15 of the greatest warrior cultures from history

Norman_warrior_1

Since the dawn of mankind, the ambit of conflict has always been a constant feature in the intricate tapestry of history. And in such a vast scope of destruction and death, there have been a few civilizations, tribes and factions that have rather ‘thrived’ on warlike conditions. So, without further ado, let us check out the fifteen of the most disciplined, ferocious yet tactically evolved warrior cultures who had nigh perfected the ‘art of war’ or rather the art of dealing with war.

*Note – The list not only reflects their successes in battles or wars, but it also pertains to how they perceived the scope of war or conflict.

1) Assyrian –

Assyrian_Warrior

During their zenith period from 10th century BC to 7th century BC, the Assyrians controlled a vast territory that extended from the borders of Egypt to the eastern highlands of Iran. Many historians perceive Assyria to be among the first ‘superpowers’ of the Ancient World. And quite paradoxically, the rise of Assyrian militarism and imperialism mirrored their land’s initial vulnerability, as it laid inside the rough triangle between the cities of Nineveh, Ashur and Ardabil (all in northern Mesopotamia).

In essence, the Assyrian rulers had to maintain an effective military out of necessity that could launch offensive campaigns against enemies surrounding their precariously positioned kingdom. The grand result was a standing army with ruthless discipline, order, uniformity and a penchant for using advanced siege weaponry like gargantuan mobile towers and boisterous siege engines.

2) Scythian –

Scythian_warrior

One of the Iranian equestrian tribes that dominated the Eurasian steppes from 7th century BC till 3rd century BC (but continued well into the 4th century AD), the Scythians epitomized the rise of the semi-nomadic people that excelled both in unorthodox warfare and horsemanship. In fact, many authors believe that the Scythians had a lasting influence on the their neighbors so much so that even after 1,000 years of their passing, the land in which they dwelt and dominated (present-day northern areas of Black Sea) was known as Greater Scythia.

As for their renowned warlike nature, the Scythian horde (in its nascent stage) boldly managed to invade Assyria and even reached the borders of Egypt during 650 BC. After exacting tributes from the Pharaoh, they returned to plunder Assyrian and might have even toppled the Median (upper Iran) aristocracy. A biblical prophet sums up the baleful effect of the ferocious ‘horse lords’ –

They are always courageous, and their quivers are like open grave. They will eat your harvest and bread, they will eat your sons and daughters, they will eat your sheep and oxen, they will eat your grapes and figs.

3) Spartan –

Spartan_hoplite

Just to make it clear, there are certainly skewed views of both Spartans and Persians (who were arguably more advanced in culture) in popular media, no thanks to biased Hollywood representations (read this post). But from the perspective of pure history (and not fantasy), Spartans or Lakedaimonians maintained the only full-time army in all of Greece. To that end, the institutions of the state and even Sparta’s education systems were organized to create soldiers first, statesmen later.

In fact, a Spartan boy started his military training at the age of six, when he was taken from his home to live in barracks. By the age of twelve, the boy was already treated as a youth who was expected to show martial skills and survive with bare minimum diet (he was also expected to steal to keep his hunger pangs away – and on being caught, he was severely punished for getting caught, not stealing!). On turning eighteen, he was finally considered as an adult and a soldier of the Spartan society, but was still prohibited from entering a marketplace to talk with his fellow adults till the age of 30. In consideration of all these strict rules, Plutarch once observed that the only rest a Spartan got from training for war was during the actual war.

4) Roman –

Roman_army_1

To write about the Romans in a single paragraph is indeed a fool’s errand. But if there was any empire that had tailored its military strength to nigh perfection – it was the Romans. We use the term ‘tailored’ because a Roman legion was not about individual capacity, courage or ferocity (like their nemesis, the Gauls); rather it was more about disciplined teamwork, formations, and their remarkable executions on the battlefield that resulted in a combined strength of arms. The evolving political structure of the Republic (and then Empire) also helped the Roman army in its long list of conquests stretching from Spain to Syria, and from North Africa to Britain.

However, the greatest strength of Rome was arguably not in its arms, but rather its unflinching capacity to bounce back from disastrous circumstances. A good example would be the Battle of Cannae, when Rome lost 48,200 soldiers in a single day (according to Livy, it was 80 percent of the army). The burgeoning republic still managed to survive, to ultimately defeat Hannibal at the very gates of Carthage.

