Top 10 Greatest Warrior Groups in History

Updated on October 2, 2019
Sudhir Devapalan profile image

I am a front-end developer by profession, but I enjoy writing articles about anything mysterious, interesting, and fascinating.

In human history, there have been many fearsome groups of warriors. But some of these groups have distinguished themselves from the rest. They were feared among their enemies and respected by their allies. The mere presence of these warriors on the battlefield had a major impact on the morale of troops. Read on to find out about ten of the fiercest warrior groups.

10 Fearsome Warrior Groups in History

10. The Immortals
9. Samurai
8. Knights
7. Kamikaze Pilots
6. Gurkhas
5. Ninjas
4. Spartans
3. British SAS
2. Maori
1. Mongols

The Persian Immortals in battle formation.
The Persian Immortals in battle formation.

10. The Immortals (550 BC–330 BC)

The Immortals were a group of 10,000 heavily armed infantry of the Achaemenid Empire. They were the imperial guard and the standing army of the empire. The Immortals always consisted of exactly 10,000 troops. If any soldier died or fell sick, he would be immediately replaced. This created an illusion that they were immortal.

The Immortals were elite troops and were armed with a variety of weapons. Each soldier carried a sword, a spear, arrows, a bow and a shield. They didn’t wear the best of armor and had a shield made of wood and wicker which were not that good. However, they made up for this with sheer numbers. It is said that cities would surrender at the very sight of the Immortals.

A samurai warrior with a katana.
A samurai warrior with a katana.

9. Samurai (12th Century AD–1867 AD)

The samurai were warriors from the land of the rising sun. The samurai warriors were also referred to as 'bushi' which means warrior. The traditional samurai code of honor, discipline and morality are known as 'bushido' meaning 'the way of the warrior' was followed by each samurai. The samurai warriors were on top of the social caste system in Japan.

The samurai were fierce warriors who were skilled in sword fighting. The most famous weapon used by the samurai was the katana which is a sharp, slightly curved blade. Many samurai also used bows called yumi. The fighting spirit and the code of honor followed by the samurai were what made them legendary. The samurai ruled over Japan for over 700 years.

Medieval knight with a lance.
Medieval knight with a lance.

8. Knights (3rd Century AD–15th Century AD)

Knights were the crack troops of the medieval era. They were heavily armored warriors who were on horseback. Only the wealthiest nobles could afford to hire a knight. Knights followed the chivalric code of conduct and were expected to exhibit a gentleman's behavior. Knights used swords or lances as their primary weapon of choice in battle.

The knights were the elite troops in a medieval army. They were used as shock troops to punch through weak spots in the enemy line. The sheer force of a cavalry charge was enough to make the enemy units turn tail and run. Knights were used even after the introduction of gunpowder weapons. The main reason they became obsolete was due to high costs, as it was expensive to train and mobilize them.

High school girls waving farewell to a kamikaze pilot.
High school girls waving farewell to a kamikaze pilot.

7. Kamikaze Pilots (October 1944–15 August 1945)

The kamikaze was a Japanese special attack unit in WW2. They specialized in suicide attacks on allied naval vessels. The word 'kamikaze' means 'divine wind' in Japanese. Japan was on the brink of defeat in WW2, so the kamikaze was a last-ditch effort by the Japanese to turn the tide of battle. Kamikaze attacks killed more than 7,000 allied personnel, and about 3,800 kamikaze pilots died during the war.

Only 19% of all kamikaze aircraft hit their targets. However, they were still devastatingly effective. The allies feared the kamikaze pilots as they did not fear death. A direct impact from a kamikaze plane was devastating to allied ships. These attacks directly impacted the morale of the allies. It demonstrated the resolve of the Japanese to fight to the death instead of submitting and accepting defeat. Tactics such as kamikaze would eventually end up in the decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan to end the war without a mainland invasion.

Gurkhas during a military exercise.
Gurkhas during a military exercise.

6. Gurkhas (1815 AD–Present)

The Gurkhas are Nepali soldiers recruited by the British and Indian armies. The Gurkhas have a reputation for fearless military prowess. Former Indian army chief of staff field marshal Sam Manekshaw once said: “If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or he is a Gurkha.” The motto of the Gurkhas is, “better to die than be a coward.”

There are lots of heroic stories about Gurkhas. For example, during 1945, rifleman Lachhiman Gurung was in a trench with two other soldiers when 200 Japanese opened fire on them. When several grenades fell near them, he proceeded to throw them back when one exploded in his hand. He then returned fire with his left hand killing 31 Japanese soldiers!

Modern depiction of a ninja.
Modern depiction of a ninja.

5. Ninjas (12th Century AD–1868 AD)

A ninja or shinobi was a spy or mercenary from feudal Japan. Unlike samurais who follow the code of honor and combat, the ninjas were not bound by any rules. They primarily worked in espionage, sabotage, and infiltrations. These actions were considered to be dishonorable by the samurai. Ninjas were active in the Iga province of Japan.

