If there’s one thing that defines humanity, it’s our ability to senselessly kill each other. There have been bloody massacres and wars for centuries, all over the world. Even before organized militaries, there’s much evidence of violence and bloodshed.
Many believe that the cycle of violence throughout history is doomed to repeat itself over and over again, due to our inherently combative and proprietorial natures. As such, as the centuries have slowly turned, humans have become increasingly better at more efficiently killing each other on an ever-wider scale. Yet, even without the nuclear weaponry and the sophisticated armaments of the new millennium, casualties have been witnessed on a huge scale in epic man-to-man battles throughout history. Of those, the following 15 were the deadliest, bloodiest battles that contributed to forming the world as we know it today.
15. The Battle of Kalinga: 200,000 Casualties
In 261 BC, the emperor of the throne of Magadha decided to increase the size of his empire. After Kalinga, the area he wanted to conquer, refused his request of submission, he attacked it with a massive army. The battle would result in a huge loss of life. Indeed, there were so many killed in Kalinga that there was not one man left to become a slave. The bloodshed is said to have turned Emperor Ashoka into a Buddhist.
14. The Battle of Didgori: 210,000 Casualties
This battle has all but been forgotten through time, however, it will remain an important part of history for its influence on later events and its large casualty count. It was fought between the Great Seljuq Empire and the Kingdom of Georgia. Ultimately, the King of Georgia defeated the Seljuq army and reclaimed what would become their royal capital. Approximately 75% of the Seljuq were killed during the battle.
13. The Battle of Badger Mouth: 500,000 Casualties
In 1211 CE, Genghis Khan attacked Jin Dynasty land after his ambassador was executed. He had but 90,000 men, while the Jin had 500,000. However, it became a bloody massacre when Genghis Khan’s Calvary flanked all sides of the opposing force and completely wiped them out. All together, over 500,000 men were killed, most of which belonged to the Jin.
12. Huaihai Campaign: 689,000 Casualties, Including Capture
The Huaihai Campaign, otherwise known as The Battle of Xu-Beng, marked one of the bloodiest battles in Chinese history, as well as in the entire 20th century. It was a fierce battle between the Communist East China Field Army and the Nationalists. During the campaign, a total of five armies were completely destroyed. Because of its scale and decisive victory over the Nationalist party, this campaign acted to decide the fate of China and its government.
11. Battle of Changping: 700,000 Casualties
The most far-reaching war on this list is part of Qin’s wars of unification during 260 BCE. Altogether, an estimated 700,000 people died during the wars, however, this number may be much higher or lower. The reason that this battle is highlighted is because of its bloody outcome. At this time, Shangdang Jun of the Han State was invaded by the Qin state’s army. The leader of the Qin army, Bai Qi, decided to divide his army of 200,000 by ten and have each section kill 40,000 of Zhao’s people (the leader of the Han State army). Over 400,000 were killed in just one night. Though it occurred more than 2000 years ago, the inhabitants still remember the events of that night.
10. Battle of Kiev (1941), WW2: 700,544 Casualties
Part of the Barbarossa campaign, the Battle of Kiev was the largest Axis win during the Second World War. Germany would overtake the Ukraine and kill hundreds of thousands. Despite this massive victory, however, the Germans were still unable to come close to toppling the Soviet Union.
9. Spring Offensive, WW1: 900,000 Casualties
In 1918, during World War 1, the Germans decided to launch an attack on the British forces before the Americans could fully appear on European soil, while the British were exhausted from previous losses. The Spring Offensive, or Kaiserschlacht, ended in an enormous casualty count on all sides. The Offensive took place in two main phases, the second of which the British did not see coming. Despite the huge lack of morale and fortifications, the operation ended in failure for the Germans.
8. Siege of Baghdad (1258): 50,000-2,100,000 Casualties
This siege occurred long before the World Wars, however, it also ended in unbelievable casualty counts. These deaths were not exactly the result of all out war, as they were mainly all civilians who were slaughtered. The Mongol army, led by Hülegü, had continued its advance through the middle east, conquering what they saw fit. As the city saw that it was hopeless to fight the oncoming army, they surrendered. Following this, the Mongols slaughtered upwards of 200,000 civilians within the city. The total number of dead is the complete estimated number of deaths during the Mongol conquest.
