"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.
#7. Agis 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.
#6. Sempronius 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.
#5. Dian Wei, 197 AD
"The surrounding area littered with many casualties and dead. Dian Wei received over ten cuts, yet he continued to fight despite lacking troops. Dian Wei held onto two traitors underneath his arms, killing them. The remaining traitors dared not to advance any further."
- Chen Shou, Records of the Three Kingdoms
Dian Wei was a monstrous cruise missile of manslaughter, which is something you'd kind of have to be if you were a guy that had a name that was a homophone for "Diane." His skill as a peerless purveyor of battle-raging carnage helped him rise through the ranks of the military of the Kingdom of Wei, until eventually he was hand-selected by the Wei King, a guy named Cao Cao, to serve as his personal bodyguard and the most badass bouncer in Imperial China.
Dian's Last Stand took place during the Battle of Wancheng in 197 AD, when he essentially curbstomped an entire army into submission by himself. Apparently, some local governor had gotten a little pissed off when Cao Cao banged the dude's aunt, and launched a surprise nighttime sneak attack on the Wei King's camp. When the hordes of oncoming warriors approached the gates they found his personal bodyguard standing at the entrance brandishing a hulking pair of 40-pound axes.
Failing to appraise just how ready he was to make them look like the losing end of a bear attack, the would-be assassins charged, and Dian commenced spraying the countryside with distasteful amounts of high-impact blood spatter. After playing giant-axe-whack-a-mole with the unfortunate bastards who reached him first, Wei got super pissed and started cracking spines with his bare hands. He killed at least 20 enemies, perhaps more, before another group of assassins that had entered the building from a different direction attacked him from behind, and he was finally brought down by a rain of blows from every direction.
Dian had achieved his goal however--Cao Cao escaped to fight another day, and ended up almost single-handedly conquering all of China and eventually bringing the Three Kingdoms period to a close.
Chen Shou. Records of the Three Kingdoms. Trans. Giao Chau.
Dian Wei, 2004.
Guanzhong Luo. Three Kingdoms. Trans. Moss Roberts. Univ. of California Press, 2004.
#4. The Viking at Stamford Bridge, 1066 AD
"But there was one of the Norwegians who withstood the English folk, so that they could not pass over the bridge, nor complete the victory."
- The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
In 1066, the Vikings took a break from wrecking shit, and got ambushed at a place called Stamford Bridge. The Vikings didn't even have a chance to get their armor on before they noticed a tremendous army of Saxons ready to kick some ass and possibly take names (which they would probably mispronounce).
Only one of the Norsemen was ready for combat--an insane, nameless berserker conjured up from some nightmarish backwater asshole of Hell.
The Saxons, seeing victory was just one frothing-at-the-mouth-berserker away, charged forward to dislodge him. This proved to be a mistake.
In the horrific carnage that ensued, countless Saxon soldiers were transformed into a continuous fountain of gore, his mighty axe blows cleaving shields and helmets like they were made out of deliciously-melty butter. Arrows, spears and swords were useless against him. He seemed incapable of feeling pain, or really any sensation other than an unstoppable mad desire to kill every single person on Earth.
Eventually, one enterprising Saxon warrior figured out that, like any good video game boss, the Viking hero had a weak point. The Saxon went upstream, floated a barrel into the river, jumped in and drifted down towards the bridge. As soon as he was below the scene of the battle, this cowardly douche canoe thrust his spear up between the planks, striking the Viking juggernaut in his lone weak point: the ball sack.
The Viking champion dropped down to his knees, as is to be expected from a guy who just took a piercing blow to the nads, and was subsequently cut down and probably used as firewood.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Trans. Ingram, Rev. James. Everyman Press, 1912.
Bury, John Bagnell, et al. The Cambridge Medieval History. Macmillan, 1913.
Craughwell, Thomas J. How the Barbarian Invasions Shaped the Modern World. Rockport, 2008.
Furneaux, Rupert. Invasion: 1066. London: Prentice-Hall, 1966.