politics The Most Important Military Leaders in World History  

Mike Rothschild
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List Rules List includes military leaders from all countries and all eras.

Military history has a few figures who didn't just win battles or campaigns, but changed the world and the destiny of their nations. From the earliest world conquerors, men who laid waste to the entire known world; to modern tactical geniuses using weapons that previous generations only dreamed of, these are the best military leaders, those who were known, feared and respected by both their people and their opponents.

Some of the best army generals in the world and best international army leaders are known even by people who know little else about military history. Others are less well-known but no less important. And every country in history has their own heroes, leaders who commanded forces in the battles that shaped their destiny. This list is far from comprehensive, and can never be, but attempts to find a cross-section of legendary warrior-kings, great strategists, modern innovators, and legendary blood and guts men and women who personally fought in combat.

Vote up the greatest military leaders below, and vote down the ones who might be overrated. Be sure to add other famous military leaders who aren't already listed to make the debate even more complete.
list ordered by

1
1,242 338
Alexander the Great is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Alexander the Great Died at 33 (355 BC-322 BC) - Never lost a battle and spread Hellenistic civilization across the known world.

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2
911 295
Genghis Khan is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Genghis Khan Brutal conqueror who sacked much of the known world.

3
896 410
Napoleon Bonaparte is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Napoleon Bonaparte Died at 52 (1769-1821) - Conquered continental Europe and revolutionized military tactics.

4
791 294
Julius Caesar is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Julius Caesar Died at 56 (99 BC-43 BC) - Personally led the Roman armies at the height of their power.

5
696 324
Hannibal is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Hannibal Barca Died at 64 (246 BC-182 BC) - Legendary Carthaginian general who nearly sacked Rome and spread fear through the Empire.

6
798 339
Erwin Rommel is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Erwin Rommel Died at 53 (1891-1944) - Legendary field commander who virtually created modern tank warfare.

7
535 214
Frederick II of Prussia is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Arnold Ricker added Frederick II of Prussia Died at 74 (1712-1786)

8
482 264
Erich von Manstein is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Erich von Manstein Died at 86 (1887-1973) - Planned the invasion of France in 1940 and the defense of Kharkov in 1943. Fired for disagreeing with Hitler.

9
681 376
Robert E. Lee is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Robert E. Lee Died at 63 (1807-1870) - Legendary general of the Confederate States of America.

10
444 253
Heinz Guderian is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
PzGeneral added Heinz Guderian Died at 66 (1888-1954) - Heinz Wilhelm Guderian (German: [ɡuˈdeʀi̯an]; 17 June 1888 – 14 May 1954) was a German general during World War II, noted for his success as a leader of Panzer units in Poland and France and for partial success in Russia.

11
450 377
Georgy Zhukov is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Georgy Zhukov Died at 78 (1896-1974) - Led the Red Army from the brink of defeat in Moscow, to crushing Nazi Germany.

12
409 289
Charles Martel is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
RobLein added Charles Martel Died at 55 (686-741)

13
716 410
George Washington is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
George Washington Died at 67 (1732-1799) - A brilliant strategist who trained and inspired his men to freedom.

14
344 197
Helmuth von Moltke the Elder is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Arnold Ricker added Helmuth von Moltke the Elder Died at 91 (1800-1891)

15
440 210
Attila the Hun is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Attila the Hun Died at 47 (406-453) - Laid waste to much of Central and Eastern Europe.

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16
483 242
Saladin is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Saladin Destroyed the First Crusade and conquered Jerusalem.

17
428 292
Scipio Africanus is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Scipio Africanus Died at 53 (235 BC-182 BC) - Roman tactical genius who beat Hannibal in the Second Punic War.

18
459 318
William the Conqueror is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
William the Conqueror Died at 59 (1028-1087) - Led the Norman Conquest of England and planted the seeds for modern Anglo culture.

19
332 206
Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Arnold Ricker added Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher Died at 77 (1742-1819)

20
420 260
Chester W. Nimitz is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Chester W. Nimitz Died at 81 (1885-1966) - Leader of US naval forces for the bulk of the Pacific War.

