If there’s just one thing 300 taught us, it’s that there’s no battle that can’t be won by several hundred bearded heroes using their own oiled bodies as armor.
Okay, so 300 was about as historically accurate as Gerard Butler’s acting is Oscar-worthy, but the last stand of the 300 Spartans and +1,000 other guys at Thermopylae remains one of the most honorable military defeats in history.
The following battles, however, turned out completely differently. Not only did these underdogs go up against odds as ridiculous as playing Contra, they somehow managed to win without using the Konami code.
5. The Battle of Beth Horon
If the Christian Bible ever gets a sequel to the New Testament, it’d better open with some juicy descriptions of the Jewish–Roman Wars or your money back.
Pictured: The Star Wars of antiquity.
By 66 CE (common era), shit got real in Judea. It started off with some Greeks sacrificing birds in front of a local synagogue until, long story short, Legio XII Fulminata had to march in to prevent Judea from plunging into a full-scale soccer riot. Despite this “lightning-struck” legion being uniformed, regimented, battle-tested and equipped with the best everything to win a war with at the time, they nevertheless got caught with their pants down by a rebel Jewish army at the narrow straight of Beth Horon on their way out.
Seriously, just like this, only with slightly more bazookas.
Legio XII Fulminata was ambushed in the valley by a hail of stones and spears hurled by a pissed-off ragtag army bent on reenacting something out of Exodus. The rebels then rushed at the Romans with an unknown number of infantry and tore them to pieces since the rocky passage was too narrow for the Romans to get into position. The entire legion was annihilated, and Judea psyched into full-scale war with the Romans.
Oh, and the sweetest part? The rebels even capture Legio XII Fulminata’s sweet little golden eagle.
We don’t know how to say this in Ancient Hebrew, but “BURN!”
4. The Siege of Krujë
How does a defense force of nearly 8,000 men fight off an invading army more than 100,000 equipped with some of the best warriors in the world?
Apparently, by having balls as large as Albanian lord George Kastrioti Skanderbeg
Underneath that fake beard, he was actually Liam Neeson.
The Siege of Krujë took place between May 14 and November 23, 1450 in modern day Albania. The invaders were an Ottoman Army led by Murad II, who had the advantage of cannons, a demoralized opponent, and an army that must have appeared to Krujë’s defenders as every other person on Earth at the time.
We can’t picture soldier running like this without imagining the Ghouls’n Ghosts theme in the background.
However, despite being hopelessly outnumbered, the Albanian defenders led by Skanderbeg were able to defeat the invading army by constantly attacking them when they least expected it. Also aiding them was the layout of Krujë itself, which more or less was just this one, big, enormous rock.
Today, it’d be like trying to win a battle against the moon.
Skanderbeg lost only 1,000 men to Murad’s 20,000, forcing the Ottoman leader to retreat. How come you never learned about this in school? Probably because no nation wants tiny Albania to show up their entire military history with one epic battle.
Somewhere in this clusterfuck, Skanderbeg is killing Waldo.
3. The Battle of New Orleans
By all accounts, the battle of New Orleans never should have happened. Not only did it include one of the rare instances where U.S. forces fought side-by-side with pirates, but the battle somehow took place more than two weeks after the War of 1812 it was a part of was over.
None of the men on the left had ever heard of Andrew Jackson. That would change fast.
The battle of New Orleans was supposed to be the climax of a spectacular British invasion of Louisiana during the War of 1812. After playing naughty with the region all Christmas, the British finally made a move on New Orleans in early January with an army of 11,000 men. Awaiting them was a coalition roughly half that size of the British. Commanded by Major General Andrew Jackson, the defenders were U.S. Army regulars, Marines, seamen, militia, more than 400 free blacks, Choctaw warriors and some buccaneers from Barataria Bay led by Jean Lafitte, pirate.
Seriously, that was his job description.
After a muddled attack by the British, Andrew Jackson’s defenders punished the invading army with musket fire and artillery until nearly all the British senior officers were killed or wounded. The invaders suffered more than 2,000 casualties, including their commander General Edward Pakenham, and were forced to retreat. Andrew Jackson’s coalition, meanwhile suffered only 55 killed, 185 wounded, and 93 missing.
And men of them were killed by Andrew Jackson.
The battle was one of the most spectacular victories in military history, and instantly transformed Jackson into one of the most celebrated figured in the country since the Revolution. The British, meanwhile, where forced to sail home in disbelief over what the hell just happened.
“Was it my imagination, or were we just fighting pirates?”
2. The Defense of the Great Wall
You’d think fights along the Great Wall of China were the kind of thing that went out of style, like… two or four centuries after Genghis Khan died.
But actually, the Chinese were still using their Great Wall for defense all the way up to… no joke, the freaking 20th century.
On January 1, 1933, two short years before the events of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the Japanese launched the first of several assaults along the wall on their way to Beijing. Despite initial successes, the Japanese encountered fierce resistance by the Chinese at Xifengkou that March. These outnumbered and outgunned defenders were armed with handguns, grenades, freaking swords, and one Great Wall of China apparently built by Númenóreans. For three long days, the Chinese held off their aggressors.
Every single local restaurant owner was called to arms.
The Japanese eventually captured the pass, but their overall failure to take Xifengkou was regarded as “a national humiliation” along the same lines of Parisians using the Eiffel Tower to fight off Germany.
Such was the last major battle along the Great Wall of China… until the Japanese attacked it again five years later in 1938.
The Great Wall of China, 727 5 years without an invasion.
1. The Siege of Malta
The Knights Hospitaller were sort of like the Jedi knights of the Middle Ages, by which we mean they totally behaved like Jedi during the 1565 siege of Malta.
Yes, 1565 was not the Middle Ages, but who cares. Just check out this awesome picture.
The siege started off badly enough for Malta’s 6,100 defenders. Not only were they outnumbered almost 10 to 1, but the Ottomans started the siege by floating some captured Maltese knights into the harbor. They were decapitated and crucified onto wooden crosses. Jean Parisot de la Valette, commander of the knights, was understandably pissed off with this. After giving a rousing speech and burying the bodies, he had the Turkish prisoners on the island beheaded on the ramparts and shot their severed heads out of cannons onto the Ottoman camps.
After that, it was on.
To lighten the mood a bit, imagine it started like this.
The Ottomans besieged the city for four grueling months, firing some 130,000 cannonballs but ultimately failing taking the city. Despite losing several key positions, the Maltese mounted a spectacular defense that forced the Ottomans to retreat after suffering 10,000 casualties due to combat and disease.
All it takes is just one hooker with STDs.
Despite becoming one of the greatest naval powers in the Mediterranean, the Ottomans never attempted to take Malta again.
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