5) Boii –

Boii

Thought to be a Gallic tribe from the later Iron Age, the Boii were mainly centered around Bohemia (present-day Czech Republic), Pannonia (present-day Hungary) and Cisalpine Gaul (present-day Northern Italy). The warlike people were famous historically because of the momentous Gallic invasion of Italy in 390 BC, when they took over the Etruscan city of Felsina, and turned it into their new capital Bononia (now known as Bologna).

And, even beyond historical instances, it is the name ‘Boii‘ that holds special significance in relation to their warrior culture. To that end, some linguists (like Julius Pokorny) have attested that Boii itself pertains to ‘warrior’, derived from Indo-European *bhei(ə)- “hit”. In any case, the Boii showed their renowned martial capacity when they aided the great Hannibal himself in defeating the Romans in 216 BC.

6) Lusitanian –

Lusitanian_warrior_1

We included the Lusitanians in this list mainly because of their special tactics used during battles, which entailed the very concept of ancient guerrilla warfare. Roughly occupying most of modern Portugal (south of Douro river) along with the central provinces of Spain, the Lusitani were a part of the Celt-Iberian group. And quite oddly, unlike their Gallic neighbors or even kingdoms from across the Mediterranean Sea, the Lusitanian tribes were never warlike in the proper sense of the word. However, they did show their military acumen and even might, when provoked – as was the case during the Hispanic Wars and the campaigns of Lusitanian hero Viriatus against Rome. It is estimated that the Romans and their Italic allies lost around an astronomical 200,000 soldiers during the 20-year period of war between 153-133 BC!

And even beyond figures, it was the unique essence of unconventional warfare that really made the ancient Spaniards stand out from their contemporaries. As Polybius had noted – the Hispanic Wars were different because of their unpredictability, with Lusitanians and other Celt-Iberians adopting the tactic of ‘consursare‘ (which is sometimes described as ‘lack of tactics’) that involved sudden advancements and confusing retreats in the heat of the battle. Moreover, the Lusitanian young men were known to be the ‘desperados’ of the ancient times because of their penchant for gathering riches through robberies. Their warrior society also followed a cult of trim physique, with body slimness being rather accentuated by wearing of wide yet tight belts around the waist!

7) Huns –

Huns_1

Circa 636 AD, Bishop Isidore of Seville called the Huns – the “scourges of God’s fury”. The dramatic overtone of the sentence does symbolically underline the terror and ruthless destruction brought on by this Asiatic nomadic horde upon the very heartland of Europe. However, the oft used image of the ‘barbarous’ Huns rampaging through civilized nations is actually a misleading notion – since the Huns themselves were a sort of a ‘super-entity’ of variant tribes who had been neighbors to sophisticated agrarian societies for centuries. As a result, the Hunnic people adopted many of the foreign customs, including even that of a Roman bathhouse, which was supposedly used inside Attila’s large village-camp.

Many historians have pointed out that the idea of limitless ‘hordes’ of Huns might also be fallacious, since the Huns themselves comprised of only a few ten-thousand horsemen. This actually alludes to the military effectiveness and the ruthlessness of the nomadic force – as they were able to instill the foreboding sense of fear in their enemies, in spite of their relatively small numbers. The brilliantly rapid tactics involving swift horses and swifter arrows also helped Attila and his ‘hordes’ in overcoming their cumbersome European foes.

8) Frank –

Frankish_warrior

The Franks are thought to be a confederation of Germanic tribes who came into historical significance in 3rd century AD, during the period of the First Migration Period (or Völkerwanderung in German). In reference to pre-migration Germanic tribes, this is what Roman historian Tacitus had to say in the 1st century AD –

A German is not so easily prevailed on how to plow the land and wait patiently for harvest as to challenge a foe and earn wounds for his reward. He thinks it spiritless to accumulate slowly by the sweat of his brow which can be got quickly by a loss of a little blood.

This pretty much summarizes the ‘urge’ of fighting which was prevalent in most episodes of German inter-tribal conflicts. The Franks however brought out the socio-political side of this potent Germanic military force, and ultimately carved out the Merovingian empire by 5th century AD (which consisted of both modern-day France and Germany). In fact, the name ‘France’ is itself derived from this super-tribe, while the term ‘Frank’ might have been derived from the Germanic word for the weapon of ‘javelin’.

