10 Captivating Stories Of Escape During The Slave Era

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10 Captivating Stories Of Escape During The Slave Era



Movies like 12 Years a Slave give us a good idea of what the desperate escape to freedom must have been like for many African-American slaves. But the following accounts are equally as captivating. Such fine examples of luck, trickery, and pure dogged determination deserve to be noticed.

10Harriet Jacobs


Photo credit: Lapham’s Quarterly

Born in 1813, Harriet Jacobs was frequently the victim of brutal sexual assaults from her master, James Norcom. Even when Jacobs took a lover and had two children with him, Norcom’s sexual advances continued. Finally, it got to be more than she could bear. In 1835, she went to hide with friends.

Jacobs knew the odds were slim that she’d make it to the North, so she hid in a cramped crawl space in her grandmother’s attic on the North Carolina plantation. Barely big enough to accommodate Jacobs, the space was infested with rats. Nonetheless, she lived there for the next seven years.

In 1842, she escaped the plantation by boat to Philadelphia. Upon arriving, she was taken in by members of the Philadelphia Vigilant Committee. She later wrote about her life and trials in the memoir Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.


9Ellen And William Craft


Photo via Wikimedia

Few slaves made such daring escape attempts as William Craft and his wife, Ellen. Married in 1846 in Macon, Georgia, the two were owned by separate masters. Ellen was the daughter of a white slaveholder and his black female slave.

Frightened of being separated, William and Ellen hatched a plan to pose as a slave and his white owner. There was one problem, though. It was unacceptable for a white woman to travel alone with a male slave. So they decided that Ellen would disguise herself as a white man.

In December 1848, they spent several days traveling by rail and steamer to the North, staying in expensive hotels among other whites to keep their cover. Ellen disguised her feminine face in bandages. The two finally arrived in Philadelphia on Christmas Day 1848. They went on to live in England, where they raised a family and wrote an account of their escape.

8Ayuba Suleiman Jallo

8-Job ben Solomon

Photo credit: The Root

Ayuba Suleiman Jallo (aka Job ben Solomon) came from a family of prominent Muslim leaders in Senegal. In 1730, he and his translator were captured by an invading tribe and sold as slaves by the Royal African Company (RAC). Ultimately, Jallo was sold to the owner of a tobacco plantation in Annapolis, Maryland.

While attempting to escape, Jallo was captured and imprisoned. Reverend Thomas Bluett began communicating with Jallo in prison using hand gestures. Bluett was surprised to discover that Jallo was a Muslim and thathe could write in Arabic.

After being returned to his master, Jallo penned a letter in Arabic to his family back home. It ended up on the desk of RAC director James Oglethorpe, who had sold Jallo into slavery initially. An emotionally moved Oglethorpe had the RAC purchase Jallo’s freedom.

In 1734, Jallo returned to Senegal. He continued to press for the release of his interpreter, who was freed and returned to Africa in 1738.


7Frederick Douglass


Photo credit: history.com

Frederick Douglass, the famed abolitionist, craved freedom from a young age. In 1833, at age 20, he became engaged to a free black woman named Anna Murray. Taking the opportunity to finally find freedom, he fled his station as a ship caulker in Baltimore.

Disguised as a soldier, Douglass boarded a train for the North and traveled with a free sailor’s protection pass that a friend had given him. Although the person pictured on the pass looked nothing like Douglass, the conductor only gave it a cursory glance.

Douglass had more close calls on his way north. But he finally arrived in New York and stayed with an abolitionist, where he later met up with Murray and moved to Bedford, Massachusetts. Douglass had the status offugitive slave until 1846 when antislavery activists helped him to purchase his own freedom.

6Eliza Harris


Photo credit: GRICS

Eliza Harris’s story is so captivating that author Harriet Beecher Stowe included Eliza as a character in her famous novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

When her master intended to sell her only surviving child, Eliza escaped with the toddler to the Ohio River. Unfortunately, the surface of the frozen river was broken into unnavigable chunks of ice. She waited out the day in a nearby house, but the ice continued to break into smaller pieces. That night, she heard her pursuers approaching.

Eliza bolted from the house, determined to escape or drown. At times, a chunk of ice would sink beneath her and she would be waist-deep in the freezing water. She’d push her child onto the next chunk of ice. Then she’d pull herself onto it.

Breathless and half-frozen, Eliza continued her desperate plight until she reached the other side of the river. There, a man directed her to a house where she could rest. Then Eliza was sent to a station of the Underground Railroad.

5Henry Highland Garnet


Photo credit: James U. Stead

Henry Highland Garnet’s 11-member family ran away from their master’s plantation when he was just nine years old. His father had gotten permission for them to attend a family funeral, but they didn’t intend to return.

