Basil II the "Bulgar-Killer"
During the reign of the Byzantine Empire the Bulgarians, who held considerable influence in the Balkan region, were challenged at the Battle of Kleidion in 1014.
During this battle, Byzantine Emperor Basil II faced Tsar Samuel, outnumbering his Bulgarian troops by at least 40,000. Once his foe was defeated, Basil took at least 15,000 prisoners and divided them into groups of 100. From each group, one prisoner was left with one eye. The rest were blinded. This way, the partially blind prisoner could lead the rest of his group home.
Why did Basil II enforce such a violent stunt? Revenge, for killing Basil’s favorite general, Botaneiates (and to crush Bulgarian morale and discourage future rebellions).
Simo Häyhä aka the “White Death”
At the beginning of WWII, Stalin sent 750,000 soldiers to Finland. Finland’s army was only ~300,000-strong, with few aircraft or tanks compared to the USSR military machine. From the outset, the Winter War was thought to be an easy win for Stalin. But one man almost single-handedly turned the tide.
Meet Simo Häyhä, a small-statured Finnish man armed with only a primitive Russian sniper rifle (with no scope), plus cunning, snow camo. Aptly named the “White Death,” Häyhä took out over 500 Red Army soldiers in a successful 98-day kill spree. Eventually, he was spotted and injured but survived nearly losing his jaw. He lived to be 96.
Flaming Birds of Harald the Ruthless
Scandinavian mercenary-turned-King of Norway Harald Sigurdsson aided in one of the craziest siege stunts in Sicily during the 11th century. The Icelandic historian Snorri Sturlusson recounted Harald’s actions in Heimskringla (the History of the Kings of Norway)….
Not only did Harald the Ruthless feign his death to be “buried” within the city walls, but he’d noticed the city’s abundant bird population. The devious-minded Harald encouraged capturing these avian beasts so his men could attach flammable bits of material to them. The material was then set ablaze and the birds released into the city, igniting its flammable buildings along the way.
El Cid - Medieval Zombie Knight
Showing strength against all odds is a trait looked for in leaders. But what if that leader dies before they can go down in a blaze of glory? How about a wife that gets things done!
El Cid, aka Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, was a Spanish noble during the Middle Ages who rose to prominence because of his military prowess, eventually becoming a prince. He died while his city was under siege, but rather than letting his army become demoralized, his wife Jimena had his dead body armored up and placed upon his noble steed for one last battle-winning hurrah!
The Night Witches
Some say anything you give a woman, she can make it better. Apparently that even includes subpar planes.
During WWII, the Soviet Union used women pilots to fly their Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes in battle. These women, dubbed the Night Witches, operated the flying tinderboxes with laudable success. The planes couldn’t be seen on radar or infrared and were so slow the Luftwaffe could not easily dogfight with them.
The Night Witches ran mostly at night and could only drop two bombs at a time, but they were able to reload and head back out, often receiving hailsprays of bullets in the process. These valiant missions were often unsung, with the female heroes rarely given the recognition they deserved.
Medieval Biological Warfare
Throughout the Postclassical Era, Central Asian Steppe nomads (later known as the Mongols) created the largest contiguous empire in world history.
During the 1300s a religious dispute with Muslim Mongols and Genoese Christians boiled over in Caffa, off the coast of the Black Sea. There the Mongols, led by Jani Beg, lay siege unsuccessfully in 1343. Undaunted by their losses, Mongolian forces returned two years later—armed with the Black Plague.
When Mongol soldiers died, their corpses were catapulted over the walls of the city. The Genoese fled to Italy, carrying the Plague into Western Europe where it massacred one-third of the population.
Comedian Eddie Izzard once hilariously joked about the Carthaginian invasion of Rome, recounting to his audience one of the craziest war stunts in world history. As Hannibal, general of Carthage, left Spain overland to carry out a surprise attack on Rome from the North, he crossed the Alps on the way. Not only did his troops cross but his army took war elephants with them, too.
This feat shocked Mediterranean citizens at the time. Yet despite the Herculean effort to travel with such ungainly creatures, the Carthaginian forces ultimately lost the Punic Wars during the 3rd and 4th centuries B.C.E.