Pages Menu

Categories Menu

Posted on Nov 24, 2008 in Stuff We Like

50 Battles That Shaped Our World – What Would You Pick?

By Armchair General

The January 2009 issue of Armchair General magazine published a list of 50 Battles that Shaped Our World. Ranging from ancient times to the current War on Terror, these are battles with effects far beyond the blood-soaked fields or the raging waves where they were fought.

For the last few weeks, our forum members have been debating what battles should have been included on that list, and in some cases they came up with different ones than those selected by our staff.

We’d like to know what you think. The list of 50 battles from the January Armchair General magazine appears below. In the comments section at the bottom of this page, leave a comment about the battles chosen and tell us if there were other battles that didn’t appear on the list, but that you feel should have. No signup is necessary.



50 Battles That Shaped Our World
Marthon Constaninople Austerlitz The Somme Air Campaign Against Japan
Salamis Tenochtitlan Borodino War of the Atlantic Okinawa
Gaugamela Spanish Armada Waterloo Battle of Britain Berlin
Cannae Vienna Gettysburg Moscow Cold War
Teutoburger Wald Blenheim Vicksburg Midway Israeli War of Independence
Tours Poltava Sedan Stalingrad Huai Hai Campaign
Hastings Rossback Tsushima El Alamein Inchon Invasion
Mohi Quebec The Marne Kursk Dien Bien Phu
Lake Peipus Yorktown Verdun D-Day Tet Offensive
Agincourt Trafalgar Jutland Leyte Gulf War on Terror



  1. I really enjoyed your article on the 50 battles that shaped out world, however i think you missed a very important one: The battle of Pharsalus, between Julius Caesar and Pompey Magnus. By itself it wasn’t necessarily breathtaking, unless you count Caesar’s use of legions against ccavalry and using their pila as spears, but overall it was a very “world shaping” battle. Caesar, after defeating Pompey, went on to become dictator and establish the Roman Empire which as we know went on to conquer much of the known world spreading Roman culture and learning all over the known world. The Roman Empire and it’s later fall and breakup, formed the foundations of modern Europe which led to majority of the other battles in your 50 battles. Also, how come you didn’t mention any of the Crusades? I know you can’t have everything, sorry for being picky, i still enjoyed the article.

  2. Battle of Plassey a war fought in Bengal, East India , between the erstwhile rulers of Bengal Nawab Siraj Ud Daula and the armies of East India Company, which ushered in British rule in India.

    This is a war which was the turning point in the history of the subcontinent.

  3. I would drop the following battles: The Somme, Leyte Gulf and Berlin. The Somme was a disaster but did not change the war, only the image of the war afterwards. Both the Leyte Gulf and Berlin battles were mostly forgone conclusions except for the losing side.
    I would instead add Amiens, The Six Day War and Hattin. The loss at Hattin sealed the fate of the Christian kingdoms in the Crusades. Amiens and the hundred day pursuit of the German Army in 1918 contributed to the end of the War. Even Hindenburg stated it was “a black day for the German Army.” And lastly, the Six Day War for giving the world and Israel the problems with the occupied territories.

  4. Since my father was a photographer in the 2ID Combat Engineer Battalion and always shared his war stories, I was anxious to see your list, but disappointed that you did not include The Battle of the Bulge. Anyone who knows about the Bulge, but especially those few survivors still around today, would say it helped determine the final outcome in the ETO and established that the Americans were superior contenders over the British forces.

  5. I don’t see how Cannae (although a great achievement by Hannibal and his army) helped to shape the world. To much battles in WW2 (Berlin, Okinawa, Leyte) as thes were fought whne the war was already lost by the Axis powers.

    I do miss the battle in France (the Catalaunic Fields), in which the Huns were repelled by the combined forces of the Romans and Visigoths. (As I am a Dutchman, I don’t know how this battle is called in English).
    How about Adrianopel (Goths / East Roman Empire) , siege of Vienna by the Turks and Lepanto ??

