There have been many great warriors throughout history – some of them as tough as it gets. But most people know only the same few we learn about from the movies: Spartacus, Alexander the Great, Hannibal Barca, King Leonidas I and his 300 Spartans, William Wallace… It’s truly annoying to realize that history itself has managed to manipulate us so much. There have been many other great warriors, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that some of them were even tougher than these “elite” ones.
Among the great warriors and generals, Alcibiades was the closest to a modern-day rock star. He was special in many ways: he was handsome, well-educated, an extremely skilled warrior, an ace in political games, and a phenomenal general with a mind of the highest degree. Legend has it that he had more sexual encounters than any other man of antiquity and had fathered hundreds of children. Even though the Athenian society hated him for that, his superiority in politics and on the battlefield allowed him to get away with anything. Here are just a couple of examples of just how good Alcibiades was: At the Battle of Delium in 424 BCE, Alcibiades was fighting so well, and made his enemies look so bad, that the even impressed his enemies to the point that the opposite commander proposed to give his virgin daughter in marriage. In another instance, when the Peloponnesian War broke out between Athens and Sparta, Alcibiades managed to serve both sides – at different times, of course. In the end, the team Alcibiades was playing for (Sparta) won the war.
Unfortunately the only thing to remind us today of Arminius is the beyond-lame German football team Arminia Bielefeld, which isn’t even competing in the premiere German football league, The Bundesliga. Don’t let this mislead you though — Arminius was the very definition of a badass. Also known as Hermann, Arminius was a German tribal chief of Cherusci who gave the Romans the beating of their lives. The Roman Empire was still at its peak when Arminius brutally smashed the Roman army at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest, where he literally destroyed three Roman legions and their auxiliaries. Even though Arminius was eventually defeated (he was murdered by rival Germanic chiefs), his victory was so impressive — and so bloody — that it had an incredibly long-term effect on both the ancient Germanic tribes and on the Roman Empire. The Roman Legions would never again attempt to permanently conquer and hold Germania beyond the Rhine River.
8. Simo Häyhä
This legend with the Japanese-sounding name is the most recent badass on this list; he died only eleven years ago, on the 1st of April 2002. Also known as “White Death,” Simo Häyhä was a Finnish sniper who was responsible for an unbelievable 505 enemy deaths, the highest recorded number of confirmed sniper kills in history. During the Winter War (1939–1940) between Finland and the Soviet Union, in deadly freezing temperatures that reached – 40 °C, Simo wasn’t even able to dress warmly because he had to wear white camouflage to disguise himself in the snow. What’s even more impressive is that Häyhä’s kills were accomplished in fewer than one hundred days — a little more than five kills a day — during the time of the year when there are only a few hours of daylight. However, if you are still unimpressed after all the numbers, the statistics, the low temperatures, and the records, you can take a look at Simo’s picture to understand why they called him the “White Death”.
7. Pyrrhus of Epirus
Pyrrhus of Epirus was king of the Greek Molossians, and the one who gave the Romans hell. He was the first and only threat to Rome during its prime at the beginning of the Empire; actually he was the only man who kept beating the Roman Legions. Some historians consider that history itself could have been different if Pyrrhus had not been murdered in Argos by a local woman, a traitor who served Roman interests. Hannibal Barca described him as the best general alive, and probably the greatest warrior king that ever existed. Some of his battles, even though victories, were so bloody and had such a human toll for his own armies that they gave rise to the term “Pyrrhic victory,” an expression still in use today, especially in sports and politics. The term “Pyrrhic victory” was coined at the end of the Battle of Asculum, when it is believed that Pyrrhus himself said, in response to congratulations for winning a costly victory over the Romans, “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.” During his reign he became ruler of the Greek kingdoms of Epirus and Macedonia, and conquered Sicily, Syracuse, and most of southern Italy. He was the only man to beat Rome in its prime so frequently.
6. Michael Wittmann
Some people may disapprove of this choice, or even be shocked by it, but for our list the one and only criterion is the toughness of the individual on the battlefield. We are not examining the politics and ideologies of the choices, and Michael Wittmann — despite being a German Nazi Waffen-SS tank commander during the Second World War — was an absolute badass. He was responsible for the total annihilation of 138 tanks and 132 anti-tank guns, while it is believed that he destroyed an epic (but unknown) number of other armored vehicles. And even though Wittmann wasn’t the top-scoring Panzer ace (it’s reported that Kurt Knispel was responsible for 168 tank destructions), Wittmann was the star, the showman of the Nazi team. The reason Wittmann was so admired and promoted by the Waffen-SS propaganda machine is that during the Battle of Villers-Bocage, while he was in command of a single tank, he crippled the British 7th Armoured Division by single-handedly destroying 14 of their tanks, 15 personnel carriers, and two anti-tank guns — all within fifteen minutes. After that, Michael Wittmann was feted as a true rock star by the Nazis (Hitler among others was a big fan of his), and not unfairly so.