They all made a risky, 160-kilometer (100 mi) trek by foot and carriage to Delaware. In Wilmington, the family split up. Henry and his mother, father, and sister continued on to Long Island. They changed their name from Trusty to Garnet, and Garnet would grow up to be a central figure in black education and spirituality.


4Henry ‘Box’ Brown


Photo credit: William Still

Henry Brown was a slave born and raised in Virginia. After seeing his wife and children sold to an owner in a different state, a devastated Brown became determined to escape slavery. He came up with a daring plan to ship himself in a wooden crate to Philadelphia. He did it with the help of a freed slave and a white shopkeeper.

On March 3, 1849, Brown squeezed him into a small wooden crate labeled “Dry Goods.” After a harrowing, 27-hour journey, Brown arrived at the Philadelphia home of abolitionist James McKim.

However, less than a year later, Brown was forced to flee to England after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. He returned in 1875 after starting a new family.

3Drennen Slave Girl


Photo credit: Heinz History Center

The escape of the unidentified Drennen slave girl is notable because of how ridiculously simple it was. One day in 1850, businessman John Drennen, his wife, and their 14-year-old slave girl checked into the Monongahela House—a lavish hotel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—after a long, difficult trip from the South.

After dressing her mistress for dinner, the slave girl was helped by the black house staff to carry a trunk full of damaged and dirty clothing to be washed and mended. She was fascinated by these blacks because they were paid employees of the hotel and not slaves.

At some point, the girl simply walked out the back door of the hotel and was never seen by her masters again. She was no doubt motivated by the black service people of the hotel as Monongahela House served as the seat of much secret antislavery activity.

2Robert Smalls


Photo credit: PBS

Early in the morning of May 13, 1862, Robert Smalls and some shipmateshijacked the steamship CSS Planter in Charleston, North Carolina, while their white crewmates were ashore. The slaves picked up their families at a rendezvous point and then sailed into the Charleston Harbor with Smalls disguised in the captain’s coat and hat.

His thorough sailing knowledge helped to get the ship safely passed Fort Sumter. Once out of firing range, he sprinted for the Union blockade, which was established to keep the Southern states from trading or importing war items.

At the blockade, Smalls and his crew hoisted the white surrender flag for the first US Navy ship they encountered. They were hailed as heroes in the North, and their story was held up as an example that blacks could make good soldiers.

1Lewis Williams


Photo credit: Atlanta Black Star

When Lewis Williams was a boy, his family escaped slavery in Kentucky and made their way to the antislavery stronghold of Cincinnati. In his early twenties, Williams was tricked by a fortune-teller into revealing details about his escape.

She used this information to contact his old master and turn Williams in for a reward. After the slaveholder traveled to Ohio, Williams was put on trial to be extradited back to Kentucky. His story would have ended there if not for the crafty heroics of Reverend William Troy, the leader of the black community in Cincinnati.

Troy knew a guy who surprisingly resembled Williams. On the day of the trial, Troy took a crowd of supporters to the courthouse. While everyone was distracted by a dramatic argument, Williams and his body doublequickly switched places. Williams then stealthily crawled out the door on his hands and knees and eventually escaped to Canada.

Tiffany is a freelance writer hailing from southern California. You can follow her onTwitter.

10 Amazing Great Escapes That Really Happened

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10 Amazing Great Escapes That Really Happened



Fictional great escapes can rarely compete with those that happen in real life. Many lists have already covered escapes from prisons – and even though this list has one or two that corresponds with that sort, I decided to focus on other – perhaps more fascinating – true escape stories.

Escapes from death, oppression and hunger – some are very well known, others less so, but they all have one thing in common: bravery. The bravery of men, women and sometimes even children has provided us with eloquent proof of man’s passion for freedom, righteousness and the will to survive.


Crawling Towards Freedom

The Becker house stood directly on the border that separated East from West Berlin. Clara Becker, a widow, raised her six children to be hardworking and industrious. Their house was always overflowing with all the young people from the neighborhood.

As the Berlin wall came up, their world closed in. Extra police were brought in from all over East Germany to man the border after some people managed to escape. Amid acute food-shortages and horrendous rumors, the Beckers knew they had to get out before it became too late.

After an almost fatal escape-attempt, the Beckers and some of their friends decided to dig a tunnel to West Germany from the their own house. It took the diggers (working in shifts; teams of two with only hammers, shovels and pickaxes) three days just to get through the basement wall. Getting rid of the dirt in an old well, the teams faced daily uncertainty as they battled cave-ins and certain death if caught. On January 24th 1962, a band of 28 refugees finally managed to crawl into West Berlin and to freedom.


Saved By Wallpaper

Martin Kaylor was going home after serving as a gunner in the Korean War. After failing to understand the Korean villagers’ warnings, his convoy was ambushed and Kaylor, wounded, was captured. It was snowing heavily when they were forced marched, limping, over icy mountain trails for 11 days.

