Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The 15 Most Decisive Battles of the World

There is a book which called “The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World: from Marathon to Waterloo” by Sir Edward Shepherd Creasy; which I have not read; referenced in the Merle Miller oral biography of Harry Truman, “Plain Speaking”. The book comes up when a friend of the former President recounts the 15 books which Truman recommended to him when the friend asked about how he should go about becoming better-rounded. And; as with most things connected to Truman; I was immediately interested in it. That was over 20 years ago and I still haven’t read it. It was written in 1851.

The other day I was thinking about the book and what it might hold within that would be applicable to today’s world. So, I went to Wikipedia for a brief summary of the book and the list of the battles themselves. As a result I feel as if I have been deprived of an education; in that I haven’t even heard of a good third of these battles, and certainly none of them were taught in high school. And yet, looking over the list and the attendant causes of these major events in history, I can easily see that war; at least the reasons behind them; have not really changed much over the thousands of years that they have been waged.

Mostly the battles were the result of tribal differences, land rights, religion and family squabbles gone way out of control. From the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC; which was primarily a war about the Persian subjugation of the entire known world; to our own Second World War; global domination has been a recurrent theme. So have family squabbles; as evidenced by the Battle of the Metaurus in 207 BC between Rome and Carthage, which were both controlled by 2 families who could not settle their differences. We had World War One, a conflict in which all the crowned heads of Europe were cousins.

If you want something more contemporary; let’s say the attempted Conquest of the Western World by Islam; then just look to the Battle of Tours in 732 AD. Sometimes referred to as the Battle of Poitiers, this was the final battle of the crusade in which Charles Martel blocked the Arab Conquest of Western Europe. That struggle has been reignited in recent years.

And, if you’re in the mood for a good Siege; along the lines of Savannah in the American Civil War; or even a relatively minor one; then the Siege of Syracuse in 413 BC will surely fit the bill.

In short, there would be much to be learned from reading this book. But the details are not as important as the overall pattern which emerges from the subject. Namely; that wars are fought over, and about, fairly predictable things; such as global power; religion; and even trade issues. The importance of knowing this cannot be understated.

Here is a link to the Wikipedia article about the book I have not read. There are more links there to take you on a journey that will make you understand that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

And here are the Battles which are listed by Sir Edward Shepherd Creasy in this book I haven’t read.

1.The Battle of Marathon
490 BC Excerpt

2.Defeat of the Athenians at Syracuse 413 BC

3.The Battle of Gaugamela 331 BC

4.The Battle of the Metaurus 207 BC

5.Victory of Arminius over the Roman Legions under Varus AD 9

6.The Battle of Châlons AD 451

7.The Battle of Tours AD 732

8.The Battle of Hastings AD 1066

9.Joan of Arc's Victory over the English at Orléans AD 1429

10.Defeat of the Spanish Armada AD 1588

11.The Battle of Blenheim, AD 1704

12.The Battle of Pultowa AD 1709

13.Victory of the Americans over Burgoyne at Saratoga AD 1781

14.The Battle of Valmy AD 1792

15.The Battle of Waterloo AD 1815

The painting at the top  is “Archimedes Directing the Defenses of Syracuse” by Thomas Ralph Spence and was painted in 1895.

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