10 Epic Ancient Battles

Battle of Djahy

The Battle of Djahy was a major land battle between the forces of pharaoh Ramesses III and the Sea Peoples who intended to invade and conquer Egypt. The conflict occurred somewhere on the Ancient Egyptian Empire’s easternmost frontier in Djahy or modern day southern Lebanon, in the eighth year of pharaoh Ramesses III or about c. 1178 BC.In this battle the Egyptians, led personally by Ramesses III, defeated the Sea Peoples who were attempting to invade Ancient Egypt by land and sea. Almost all that we know about the battle comes from the mortuary temple of Ramesses III in Medinet Habu. The description of the battle and prisoners is well documented on temple walls where we also find the longest hieroglyphic inscription known to us. Temple reliefs feature many bound prisoners defeated in battle.

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Battle of Thermopylae

Despite their defeat in 490 BC to the Athenians at the Battle of Marathon, the Persians led by King Xerxes were still determined to conquer Greece though they had control of almost the entire world. Led by King Leonidas of Sparta, the Athenians and Spartans combined forces with other 29 city-states with only 10,000 warriors to fight off the invading colossal armies of King Xerxes. This battle became an epic story when due to treachery, the Persians were able to go behind the Greek lines, forcing Leonidas along with 300 Spartans, 900 Helots, 400 Thebans and 700 Thespians to give their last stand against the massive Persian forces in a pass in Thermopyla.

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Battle of Gaugamela

October 1, 331 BC marked one of the finest victories of Alexander the Great. Also known as the “Battle of Arabela,” it resulted in the crucial victory of the Macedonians under Alexander’s rule against the Persian Empire under Darius III. The 47,000 strong Greek force routed a Persian army over twice its size.

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Battle of Zama

On October 19, 202 BC, the battle of Zama, an ancient town in North Africa, was the final and decisive encounter that ended the Second Punic War. It also marked the end of Hannibal, the most famous general of Carthage, who was able to defend his country for 16 years out of the 60 years that the Romans and Carthaginians were fighting for world power.

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Battle of Pharsalus

A crucial battle of Caesar’s Civil War, it was fought by two great military tacticians who were once allies – Pompey Magnus (“Pompey the Great”) who had the backing of Roman senators, and Gaius Julius Caesar. Pompey, who was fighting for the people and the Republic against Caesar’s aim of aristocratic rule, was defeated by the well-rested and tactically placed Caesar’s army. This battle has historical significance as it paved the way for the Roman Republic to become an empire.

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Battle of Actium

The Battle of Actium was the decisive confrontation of the Final War of the Roman Republic, a naval engagement between Octavian and the combined forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra on 2 September 31 BC, on the Ionian Sea near the promontory of Actium, in the Roman province of Epirus Vetus in Greece. Octavian’s fleet was commanded by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, while Antony’s fleet was supported by the power of Queen Cleopatra of Ptolemaic Egypt.

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Battle of the Milvian Bridge

The Battle of the Milvian Bridge took place between the Roman Emperors Constantine I and Maxentius on October 28, 312. It takes its name from the Milvian Bridge, an important route over the Tiber. Constantine won the battle and started on the path that led him to end the Tetrarchy and become the sole ruler of the Roman Empire. Maxentius drowned in the Tiber during the battle and his body was later taken from the river and decapitated.

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Battle of the Catalaunian Plains

The Battle of the Catalaunian Plains (or Fields), also called the Battle of Châlons or the Battle of Maurica, took place on June 20, 451 AD between a coalition led by the Roman general Flavius Aetius and the Visigothic king Theodoric I against the Huns and their vassals commanded by their king Attila. It was one of the last major military operations of the Western Roman Empire, although Germanic foederati composed the majority of the coalition army. The battle was strategically inconclusive: the Romans stopped the Huns’ attempt to establish vassals in Roman Gaul, and installed Merovech as king of the Franks. However, the Huns successfully looted and pillaged much of Gaul and crippled the military capacity of the Romans and Visigoths. The Hunnic Empire was later dismantled by a coalition of their Germanic vassals at the Battle of Nedao in 454.

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Battle of al-Qādisiyyah

The Battle of al-Qādisiyyah , fought in 636, was a decisive battle between the Arab Muslim army and the Sassanid Persian army during the first period of Muslim expansion. It resulted in the Islamic conquest of Persia and was key to the conquest of Iraq. The battle also saw the alleged alliance of Emperor Yazdegerd III with Byzantine Emperor Heraclius, who married his granddaughter Manyanh to Yazdegerd as a symbol of alliance.

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Battle of Tours

One of the most important eras in the history of the world, the battle of Tours or the ‘Battle of Poitiers,’ occurred in October 732 AD in north central France near the city of Tours. The battle was between the 20,000 combined Frankish and Burgundian forces led by Charles Martel against the 50,000 soldiers of Abdul Rahman al Ghafiqi, who was intent on bringing Islam to Europe. The victory of Charles Martel led to the preservation of Christianity in Europe, which may not have been the case given a different outcome to this critical battle.

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