The Greatest Warriors of All Time
Let's explore the greatest warriors of all time!History
If you’ve ever overheard a schoolyard conversation, you know nothing captures the imagination quite like the daring fights of a brave warrior. Many of us spent countless hours as a kid debating whether Goku or SpongeBob would win in a fight.
But this article will explore the real warriors who committed utterly awesome feats that put anime and cartoon fights to shame! From Aztec beast-men to one-armed gunmen, let’s take a look at some of the greatest warriors that have ever existed.
You may recognize Leonidas I from his oily, glistening portrayal by Gerard Butler in Zack Snyder’s action film 300. Zack wasn’t the first to portray Leonidas this way though as Jacques-Louis David also imagined him this way in his 1814 painting Leonidas at Thermopylae.
Existing between 900 and 132 BCE in ancient Greece, the Spartans were a notoriously hard and warlike people. From the age of 7, spartan boys were forcibly taken from their homes and began the agoge, a militaristic, state-sponsored training regimen designed to turn them into unbeatable soldiers.
Here, food was scarce, fighting was encouraged, and because all Spartan men were expected to be lifelong soldiers, the very concept of surrender was considered the ultimate disgrace.
Leonidas, though royalty, was no exception. He, like many others, survived the agoge, but he never expected to rule. His half-brother Cleomenes was king originally, but after going mad, the crown fell to him. And he inherited a mess!
In 480 BCE the Persians, led by the cunning King Xerxes, were on a war path across Greece. Many Greek City States had already submitted to Xerxes’ overwhelming numbers, but not Leonidas. Legend has it that at the battle of Thermopylae, Leonidas, and just 300 Spartans, successfully fended off two million Persians in a narrow mountain pass over 3 grueling days.
While all Spartans were eventually slain, their sacrifice rallied the rest of Greece into action, ultimately repelling Persian forces. The story is heroic, inspiring, and genuinely unbelievable because it’s not completely true.
While the 300 Spartans factoid isn’t untrue, it is leaving out one important tidbit; the Spartans weren’t alone. Leonidas had allied with several other Greek states before the battle, who supported the Spartans.
In reality, there were around 7000 soldiers on the Greek side and between 100,000 and 300,000 on the Persian.
This still makes for an incredible Greek victory, however. With those numbers, the Persians outnumbered the Greeks anywhere between 14-to-1 and 42-to-1.
Imagine standing in the roaring rain, spear and shield in hand, and being told you only have to defeat 42 soldiers! In my book that still makes Leonidas a pretty outstanding warrior, without exaggeration.
The Pirate Queen
Ching Shih, the Pirate Queen, was born into poverty in 1775 in China’s Guangdong province. After a difficult youth, she was kidnapped by Zheng Yi, Captain of the infamous Red Flag pirate fleet. Enamored by her beauty and wits, however, he asked for her hand in marriage, but Ching Shih was no pushover.
She had him sign a pirate prenup granting her ownership of 50% of his earnings and a portion of his fleet. After they married, Ching Shih shocked everyone with her aptitude for piracy; she supervised raids, plotted attacks, and got stuck into the action.
Under her, the Red Flag grew from 200 ships to over 1800 in just a few months. The reason for this is that Ching Shih ran a tight ship. She rewrote their code granting crewmates more freedom, but much harsher punishments for disobedience.
When Zheng Yi died in 1807, Ching Shih took over. Under her leadership, the fleet became unstoppable, amassing immense wealth and exerting unmatched power over the Chinese seas. It soon became evident that Ching Shih’s outlook was a lot like Spider-Man’s: with greater power came greater responsibility.
Pirates found hoarding loot lost body parts equal to the crime, and those who protested were slain on the spot. Furthermore, she codified protections for enemies that surrendered. This allowed her numbers to grow exponentially; after all, it made way more sense for sailors to surrender and potentially join her than die fighting.
While the Chinese government was terrified of Ching Shih, they knew they had to do something. Eventually, the Red Flag Fleet faced down the thunderous might of the Qing Dynasty’s Mandarin Navy and decimated them in a few hours.
The defeat was so resounding that the Emperor’s hand was forced. He offered her a ridiculous deal: in exchange for stepping down, she would be granted full amnesty for her crimes, the right to keep everything she’d plundered, and the ability to keep operating her legitimate businesses.
Knowing the life of a pirate inevitably ends in bloodshed, Ching Shih took the deal. She disbanded the Red Flag and retired to a life of luxury. This likely makes her the most successful pirate in history.
We like to imagine Medieval Knights as valiant warriors, longing for the thrill of battle against worthy foes. In reality, however, most of their time wasn’t spent clashing blades with menacing adversaries, but mowing down hapless peasants that could barely swing a sword. Not exactly heroic, right?
