Mankind has been involved in wars since their very existence on earth. These wars were fought for controlling the resources, extending one’s territory or control and domination over others. Seen in a broader perspective, all wars have been caused due to greed and hunger for power. It must have started from small groups of people in a settlement or village and extended to rivalries among tribes. As the humans progressed, their sphere of influence widened and so have been the scope and territories of war. Humans have already witnessed the horrors of two world wars where millions of people from several countries lost their lives in meaningless wars which have scarred the humanity forever. Yet man has not learned his lesson. A third world war with stockpiles of nuclear arsenals has the potential to destroy all humanity several times over. It will make humankind on planet earth, extinct forever.
The following is a list of the 11 bloodiest wars in the history of mankind. These are listed by the death tolls. These deaths are not necessarily of only the army and military those were directly involved in the war, but also includes civilian casualty. Civilian deaths were also caused due to the outcomes of the wars such as famine, epidemics, diseases, atrocities and anything that contributed to these deaths.
11. Dungan Revolt, 1862 to 1877, 11 million deaths
The Dungan Revolt, also known as the Tongzhi Hui Revolt was an ethnic and religious war. It was fought between the ethnic Chinese Han and the Hui muslims of China. It took place in the 19th-century in western China. Tongzhi was the Emperor of the Qing dynasty at that time. The uprising was by the Muslim Hui and other Muslim ethnic groups in Shaanxi, Gansu, Ningxia provinces, and in Xinjiang. Because of this revolt, as per the government records, 20.77 million people either migrated or died in Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. Similar patterns were lso seen in other provinces which suffered mass migration or death. The rebels were unorganized and without any common purpose. The Muslim Hui Chinese rebel leaders didn’t call for Jihad or a Holy War, but the Xinjiang Turki Muslims called for Jihad and establishment of a Muslim state. About 11 million people were killed during the war and many fled to Russia.
10. Conquests of Timurlane, 1370 to 1405, 13 million deaths
Timur Lane, also known as Timur the Lame, was a Turco-Mongol barbarian conqueror. He founded the Timurid Empire and dynasty in Persia and Central Asia. His empire crumbled shortly after his death. Timur seized control of the western Chagatai Khanate by 1370 and led attacks across Western, South and Central Asia, southern Russia. He emerged as the most powerful Muslim ruler after defeating the Mamluks of Egypt and Syria, Ottoman Empire, and the declining Delhi Sultanate of India. He was the last of the great nomadic conquerors of the Eurasian Steppe. Timur wanted to restore the Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan. To legitimize his brutal conquests, Timur used Islamic symbols and language. He referred to himself as the “Sword of Islam”. He also patronized Islamic educational and religious institutions.
He converted the Borjigin leaders to Islam. Timur’s armies were multi-ethnic and were feared throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe. His military campaigns are estimated by some scholars to have caused the deaths of 17 million people. This is about 5% of the total population of the world at that time. This also means it must be at least 10% of the population in Asia and nearby regions. He was the great-great-great-grandfather of Babur (1483-1530). Babur was the founder of the Mughal Empire in India. The Mughals ruled India and nearby for over three centuries, from 1526 to 1857.
9. An Lushan Rebellion, 755 to 763 A.D., 22 million deaths
The An Lushan Rebellion was a great long and bloodiest rebellion against the Tang dynasty of China. In 755 General An Lushan declared himself emperor in Northern China. He established a rival Yan Dynasty. This dynasty ended after his fall in 763 A.D. This event is also known as the An–Shi Rebellion. The rebellion continued even after Lushan’s death. The rebellion continued during the reigns of three Tang emperors before it was finally overcome. The rebellion caused a huge death toll of lives and massive destruction. It is estimated that 22 million lives were lost during the eight year period. It also weakened the Tang dynasty.
8. Spanish Conquest of Mexico, 1519 to 1632, 24.5 million deaths
The Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire is one of the bloodiest wars in human history and amounted to what can now be called genocide. It wiped almost the entire race of the Aztecs who ruled Mexico before the Spanish landed in South America. After Christopher Columbus set up permanent European settlement in the Caribbean, the Spanish spread out to conquer and colonize new territories. It began 1519, after the Spanish arrived in Yucatán in 1517. They have heard about the riches and gold in Mexico. The Spanish emerged victorious in 1521. They captured the Aztec emperor Moctezuma and Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire. The Spaniards allowed a massive Aztec feast to be celebrated in Tenochtitlan. Then just like the earlier massacre in Cholula, they closed off all the exits from the place. Then they massacred the celebrating Aztec noblemen. Later famine and smallpox almost wiped out the Aztec civilization, making the conquest of Aztecs complete. The fall of the Aztec Empire resulted in formation of the Spanish overseas empire. It was called New Spain and later came to be called Mexico.