The Chinese indoctrination began. “Imperialism is bad”, “We are treating you well”, “Who is the aggressor in Korea?”, “Why is the US the aggressor in Korea?” became staple parts of their daily lectures. The weeks turned into months, and many died of malnutrition and dysentery.

After being moved again, the POW’s finally realized that they were never going to be released. All 19 marines in the group sneaked off, and waded across the Imjin River – running for miles until a Korean man found them and hid them in a deserted house. They marveled at the wallpaper inside the house, as it was the first wallpaper they had seen in ages.

It turned out that the wallpaper was to be their saving grace. They used strips of it to spell out “POW 19 RESCUE” in the nearby rice paddy; these words were spotted by an observer plane, and the men were rescued.


A Lifeline Called Comet

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Countess Andrée de Jongh was a member of the Belgian Resistance during the Second World War. As a young girl, her heroine had been Edith Cavell, a nurse who was shot for helping troops cross from occupied Belgium to the Netherlands.

At the age of 21, de Jongh arrived in Bilbao, Spain, having travelled over the Pyrenees on foot. Upon arrival she requested British support for her escape network, The Comet Line, which helped Allied soldiers to return to Britain – her request was granted by M19. Starting in Brussels, the men would be given false documents before being hidden in safe-houses. A network of people then guided them via Spain and Gibraltar. Numbers vary, but we do know for a fact that the Countess helped more than 500 soldiers escape. She escorted 118 airmen over the Pyrenees herself!


Escape From Slavery

Harriet Tubman grew up in Maryland as a slave. As a young girl, she was severely beaten by her masters and at one point suffered a serious head wound which led to her having seizures, headaches and very powerful visions. A devout Christian, she believed her visions to be revelations from God.

In 1849, after her master died, she was sent to work on a neighboring farm. Management was slack, and it took almost two weeks before it was realized that she never showed up for work. After being convinced to return to work, she escaped again shortly thereafter via the Underground Network (a network of safe-houses, run by anti-slavery activists).

Harriet went to Philadelphia, but quickly returned to free her family. Traveling by night, she eventually guided dozens of other slaves to freedom. She became fondly known as “Moses”, and it was said she never lost any of the charges under her wing. When the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed, she simply guided fugitives further up north to Canada where slavery was illegal.


Second Time’s the Charm

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Henri Honoré Giraud joined the French Army in 1900. During WW1 he was captured at the Battle of Guise and seriously wounded. After he recuperated, he escaped via the Netherlands and returned to France. Continuing his career, he served in Constantinople and Morocco, receiving the Legion d’Honneur. He was again taken prisoner on May 19, 1940 at Wassigny and transferred to Königstein Castle near Dresden, which was used as a high-security POW prison.

It might seem impossible that he should escape again – he was already 61 – but he carefully planned his escape over the next two years. He perfected his German and memorized maps of the surrounding area. As he received many packages during his incarceration, friends were able to sneak him copper wire and material to make a rope. In April 1942, he lowered himself down the face of the mountain fortress and eventually made it back to France.


Airborne Stowaway

In June 1969, a young man made a mad dash for freedom from his homeland, Cuba. He ran towards a DC-8 plane headed to the US as it took off, got onto the landing gear and managed to make it into the compartment without being crushed.

Statistics say that 50–70% of stowaways never make it, but 18 year old Armando Socarras Ramirez was one of the lucky few. After 8 hours at 30 000 feet, crew members were shocked to discover his comatose body – he was raced to hospital, where everyone assumed he would die. But after 24 hours, he recovered completely. Ramirez survived due to the fact that he was young and fit; that he had placed cotton in his ears to reduce the noise; and that he had tied himself to the landing gear with a rope so that he wouldn’t fall. Experts believe his body went into a type of hibernation which enabled him to survive the odds.


The Empty Mass Grave

After the bombing of Differdange, Luxembourg, 18 firemen and one woman stayed behind as the rest of the town fled. After two days of fighting, the French pulled back and the German tanks rolled in. At first, the Germans were civil towards the firefighters – after all, they came in quite handy by cleaning the debris, burying dead animals and even putting out a few fires.

Two weeks later everything changed. The Germans were bombed by the French; in retaliation, the firemen were marched outside the building towards a mass grave. The Lieutenant felt sure that one of the firemen had sent a signal to the French. He asked his Corporal, Johan Punzel, to take over their custody until their execution.

The prisoners pleaded with the Corporal, persuading him to re-investigate the claim against them. When he realized that they were innocent, he arranged for their escape via a truck. The departing prisoners wanted to give him their jewelry, but he wouldn’t accept it. Luckily for Johan Punzel, the regiment were ordered to move again. In the chaos, it appears that the firemen were forgotten.


