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Posted on Jan 21, 2009 in Stuff We Like

The Most Decisive Battle of All Time

By Armchair General

The "50 Battles That Shaped Our World" article in the January 2008 issue of Armchair General magazine spawned a basketball-style elimination tournament in the ACG Forums to determine The Most Decisive Battle of All Time.

Forum members wanted more than 50 battles to choose from, so they created their own lists of battles from four eras: Ancient, Medieval, Gunpowder and Modern. The complete list of battles that began the tournament appears below.

After four voting rounds, the choices came down to the land battle of Saratoga in 1777 and the sea battle Salamis in 480 BC.

Saratoga is the singular name used to encompass two related battles of the American Revolution, fought in upper New York 18 days apart: Freeman’s Farm and Bemis Heights. The actions resulted in the surrender of a British army of 9,000 men. Saratoga is often called the turning point of the Revolution, leading ultimately to the establishment of the United States of America.


Salamis was fought between the navies of the Greek city-states and Persia in September 480 BC. The underdog Greeks defeated the much larger Persian force, a turning point that eventually led to Greek victory. A different result would have given Persia, rather than Greece, the dominant role in the development of Western civilization at that time.

In the fifth and final round of the ACG tournament, the winner was . . . Salamis, by a vote of 47 to 29!

If you are not a member of the Armchair General forums and would like to join in the fun, go to to register. The instructions will walk you through. It’s a pretty simple process. There is no charge and we don’t spam our members; signup is required to allow us to monitor and maintain proper content.

Most Decisive Battle Tournament
These are the battles selected by ACG forum members as the most decisive battles of history. Elimination rounds established the winner of the title The Most Decisive Battle of All Time. To read commentaries, go to Armchair General‘s forums: Armchair Attacks: Most Decisive Battle.

Ancient Era
Megiddo, 1475BC       
Muye, 1057BC   
Neniveh, 612BC   
Carchemish, 605BC   
Thymbra, 506BC   
Marathon, 490BC   
Salamis, 480BC   
Amfipolis, 422BC   
Aigospotamoi, 405BC  
Leuctra, 371BC   
Charoneia, 338BC   
Guagemala, 331BC   
Ipsus, 301BC    
Sentinum, 295BC   
Beneventum, 275BC   
Mylae, 265BC   
Cannae, 216BC   
Julu, 207BC    
Metaurus, 207BC   
Magnesia, 190BC   
Pharsalus, 49BC   
Actium, 31BC    
Teutoburgerwald, 9AD  
Chrysopolis, 324AD   
Adrianople, 378AD

Medieval Era
Battle of Tricamarum 533
Battle of Yarmouk 636
Battle of Nihawand 642
Siege of Constantinople 717-718
Battle of Tours 732
Battle on the Lechveld 955
Battle of Kleidon 1014
Battle of Hastings 1066
Battle of Manzikert 1071
Fall of Jerusalem 1099
Battle of Hattin 1187
Battle of Jaffa 1192
Battle of Taraori 1192
Sack of Constantinople 1204
Battle of Leignitz 1241
Battle of Lake Peipus 1242
Battle of Ain Jainut 1260
Battle on the Marchfeld 1278
Battle of Bannockburn 1314
Battle of Crecy 1346
Battle of Sempach 1386
Battle of Tannenberg 1410
Battle of Patay 1429
Battle of Chatillon 1453
Fall of Constantinople 1453

[continued on next page]

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  1. Saratoga is now the recipient of an outstanding full-length battle study by a former park historian named John Luzader entitled SARATOGA: A MILITARY HISTORY OF THE DECISIVE CAMPAIGN OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION (Savas Beatie 2008). John threw out the fluff, fancy prose, and myths and legends and wrote the book almost entirely from original archival sources (and his extensive knowledge of the ground). It includes numerous original maps, a photographic tour of the field, and numerous appendices on a wide variety of topics.

    John, ironically, was also at one of the most decisive battles of the world: He was an Army Ranger on June 6, 1944, fought he way across France–and lived to tell the tale.

    You can see more at, and read an interview with Mr. Luzader there.

    Thank you.


  2. Tough to look at this list and stop shaking my head. Many of these “battles” were the highpoint of campaigns. These campaigns included many other significant battles. As a military trained observer, the battle that inflicts a sore wound on your enemies empire, depletes it of trained soldiers, and/or changes entire political or religious systems is what I call decisive. Pearl Harbor rid us of 1920 battleships but missed the true priority targets that day. Islandlwana killed 1500 european soldiers (and 1500 native ones) but within 6 months the British Empire crushed the Zulus. The Zulus didn’t inflict a mortal wound on the english nor dissuaded them from continuing to attack. It just gave them something to sing about.

