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Top 10 Greatest Medieval Battles

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Émile Dubé-Hutchinson This is one for the history books. Join WatchMojo.com as we count our picks for the top 10 greatest medieval battles. For this list, the Medieval period refers to that chunk of European history from the collapse of the Western Roman Empire until roughly the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire a thousand years later. Special thanks to our users Joao S or submitting the idea using our interactive suggestion tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Transcript
Script written by Émile Dubé-Hutchinson

Top 10 Greatest Medieval Battles


This is one for the history books. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 greatest medieval battles.

For this list, the Medieval period refers to that chunk of European history from the collapse of the Western Roman Empire until roughly the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire a thousand years later. So anything outside that time and place (roughly the 5th through to the 15th century) won’t be included.

#10: Battle of Crécy [aka Battle of Cressy] (1346)
Hundred Years’ War

Though the Hundred Years’ War began as a simple feud between the ruling families of England and France, it forever changed the way war was fought in Western Europe. The Battle of Crécy was the first of England’s decisive victories, and they won it by bucking the trend of relying on heavy cavalry and instead focused on a combined-arms approach, the key to which was their longbow infantry. Though the French force was much larger, they couldn’t compete with the longbow’s firepower, and the day was won not by noble knights, but by tactical use of well-trained peasants.

#9: Battle of Stirling Bridge
First War of Scottish Independence (1297)

This was the first important victory of the Scottish rebellion. William Wallace was besieging the last English castle in central Scotland when he heard of an advancing army and went to intercept them at a narrow wooden bridge over the river Forth. King Edward's treasurer persuaded the English commander to take the quickest, cheapest route, even though there was another way around. So the Scots just let as many of the enemy cross as they could handle, then cut them off and fell on them as they struggled in the marshy ground. The remaining English forces smashed the bridge and retreated.

#8: Battle of Mohi [aka Battle of the Sajó River] (1241)
Mongol Invasion of Eastern Europe

Though several of Hungary’s neighbors had succumbed to Mongolian attacks, many nobles would’ve preferred to see their unpopular new king defeated rather than risk their necks against what they considered a minor threat. Turns out they were super wrong. Troops were mobilized to Mohi, and the first few skirmishes went well. But by the time the full Mongol force finally revealed itself, the Hungarians had been lured even deeper into their false sense of security. Almost the entire Hungarian army was destroyed, and the ensuing countrywide devastation saw up to a quarter of the population slain. Europe took the Mongols a little more seriously after that.

#7: Battle of Hattin (1187)
Ayyubid-Crusader War

88 years after the end of the First Crusade, Europeans ruled Jerusalem, but the Kurdish Ayyubid sultan Saladin controlled the surrounding territories. Crusaders make poor neighbors, and after diplomacy failed, both sides mustered their largest armies yet. Though Saladin’s was larger, he drew away to attack undefended Tiberias and lured the crusaders from their fortifications. On open ground, Saladin cut off their retreat, harried them long enough to force them to camp without water, and lit fires around them to dry their throats. The next day saw a vicious back and forth; some crusaders escaped, many died, and the rest surrendered. Saladin then conquered Jerusalem, prompting a third crusade.

#6: Fall of Constantinople (1453)
Byzantine-Ottoman Wars

In early 1453, Constantinople was on the ropes. Cut off from their allies and with Europe reluctant or unable to help, they were pretty much on their own, but they weren’t beaten - yet. Their walls were among the best in existence, and they had run a giant chain across the Golden Horn to block naval access. That said, the Ottomans got around this by dragging their ships overland across a makeshift road of greased logs, and once assembled they outnumbered the defenders about 7 to 1. The siege lasted 53 days, and ended with the Ottomans attacking the walls until they fell, snuffing out the glory of Rome once and for all.

#5: Siege of Orléans (1428-29)
Hundred Years’ War

91 years into the war, England controlled northern France, and just needed Orléans to begin invading the center. Their assault started off well but soon lost momentum, so they decided to starve the city, building a loose ring of fortifications around it. Not much happened for the next 6 months or so - that is until one Joan of Arc arrived with reinforcements. Prophecies had been swirling about her, and her presence galvanized the citizens to take up arms. With her, France dismantled the English siege, fort by fort, forcing them to abandon the whole endeavor. There Joan’s legend began, inspiring the French cause to be reborn.

#4: Siege of Jerusalem (1099)
First Crusade

Finally at Jerusalem, the First Crusade was in tatters, functionally leaderless, and with several powerful lords (the ones who hadn’t quit by this point) all vying for control. Moreover, the surrounding countryside had been stripped bare, meaning no food, water, or lumber for siege equipment. The first assault failed, but coincidentally a bunch of Genoese sailors soon appeared, and with nothing better to do, they dismantled their boats to build siege engines. Equipped and restocked, the crusaders launched a two-pronged attack that breached Jerusalem’s walls, resulting in an excessively brutal civilian massacre even by medieval standards. Hard to believe this was the most successful crusade ever.

#3: Battle of Agincourt (1415)
Hundred Years’ War

After a couple of generations of mandatory archery training, English longbowmen were truly a potent force by this point in the Hundred Years’ War. Outnumbered and in a race against time, Henry V’s army chose a position at one end of a muddy field, with forests protecting their sides, forcing the heavily armored French knights to slog through mud under a hail of arrows. When they finally reached the English position, the few exhausted survivors were easily beaten, some only needing to be pushed over! By this time in history, both nations were increasingly relying on professional soldiers like we have today, and England’s archers proved that to be the way of the future.

#2: Battle of Tours [aka Battle of Poitiers] (732)
Islamic Invasion of Gaul

This one pitted the Franks and Burgundians against Umayyad Arabs and Berbers invading from the Iberian Peninsula. By avoiding the main roads, the Franks managed to intercept the Umayyads by surprise, choosing a defensible position right in their path with trees to mask their numbers. In a tight phalanx, they needed only to wait for their opponents to either go home, freeze in the coming winter, or else charge uphill through rough terrain - which they did and ultimately failed. The Franks probably didn’t know this, but they were the likely the best defense Europe had at the time.

Before unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
Battle on the Ice (1242)
Northern Crusades
Battle of Grunwald [aka First Battle of Tannenberg] (1410)
Polish-Lithuanian-Teutonic War
Battle of Towton (1461)
Wars of the Roses
The Night Attack of Târgovişte (1462)
Wallachian-Ottoma Wars

#1: Battle of Hastings (1066)
Norman Conquest of England

Following the death of a childless king, several challengers arose to claim the crown of England from the dead king’s successor. Having deflected one set of invaders from Norway, the Anglo-Saxon defenders then had to rush south to face the Normans. Though they held the line for most of the day, the more experienced Normans lured them into a charge, then fell upon them and secured victory. If the subsequent rise of the world-spanning British Empire resembled Roman practices more than Scandinavian ones, it can be attributed to William the Conqueror bringing England back under the influence of mainland European culture.

Do you agree with our list? What other medieval battles shaped European history? For more historical top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.

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