Wars have been waged throughout history. With political, economic, religious, and moralistic reasons behind them, these often-lengthy periods of fighting resulted in the deaths of many individuals, both soldiers and citizens alike. However, wars were orchestrated for a purpose. From enacting changes in the way a government conducts itself to usurping cruel, tyrannical leaders, the motivations for war have always been diverse and extensive.
It may be difficult to assess the influence of recent battles because change takes time. Taking a look at those which occurred centuries and even millennia ago can help show how even individual battles were significant and could influence a war as a whole.
The Battle of Thermopylae
Beginning in late summer of 480 B.C.E., the Battle of Thermopylae featured a clash between the united Greeks and the invading Persians. Comparatively, the sizes of the opposing armies was substantially different. With an estimated more than 2 million cavalry, infantry, fleet, and more, the Persian army, led by King Xerxes I, dwarfed the Greek’s meager army, totally around 5 thousand men.
Initially, the Persian army was prepared to launch and execute a frontal attack. Xerxes reportedly sent emissaries to the King of the Spartans, Leonidas, and commanded him to surrender their weapons and the throne. Leonidas responded in Greek a phrase that can be translated as “Come take them,” demonstrating the Greek army’s refusal to surrender and their will to fight.
The Greek’s defensive tactics initially dispelled the frontal attack, and the Persian army resorted to encircling the Greek forces, using a hidden path that wove around Thermopylae, to conduct a stealthy attack. This course, coupled with the sheer size of the Persian army, led to the Greek’s final stand during which the Spartan King died. Additionally, Xerxes was known for his temper, and he ordered that the remaining Greeks be killed and their king’s body desecrated.
The Battle of Arbela
Also known as the Battle of Gaugamela, this battle featured the final meeting between Alexander the Great and the then-King of Persia, Darius III in 331 B.C.E. The two renowned leaders had a complicated past; Darius, along with other rulers of the realm, often underestimated the capabilities of Alexander, and as a result, he often suffered at the man’s hands. After Alexander kidnapped Darius’ family, Darius offered money, land, and his daughter, but Alexander refused.
The Battle of Arbela occurred from a detour. Though Alexander had been venturing forth to Babylon, when he learned that Darius had settled in Gaugamela for their final confrontation, he veered off course to engage in battle.
Darius prepared extensively, recruiting fighters from his kingdom as well as India and gathering advanced weaponry like scythed chariots as well as an impressive cavalry. Alexander, on the other hand, had a smaller army and no special weapons, but he still managed to gain an advantage. A scouting party found a group of Darius’ men preemptively approaching, and while many fled, the others were captured and interrogated, revealing crucial information regarding Darius’ numbers as well as traps in the battlefield.
In spite of his preparations, Darius found himself losing and fled the battle, prompting his army to surrender, as well.
The Siege of Orléans
As part of the Hundred Years’ War, this battle between the French and the English began with an English attack on the town in the middle of October, 1428. The French resisted and retaliated, temporarily holding off the English forces. After half a year of assault and retaliation, the French clung to a few citadels, but any aid coming to them would be forced to come from Blois to the southwest, which was where the English had concentrated their forces.
Though not initially involved in this battle, Jeanne d’Arc became a major player after her arrival in Chinon in the spring of 1429. After some dealings with local leaders, Jeanne was assigned a mission: join the relief convoy forming in Blois and accompany them in delivering resources to the French under siege.
Once she arrived in Orléans, Jeanne instilled hope and spirit in the people as she distributed food and money. The day after the siege ended, Jeanne encouraged an attack on the bastille of St. Laurent, the last English outpost. Instead, they settled on attacking the weakest English forces: the bastions of the south bank. Having been inspired by Jeanne’s heroism and strength, the citizens of Orléans rose up, as well. Ultimately, the French succeeded in securing the bastions, and though the English did not admit defeat, the French forces managed to secure their land once again.
Some historic battles have gained more notoriety than others because of their casualties, their weaponry, their political implications, and more. However, even small-scale battles are significant. The outcome of a single battle may not decide who wins a war, but an unexpected victory or a devastating loss could change the tides in a meaningful way.
Jorge J. Perez is an attorney in South Florida. He is a self-professed history buff. Visit JorgeJPerez.net often to learn more.