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Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 802
Joined: 2005
Decisive battles
11/16/2020 12:44:28 PM
Hi folks,

In 1851, Edward Creasy published a book titled "The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World: from Marathon to Waterloo" which (unsurprisingly) detailed the fifteen 'most decisive' battles in human history. Many of his suggestions have since either been rejected as not being truly decisive, in the sense that world history wasn't waiting like a spinning coin to fall down on one side or the other.

His list was very western-centric, and was obviously written before the American Civil War and the two world wars in the next century. The battles he chose are:

The Battle of Marathon, 490 BC
The Battle of Syracuse, 413 BC
The Battle of Gaugamela, 331 BC
The Battle of the Metaurus, 207 BC
The Battle of Teutoburg Forest, 9 AD
The Battle of Châlons/the Catalaunian Fields, 451
The Battle of Tours/Poitiers, 732
The Battle of Hastings, 1066
The Battle of Orléans, 1429
Defeat of the Spanish Armada, 1588
The Battle of Blenheim, 1704
The Battle of Pultowa, 1709
The Battle of Saratoga, 1777
The Battle of Valmy, 1792
The Battle of Waterloo, 1815

If I had to pick one battle where the outcome would have so markedly changed the future of human history (and ignoring the world wars), it would likely have to be the Battle of Yarmouk in 636. The Roman emperor Heraclius gathered the largest field army the Romans had put together in nearly eight centuries, with the goal of utterly destroying the Muslim/Arab forces, led by Khalid al-Walid. The Arabshad poured out of the desert and threatened to topple both the Eastern Roman Empire and the Sassanid Persians through a combination of martial vigour and religious fanaticism. The two great rival empires were utterly exhausted by twenty years of attritional warfare, but had finally made peace after Heraclius devastated the Persian homelands. The Roman forces had plenty of mercenaries and levy troops, but also would have had gathered the last remains of the old Roman legions. Legio V Macedonica, for example, was based in Egypt but could also trace its lineage back to the late Republic.

The Battle of Yarmouk lasted six days, and the Romans were close to victory until the timely arrival of Arab light cavalry swung the battle's balance against Heraclius. He fled the battlefield, well aware that his best and only chance of stopping the Arab onslaught was lost. His men and treasury were spent entirely, and within three or four generations the Arabs would be in Gaul and also hammering away at the gates of Constantinople. The Eastern Roman Empire permanently lost North Africa, Egypt and most of the Levant and became downgraded from a global force to a mere regional power.

Had the Romans achieved victory and pushed the Arabs back into the desert, it's very possible the Arabs would have reverted to previous behaviours and splintered into local warring factions. Without the great spoils of war in wealth and land, Islam may never have become a major global religion, perhaps being confined to the Arabian peninsula only. With no Muslim control of the Holy Land, there are no crusades to jolt Western Europe into looking beyond its own petty feuds. Moreover, the survival of a structurally sound Roman Empire (or successor empire, depending how you look at it) could have provided the intellectual germ of an early renaissance, as Byzantine holdings in Italy could have built up again once the Empire had rebuilt its strength.

So many ‘what-ifs’, so I'll stop here, but I'd be keen to hear anyone else's views on decisive battles in history.

Cheers,

Colin

Edit: edited for clarity, as was posted in haste earlier.
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"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5271
Joined: 2004
Decisive battles
11/16/2020 1:03:25 PM
Hi Colin,

Your post certainly enlightens me : in truth, I knew nothing about this battle.

Following your inspiration , I’ll pitch two similarly momentous engagements that made a terrific impact on the centuries long struggle between Islam and Christendom : the Fall of Constantinople, and the Battle of Lepanto.

I might also mention the successful Christian defences of Malta and Vienna as crucial in stemming the advance of the Ottomans.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 802
Joined: 2005
Decisive battles
11/16/2020 3:19:52 PM
Hi Phil,

I would argue that the Fall of Constantinople was already a foregone conclusion by 1453. The sacking of the city by the troops of the Fourth Crusade ended any chance of Byzantine renewal. The Ottomans merely applied mercy and finished off a wounded aged giant.

