Battles have been an integral part of human history for millennia. Shaping the future of the world, the most significant battles have spread culture, civilization, and religions. They have witnessed countless fallen heroes, glorious victories, and bloody defeats. Battles have seen incredible stories of honor and courage as well as horror and betrayal. To learn more about some of the most epic battles ever fought, check out these 25 Amazing Battles In History.
Battle of Marathon (490 BC)
One of the most famous military engagements as well as one of the earliest recorded battles, the Battle of Marathon took place in 490 BC, during the first Persian invasion of Greece. In the battle, approximately 20,000 infantry and cavalry of the Persians wanted to crush the Athenians, who had mobilized just about 10,000 warriors. However, the courageous Greeks beat their numerically superior enemies and defended themselves. The battle is therefore considered a defining moment in the development of European culture.
Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC)
Just ten years after they lost the Battle of Marathon, the Persians made another attempt to conquer Athens. This time around, however, their numerical superiority was even much greater – they arrived with at least 70,000 (some sources say up to 150,000) men. The Greeks, led by their heroic king Leonidas, put up a stunning fight and managed to beat the Persians again. With just about 7,000 warriors, the Greeks went to this battle as one of the greatest underdogs in the history, and their patriotic army succeeded in defending their soil.
Siege of Syracuse (414-413 BC)
A part of the Sicilian Expedition, an Athenian military expedition to Sicily, the Siege of Syracuse was one of the most important campaigns during the Peloponnesian War. A massive and well-equipped Athenian army was sent to Sicily, officially to help their allies. In reality, though, they came to conquer Syracuse, Sicily’s most powerful state. Despite their great superiority, the Athenians blundered into disaster, and their glorious army was annihilated. Athens’ other enemies were encouraged by this event and many rebellions broke out in the region.
Battle of Gaugamela (331 BC)
Also known as the Battle of Arbela, the Battle of Gaugamela was the final meeting between Alexander the Great of Macedon and King Darius III of Persia near the ancient town Gaugamela (modern Northern Iraq). Even though heavily outnumbered (100,000 Persians against 40,000 warriors of the League of Corinth), Alexander emerged victorious due to his army’s superior tactics and his deft employment of light infantry. After this glorious victory, Alexander became the king of all Asia.
Battle of the Metaurus (207 BC)
Fought in 207 BC, the Battle of the Metaurus was a pivotal battle in the Second Punic War between Rome and Carthage, the two greatest ancient powers of the Mediterranean. Both armies were vigorous, aggressive, exceptionally organized, and well-led. However, the Romans took advantage of their numerical superiority (47,000 Romans against 30,000 Carthaginians and 15 war elephants) to claim a victory in the battle, killing and capturing most of their enemies.
Battle of Gaixia (202 BC)
One of the most significant battles fought in Ancient China, the Battle of Gaixia was the decisive engagement of the Chu-Han Contention at which Liu-Bang, King of Han, defeated King Xiang-Yu of Chu to found the famous Han Dynasty. In the battle, Xiang-Yu’s army was decimated after being forced into the narrow Gaixia canyon where it was ambushed from ten sides by Han forces. Most of Xiang-Yu’s 100,000 soldiers were killed in the battle.
Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (9 AD)
A part of the Roman Conquest of Germania, the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest is one of the most famous battles of ancient history. In September 9 AD, a coalition of Germanic tribes, led by a nobleman named Arminius, defeated three Roman legions and forced their commander Publius Quintilius Varus to commit suicide. The result of the battle was that Germania remained independent and was never included in the Roman Empire. The battle, as well as the Teutoburg Forest where it was fought, has been an important national symbol for Germans since then.
Battle of Tours (732)
Also known as the Battle of Poitiers, the Battle of Tours was fought between forces under the Frankish leader Charles Martel and a massive invading Islamic army led by Emir Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi near the city of Tours, France. During the battle, the Franks defeated the Islamic army and killed Al Ghafiqi. This battle stopped the northward advance of Islam from the Iberian Peninsula, and is therefore considered to be of macro-historical importance as it halted the Islamic conquests and preserved Christianity as the controlling faith in Europe.
Battle of Hastings (1066)
One of the most famous and important battles in English history, the Battle of Hastings was fought between William of Normandy and his army from France (called the Normans), and King Harold II and his English (Anglo-Saxon) army. The Normans were better trained and had more archers than their Anglo-Saxon rivals, which enabled them to win this pivotal battle. The Anglo-Saxons, who had ruled the land for over 600 years since the Roman times, were defeated and the era of the Norman Conquest began.