  6. I do like the list. I’m just not sure what is meant by the “cold war”. If you’re consiering the entire cold war to be a single battle, then you need to remove the tet offensive and the invasion of inchon, because they were part of the cold war. If that were the case, I would then chose the battles of Saratoga and the seige of Constantinople. (Bert, I believe you mean the battle of Chalons)

    Saratoga- due to the fact that without it, the Continental Army would not have the French aid necessary for ultimate victory.

    Siege of Constantinople- With the fall of Constantiople, it signaled the final end of the Ancient World and of Rome. It also allowed the European Renaissance to take hold.

  7. I would definitely consider adding Saratoga. If the British had been successful at Saratoga, there was a real chance the American Revolution could have turned out differently.

  8. I think Cannae was a magnificent battle tactically, but changed nothing long term in the world. I agree with another poster that Hattin was important, and I think Lenningrad should be included. Had the Germans captured Lenningrad in 1941, they would have linked with Finnish forces and then driven south. It may have changed German fortunes in Russia. I also believe the British victory over the Americans at Queenston Heights is important. A small battle in terms of troops involved, but very significant. The U.S. invaded Canada and was defeated. What if the Americans had won at Queenston Heights? We might have a very different world, certainly a different North America. The War of 1812 is often called a draw, but it was clearly a British victory because it stopped American designs on invading and conquering Canada. When the war ended, there was still a British colony in North America, and Queenston Heights was the key early on.

  9. In the year 2008 western civilization is in a one sided war against a religion that has as it’s goal the forced conversion of the world to it’s version of god and their bloodthirsty prophet. One understated battle that postponed the conversion or death of the western world was the battle of TOURS. It is unfortunate that the decendents of the European Christian kingdoms are divided and oblivious to the ongoing one sided war in the 21st century.Tours was vital. The victory of the Polish king at Vienna against the Turks was vital,the Mongol invasion that setback Islam’s world conquest was vital.One way to save the west would be a big budget Mel Gibson blockbuster movie about Charles Martel and the battle of TOURS.All history is connected,some realize that but most do not.The one’s that don’t,get defeated. Jim

  10. Loved the article but cannot understand how Cannae makes the cut and Zama does not. After all, didn’t Zama essentially mark the end for Carthage, even though a third Rome-Carthage war was fought before Carthage was wiped off the face of the earth. Zama marked a huge defeat for Hannibal and a crowning victory for Scipio Africanus. Other than that I love the picks.

  11. Two very important Pacific theater battles needed mention:
    The Australian defense of Port Moresby, New Guinea in 1942 &
    the resulting Battle of the Coral Sea (May 1942).
    These were the first two strategic defeats for Japan in the Pacific War. Midway (June 1942) though important as well, was “merely” the third.
    All three Allied victories stemmed the Japanese tide of conquest, and set the stage for the subsequent first Allied Pacific offensive in the Solomons in August of 1942.

  12. I was astounded that you did not consider the classic U. S. M. C. battle Iwo Jima. I have observed one graphic documentary of the same plus interviewed a distant relative obout his experience there. When I first talked to Reuben about this he could not tell me anything since tears came to his eyes.

  13. The battle of Britain is on the list, I am not sure if they are in order of importance, but if so Battle of Britain should be right near the top.
    If Britain had lost that war and were invaded, it would have been nearly impossible to dislodge Germany from all of Europe.
    Germany, in a much longer time would have defeated Russia
    and the United States would be nearly alone in defending what was left of the free world.

  14. The battle of Tours is the battle that most definitively shaped our world as it is today, no other battle could have so changed the world had the outcome been different…

  15. A very tough lot of desicions indeed. I thought that I would have chosen Midway or perhaps Pearl Harbour over Leyte gulf, as the desicive battle as far as the Japanese ww2 front was conserned, but it’s a tough call as there was so much space and such different fighting in the PTO…

    I thought that including Tenotichlan was very good thinking, possibly one of the most important battles in forming the world we live in today, good choise!

  16. There really are very few decisive military moments. Many of the ones you included are not in any way decisive…Marathon, Agincourt, the Somme, Blenheim, etc. While Cannae was not decisive it did help make our world, as every general since has wanted to emulate Hannibal, including Norman Shwartzkof in the First Gulf War.

    I would add Manzikert which was the true beginning of the end for the Byzantines, Hattin, which was the end for the Latin Kingdoms in the Holy Land, and Lutzen which guaranteed the survival of Lutheranism in Germany during the 30 Years War.