Lepanto, on the other hand, is a great choice. The largest naval engagement in history, up to that point, if one believes the numbers cited in the sources?

Cheers,

Colin
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"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
scoucer
Berlin  Germany
Posts: 2924
Joined: 2010
Decisive battles
11/16/2020 4:23:45 PM
What a fascinating thread. Will add my 2 pence.

Trevor
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`Hey don´t the wars come easy and don´t the peace come hard`- Buffy Sainte-Marie Some swim with the stream. Some swim against the stream. Me - I´m stuck somewhere in the woods and can´t even find the stupid stream.
scoucer
Berlin  Germany
Posts: 2924
Joined: 2010
Decisive battles
11/20/2020 8:46:21 PM
Okay, a first comment.

I think Waterloo is over-rated. Leipzig and Trafalgar were far more important. Trafalgar brought the British a domination of the seas that would last 100 years and consolidate an Empire.
Leipzig was the decisive turning point. And it was close.

The whole basis of Napoleon´s Waterloo campaign was to remove the immediate threat to France and win time for what would be a coming probable Allied invasion. Which he also hoped by diplomatic means to avoid.

Trevor

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`Hey don´t the wars come easy and don´t the peace come hard`- Buffy Sainte-Marie Some swim with the stream. Some swim against the stream. Me - I´m stuck somewhere in the woods and can´t even find the stupid stream.
Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 802
Joined: 2005
Decisive battles
11/23/2020 10:43:02 AM
Hi Trevor,

I like your suggestions.

Trafalgar is the pivotal battle for me, in terms of the eventual defeat of Napoleon. As long as 'perifidius Albion' was able to supply the continental coalitions with cash gleaned from their deep pockets and maritime trade, Napoleon found it nigh impossible to subjugate an entire continent simultaneously. British dominance of the seas ensured the coastlines controlled by France would never be entirely safe, and the money sent to the continent helped to raise forces (specifically in Austria and Russia) arrayed against the French. Whilst it was continental Europeans inflicting the decisivie damage at Leipzig, it was largely British money keeping them fed and supplied. A true coalition effort, which showed the strength of unity needed to finally deliver the mortal blow to Napoleon's military power.

Waterloo, I agree, is overrated; even a victory for Napoleon would have been excessively costly for his new armies and the Russians and Austrians would soon be at the door again. I imagine the British would have brought back the veterans hastily sent to North America and Prussia would arise again, as it always seemed to do in that era. Victory may have bought him time to try and pull one final rabbit out of the hat, but I believe the hat was finally empty by this point. The Allies would have kept going on until he was finally crushed, either at Waterloo or elsewhere.

Cheers,

Colin



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"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
john hayward
Allenstown NH USA
Posts: 885
Joined: 2004
Decisive battles
11/23/2020 3:20:50 PM
Gentlemen,

Please allow me to submit the following for your consideration:

The Battle of Adrianople, August 9, 378, (also refered to the Battle of Hadrianopolis) was fought between a Roman army led by the Eastern Roman Emperor Valens and Gothic rebels led by Fritigern. The battle took place in the vicinity of Adrianople, in the Roman province of Thracia (modern Edirne in European Turkey). It ended with an overwhelming victory for the Goths and the death of Emperor Valens. The battle is often considered the beginning of the end of the Western Roman Empire which will fall in the 5th century.
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
MikeMeech
 UK
Posts: 515
Joined: 2012
Decisive battles
11/23/2020 4:15:46 PM
Hi

How about the Battle of Tenochtitlan of 1521, if the Spaniard Cortes had lost against the Aztec leader, any future Spanish force would not have been treated as the return of the 'Feathered Serpent' and they would also unlikely to get local allies as Cortes had. Would the history of European colonization in Mesoamerica have been rather different.