The ninjas were hired as mercenaries by daimyos for espionage or even assassinations. The katana was the primary weapon of choice for the ninjas. They often used disguises to avoid detection. The ninjas were feared as they could assassinate at any moment. The ninjas practiced ninjitsu which is an art of warfare developed in the Iga province.

Depiction of a Spartan soldier.
Depiction of a Spartan soldier.

4. The Spartans (6th Century BC–4th Century BC)

Sparta was a prominent warrior city-state of ancient Greece. By 650 BC, it became the dominant military land-power in Greece. Only the strongest were considered to be worthy of Sparta. Babies who were weak or showed signs of deformity were left on Mt. Taygetus to die. Each Spartan was required to undergo a rigorous training known as 'agoge' to attain full citizenship. The word Spartan became synonymous with fearlessness, and military prowess.

The Spartans would never surrender and would rather fight to the death. During the battle of Thermopylae, they held off the Persians for three days before dying. It was a common belief in ancient Greece that one Spartan soldier was worth several from any other Greek city-state. Spartans had a large bronze shield, a spear, and a small thrusting sword, which allowed them to move in a phalanx formation.

A British SAS agent locates a target using binoculars.
A British SAS agent locates a target using binoculars.

3. British SAS (1 July 1941–Present)

The Special Air Service or the SAS is a special forces unit of the British Army founded in 1941. All other special forces units from around the world are based on the SAS. During WW2, it was created as a commando unit to deceive axis forces behind enemy lines. After the war, the SAS has participated in various anti-terrorist operations.

The SAS recruits only the strongest. The selection process is one of the toughest in any military all over the world. The SAS gained worldwide reputation and fame after their televised rescue of hostages being held in the Iranian embassy 1980. The motto of the SAS unit is, “Who Dares Wins.”

A Maori warrior.
A Maori warrior.

2. Maori Warriors (1280 AD–1872 AD)

The Maori are indigenous people of New Zealand. Since the Maori were isolated from the rest of the world, they developed a unique warrior culture. They have their own language and mythology. The Maori warriors were large and fearsome with tattoos all over their bodies. They usually attacked in groups that number less than a hundred warriors (called a 'hapu'). The usual battle tactic was to ambush the enemy and use the element of surprise.

They were also known for their war dance called the ‘Haka’ which was done to intimidate enemies. The most common weapon for the Maori warrior was the club which was used to crack open skulls. The Maori warriors also practiced Cannibalism. Cannibalism was a means of humiliating their enemies. It was also a common practice for the Maori to keep the heads of their fallen enemies as trophies. The brain and eyes would be removed and steamed in an oven. One missionary is said to have watched a chieftain say the following words to the head of an enemy chieftain:

You wanted to run away, didn’t you? But my greenstone club overtook you! And after you were cooked you were made food for me!

And where is your father? He is cooked.

And where is your brother? He is eaten.

And where is your wife? There she sits; a wife for me.

And where are your children? There they are, loads on their backs carrying food as my slaves.

Art depicting Mongol horse archers riding down their enemies.
Art depicting Mongol horse archers riding down their enemies.

1. Mongol Warriors (1206 AD–1687 AD)

The Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan stretched all over Asia and part of Europe. The Mongols were fearsome warriors who were ruthless and showed no mercy to their opponents. Military service was compulsory for all boys over the age of 15. The heart of the army was the horse archers who employed hit and run tactics to ruthless efficiency. For a medieval knight bound by the code of chivalry, this was an act of cowardice. However, it was an efficient method to mow down enemies weighed down by armor.

The Mongol horse archers used a short composite bow made of animal horn, wood and sinew for the bow drawstring. Their small size was ideal for use on horseback. It was more powerful than the English longbow despite its small size. The horsemen were trained to shoot even while retreating. Their exceptional skill was what helped the Mongols expand their empire in every direction.

It is a common misconception that the Mongol ‘hordes’ outnumbered their foes. As it turned out, in most of their famous victories, the Mongols were outnumbered. Enveloping maneuvers on the battlefield created the false impression of a larger army. They also placed dummies mounted atop horses to form a notion of innumerable soldiers. They were also ruthless in dealing with their enemies. The lands of their enemies were sown with salt and enemy chiefs were killed by pouring molten silver in their eyes and ears.

Questions & Answers

  • Was Leonidas the greatest warrior?

    King Leonidas was one of the bravest of warriors. He and his soldier's sacrifice helped the Greeks prepare their defense and evacuate Athens.

  • Do you know of the Special Boat Services SBS that SAS is based off?

    That is very interesting. I was not aware of the Special Boat Services and it was good to read on it. It was also mentioned that it was a sister unit of the SAS meaning both were operational at the same time.

© 2018 Sudhir

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