Battle of Muret (1213)
The Battle of Muret took place in September 1213 when the crusading army of Simon IV de Montfort defeated the Catharist and Catalan Forces of Peter II of Aragon and those of his brother-in-law, Count Raymond. The battle began as a siege of the Castle of Muret near the city of Toulouse, France, but ended as an open battle. Despite being greatly outnumbered by their enemies, the crusaders emerged victorious in the battle, partly also because the two opposing war-lords could not agree on the best strategy.
Battle of Morgarten (1315)
The Battle of Morgarten occurred on in November 1315, when a 1,500-strong force from the Swiss Confederacy ambushed a much bigger group (up to 9,000) of Austrian soldiers of the Holy Roman Empire on the shores of the Lake Ageri near the Morgarten Pass in Switzerland. The Austrians were also better trained and equipped, but the courageous and smart Swiss fought fearlessly, attacking their enemies from above with rocks, logs, and halberds. About 1,500 Austrian soldiers were killed in the battle and the rest fled.
Siege of Orleans (1428-1429)
The Siege of Orleans is generally considered the turning point of the Hundred Years’ War between France and England. In October 1428, about 5,000 English besiegers cut Orleans off supplies to force the defenders to give up. Weeks and months went by and the French were just about to surrender when Joan of Arc persuaded King Charles VII to send an army to relieve the city. Diversionary action against one of the English forts enabled Joan to enter the city with supplies on 30 April 1429, and the English decided to abandon the siege just a few days later.
Battle of Bosworth (1485)
One of the pivotal moments in English and Welsh history, the Battle of Bosworth was fought in August 1485, and it was the final clash of the War of the Roses, the civil war between the Lancasters and the Yorks. The Battle of Bosworth was won by the Lancasters who were led by Henry Tudor. After the victory, Henry Tudor became Henry VII, the first ruler of the famous Tudor Dynasty that lasted to 1603 and included the reign of two of England’s most famous monarchs – Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I.
Battle of Cajamarca (1532)
Fought on 15 November 1532, the Battle of Cajamarca is considered the main opening stage of the Spanish conquest of the pre-Columbian Inca civilization of Peru. Back then, the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro and his 128 invaders defeated a massive Incan army of at least 7,000 men. It was the tremendous technological advancement (firearms, iron weaponry, armor) of the Spaniards that enabled them to slaughter several thousands of the Incas without a single Spanish soldier being hurt.
Defeat of Spanish Armada (1588)
The defeat of the Spanish Armada was one of the most famous events in English history. Back at the end of the 16th century, Spain was the most powerful country in the world, ruling vast territories of land and maintaining unparalleled wealth from the New World, while England was a small country of few friends and many enemies. When the Spaniards sent 130 ships to invade England in 1588, the chances of defending their territory were very small for the English. Yet, with the help of their Dutch allies and harsh weather, they managed to defeat the feared Spanish fleet.
Battle of Vienna (1683)
Fought on 12 September 1683 at the Kahlenberg Mountain near Vienna, the Battle of Vienna was one of the largest and most important battles in European history. Following a two-month siege of Vienna by the Ottomans, this battle was fought between a coalition of the Habsburg Monarchy, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and the Holy Roman Empire against the Ottomans (Turks) and their vassal and tributary states. After a tough fight, the allied European forces (totaling at some 90,000 men) managed to beat the Ottoman army (140,000 men), thus saving Europe and then Christian world from Islamic conquest.
Battles of Saratoga (1777)
Fought on 19 September and 7 October 1777, the two Battles of Saratoga gave an important victory to the Americans over the British in the American Revolutionary War, making it one of the key events in American history. In the battles, fought on the same site 9 miles south of Saratoga, New York, just 18 days apart, approximately 8,000 British soldiers took on American troops that were progressively expanding as more and more Americans were joining them. The Battles of Saratoga were won by the Americans who thus also earned international recognition among then superpowers, most notably France.
Battle of Yorktown (1781)
Four years after the Battles of Saratoga, the Americans and the British faced each other in another pivotal battle of the American Revolutionary War known as the Battle (or Siege) of Yorktown. This time, however, the Americans were helped by about 4,000 French soldiers. These combined forces achieved what is generally considered the decisive victory of the American Revolution. The British army was forced to surrender and the following negotiations between the US and Britain resulted in the Treaty of Paris of 1783.
