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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - Special Reports - From Ancient Battlefields to Modern Warfare: 23 of the Biggest Wars in Human History

Special Reports

From Ancient Battlefields to Modern Warfare: 23 of the Biggest Wars in Human History

Throughout history, humanity has remained entangled in what seems like an unending tapestry of warfare, where armed conflicts have endured for over 90% of the 3,400 years documented. The toll of war on human lives is staggering, with estimations reaching as high as 1 billion casualties throughout time.

These losses unfolded in the midst of expansive global conflicts involving rival kingdoms and entire continents. As populations burgeoned and technology advanced, the scope and devastation of war consistently rose. Spanning from the third century to the 21st century, more than 20 wars have witnessed the demise of over 1 million individuals.

The focus was on major military engagements where at least 1 million people met their end, primarily in battle. Many of the death counts, especially in earlier wars, remain estimates, and mass casualty events like genocides were excluded. The wars are presented chronologically.

History is marked by conflicts spanning generations, like the Punic Wars or the Crusades. While these clashes involved the same groups and nations over time, the wars experienced multiple halts and recommencements. In instances where over 1 million combatants perished across the course of these conflicts but not in any single war, they were not included.

The chaos of war complicates the task of accurately counting casualties or determining the actual causes of death. Beyond direct violence, war can claim lives through starvation or a lack of basic necessities like shelter and healthcare. The death tolls provided are estimates and may encompass numerous non-combatants who succumbed as a result of the conflicts.

Civilians, unfortunately, bear the brunt of armed conflicts as invading forces often overpower local defenses before turning their weapons on non-combatants, resulting in millions of civilian casualties, injuries, and displacements. Even in contemporary times, thousands of refugees annually seek asylum in the US, driven by violence in their home countries.

Following are the 23 biggest wars in history:

  1. Three Kingdoms War
    Estimated Deaths: 40,000,000
    Combatants: Wei, Shu, Wu
    Location (Modern Day): China
    Date: 220-280
  2. Moorish Wars
    Estimated Deaths: 5,000,000
    Combatants: Byzantine Empire, Moorish tribes
    Location (Modern Day): North Africa
    Date: 534-548
  3. An Lushan Rebellion
    Estimated Deaths: 36,000,000
    Combatants: Yan Dynasty, Tang Dynasty
    Location (Modern Day): China
    Date: 755-763
  4. Hundred Years’ War
    Estimated Deaths: 2,300,000-3,300,000
    Combatants: House of Valois, House of Plantagenet
    Location (Modern Day): Western Europe
    Date: 1337-1453
  5. Conquests of Timur
    Estimated Deaths: 20,000,000
    Combatants: Timurid Empire, Various Asian countries
    Location (Modern Day): Eurasia
    Date: 1370-1405
  6. Spanish Conquest of the Inca Empire
    Estimated Deaths: 8,400,000
    Combatants: Spanish Empire, Inca Empire
    Location (Modern Day): Peru
    Date: 1532-1572
  7. Imjin War
    Estimated Deaths: 1,100,000
    Combatants: Japan, Korea
    Location (Modern Day): Korea
    Date: 1592-1598
  8. The transition from Ming to Qing
    Estimated Deaths: 25,000,000
    Combatants: Qing Dynasty, Ming Dynasty
    Location (Modern Day): China
    Date: 1618-1683
  9. Thirty Years’ War
    Estimated Deaths: 8,000,000-11,500,000
    Combatants: Various European nations
    Location (Modern Day): Europe
    Date: 1618-1648
  10. Mughal-Maratha Wars
    Estimated Deaths: 5,000,000
    Combatants: Mughal Empire, Maratha Empire
    Location (Modern Day): Indian subcontinent
    Date: 1658-1707
  11. Napoleonic Wars
    Estimated Deaths: 3,500,000-7,000,000
    Combatants: French Empire, European Coalition
    Location (Modern Day): Worldwide
    Date: 1803-1815
  12. Mfecane
    Estimated Deaths: 1,500,000
    Combatants: Zulu Kingdom, other African groups
    Location (Modern Day): Southern Africa
    Date: 1818-1840
  13. Taiping Rebellion
    Estimated Deaths: 20,000,000
    Combatants: Qing Dynasty, Taiping Heavenly Kingdom
    Location (Modern Day): China
    Date: 1850-1864
  14. Dungan Revolt
    Estimated Deaths: 10,000,000
    Combatants: Qing Dynasty, Hui rebels, Kashgaria
    Location (Modern Day): China
    Date: 1862-1877
  15. World War I
    Estimated Deaths: 15,000,000
    Combatants: Allied Powers, Central Powers
    Location (Modern Day): Worldwide
    Date: 1914-1918
  16. Russian Civil War
    Estimated Deaths: 9,000,000
    Combatants: Red Army, White Army
    Location (Modern Day): Russia
    Date: 1917-1922
  17. Chinese Civil War
    Estimated Deaths: 7,500,000
    Combatants: Republic of China, Communist Party of China
    Location (Modern Day): China
    Date: 1927-1950
  18. Second Sino-Japanese War
    Estimated Deaths: 17,000,000-20,000,000
    Combatants: China, Japan
    Location (Modern Day): China
    Date: 1937-1945
  19. World War II
    Estimated Deaths: 85,000,000
    Combatants: Allied Powers, Axis Powers
    Location (Modern Day): Worldwide
    Date: 1939-1945
  20. Korean War
    Estimated Deaths: 2,500,000
    Combatants: North Korea and allies, South Korea and allies
    Location (Modern Day): Korea
    Date: 1950-1953
  21. Vietnam War
    Estimated Deaths: 4,000,000
    Combatants: South Vietnam and allies, North Vietnam and allies
    Location (Modern Day): Vietnam
    Date: 1955-1975
  22. Second Sudanese Civil War
    Estimated Deaths: 1,900,000
    Combatants: Sudan, South Sudan
    Location (Modern Day): Sudan
    Date: 1983-2005
  23. Second Congo War
    Estimated Deaths: 3,800,000
    Combatants: Democratic Republic of Congo, Various other countries and rebel groups
    Location (Modern Day): Central Africa
    Date: 1998-2003

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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - Special Reports - From Ancient Battlefields to Modern Warfare: 23 of the Biggest Wars in Human History
Deepankar Shyam
Global Breaking News Editor at the CEOWORLD magazine, helping lead the direction of the bureau. I'm a veteran digital storyteller with a record of creating best-in-class content and commerce experiences. I work with our reporters and columnists to develop story ideas, edit their work and coordinate with various other bureaus on coverage. I also have broad industry experience managing and leading change while consistently exceeding readership goals and company expectations.