A depiction of the Death of Brutus and Cassius at the Battle of Philippi.

The Greatest Battles of the Ancient World

War has always been an important part of human history. From the battle of Waterloo to storming the beaches of Normandy, battles have often been decisive in who wins the war. While many know about the great battles fought in the 1800s and 1900s, few know about the battles in ancient times. However, the battles of ancient times were no less significant than those fought more recently. Battles of ancient times can even shed understanding on the condition of nations today. Here are some of the greatest battles of the Ancient World.

Battle of Watling Street – 61 CE

Boudiccan Rebellion, Boadicea and Her Daughters near Westminster Pier
Boudiccan Rebellion, Boadicea and Her Daughters near Westminster Pier. Image credit Steve Travelguide via Shutterstock

The Battle of Watling Street was a battle that took place in ancient times as part of the Iceni's rebellion against Roman rule. The Iceni's rebellion started with the death of King Prastagus of the Iceni. After the Iceni King died, his will left his lands to his daughters and the emperor Nero. However, the Romans ignored the Iceni King's will. Not only did they take his lands, but they also flogged his widow Boudica and raped their daughters. This drove Boudica to take action against Roman rule.

Boudica lead the Iceni in Rebellion, first attacking Camulodunum. In this attack, Boudica's troops killed thousands and set fire to the temple of Claudius. Boudica then turned her forces to the city of London. In London, she burned the city and killed anyone who did not escape. In response, the Roman governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus gathered around 10,000 men to fight Boudica's rebellion.

Suetonius's army met Boudica's rebellion on the Roman road known as Watling Street. The battle of Watling Street was the final battle in Boudica's revolt. Boudica's rebellion outnumbered the Roman Governor's army, but despite their numbers, Boudica's rebellion was no match for the Roman army. The Romans had advanced armor and weaponry that Boudica's people did not have. The Iceni were unable to escape and lost the battle.

Battle of Fei River – 383 CE

The map showing the situation of Battle of Fei River
The map showing the situation of Battle of Fei River. Image credit SY via Wikimedia Commons

The battle of Fei River was another great battle remembered from the ancient world and was one of the most important battles in Chinese history. Two opposing forces of power, the Jin Dynasty, and the Former Qin, were working to establish power. While the Jin Dynasty grew its power in northern China, the Former Qin was growing its power, led by a man named Fú Jiān. He conquered several Chinese kingdoms until most of northern China was under his control. At this point, the Former Qin was larger than the Jin Dynasty.

In 381 BCE, the Former Qin prepared for an invasion of the Jin to the south, and in 383 BCE, Fú Jiān's brother left with an army of 300,000 men. The Former Qin won the first battles in the north. After this, the Jin and the Former Qin met at Fei River. The Jin had an army of only around 100,000 men and was on the east of the river. The Former Qin had more men than the Jin army. However, this advantaged turned to a disadvantage.

The Jin army requested that Former Qin's army retreat slightly from the west bank so the Jin army could safely cross and the two sides could engage in honorable combat. While the Former Qin army agreed, they planned to attack the Jin army halfway through their crossing, to cut the Jin army in half. However, the message was hard to deliver to the entire Former Qin army, and they became confused. This confusion turned to panic and chaos, giving the Jin army the upper hand. This made them easy targets for the Jin army, and the Jin won, gaining one of the most unlikely victories in history.

The Battle Of Philippi 42 BCE

Brutus and his companions after the battle of Philippi
Brutus and his companions after the battle of Philippi.

Similar to the disarray the Former Quin army faced in the battle of Fei River, the Battle of Philippi involved incompetent armies. The battle of Philippi followed the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE. It is well known as the battle that killed the last of those who favored the old Republican constitution of Rome.

The two sides of the battle were Caesar loyalists (Mark Antony and Octavian Caesar), who were facing off the opponents of Caesar (Marcus Brutus and Gaius Cassius), also known as the optimates. While the Caesar loyalists had control of the western provinces, the opponents of Caesar had control of the eastern provinces of the empire. The two opposing forces met near Philippi in Greece for battle.

Overall, the Battle of Philippi was a battle of confusion on both sides. Both sides of the battle coordinated their armies poorly, and made hasty decisions, including Gaius Cassius committing suicide when he thought he had lost. The Caesar loyalists won the battle, and after Marcus Brutus of the optimate's army also committed suicide. After this, their men surrendered.

The Battle Of Edessa 260 BCE

Shapur Captures the King of Rum
Depiction of Shapur capturing the King of "Rum."

