The Most Brutal Military Training Exercises Throughout History

The hardest military training often produces some of the best fighters. The following are some of the most difficult training exercises and hardest military training camps from throughout history. Most cultures begin training soldiers when they are just children. Some even have ceremonies at birth, but all had rather disciplined and advanced fighters by the time they were in their late teens. Many faced tests of endurance, and learned how to fight in packs. And it was their brutal training that created some of the most disciplined soldiers in history.  

Read about cultures that trained their soldiers to conquer any conceivable enemy - like the Spartans who began training when children were still toddlers, and the Aztecs who more or less armed children from birth. Read all about these fearsome warriors below. 

Photo: Mendoza Codex Wikipedia Commons

  • Spartan Training

    Spartan Training
    Photo: Scottish Museum Wikipedia Commons

    Ancient Greek warfare consisted of lines of heavily armored infantry men in a phalanx, a formation they could use for attack and defense. The ancient Spartans were the best of the ancient Greeks and were widely feared for their martial prowess. Part of the reputation stemmed from the fact that nobody trained like Spartans. 

    According to the Roman historian Plutarch, if a Spartan newborn didn’t look healthy or was deformed the parents would cast the baby aside. At the age of 7 Spartan children were taken from their parents and put into packs. Their heads were shaved, they were given little clothing, little food to eat, and they walked barefoot. Austerity measures, like those found in the amount of food the boys were given, were intended to make the them, "take into their own hands the fight against hunger, and so be forced into boldness and cunning."

    The children slept, ate, and trained together. By age 12 they were given the famous Spartan cloaks and they learned how to “obey commands well, endure hardships, and conquer in battle.” They engaged in mock combat, and formed an elite spirit de corps that made them feared on the battlefield.   

  • The Prussian Gauntlet

    The Prussian Gauntlet
    Photo: Public Domain

    The Prussians were famous for their military discipline. As a small nation in Eastern Europe with few natural boundaries or resources, they often had to fight multiple enemies across different fronts at the same time. As a result, they developed an army that excelled at strategic maneuvers between fronts and quick maneuvers on the battlefield.

    The Prussian army had to perform at peak efficiency, and to help this happen they doled out Draconian punishments to soldiers who disobeyed orders. Soldiers who deserted were hanged. Rule breakers had to run between two lines of soldiers, called the gauntlet, and were beaten as they did so. Officers could lose their commission for misbehavior. Even by the standards of the time the Prussians were considered rather extreme. Their defeat by Napoleon helped lead to reforms, with corporal punishment being abandoned.

  • Aztec Ceremonial Sacrifice

    Aztec Ceremonial Sacrifice
    Photo: Aztec warrior ranks Wikipedia Commons

    Aztecs started military training early: at birth, babies were symolically armed with a shield in one hand an arrow in the other. Elite soldiers began their training at age 10 with everyone else joining them at age 15. By age 20, warriors joined military campaigns and fought for the Aztecs against regional enemies, gaining ranks by capturing and sacrificing opposing warriors. The captive would either have their hearts removed on the altar of the great pyramid, or fight to the death in mock combat. These terror-inducing ceremonies sustained the aura of leadership surrounding the emperor and his elite soldiers. 

  • Zulu Speed Training

    Zulu Speed Training
    Photo: Wikipedia Commons

    The Zulus developed a sophisticated war machine by incorporating their defeated enemies and forming a national army of fearsome Impi warriors. They were eventually outgunned (literally) by the British, but they achieved some spectacular successes before that happened, such as massacring the British army at Isandlwanda

    Boys started military training at a young age. By their early teens they were expected to run 50 miles a day without shoes. The marched an average of 70 miles a day on a campaign. Soldiers were forbidden from marrying until their late 30s and still needed permission then. This preserved unity and established rewards for veteran soldiers. Zulu warriors also had unique battle formations. Two wings of younger soldiers would envelop the enemy force at the same time as the “chest” or main body of soldiers advanced, and the loins, or old aged veterans would act as a reserve.  They sought to advance quickly, surprise, and surrounded their enemies to spear them to death. 

  • Iroquois Cannibalism

    Iroquois Cannibalism
    Photo: Public Domain

    The five nations of the Iroquois League spread through the Great Lakes region and dominated much of the North East, in part thanks to their fearsome soldiers. Upon the death of a family member the tribes practiced in what was called “mourning wars." An Iroquois soldier would choose whether a captive would become part of the tribe or die. If the soldier chose to kill the captive, they first made that person sing and dance upon a scaffold. After that, they burned the victim with a branding torch until he died. Jesuit missionaries recorded that when they finished torturing their victims, Iroquois soldiers carved up and ate the body.