Politics

The Most Important Military Leaders in World History 

Mike Rothschild
Originally by
Updated March 11, 2020 120.2k votes 8.2k voters 79.5k views 411 items

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
Alexander the Great is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Dec. at 33 (355 BC-322 BC) from Pella, Greece
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
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
Dec. at 56 (99 BC-43 BC) from Rome, Italy
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
Dec. at 52 (1769-1821) from Ajaccio, France
Conquered continental Europe and revolutionized military tactics.
5
Hannibal is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Dec. at 64 (246 BC-182 BC) from Carthage, Tunisia
Legendary Carthaginian general who nearly sacked Rome and spread fear through the Empire.
6
Frederick II of Prussia ... is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Arnold Ricker added Dec. at 74 (1712-1786) from Kingdom of Prussia
7
Erwin Rommel is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Dec. at 53 (1891-1944) from Heidenheim an der Brenz, Germany
Legendary field commander who virtually created modern tank warfare.
8
Attila the Hun is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Dec. at 47 (406-453) from Hajdúböszörmény, Hungary
Laid waste to much of Central and Eastern Europe.
9
Saladin is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Destroyed the First Crusade and conquered Jerusalem.
10
Mustafa Kemal Atatü... is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Dec. at 57 (1881-1938) from Thessaloniki, Greece
11
Peter the Great is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Dec. at 53 (1672-1725) from Moscow, Russia
Military leader who transformed Russia into a world power.
12
Scipio Africanus is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Dec. at 53 (235 BC-182 BC) from Rome, Italy
Roman tactical genius who beat Hannibal in the Second Punic War.
13
Sun Tzu is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Dec. at 48 (543 BC-495 BC) from Qi
Wrote The Art of War, which is still a seminal military text 2,500 years later.
14
Charlemagne is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Алпан Балкыш added
15
Gustavus Adolphus of Swe... is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Алпан Балкыш added Dec. at 38 (1594-1632) from Tre Kronor, Stockholm, Sweden
16
Timur is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Алпан Балкыш added Timur Dec. at 69 (1336-1405) from Shahrisabz, Uzbekistan
17
William the Conqueror is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Dec. at 59 (1028-1087) from Château de Falaise, Falaise, France
Led the Norman Conquest of England and planted the seeds for modern Anglo culture.
18
Horatio Nelson, 1st Visc... is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson Dec. at 47 (1758-1805) from Burnham Thorpe, England
Legendary leader of British naval forces at the Battle of Trafalgar.
19
Erich von Manstein is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Dec. at 86 (1887-1973) from Berlin, Germany
Planned the invasion of France in 1940 and the defense of Kharkov in 1943. Fired for disagreeing with Hitler.
20
George Washington is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Dec. at 67 (1732-1799) from Virginia, United States of America
A brilliant strategist who trained and inspired his men to freedom.
21
Heinz Guderian is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
PzGeneral added Dec. at 66 (1888-1954) from Chełmno, Poland

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.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinz_Guderian
22
Arminius is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Алпан Балкыш added
23
Georgy Zhukov is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Dec. at 78 (1896-1974) from Zhukov, Kaluga Oblast, Russia
Led the Red Army from the brink of defeat in Moscow, to crushing Nazi Germany.
24
Subutai is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Subutai Dec. at 72 (1176-1248) from Burkhan Khaldun, Mongolia
Primary field commander of the Mongols. Said to have conquered 32 nations and won 65 battles.
25
Carl von Clausewitz is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Dec. at 51 (1780-1831) from Saxony-Anhalt, Eurasia, Burg bei Magdeburg, Germany
Legendary military strategist and theorist who influenced every major commander after him.