Jousting, however, required real skill. These competitions allowed practiced knights to throw-down against equally fierce opponents to determine who was the baddest, and in 12th century England, there was nobody badder than William Marshal.
Born around 1146, Marshal was kidnapped at an early age by rebels hoping to extort his father. Will’s dad wasn’t playing though, telling them to “go ahead and hang him. I can forge better sons”.
Sensing the awkward family dynamic, poor William was released without incident. This ordeal no doubt left its mark on the boy, as at just 12 years old he left for Normandy to train as a Knight.
By 1166, at around 20 years old, he had fought his first proper battle. Not long afterwards he began his tournament career, with a mace on foot, and a lance on horseback. After racking up win after win, Queen Eleanor took notice of him, and he became her champion, fighting battles in her honor and becoming a kind of celebrity.
Marshal was an unstoppable jouster, toppling man after man, and claimed to have bested over 500 knights in his career. He was such a stud, he was even accused of having an affair with King Henry’s wife, though he was eventually cleared of the charge.
Proving that you can’t keep a true himbo down, Marshal married into royalty at 42, becoming the first Earl of Pembroke. He would go on to become the only man to ever knock King Richard the Lionheart off his horse.
This must have impressed the King, as upon his deathbed Richard entrusted Marshal with the task of choosing his successor. Ever-valiant, Marshal continued riding into battle until the ripe old age of 70 under King John, the man he chose to rule. Maybe after all that, he finally earned his dad’s respect
Some people say that revenge is a dish best served cold. Our next warrior, Chandragupta Maurya, preferred it served with the tip of a spear in his enemies’ own throne room.
In the fourth century BCE, India was ruled by the cruel king Nanda, who even Alexander the Great didn’t want to mess with. Despite his military power, however, Nanda was concerned about the growing strength of the subordinate Maurya clan.
Legend has it, one evening he invited the family to his palace for dinner, only to imprison them all in his cellar.
As the Maurya’s starved, their patriarch made them swear an oath; if any of them survived, they would destroy Nanda. Eventually only the young Chandragupta was left. To further mock the once-prestigious family, Nanda released the weakened boy into a life of squalor.
Having lost everything, Chandragupta resigned himself to poverty, until he was discovered by the long-haired sage Chanakya. Chanakya had been insulted by Nanda in his court, and vowed not to cut his hair until he got revenge. And this guy’s hair was long. Together, the two swore a blood oath to take Nanda down.
While the historical legitimacy of this legend is debated, the duo’s conquest is undeniable. Chandragupta was trained in the arts of warfare and leadership by Chanakya and became a brutally cunning warrior.
Chandragupta rallied the numerous dynastic clans of India behind him, trained war elephants, and defeated all those that opposed him before absorbing their warriors into his ranks. Despite being its soul surviving member, Chandragupta reforged the Maurya into a terrifying force.
Eventually, he launched an assault on Nanda’s palace and, after a long and bloody battle, finally put an end to Nanda himself, in his own throne room.
Chandragupta quickly expanded the borders of the new Mauryan empire, liberating territories Alexander the Great had conquered just a few decades prior. Proving his strength of will was unmatched, Chandragupta eventually abdicated the throne of the empire he forged, believing his work was finished.
Imagine giving up a Kingdom that stretched from Southern India to Pakistan! Chandragupta lived the rest of his life as a solitary hermit and died meditating one afternoon in a secluded cave. Chanakya, presumably, finally got a haircut.
Can you imagine being called a soldier worth a million? That title is awarded to Portuguese soldier Anibal Milhais, who was just 22 years old when he found himself in the middle of the Battle of Lys.
This fierce firefight took place in northern France in 1918, during the final years of World War One. For days, Milhais and his comrades had been bearing the brunt of a ceaseless German bombardment.
One foggy morning, the bombardment mysteriously and suddenly stopped. Milhais raced to his machinegun and spotted soldiers he didn’t recognize jumping into the trenches in front of him. Realizing the bombardment had been cover for a German approach, Milhais fired indiscriminately at the approaching shadows in the fog.
Many Portuguese attempted to run back and join him, only to be mowed down by mist-veiled Germans. Milhais continued to fire at any movement he saw in the fog, taking down waves of men entirely on his own.
The German numbers were too great, however, and Milhais was forced to retreat. He briefly regrouped with several allies behind a wall, but sensing their fear, told them to run and that he would cover them.
Milhais fired bursts of suppressive fire at the Germans, who ducked into his former trenches for safety. Cleverly, he changed his position by several feet each burst, tricking the Germans into believing they were facing more than one man.
After firing his last bullet, Milhais motionlessly hid under a canvas as dozens of Germans approached. Thinking an entire squadron had mysteriously vanished into the mist, they didn’t think to check the tarp for a single man.