  • Tajwar Uquru

    This list was either written by a European or a person who studies only European history and is ignorant of 99 percent of the worlds cultures. The fact that this list does not have great African, Asian or American Warrior cultures show a lack of knowledge on this topic. How can you not include the legendary Mongolian Empire warriors- the largest empire in human history!!!!???? Or not the African Nubian Empire Warrior-Archers who defeated the Assyrians to save Israel, that battle is recorded in the bible!!! Nubian Archers were said to be the greatest and most deadly of all time. How about the Heian Japanese Empire SAMURAI warriors that were undefeatable!!. On my list only the Romans and maybe the Huns were world class warriors, the others were average on a historical world wide level.

    • Dattatreya Mandal

      I do know that you edited your comment after realizing that you made a mistake about the likes of Mongols and Japanese not being included in the list. Anyhow…

  • Hospitaller Knight

    Spartans yer right. These lists are utter rubbish. Roman Legions should at least be #1

  • Cirric Fylenco

    Most of these lists are made by “fanboys” for lack of any other term. People who think because the Spartans claim to be supertough that automatically means they are, or people who enjoy reading about certain cultures so they get biased in their favor. This one was pretty good though.

  • Emirhan Saygılı

    Scythians were not Iranian. Scythians were Turkic people. Also write in this aticle ”Scythians were Iranian”, why not write ”Huns were Turkic”? All these Turkophobic approach. Some people bebrudge of Turks. Turks were most greatest warriors in all World history and everyone know this but bebrudge of Turkic achievements.

    • Rostislav Melnyk

      Beg to differ..Scythians were most likely of Indo-European Iranian branch peoples…just like Hittites….

    • abol alevi

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Perso-Turkic_War explains how good turks where. haha and stop stealing iranians and arabs history just because you don’t have any untill mongols that is.

  • Hermótimo

    Orosius called Viriato “TERROR ROMANORUM”; ao many more were called lyke that for the proud romans?

  • Alex Poputa

    Every culture here, but as always, nothing about Dacians, ronanian’s ancestors, who had the most numerous army after Herodot’s scripts, and they were the strongest enemies of Roman Empire, it’s funny that noone talk about them, but they talk about vikings who have alot of fairytales in their history, and a darker religion of peganism. I hate when noone dont talk about my great country history who fucked up romans and otomans lately.

    • Dattatreya Mandal

      Sorry that you feel that way. In any case, Dacians were surely a mighty warrior culture – and we may have missed out on their inclusion. But we were also dictated by the geographical constraints, and decided to include cultures from most parts of the world. And the list is not any form ‘definitive’ of the only warrior cultures that history could muster – so we might include the Dacians in a future list that builds upon this article.

  • epaminondas3294

    For shame, you left out the Hellenic armies of Alexander the Great, which was the inspiration for all Roman generals.

    • Dattatreya Mandal

      That is why I gave a ‘note’ at the beginning of the post – “The list not only reflects their successes in battles or wars, but it also pertains to how they perceived the scope of war or conflict.” Moreover, since I already covered the Spartans, I wanted the other entries to be from different parts of the world. And if you are still a bit ‘miffed’, do check out this entire list dedicated to the grand armies of Alexander the Great 🙂 – http://www.hexapolis.com/2015/06/30/10-fascinating-facts-you-probably-didnt-know-about-alexander-the-great-and-his-army/

      • epaminondas3294

        I don’t see how your note of “their successes in battles or wars, but it also pertains to how they perceived the scope of war or conflict” means the Hellenic armies of Alexander doesn’t apply. What specifically disqualifies them from the list? If you didn’t want to choose more than one Greek culture, I would’ve opted for the Hellenes of Alexander who were far more successful in battle, conquered probably as much territory as the Roman Empire had in its zenith, spread Hellenic culture throughout the Middle East and Anatolia with Greek as lingua franca for nearly a millennium. The Spartans were successful but their successes were of a much smaller scope. They ended up ruining themselves in a costly and long war with Athens.

        Not really miffed it’s just not a good list if you leave out the Hellenes of Alexander but include the Lusitanians and the Boii.