Napoleon’s Escape from Elba

Napoleon Bonaparte is best remembered as a French political and military leader – actually, as one of the best military commanders of all time. Becoming First Consul in 1799 after a successful coup, he later crowned himself Emperor of the French. Some say he was so eager to be Emperor that he grabbed the crown from the pope at his inauguration – but this is heavily contested.

His good fortune eventually came to an end, and after several failed military campaigns he was exiled to the island of Elba. In his 9 months on Elba, Napoleon was allowed to receive letters and newspapers; he also had several of his most loyal men with him. He watched with interest how disappointed the French people became as the great empire shrank – and he rightly concluded that his return would be met with enthusiasm.

In February 1815, he sailed away from Elba under the cover of darkness. Since Elba is very close to France, he was back home in a matter of hours – landing at the Southern cast of France with roughly 1000 soldiers.


The PT-109 Incident

Lt. Jg. John F. Kennedy On The Bridge Of The Pt-109 B
Blackett Strait – near the Solomon Islands – was extremely dark on the night of August 1, 1943. PT-109 was one of 15 “Patrol Torpedo” boats looking for Japanese vessels. After an unsuccessful skirmish earlier in the evening with Japanese Destroyers, Lieutenant Kennedy met up with two other PT-boats. Spreading out to form a line, they set up a patrol in case the enemy ships came back.

Sailing into the path of a Destroyer with too little time to evade, the Kennedy’s PT-109 was cut in half. With Japanese bases all around them, they decided to swim to Plum Pudding Island. The young Kennedy towed his badly burned mate by using a life-jacket strap. The island was very small, with no food or drinking water. Kennedy swam another 4km in search of help and food – later leading his men to Olasana island, where they found drinkable water and coconut trees.

The other Americans, who had seen the explosion, assumed that all the men had died. The navy held a memorial service for them. But after six more days, the men were finally saved after being spotted by scouts – and the strapping young Lieutenant Kennedy went on to become the 35th President of the United States.


Chilean Mining Accident

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On the 5th of August in Chile, 33 miners were trapped 2300 ft (700m) underground after a huge cave-in. The miners tried to escape via the ventilation shafts, but there were no ladders; rescuers tried every entrance but all were blocked by rocks and debris.

During their time in the mine, the miners lived in a tunnel with very limited food supplies. After 14 days, rescuers started sending supplies and letters from their loved ones via 5-foot-long plastic capsules. Steel rescue capsules were constructed by the Chilean Navy, incorporating NASA’s designs and suggestions. These were eventually used to rescue the miners, 69 days after they were first trapped by the cave-in.

10 Brave Warrior Classes Of World History

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10 Brave Warrior Classes Of World History



Who hasn’t heard of the legendary samurai or the invisible ninja warrior? Who hasn’t eagerly listened to the adventures of a medieval knight and, if only for a few moments, wished they could go back to those times and take part in the adventures of such thrilling warrior classes? Amazingly, history has even more to offer in the way of brave fighters. Almost every nation in every period of time has produced brave men and women who became part of an elite class that will always be remembered.

10The Peltasts

Peltasts were Greek light infantrymen and skirmishers of the late fifth century. Usually recruited from the ranks of Thracian mercenaries and citizenry, they were the original peasant army. They were most often armed with spears, javelins, or slings, and they used light shields called pelts, from which they get their name.

The peltast forces would open a battle, launching their javelin or sling attacks, and then retreat to let the better-protected phalanx move in. As the phalanx cleared the way, the peltasts would advance again, and the process would repeat itself until both armies were engaged in close quarters.

Peltasts generally wore no armor and fared poorly if forced into hand-to-hand combat. However, these brave skirmishers fought alongside their much better-protected phalanxes, sowing panic and confusion among the enemy hoplite phalanxes and maintaining the ability to avoid attack. Peltasts even went at it with Spartans, playing an important role in the Peloponnesian Wars in 425 B.C. at the island of Sphakteria, where the Spartans faced a nearly unprecedented defeat at the hands of the Athenians.


9The Cataphraoti

The cataphraoti were a class of heavy cavalry created to counter the infantry of the Iranian Parthian Empire in the third century. The first reference to them comes from Livy, who notes their presence in Antiochus III’s Seleucid army of horsemen.

Both horse and rider wore knee-length full-scale armor made of steel or bronze, and the rider also wore a steel helmet. They were armed withkontos, a type of spear up to 4.5 meters (15 ft) long, as well as a variety of daggers. They also carried a compound bow, which they often shot backward as they retreated in the famous “Parthian shot.” Sometimes, cataphracts were supported by camel riders or riderless camels that bore arrows and made up a mobile ammo depot.

