Politics The Most Important Military Leaders in World History  

Mike Rothschild
Originally by
80.1k votes 4.9k voters 46.7k views 205 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
1,618 465
Alexander the Great is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 33 (355 BC-322 BC) - Never lost a battle and spread Hellenistic civilization across the known world.

2
1,215 426
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
1,189 551
Napoleon Bonaparte is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 52 (1769-1821) - Conquered continental Europe and revolutionized military tactics.

4
1,047 393
Julius Caesar is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 56 (99 BC-43 BC) - Personally led the Roman armies at the height of their power.

5
891 429
Hannibal is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 64 (246 BC-182 BC) - Legendary Carthaginian general who nearly sacked Rome and spread fear through the Empire.

6
987 494
Erwin Rommel is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 53 (1891-1944) - Legendary field commander who virtually created modern tank warfare.

7
660 319
Frederick II of Prussia is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Arnold Ricker added Died at 74 (1712-1786)

8
594 274
Attila the Hun is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 47 (406-453) - Laid waste to much of Central and Eastern Europe.

9
648 314
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
608 374
Erich von Manstein is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 86 (1887-1973) - Planned the invasion of France in 1940 and the defense of Kharkov in 1943. Fired for disagreeing with Hitler.

11
563 354
Heinz Guderian is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
PzGeneral added 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.

12
559 346
Scipio Africanus is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 53 (235 BC-182 BC) - Roman tactical genius who beat Hannibal in the Second Punic War.

13
595 379
William the Conqueror is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 59 (1028-1087) - Led the Norman Conquest of England and planted the seeds for modern Anglo culture.

14
447 270
Helmuth von Moltke the Elder is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Arnold Ricker added Died at 91 (1800-1891)

15
580 477
Georgy Zhukov is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 78 (1896-1974) - Led the Red Army from the brink of defeat in Moscow, to crushing Nazi Germany.

16
507 378
Charles Martel is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
RobLein added Died at 55 (686-741)

17
504 146
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 57 (1881-1938)

18
449 301
Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Arnold Ricker added Died at 77 (1742-1819)

19
467 267
Paul von Hindenburg is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Arnold Ricker added Died at 87 (1847-1934)

20
554 342
Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount N... is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 47 (1758-1805) - Legendary leader of British naval forces at the Battle of Trafalgar.

21
523 290
Peter the Great is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 53 (1672-1725) - Military leader who transformed Russia into a world power.

22
454 167
Arminius is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Алпан Балкыш added

23
318 101
Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Алпан Балкыш added Died at 38 (1594-1632)

24
829 644
Robert E. Lee is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 63 (1807-1870) - Legendary general of the Confederate States of America.

25
385 270
Erich Ludendorff is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 72 (1865-1937) - Led German military forces and strategy during World War I. Nearly broke the Allies in 1918.

26
895 681
George Washington is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 67 (1732-1799) - A brilliant strategist who trained and inspired his men to freedom.

27
276 69
Trajan is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Алпан Балкыш added Died at 64 (53-117)

28
686 279
Sun Tzu is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 48 (543 BC-495 BC) - Wrote The Art of War, which is still a seminal military text 2,500 years later.

29
294 189
Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
jon-preuss added Died at 94 (1870-1964)

30
291 152
Charlemagne is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Алпан Балкыш added

31
502 267
Carl von Clausewitz is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 51 (1780-1831) - Legendary military strategist and theorist who influenced every major commander after him.

32
310 285
Vo Nguyen Giap is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
MaxoMarcMsl added Died at 102 (1911-2013)

33
231 79
Pompey is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Алпан Балкыш added Died at 58 (105 BC-47 BC)

34
326 225
Alaric I is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 40 (370-410) - Visigoth king who sacked Rome in 410 CE.

35
679 527
Adolf Hitler is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
suneer-sunny added Died at 56 (1889-1945)

36
714 570
George S. Patton is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 60 (1885-1945) - Led American armored spearheads through North Africa and Europe.

37
228 90
Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Алпан Балкыш added Died at 84 (1867-1951)

38
376 219
Leonidas I is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
gabriel-justo added Died at 60 (539 BC-479 BC)

39
203 73
Charles XII of Sweden is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 36 (1682-1718)

40
409 149
Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Independence added Died at 64 (1730-1794)

41
484 470
Chester W. Nimitz is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 81 (1885-1966) - Leader of US naval forces for the bulk of the Pacific War.

42
240 71
Gerd von Rundstedt is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Алпан Балкыш added Died at 78 (1875-1953)

43
327 173
Subutai is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 72 (1176-1248) - Primary field commander of the Mongols. Said to have conquered 32 nations and won 65 battles.

44
200 64
Cnut the Great is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Алпан Балкыш added Died at 45 (990-1035)

45
541 593
Ulysses S. Grant is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 63 (1822-1885) - Tenacious commander of Union forces during the Civil War.

46
204 72
Gaius Marius is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Алпан Балкыш added Died at 71 (156 BC-85 BC)

47
231 75
Alfred the Great is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Алпан Балкыш added Died at 50 (849-899)

48
335 179
Karl Dönitz is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 89 (1891-1980) - Developed "wolfpack" submarine tactics that almost won Germany the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II.

49
261 275
Alexander Suvorov is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 70 (1730-1800) - 18th century Russian generalissimo who won 60 battles in a row.

50
486 334
Stonewall Jackson is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Most Important Military Leaders in World History
Died at 39 (1824-1863) - Won numerous battles against much larger Union forces.