The Battle of Edessa is well remembered as one of the worst ancient battles for the Romans. Around 240 BCE, the Sassanid emperor Shapur 1 had invaded both Mesopotamia and Syria. The Romans fought back and won in 243 BCE.  However, this did not stop the Sassanid emperor from continuing to destroy the eastern parts of the Roman Empire. He continued to take territory after territory. The emperor at the time, Valerian, vowed to win these territories back. While Valerian's army appeared strong, when it reached Edessa, an outbreak of the plague reduced the Roman army. The emperor Valerian was later captured by Shanhansha Shapur 1 after losing in battle. This was historically important, because Valerian was the first Roman emperor ever captured.

The Battle Of Mobei 119 BCE

Han pottery figurine, Shieldbearer, Han dynasty
Shieldbearer, Han dynasty.

The Battle of Mobei was a battle fought in modern-day Mongolia. Tensions between the nomadic Xiongu Empire and the Han Dynasty, was the background for the battle. The battle took place in the northern area of the Gobi desert, where the Han dynasty marched into Xiongu territory. The Xiongu had previously raided the northern border and taken territory. Protecting the northern border from nomadic raids was a priority in ancient China's history. The Han succeeded in the battle of Mobei. They captured thousands of Xiongu troops, and the Xiongu were never able to recover from their defeat.

The Battle of Julu 207 BCE

Uprisings of Qin Dynasty, including uprisings of Dazexiang (Chen Sheng and Wu Guang), Liu Bang and Xiang Yu.
Uprisings of Qin Dynasty, including uprisings of Dazexiang (Chen Sheng and Wu Guang), Liu Bang and Xiang Yu. Image credit SY via Wikimedia Commons

The Battle of Julu was another important fight in ancient China's history. The battle took place near the end of the Qin dynasty, with the newly founded Kingdom of Chu. The commander of the Qin army was Zhang Han. Xiang Yu was the leader of the Kingdom of Chu. He managed to raise an army of 50,000 men and had another 80,000 troops provided by other states. However, none of these troops participated in the Battle of Julu. Xiang Yu was a creative and intelligent commander, who took big risks to win. In the battle of Julu, Xiang Yu took measures to motivate his men. He would burn his own men's supplies when they were losing to motivate them to defeat the enemy and steal their supplies.

The battle ended with the victory of the Kingdom of Chu over the Qin army.  This was an impressive win since the Qin forces were four times the size of the Kingdom of Chu's army. The battle of Julu was memorable in Chinese history as it marked the decline in the military power of the Qin dynasty.

The Battle of The Delta 1175 BCE

A black and white depiction of the army of Ramesses III fighting the Sea Peoples.
A depiction of the army of Ramesses III fighting the Sea Peoples.

The Battle of the Delta was another memorable battle in ancient history. The battle took place between Egypt and the Sea Peoples. The Sea Peoples were a group of seafaring warriors that attacked ancient Egypt and other areas of the eastern Mediterranean. The Pharaoh at the time, Ramesses III, predicted the Sea Peoples would attack Egypt since surrounding civilizations were recently attacked. Ramesses started preparing for battle against the Sea Peoples.

The battle between the Egyptians and the Sea Peoples occurred along the eastern Nile Delta. Knowing that he could not defeat the Sea Peoples' navy at sea, Ramesses tried other tactics. Ramesses lined the shores of the Nile Delta with archers to shoot at the ships that attempted to land. He also enticed the Sea Peoples' ships into the mouth of the Nile, where the Sea People were then ambushed and killed. The Egyptians claimed victory in the battle.

The Battle of Arginusae 406 BCE

Depiction of the Battle of Arginusae, The Athenians (yellow) used an unusual tactic with which they prevented a diekplous
Battle of Arginusae, the Athenians (yellow) used an unusual tactic with which they prevented a diekplous.

Battles between the Athens and Spartans were some of the most spectacular in the ancient world. The battle of Arginusae took place during the Peloponnesian War, a war that took place between Athens and Sparta. The battle of Arginusae was a heavy clash between the Athens and Sparta armies. At first in the battle, the Athens appeared to be at a disadvantage. In a previous battle, the Athens had lost to the Spartans, which had forced them to put together a new fleet of ships with an inexperienced crew.

In contrast, the Spartans had an experienced, well-trained crew, giving them an advantage. In order to beat the Spartans in this battle, the Athenian army knew it had to utilize unorthodox tactics that would leave the Spartans in shock, lost at how to move forward. This strategy was successful for the Athenians, and the battle secured an important victory for the Athenians.


All these battles were important and would have had enormous cultural impacts if they turned out differently. From changing goods imported and exported, to altering the doctrine of the country, battles have an undeniable effect on nations. The battles mentioned here are only a few of the many battles that took place in ancient times.


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