These elements made the cataphracts a greatly feared enemy. The Romans were so impressed with the cataphracts that they incorporated a similar form of cavalry into their own armies, who became the early prototypes for the medieval knight.

8The Genitors

The genitors (or jinetes, which means “horseman” or “rider”) were a class of warriors common in 14th-century Spain that wielded swords as well as lances or javelins. They were also known to sometimes use darts calledassegais. While they were considered light cavalry, they often wore heavy armor consisting of mail hauberks with bascinets and cuirasses. They also had shoulder, elbow, and knee guards made of plate. They employed heart-shaped shields, like most medieval knights, while their horses were either armored lightly or not at all.

The genitors were formed as a response to devastating attacks by Moorish cavalry during the Reconquista. As such, they were developed to be as close a match as possible to their Moorish enemy. They were highly skilled horsemen who could only be effectively countered by missile fire or the use of similar cavalries. As skirmishers, genitors could dance circles around most infantry, famous for the way they dashed in and out of reach.


7The Conquistadors

When Columbus arrived in the New World, Spain wasted little time expanding its empire into the region. Their main agents were the Conquistadors, a fearsome infantry that also consisted of explorers, governors, and exploiters who acted as missionaries, converting the native populations of conquered regions to Christianity.

Conquistadors usually wore armor made in Toledo, Spain, as “Toledo armor” was some of the strongest known at the time. Cavalry used 3.5-meter (12 ft) lances and one- or two-handed broadswords, while foot soldiers used bows and short swords for close combat. While early firearms like thearquebus were available and may have sometimes been used, they weren’t fit for the tropics and would have been rare.

While the term conquistador can be applied to any member of the Spanish army in the New World, it is popularly associated with its leaders. Because these men operated so far from home, they often acted with a great deal of autonomy. Legendary Conquistador Hernan Cortes actually had his appointment to the Americas withdrawn, but he set sail before the orders could go through. By the time Spain could send agents to arrest him, he was well established, and he often turned those agents to his cause. He left with only 10 vessels, 600–700 Spaniards, 18 horsemen, and a few cannons, but he still managed to conquer what is now Mexico. He even destroyed his ships behind him to let his men know that retreat was not an option. While many people believe he burned his ships, he actually sunk them.

The plunder of the New World continued with Conquistadors like Juan Ponce de Leon, Francisco Pizarro, Panfilo de Narvaez, and Hernando de Soto. By the time the Spanish Orders for New Discoveries in 1573 curbed the excesses of the Conquistadors, they had left another lasting legacy—smallpox, malaria, measles, and sexually transmitted diseases. These diseases had never been seen in the New World, and the natives had no resistance to them.

6The Musketeers

Once guns came into play in the 14th century, warfare was changed forever. By the 15th century, the first musketeers sprung up in China, the Ottoman Empire, India, Russia, and throughout Europe. The first special guard of French musketeers was formed in 1600 by King Henry IV. They were armed with carbine-style firearms and called the King’s Carabineers. With the introduction of muskets, they became the romantic musketeer of mythic proportions known as the French Musketeers of the Guard, an elite unit consisting of nobles and the very best soldiers culled from the infantry.

In battle, they were proficient in pistols, earning a reputation as lauded duelists, as well as their famous rapiers and a type of dagger called themain gauche. They were equally deadly on foot and on horseback. In addition to participating in campaigns, it was their personal duty to defend the king and his household, compelling other powerful men to organize their own musketeer guards.

The antagonist of Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers, Cardinal Richelieu, introduced the blood red tabard, but blue and black were also used. Whatever the color, the tabard of the musketeer also displayed a cross and the fleur de lis crest. They also wore leather gauntlets, dueling pants, black suede boots, and the jaunty leather cavalier hat.

The royal Musketeers of the Guards were disbanded for good in 1816.

5The Mamluks

The Mamluks (meaning “possessed” or “owned,” generally referring to military slavery) began their history as a slave warrior caste under Islamic sultans. They were drawn mainly from the Qipchak Turks in Central Asia, while the Bahri Mamluks were drawn from southern Russia and the later Burgi from the Circassians of the Caucasus.

The Mamluks were cavalry units who were also trained in fencing and the use of the lance, mace, and battle axe. They followed their own strict code closely based on the principle of furusiyya, representing ulum (“science”),funun (“arts”), and adab (“literature”). Furusiyya was a moral code but also an art and a teaching guide in tactics, horse care, mounted archery, and warfare in general. Despite their adherence to furusiyya, the Mamluks were mostly illiterate.

Usually captured around the age of 13, they were converted to Islam and given elite training for personal use by sultans or higher lords. They went on to become a ruling class after the conquer of Egypt and Syria, when the Mamluks forced a marriage between their commander Aybeg and the widow of the last sultan in 1250. In the midst of intense and brutal political infighting, the Mongols arrived. They had taken almost all of Islam’s heartland when the Mamluks, in power for less than a decade and bitterly divided, defeated them and saved all of Syria and Egypt from the horde.