  17. Kudos to Shawn for knowing his stuff…

    “I would drop the following battles: The Somme, Leyte Gulf and Berlin. The Somme was a disaster but did not change the war, only the image of the war afterwards. Both the Leyte Gulf and Berlin battles were mostly forgone conclusions except for the losing side.
    I would instead add Amiens, The Six Day War and Hattin. The loss at Hattin sealed the fate of the Christian kingdoms in the Crusades. Amiens and the hundred day pursuit of the German Army in 1918 contributed to the end of the War. Even Hindenburg stated it was “a black day for the German Army.” And lastly, the Six Day War” for being one of the most one-sided victories in history and ensuring Israel’s existence. (The Yom Kippur War came within hours of ending Israel’s existence but since they pulled another victory of their xxx, it should be on the “almost changed history” list.)

    Don’t forget the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, which conclusively ended France’s ownership of the New World, ceding it to Britain. And, my personal favorite, the Battle of Ankara in which Tamerlane wiped out the Turk’s crack 400,000-strong army, thus saving Christendom from this army.

  18. If the south had not won the battle of Chancelorsville, VA., then the battle of Gettysburg would probably not have been fought. This battle was a high point in the South’s struggle for independence. The genius of Gen. Stonewall Jackson was evident here as he marched his troops in front of the Federal troops, went around and attacked their right flank. This was a decisive victory for the south. But the death of Gen. Jackson from wounds suffered in this battle, had a lot to do with the outcome of the war.

  19. Very tough to choose among 100,000 battles which “ones” were significant and had lasting effects in the following CENTURIES….A lot of battles change things for the short term. Others could be considered the culminating battles of a war or last desparate gambles. Many of them are smart gambles (think Inchon) which changed the nature of the war but didn’t change anything in Asia. China still rules it’s borders. I might add the sacking of Rome in (?) 458 AD that terminated the roman empire. The fall of Constantinople which terminated the Eastern Roman Empire. William the Conquerer crushing the Picts, Celts, and Vikings in England in 1066 which led german mercanaries (Angles & Saxons) to change the culture of England, Ireland, and Scotland for 900 years.
    I think a definition of epic battle needs to be published. Stalingrad is a good example. A 9 month battle resulting in 1.2 million dead and a major shift in initiative across a 2000 mile battlefield. Now that’s epic! A 1-2 day battle that changes things for 1-2 months shouldn’t count.

  20. An addition to the list of 50 battles that have affected our world. I would like to add the battle of Trenton on Christmas and the following day in 1776. The forces under Washington’s command were at their lowest point, many considered the war for independence as over, we had lost. Howe had retired for the winter figuring on wrapping the whole thing up in the spring. Washington knew he and the country needed a bold stroke, a victory in order to rejunvenate enlistments. Without such, all may very well be lost. His plan to attack Trenton on Christmas Day was a magical stroke which did just what he hoped. Furthermor, the forces sent from Princeton to recover victory for his majesty’s forces were fought to a standstill from the excellent defensive position Washington had occupied. When faced with the uncomfortable position of continuing to keep the British at bay Washington organized and executed one of the most materful and critical retreats in history leaving the British wondering where he had gone. Where had he gone? To Princeton!
    As a result of this victory and the loss of face for the British, the american enlistments grew, American got exactly the right medicine for the defeatist attitude that had taken hold. Although there were many battles ahead, amongst which were several defeats, the American forces at Trenton learned they could, given the right circumstnces, carry the day against the finest fighting force in the world, the British redcoats and, by the way, what did that make them?

  21. One would think that battles that shaped the world would be a battle that if it were lost would be disasterous to one side or the other. Battle of Britain, Guadalcanal, Stalingrad, Choisin reservoir etc, leap to mind from recent history. The War on Terror is not a definitive battle rather an ongoing conflict that has and may very well continue to change the world.

