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The Most Important Military Leaders in World History

Updated November 13, 2020 136.9k votes 10.4k voters 98k views410 items

List RulesList 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.

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  • 1
    2,979
    1,127

    Alexander the Great

    Dec. at 33 (355 BC-322 BC)
    Never lost a battle and spread Hellenistic civilization across the known world.
  • 2
    2,681
    1,067

    Napoleon Bonaparte

    Dec. at 51 (1769-1821)
    Conquered continental Europe and revolutionized military tactics.
  • 3
    2,163
    877

    Julius Caesar

    Dec. at 56 (99 BC-43 BC)
    Personally led the Roman armies at the height of their power.
  • 4
    2,363
    976
    Brutal conqueror who sacked much of the known world.
  • 5
    1,661
    840

    Hannibal Barca

    Dec. at 64 (246 BC-182 BC)
    Legendary Carthaginian general who nearly sacked Rome and spread fear through the Empire.
  • 6
    1,400
    780
    Destroyed the First Crusade and conquered Jerusalem.
  • 7
    1,311
    638

    Sun Tzu

    Dec. at 48 (543 BC-495 BC)
    Wrote The Art of War, which is still a seminal military text 2,500 years later.
  • 8
    1,279
    745
    Laid waste to much of Central and Eastern Europe.
  • 9
    887
    314
  • 10
    874
    510
  • 11
    785
    440

    Timur

    Dec. at 68 (1336-1405)
  • 12
    1,493
    875

    Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

    Dec. at 57 (1881-1938)
  • 13
    671
    363

    Subutai

    Age: 845
    Primary field commander of the Mongols. Said to have conquered 32 nations and won 65 battles.
  • 14
    737
    412

    Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden

    Dec. at 37 (1594-1632)
  • 15
    1,145
    705

    Frederick II of Prussia

    Dec. at 74 (1712-1786)
  • 16
    905
    527

    Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson

    Dec. at 47 (1758-1805)
    Legendary leader of British naval forces at the Battle of Trafalgar.
  • 17
    975
    591

    Scipio Africanus

    Dec. at 53 (235 BC-182 BC)
    Roman tactical genius who beat Hannibal in the Second Punic War.
  • 18
    648
    368
    Conquered huge parts of Europe and Asia, and was known as the "King of the Four Corners of the World."
  • 19
    597
    340
  • 20
    424
    193

    Constantine the Great

    Dec. at 65 (272-337)
  • 21
    492
    261

    Philip II of Macedon

    Dec. at 46 (381 BC-335 BC)
  • 22
    1,536
    1,008

    Erwin Rommel

    Dec. at 52 (1891-1944)
    Legendary field commander who virtually created modern tank warfare.
  • 23
    709
    305

    Kanuni Sultan Süleyman

    Dec. at 71 (1494-1566)
  • 24
    1,020
    635

    Peter the Great

    Dec. at 52 (1672-1725)
    Military leader who transformed Russia into a world power.
  • 25
    315
    156

    Belisarius

    Age: 1521