Top Ten Bad A**es of History
For your reading enjoyment, I've compiled a list of, in my opinion, the bravest, most unflinching, charismatic, intelligent and indomitable people in history. Obviously, very deserving individuals will be left out for the simple reason that I don't know every facet of history and simply haven't read much about them.* (Atilla the Hun, for instance) But, hey, it's all in good fun. Enjoy!
* I'm about 99% sure that I'll get flak for not including Genghis Khan, but rest assured, when I make a "top ten most brutal warlords" list, he'll be sitting comfortably at one of the top three spots.
10. Cyrus the Great
First King of the Persian Empire
Founder of the Persian Empire, Cyrus was spoken of in glowing terms by nearly all he encountered. Aside from being a ferocious combatatant, Cyrus was a merciful and wise ruler, praised by Herodotus and credited by the Bible with the return of the Jews to Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon. Beyond conquering a vast amount of territory, Cyrus' greatness also lied in his ability to govern. The pattern of the Persian empire, one based upon provinces ruled by satraps all answering to a single, centralized authority, was followed for hundreds of years, and inspired the governments of future empires. Cyrus was largely unaffected by power and wealth though. When questioned as to why he didn't invade foreign lands and move from such a barren landscape, Cyrus replied, " Soft countries breed soft men. It is not the property of any one soil to produce fine fruits and good soldiers too."
9. Peter the Great
Energetic Modernizer, Leader and Shipwright
Peter is a greatly overlooked and underrated figure in history. His childhood, which could have been defined by lavish indulgences and adolescent entertainments, was instead spent on learning, exploration, and "war games" with his playmates. Instead of whiling away time in the palace, Peter was recreating battles with his friends. The older he got, the more realisitc the "battles" became, eventually including elaborate forts. rifles with blanks, uniforms, and of course, some serious injuries. As Peter grew out of war games, his feverish passion for learning led to the formation of the first Russian navy, as all free time was devoted to educating himself and others on ship-building, dockyard construction, and sea-faring. Using Western Europe as his example, Peter completely revamped the Russian empire, modernizing every facet of Russian life and rebuilding his army from the ground up. Peter changed the face of Russia forever, changing her from a backward and dispersed tsardom to an efficient, modern and powerful emipire within his life-span. Peter's childhood disdain for luxury stayed with him his entire life, shrugging off kingly accommodations for simple, practically spartan living arrangements.
Seriously, this book is phenomenal.
Retreat of the 10,000
As a mercenary for hire from Athens, Greece, Xenophon's career took a turn for the worse in 401 BC, when the supposedly superior army of his employer, Cyrus the Younger, was defeated by the king of Persia, Artaxerxes II at the battle of Cunaxa. Seems Cyrus had failed to mention his true plans of overtaking the Persian empire from his older brother Artaxerxes. Instead, he deceived his Greek mercenaries and told them they would be fighting against the army of Tissaphernes, satrap of Caria and an old rival of Cyrus. To no surprise, the smaller army of Cyrus fell to Artaxerxes' force, and the Greeks found themselves far from home, surrounded by enemies. Through treachery, the Persians assassinated the Spartan Clearchus, leader of the Greek forces, and new leaders were accordingly elected, one of these being Xenophon. Deep within Mesopotamia, Xenophon skillfully led his army of 10,000 900 miles north to the Black Sea, fighting through hostile country every step of the way. Thankfully he lived to tell about it, and we can today read of his exploits in Xenophon's history book, The Anabasis.
7. Queen Boudicca
The Warrior Queen
Of the all the atrocities carried out against women by the Roman army, this is one they lived to regret. After his death, Rome ignored the will of Boudicca's husband Prasutagus, which stated that his kingdom be divided between Boudicca, her daughters, and the Roman Empire, and begun plundering the territory that lawfully belonged to her. Had they stopped there, perhaps the warrior queen would have been more merciful, but after flogging her and raping her daughters, Boudicca's wrath was fully unleashed. Her army first marched to the Roman colony of Camulodunum, and destroyed it. They then defeated a retaliatory Roman division, and completely annihilated London, killing all inhabitants and burning it to the ground. The destruction didn't stop there, as Boudicca's avenging army moved from settlement to settlement, destroying all who stood in her way. The Britons met their match though, against the Roman general Suetonius, who employed superior weapons and tactics, and who used a narrow battlefield to negate the advantage of Boudicca's much larger army. Though Boudicca perished, probably by self-poisoning, the ferocity of her attacks due to Roman injustices led to a more tolerant approach towards the tribes of Britain by Rome.
6. King David
Warrior of God
David's military accomplishments are legendary. Time and time again he brought his men against greater Philistine forces, and time and time again completely routed them. He paid for his bride with the foreskins of 200 slain Philistine warriors (try to avoid the visual), and sucessfully evaded roving bands of Saul's men bent on destroying him. But it's his first great accomplishment that puts him at number 4: The slaying of Goliath. According to I Samuel, David was only an adolescent when he destroyed Goliath. The courage involved in just confronting a nine-foot tall Philistine warrior covered in bronze armor is staggering enough, but David backed up his threats, and with nothing more than a sling and a stone, cracked Goliath right in between the eyes. He then picked up the warrior's sword and beheaded him, effectively demoralizing the Phillistine army and earning himself a place in history. Not bad for a teenager.