  22. Without a doubt, the largest tank battle in history, Kursk!

  23. Any list of 50 “top battles” will unfortunately result in a certain bias, dependent on where one lives and one’s pet military hobby horse. Battles should be chosen according to how important they were to the outcome of a war, and how important that war was in history overall. Thus the fall of Constantinople in 1453 was a milestone, yes, but not a decisive battle. The invitation by the Greeks to the Turks to help them bring into line some obstreperous neighbours on the European side of the Bosphorus was much more crucial in the expansion of the Turkish empire.
    That said, the current list does tend to overlook a couple of important engagements. The naval defeat of the Turks at Lucarno in the 16th Century gave confidence to Western Europe (and Venice and Genoa in particular).
    Instead of Agincourt, I would substitute Crecy – the capture of the French King by the English certainly prolonged the struggle, killed John of Bohemia and destabilised both England and France for several years to come. But maybe no battle in the 100 Years War deserves ranking.
    In more modern times, the defeat of the Red Army by Polish forces on the Vistula in 1920 saved Germany and Europe from Communist expansion when Germany was politically more vulnerable to communist expansion than even after WW2, and penned communism up in one country (Mongolia was basically part of the USSR) for 25 years.

  24. The above comments are very well said and noted, but one that sticks out for myself and is extremely important for larger battles to come,would be the skirmishs at lexington and concord. Here is where the colonials relized that they could fight this beast that was the British Army and win. The boost in morale was tremendous, giving the army that was soon to be formed, the needed recruitment in men material and money. When one sits on the fence, one waits to see, who flinches first. This small battle set the stage for the modern World that is today. The United States are born and for the first time in history a people fight for the right to govern ones self.

  25. Add French and Indian Wars, which was the 1st World War. Delete Quebec and Yorktown an add Guilford Courthouse, Yorktown would not have happened if the British were not kicked out of the Southern States. Verdun, Jutland and the Somme did not change anything, but the Spring Attacks in 1918 by the Germans and the Allied counter attacks turned the tide. Drop Leyte Gulf and Berlin add Guadalcanal and Midway

  26. I agree with most of the battles chosen but Salamis would not have been possible without Thermopole and the sacrafice of those greeks that fought and died there.

  27. the blitz through France and the low countrys by Germany were also big changes that made the whole world change how wars were to be fought. Guderian and Manstien change how future wars would be fought. that was probably the biggest shock for the allies in wwII.

  28. Lepanto( not listed), stoped muslim expansion into the central Mediteranian region and thereby allowed modern day Europe to come into being.

  29. While there are several battles I think probably were not important enough to make this list (Jutland, cough cough) my overall problem is that the list was extremely biased towards western civilization and the modern world. I understand that many battles and wars that shaped our world happened recently and many took place in Europe, but what about battles in the Middle East and Asia? What about the epic failed invasion of Japan by China? What of the Mongol clashes with the Russians? If you truly want to answer such a broad question as which battles shaped the world we live in today you must look deeper into the issue than just well-known battles that didn’t have nearly the same historical, cultural, and strategic military ramifications as some that were left out.

  30. Chris makes a valid point – there are vast swathes of history, cultural domination, or geopolitical importance ignored. Europe, and western Europe at that, was globally important only after China took its eye of the ball. But then, we are mostly “Europeans”, even the Americans and me.
    Unfortunately, the list as presented moves forward through time. To help ourselves assess the importance of each “battle”, we should move backwards through time and consider how it impinged forward. Some battles, while decisive militarily, are overshadowed by political decisions made later. Thus, The French and Indian War (1756-63) was only significant because the British confiscated Quebec and not France’s Caribbean colonies. Similarly, the Seven Years War, between Prussia, Austria and Russia starts to look less imposing when one realises Russia’s Tsar Peter III handed all his country’s gains (East Prussia, Berlin) back to Prussia in support of a dynastic claim in Holstein.

    But off my hobby horse, and onto an overlooked battle – Khalkin Gol, between thew Soviet Union and Japan, 1939. Japan was deterred from invading the Soviet Union and instead went South. Kind of important. It’s not the big wars that produce all the big decisions.

