The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World

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:

  1. The Battle of Marathon, 490 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.
  2. Defeat of the Athenians at Syracuse, 413 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.
  3. The Battle of Gaugamela, 331 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.
  4. The Battle of the Metaurus, 207 BC
    • 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...
  5. Victory of Arminius over the Roman Legions under Varus, 9 AD
  6. The Battle of Chalons, 451 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.
  7. The Battle of Tours, 732 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...
  8. The Battle of Hastings, 1066 AD
    • Excerpt: 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.
  9. Joan of Arc's Victory over the English at Orléans, 1429 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.
  10. Defeat of the Spanish Armada, 1588 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.
  11. The Battle of Blenheim, 1704 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.
  12. The Battle of Pultowa, 1709 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
  13. Victory of the Americans over Burgoyne at Saratoga, 1777 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.
  14. The Battle of Valmy, 1792 AD
    • Excerpt: ..the kings of Europe, after the lapse of eighteen centuries, trembled once more before a conquering military republic.
  15. The Battle of Waterloo, 1815 AD
    • 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 between European and Asiatic powers (or between the Indo-European and Semitic 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."

Derivative works

Since the publication of Creasy's book, other historians have attempted to modify or add to the list.

In popular culture

External links

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