The Mamluk dynasty ruled Egypt and Syria until 1517, when they were overthrown by the Ottoman Empire. While they ruled, the Islamic kingdom became a hub for the arts, scholarship, and craftsmanship. Not bad for former slaves.


4The Landsknechts

In the late 15th century, Germany developed the Landsknechts (meaning “servant of the country”) to counter the extremely effective Swiss infantry. Early forms of the Landsknechts were so thoroughly modeled after Switzerland’s excellent halbadier and pikeman soldiers that they weresometimes referred to as “counterfeit Swiss.” They were first formed under Maximilian I with the assistance of Georg von Frundsberg (the “father of the Landsknechts”) and went on to fight in many of the major engagements of the 16th century, sometimes on both sides.

Many Landsknechts were arquebusiers, marksmen armed with an arquebusand bandoliers of power tubes, an early type of bullet. They also also used a polearm and a short sword called a Katzbalger, which became a symbol for them. They often wielded two-handed or hand-and-a-half swords, which could be used to sweep aside pike walls. Cavalry forces were nearly uselessagainst the combination of firearms and polearms, leading to their adoption all over Europe.

The most distinctive characteristic of the Landsknechts were their costumes. They wore headgear with large feathered hats and flamboyant garments of puffed and slashed construction that revealed inner costumes of contrasting colors, with layers of mail or other protective clothing both on top of and underneath their costumes.

In the end, their mercenary nature proved to be their undoing. Despite swearing oaths to never fight with “enemies of the empire,” their international involvement in conflicts led to their decline around the middle of the 16th century. Their characteristic colorful costumes faded away until they were replaced by imperial foot soldiers called the Kaiserliche Fussknecht, who would become the forerunners of modern soldiers.

3Maori Warriors

For centuries, New Zealand was locked in a seemingly endless cycle of warfare. These conflicts ushered in the elite Maori warrior class, tattooed fighters armed with several unique weapons who fought in bands of a few hundred men. Their principle weapons included the patu (a short club made from wood, bone, or greenstone), the waihaka (a polished wooden club with a notch for disarming an opponent), the kotiate (a double-notched flat club that chiefs also used in speech-making), the taiaha (a 1.5-meter [5 ft] club), and the toki pou tangata (a large, tomahawk-like weapon made of wood with a greenstone blade).

The Maori were highly skilled warriors who counted both men and women in their ranks. They excelled in stealth and guerrilla tactics, and they trained using martial arts and several forms of dancing, the most well-known of which is called haka. The haka also induced psychological effects, designed to make the warrior intimidating and fearful of aspect. The time before a battle was highly ritualized, featuring fasting and dancing. Maori warriorsfought to the death to ensure that there was no one left to seek revenge, orutu.

When fighting, they often stuck their tongues out at the enemy. This was an insult of the highest order, meaning “I will kill you and eat you.” It wasn’t an idle threat—captured enemies were often eaten, after which their heads were preserved with head-shrinking, their bones were made into fish hooks, and their blood was drunk.

2The Janissaries

The first Janissary Corps were formed in 1380 by Sultan Murad I Bey. Their name was taken from the Turkish yeni cheri or yani cheri, meaning “new soldiers.” Their numbers quickly grew until they became some of the most feared warriors of the Crusades. The infamous whirling dervishes that frightened Europe were drawn from their ranks. Janissaries were originally archers, but by the 15th century, they had adopted muskets.

The Janissaries were recruited solely from the ranks of Christian slaves. They evolved from the practice of using captured slaves as mercenary units during the Ottoman Empire, but by the time of the capture of the Balkans, the Turks began taking tribute in the form of male children as slaves. Some of these children were chosen to be trained over a period as long as 10 years to become Janissaries. They were virtual killing machines, generally recognized as some of the best-trained and most effective soldiers of the 16th and 17th centuries. They were also sworn to Islam and freed of any local political connections that could be a danger to their leaders.

Janissaries were also some of the best-paid soldiers of the period. They drew a cash salary in times of both war and peace in addition to a hefty share of any spoils. For centuries, their loyalty was beyond reproach, but around 1826, they were replaced with a modernized army after many revolts. Subsequently, their effectiveness declined. They were steadily granted more rights that undermined their loyalty until their autonomy eventually led them to lose their political neutrality, and they became a threat to the state.

1The Kanuri Cavalry

The European colonialists who went to battle in North Africa in the mid-19th century must have thought they had traveled back in time when they were confronted by the elite cavalry of the Kanuri people. They soon learned not to laugh.