  31. I am really confused by information I’ve gotten about isreal’s war of independence. They became a state in May of 1948 then were immediately attacked by the Arabs on all sides .Then Syria took the Golan Heights, Egypt took the Gaza Strip, Transjordan or (Jordan) took the West Bank and kept them for 19 years ,(even keeping the Isreali,s from Jerusalem for 19 years) Why didn’t the U.N. or the World call foul when that was done to Isreal ? Then when Isreal was attacked again in 1967 and took the territories back.Most people were so against the Jews “occupying “those areas that had been taken away in 1948. The U.N. were going to give all of Palestine to the Jews because of the horrible treatment they had been given around the world, but before that happened they (the U.N.) divided it by the Jordan River into two parts and gave most of the area to the Arabs. Isreal is surrounded by more than 20 Arab states ,that have 640 times the land mass and out number the Jews of Isreal 50 to 1. What is their problem???

  32. I would like to know why the Arabs of Gaza and the West Bank call themselves Palestinians? In my dictionary it says that Palestine means Jewish Homeland.So do the Palestinians now consider thmselves Jews??? I find that really odd!!

  33. I really think you should have included Julius Caesar’s victory at the Gaul city of Alesia. Caesar surrounded the city with 45,000 soldiers while the city had 70,000 defenders! The Romans also got attacked by a relief force of 250,000 troops and Caesar still defeated them!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  34. The battles of Verdun and the Somme achieved nothing other than to send 2 million men to their deaths for no significant gains. The generals responsible for these debacles had not learned anything in years of trench fighting (First episode of Black Adder goes Forth comes to mind). They should not be on the list because they were nothing more than bloody battles in a bloody war. Of the battles of WWI, the one that “shaped our world” the most was the battle of Le Hamel, July 1918. Le Hamel was the first truly modern battle of our time, where the use of infantry, tanks, artillery and aircraft were used closely together, ie. the combined arms strategy. It shaped our world because ironically, the only nation to learn from Le Hamel were the ones on the recieving end, the Germans, and how they learned. Twenty years later, they unleashed Blitzkrieg, the combined arms strategy that rolled all before it. Had Britian or France learned the same lessons, Germany might well have stopped in her tracks.

  35. 1. Tours- preserved western culture,christianity, held back islam, in
    sured the founding of representative govt and the founding the US.
    2. platea- discouraged further invasion and establishment of mesopotamian culture, preserved republican democracy, held back later islam.
    3. salamis- initial defeat of mesopotamian forces and culture and above remarks.
    4. matarus river- preserved western greco-roman european culture and held back african phonecian monarchian culture, future christianity and held back future islam.
    5. yarmuk- the establishment of islam in africa and the middle east.

  36. I would drop a lot of the ones listed. Since we live in the “modern era”, I would most definitely drop Yorktown in favor of Saratoga.

  37. If you wish to have the battle where the English captured the French King, I think the appropriate battle would be Poitiers (1356).

    Of ancient history I favour Carchemish (ca 1280 bce) between the forces of the hittite empire, and the new kingdom of egypt under Ramesses II.

    Slightly more recent ancient history would be the invasion Syracuse by the Athenians which resulted , ultimately, in their defeat in the Peloponnesian war (430 to 404 bce)

  38. In spite of what American historians like to say, the wars for Haitian independence shaped the modern United states as much as did the wars of Independence and the war of 1812. France, Spain, and England, the superpowers of the time, squandered the lives of abourt 100,000 men attempting to retake the most prosperous slave colony in the new world. Eventually, Napoleon decided to cut his losses and sold about one third ot the continent of North America to the United States for chump change. Incidentally, the reparations which “free” Haiti was forced to pay to its former slave masters (with US approval) was many times higher than what the US paid for the Louisiana Purchase.

    I didn’t see Dien Bien Phu among the list of the most decisive battles of modern history. I believe that the defeat of French forces which were well trained and largely equipped with US built weapons by indigenous Vietnamese encourged colonized people all over the world to seek independence on their own terms.

    I do not regard the so-called cold war as a simple contest of good versus evil. The cold war was an ugly and cynical enterprise which both sides used as an excuse to retard and distort the decolonization process for people in the so-called third world at the cost of countless millions of lives, most of whom were civilians..

    I do not think that future generations will look very kindly upon the cold war or on any of the major players.j

  39. Thanks mate. Good article you have here. Got some more links to direct to with more info?