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 Vikings Raided Anything For Lavish Riches
For the large part, Vikings were ruthless pagans with no respect for religious institutions. As such, they were known to loot and destroy monasteries, where riches and plunder were known to be stored. A Frankish monk who faced the wrath of the Vikings wrote:
The number of ships grows: the endless stream of Vikings never ceases to increase. Everywhere the Christians are victims of massacres, burnings, plunderings: the Vikings conquer all in their path, and no one resists them: they seize Bordeaux, Périgueux, Limoges, Angoulême and Toulouse. Angers, Tours, and Orléans are annihilated and an innumerable fleet sails up the Seine and the evil grows in the whole region. Rouen is laid waste, plundered and burned: Paris, Beauvais and Meaux taken, Melun’s strong fortress leveled to the ground, Chartres occupied, Evreux and Bayeux plundered, and every town besieged.
In battle, some Vikings rampaged with such fury that they became known as berserkers, a title that gave way to the word "berserk." Legend has it that many berserkers believed themselves to transform into werewolves with superhuman powers on the battlefield.
Fearsome in battle as they were, the seafaring Vikings were also excellent craftsmen who built dragon-headed longships and meter-long swords with jeweled hilts. Vikings and their descendants traveled as far as Baghdad and North America. In fact, though Christopher Columbus is credited with discovering North America, it was the Viking Leif Eriksson who reached the New World some 500 years earlier.Terrifying?
The Naked Gauls Collected Body Parts As War Trophies
The Gauls were not a homogenous tribe, but rather a diverse composition of people who together revolted against the Romans.
Polybius described how the Gauls terrorized their opponents with horn-blowers, trumpeters, and war cries, while drunken, naked warriors cackled and gestured in the front of the advance. Roman Historian Strabo gave a similar description:
The whole race... is madly fond of war, high-spirited and quick to battle... and on whatever pretext you stir them up, you will have them ready to face danger, even if they have nothing on their side but their own strength and courage.
What was particularly discouraging to their foes, however, according to the ancient historian Diodorus Siculus, the Gauls were known to decapitate and preserve the heads of their most notable enemies. No matter how much gold they were offered in return for the heads, the Gauls refused, preferring to keep them proudly on display.Terrifying?
The Goths Refused To Be Submissive And Were Fueled By Revenge
The Roman historian Tacitus described the unity, valor, and family likeness of the Germanic Goths, a race, he claimed, that was pure, unmixed, and stamped with a distinct, barbaric character and unintelligible language. That said, the Goths were not a singular tribe, but rather a migratory people with proximate cultures who banded together to protect their Gothic settlements. Although they once held an alliance with the Romans, they were no strangers to surprise, treachery, and siege warfare, and weren't afraid to betray anyone who crossed them.
Their quest for freedom led them to defeat the Romans at the Battle of Adrianople, thereby accelerating the fall of the Roman Empire. To accomplish this, the mounted Goths waited until the Romans were tired, thirsty, and vulnerable, then they slaughtered at least two-thirds of the Roman army.
Early Medieval historian Herwig Wolfram described the Roman view of the Gothic invaders:
They are barbarians... they are dominated by a horrible death wish: they actually look forward to dying. Even their women take part in battle. Barbarians are driven by evil spirits; they are possessed by demons who force them to commit the most terrible acts. Barbarians simply resemble animals more than they do human beings, concluded contemporaries, wondering whether barbarians shared in human nature at all.Terrifying?
The Comanche Retaliated With Ruthless Speed
The Comanche tribe dwelled throughout the American Southwest from as early as the 1500s, and are believed to be the first of the Plains Indians to have horses. They learned to use them with great effect. According to Mexican General Manuel de Mier y Terán who faced their vicious onslaughts:
Their mode of attack is generally by arranging the lances in front, the guns in the center and bows in the rear - their horses at full speed, accompanied with the fury and yellings of demons... they were among the bravest and the most warlike of the Mexican tribes.
The Comanches are estimated to have taken as many as 20,000 captives as slaves, whom they mentally and physically abused. Those the Comanche stole from typically chose the safer option of buying stolen horses and other commodities back rather than fighting for them, and if the Comanche held a grudge, they retaliated by slaying and burning anyone and anything in their path. After raiding a warehouse in Linnville, TX, Comanche warriors paraded through the streets in stolen top hats, frock coats, and women's dresses while others slaughtered the town's livestock.Terrifying?