There have been numerous civilizations throughout world history, but this article discusses the most feared and prosperous ancient civilizations. Below is a list of the ten most terrifying civilizations, ranked from less to more ominous in human history.
This article explores the darker aspects of human history by highlighting ten civilizations known for their ruthless and terrifying actions. It delves into their conquests, brutality, and impact on the world, shedding light on the grim side of our past.
10: The Spartans
The Spartan society differed significantly from other Ancient Greek city-states. The term “Spartan” has endured to symbolize self-discipline and simplicity, which encapsulated Spartan life. Children were more children of the state than of their parents, as they were raised to be unwaveringly loyal, strong, and self-disciplined soldiers for the state.
Despite Hollywood’s PG-13 portrayal of them in the movie ‘300,’ which failed to do justice to their civilization, the Spartans were exceptionally resolute. Consider this: every single Spartan male served as a soldier, with all other tasks handled by slaves. Spartan men were warriors, period. They fought until they reached the retirement age of 60.
Moreover, only those who fell in battle, during a victory, received marked headstones, a testament to their heroism for future generations to admire. Any Spartan who lost their shield in battle faced the death penalty; a true Spartan would either retrieve it or die trying.
See also: Spartans – The Legendary Warriors.
9: The Māori
The Māori, the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand, are known for their formidable reputation as the first settlers of the island. Until the 18th century, they gained notoriety for their practice of virtually eliminating unwelcome guests. Their belief in consuming the flesh of their enemies as a means to acquire their strength and combat skills led to a gruesome practice of cannibalism during warfare.
One horrifying incident in October 1809 involved a large group of Maori warriors attacking a European convict ship in retaliation for the mistreatment of a chief’s son. The Maori killed most of the 66 people on board, carrying both the dead and the living victims ashore to be consumed. A fortunate few survivors, hiding inside the ship’s mast, bore witness to the gruesome spectacle as the Maori devoured their shipmates throughout the night and into the next morning.
8: The Vikings
The Vikings, seafaring northern Germanic people active from the late 8th to the mid-11th centuries, left an indelible mark on history through their raiding, trading, exploration, and settlement across Europe, Asia, and the North Atlantic islands. Renowned for their ruthless raids and pillaging across Europe, they were formidable warriors who never shied away from combat.
Their physical prowess matched their battlefield skills, which they demonstrated with a wide array of weapons, including axes, swords, and spears. Notably, the Viking civilization was one of the few where religion also centered around war, with a belief that their purpose in life was to fight to the death. As soldiers, they possessed all the qualities one would desire, as they proved on the battlefield by leaving destruction in their wake.
7: Comanche (Apache Tribes)
Historically, the term “Apache” has been mistakenly used to refer to the Comanche people. The Comanche were a Plains Indian tribe whose historic territory, known as Comancheria, encompassed regions such as New Mexico, southeastern Colorado, southwestern Kansas, western Oklahoma, and most of northwest Texas. Renowned for their fearless prowess in battle, they were akin to the ninjas of America.
Unlike many Native American tribes that ceded land, resources, and rights for alcohol and casino licenses, the Comanche compensated for their use of primitive bone and stone weapons with remarkable cunning and combat skills. They excelled at stealthy maneuvers, capable of silently approaching and dispatching their targets before they even realized the danger. Furthermore, they were unmatched in knife fighting, proficient with tomahawks and throwing axes.
Their reign of terror extended throughout the southwest United States, challenging even the might of the military. Masters of hit-and-run tactics, their descendants continue to impart hand-to-hand combat techniques to modern-day special forces. Notably, scalping was a grim practice often associated with their victims.
6: Roman Empire
The vast expanse of the Roman Empire once covered what we now recognize as Western Europe. The empire’s dominion was achieved through the might of the Roman Army, and it brought forth a Roman way of life in the lands it conquered. Notable territories included England/Wales, known as Britannia at the time, Spain (Hispania), France (Gaul or Gallia), Greece (Achaea), the Middle East (Judea), and the coastal regions of North Africa.
While Rome is often celebrated as one of history’s greatest empires, it also harbored unsettling aspects. Within its borders, criminals, slaves, and others were compelled to engage in deadly gladiatorial games, an aspect of Roman culture that evokes horror today. Some of history’s most notorious figures, such as Caligula and Nero, hailed from Rome.
Christianity’s early followers experienced brutal persecution as a group under the rule of Emperor Nero in 64 AD, enduring gruesome fates such as being torn apart by dogs or used as human torches. Rome’s political evolution is a complex tale, as it transitioned from divine kingship to a republic, often considered its zenith, before ultimately becoming an empire.