    • exactly, when you water down the ancient /medieval/gunpowder/modern eras battles what are the most pivotal?

  3. I thought that the selection of the modern battles was most interesting particularly since I believe that one of the most decisive battles of World War II was left out. With the destruction of a major percentage of German tanks at the Battle of Kirsk, the Russians finally turned the advantage towards themselves and their superior T-34 tanks.

    If the Germans had won this battle, it is very possible that the fight for Russian would have lasted much longer and that Germany many have ultimately defeated Russia (not necessarily a bad thing).

  4. No, I wouldn’t like to see Kursk on the list. While it was a real turning point, the battle in itself was far from decisive. More of a draw, showing that the Germans no longer had the resouces to conduct a major offensive at one part of the front while still keep the guard up at the rest of the front, while the Soviets now had those resources. Btw the Soviet T34 were becoming slightly obsolete by Kursk. It was outclassed by the new Panther.

    Pearl Harbour should defenitely not be on the list. The only way it could have some noticeable impact on the final end of the war would be by not beeing a battle at all (i e if the Japanese had refrained from attacking USA)

    I don’t know much about the American war of liberty, but do you really think the British could have held on to America for long even if they had won the battle of Saratoga. Wasn’t the USA in beeing just to big and self sufficient to just be a part of Great Britain in the long run?

  5. I too agree with the comments about Saratoga. While significant at the time, it was merely the inevitable conclusion to a campaign that was already lost to the British, principally because of French Naval intervention. At the end of tenous supply lines, trying to deal with a guerilla campaign as well as a more conventional one, short of manpower, and with political debate about the utility of the war itself, Saratoga was itself a coda.

  6. I am surprised to see that in the Modern Battles Waterloo is not mentioned. Don’t you think that battle had a major impact on Modern Europe and prevent a resurging dominance of France over Europe?

  7. I am surprised to see that in the modern time area Waterloo is not mentioned. I think that the battle had a major impact in the shaping od Modern Europe and prevented a resurging dominance by France over Europe

  8. How about the somme . The end of the British Empire. No more volunteers after that. Tore the heart out of Britain.

  9. where will u place the israeli victories in 1948 ,1967 and 1973 yom kippur wars over combined arab nations

  10. I would scratch Jutland from World War I and replace it with the Convoy ONS-5 of World War II. The topic here is “decisive” battles. A “decisive” usually means a single, short but pitched battle where both sides throw both their chips onto the table and one walks away the winner.

    At Jutland, both sides threw their chips on the table and walked away. At ONS-5, the chips stayed. After ONS-5, the Allies and the Germans both knew that the U-Boat was beaten, and the Atlantic belonged to the US-UK alliance (and it still does to this day!)

    • Jutland was easily the most decisive battle of WW1 after 1914 – in that it was the only battle in which the Germans could have won the war in a day. Scheer is accounted a tactical genius for getting his fleet back without engaging the British – but strategically his only choice was to fight and win – a loss made no more difference to the war than a draw would have.
      And if he had fought – well – the British Battlecruisers blew up because of an ammunition feed design flaw – not their thin upper decks as is commonly supposed – and their battleships shared the same flaw except for maybe the Queen Elizabeth and the Royal Oak classes – although I have a feeling they two were suspect.
      As Beatty said – there was something wrong with their bloody ships that day…

  11. What about Cold Harbor? This was a decisive battle in halting Grant’s advance on Richmond. It also changed the face of combat, introducing and proving the effectivness of trench warfare.

  12. I’d say Jutland was definitely the decisive naval conflict of WW1! The German Prisoner assaulted its Royal navy jailor, but stayed in prison IE even though it wasn’t a crushing tactical victory for either it was strategically decisive victory for the Royal Navy in the surface war in WW1.
    Convoy ONS-5 is a good point, but I’d say victory in the Battle of the Atlantic was more about long term trends and developments, integrating new technologies and weapons into the allied ASW system rather then a single decisive engagement.

    Isn’t it the case that the further back in history a battle is, the more inherently decisive in world history it is? Saratoga has only affected the world for 232 years, Salamis for 2488! The very idea we have a differing conception of an ‘East’ and a ‘West’ comes from this campaign…

  13. as a medeival encounter , I would like to mention ” grunwald ”
    this was a major engagement involving the 2 largest and influential european forces at that time –the german knights and the litho-polish coalition.many natioanls were present and the otcome determined a major settlement of political geography-i.e. the control of eastern europe.

