Throughout history, humankind has fought for land, power, religion, honor, freedom and anything else that sparked a disagreement. While borders have changed and power has shifted, one thing has remained constant; in war, people die. The currency of battle is human life and leaders are often willing to spend until they either win or have nothing left. The question then arises which wars have been the bloodiest. This list will look at the ten bloodiest wars in history. It will answer the questions of when and why they were fought and by whom.
Average Estimated Casualties: 5 million
Mote of the War: Conquest
The French Revolution 1789–1799 was a period of tumult for France and Europe in general. The old ways were changing. The monarchy that had ruled France collapsed and Napoleon Bonaparte was named First Consul in 1799. Because the overthrow of the French monarchy was seen as a threat to the other European monarchies, they entered into a series of conflicts with France and Napoleon, who had proclaimed himself Emperor in 1804. The Napoleonic Wars were an attempt by the major powers in Europe to bring down the revolutionary government in France and restore the monarchy. By the time they were over, the Holy Roman Empire had been dissolved, the Spanish Empire weakened, and Britain had emerged as a world power. In one of the most famous battles in history, Napoleon was finally defeated at Waterloo on June 18, 1815. This came after his disastrous march into Russia in 1812. By the end of the wars, the body count was staggering. 2,500,000 military personnel in Europe and 1,000,000 civilians were killed in either Europe or France’s overseas colonies. While the death tolls are disputed, the numbers listed above are generally accepted as accurate.
Average Estimated Casualties: 7.5 Million
Mote of the War: Civil War
Russia had paid a heavy toll in human life during the Napoleonic Wars but it was nothing compared to the bloodshed in its own civil war. Nicholas II, the last Russian Tsar abdicated his throne after the February Revolution of 1917. Then on July 16 or 17, 1918, Bolsheviks executed the Tsar and his entire family. The Russian Civil War like the Napoleonic Wars was really a series of battles that made up the Russian Revolution. At the end of the war approximately 20,000,000 people had died. The civil war itself cost 15,000,000 lives, including at least 1,500,000 soldiers who died in battle. 250,000 people were executed as enemies if the people. While others were massacred by factions wanting control, then disease and starvation set in with devastating effect. Typhus killed 3,000,000 in 1920. The number that were killed in battles or died later is debatable and some sources give figures between 5 and 9 million. When the war related death toll, including those who died because the country had been ravaged, is added, the number soars. By 1921, the Bolsheviks had emerged as the winners but Russia itself was near ruin.
Average Estimated Casualties: 10 million
Mote of the War: Religion
The Muslim Rebellion also called the Dungan Revolt and the Hui Minorities' War was a religious war in 19th-century China. It was really an uprising by Muslims in China's Shaanxi, Gansu, Xinjiang, and Ningxia provinces. Like both the Napoleonic Wars and the Russian Civil War, this was really a series of events. In this case, there were ten uprisings, intended to establish a Muslim emirate along the Yellow River in China. The uprisings were ultimately unsuccessful, and depleted the Muslim population in China. It has been estimated that approximately twelve million people died in the war. One devastating fact is the near destruction of the Hui people. Before the war the Hui, who were Muslims, had a striving population. After the war their numbers had been reduced nearly 91%. While many fled into Russia, many more died in the war. As opposed to starting an empire, the Hui people of China nearly succeeded in destroying themselves.
Average Estimated Casualties: 17 Million
Mote of the War: Conquest
The Hui people of China may have sought their own emirate but Timur a 14th century conqueror in Central and Western Asia wanted one thing: power. He is often described as a man of contradictions. He loved art on one hand and laid waste to whole cities on the other. Timur’s name means iron and he lived up to it in the way he waged war and the number of lives it cost. He founded the Timurid Empire and Timurid dynasty in Central Asia, which led to his descendants founding the Mughal Empire in India, which survived until mid 1800. Among his bloodiest exploits was the massacre of 100,000 in Delhi and 90,000 in Baghdad. Before his wars of conquest were over an estimated 15,000,000 had been killed.
Average Estimated Casualties: 10 Million
Mote of the War: Politics - Global War
On June 28, 1914 a Yougoslav nationalist, named Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and triggered the war known as The Great War. There were long-standing problems, primarily imperialistic policies at the root of the conflict. Alliances that had been formed between the major world powers came into play and within weeks, the world was at war. Because these countries had colonies, which were also drawn in, the war was indeed global. The Allies or Entente Powers as they were called in WWI and the Central Powers declared war on each other. The Entente included the United Kingdom, France, the Russian Empire, Belgium, Serbia, Italy, Japan, Greece, Romania, Portugal, Spain, and the United States. The Central powers were the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Bulgaria. Although historians readily admit that the number of deaths is not accurate, the total death toll is often listed as high as 16 million. This number includes 5.7 million military deaths for the Entente and 4 million for the Central Powers. When civilians are added the numbers jump to 16 million dead and 21 million wounded. The war ended on Armistice Day November 11, 1918, when Germany surrendered. WWI resulted in two major dynasties, the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires ceasing to exist and the Soviet Union emerging from the Russian Empire. Europe was changed forever and the seeds of what would become World War II were sown.
