Top 10 Influential Military Leaders Who Changed History

As you look back on history, there are a strong number of stories all about military leaders who defied the odds and did the impossible. Whether it was through tactical brilliance or sheer force of will, these influential military leaders have left a mark on history. 

Not only did their accomplishments alter the course of the world, but their tactics and strategies continue to be studied. It’s with this in mind that we can look back at 10 influential military leaders who did something that truly changed the course of humanity.

Alexander the Great

historical mysteries
There is little debate about how Alexander the Great changed the course of history.©The Guardian/Public Domain – Original / License

Born in 356 B.C., Alexander the Great accomplished a lot in his 32 years. Although he was only the King of Macedonia for 13 years, he changed the course of history. Creating a vast empire, Alexander the Great ruled lands from Macedonia to Egypt, Greece, and India. This allowed for the spread of the Hellenistic culture that gave rise to mathematics, science, and art.

Julius Caesar

Bronze statue of Julius Caesar in city centre. Julius Caesar was a Roman politician, general, writer and dictator of Roman empire.
The death of Julius Caesar would give rise to the Roman Empire.©Ajdin Kamber/Shutterstock.com

One of the best-known military leaders in history, Julius Caesar was a renowned military general. While he had many military pursuits, Caesar’s assassination truly changed history. Caesar’s death allowed his heir, Augustus, to emerge as Rome’s supreme leader and establish the Roman Empire, which lasted for 500 years.

Ghengis Khan

The world's largest statue of Genghis Khan
The reign of Ghengis Khan was one of tolerance and religious freedom.©Strelyuk/Shutterstock.com

The legacy of Ghengis Khan is a complicated one. As a brilliant military leader and ruler, he granted religious freedom to his subjects as well as encouraged trade with the Silk Road. Khan also implemented a meritocratic system which still holds today that promotes individuals based on ability rather than birthright. Khan also introduced the military concept of mounted archers and siege warfare.

Sun Tzu

The Art of War text on cover of old book on office desk with vintage type writer machine from 1920s and other obsolete office items.
There are few books written about war more famous than that of Sun Tzu’s “Art of War.”©MichaelJayBerlin/Shutterstock.com

Best known for his book, The Art of War, Sun Tzu was a brilliant military leader. Living between 544 B.C. and 496 B.C., Sun Tzu’s tactics became the basis for his book after multiple military accomplishments in China. His book is still considered one of the best references for military planning and psychological warfare.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Statue of Napoleon.
While Napoleon was far from perfect, his code gave rise to many laws still in place today.©Matthew Leigh/Shutterstock.com

One of the most revered military leaders in history, Napoleon Bonaparte left a lasting impact on the world. Along with his military genius, he created the Napoleonic Code, a civil law system that helped standardize laws across France and other parts of Europe. This code is still in use as part of many Western legal systems. Napoleon’s sale of Louisiana to the United States also doubled the size of the country almost overnight.

Admiral Horatio Nelson

The British Empire held strong thanks to the actions of Admiral Horatio Nelson.©evenfh/Shutterstock.com

One of Napoleon’s biggest adversaries, Admiral Horatio Nelson was a British admiral who ended France’s naval power. Nelson’s victories against France allowed for the expansion of the royal navy and the continued expansion of the British Empire. Ultimately, Nelson will be best remembered for helping put a stop to Napoleon’s conquests to capture all of Europe.

Hernan Cortes

Statue of Hernan Cortes and Medellin Castle, Spain
While his actions were often horrific, Hernan Cortes introduced the Americas to Europe.©WH_Pics/Shutterstock.com

The military influence of Hernan Cortes is indisputable, though controversial. In 1521, Cortes was able to defeat the mighty Aztec Empire, which allowed for the Spanish colonization of many parts of Central and South America. While Cortes is hardly worth celebrating for his brutality, his military influence on shaping both the Americas and Europe cannot be understated.

George Washington

Were it not for the leadership of George Washington, America might have lost the Revolutionary War.©Victorian Traditions/Shutterstock.com

There would not be an America today if it were not for George Washington. A reluctant military leader, Washington was inexperienced in leading large armies. However, Washington’s inexperience would turn into his greatest weapon as the British weren’t used to fighting opponents in this manner. Ultimately, Washington’s defeat of the British gave birth to the United States.

Hannibal

Hannibal Barca counting the rings of the Roman knights killed at the Battle of Cannae, for Versailles, 1704 Tuileries Garden
Hannibal is often regarded as one of the most brilliant military tacticians of all time.©Gilmanshin/Shutterstock.com

Best known as Hannibal Barca, a Carthaginian general, Barca played a significant role in history. Renowned as a military strategist, Hannibal directly challenged the Roman Empire. While Hannibal was ultimately defeated, his tactics changed how military leaders would think for centuries to come. Hannibal’s strategies would also go on to influence the tactics of figures like Napoleon.

Scipio Africanus

scipio_africanus
After defeating Hannibal, Scipio Africanus stopped threats to the Roman Empire and reconquered lost lands.©ergsart / Flickr – Original / License

Hannibal’s greatest adversary, Scipio Africanus will be forever remembered for defeating Hannibal’s Carthage army. As a result, Scipio Africanus was able to stop the threat to the Roman Empire and reconquer many lost lands. The resulting campaigns restored Rome’s power around the Mediterranean and changed the course of both European and North African history for hundreds of years.

The image featured at the top of this post is ©Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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