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The Most Important Military Leaders in World History

Updated November 13, 2020 138.4k votes 9.2k voters 87.7k 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
    Alexander the Great
    2,813
    962

    Alexander the Great

    Dec. at 33 (355 BC-322 BC)
    Never lost a battle and spread Hellenistic civilization across the known world.
  • 2
    Julius Caesar
    1,997
    820

    Julius Caesar

    Dec. at 56 (99 BC-43 BC)
    Personally led the Roman armies at the height of their power.
  • 3
    Genghis Khan
    2,228
    923
    Brutal conqueror who sacked much of the known world.
  • 4
    Napoleon Bonaparte
    2,361
    990

    Napoleon Bonaparte

    Dec. at 52 (1769-1821)
    Conquered continental Europe and revolutionized military tactics.
  • 5
    Hannibal Barca
    1,539
    804

    Hannibal Barca

    Dec. at 64 (246 BC-182 BC)
    Legendary Carthaginian general who nearly sacked Rome and spread fear through the Empire.
  • 6
    Timur
    735
    353

    Timur

    Dec. at 69 (1336-1405)
  • 7
    Charlemagne
    819
    414
  • 8
    Sun Tzu
    1,253
    547

    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.
  • 9
    Khalid ibn al-Walid
    650
    211

    Khalid ibn al-Walid

    Dec. at 50 (592-642)
  • 10
    Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
    1,380
    715

    Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

    Age: Died at 57 (1881-1938)
  • 11
    Attila the Hun
    1,218
    651

    Attila the Hun

    Dec. at 47 (406-453)
    Laid waste to much of Central and Eastern Europe.
  • 12
    Saladin
    1,278
    702
    Destroyed the First Crusade and conquered Jerusalem.
  • 13
    Philip II of Macedon
    458
    209

    Philip II of Macedon

    Dec. at 46 (381 BC-335 BC)
  • 14
    Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden
    706
    365

    Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden

    Dec. at 38 (1594-1632)
  • 15
    Peter the Great
    1,078
    646

    Peter the Great

    Dec. at 53 (1672-1725)
    Military leader who transformed Russia into a world power.
  • 16
    Subutai
    629
    332

    Subutai

    Dec. at 72 (1176-1248)
    Primary field commander of the Mongols. Said to have conquered 32 nations and won 65 battles.
  • 17
    Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson
    890
    534

    Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson

    Dec. at 47 (1758-1805)
    Legendary leader of British naval forces at the Battle of Trafalgar.
  • 18
    Kanuni Sultan Süleyman
    683
    277

    Kanuni Sultan Süleyman

    Dec. at 72 (1494-1566)
  • 19
    Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington
    512
    292
  • 20
    Constantine the Great
    366
    157

    Constantine the Great

    Dec. at 65 (272-337)
  • 21
    Gaius Marius
    439
    192

    Gaius Marius

    Dec. at 71 (156 BC-85 BC)
  • 22
    El Cid
    405
    214
  • 23
    Simón Bolívar
    384
    170

    Simón Bolívar

    Dec. at 47 (1783-1830)
  • 24
    Alfred the Great
    474
    199

    Alfred the Great

    Dec. at 50 (849-899)
  • 25
    Cyrus the Great
    613
    364
    Conquered huge parts of Europe and Asia, and was known as the "King of the Four Corners of the World."