History

The 4 most famous, undefeated military leaders in history

military leaders
Major-General Wellesley meeting with Nawab Azim-ud-Daula, 1805.

It’s a difficult thing to spend your entire career fighting and never suffer a loss. Only one American military leaders has done it, Union Gen. George Henry Thomas. Statistically, Napoleon is the greatest general of all time, and he was famously defeated, both in Russia and at Waterloo. But going undefeated is far from impossible.

Many ancient and medieval leaders have spent their lives winning battles without ever suffering the pain of a defeat. Some were more famous than others. Some names we just know from history classes, like those of Ramesses II, Edward IV, and Charlemagne’s father, Pepin the Short. Others we know well, because their conquests still affect us to this day. These are those undefeated leaders we can’t forget.

Here are the 4 most famous undefeated military leaders in history

1. Alexander the Great

Few military leaders have had such a monumental effect on the world like Alexander. He brought eastern and western civilization together and founded cities that became major cultural centers (some of which still stand). His conquests spread Greek culture and language into new areas, allowing the language to take root, which later allowed for the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphs and the Christian Bible.

Even in death, his presence (or lack thereof) was important. Since Alexander was no longer around to threaten rebellious conquered territories, many local empires sprung up in the power vacuum, which had their own impressive impact on societies. From India to Rome, Alexander’s influence was far-reaching.

alexander the great undefeated military leaders

2. Khalid ibn al-Walid

The non-Muslims reading this might think, “who the heck is Khalid ibn al-Walid?” but to the nearly two billion followers of the Islamic faith, he’s a household name even today. He fought alongside the prophet Muhammad and his successor caliphs, Abu Bakr and Umar. His tactics helped the unrivaled spread of Islam in its earliest days.

What Khalid didn’t conquer himself was essentially paved for his successors after the Battle of Yarmouk in 636. It opened the floodgates of Muslim conquest, spreading Islam from the Middle East to the Pyrenees Mountains in Spain. Yarmouk is still considered one of the most important battles in world history.

khalid undefeated military leaders
Since at least the 12th century, Khalid’s tomb has been purported to be located in the present-day Khalid ibn al-Walid Mosque in Homs, Syria.

3. Subutai

No one, repeat, no one has conquered more territory than Subutai. He was one of the Mongol Empire’s first generals, kicking ass for none other than Genghis Khan. Subutai was also a brilliant early innovator for such battlefield tactics like deception, division and siege warfare, allowing him to subdue and defeat much larger forces.

Subutai was also the first general to employ engineers in combat, China, Russia, and the greater Middle East all fell to Subutai’s brilliant battlefield command. There’s a reason so many of us today – throughout the whole world – still have a little bit of Mongol blood in their veins, and that reason is Subutai.

4. Arthur Wellesley

1st Duke of Wellington Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, sometimes affectionately just referred to as “Wellington,” is perhaps most famous for his defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Yet, Waterloo was the one time the two men ever squared off directly in battle. Wellington defeated Napoleonic forces in Spain, but Napoleon never commanded a force against him until 1815.

Wellington’s final victory over the French Emperor ended Napoleon’s grand scheme for the rest of Europe and led to the Congress of Vienna, which convened the European power to form a grand accord to prevent such a usurper from rising again. It also led to the creation of Poland, a nationalist movement in Germany and a system of resolving disputes on the Continent, planting the seeds for what would one day become the European Union.