The world’s history has been shaped and changed by wars and battles. These particular battles have had an everlasting effect on humanity and our civilization. Espionage, the betrayals, suicides, and even war elephants have been involved in what seems like the stuff of legend. These are some of the most significant battles that went down in history.
1 The Battle of Muye
The Battle of Muye, or Mu, was fought in ancient China in 2046 BC between the Zhou and Shang. King Di Xin of Shang feared King Wen of Zhou and imprisoned him. When released, Wen began to prepare his army and went on to defeat a few Shang loyal states. After King Wen’s death in 1050 BC, his son, King Wu of Zhou, continued the revolt. Despite claims and legends of the legal ruling of the Shang Dynasty, Chines civilians supported and joined King Wu’s rebellion and wished for the Shang Dynasty to end. The battle itself was one of the most surprising in history as the odds significantly turned against the Shang dynasty. At its start, King Wu of Zhou led an army consisting of 50,000 soldiers. Di Xin had 530,000 men.
He started his own downfall when he gave weapons to about 170,000 slaves and commanded them to protect the capital of Yin. Instead of fighting for the corrupt Shang, some soldiers defected and joined the Zhou. Those who didn’t want to fight held their spears upside down, showing their refusal to fight for the Shang. Despite their low numbers, the Zhou army was well trained and was ruthless. Eventually, Di Xin fled to his palace, leaving the remaining Shang troops to lose. After his defeat, Di Xin lit himself on fire and burned to death in his palace on the Deer Terrace Pavilion. The Battle of Muye thus marked the end of the Shang dynasty and the beginning of the Zhou dynasty, who would go on to rule China for almost 800 years.
2 The Battle of Actium
The last battle of the Final War of the Roman Republic went down on 2 September, 31 BC. It was on the Ionian Sea near the promontory of Actium, Greece between Octavian and Mark Antony, who was allied with Cleopatra. Antony set his camp at Actium with a fleet numbered 500 and 70,000 infantry, with the support of Queen Cleopatra of Ptolemaic Egypt. Octavian had about 400 warships and 80,000 infantry. Before the battle, he had managed to cut off Antony’s contact with Egypt via the Peloponnese. Quintus Dellius, one of Antony’s generals, betrayed him and defected to Octavian to bring him Antony’s plans just before the fight. At midday, Antony started the battle that continued on all afternoon. Cleopatra’s fleet was retreating. It’s speculated that if she hadn’t done that, Antony might’ve won. Antony then fled as well, leaving behind his army. His camp was occupied, his soldiers submitted and made to surrender, the war was won in favor of Octavian.
Mark Antony became a fugitive with no legal position. Upon hearing fake rumors about Cleopatra’s death, he stabbed himself in the stomach. When he found out Cleopatra was still alive, he went to the mausoleum where she was hiding and died in her arms. Cleopatra was captured and committed suicide on 12 August, 30 BC. After killing Caesarion, Caesar’s son with Cleopatra, Octavian became Caesar’s only son and had unparalleled control of the Roman Mediterranea. He became Augustus Caesar and ‘the first citizen’ of Rome. Winning this battle transitioned Republic, Rome to Empire. After Cleopatra’s death, the Hellenistic Period and the Ptolemaic Kingdom ended.
3 The Battle of Cajamarca
The Battle of Cajamarca, or Cajamlca, was the ambush and seizure of Atahualpa, the ruler of the Inca civilization, on November 16, 1532. The battle was the result of espionage, deception, and diplomacy struggles between Fransocio Pizza and the Inca. 19th-century author, William H. Prescott, wrote in History of the Conquest of Peru that any attack on the Inca armies would have been suicide. The Spanish force was trapped, and retreat was impossible. At the time, the Inca had just come out of a civil war with Atahualpa’s half brother, Huáscar, and had left most of the 80,000-strong army outside the provincial city. Pizarro planned on capturing Atahualpa from within his own troops as Hernán Cortés had done in Mexico. To do so, he invited the Inca to Cajamarca and requested accommodations be provided only for himself and his entourage. Which meant they’d leave their weapons as a sign of peace. The Spaniards hid within the buildings surrounding the empty plaza at the center of the town, and alleyways that opened onto the square. Friar Vincente de Valverde came out to the Inca and announced himself as the emissary of God and the Spanish throne. He demanded that they accept Catholicism as their faith and Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, as their sovereign ruler.
Atahualpa was outrage at the disrespect and threw a book of prayer on the ground. The Spaniards attacked. It was the first time the Incan forces had encountered firearms before. As the target was Atahualpa and his top commanders, the Spanish troops cut and severed the arms of the attendants carrying Atahualpa’s litter to force him to the ground. Most shockingly, the attendants ignored their wounds and used their stumps and what remained of their limbs to hold up the litter. After the first bunch died, others attendants rushed to sacrifice themselves. Pizarro realized the importance of Atahualpa and his worth as a captive and blocked an attack against the emperor, receiving a sword wound to his hand. In the end, 7,000 Inca warriors were slaughtered, and there were very few Spanish casualties. Pizarro demanded the ransom for Atahualpa to be a large room filled with gold. The Incas managed to do it in eight months. But Atahualpa was executed anyway, and the money was used for a more massive mercenary army that ended up defeating the Inca capital, Cuzco, a year later. The capture of Atahualpa marked the opening stage of the conquest of the pre-Columbian Inca civilization of Peru.
