Pierre Fritel’s 1892 painting shows history’s most famous generals marching through a valley stacked with corpses.
READ: The Conquerors (for more about the painting)
In the centre is Julius Caesar.
On his right (in the background) we glimpse Hannibal of Carthage; then Attila the Hun, Tamberlane, and Rameses II.
On the far side is Napoleon, a glimpse of Alexander the Great in the background and Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon; with Charlemagne on the flank.
It must be said none of the conquerors look too happy. They are grim; almost haunted.
Julius Caesar overthrew the Roman Republic. Under his heir Augustus, Rome became an empire. The name Caesar came to mean King – giving us Kaiser and Tsar.
Hannibal tried to conqueror of Rome. He is mainly remembered for marching elephants over the Alps.
Attila the Hun known as “the Scourge of God” invaded Italy in 452. According to legend he was turned back from the gates of Rome by Pope Leo the Great, backed up by the heavenly presence of Peter and Paul – the guardian saints of the city.
The truth is less glamorous. Attila came to Italy because the Emperor’s sister offered to marry him rather than marry a man she despised on her brother’s orders. The Emperor sent the pope as one of his emissaries. The delegation met Attila in Northern Italy, leagues away from Rome.
Attila withdrew; probably due to the fact starvation and disease was ravaging his army. (Italy was suffering from famine and the Roman general Ezio had attacked Attila’s homeland on the Danube disrupting his supply lines.)
Tamerlane was the Tartar leader whose achievements fascinated and horrified Europe from the 15th to the 19th century. He was praised for capturing the Ottoman Sultan and saving Europe from a Turkish invasion, but feared for his brutality and rapid military success.
It is popularly believed the Egyptian Pharaoh Rameses II held the children of Israel captive. The Book of Exodus is now considered mythic rather than historical. Slaves did not build the pyramids: Egyptians did. In the all the millennia of extensive Egyptian record keeping, there is no indication of the Israelite being slaves in Egypt, or of the legendary ten plagues.
Charlemagne restored the fallen Roman Empire. In 768 he took the Frankish throne and became King of Italy from 774. In 800, he became the first Holy Roman Emperor — the first recognized emperor in Western Europe since the fall of the Western Roman Empire three centuries earlier.
On the far side of Julius Cesare is Napoleon Bonaparte. Like Caesar Napoleon overthrew a Republic to create an empire.
Napoleon was the conqueror of Europe, just as Alexander the Great was conqueror of Asia. On his deathbed Alexander left his empire to the strongest. His generals fought among themselves and 40 years of civil war ensued.
Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon is the king who sacked Jerusalem for rebelling against him and carried off the Jews into exile at Babylon. He is directly responsible for the Boney M hit ‘By the Waters of Babylon’ and so is probably the most heinous monster of all.
In the Book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar goes mad as a punishment for pride. The story is not supported in other sources. Nebuchadnezzar built the mythical Hanging Gardens of Babylon for his homesick wife.