7. Qing dynasty conquest of Ming dynasty, 1616 to 1662, 25 million deaths
The Qing conquest of the Ming, also known as the Manchu conquest of China, was a period of mass bloodshed in China. The Qing dynasty was ruling Manchuria. The Ming dynasty was in the South of China. The Qing dynasty conquest over the Ming dynasty was fought for over 50 years, from 1616 to 1622. In this deadliest was about 25 million lives were lost. In 1618, Aisin Gioro leader Nurhaci demanded that the Ming pay tribute to him to redress the grievances. Later Nurhaci began to rebel against the Ming in Liaoning in southern Manchuria. In April 1644, Beijing fell to a rebel army led by Li Zicheng, a former minor Ming official who became the leader of the peasant revolt. The last Ming emperor, the Chongzhen Emperor hanged himself in the imperial garden outside the Forbidden City. Li Zicheng was defeated at the Battle of Shanhai Pass.
The Manchus and Wu entered the capital and proclaimed the young Shunzhi Emperor as Emperor of China. China was securely united under Qing rule. In 1662, Zheng Chenggong founded the Kingdom of Tungning in Taiwan. Qing dynasty emerged s victorious in this long drawn war. They ruled China till the early 1900s when the Republic of China was formed.
6. Conquest of the Americas, 1492 to 1691, 34 million deaths
European colonization of the Americas started from the 10th–11th century onwards. The West Norse sailors explored and briefly settled on the shores of present-day Canada. They were Vikings who had discovered and settled in Greenland and later sailed up the Arctic region of North America alongside Greenland and reached Canada. Extensive European colonization began much later in 1492. It started with Spanish expedition by Christopher Columbus. He sailed west to find a new trade route to the Far East but landed in what was called by Europeans as the “New World”. Hispaniola became the first European settlement in the Americas. Columbus’ first two voyages in 1492 reached the Bahamas and Caribbean islands, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and Cuba.
In 1497, Englishman from Bristol John Cabot landed on the North American coast. One year later, Columbus’s third voyage reached the South American coast. Thus Spain was the first European power to settle and colonize the largest areas in North America, the Caribbean and to the southern tip of South America. France also founded colonies in the Americas, in eastern North America, Caribbean islands, and small coastal parts of South America. Portugal colonized Brazil. All these conquests and colonization destroyed the indigenous cultures like the Incas and the Aztecs. In North America the Red Indians and other indigenous tribes perished in millions. Eventually, the entire America came under the control of European governments, leading to profound changes to its landscape, population, and plant and animal life.
5. Three Kingdoms War, 184 to 280 A.D., 37 million deaths
The Three Kingdoms was the division of China between the states of Wei, Shu and Wu. All these states claimed legitimate succession from the Han dynasty. It refers to the period between 220 AD and the conquest of the state of Wu by the Jin dynasty in 280A.D. The earlier period, from 184 to 220, was marked by infighting between warlords in various parts of China. The later part of the era was marked by the conquest of Shu by Wei, the usurping of Wei by the Jin dynasty and the conquest of Wu by the Jin. The Three Kingdoms period is one of the bloodiest period in Chinese history.
A nationwide census taken in AD 280 by the Jin dynasty showed a loss of three-fourth of the Chinese population and household. This means roughly three out of four persons perished in the war. Such was the deadly and devastating effect of the war. However, in this period many scientific developments took place due to war efforts. This historical period has been greatly romanticized in the cultures of China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. It finds its place in operas, folk stories, novels etc.
4. World War I, 1914 to 1919, 40 million deaths
War, also known as World War I or WW1, was a global war that began in 1914 and went on for four years before ending in 1919. In this war, more than 70 million military personnel were involved. The war originated in Europe. It was one of the deadliest conflicts in the history of human kind. It brought about many political changes and revolutions in many countries involved and brought many of the nations to WWII twenty-one years later.
The world war had several countries forming the two opposing alliances. The Allies were based on the Triple Entente of the Russian Empire, the French Third Republic, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The opponents were the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Italy was a member of the Triple Alliance alongside Germany and Austria-Hungary, it did not join the Central Powers. Later Italy, Japan and the United States joined the Allies, while the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria joined the Central Powers.
The war was started due to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by Yugoslav nationalist in Sarajevo in 1914. Within weeks, the war started and spread around the world. Germany declared war on Russia, and Russia asked France to join the war against Germany. Germany also declared war against France. Germany then invaded Belgium and Luxembourg. The United Kingdom then declared war on Germany on 4 August due to their violation of Belgian neutrality. The German march on Paris was halted in the Battle of the Marne. On the Eastern Front, the Russian army led a successful campaign against the Austro-Hungarians.