4 Battle of Thermopylae
Thermopylae is considered to be the most famous battle in ancient European history. It was fought by Greek city-states, led by King Leonidas of Sparta, and the Persian Empire, led by Xerxes. It lasted three days. By 480 BC, Xerxes set out to conquer all of Greece. Allegedly, his army was one million men strong, though, in reality, it might’ve been 100,000 or 150,000. Conflicting sources claim the Greek had either 4,00 or 7,000 men. A Greek force of 7,000 men marched north to block the pass in the middle of 480 BC. They held off the attack for seven days, including three of the battle. On the second day of battle, motivated by the desire for reward, a resident named Ephialtes betrayed the Greek and showed the Persians a small path that led behind the Greek lines.
This betrayal caused the annihilation of the Greek forces and what would go down in history as one of the most epic last stands. Herodotus famously says: “Here they defended themselves to the last, those who still had swords using them, and the others resisting with their hands and teeth.” King Leonidas also died, shot by Persian archers. The Greek withdrew to Salamis, where they lured and destroyed the Persian navy in the Straits of Salamis. Xerxes retreated with his army back to Asia, though they all nearly died from starvation and disease. The Persian invasion of Greece ended at the Battle of Plataea.
5 Battle of Yorktown
The Siege of Yorktown, or the Battle of Yorktown, the Surrender at Yorktown, German Battle, or the Siege of Little York, occurred on October 19, 1781, at Yorktown, Virginia. The battle cemented America’s independence and freedom from the British. It was the last major land battle of the American Revolutionary War. The opposing forces were the American Continental Army troops under the command of General George Washington, allied with the French Army troops, led by the Comte de Rochambeau, versus the British under Lieutenant-General Charles Cornwallis. 5,500 French Soldiers arrived in Rhode Island in 1780 to help fight British forces in New York City. As a result of defeating a British fleet at the Battle of the Chesapeake, Cornwallis couldn’t escape by the sea.
The battle began on September 29, when the British opened fire. Several cannon were fired on the American infantry, but few casualties occurred. The combined allied forces built their first parallel and began the bombardment, weakening the British defense. On October 14, 1781, Washington sent two columns to attack the remaining British defenses. More than 7,000 British soldiers were captured. Under such intense bombardments, Cornwallis asked for capitulation terms on October 17. The surrender ceremony occurred after two days of negotiations. Cornwallis was notably absent from the ceremony. On October 19, in what is known as the Treaty of Paris of 1783, General Charles Cornwallis surrendered 7,087 officers and men, 900 seamen, 144 cannons, 15 galleys, a frigate, and 30 transport ships. The treaty recognized the United States as an independent nation.
6 The Battle of Stalingrad
The most massive battle of World War II occurred From 23 August 1942 to 2 February 1943, over control of the city of Stalingrad in Southern Russia. Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for the longest and bloodiest confrontations in modern warfare. Winning the Battle of Stalingrad changed World War II’s tide towards the Allied forces. Hitler chose Stalingrad because of its importance as an industrial center in Russian. Stalingrad produced many goods and artillery for the army, and because of the Volga River, a shipping route that connected the western part of the country with the eastern regions. At the time, Hitler also declared that he would kill all male residents of Stalingrad and have the women deported. The assault began on August 23, 1942, by the 6th Army of the Wehrmacht. Stalin ordered every Russian capable of holding a rifle to defend the city, even regular workers without firearms. They enlisted women to dig trenches at the front lines.
After a few days of fighting, the German’s Luftwaffe air force had fired dozens of airstrikes on the city, had sunk several Russian commercial vessels, and essentially blocked any shipping through the river. “Not a step back!” Was a famous decree by Stalin as he ordered his forces not to retreat. In Order No. 227. Trial by military tribunal and execution were consequences of retreating. Several occurrences changed the tides for the Allied’s favor. The Germans had limited supplies because of the Russian blockade; the soldiers would then begin to starve. The winter made everything harder. By February 1943, the Russian had retaken the city of Stalingrad and had almost 100,000 German soldiers in captivity. On January 31, twenty-three generals disobeyed Hitler and surrendered. Seven Soviet armies surrounded the 6th Army. Finally, on February 2, the rest of the 91,000 remaining men of the 6th and 4th armies gave themselves up. Nearly 2 million people were killed or injured, including tens of thousands of Russian civilians in the Battle of Stalingrad.