Mike
Michigan Dave
Muskegon MI USA
Posts: 6748
Joined: 2006
Decisive battles
11/23/2020 8:03:38 PM
Hey guys,

Also what about the Hekawi Wars!

[Read More]

[Read More]

[Read More]

Certainly decisive!
MD

Sorry guys, isolation is effecting me?
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"The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."
Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 802
Joined: 2005
Decisive battles
11/30/2020 11:06:50 AM
Quote:
Hi

How about the Battle of Tenochtitlan of 1521, if the Spaniard Cortes had lost against the Aztec leader, any future Spanish force would not have been treated as the return of the 'Feathered Serpent' and they would also unlikely to get local allies as Cortes had. Would the history of European colonization in Mesoamerica have been rather different.

Mike


Superb shout, Mike. I've often wondered if the native peoples of South America had managed some form of alliance a la Ariminius whether they could have at least tipped the scales of power a little more in their direction during the colonial period? Imagine a world where the Aztecs had not fallen and developed into a western hemisphere civilisation that interacted with the Europeans on equal terms?

Cheers,

Colin
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"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 802
Joined: 2005
Decisive battles
11/30/2020 11:08:19 AM
Quote:
Gentlemen,

Please allow me to submit the following for your consideration:

The Battle of Adrianople, August 9, 378, (also refered to the Battle of Hadrianopolis) was fought between a Roman army led by the Eastern Roman Emperor Valens and Gothic rebels led by Fritigern. The battle took place in the vicinity of Adrianople, in the Roman province of Thracia (modern Edirne in European Turkey). It ended with an overwhelming victory for the Goths and the death of Emperor Valens. The battle is often considered the beginning of the end of the Western Roman Empire which will fall in the 5th century.


Hi John,

Another good shout. The irony is it was the Eastern Roman army that was destroyed, with the Western army only ten days march away. Had Valens waited (as ws planned) for Gratian's forces to arrive, they would have had an overwhelming superiority in numbers to force the Goths to submit. Another of the great 'what-ifs' of history.

Cheers,

Colin
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"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
mikecmaps
CAMARILLO CA USA
Posts: 125
Joined: 2020
Decisive battles
1/10/2021 6:14:43 PM
Decisive battles
Posted on: 11/16/2020
Lighting,Glasgow & group,
Although some modern historians may disagree . . .
Tours/Poitiers 732 (IMHO) ranks as most important battle in Europe upto about 1600’s
“The first decisive victory of a Western European Christian army over a Muslim power”
“there would have been no Charlemagne, no Holy Roman Empire or Papal States
all these depended upon Charles's containment of Islam from expanding into Europe”
Muslim victory at Tours may have extended Islam from the Pyrenees to the Vistula.

But I also like very much what MikeMeech said.

“Battle of Tenochtitlan of 1521, if the Spaniard Cortes had lost against the Aztec leader, any future Spanish force” Although difficult to imagine, had European occupation/colonization been defeated or delayed, a decisive turning point may have occurred.
Thanks,
Mikecmaps
Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 802
Joined: 2005
Decisive battles
1/12/2021 12:33:53 PM
Hi Mike,

Tours/Poitiers was undoubtedly a hugely important battle, and I would agree in your assessment that it was world-changing. There are some historians who suggest that the Islamic expansion was naturally slowing down, but I see no reason to believe that it would have done so. After all, the conquest had ranged from Persia to Spain; what's another thousand miles or so north?

Charles Martel, and in particular the manner of his army's performance, had a steel about them that hadn't been in resistance of the Islamic invasion up until then. The Visigoths in Spain and Byzantines across Africa and the Levant fought valiantly, but were facing down an enemy whose zeal was as powerful as their highly light cavalry. The Franks had a similar zeal and, crucially, had the training and morale to fight as a highly compact heavy infantry force to withstand the Muslim cavalry charges.

Cheers,

Colin
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"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."

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