15 of the greatest warrior cultures from history

9) Viking –

Viking

The multitude of impressions that the Vikings had on their opponents and victims can be comprehended to some degree by the various names that these sea-faring invaders from Scandinavia were given. The Irish called them Gaill or ‘strangers’, the Byzantine sources mention them as Varangoi (derived from var – a group of men sworn to each other), and the Muslim sources describe them as al-Madjus or ‘heathen wizards’! But one thing was for certain – the Vikings epitomized the very term ‘warrior culture’.

Using their acumen for building ships, the Vikings were able to raid swiftly along the booty-laden coasts ranging from North Atlantic islands, Russia to Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) and Middle Eastern territories (Viking presence was even found in Baghdad) – an effective stratagem that was nigh alien to then-contemporary factions. However, such expeditious gambits were antithetical to the actual land battles in which these Northerners participated. A good example would be the use of the ‘solid’ shield-wall where massive blocks of men adopted a stationary, defensive stance which was nigh polar opposite in tactical terms to the swift raids by the seas. Such ploys along with the usual bouts of viciousness (like going ‘berserk’) alludes to the versatility of a Viking as an energetic warrior.

10) Norman –

Norman_warrior_1

Simply put – the Normans continued where the Vikings left. Their name being derived from Latin Nortmanni, the Normans themselves gave their name to the northern province of Normandy in France. And historically, they were actually the descendants of the Vikings who had settled along this strategic coastal area, and had intermixed with the native Merovingian stock. The result was a resourceful people who believed in their indigenous culture of Gens Normannorum – which to some degree fueled their ‘destiny’ to explore and conquer lands across various parts of Europe and even Asia.

This self-identifying sense of ingenuity and adaptability allowed the Normans to basically succeed where the Vikings failed. To that end, the Normans were known for their equal measures of ferocity and cunning, while their thriving culture inculcated military prowess and leadership at the same time. So, it really doesn’t come as a surprise that the Normans (like William the Conqueror) are still counted as the last continental force that successfully invaded Britain. Additionally, they established long-lasting kingdoms in Southern Italy, Sicily and even Antioch (present-day southern Turkey). And, at last but not the least, they were among the early proponents of shock cavalry with couched lances – a factor that gave rise to the knightly class; warriors who were to dominate European battlefields for centuries to come.

11) Rajput –

Rajput_1

The term Rajput comes from Raj-putra, which in Sanskrit translates to ‘son of king’. Rising in prominence during the later part of 9th century, the Rajputs organized themselves as one of the dominant Hindu warrior classes (or Kshatriyas) around the northern regions of India (especially in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi). Interestingly, historians have not been able to strictly identify their origins, which is an irony – since most Rajput clans gave importance to their so-called noble lineages. In any case, the defining nature of the Rajputs related to their martial prowess, not their confusing or hyperbolic origins; as historian Pradeep Barua had put it forth –

What makes the Rajputs stand out from the rest of Indian society was not their (probable) foreign origins but their fanatical attempts to assert their Kshatriya status. Over time, other Indian groups followed their example and claimed descent from the (mythological) solar and lunar races, establishing themselves as Rajputs in various parts of western and central India.

Such ‘attempts’ actually reflect the Rajput warrior ethos, courageousness against overwhelming odds and their free-spirited aspirations. In that regard, we also know of the Rajput’s love for his weapon – which was seen as a physical extension of his martial resolve and ardor. This tendency was specially signified by the ritual of Karga Shapna that amounted to ‘love for the sword’, after which the warrior was given free reign to pursue his passion for honor, revenge and even plunder.

12) Mongol –

Mongol_warrior_1

Once the rulers of the largest contiguous land empire ever witness in the history of the world, the ruthlessness of the Mongol warrior needs no introduction. But unfortunately in an objective manner, it is this very veneer of ruthlessness that has overshadowed the true Mongol achievement in military history – their veritable mastery of the very art of war. This dramatic statement is backed up by purely statistical terms. The Mongols have won the most number of battles (than any other global faction), they had controlled the largest expanse of land territories ever known to mankind, and is still counted among the very few invasion forces that had successfully conquered Russia during the winter season – a gambit that was taken as an advantage for their own improved mobility along frozen lakes and rivers.

All of these momentous feats pertain to the grand strategies of their leaders followed to the letter by tactical blitzes and military acumen. In essence, the Mongol horde was not just a nomadic ‘horde’ of barbarous horsemen rampaging across lands of sedentary civilizations – rather, it was an imposing war machine in itself, with far-advanced organizational capacity than its opponents, which was equally matched by tenacious ferocity and mobility of the individual Mongol.

