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The Most Important Military Leaders in World History

Updated March 11, 2020 136.1k votes 9.0k voters 86.6k 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 is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
    2,762
    948

    Alexander the Great

    Dec. at 33 (355 BC-322 BC)
    Never lost a battle and spread Hellenistic civilization across the known world.
  • 2
    Genghis Khan is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
    2,190
    909
    Brutal conqueror who sacked much of the known world.
  • 3
    Julius Caesar is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
    1,955
    806

    Julius Caesar

    Dec. at 56 (99 BC-43 BC)
    Personally led the Roman armies at the height of their power.
  • 4
    Napoleon Bonaparte is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
    2,304
    982

    Napoleon Bonaparte

    Dec. at 52 (1769-1821)
    Conquered continental Europe and revolutionized military tactics.
  • 5
    Hannibal Barca is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
    1,505
    788

    Hannibal Barca

    Dec. at 64 (246 BC-182 BC)
    Legendary Carthaginian general who nearly sacked Rome and spread fear through the Empire.
  • 6
    Charlemagne is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
    797
    392
  • 7
    Timur is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
    720
    331

    Timur

    Dec. at 69 (1336-1405)
  • 8
    Sun Tzu is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
    1,236
    525

    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
    Attila the Hun is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
    1,201
    634

    Attila the Hun

    Dec. at 47 (406-453)
    Laid waste to much of Central and Eastern Europe.
  • 10
    Khalid ibn al-Walid is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
    622
    194

    Khalid ibn al-Walid

    Dec. at 50 (592-642)
  • 11
    Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
    1,352
    692

    Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

    Age: Died at 57 (1881-1938)
  • 12
    Saladin is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
    1,261
    689
    Destroyed the First Crusade and conquered Jerusalem.
  • 13
    Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
    688
    356

    Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden

    Dec. at 38 (1594-1632)
  • 14
    Philip II of Macedon is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
    440
    204

    Philip II of Macedon

    Dec. at 46 (381 BC-335 BC)
  • 15
    Subutai is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
    612
    322

    Subutai

    Dec. at 72 (1176-1248)
    Primary field commander of the Mongols. Said to have conquered 32 nations and won 65 battles.
  • 16
    Peter the Great is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
    1,062
    631

    Peter the Great

    Dec. at 53 (1672-1725)
    Military leader who transformed Russia into a world power.
  • 17
    El Cid is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
    400
    200
  • 18
    Simón Bolívar is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
    376
    157

    Simón Bolívar

    Dec. at 47 (1783-1830)
  • 19
    Gaius Marius is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
    428
    185

    Gaius Marius

    Dec. at 71 (156 BC-85 BC)
  • 20
    Suleiman the Magnificent is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
    669
    264

    Suleiman the Magnificent

    Dec. at 72 (1494-1566)
  • 21
    Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount N is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
    871
    526

    Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson

    Dec. at 47 (1758-1805)
    Legendary leader of British naval forces at the Battle of Trafalgar.
  • 22
    Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of  is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
    487
    285
  • 23
    Alfred the Great is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
    462
    190

    Alfred the Great

    Dec. at 50 (849-899)
  • 24
    Cyrus the Great is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
    596
    359
    Conquered huge parts of Europe and Asia, and was known as the "King of the Four Corners of the World."
  • 25
    Constantine the Great is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
    349
    154

    Constantine the Great

    Dec. at 65 (272-337)
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