5. Vasily Zaitsev
Vasily Zaitsev’s story was made into a blockbuster movie with Jude Law in the starring role, but he has never been mentioned in Toptenz. Without a doubt the most famous sniper of WW II and arguably the most famous of all time, he wasn’t the most efficient, since that title goes to the “White Death” from earlier in the list. The odd thing about the Russian Zaitsev is that because of the movie he might actually be more famous in the West than he is in Russia, where he is little known. His famed duel with a German sniper is now believed to have been heavily exaggerated by the Soviet propaganda machine, and may have been invented altogether. However, the fact that is historically accurate is that he was the single individual most feared by the Nazis during the war, and that alone makes him a legend. His name represented fear and death, and even Hitler himself admired his excellence as a sniper, while he desired his death more than that of any other person on earth.
4. Ioannis Varvakis
Varvakis, (known in Russia as Ivan Andreevich Varvatsi), even though one of the richest men who ever lived and one of the most badass pirates ever, is largely unknown outside of his nation of birth. Born on a tiny Greek island to an impoverished family, Varvakis determined early in life to be destined for bigger and better things. As a wild young man with a free spirit, he couldn’t live in the Ottoman-occupied Greece of his day, and decided to become a sailor. By the age of seventeen, he had already terrorized Ottoman commercial sea-routes with his small ship, the St. Andrew. He spent every penny he made as a pirate to equip the ship and arm it with cannons and it was at the Battle of Chesma that he made history. He used a technique that was not seen again for almost two centuries, when it was used by the Japanese Air Forces. After packing his ship with combustibles and explosives such as dynamite and armed cannons, he set it on fire and steered it into the large Turkish fleet. The destruction he caused was so huge that he became a legend throughout Europe for his bravery and novel technique. He later immigrated to Russia, and under the wing of Catherine the Great, he became one of the richest men in Europe and the one who introduced caviar to the Western World.
3. Marcus Cassius Scaeva
Marcus Cassius Scaeva is probably the toughest Roman ever. He was a decorated centurion In Caesar’s army, who in his spare time, according to legend, put his life at risk training with professional gladiators. During the Battle of Dyrrhachium, fought between Julius Caesar and the army led by Gnaeus Pompey, with the backing of the majority of the Roman Senate, Scaeva was fighting in the front ranks as usual when he was shot in the eye. The injury was severe, and would leave him permanently blind. However Scaeva took it well. He just roared, removed the arrow, and kept on fighting and killing even more intensely. During the same battle, he was struck by two more arrows (sources differ, but it is believed that one pierced his throat and the other his knee), while hundreds of arrows bristled from his shield. Scaeva managed even under these conditions to hold the line and keep fighting.
2. Xiahou Dun
Xiahou Dun was not only a badass, but also a psycho of the highest degree. This military general, who offered his services to warlord Cao Cao in the late Eastern Han Dynasty, became a legend when, during a battle in the late 190s, he was hit by a stray arrow and lost his left eye. In front of his amazed soldiers and his enemies alike, he pulled out the arrow and swallowed his own eyeball. No one had ever seen anything like this ever before, and, fairly enough, Dun was thereafter considered to be the ultimate badass of China. Following this incident, enemy armies were afflicted with fear of “Blind Xiahou, The One-Eyed Warrior.” His legend is retold in the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong.
1. Count Roland
Count Roland is the unarguable response to all the nonsense about French men not being courageous or capable fighters. The man was literally unstoppable. He was the best and first among the Twelve Peers of Charlemagne. As we already know, Charlemagne was one of the greatest generals of all time, and he picked the very best to surround him. That alone made Roland a badass, but it pales in comparison to his deeds in the Battle of Roncevaux Pass. His heroism and incredible warrior skills during the fighting in the Pyrenees in August of 778 made Roland an ultimate legend. Like a second King Leonidas, Roland fought against thousands, having by his side at one point only 300 of his men. Even though Roland and every single one of his Frankish warriors were finally killed, defeated by the Basques, his last stand was so incredibly heroic that it was celebrated in the 11th century by one of the earliest surviving works of French literature, the epic poem The Song of Roland.