13) Samurai –

Samurai

Japan’s feudal answer to European knights, Indian Rajputs and Arabian Faris; the Samurai served as the military nobility of the far-east nation for over 700 years. But oddly enough, the Samurais didn’t actually start out as higher ranking members of the Japanese society – they rather served the roles of private bodyguards of rich landowning clans before 12th century AD. As a matter of fact, they were instrumental in turning the tides of war for Minamoto Yoritomo in 1192 AD, who toppled the central government to start Japan’s first Shogunate – which in practice was a state ruled by a military commander.

However, the Samurais truly reached the highest echelons within feudal Japan’s rigid social structure during the warring Edo Period from 1603 AD to 1867 AD. Mirroring their newly found social ranking, they were only the men allowed to own and carry swords, while their permanent residences were fixed by their daimyos or feudal lords within castle-towns. Other than swords, the Samurais were also known for their mastery of other weapons like bows and arrows, spears and even guns. But arguably more renowned was their fanatical adherence to the warrior code of Bushido, which evolved after the 16th century with concepts of loyalty, honor, warrior ethics, along with ideas of neo-Confucianism, Shinto and Zen Buddhism.

14) Mamluk –

Mamluk_warrior

The military culture of the Mamluks is perhaps the most unique among all the entries here, as the very term ‘mamluk‘ denotes a slave. In essence, the Mamluks were recruited from various ‘fringe’ factions including that of Turks, Kipchaks and Circassians – which was a pretty common Muslim military practice from the time of the Abbasid Caliphate, when the slave soldiers were known as ‘ghulams‘. The last great Ayyubid sultan (Saladin’s dynasty) al Salih expanded the scope of this slave recruitment in a bid to unify his realm through strength, which resulted in an elite corp of Mamluks making their base in Cairo. These slave warriors finally toppled al Salih’s own son, to start the Mamluk Sultanate that successfully drove away the remnant Crusaders, defeated the Mongols and even rivaled the future Ottomans.

Now, the term ‘slave’ can be misleading from our modern perspective. But historically, recruited slaves in most Islamic kingdoms, had a far more honorable status and even higher standard of living than that of ordinary folk. The Mamluks carried this incredible tradition forward with evolved emphasis on rigorous military training, religious piety and even literary education. The result was a highly motivated and heavily armored group of men – who for all-intents-and-purposes belonged to the crème de la crème of the medieval Egyptian society, in spite of them being foreigners in almost all cases.

15) Ottoman –

Ottoman_soldier

During its zenith period, the Ottoman Empire stretched from Iraq to Hungary, while also covering most of the coastal areas of North Africa. In fact, the burgeoning Islamic realm almost brought the then-Christian world to its knees, by the sheer effectiveness of its military machine. And, perhaps that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, given the Ottoman pedigree pertaining to an eminent legacy of earlier Seljuk Turk, Eastern Roman, Mongol and even Mamluk traditions.

In essence, many historians believe the Ottoman Empire lived for war. Their territorial infrastructure, roads, engineering projects and mountain passes were all aligned and designed for the ultimate purpose of conquest. And conquer they did, by subjugating the Balkans by 14th century, and finally capturing Constantinople, which was probably the biggest city of the world in 15th century, in 1453 AD. Furthermore, they were among the first factions that fully utilized the tactical advantage of gunpowder in battlefields and sieges – as is evident from the advanced firearms of the Janissary corps and the massive cannons of Turkish make.

Image Credits – Gemini-Monkey-Man / Danbrenus / Philomathes / TheLiving Shadow / Harvey Tolibao / Osprey Publishing

23 Comments on "15 of the greatest warrior cultures from history"

  1. Good list. It’s nice to see someone has done their homework. Too bad we don’t know more about the “Sea People” as they certainly seemed to be very militaristic. Although my own personal opinion is they were actually the Assyrians but without any evidence I guess it’s a mystery we will never solve. Either way, good list.

  2. Tajwar Uquru | May 5, 2017 at 1:43 pm |

    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 | May 5, 2017 at 2:13 pm |

      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…

  3. Hospitaller Knight | September 7, 2016 at 12:51 pm |

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

  4. Cirric Fylenco | April 15, 2016 at 7:57 am |

    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.

  5. Emirhan Saygılı | March 25, 2016 at 9:58 am |

    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.

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

  7. 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 | January 6, 2016 at 2:56 am |

      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.

  8. epaminondas3294 | September 10, 2015 at 9:57 pm |

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

    • Dattatreya Mandal | September 11, 2015 at 2:20 pm |

      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 | September 12, 2015 at 2:03 am |

        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 | September 12, 2015 at 2:42 am |

          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 | September 12, 2015 at 2:52 am |

            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 | September 12, 2015 at 3:14 am |

            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 | September 12, 2015 at 3:26 am |

            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 | October 22, 2015 at 11:43 am |

            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 | October 22, 2015 at 5:11 pm |

            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 | October 23, 2015 at 3:34 am |

            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 | October 23, 2015 at 3:59 am |

            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 | October 24, 2015 at 3:03 am |

            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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