Battles, Battles, Battles

There is a lot of them isn’t there?

I’m trying to do what Creasy did and narrow down what I think are the most decisive battles in history. As you can imagine, a lot of problems with that process.

Am I giving preference to clashes of macro-historical importance or more contemporary significance? How many spaces go for battles where technology is the notable factor? Should I only allow one battle per war? What era gets neglected?

For now, this is what I have, in chronological order:

Marathon (490 BC) – The Greeks beat the Persians for the first time, proving they can do it. Major significance in the use of hoplite infantry.

Zama (202 BC) – Ensured Roman victory in the Punic Wars, making them the sole great power in the Mediterranean.

Pharsalus (48 BC) – Led to the dominance of Ceasar in Rome and, by extension, his heirs. No other battle in that time period did more to usher in the Empire.

Alaric’s Sack of Rome (410) – Did not signal the death knell of the Romans, but was the most obvious proof of their decline. Never the same power afterward.

Hastings (1066) – Radically altered England on nearly every level. The end of Saxon dominance of the isles.

Hattin (1187) – The decisive battle of the Crusades. Allowed the easy re-capture of Jerusalem by Islam, and insured the Crusader Kingdoms could never regain their former strength.

Ain Julut (1260) – The first major stumbling block in the Mongol conquests, stopping the previously invincible tide.

Crecy (1346) – Major English victory in the Hundred Years War, that saw the beginning of the end for the chivalric mounted knight class.

Orleans (1429) – The reverse of the above, the rallying cry of France.

Gravelines (1588) – Saved England from Spanish invasion and began her dominance of the waves, something that would remain until 1944/45.

Vienna (1683) – One of biggest defeats the Ottomans ever suffered at European hands, ending their advances westwards. Also had the biggest cavalry charge in history.

Valmy (1792) – Before, Revolutionary France was a weakling waiting to be gutted. After, everyone took them seriously.

Cowpens (1781) – No other battle did more to ensure American independence.

Borodino (1812) – The losses suffered meant Napoleon could never achieve his ambitions of conquering Russia.

Waterloo (1815) – The end of the Great French Wars and Napoleon.

Hampton Roads (1862) – The first clash of Ironclads and the dawn of a new age in naval warfare.

Wilderness/Spotsylvania (1864) – Forget Gettysburg. These interconnected clashes did far more to defeat the Confederacy.

Sedan (1870) – With victory here, the French Empire was defeated, the German Empire proclaimed and the major seeds of World War One sown.

Tsushima (1905) – Small, brave boats could defeat larger opponents. Huge influence on contemperary battle tactics.

The Marne (1914) – The halt of the German advance saved France and the entire war effort…and led to four years of bloody stalemate.

The (Second) Somme (1916) – In my opinion, no other battle of the last century has done more to affect the public perception of war.

Madrid (1936) – The first large-scale aerial bombardment of a city, something that is now the norm of urban military operations.

Pearl Harbor (1941) – The first major proof that the Aircraft carrier was now king of the waves. Awoke the sleeping giant of America, paving the way for its role as a superpower.

Stalingrad (1943) – The major turnaround of Nazi Germany, and the bloodiest battle in human history.

Aside from there not being many candidates, I choose to not include battles post-1945. Not enough time has passed to judge their historical impact.

I will whittle these choices down to a more manageable number, but I ask you, the reader, am I right? Have I left out something? Do you disagree with my assessment? Please, let me know.

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10 Responses to Battles, Battles, Battles

  1. Philip Murphy says:

    What about Azincourt? As an archer I’d cheer for it because it’s a milestone in the emergence of the English longbow as the dominant projective weapon until the development of muskets and so forth… English Yeoman Archers triumphing over French cavalry…

  2. Philip Murphy says:

    I meant Projectile weapon, not projective. Gah!

  3. HandsofBlue says:

    The thing about Azincourt (and kudos on the correct spelling) is that it wasn’t as crucial in the development of the longbow as its been made out to be for ages. The English archers were crucial in gaining victory, but really it was in their role as reserve infantry that they excelled.

    They fucked up the initial Frecnh Cavrly charge (though they killed few riders), but actually inflicted few casualties on the follow-up infantry attack. At that point, they ran out of arrows. Byt because they were wearing little to no armour, they could move far faster then their plated adversaries. The result of the subsequent 3 hour melee, where the ‘archers’ fought mainly with short swords and axes, was a French catostrophe.

    No, Crecy and Poiters, which were much earlier, are better examples of the longbow in action.

  4. Eugene says:

    How about Fontenoy in 1745?

    The french victory in May meant that, Charles went to Scotland to raise a Jacobite rebellion, France took most of the Netherlands because of the reduced British commitment to the allies and Britain pissed off its American colonial troops at the end of the war bargaining to get that territory back.

    • HandsofBlue says:

      Yes, that sounds ideal.

      I tend to shy away from those 1700s Euro-centric clusterfucks since they tended not to alter the political landscape too much or achive anything of macro-historical importance.

      Right now, I’m also thinking Breitenfeld (1631) should be up there. Perhaps Adrianople (378) should replace Alaric’s sack as well.

  5. Pingback: Battles, Battles, Battles « zapjens'

  6. Aido says:


    Cambrais? First use of the tank?

    Battle of France, the first real demonstration of the “power” of the tank and one of the rickety props that has sustained it ever since?

    Battle of the Atlantic? AN underpowered naval state beseiges a major naval power and, for a short period, nearly has victory?

  7. HandsofBlue says:

    Cambrais: Tank influnce was negligible, as it was throughout ww1.

    The Battle of France is a very large event to call a single battle. Moreover, while it was decisive at the time, the situation was revearsed within 4 years.

    The Atlantic: again, way too big to be called a single battle. And I know that the effects of the German blockade are debatable in the extreme as are its chances of victory after 41.

    Also, I don’t think its fair to give WW2, 4 battles (or WW1, 3). That’s be pushing it a little.

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