7 The Battle of Tours
The Battle of Poitiers, which is also known as the Battle of Tours, occurred on October 10, 732. The Frankish leader Charles Martel met with an Islamic army led by Emir Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi Abd al Rahman, near the city of Tours, France. The battle eventually ended up in Emir’s death and stopped the Islamic march from the Iberian peninsula, and most notably, preserved Christianity as the controlling faith in Europe. Charles had been preparing for this for nearly a decade after the Battle of Toulouse. So the Franks had several advantages. They were also ready for the cold, while the Arabs had light clothing. After a chaotic struggle, Charles supposedly sent scouts to free as many slaves from the Umayyad base camp, ensuring more chaos. Emir Abdul Rahman was surrounded, and the Muslim army retreated, ending the battle. Charles earned the nicknames, Martellus, meaning the hammer, in this battle.
8 Battle of Zama
The battle of Zama was fought in 202 BC near Zama, also known as Tunisia, between a Roman army led by Scipio with the support of Numidian leader Masinissa and the Carthaginian army, led by Hannibal. Hannibal had 36,000 infantry, 4,000 cavalry, and 80 war elephants. Scipio had 29,000 infantry, 6,100 cavalries, as well as most of the Numidian cavalry. The battle began with the elephants charging. However, they swerved to the side early and attacked Hannibal’s soldiers instead. The Roman and Numidian cavalry then attacked and pushed back the mercenary front line of the Carthaginians. Romans Libyans surrounded the mercenaries, and the Roman cavalry hit the rest of the Carthaginian forces.
The Carthaginians’ casualties consisted of 20,000–25,000 killed and 8,500–20,000 captured. Scipio lost 4,000–5,000 men, 1,500–2,500 Romans and 2,500 Numidians, killed. The Carthaginian sued for peace, thus ending the 17-year war. The peace terms declared that Scipio surrendered Spain to Rome, most of its warships, and began paying a 50-year indemnity to Rome. It was the Battle of Zama that ended the Second Punic War and established the Roman army as the greatest force since Alexander the Great.
9 The Battle of Gaugamela
The final clash between King Darius III of Persia and Alexander the Great of Macedon occurred On 1st October, 331 BCE, in the Battle of Gaugamela, also known as Battle of Arbela. Darius used diplomacy to try to convince Alexander not to attack three different failed attempts. The final offer was the hand of one of his daughters in marriage, the territory to the west of the Euphrates, co-rulership of the Achaemenid Empire, and 30,000 talents of silver. Alexander refused. The two forces met on the battlefield. The Persians had 25,000 peltasts, 10,000 Immortals, 2,000 Greek hoplites, 1,000 Bactrians, 40,000 cavalry, 200 scythes chariots, and 15 war elephants, though the elephants never made it to battle. Meanwhile, Alexander’s troops of the Macedonian army and mercenaries consisted of 7,000 cavalries and 40,000 infantry.
The size of the Greek mounted arm was about 7,000. What happened was a long, brutal, and grueling fight between the two forces. Alexander, though outnumbered, was a mastermind on the battlefield and managed several strategies that ultimately turned the fight in his favor. The battle ended with Alexander and his companions engaging the cavalry of the Persian right, consisting of Indians, Parthians, and ‘the bravest and most numerous division of the Persians.’ 60 Companions were killed, but Alexander had won. Darius escaped with some of his forces and planned to face Alexander again. With the Persian Empire divided into halves, he headed east towards Babylon. The satraps eventually killed him. It was the decisive victory for the Hellenic League that led to the fall of the Achaemenid Empire and declared Alexander the King of all Asia.
10 The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest
Taking place in the Teutoburg Forest in 9 CE, this battle was described as the Varian Disaster by Roman historians. Germanic tribes, led by Arminius, ambushed and destroyed three Roman legions and their auxiliaries, who were led by Publius Quinctilius Varus. Arminius was a Germanic officer of Varu’s auxiliary and had Roman citizenship. He also had a Roman military education, making him able to deceive the Romans and to predict their tactical movements. The Roman forces had three legions, six cohorts of auxiliary troops, and three squadrons of cavalry. Germanic soldiers attacked with light swords, large lances, and narrow-bladed short spears. They surrounded the entire Roman army and attacked. The Romans were at a disadvantage because of the rain that made their bows, shields, and armors useless.
Trying to escape, the Romans fell into another trap at the foot of Kalkriese Hill. The highest-ranking officer, Legatus Numenius Vala, abandoned them and rode off with the cavalry; a failed attempt that resulted in him being killed. The Germanic forced then destroyed the remaining, weakened Romans. Varus committed suicide. The slaughter ended with 15,000-20,000 slaughters Romans, including many officers who had committed suicide by falling on their swords. Contemporary and modern historians consider Arminius’ victory over Varus to be ‘Rome’s greatest defeat,’ a rarely occurring truly decisive battle, and a ‘turning-point in world history”.