For his bravery, Milhais was awarded Portugal’s highest distinction; the Military Order of the Tower, which was delivered to him in front of 15,000 of his fellow men. The General presenting his medal claimed that “though you are Milhais, you are worth millions of soldiers”. This is a pun, as the word “Milhais” is similar to the Portuguese for “millions”.
You might be tough but you probably aren't crazy tough like Lakota Sioux warrior Crazy Horse. Born sometime around 1842, he was a man of unmatched bravery. At just 12-years-old, Crazy Horse rescued his brother from a rabid grizzly bear, successfully fighting the beast off with nothing but a lasso.
Recognized for his spirit, Crazy Horse became a revered young warrior, never hesitating to throw himself into danger. When gold was discovered in the Black Hills, Sioux territory, the previously held peace between new US settlers and the Sioux fell apart.
Despite the fact treaties promised the region to the Sioux, America’s new settlers just couldn’t resist the sweet call of gold. War broke out between the two, and Crazy Horse found himself going toe-to-toe with the US many times.
On one occasion Crazy Horse acted as a lone decoy pursued by 80 US soldiers. After miles of chase, Crazy Horse led them right into a deadly ambush.
He was a commander at Little Bighorn, one of the most important battles fought between US and Indigenous forces. During this battle, America’s Lt. Custer attempted to surprise the Sioux with a surrounding pincer attack.
Custer thought if he surrounded them, the Sioux would be overwhelmed by his superior firepower. However, it was Custer’s forces that ended up surrounded and were decisively defeated.
The encirclement of a larger army by a smaller one is rare in military history, often only pulled off by people like Hannibal Barca and Alexander the Great, considered some of the greatest commanders of all time.
With that in mind, remember the Sioux were also out-maneuvering Custer’s attempt at a pincer attack, and did so with mostly inferior weaponry. Unfortunately, this victory was short-lived.
Americans began hunting native Buffalo to extinction in the late 1870s. This animal was hugely important for Sioux agriculture, and they struggled without it. Crazy Horse eventually relented to American demands and moved his people to a small village.
In 1877, at just 35 years old, Crazy Horse was killed during peace negotiations with the United States. The man is still remembered today through the Lakota’s annual Crazy Horse ride, along with this enormous memorial carving.
While impressive, this memorial is, unfortunately, carved into a mountain many Sioux consider sacred. That’s like trying to honor a Christian by scribbling “good job” on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
The White Death
No one was having a great time during the Second World War. Not exactly a relaxing period in history. In 1939 when the USSR invaded, Finland was having a particularly terrible time. At the outbreak of the invasion, the population of Finland was around 3.7 million, while the USSR’s was over 175 million. Not good odds!
Still, there was one thing the Soviets didn’t have: Simo Hayha. Born in 1905, Simo had lived an unassuming life as a farmer. When the Soviets invaded, however, he picked up his rifle and walked out the door to defend his country, passing by his multiple marksmanship trophies on the way out.
Despite being a humble farmer, Simo had the eyes of a hawk and the discipline of an athlete. Over just 98 days, Simo would become the single deadliest sniper in human history, acquiring the nickname White Death.
Simo earned this moniker because, in his native forests, he could become invisible. He would dress in white, bury himself in the snow, and even place ice in his mouth and nostrils. This cooled his breath, so it wasn’t visible in the cold.
Simo knew a single mistake could mean death, so he changed his location constantly. When he lined up a target, he stayed on them, never giving into his nerves or firing too early, taking them out only when it was most advantageous. Entire squads were sent into the woods looking for Simo, and most never made it back.
As if this wasn’t scary enough, Simo didn’t use a scope while sniping: he feared it would give away his position if it glinted in the sun. This means Simo was making all his shots based on eyesight alone.
Simo was only ever hit once, but it was a doozy. The Soviets eventually blasted the forest apart just to hit Simo, and sadly they did. A mortar exploded right in his face, but it didn’t kill him. After several reconstructive surgeries Simo pulled through: he was scarred, but he was alive.
The war ended a week later, and he lived to the ripe old age of 96. But during this time, in less than 100 days, Simo amassed over 500 kills, more than five slain soldiers a day. Talk about being ratioed.
Some folks want to pass away peacefully in their sleep. Others want to go tearing apart Aztec Eagle Warriors. Both ways have their merits! Tlahuicole, a Central American warrior born in 1497 to the Tlaxcala tribe, falls into the second category. And, according to depictions, he was also an absolute beast of a man.
Tlahuicole was captured defending his tribe and brought before Aztec Emperor Moctezuma I. Moctezuma took one look at him and, fearing his wrath, ordered his release. Tlahuicole refused this offer, stating the shame of being captured alive dishonored his home, and that he could never return.
Impressed and a little frightened, the emperor offered him a deal; Tlahuicole could become an Aztec and be granted control of one of their armies. This way, he could continue living as a warrior.