The Kanuri people lived northeast of Lake Chad in Kanem-Bornu, a kingdom that existed from the ninth to the 19th century. While the court was officially Islamic, the mai (king) also recognized and permitted traditional beliefs. The kingdom was dissolved by French colonialists in 1900. At its height, it had expanded as far as the Niger River to the west, Wadiai to the east, and the Fezzan to the north.

They did all this with the help of the Kanuri cavalrymen. The soldiers and their horses were both clad head to toe in an astonishingly strong quilted cotton or padded armor, wielding swords and lances. The cavalrymen in many regions had helms made with brass and ostrich feathers but generally did not carry shields. Some places, particularly Cameroon, had access to mail armor as well, and all were elaborately decorated with a rich variety ofsymbols and patterns based primarily on clan membership. The Bornu horsemen also boasted trumpeters, who led the troops into battle.

Lance LeClaire is a freelance artist and writer. He writes on subjects ranging from science and skepticism to religious history and issues to unexplained mysteries and historical oddities, among other subjects. You can look him up on Facebook or keep an eye out for his articles on Listverse.

10 Ancient Battles That Ended Empires

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10 Ancient Battles That Ended Empires



Most battles are only one of many that help to decide the fate of kingdoms and empires. On occasion, however, there is a battle so epic that its outcome can lead to the complete destruction of civilizations, a decline from which they never recover, or their handing over to a greater force. Here are ten ancient battles that ended empires, destroyed armies, and changed history.

10The Battle Of Muye
1046 BC


The Battle of Muye was fought between the tribes of Zhou against the Shang Dynasty for control over China. The Zhou army consisted of 50,000 skilled soldiers, while the much stronger Shang forces exceeded 530,000, with an additional 170,000 armed slaves. The Shang slaves defected to the Zhou, which greatly demoralized the remaining soldiers, many of whom also defected. The ensuing battle was fierce, and the Shang forces were easily defeated by the better-trained Zhou.

When the battle was over, the Shang Dynasty was destroyed, and the Zhou Dynasty was established. King Di Xin of the Shang Dynasty immolated himself following the defeat, leaving China open for rule by the Zhou. The Zhou Dynasty holds the distinction of being the longest-reigning dynasty in Chinese history.


9Sicilian Expedition
415–413 BC


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As the Peloponnesian War was being fought in Greece, Athens sent an expedition to Syracuse, the most powerful state on the island of Sicily. The expedition began as a light force of 20 ships before being boosted into a naval armada of more than 200 ships with over 10,000 troops. By the time the armada reached Syracuse, the city was already supported by Sparta. The entire fleet and its troops were either killed or surrendered to the Sicilians, resulting in a massive blow to Athenian manpower and morale.

The defeat was so widespread that it became the turning point in the war. It is considered to be the most devastating single loss of any similar expedition in history, and Athens never fully recovered, ensuring Sparta’s victory by the end of the conflict in 404 BC.

8The Battle Of Changping
262–260 BC


Photo credit: 997788.com via The World of Chinese

The Battle of Changping was one of the bloodiest battles of China’s Warring States Period. It was fought between the states of Qin and Zhao. The Qin army had a numeric advantage over the Zhou, with their force totaling 550,000 men, versus Zhao’s 450,000. Nearly all of the Zhao army was killed in the aftermath of the fighting. Approximately 50,000 Zhou were killed in the battle, and an estimated 400,000 were captured and buried alive.

Zhou was unable to recover from the defeat, which only bolstered Qin’s standing among the remaining states, which could not mount a large enough alliance to challenge the Qin. The Warring States period continued for three decades, but the continuous expansion of Qin made the issue of their dominance a certainty. By 221 BC, Qin had successfully unified China.


7The Battle Of Julu
207 BC


Photo via Best China News

The Battle of Julu was fought between the rebel forces of the insurgent state of Chu and the Qin Dynasty. The rebels amassed a force of between 50,000 to 60,000 men to fight against a Qin army of 200,000. The Chu were commanded by Xiang Yu, who sent his men across the Yellow River with only three days of supplies and no means of procuring more without successfully defeating and pillaging the enemy. What followed were nine bloody engagements that resulted in more than 100,000 Qin deaths.

The crippling defeat forced the Qin commander, General She Jian, to throw himself into a fire rather than surrender. The Chu destroyed the remaining Qin army, leaving 200,000 men as prisoners of war. Not wanting to test their loyalty or the limits of his resources, Xiang Yu had all of the captured Qin soldiers buried alive.

6The Battle Of Zama
202 BC


The Battle of Zama marked the end of the Second Punic War and resulted in the defeat of Hannibal. Under the command of Scipio, the Romans devised a plan to defeat Hannibal’s war elephants.

