History is filled with stories of barbaric warriors who cause wanton destruction. They have been titled by ancient historians as "savages," "uncivilized," and even "the Scourge of God." But what makes them the most terrifying warriors in history? What sets apart the supposedly well-trained soldier of the Roman Empire from the bestial Goths? Or the noble samurai from the ruthless Mongol? Some could argue they were terrifying only because they weren't the ones writing the history - they were the outsiders. But they would be giving only a partial answer.
The scariest warriors in history were unquestionably frightening, and they knew they could use it to their advantage. Some of history's most legendary warriors terrorized their defeated foes, leaving only stories of their sheer cruelty. Others used cunning ambush tactics to strike fear into their hearts. However, others still were so well-structured and organized that they were seemingly immortal.
There isn't one attribute that defines history's most terrifying warriors except that they would make anyone who came face-to-face with them want to run away in fear.
The Mongols Were Masters Of Psychological Warfare
Under the command of their emperor, Ghengis Khan, the Mongols were responsible for a mass extermination of 40 million people. They were expert bowmen and diplomats with a knack for espionage, which they used to adopt their enemies' own tactics and technology.
At the height of their terror, these highly adaptable nomads controlled a stretch of territory as large as Africa. They would ride their horses without stopping for several days straight, or until they were thirsty, whereupon they would cut their horses' necks and drink their blood.
But, news of their cruelty stretched across the known world faster than the riders themselves. An Italian bishop Master Roger was a lucky survivor of the Mongol invasion of the Kingdom of Hungary. He wrote about the moment he heard of the Mongol approach:
...the news came that the Tartars had taken at dawn the said Tămașda, the village of the Germans, and all those whom they did not keep alive were beheaded by the sword with horrendous cruelty. Hearing this, my hair stood on end, my body shivered with fear, my tongue stuttered miserably, for I saw that the inevitable moment of dreadful death was menacing me. I already beheld my murderers in my mind’s eye; my body exuded the cold sweat of death.
As terrible as the invasion was, the aftermath proved equally terrible. A Mongol victory party often included crushing surviving enemies beneath their banquet table. There sure was a lot to celebrate: The Mongol empire grew from humble beginnings to become the largest contiguous empire in history.Terrifying?
Assyrians Terrorized All In Their Path
Though Assyria began as a small trading city-state in Mesopotamia, its ruthless and efficient military quickly expanded it into the world's first empire. Assyrian soldiers were renowned for their abilities as highly organized charioteers, cavalry, bowmen, and lancers. Taking it a step further, the Assyrians engineered movable siege towers with ramps and battering rams. The Assyrians conquered cities, selecting, deporting, and absorbing those who could be beneficial to their military system. They were a trained professional army in a time when that was not the norm.
If the sheer size and incredible martial skill of this early empire weren't terrifying enough for their neighboring city-states, they were also feared for the manner in which they tortured and slaughtered their captives. One Assyrian king recorded his own victory with an inscription stating:
In strife and conflict I besieged [and] conquered the city. I felled 3,000 of their fighting men with the sword... I captured many troops alive: I cut off of some their arms [and] hands; I cut off of others their noses, ears, [and] extremities. I gouged out the eyes of many troops. I made one pile of the living [and] one of heads. I hung their heads on trees around the city.
Another Assyrian king, Ashurnasirpal II, wrote of one of his conquests, too. During his first campaign he conquered the city of Suru, and in his inscription memorializing the event he wrote:
I built a pillar over against the city gate and I flayed all the chiefs who had revolted and I covered the pillar with their skins. Some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes and others I bound to stakes round the pillar. I cut the limbs off the officers who had rebelled. Many captives I burned with fire and many I took as living captives. From some I cut off their noses, their ears, and their fingers, of many I put out their eyes. I made one pillar of the living and another of heads and I bound their heads to tree trunks round about the city. Their young men and maidens I consumed with fire. The rest of their warriors I consumed with thirst in the desert of the Euphrates.Terrifying?
The Aztecs Nourished The Gods Through The Art Of Sacrifice
The gods of the Aztecs never ceased to thirst, and because the gods relied on bloodletting for nourishment, the Aztecs thrived in a state of constant warfare with intent to sacrifice. Children began their training as early as the age of 5, and earned warrior status upon capturing their first sacrificial victim. They then used clubs, bows, spears, and darts to disable captives, skin, and dismember them before their hearts were finally gouged out.
Aztec warriors were spiritually motivated, thus their discipline and ferocity are often credited as the forces that long ensured their victory. An anonymous Spanish conquistador who faced the Aztecs wrote:
Anyone facing them for the first time can be terrified by their screams and their ferocity. In warfare they are the most cruel people to be found, for they spare neither brothers, relatives, friends, nor women even if they are beautiful; they kill them all and eat them.
The Aztecs also placed great emphasis on the acquisition of territory and resources, and commonly preceded attacks by sending spies dressed as local merchants into the target area.Terrifying?
The Huns Were The Scourge Of Rome
Ancient writers like Ammianus Marcellinus were quick to paint the Huns as bestial savages whose terror sparked mass migrations and contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire. They claimed the barbaric Huns severely lacked civility, rarely dismounted from their horses, and feasted upon foraged roots and the half-raw flesh of animals from the fields.
Historians widely note that the Huns greased themselves with animal fat and struck swiftly without warning, sparing no man, woman, or child during their pillages. Ammianus Marcellinus himself wrote:
It must be owned that [the Huns] are the most terrible of warriors because they fight at a distance with missile weapons having sharpened bones admirably fastened to the shaft. When in close combat with swords, they fight without regard to their own safety, and while their enemy is intent upon parrying the thrust of the swords, they throw a net over him and so entangle his limbs that he loses all power of walking or riding.
The Huns were such an inextinguishable force that their fearless leader, Attila, could only be defeated by his own vices. He perished on his wedding night as a result of alcohol poisoning, or an esophageal hemorrhage that caused him to choke on his own blood.Terrifying?