21
449 372
Ulysses S. Grant is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Ulysses S. Grant Died at 63 (1822-1885) - Tenacious commander of Union forces during the Civil War.

22
332 183
Paul von Hindenburg is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Arnold Ricker added Paul von Hindenburg Died at 87 (1847-1934)

23
565 353
George S. Patton is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
George S. Patton Died at 60 (1885-1945) - Led American armored spearheads through North Africa and Europe.

24
270 198
Erich Ludendorff is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Erich Ludendorff Died at 72 (1865-1937) - Led German military forces and strategy during World War I. Nearly broke the Allies in 1918.

25
483 328
Adolf Hitler is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
suneer-sunny added Adolf Hitler Died at 56 (1889-1945)

26
357 284
Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount N... is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson Died at 47 (1758-1805) - Legendary leader of British naval forces at the Battle of Trafalgar.

27
299 90
Arminius is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Алпан Балкыш added Arminius

28
196 129
Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
jon-preuss added Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck Died at 94 (1870-1964)

29
174 207
Vo Nguyen Giap is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
MaxoMarcMsl added Vo Nguyen Giap Died at 102 (1911-2013)

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30
384 222
Carl von Clausewitz is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Carl von Clausewitz Died at 51 (1780-1831) - Legendary military strategist and theorist who influenced every major commander after him.

31
233 180
Alaric I is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Alaric I Died at 40 (370-410) - Visigoth king who sacked Rome in 410 CE.

32
414 219
Stonewall Jackson is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Stonewall Jackson Died at 39 (1824-1863) - Won numerous battles against much larger Union forces.

33
285 246
Peter the Great is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Peter the Great Died at 53 (1672-1725) - Military leader who transformed Russia into a world power.

34
198 233
Alexander Suvorov is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Alexander Suvorov Died at 70 (1730-1800) - 18th century Russian generalissimo who won 60 battles in a row.

35
493 244
Sun Tzu is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Sun Tzu Died at 48 (543 BC-495 BC) - Wrote The Art of War, which is still a seminal military text 2,500 years later.

36
230 83
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk Died at 57 (1881-1938)

37
174 68
Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Алпан Балкыш added Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden Died at 38 (1594-1632)

38
242 177
Leonidas I is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
gabriel-justo added Leonidas I Died at 60 (539 BC-479 BC)

39
484 378
Dwight D. Eisenhower is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Dwight D. Eisenhower Died at 79 (1890-1969) - Orchestrated and led the Allied victory over Nazi Germany.

40
268 173
Isoroku Yamamoto is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Isoroku Yamamoto Died at 59 (1884-1943) - Japanese admiral who planned the attack on Pearl Harbor and helped conquer much of Asia.

41
234 182
Raymond A. Spruance is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Raymond A. Spruance Died at 83 (1886-1969) - Led American naval forces in several of the most important battles of the Pacific War.

42
136 123
Charlemagne is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Алпан Балкыш added Charlemagne

43
131 54
Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Алпан Балкыш added Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim Died at 84 (1867-1951)

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44
214 139
Subutai is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Subutai Died at 72 (1176-1248) - Primary field commander of the Mongols. Said to have conquered 32 nations and won 65 battles.

45
132 188
John III Sobieski is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
PawełKasperek added John III Sobieski Died at 67 (1629-1696)

46
330 330
Douglas MacArthur is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Douglas MacArthur Died at 84 (1880-1964) - Led US forces to victory in New Guinea and the Philippines.

47
230 215
Cyrus the Great is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Cyrus the Great Conquered huge parts of Europe and Asia, and was known as the "King of the Four Corners of the World."

48
140 42
Trajan is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Алпан Балкыш added Trajan Died at 64 (53-117)

49
116 43
Pompey is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Алпан Балкыш added Pompey Died at 58 (105 BC-47 BC)

50
240 146
Karl Dönitz is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Karl Dönitz Died at 89 (1891-1980) - Developed "wolfpack" submarine tactics that almost won Germany the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II.