Average Estimated Casualties: 25 Million
Mote of the War: Religion
The Taiping Rebellion is arguably the largest war on the 19th century This was a religion war fought by a faction that wanted to bring a form of Christianity to the mainly Buddhist and Confucius China. The rebellion was lead by Hong Xiuquan who ascribed to a form of Christianity that was not accepted by orthodox Christians. Xiuquan who controlled the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace, wanted to remove the traditional religions and substitute the form of Christianity he followed. His plan was to wage war against the Qing Dynasty that ruled China at the time. The Dynasty fought back enlisting the help of French and British forces. When the fifteen year long rebellion was over Xiuquan had been defeated and an estimated 20,000,000 lives had been lost.
Average Estimated Casualties: 25 Million
Mote of the War: Politics
The Ming Dynasty is recognized as one of the greatest and most stable in history. It was established in 1368 and lasted until 1644. In 1616 a Manchurian leader named Nurchaci began seizing control of the Manchurian tribes in China. In 1618, he demanded the Ming dynasty pay him tribute, an act of open defiance that started the war. The Ming Dynasty fought off the Manchurians for years. Those years of war left their mark on the Chinese peasants who began to rebel in 1640. They were starving and the Ming Dynasty offered no relief. In 1644, the rebel army captured Beijing and rather than face disgrace, the emperor hung himself. In the chaos that followed the short-lived Shun Dynasty was defeated by the Manchurians. For years, groups loyal to the Ming Dynasty existed, even while the Manchurian Dynasty was in power. These groups lasted until the creation of the Republic of China in 1912. During the various battles for control an estimated 25,000,000 people both military and civilian loss their lives.
Average Estimated Casualties: 35 Million
Mote of the War: Rebellion
The An Shi Rebellion lasted for the reign of three Tang Dynasty emperors in China. It started in 755 and ended in 763. An Lushan a general favored by the emperor, was the primary figure in the revolt. He was accomplished not only in war but also in deception. He orchestrated the revolt and managed to avoid being implicated by deviously manipulating the emperor. It is estimated that the death toll during this time of rebellion was as high as 36 million. The rebellion took its toll on both the Tang Dynasty and the culture of China. Because the Dynasty lacked the power to control the rebels, the emperor became no more than a figurehead. This provided an opening for foreign groups to raid Tang territory. Slowly over the next century, the Tang Dynasty lost more power until it was only a name with no real authority.
Average Estimated Casualties: 45 Million
Mote of the War: Conquest
The Chinese Dynasties ruled large areas with an iron hand, but no empire compares with the Mongol. The Mongol Empire is said to have been the largest empire to ever exist, ruling over twenty percent of the earth. Its growing pains included the deaths of an estimated 45 million people who died in the name of conquest. Genghis Khan and his descendant Kublai Khan were both ruthless men who ordered the destruction of entire towns and the execution of the inhabitants; both men and women. It is believed that their warriors actually had a quota of people to kill. The number most often heard is 24 lives in any battle. Due to the size of the Mongol Empire, its wars with other powers of the day could be considered world wars. The Mongols were so ruthless and so feared that in one incidence 100,000 Chinese committed mass suicide to escape. The Mongol conquest created the largest empire the world has ever known and also the bloodiest.
Average Estimated Casualties: 56 Million
Mote of the War: Politics - Racism
World War I had been called the “war to end all wars”, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. What it did do was help to plant the seeds of discontent that grew into World War II. WW II lasted from 1939 to 1945 and true to its name involved the majority of the nations of the world. The world was divided into two camps the Allies and the Axis. The war began in 1939 with Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland. The Allies consisted of: the British Empire, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United States of America, Albania, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Czechoslovakia, Ethiopia, France (before it was defeated and again after it was liberated), Greece, India, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippine Commonwealth, Poland, the Union of South Africa, and Yugoslavia. The Axis powers were: Germany, Italy, Japan, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. This war saw the mobilization of 100 million military personnel. It is also infamous for Germany’s attempt to destroy as many Jews as possible in the Holocaust. WW II was the first and only war where atomic weapons were used. The Nazis in the Holocaust systematically murdered an estimated six million European Jews. In Japan an estimated 200,000 died when the atomic bombs were dropped. The majority of the deaths were on the first day of the bombing but others died of long-term effects like cancer. In all both military and civilian deaths are believed to be 60 million. The war ended in 1945 with the Allies’ victory. World War II has gone down in history as the bloodiest war of all time.