In 1914, the Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers. In 1915, Italy joined the Allies and Bulgaria joined the Central Powers; Romania joined the Allies in 1916, and United States joined the Allies in 1917. On 4 November 1918, the Austro-Hungarian Empire agreed to an armistice. On 11 November 1918, and Germany agreed to an armistice, ending the war in victory for the Allies. By the end of the war the German Empire, Russian Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire ceased to exist. National borders were redrawn. In the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, the Big Four nations, Britain, France, the United States and Italy, imposed their terms in a series of treaties. The League of Nations was formed.
3. The Taiping Rebellion, 1850 to 1864, 45 million deaths
The Taiping Rebellion or Taiping Civil War was a large-scale civil war in China that lasted from 1850 to 1864. This was fought between the Manchu-led Qing dynasty and the millenarian movement of the Heavenly Kingdom of Peace. The rebellion started in Guangxi. A sect called God of Worshipping Society was being persecuted by the government officials. The leader of the society was Hong Xiuquan. He considered himself to be the younger brother of Jesus Christ. The rebels wanted to overthrow the ruling Manchus, and a transformation and reformation of the state. The war took place in the provinces of Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Jiangxi and Hubei. It lasted for 14 years. The war was the largest in China since the Qing conquest in 1644. It is one of the bloodiest wars in human history and the bloodiest civil war. It was the largest conflict of the 19th century and killed 70 million to 100 millions.
In 1851 Hong Xiuquan declared himself the Heavenly King of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Peace. In 1853, the Taipings captured the city of Nanjing and it was declared the Heavenly Capital of his kingdom. The Taiping nearly managed to capture the Qing capital of Beijing. Later in 1856 the Taiping were weakened. In 1862 the Xiang Army seized Nanjing. Hong died on June 1, 1864 and the rebellion was quelled by 1866, following the death or capture of many Taiping leaders including Hong’s son and his loyalist leaders.
2. Mongol Conquests, 1206 to 1324, 40 to 70 million deaths
The Mongol invasions and conquests are part of the history of Asia. These invasions continued for over a century. Genghis Khan, history’s most notorious invader, forged the initial Mongol Empire in Central Asia. He exerted his influence and conquest all around the globe including West Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia and Europe. The Mongol invasions took place throughout the 13th century. It resulted in a vast Mongol Empire, which extended almost whole of Asia and Eastern Europe. The deaths that occurred during the Mongol invasions were the deadliest in human history. Also, the Mongol invasions spread the deadly bubonic plague. This spread across Asia and Europe and caused death to millions. It was known in history as the Black Death of the 14th century.
The Mongol Empire reached Eastern Europe by the 1240’s. The Mongol empire was an empire of the land, and is called a tellurocracy or continental power, as it spread over continents. It was helped by the grass which supported Mongol cavalry and cattle. The Mongol conquests and plunders took place during the warmer seasons when plenty of grass was available for the horses and the cattle to feed on their way to the conquests. Tartar and Mongol raids against Russian states continued till around 1260. In China the Mongols territories continued into the 14th century under the Yuan dynasty. In Persia it continued till the 15th century under the Timurid Empire. In India, the Mongol state flourished and survived till the 19th century, known as the Mughal Empire.
Thus the Mongols captured almost 20 percent of Earth’s land spreading over Asia and Eastern Europe. The Mongols were the most barbarians and bloodthirsty conquerors. It is said that around 100,000 Chinese committed mass suicide just to avoid being killed by the Mongols.
1. World War II, 1939 to 1945, 40 to 80 million deaths
The Second World War, also known as the World War II or WW2 was the bloodiest war in human history with about 80 million people losing their lives. It was the grand-daddy of all wars ever fought by humans since their existence on earth. It was a global war which began in 1939 and ended in 1945. The majority of the countries in the world were involved in this war. There were two opposite warring camps known as the Axis and the Allies. It was the most widespread war in history that affected people’s lives in more than 30 countries.
The wartime efforts meant that it was a war for existence and the countries sacrificed all their resources in the war. The resources included young men and women as well as the country’s entire economic, industrial, and scientific resources and capabilities. The mass deaths include those caused by the holocaust in which about 11 million people died. It also includes the deaths caused by dropping the nuclear bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These huge deaths are separate from those in the battle fronts and those caused by aerial bombings. It is the deadliest war that has been seen by humans ever since they evolved as humans in this planet. It is surprising that the humans after all such progress through centuries would indulge in a war that would cause deaths at such colossal levels.
It is so surprising and shocking to find that as humanity is making progress, it is fighting more deadly war against its own species. Before the World War II, all the countries of the world had made tremendous progress. Life for humans had become so comfortable and luxurious after the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century. There were automobiles, trains and buses, airplanes, cinema, hotels and restaurants, telephone, radio etc. despite all these luxuries, comfort and entertainment, the greed and animal instincts in man is never dulled and it rears its ugly head. One can only hope that the coming generation understands the horrors of wars, and that these wars can completely wipe off humans from this planet forever.
Compiled and written by : Raj Kumar Hansdah