The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World: from Marathon to Waterloo
is a book
written by Sir Edward Shepherd Creasy
and published in 1851. This book tells the story of the fifteen military engagements
(from Marathon to Waterloo) which, according to the author, had a significant impact on world history
Each chapter of the book describes a different battle. The fifteen chapters are:
- The Battle of Marathon, 490 BC
Defeat of the Athenians at Syracuse, 413 BC
- Excerpt: Two thousand three hundred and forty years ago, a council of Athenian Officers was summoned on the slope of one of the mountains that look over the plain of Marathon, on the eastern coast of Attica. The immediate subject of their meeting was to consider whether they should give battle to an enemy that lay encamped on the shore beneath them; but on the result of their deliberations depended, not merely the fate of two armies, but the whole future progress of human civilization.
The Battle of Gaugamela, 331 BC
- Known as the Battle of Syracuse.
- Excerpt: Few cities have undergone more memorable sieges during ancient and mediaeval times than has the city of Syracuse.
The Battle of the Metaurus, 207 BC
- Also called the Battle of Arbela.
- Excerpt: ... the ancient Persian empire, which once subjugated all the nations of the earth, was defeated when Alexander had won his victory at Arbela.
Victory of Arminius over the Roman Legions under Varus, 9 ADThe Battle of Chalons, 451 AD
- Excerpt: That battle was the determining crisis of the contest, not merely between Rome and Carthage, but between the two great families of the world...
The Battle of Tours, 732 AD
- Also called the Battle of the Catalaunian Fields or the Battle of the Catalun.
- Excerpt: The victory which the Roman general, Aëtius, with his Gothic allies, had then gained over the Huns, was the last victory of imperial Rome.
The Battle of Hastings, 1066 AD
- Also called the Battle of Poitiers.
- Excerpt: the great victory won by Charles Martel ... gave a decisive check to the career of Arab conquest in Western Europe, rescued Christendom from Islam, [and] preserved the relics of ancient and the germs of modern civilization...
Joan of Arc's Victory over the English at Orléans, 1429 AD
- Excerpt: ..no one who appreciates the influence of England and her empire upon the destinies of the world will ever rank that victory as one of secondary importance.
Defeat of the Spanish Armada, 1588 AD
- Known as the Siege of Orléans.
- Excerpt: ..the struggle by which the unconscious heroine of France, in the beginning of the fifteenth century, rescued her country from becoming a second Ireland under the yoke of the triumphant English.
The Battle of Blenheim, 1704 AD
- Excerpt: The England of our own days is so strong, and the Spain of our own days is so feeble, that it is not easy, without some reflection and care, to comprehend the full extent of the peril which England then ran from the power and the ambition of Spain, or to appreciate the importance of that crisis in the history of the world.
The Battle of Pultowa, 1709 AD
- Excerpt: Had it not been for Blenheim, all Europe might at this day suffer under the effect of French conquests resembling those of Alexander in extent and those of the Romans in durability.
Victory of the Americans over Burgoyne at Saratoga, 1777 AD
- Also called the Battle of Poltava.
- Excerpt: The decisive triumph of Russia over Sweden at Pultowa was therefore all-important to the world, on account of what it overthrew as well as for what it established
The Battle of Valmy, 1792 AD
- Known as the Battle of Saratoga.
- Excerpt: The ancient Roman boasted, with reason, of the growth of Rome from humble beginnings to the greatest magnitude which the world had then ever witnessed. But the citizen of the United States is still more justly entitled to claim this praise.
The Battle of Waterloo, 1815 AD
- Excerpt: ..the kings of Europe, after the lapse of eighteen centuries, trembled once more before a conquering military republic.
- Excerpt: The exertions which the allied powers made at this crisis to grapple promptly with the French emperor have truly been termed gigantic, and never were Napoleon's genius and activity more signally displayed than in the celerity and skill by which he brought forward all the military resources of France...
Point of view
The book is a product of the Victorian era
, and Creasy's descriptions of the battles and their impact on history are from a decidedly Eurocentric
, and specifically Anglocentric
, point of view. For example, every one of Creasy's choices involve Europeans as one or both of the combatants. Of the ten battles fought among Europeans, five of these involve the English
. Five of the battles are described as a clash of civilizations
powers (or between the Indo-European
linguistic families), with each one being a European victory and with the view that the Europeans are superior. Creasy's comments about Alexander's victory at Arbela are:
- "Alexander's victory at Arbela not only overthrew an Oriental dynasty, but established European rulers in its stead. It broke the monotony of the Eastern world by the impression of Western energy and superior civilization, even as England's present mission is to break up the mental and moral stagnation of India and Cathay by pouring upon and through them the impulsive current of Anglo-Saxon commerce and conquest."
In his discussion of the Battle of Marathon, he writes:
- "The Greeks, from their geographical position, formed the natural vanguard of European liberty against Persian ambition ; and they pre-eminently displayed the salient points of distinctive national character which have rendered European civilization so far superior to Asiatic."
Since the publication of Creasy's book, other historians have attempted to modify or add to the list.
- In 1920 the Viscount D'Abernon published The Eighteenth Decisive Battle of the World: Warsaw, 1920, in which he claimed that the next battle on the list was the battle of Warsaw, fought in 1920 by the Polish and Bolshevik forces during the Polish-Bolshevik War.
- In 1930 Texas historian Clarence Wharton published San Jacinto: The Sixteenth Decisive Battle, in which he made the case for adding the final battle of the Texas Revolution to Creasy's list. In 1936 the San Jacinto Monument was given an inscription that echoed Wharton's view: "Measured by its results, San Jacinto was one of the decisive battles of the world. The freedom of Texas from Mexico won here led to annexation and to the Mexican-American War, resulting in the acquisition by the United States of the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah and parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and Oklahoma. Almost one-third of the present area of the American Nation, nearly a million square miles of territory, changed sovereignty."
- In 1954-1956, British historian J.F.C. Fuller published The Decisive Battles of the Western World and their Influence upon History.
- In 1956, historian and author Fletcher Pratt published The Battles that Changed History, stories of conflicts that forever changed the course of world events. He listed 16 battles from Arbela to Midway.
- In 1964, American historian Lt. Col. Joseph B. Mitchell published Twenty Decisive Battles of the World, an update of Creasy's list with five additions:
In 1976, Noble Frankland and Christopher Dowling published Decisive Battles of the Twentieth Century, which listed 23 battles, from the Battle of Tsushima to the Tet Offensive.
- The Vicksburg Campaign, 1863. By capturing the Mississippi River during the American Civil War, the Union separated the Confederacy into two halves.
- Battle of Sadowa, 1866. This Prussian victory over the Austrians during the Seven Weeks War paved the way for a German empire.
- First Battle of the Marne, 1914. The French prevented a German assault of Paris and an early German victory in World War I.
- Battle of Midway, 1942. The beginning of the United States offensive in the Pacific Ocean during World War II and the devastating loss of four Japanese aircraft carriers.
- Battle of Stalingrad, 1942-43. The defeat of the German attempt to conquer the Soviet Union and a significant loss of German resources in World War II.
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