Roman skirmishers blew their horns and beat their drums, frightening several of the elephants, which turned and rampaged against the Carthaginian troops. The remaining elephants ran harmlessly through the columns and were easily dispatched. The battle intensified as each line clashed until the Roman cavalry was able to encircle the Carthaginian infantry and win the battle.

Hannibal escaped, though his losses were severe: 20,000 dead and 20,000 more captured. The loss was so devastating to Carthage that they werenever able to challenge Rome again.

5The Battle Of Mobei
119 BC


Photo via Wikimedia

The Battle of Mobei (or the Battle of the Northern Desert) was a hard-fought military campaign led by the Han Dynasty against the Xiongnu, a nomadic tribe. The Xiongnu were barbarians to the Han, who had maintained a contentious relationship over the years due to the security of their northern borders. Xiongnu strength had increased following the fall of Qin and the Chinese Civil War, but the Han launched an offensive to challenge their strength.

A force of 300,000 men and 140,000 horses attacked a much smaller Xiongu force of 100,000 soldiers and 80,000 horses. The victory was decisive for the Han, but they suffered the loss of most of their horses, which took a toll on their economy.

The Xiongnu suffered a much greater loss and were never able to recoverfrom their defeat. Within a few years, the Xiongnu would be nothing more than a small group of clans.


4The Siege Of Alesia
52 BC


Photo via About.com

By September 52 BC, the forces of Julius Caesar were facing a confederation of Gallic tribes commanded by Vercingetorix. In the final engagement between Rome and Gaul, Caesar conducted one of the most tactful sieges in history. With a force of 12 legions (approximately 60,000 men) and 120,000 Gaul allied-auxiliaries, Caesar besieged a Gallic force nearly four times the size of his.

The battle itself is considered to be one of Caesar’s greatest military achievements due to his use of a circumvallation around Alesia. He ordered the construction of numerous, heavily fortified forts to encircle and blockade the city so that he could “starve out” the Gallic forces. His investment paid off, as the Gauls failed to break the Roman defenses despite numerous attempts, further weakening themselves. By the end of the battle, Vercingetorix was surrendered to Caesar. The Siege of Alesia ended Gallic independence from Rome and won a substantial victory for Caesar.

3The Battle Of Philippi
42 BC


Photo via Wikispaces

Caesar’s conquest of Gaul created a political crisis in Rome, which lead to civil war. He was soon assassinated by members of the Roman Senate, which sparked a second civil war declared by the Second Triumvirate of Mark Antony and Octavian. The forces of Brutus and Cassius fought theirfinal battle against the Triumvirate at Philippi in 42 BC.

The battle was split into two fronts, which saw Antony face Cassius and Octavian against Brutus. Antony made short work of Cassius and defeated much of his army. Cassius committed suicide on the false report that Brutus’ forces were likewise destroyed, even as those men were forcing their way into Octavian’s legions’ camps. Antony joined Octavian, and the two overwhelmed Brutus, who committed suicide in defeat.

With the last remnants of the old Republic destroyed, the Triumvirate took control of Rome, which soon became a new empire under Caesar Augustus (Octavian).

2The Battle Of Teutoburg Forest
AD 9


Photo credit: Otto Albert Koch

If the Roman Republic and Empire were known for anything, it was their rapid and continuous expansion throughout Europe and Asia. It took mighty armies of unregulated barbarian tribes to put much of this expansion to a final halt in AD 9, after the Battle of Teutoburg Forest. The battle was the result of an ambush made by an alliance of Germanic tribes, who attacked and completely destroyed three Roman legions and their auxiliaries.

The blow was devastating to Roman morale, and despite several successful incursions in the following years, Rome never again attempted to defeat the Germanic tribes north of the Rhine. The Battle of Teutoburg Forest is remembered as one of the worst defeats in Roman history as well as a turning point in their military strategy of northward expansion.

1The Battle Of Edessa
AD 260


Photo credit: Fabienkhan

Roman and Persian forces clashed in a devastating defeat for the Romans at the Battle of Edessa in AD 260. Under the command of Emperor Valerian, the Roman Army of 70,000 men attacked the Sassanid forces under the command of Shapur I, king of the kings. The entirety of the Roman army was defeated and captured, including Emperor Valerian—the first time such an event had occurred in Roman history.

Rome never fully recovered from their defeat at Edessa, which had long-lasting impacts on the political climate of the empire. The defeat was one in a long series of crises that afflicted Rome during the third century, which ultimately led to the creation of the Western Roman Empire in 285. Eventually, the Western Roman Empire fell, and Rome continued weakly into the fifth century after the Eastern Roman Empire (aka theByzantine Empire) rose to power in 330.

JONATHAN H. KANTORJonathan is an illustrator and game designer through his game company, TalkingBull Games. He is an Active Duty Soldier and enjoys writing about history, science, theology, and many other subjects.

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