And he did just that, decimating other tribes in the name of his new Emperor. In addition to being an absolute unit, Tlahuicole was also a master of arms, including the vicious macuahuitl.
This nasty weapon consisted of a wooden paddle with inlaid teeth of obsidian, a kind of volcanic glass. These teeth can be up to 500 times sharper than steel, and are designed to break off in whoever is struck by the macuahuitl, eviscerating their insides.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Tlahuicole’s weapon was apparently so heavy, other men weren’t even able to lift it. Forget internal damage, I’d be worried about exploding on impact.
When the Aztec Empire began to expand, Tlahuicole was presented with an awful task; to conquer and subjugate his former tribe. Tlahuicole found himself caught between two codes; he couldn’t bring himself to fight his former people, but as a warrior, couldn’t refuse to fight either.
The only option for Tlahuicole was to accept execution by combat. One warm morning in the jungle, Tlahuicole entered a ceremonial stone circle and awaited his opponents; eight Aztec Eagle Warriors, the baddest of the bad, each eager to be the one to bring down the beast.
Unfortunately for them, Tlahuicole slew them all, one-by-one. Multiple warriors attacked him simultaneously, and he would go on to injure 20 more before he was taken out. Tlahuicole’s heart was then carved from his body and treated by the Aztecs as a revered artifact of power.
If you asked me who the baddest people on Earth are, a few answers come to mind but I still don’t think there’s anyone tougher than the Gurkha.
These Nepalese warriors have made up some of the most elite soldiers in the British army for more than 200 years. Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw once said; “if anyone tells you they’re not afraid of dying, they’re either lying or they’re a Gurkha.”
To back those words up, let’s take a look at the story of Lachhiman Gurung.
Gurung and his battalion were stationed in Burma in 1945, towards the end of World War II. Japanese forces were growing desperate as the war drew to a close, and the Gurkha’s mission was to stop their advance into Taungdaw.
On the first night Lachhiman was keeping watch, far away from his comrade’s camp. Suddenly, 200 Japanese soldiers surprised him with a sudden advance on Taungdaw.
They announced themselves by throwing three grenades into Gurung’s trench. Acting fast, Gurung picked up each grenade, and tossed them back! Tragically, he was too late on the third, which obliterated his hand.
Gurung had no time to mourn, however. He dug his traditional Nepalese kukri, a heavy dagger, into the ground in front of him and vowed no Japanese soldier would cross it. Off-balance and with only one good arm, he took to his machinegun, firing wildly into the night.
The Japanese soldiers continued tossing grenades at Gurung but, having not learned his lesson, he tossed them right back. Gurung was also blinded in one eye during the firefight but continued his unrelenting defense.
He menacingly screamed “Come and fight a Gurkha!” over and over again as he reigned down bullets.
Eventually, Gurung considered taking his kukri from the ground for one final melee assault. While these brutal knives are sharp and heavy, there’s not much they can do against gunfire.
Luckily for Gurung, after holding off 200 Japanese soldiers for four grueling hours, reinforcements arrived and relieved the exhausted, battered Gurung of duty. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his efforts, and despite his injuries, continued to fight for the rest of the war.
Do you find the Opera a little stuffy? Boring? Think the medium could use more fight scenes and scandalous affairs? Then, Julie D’Aubigny could be your new favorite superstar.
Born in France around 1707, Julie quickly discovered she had two great passions: singing and sword fighting. Unfortunately, the incredibly prudish society of 18th Century France looked down on girls in blood sports.
So, naturally, Julie began dressing as a boy in order to compete in dueling competitions when she was just 12. As she grew older, she began dueling more openly as herself, and started her professional career as an Opera singer.
At one point another male singer annoyed her so much she challenged him to a duel while dressed as a man and beat him senseless with a cane. Apparently, she couldn’t stop laughing the following day when he claimed he was mugged by three large men.
And as if her life couldn’t get any more scandalous, she was also openly bisexual in the 1700s. At one point a girl she was entangled with was sent to live in a convent by her parents. Julie responded by disguising herself as a nun and setting the convent on fire to break the girl out.
As if she wasn’t enough of a badass, she once kissed a noblewoman at a fancy gala in front of three noblemen who had been hitting on her. Enraged, they each challenged her to a duel. She beat them one-after-the-other, never breaking a sweat.
As you can imagine, Julie’s ostentatious lifestyle got her in trouble with the law on many occasions. Luckily for her, the King at the time was Louis XIV, who was quite the character himself. Louis found her exploits hilarious and pardoned her of her crimes on several occasions.
Julie eventually entered a long-term relationship with Madame de Florensac, whom many called the most beautiful woman in all of France. She continued dueling and singing the rest of her life. Julie died young, between 33 and 36 years old, having never lost a duel. She must have had a very disarming voice!