5. King Leonidas of Sparta
Death Before Surrender
Well, this is a no-brainer. Anyone who has seen the movie "300" has at least a marginal grasp of what occurred at the pass of Thermopylae in 480 BC, however idealized and fantastic the movie interpretation may be. Even though in truth Leonidas' 300 Spartans were accompanied by approximately 700 Greeks during their last stand, the accomplishment is in no way diminished. After the traiterous Ephialtes revealed a way for the Persians to surround the Greeks, Leonidas and his men remained, in the faint hope that their sacrifice would buy enough time for the rest of Greece to amass a navy large enough to face the Persian threat. For three days they held off a Persian force numbering in the hundreds of thousands. When their spears broke, they fought with their swords. When their swords broke, they fought with their hands and teeth. Eventually, the Greeks, cornered by the massive Persian army, were slaughtered to a man. But their sacrifice not only bought Greece enough time to raise their navy (winning the battle of Salamis, a major turning point in the war) but the effect it had on overall Greek morale was astounding.
4. Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc was only 12 years old when she first started receiving visions concerning her role in the expulsion of the English army from France, and boy, did she listen. As a poor, uneducated farm girl, very few took Joan seriously, until she accurately predicted a battle reversal at Orleans, the last stronghold holding out England from the rest of France. Thus began a mind-blowing career, one that still has historians scratching their heads. How could a teenage girl with no military background succesfully lead armies against the English? It is a perplexing, almost unbelievable occurrence, and yet it happened. Joan of Arc proposed that France take the offensive at Orleans. They did, and they won, again and again; first taking back Orleans, then pushing all the way to the town of Reims. Not only was Joan a gifted strategist, she was tough as nails. Shot with arrows and crossbow bolts, hit in the head with a cannonball, not to mention the exhaustion involved in just moving around in that armor, Joan didn't cry, didn't complain, she just shook it off and returned to the battlefield to lead her army to victory. Amazing.
3. Paul of Tarsus
Joy in Suffering
After being blinded for three days, Paul of Tarsus converted to Christianity and pretty much hit the ground running. Shipwrecks, imprisonment, and torture, not to mention being ostracized by entire cities (Like Ephesus), Paul endured almost every discomfort known to mankind, and yet, at the end of day, didn't complain, rather boasted about it all. There is something very impressive about a guy who preached to unruly mobs bent on ripping him apart and yet kept a smile on his face. Paul didn't lead armies into battle, or ascend the hightest peaks, but his passion was second-to-none, and his courage exlempary. Paul never gave up, never relented. As soon as his life's mission was clear, he ran with it, and lived with fervor, compassion and unflinching bravery.
2. Alexander the Great
Leader of Men, Lord of Asia
Where to begin? From childhood to death, Alexander encompassed the term "badass." As a child, he tamed his loyal steed, Bucephalus. A feat that full-grown men, horse-trainers at that, failed to accomplish. He led his men into battle at the head of his cavalry, was stabbed, shot with arrows, and clubbed over the head numerous times, and surpassed the endurance level of his entire army time and time again. During a desert march, in which hundreds of Alexander's men fell from exhaustion and dehydration, some of his soldiers were able to procure a scant amount of water, putting it in a helmet and presenting it to their leader. Alexander, though grateful, dumped it on the ground, choosing instead to share every discomfort of his army.
The morning of the battle of Gaugamela, camped before hundreds of thousands of enemy soldiers, Alexander overslept, and had to be woken by his men. Upon waking, Alexander was in an excellent mood, and felt that victory over the Persian army had already been gained. I have to wonder, where does one conjure up that sort of fearlessness?
The Ridiculously Huge Battle of Gaugamela!
Alexander spanks Tyre!
- Alexander the Great and the Spanking of Tyre
Uh oh. Here comes the mole! In the winter of 332 B.C., Alexander the Great and his army approached the island city of Tyre. After decisively defeating the Persian king Darius III in the battle of Issus, it...
1. Jesus of Nazareth
Compassionate and Unflinching
The usual pictures don't exactly bring the word bad ass to one's lips: Jesus with children on his lap, smiling passively, gently remonstrating his disciples or being flogged with no signs of resistance. But these portrayals don't really do the man justice. The truth is, Jesus had the ability to do just about anything he wanted to, and yet he chose to live a life of scarcity, humility, and passion. But of course, the things he did decide to do were phenomenal: walking on water, ordering storms to subside, fasting for 40 days and nights in the desert, taking on the demon-possessed, raising the dead, ousting the money-changers from the Temple with a cord of whips, healing the blind, the lame and the sick, and willingly accepting execution by the Roman government, to name a few. And the charisma required to persuade a cranky, blue-collared fisherman (Peter) to leave his life's work and follow a radical rabbi is hard to fathom. But while he was a caring and compassionate man, he never sugar-coated his words. He made no excuses for his actions, and was always brutally honest. And asking for forgiveness for his enemies while hanging upon a cross? That's bad ass.