The annals of history are rich with those men and women who earned great renown for their courage and skill in battle. Some fought for honor and admiration, others for the right thing, and yet some fought because there was no greater thrill than on the field of battle. Here are some of history’s greatest warriors and tacticians, both heroic and horrible:
1. Attila the Hun
Some people are more like a natural disaster than a human being. Attila was just this kind of person. We don’t know a whole lot about Attila’s life, or about the Huns in general, but we do know that they arrived in Europe from Central Asia and swept over the Roman Empire like a plague. Attila himself died during drunken revelries after one of his weddings. Unfortunately for Rome, by then the damage has already been done, and the Western Roman Empire crumbled a mere 23 years later.
Hannibal Barca is known as one of the most brilliant warriors and strategists for good reason. In his campaigns in Rome, he defeated several armies far larger than his own simply by outmaneuvering the rigid legions and drawing them into positions where their greater numbers could not avail them.
The Kurdish sultan of Egypt was the man who single-handedly put an end to European aspirations in the Levant during the crusades, beating the crusader states in several major battles, the most famous of which was the Battle of Hattin, where the crusader army was utterly decimated and the King of Jerusalem captured. Most impressively, he did all of this while gaining nothing but respect from western observers, who saw him as the image of the perfect knight, who treats his enemies with respect and honor.
4. Henry V of England
The young English king was so impressive that he became the protagonist of three Shakespeare plays that describe his youth and rise to greatness. As a king, he invaded France and conquered it, beating larger forces in the Battle of Agincourt through his clever use of archers. His victory over France was so complete, that the French king was forced to name Henry as his heir to the throne. That was not to be, though, as Henry died of dysentery or heatstroke before he could be crowned.
The Briton woman who dared defy Rome is remembered as a national hero of Britain for her spirited rebellion and victories in the hopeless war against the Roman Empire, defeating a Roman legion and sacking two fortified towns. Though ultimately unsuccessful, her attempt to liberate her people and defend the honor of British women has become legendary.
6. Genghis Khan
The young Temujin did not seem destined for greatness as a child. His father poisoned, he lost control over his tribe to usurpers, had his fiancee abducted by enemies and was betrayed by his closest friend and blood-brother. Temujin managed to rise above his conditions, united all of the Mongol tribes and trampled nearly all of the kingdoms of Asia under the hooves of his great army, crafting the greatest terrestrial empire in the history of mankind.
7. George Patton
George S. Patton was not a nice man. While fighting in Sicily, the stern general personally shot two mules that had blocked a retreat route and then proceeded to beat the civilian owner of said mules within an inch of his life for complaining. Later, he famously slapped two soldiers who exhibited signs of PTSD. But niceness does not win wars. As a young man, Patton was an accomplished fencer and athlete and actually participated in the 1912 Olympic Games, and as a general, he drew the ire of many allied generals for his gruff nature, and the fear of his Nazi enemies, who are said to have called him “that crazy cowboy general”.