We’re all familiar with the underdog story of David and Goliath. However, David was far from the only dark horse to come from behind…and come out ahead. In fact, military battles around the world throughout history have shown us again and again that there’s no such thing as a shoe-in or “easy” win.
Not convinced? Read on for a round up of five examples of extraordinary military victories despite overwhelming odds against them.
1. The Battle of Carrhae
Marcus Licinius Crassus may have taken down Spartacus, but the uber-rich and widely detested Roman came up short against the Parthians. While the soldiers from northeastern Iran were vastly outnumbered by their opponents, horses were one of the deciding factors in this battle. The Parthians were heavy on cavalry—which was unlike the infantry-dominated battlefields the Romans were accustomed to.
As you’d expect from one of history’s greatest powers, the defeated Romans learned from the loss and adopted many of the Parthians’ tactics as their own.
2. The Battle of Vítkov Hill
This massive battle fought during the Middle Ages saw just 12,000 Hussite peasants take on between 50,000 and 100,000 crusaders recruited by the Holy Roman Empire. Despite being monumentally outnumbered upon entering the city of Prague, Hussite leader John Zizka strategically set up ranks at a vineyard that was naturally defended by a steep cliff on one side. Using tools which included pointed sticks, the Hussite forces pushed more than 300 members of the advancing opposing army over the side and to their deaths, which led to a chaotic retreat by the crusaders.
3. The Great Siege of Malta
Malta may have been just a tiny island-nation when it came up against the superpower of the time, the Ottoman Empire. However, the combination of strategic leadership by Jean De Valette, unbridled willpower, and lots of cannon-fire helped the 8,500-strong Maltese forces conquer the 45,000-strong Ottoman troops.
“Nothing is so well known as the Siege of Malta,” Voltaire once famously said of the heroic—and unexpected—victory.
4. The Battle of Okehazama
Discussions of Japanese military history usually center around World War II. But military historians point further back to the hereditary leaders known as the Shogunates. During the Battle of Okehazama, local warlord Oda Nobunaga took on challenger Imagawa Yoshimoto despite being outnumbered 10:1—and won.
So how’d Oda Nobunaga do it? With a combination of sleight of hand and an offensive tact. While the opposing troops were unarmed and celebrating their wins, Oda’s men crept up, flanked, and routed them.
5. The Battle of Jena-Auerstedt
While Napoleon had his work cut out for him with the twin battles of Jena and Auerstedt, the famed French emperor was known for being anything but under-confident.
Aided by his equally brilliant corps commander, Marshal Louis Nicolas Davout, Napoleon led his outnumbered troops in besting the armies of Prussia and Saxony—all while taking a mere fraction of the casualties suffered by their inferior opponents.
This decisive defeat led to the French Empire’s occupation of the Kingdom of Prussia. Today, the triumph is heralded by many as Napoleon’s most impressive victory.