        • Dattatreya Mandal

          Once again I must repeat – the list does not only mirror the successes of these cultures, but rather how these cultures perceived the scope of warfare (that’s why, I put the ‘note’). To that end, the Spartan society was more geared towards warfare and conflict situations, as opposed to the other Hellenes. However, in the case of Hellenes of Alexander, it was more about Alexander’s generalship than their intrinsic warrior culture. And, that is exactly why the Lusitani and Boii also took precedence – because of their societal approach towards warfare, as opposed to actual battlefield successes or subsequent cultural impact. Hence the term – ‘warrior culture’.

          • epaminondas3294

            It is absolute nonsense to suggest it was just Alexander’s abilities as a general and not the warrior culture he was commanding. He had the best trained army in the classical world. It was a combination of Alexander’s genius and the best army the classical world had seen and would not be surpassed until the Roman army came into existence. I don’t know what to tell you, you’re simply wrong to suggest this wasn’t a warrior culture. In fact, no way could you suggest the Romans were more so a warrior culture than the Hellenes of Alexander. Your explanation is nonsensical given the fact you included Rome here.

          • Dattatreya Mandal

            Okay, it seems you are oblivious to the point I am trying to make, but I will try once more. I NEVER said – “it was just Alexander’s abilities as a general and not the warrior culture he was commanding”. But it was certainly more about Alexander’s generalship – as evident from the not-so-great successes of his Diadochi successors who inherited the phalanx. Moreover, there is a slight difference to being trained for war and the cultural approach to warfare (or how the element of war was perceived in that society). In such a case, the Spartans edge out the other Greeks (and I wanted to choose one ‘culture’ from each location, though Macedon has always been my ‘personal’ favorite). As for the Romans, this approach to brutal warfare was almost ‘institutionalized’ in their culture even from before the Republic period, since Rome had to deal with militarily advanced neighbors since its beginnings as a backwater village of cattle rustlers (https://ospreypublishing.com/rome-and-her-enemies-hb).

            Finally, I do understand your preference for the Hellenes of Alexander, but that doesn’t call for incivility (like ‘nonsensical’, ‘simply wrong’ and so on), especially since you have not even tried to counter the points in a proper, unbiased manner. Anyway, this is the last time I will reply, as I usually do to such threads. But please try to keep it civil.

          • epaminondas3294

            How is pointing out an irrational argument uncivil? I didn’t call you names or attack you personally. That would be uncivil. Furthermore, you suggested I was miffed, that according to your criteria should constitute being uncivil should it not? I think you are the one that is obviously miffed I pointed out your list could use improvement. I take it you are the kind of person who doesn’t take criticism well.

            To address your argument about Rome, everything you described about them could just as easily apply to the Hellenes of Alexander. And his successors WERE successful. They ruled over their respective Hellenic empires for centuries. They just had a habit of attacking each other. Something the Roman Empire fell prey too as well.

            Furthermore, the Greek city-states were in a constant state of war with each other which instilled a very deep warrior culture within them. It explains why they were unstoppable as a unified force under Alexander. They spent a great deal of their time studying war. It’s why the Romans essentially copied Hellenic culture.

          • Fernando Pessoa

            I think he means to describe war cultures with deep social warrior behaviour.
            And not describing the genious of one man (or more) and their accomplishments.
            There are a lot of warrior behaviour like cultures not present, this is simply a list, make yourself one if you think you know better.
            For the pourpose of this Topic your first post was enough to point out the absence of the Hellenes… for anyone interested that is enough to go look for it somewhere else.
            I will not monitor this post, so don’t bother responding to me, pointing out how stupid i may be or how I can’t write… i don’t care! 😛

          • epaminondas3294

            Fernando I have no interest in calling you stupid but why did you post this if you will not bother monitoring any responses from me? Did you just want to lecture me? In that case since you won’t bother reading any defense of my criticism I leave it here for the public record.

            “I think he means to describe war cultures with deep social warrior behaviour.
            And not describing the genious of one man (or more) and their accomplishments.”

            Fernando I think you missed a lot of what I wrote here. If it’s about “deep social warrior behavior” that criteria appears to be subjectively applied here. There is no coherent differentiation between the Romans and the Hellenes for example. The Romans did not have any more or less of a “social warrior behavior” than the Hellenes and Dattatreya failed to address what exactly is different about them with this criteria in mind. The Greeks spent centuries fighting each other and studying the art of war to a great extent. No their entire culture in all aspects did not center around war, true, but this was neither the case for the Romans. Also if it’s not about successes Dattatreya was more than happy to point to war successes in his list. So it lends me to think people responding to me here do not take criticism well and are back peddling their own words.