  14. I am not saying it was THE most decisive battle of all time, but Manzikert 1071 certainly desrves more credit than it is ever given in Western history classes (forget history classes in the USA… it is never mentioned even in footnotes…). Manzikert was the trigger for the crusades, but more to the point it was the beginning of the inexorable end of the Byzantine Empire… Byzantium never recuperated from the loss of Anatolia and its human resources… Admittedly, the fourth “Crusade” in 1204 gave Constantinople a knock-out blow, but if Manzikert hadn’t crippled the Byzantine Army back in 1071, the history of the Eatsern Empire arguably would have been much different…

    • Manzikert was perhaps the most decisive defeat of an empire in history. This stupid defeat by someone who had inherited a rich empire which only needed to be administrated from his father Alexius Comnenus doomed the Byzantine empire. They had already been defeated by stupidity at Myrocephalion a century before.

  15. I agree on the Manzikert observation. Also, do not underestimate the effect of Myrocephalion. This last battle sounded the death knell of the Byzantine Empire. The formidable Byzantine infantry was trapped in a gorge, under the command of their hero worship seeking emperor, and this, about 1280, led to the loss of all the Balkans.
    This along with Manzikert led to the destruction of the Byzantine Empire. Only the battle of Lepanto prevented the whole of the Mediterranean become a Turkish sea.

  16. When considering the single most decisive battle of all time, I would give serious consideration to the Battle of Britain. A German victory in the air campaign and a subsequent successful execution of Operation Sea Lion would have potentially provided Germany vast economic resources. Germany would have ultimately invaded the Soviet Union on much different, more favorable terms with the United States and its major Allies (Canada, Australia, and probably India) facing an even longer, more protracted war of technology and economic attrition against the Axis powers.

    • I would not call the Battle of Britain a “battle.” It was a campaign, despite the name.

  17. A substantial number of these battles appear to have been included because they are famous, not because they were world-shaping except in their very immediate future. For instance, Cannae,? Crecy?

  18. regarding American civil war, submit opinion the south could have survived the defeat at Gettysburg and still come out ahead. What gave the north the boost needed to win was the re-election of Lincoln in 64, helped immeasureably by suppressing casualty figures in the eastern theater and victories in the west. If Bragg was as aggressive as his junior generals advised him to be after his slight victory at Chickamauga, Rosecrans’ army would have been driven away from Chattanoga with rout and significant captives. Chichamauga : decisive.

    • This is an excellent observation. Had the three cigars not been found along with the Confederate battle plans before Antietam, we might be looking at a different history of those times.

  19. Indo pak war of 1971 should also be give a mention…coz…this war led to formation of bangladesh a new country!

  20. Battle at Yarmouk River 636 AD – one of the most important battles in history.
    If it ended differently, islam would never became world religion and (Eastern) Roman Empire would be dominate power in the Mediteranium and probably Europe in following centuries, shaping the world in different way.

  21. Pearl Harbour was THE decisive battle of WW2 – Japan sealed it’s fate by bringing the US into the war and Hitler lost his way 3 days later when he declared war on the US – should have just STFU

  22. What about the Battle of the Thirteen Sides? This is the battle where Chingis Khaan established his power and went on to establish the Mongol Empire.

  23. My top 3 are Stalingrad, Gettysburg, and Marathon.

    Honestly, we can thank the Russians that we all don’t speak German today. (And, in turn, we can thank the US that we all don’t speak Russian today.)

    Also, while an earlier poster submitted that the victory at Gettysburg was not as important to Northern morale as we might think, I submit that a loss at Gettysburg would have crushed Northern morale. Therefore, the victory is still extremely decisive – not because of what it created, but because of what it avoided.

    Why would you pick Salamis over Marathon? Marathon inspired the Greeks to fight at Salamis. It is way more important. Plus, Salamis has to be paired with Plataea for full effect.

  24. My favorite pivotal battle post-ancient world is Hastings. Had it gone the other way, and it very nearly did, I think the modern world would be a very different place. Britain would have become a relatively insular state akin to a Scandinavian country. There would have been no British Empire and no USA, and these last two outcomes alone would have led to a myriad of other political consequences that would have made the modern political scene unrecognisable from what we actually have today.

  25. probably the most decisive battle in western history at least was when Hannibal failed to assault Rome in 218BC after Cannae – only the fall of Rome could beat Rome by tat stage.