustus, Bismarck, etc.

But also on those lists usually are Napoleon, Alexander the Great, sometimes even Hitler because he commanded “the largest European empire since Napoleon” (I’ve read that exact line at least 10 times this most recent semester in a WWII class).

But this second list always rubbed me the wrong way. Alexander was never a ruler, he was a conqueror who never transitioned to civilian politics to my knowledge. Hitler and Napoleon definitely put more effort into civilian rule, but even then, it was just to fund their wars. All of these men’s gains were also lost almost immediately upon their death or defeat. Besides the traumatization of entire generations, it seems the only outcome of some of these massive war empires is that they expanded and contracted at break neck speeds, and do nothing but cause chaos for the common people. From my perspective, the “empires” of Alexander, Napoleon, and Hitler built were nothing like the real greatest empires: Rome, the Mongols, etc. These lasted generations upon generations.

So my question is: What’s the historical consensus on how much these second guys compare as “rulers”, ranking them in an all-around general sense against the longer lasting dynasties? Am I missing something that equates these conquerors with the kings who ruled for 40/50/60 years or more? Or am I missing something about the worthwhile nature of conquering then losing territory within only a few years?

Source: reddit post


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