The transformation from a group of farmers defending their livestock against wolves to becoming history’s greatest empire is the stuff of legends. Combined with an exceptional military and administrative system, ancient Rome stands as one of history’s longest-lasting civilizations, spanning an impressive 2,214 years from its founding to the fall of the Byzantine Empire.
5: Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany, also called the Third Reich, marked a radical transformation of Germany from a democratic Republic into a totalitarian state, led by Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP). Their reign persisted until they were defeated by Allied Forces in May 1945. Despite its brevity, Nazi Germany wielded immense power and left a profound impact on the world.
The Holocaust, a tragic chapter in history, saw the loss of at least 4 million lives, and Nazi Germany instigated World War II, the deadliest conflict humanity has ever witnessed. The Nazi Swastika stands as one of the most reviled symbols globally. The territory under Nazi control encompassed approximately 268,829 square miles. Adolf Hitler, one of history’s most influential figures, presided over one of the most terrifying empires in history.
4: The Mongols
The Mongol Empire existed during the 13th and 14th centuries AD, and was the largest contiguous land empire in human history. The Mongol Empire emerged from the unification of Mongol and Turkic tribes of historical Mongolia under the leadership of Genghis Khan.
The Mongols were considered barbarians and savages. They dominated Europe and Asia. Also, they were most famous for riding on horseback, lead by one of the greatest military commanders in history, Genghis Khan. They were highly disciplined and masters with using the bow and arrow on horseback. They used a composite bow that could rip through armor, and were also pretty good with lances and scimitars.
Also, they were masters of psychological warfare and intimidation. They built the second largest empire ever, smaller only than the British Empire. It all started when Genghis Khan vowed in his youth to bring the world to his feet. He almost did. Then he set his sights on China, and the rest is history.
During an invasion of India, they built a pyramid in front of the walls of Delhi out of human heads. They, like the Celts, had a thing for severed heads. Mongol liked to gather them up and catapult them inside the enemy’s compound. They would also fling corpses infected with black death. When they ran across pregnant women, they did… things. Things we won’t discuss here.
3: Soviet Union
Communism, notably in the Soviet Union, caused more deaths than even Nazi Germany. Figures like Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Nicolae Ceausescu, and others bear responsibility for the deaths of millions. Among them, the Soviet Union’s atrocities stand as the most appalling. Stalin alone was responsible for the deaths of 10-60 million people.
The Soviet Union emerged as a formidable adversary to the USA, and living under Stalin’s rule instilled constant fear in the average citizen, a fact that sets it apart from Nazi Germany where many Germans felt a degree of safety as long as they supported the Nazi ideology.
2: The Celts
The Celts were a group of people who inhabited lands spanning from the British Isles to Gallatia. They had interactions with neighboring cultures, although there are no written records of their own. The Celts had a notorious reputation as headhunters, known for displaying victims’ heads on their chariots and outside their homes.
Many Celts went into battle completely unclothed and were famed for their iron long swords. They severed the heads of their fallen enemies and fastened them to their horses’ necks. The bloodied trophies were handed to attendants amid victorious songs and chants. These severed heads were then mounted on their homes, much like hunters displaying their prey. The Celts even preserved the heads of distinguished foes in cedar oil, carefully storing them in chests and proudly showcasing them to strangers.
They recounted tales of ancestors or forebears who had refused substantial sums of money in exchange for these gruesome relics, with some going so far as to claim they declined the weight of the head in gold.
1. The Aztecs
The Aztec people were certain ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those groups who spoke the Nahuatl language and who dominated large parts of Mesoamerica from the 14th to 16th centuries.
The Aztecs began their elaborate theocracy in the 1300s, and brought human sacrifice to a golden era. They believed that for every 52 years that passed, the world would end unless the gods were strong enough. And, as is common knowledge, the best way to toughen up a god is with a steady stream of constant human sacrifice (along with a dash of cannibalism, just for good measure).
About 20,000 people were killed yearly towards keeping their Sun god happy. Hearts of sacrifice victims were cut out, and some bodies were eaten ceremoniously. Other victims were drowned, beheaded, burned or dropped from heights.
And that’s not even the bad part. In a rite to the rain god, shrieking children were killed at several sites so that their tears might induce rain. During the sacrifice to the fire god, a newly-wed couple would be tossed into, you guessed it, a fire. Then, right before they finally died (from their horrendous burns), they’d drag them out, flesh still smoking, and dig out their hearts.
In a rite to the maize goddess, a virgin danced for 24 hours, then was killed and skinned; her skin was worn by a priest in further dancing. One account says that at King Ahuitzotl’s coronation, 80,000 prisoners were butchered to please the gods. It is said that sometimes the victim would be cannibalized.
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