          • Dattatreya Mandal

            Since the author’s name once again comes into discussion, at least I don’t agree with this statement – “The Romans did not have any more or less of a “social warrior behavior” than the Hellenes” – because that was one of the primary societal differences between the Romans and most Hellenes. War, survival and conquest were ingrained in Roman consciousness since its humble beginnings (as opposed to Athenians who favored better political maneuvers), and even some of the later Roman engineering projects were military in nature. As for military successes
            mentioned in the list, it seems you are more interested in proving your point
            rather than actually browsing through the content. The few successes that were
            mentioned here, pertains to the Ottoman Empire and the Mongols. And that is
            because the Turks took a new but ‘collective’ approach to warfare since their ‘ghazi’-inspired beginnings. Almost like the Romans, most of their engineering projects and roads were geared towards total warfare and conquests (that ultimately resulted in successes). In essence a society was ’employed’ for war in an organized , economic manner – which again was in contrast to the Mongols, where tribal connections took precedence over economic organization of a society. But one thing is common between these factions – their deeply ingrained ‘warrior culture’, which goes beyond their successes in the battlefield or strategies (like – Rajputs and Mamluks failed after brief periods of ascendancy; Vikings and Normans ‘fizzled out’ after other powers eclipsed them, while Boii and Lusitani tribes can never even be considered ‘successful’ in most war outcomes).

            Simply put, I want to mirror what Fernando Pessoa aptly said –
            “war cultures with deep social warrior behavior.”

          • epaminondas3294

            Thanks for trying to explain further but you didn’t actually offer any new information. And please, if you insist on dismissing my argument out of hand by calling it “more interested in proving your point” I ask that you remain civil and be respectful and don’t presume ulterior motives to those who hold an opposing viewpoint. Otherwise it’s quite rude.

            “War, survival and conquest were ingrained in Roman consciousness since
            its humble beginnings (as opposed to Athenians who favored better
            political maneuvers),”

            First of all I said the Hellenes of Alexander, put in another way, the Hellenistic Greeks starting from Alexander the Great to his Diadochi. The beginnings of the Athenian state was far before that. So right off the bat you have set up a strawman argument. But even so, what evidence do you have that the beginnings of the Athenian state favored political maneuvers over war survival and conquest? The Athenians were involved in quite a few wars for conquest and survival, how is it you came to the conclusion they favored one over the other and how was it different than Romans that favored war and conquest over political maneuvers?

          • Dattatreya Mandal

            I have already countered your argument for including the Hellenistic Greeks starting from Alexander the Great to his Diadochi. And, I will say it again, except for Alexander’s achievements, the Diadochis (after him) were NOT what I would like to label as warrior cultures. That is primarily because they were not even culturally uniform in their statehood, with the Ptolemies even adopting many Egyptian societal systems. On the other hand, the Seleucids were beset by rebellions and wars (initially, they even lost a major chunk of their eastern territories after being defeated by the Indian king Chandragupta Maurya), and their subjects were mostly heterogeneous in nature. So, without any fault of their own, there was not a scope for homogenizing a definitive warrior culture from their ranks. In essence, the (trained) warrior society of Macedonians started from Philip and ended with Alexander – a relatively brief period which pales in comparison to the warrior system of Spartans (irrespective of their successes in battles).

            As for – “what evidence do you have that the beginnings of the Athenian state favored political maneuvers over war survival and conquest?” It is a well known historical anecdote that Athenians favored political systems and solutions – so surely, Spartans should take precedence over them when it comes to defining warrior culture (since I tried to choose from different geographical locations).

            And lastly, as for – ” I ask that you remain civil and be respectful and don’t presume ulterior motives to those who hold an opposing viewpoint.” I half-hope that you are joshing, since these are the quotes you used previously in arguments (with two different people) –

            “It is absolute nonsense to suggest it was just Alexander’s abilities as a general and not the warrior culture he was commanding.”

            “I don’t know what to tell you, you’re simply wrong to suggest this wasn’t a warrior culture.”

            “Your explanation is nonsensical given the fact you included Rome here.”

            “Did you just want to lecture me?”

            Anyhow, I made my case, and I am not replying anymore. Have a good day, sir.

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