5 Badass Historical Military Units That Make Seal Team Six Look Like the Washington Generals
As far as the world’s oldest professions go, warrior or soldier is right up there with sex work. Pretty much since humans reached awareness, there was a big-time need for people who were good at sex and violence, something that still props up the entertainment industry today. Soldier might be a nasty trade to excel in, but it’s undeniably a valuable and fascinating one that comes with a lot of morally questionable cool points. I don’t know if John Wick is a great guy, but I do know that he has four great movies.
Before we had things like Navy SEALs and movie mercenaries doing gun-kata, though, there were still elite soldiers that no one wanted to end up paired off with on the battlefield. Ancient civilizations and borders were fairly fluid and often edited in a very murderous fashion, and so, having the best fighters around was a valuable resource. Throughout the history books, a couple particular squads stand out from the rest as the greatest warriors of history.
Here are five of the most fearsome groups of fighters ever assembled…
The Varangian Guard
Vikings are already well established in both history and pop culture as some of the world’s best when it comes to battle. Most people probably have a pretty quick mental image of them, filled with braided beards, horned helmets and feasts of mead and oversized meat. They also probably connect them with their Norse homeland of Scandinavia.
One of the most revered groups of Viking warriors, though, were actually out on loan. Basil II of the Byzantine Empire, in dire need of some high-quality hack-and-slashers to maintain power, traded his sister’s hand in marriage to a man named Vladimir I of Kyiv in exchange for 6,000 Swedish vikings. They shipped out and pretty much from the moment they stepped off their boat, nobody had any interest in fucking with them. There are plenty of descriptions of the Varangians, all reading with a distinct energy of somewhat sexualized fear. Records from the time describe them as “tall as palm trees, fair and reddish,” “with reckless rage and neither cared about losing blood nor their wounds,” and mention they’ve “never seen bodies as nearly perfect as theirs.”
Real “kill me, daddy” energy.
The Praetorian Guard
Another high-profile “guard,” this one comes from the Roman Empire. The Praetorian Guard were the elite troops responsible for protecting the emperor from any threats, their name coming from the praetors, powerful authorities within the Roman government. They were picked both as skilled warriors and for their heritage. It was a very powerful and prestigious role within the empire.
So you’d think, with such a crack team of warriors taking on the responsibility of eradicating any threats, the emperor should have been basically untouchable, right? Nothing but sweet dreams and sweeter grapes, knowing the old-school Secret Service was keeping them safe? Ironically, the Praetorian guard turned out to be among the biggest threats to any sitting emperor, responsible for assassinating a whole grip of them. At one point, they even auctioned off the Roman throne after they murdered Emperor Partinax, which feels like a pretty questionable interpretation of their job description.
The Winged Hussars
When you’re talking about the nations that produced the greatest warriors of all time, the same ones always top the list: the Greek, the Norse, the Japanese, and, say it with me: the Polish. Sadly, the fighting prowess of the Polish military seems to have been forgotten, with them now mostly being known for the use of screen doors on their submarines. For many years, though, Poland was home to a unit of fighters that not only fought well, but looked fucking incredible: the Winged Hussars.
This wasn’t any sort of metaphor to describe their speed or glory, either: They were Poland’s greatest cavalrymen who rode into battle with literal, physical wings mounted on the back of their armor. It was a form of intimidation, their iconic and unbelievable drip announcing to the opposing forces that it was time for a boss fight. They backed up the wings as well with some incredible victories to their name, including a battle in the village of Hodow, where 400 Winged Hussars held off 25,000 Crimean soldiers.
The Persian Immortals were a group of fighters that nobody was too keen to go up against. Pretty understandable, given their nickname. As far as things you want to be known for as a military force, “never dying” is a pretty solid rep. It wasn’t true, of course, but instead came from the fact that there were always exactly 10,000 immortals, with any casualties immediately being replaced. They basically represented the 10,000 best available soldiers in the Persian Army at any given time, with the top 1,000 possessing golden decorations on the end of their spears.
Funnily enough, these Immortals are possibly best known in pop culture for getting their asses handed to them. This is because the Immortals, led by Xerxes, are the warriors who famously ran directly into the buff, nearly-naked blender that was the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae. For what was a genuinely highly talented military force, it’s got to suck having that one massive fuck-up being what everybody remembers forever. They’re like the J.R. Smith of ancient military forces.
The Sacred Band of Thebes
Look, as interesting as ancient warriors and military battles might be, bringing them up in casual conversation these days has some unfortunate energy. If you see someone walking around covered in Viking tattoos, they might be a Scandinavian history buff, or they might be on their way to a Proud Boys meeting. The idea of the “warrior” is inextricably soaked in the worst, most toxic sort of machismo you can imagine.
But the next time one of these “purity” obsessed eugenicists rants against gay rights, they might want to reread the history books a little closer, especially when it comes to the Sacred Band of Thebes. A force of 300 Greek men that are considered some of the greatest fighters in the history of the world, they were made up entirely of queer men: specifically 150 gay couples. It was thought that fighting alongside their lovers would make their ferocity and devotion unmatched, and it seemed to prove correct.