"Let me not then die ingloriously and without a struggle, but let me first do some great thing that shall be told among men hereafter."
- Hector of Troy, Iliad XXII, Lines 304-5
Throughout the course of history, certain individuals have stood out as being completely fucking awesome.
Whether it's cleaving monsters' faces in half with a chainsaw bayonet in Horde Mode, defending a makeshift fortress from a sea of brain-devouring zombies or manning a machine gun nest against an unstoppable sea of charging soldiers; people have always been fascinated with badass stories of one man, by himself, taking on a endless waves of assailants, refusing to back down in the face of insurmountable odds, dying with his fingers still clutching his weapons and leaving behind a smoldering, heaping pile of severed limbs, carnage and dead enemies. These are badass one-man last stands.
7Agis III of Sparta, 331 BC
"He ordered the rest to make their escape with all speed and to save themselves for the service of their country, but he himself armed and rising to his knees defended himself, killed some of the enemy and was himself slain by a javelin cast."
- Diodorus, Library of History
When Agis III succeeded his father as King of Sparta in 338 BC, Alexander the Great was off in Persia fighting Emperor Darius III. Figuring it was a good time to fuck some shit up, A3 as he was known in the underground hip-hop scene, rallied anti-Macedonian leaders to his cause, raised a decent army, invaded Crete and started pushing his way towards Athens.
Agis wasn't above petty vandalism to make his point.
Deciding this guy wasn't fucking around, Alexander sent his most battle hardened general and an army of 40,000 men to open a 10-gallon drum of thermonuclear whoop-ass on the Spartans. On the battlefield outside the city of Megalopolis (they just don't name cities like they used to) the two armies faced off in one of the largest battles ever fought between Greek armies in the Classical Age.
Despite being outnumbered roughly two-to-one, Agis wasn't going to back down from any opportunity to drench the tip of his spear in a few gallons of human plasma. Screaming the most horrible profanities they could think of as they went, A3 charged out in front of his men and fought like a goddamned madman, slashing people with his Spartan blades, before receiving a disturbing number of reciprocal wounds across his chest, head and legs.
Figuring he was dead, A3's guards recovered his severely-wounded body, laid him on his shield and began carrying him from the field. Remembering that he was a shit-wrecking King, A3 decided he wasn't going to let a few pesky mortal wounds keep him on the sideline while his army got destroyed.
So he ordered his army to retreat while he held off the onslaught. By himself.
We're pretty sure this is what he really looked like.
Unable to stand and bleeding like a poorly wrapped package from the butcher shop, Agis got to his knees, gripped his blades and proceeded to hamstring enough charging enemy troops to buy his army time to withdrawal. The Macedonians backed off slowly, presumably because they'd just gotten owned by one dude on his knees. Realizing they didn't want to get anywhere near his swords, someone chucked a javelin through his torso, probably catching at least a bit of his enormous balls in the process.
Further Reading:Livius.org JStor.org
Diodorus. Library of History. Trans. C.B. Wells. Harvard Univ. Press, 1967.
The Cambridge Ancient History. Ed. John Boardman. Cambridge Univ. Press, 1982.
Warry, John. Alexander, 324-323 BC. Osprey, 1991.
6Sempronius Densus, 69 AD
"No man resisted or offered to stand up in his defense, save one only, a centurion, Sempronius Densus, the single man among so many thousands that the sun beheld that day act worthily of the Roman empire, who, though he never received any favor from Galba, yet out of bravery and allegiance endeavored to defend the throne."
- Plutarch, Lives
Sempronius Densus was a grizzled old war veteran who took his job as a Roman Imperial Guard very seriously. So he wasn't about to run when he saw a few thousand mutinous Roman soldiers marching on the palace preparing to execute the Emperor. It's important to keep in mind that Densus had no particular loyalties to the Emperor Galba. He just knew that his job description called for him to put his life on the line to save the son of a bitch, and he didn't fuck around when he was on the job. So Densus walked towards the mob, brandishing his Centurion Whacking Stick--a short cudgel that Roman officers used to administer back-breaking corporal punishment to out-of-line soldiers--and ordered the advancing men to stop.
This here's my whacking stick.
Seeing that the blood thirsty, sword carrying mob of 1,000 wasn't listening to the one dude with a stick, Densus pulled his pugio--a short dagger roughly half the size of the standard Roman sword. Thinking that should convey just how much business he meant, Densus once again screamed at them to stop. Again, they kept on marching. Certain that they'd been able to hear him that last time, Densus shrugged, probably said, "You asked for it," and lunged on the posse.
Dead or alive, you're coming with me!
Completely surrounded, Densus fought the entire army by himself to defend a man he hardly knew. Hardened by years of combat, he slashed his way through the army, as Plutarch puts it, "for some time." His courageous stand ended when he was brought down by a blow to the back of the knee and enthusiastically murdered by the mob. Unfortunately for the guy he was guarding, the men operating his carriage were so awestruck by Densus' giant balls that they dropped their gear and ran for it, face-planting the Emperor in the turf. Galba was killed, decapitated and his head was paraded around town on a spear. Plutarch fails to mention what the mob did with Sempronius Densus' body, though we have to imagine it involved very little parading, and a whole lot of staying the hell away. As slasher films would go on to teach us, you should never assume you've actually killed anyone who can kill that many people with just a knife.
Plutarch. Lives. Trans. John Dryden. Little, Brown, 1905.
Staff, Wellesley K. Year of Four Emperors. Routledge, 2003.
Tacitus. Histories. Kessinger, 2004.