Random thought while reading a history of the 100 years war. When you had large contingents of knights (and mercenaries) who basically spent their whole life fighting for one faction or other (or just ravaging the local countryside). I realize a lot of cases pitched battles were generally the exception not the rule, but some of the soldiers in that era (and other pre-sidearm ones) must have racked up pretty impressive body counts if they were lucky enough to live to old age.
Who holds the best-documented claim to have killed the most people, in hand-to-hand to hand combat, in all of human history? I’ll leave the definition of hand-to-hand combat up to the reader (but definitely does not include guns, or executions). Plenty of grey areas (e.g. does massacring the Romans trapped in their own formations at Cannae count?) but what the do the assembled dopers think?
Not sure anyone preindustrial is in the running. I don’t think the number of people a pre-industrial warrior would run into and have the opportunity to fight and kill would match someone who spent their career as a soldier in the era of large armies at a time of constant war.
I could see it being a conquistador though. That’s a good suggestion.
IDK, the Romans had some pretty large battles in which 10,000 or 50,000 were killed in one battle. The average stint in the Roman Legions was 20 years. So, I’d suspect some of those soldiers killed at least, 100 or 200 people.
It seems a lot of battle back then, not just the Romans, had very high death counts.
I don’t think the kill count has so much to do with technology as with mindset and skills. Badass Simo Häyhä shot and killed 500+ enemies, but he achieved this record by picking his targets and timing so that he always had an opportunity of retreat.
(He also got shot through the head once, but hey! that comes with the game…)
I can readily see some pre-industrial fella wielding his wooden club and killing any member of the neighbor tribe he came upon when chance was in his favor – perhaps thereby getting into the 100:s!
(pure speculation though – and it better be so!)
Remember: while they were admittedly fewer back in the days, they generally lived quite close to each other!
Flying by the seat of my pants with the following (and, again, it all depends on how loosely or otherwise you define “hand-to-hand combat”):
The Roman campaigns with the highest body count per soldier, on average, were probably Caesar’s Gallic Wars. Certainly if you take the claims of one million deaths on the Gallic side (dished out by ca. 120,000 Roman troops, including auxiliaries) seriously. Even if you don’t (and it’s a matter of interpretation whether those figures include civilians), the numbers will be high. Certainly some soldiers would see a lot of action. The Tenth Legion (Caesar’s favorite) was present at more or less every battle, and there were a lot of battles.
The body counts in ancient battles usually only skyrocketed when one side routed. That’s why casualty figures were often so asymmetrical. Chasing down routers would usually be the job of the cavalry. You’d want someone/something that could run faster than an extremely motivated man running away. That’s going to be a horse. So, it’s reasonable to assume that cavalry would rack up a ton of kills, as they chased poor sods running away. (Anyone who has played Total War: Rome II knows how this works.)*
The legionaries would break the enemy’s morale, the cavalry would mop them up.
Now, Caesar’s cavalry was primarily made up of auxiliaries provided by his Gallic allies (yes, some tribes were on the Roman side). This all leads up to a somewhat weird possible conclusion: The person with highest body count in the Roman armies may not even have been a legionary. He may have been a Gallic cavalryman. Which is kind of interesting, when you think about it.
(*An exception to this, obviously, is a battle where an army is surrounded, like the Romans were Cannae, as mentioned upthread. Then it’s the job of the infantry to spend all afternoon stabbing people to death. If you’re an infantryman wanting to up your body count: Find a battle like that.)
If someone from the adjoining tribe killed even one of your tribe, you were obligated to go an kill one of theirs. Any “pre-industrial fella wielding his wooden club” who killed more than ten people would have been living alone, since his entire tribe would have been killed in retaliation.
More realistically, if one person killed more than twice then the enemy would demand that he be handed over for execution. If his own tribe refused then they could expect to be slaughtered, men, women children and dogs, in an ambush at some point.
No “pre-industrial tribe wielding wooden clubs” would permit such behaviour for fear of exactly these consequences.
There was the perhaps ( probably ) apocryphal or at least exaggerated tale in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles of the Norse axeman that briefly held up Harold Godwinson’s army at Stamford Bridge by single-handedly blocking it, slaying 40 Saxons in the process. He was purportedly brought low only when some enterprising Saxon floated under the bridge on some debris and thrust a spear up through the slats of the bridge, rather unsportsmanly skewering the poor berserker through his groin.
Hey, you say unsportsmanly. I say: What, it took you dumbasses 40 dead guys before you thought of that?
Personally, I would have nuked him from orbit. But I guess that wasn’t really an option.
A bit like Thermopylae. Seriously, Xerxes, how many waves of [del]cannon[/del] spear fodder are you going to throw at those Spartans, before it occurs to you to maybe see if there’s some other way around that pass? Think, would ya?
Really, underhanded methods and trickery in war has never bothered me. All is fair. I’ve never had much sympathy for those who gallantly stand there and get their butts kicked.
If the Herodotus figures are to be accepted, 4,000 Greeks and 20,000 from the Persian force died at Thermopylae. A 5X kill ratio in itself is already impressive but in the last ditch fight, 1,500 Medeans, Thebeans and Spartans killed up to 7,000 “immortals.” No slouches those, being the core of the Persian war machine.
But I digress, a duelist like Musashi or a top gladiator in peacetime is likely to have killed more in hand-to-hand fighting than a veteran of several battles. The exception here would be soldiers who engage in wanton slaughter of both captured soldiers and unarmed civilians. The Mongolian extermination of Chinese peasantry in northern China is estimated to have reached 35 million. The Mongols never had armies greater than 500,000 (none that I’ve come across.)