7. Battle of Verdun, WW1: 755,000- 976,000 Casualties
This battle is partly to blame for the Battle of the Somme. The British launched the latter battle to take pressure off the French, who were very much hurting from the Battle of Verdun. The Germans chose to launch their attacks at the place that had historic sentimental value to the French. There were many forts along the stretch of land, and the attack would last 300 days. The Germans used flamethrowers, among other weapons, to capture Verdun, but they were surprised to find the French weren’t such easy targets. Eventually, the Germans were forced to retreat and the French recaptured two forts; much of their land was left as a wasteland of churned dirt and human bodies, however.
6. Battle of the Somme, WW1: 1,120,00- 1,215,000 Casualties
Intended to be an easy and indisputable victory for the Allied forces, the Battle of the Somme ended in a viscous slaughter instead. Before the attack was launched, the German lines were pelted repeatedly with Allied fire for a week. In fact, the leaders of the offensive were completely confident in their victory and had their troops advance and capture the Germans with little to no consequence. On that first day, the Germans, warned in advance and heavily fortified, shot machine-gun fire at the Allies and killed over 60,000 troops.
Following this, the whole operation remained largely in bloody stalemate. In the end, the Germans suffered the most losses, but the battles can in no way be called a victory for the allied forces.
5. Battle of Stalingrad, WW2: 1,250,000- 1,178,000 Casualties
For years the Germans attempted to overtake and defeat the Soviet Union, and for years they failed. Many consider the Battle of Stalingrad to be the greatest battle the USSR fought during the war, and possibly the greatest battle of all. The Soviet army was able to completely circle the Germans and attack from both sides. It is no wonder that the Germans called the battle the “Rat War”, as both sides were forced to run from “hole to hole”. In the end, the Germans were defeated and Hitler was humiliated. Stalin, on the other hand, grew confident in his military.
4. Brusilov Offensive, WW1: 1,600,000 Casualties
Unlike other campaigns during WW1 which ended in heartache, the Brusilov Offensive was the largest victory for allied forces. That being said, an enormous amount of casualties was inflicted during the battles. Russia launched its offensive against Austria, crushing its army and assuring that Germany would be virtually alone for the last two years of the War. Austria lost over 1.5 million soldiers during the assault. Despite this, Russia would suffer from revolution and subsequently leave the war also.
3. Battle of the Dnieper, WW2: 1,582,000- 2,480,000 Casualties
This offensive happened during the Second World War in 1943. It was between Germany and the Soviet Union and took place in various stages, with hundreds of thousands of casualties during each phase. Both sides had upwards of 400,000 troops; it lasted four months and had a final casualty count of 1,582,000 to 2,480,000 people. It may be difficult to imagine such a large number of bodies over a relatively short period of time, but for the soldiers involved, it was a reality. While the number of casualties is debatable, many believe that the high numbers are accurate, given the time span and area that the operations covered.
2. Operation Barbarossa, WW2: 4,800,000 Casualties
Operation Barbarossa was the largest invasion in the entire history of war. Occurring in 1941, Hitler launched the invasion into the Soviet Union with over 3 million soldiers. The Nazi army was determined to enslave the Slavic people and exterminate the Jews, which was just one of its costly mistakes. In the end, the operation was a disastrous loss for Germany, one from which Hitler could not recover.
1. Siege of Leningrad, WW2: 1,117,000- 4,500,000 Casualties
This siege brought about one of the largest civilian casualty counts of the war. Beginning in 1941 and lasting 900 days, the siege of Leningrad was a disaster on both ends. The Soviet Union lost hundreds of thousands of civilians, but the Red Army managed to drive the Germans off at the end of the long 900 days. At this point, German soldiers were incredibly weak and were easily chased away.