Battle of Waterloo (1815)
Fought on 18 June 1815, near Waterloo in modern Belgium, the Battle of Waterloo was the last and decisive engagement of Napoleon’s campaign to establish a European Empire under his military rule. In June 1815, Napoleon invaded Belgium, hoping to capture Brussels, but his troops were confronted by the English army, led by the Duke of Wellington, and the Prussian army, led by General Blucher. Although the allied forces greatly outnumbered Napoleon’s soldiers, the actual battle was very tight with thousands of casualties on both sides. Eventually, Napoleon was defeated and exiled to the island of St. Helena and peace was established throughout Europe.
Battle of Gettysburg (1863)
The Battle of Gettysburg was the largest battle of the American Civil War as well as the largest battle ever fought in North America. It involved around 85,000 men in the Union’s Army, led by General Meade, and approximately 75,000 in the Confederacy’s Army, commanded by General Lee. Casualties were enormous on both sides, but for the Confederate forces, the losses were largely irreplaceable, which, combined with their surrender of Vicksburg, Mississippi, marked what is widely regarded as the turning point in the Civil War.
Battle of Isandlwana (1879)
Fought on 22 January 1879 in Southern Africa, the Battle of Isandlwana was the first major encounter in the Anglo–Zulu War between the British Empire and the Zulu Kingdom. The British forces headed into the battle with some 1,200 men, and despite having been faced by approximately 12,000 Zulus, they were expected to win the battle as they had a huge technological advantage. Yet, the courageous and fiercely fighting African natives, armed mostly just with crude shields and spears, managed to wipe out the British with all their modern weapons.
Battle of the Somme (1916)
Fought in November 1916 on the river Somme in France, the Battle of the Somme was a major battle of the First World War fought by the armies of the British and French empires against the German Empire. With over 3 million men engaged in this battle, it was one of the largest but also deadliest battles in human history. It claimed about 1.3 million casualties. The allied Anglo-French forces penetrated some 6 miles into the German-occupied territory but considering the enormous losses they suffered, the battle is often considered to have had no winner.
Battle of Stalingrad (1942-1943)
Fought during the winter of 1942 to 1943, the Battle of Stalingrad was one of the largest, bloodiest, and longest-fought battles in history of warfare. Fought between the Nazi Germans and the Soviet Union, this battle is considered by many historians to have been the turning point in World War II in Europe. The battle and the harsh Russian winter bled the German army dry in Russia, significantly weakening Hitler’s troops. Paradoxically, it is believed that Hitler did not really need to invade Stalingrad; he only did that for his hatred of Stalin after whom the city was named.
Invasion of Normandy (1944)
Also known as Operation Overlord, the Invasion of Normandy was a crucial military operation in World War II. Launched on 6 June 1944, it was a simultaneous landing of US, British, and Canadian forces on five separate beachheads in Normandy, France. By the end of August 1944, all of northern France was liberated, and the invading forces reorganized for the ultimate drive into Germany, where they would eventually meet with the Soviet forces advancing from the east to bring an end to Hitler’s Nazi Germany and his plans to conquer Europe and possibly also the rest of the world.
Tet Offensive (1968)
Launched on 30 January 1968 by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army against the forces of the South Vietnamese Army, the US Armed Forces and their allies, the Tet Offensive was one of the largest military campaigns of the Vietnam War. American media initially described the Tet Offensive as a failure for the Vietcong, pointing to their retreat and staggering casualties. However, when it was discovered that completing the Vietcong’s defeat would necessitate 200,000 more American soldiers and require an activation of the reserves, a growing segment of the American public wanted the US troops to withdraw from the war, which they eventually did.
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Photos: 25. Cleber.knfire, Battle of Marathon 001, CC BY-SA 3.0, 24-20. wikimedia commons (public domain), 19. Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany, Militaria finds from the Battle of Teutoburg Forest weapons, pieces of equipment and horse trappings, Museum und Park Kalkriese, Germany (9702933844), CC BY-SA 2.0, 18-4. wikimedia commons (public domain), 3. RIA Novosti archive, image #602161 / Zelma / CC-BY-SA 3.0, RIAN archive 602161 Center of Stalingrad after liberation, CC BY-SA 3.0, 2-1. wikimedia commons (public domain)