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5 Major Battles of Non-Western Military History

Recent advancements in technology and the institution of war itself have been greatly emphasized in the western world, yet it’s important for military history students and scholars alike to develop a holistic comprehension of war by studying non-western conflicts as well. To help further the understanding of the evolution of war and its influence on the world, here are 5 major battles of non-western military history.

Second Battle of Tarain—1192

Towards the end of the 10th century A.D., Mu’izz ad-Din Muhammad Ghori had taken over as the Ghurid emperor and was aggressively expanding the empire southward toward a town called Tarain, near Thanesar in the northern regions of present-day India. Indian king Chauhan Prithviraj and his forces routed Ghori and the Ghurid empirical army, stopping the expansion of the Ghurid empire by capturing and putting Ghori in prison. While in prison, Ghori pleaded for his life, and in what eventually became a costly act of nobility, King Prithviraj agreed to release Ghori, allowing him to return to the Ghurid empire. Shortly after, Prithviraj called for a ceasefire upon receiving new threats of conquest from Ghori. Using Prithviraj’s request for peace to his advantage, Ghori pretended to consent to the ceasefire, deceiving the Indian king and issuing a surprise attack, which became known as the Second Battle of Tarain. Chauhan Prithviraj’s unsuspecting army was subsequently defeated by the Ghurids, and Prithviraj was executed. The fall of Prithviraj and his army weakened the Buddhist kingdom in the region, allowing the Ghurids to further expand their Muslim empire in India.

Battle of Cajamarca (Atahualpa)–1532

European conquest on the continent of South America was initiated by a Spanish explorer and military strategist named Francisco Pizarro. At this time, circa the 1530s, the indigenous Incans were in the midst of a civil war that had divided loyalties between the Incan emperor, Atahualpa, and he has a half-brother, Huáscar. Pizarro saw the devastation and political unrest as an opportunity to stake his claim to power over the Incan empire. Taking advantage of Emperor Atahualpa’s defeat of Huáscar and the opposition, Pizarro persuaded many of those loyal to the ousted Huáscar to join him in his own plot to overthrow Atahualpa.

Using members of the defeated Incan, Pizarro devised a plan to deceive Atahualpa forces by luring Atahualpa into attending a feast in his honor as the declared emperor. The plan worked as Atahualpa and 5,000 of his unsuspecting soldiers and unarmed men were cornered and slaughtered by Pizarro’s smaller forces. While all of Atahualpa’s soldiers were slain in the battle, he was detained and used as a pawn to mend ties among the Incans in order to further establish and solidify Pizarro’s own power over the empire. Eventually, Pizarro would have Atahualpa strangled to death.

Battle of the Triple Alliance –1864

The War of Triple Alliance pinned Paraguay against Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Prior to the beginning of the conflict, when Brazil intervened in the politics of neighboring Uruguay to help the country’s Colorado Party leader to power, Paraguayan dictator Francisco López became suspicious and responded to the perceived threat with military action. Many would misread this as a move toward military conquest to gain regional power, as López’s military action ignited the most devastating battle in Latin American history with a declaration of war on Brazil in 1864. However, it would soon become clear that López had anticipated the threat of Brazil’s expansion and reacted in defense of his country as an independent entity.

Initially on the offensive at the start of the war in 1864, López’s Paraguayan forces soon found themselves on the defensive in their own territory against their opposition’s overwhelming force. Although massively outnumbered, López’s army withstood multiple attacks from the allied forces, even winning some key battles and inflicting massive casualties upon the opposition. Paraguay held its ground until Argentina’s President Bartolome Mitre was relieved as commander and replaced by Luís Alvez, the “Iron Duke” of Caxias, whose naval forces would be victorious in a battle at the Hamaita river fortress leading to the fall of the Paraguayan capital of Asunción. López and his Paraguayan followers refused to surrender, retreating and continuing the fight to the bitter end. Even after Lopez’s death in 1870, Paraguayan forces still combated the Triple Alliance until 1871. The battle would decimate Paraguay, leaving Brazil and Argentina to divide much of the land between the two countries.

Battle of Adowa—1896

The Battle of Adowa is well-known for being one of Africa’s greatest successes against European nations. Early signs of battle started around 1885 when Italians came to occupy the Massawa port in present-day Eritrea on the Red Sea coast north of Ethiopia. This area was previously occupied by Egyptian forces who sought conquest of Ethiopia and were defeated by Yohannes IV. Yohannes’ success lasted until his battle against a military threat in Sudan when he was killed and his army defeated. Negus Menelik II became his successor and would later defeat the Italian army in the Battle of Adowa.

In preparing for the battle, Menelik successfully bartered and traded throughout the surrounding regions to amass a stockpile of superior European weaponry through both French and Italian channels. After many attempts by Italy to take advantage of Ethiopia, Negus Menelik decided to engage his Italian enemies directly yet was unsuccessful in his advance. Italian military officers and officials in Rome were angered by what they perceived as an insulting challenge against their superior civil society. They commenced an attack on Menelik’s forces who were returning to their Ethiopian homeland. Italian General Oreste Baratieri took pride in his previous victory and grossly underestimated the power and influence of Menelik, who was able to gather a huge force of Ethiopian warriors under his command. Italian forces were pushed back, and after a grueling stalemate, General Baratieri and his commanders attacked in desperation at the behest of Prime Minister Francesco Crispi, who refused to negotiate with the Ethiopians. The massive army of Menelik, wielding a combination of swords, spears and European firearms, would prove far too great a foe for the Italians to surmount. General Baratieri, with his force of both Italian and native soldiers from the region, devised a strategy that fell apart due to their lack of knowledge of the terrain and their underestimation of the sheer numbers of Menelik’s men. The Italian forces were thwarted and only some of them managed to retreat.

The political backlash was so intense following the news of the defeat at the hands of Menelik’s forces that Crispi was forced to resign, and Ethiopia remained the only African nation yet to succumb to European conquest until the short-lived Italian occupation of Ethiopia in the late 1930s. Today, Ethiopia remains an independent nation.

Battle of Huahai—1949

The Communist Regime in China endured a hard-fought struggle to dominate the mainland and position China as one of the world’s most prominent communist entities. The Battle of Huahai in 1949, also known as the Huahai Campaign, marked communist Chairman Mao ZeDong’s victory over the former Chinese Nationalist regime under Chiang Kai-shek, establishing the People’s Republic of China. Warring between parties was a culmination of centuries of feudal and political wars in mainland China dating back to the usurpation of the Ming dynasty by the Qing and beyond.

Two decades prior to the beginning of the battle, Chiang Kai-shek had led the Nationalist Party to dominance in China and successfully combated communist opposition and other outside forces for several years. However, the communist party’s resiliency alongside distractions from Japan and other threats would eventually allow opponent Mao Zedong’s influence to amass enough communist power to challenge the Nationalists. In the 1940s, Mao Zedong’s loyalists would lead the People’s Liberation Army in a civil war against the established Nationalist Regime. Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists had support from the U.S. military in the form of training, but Russia’s army left stockpiles of weaponry at the disposal of Mao Zedong’s communist forces, giving them the advantage over the highly-trained Nationalist forces. At the succession of the grueling Battle of Huahai, the communist party emerged victorious to claim their rule over the mainland. With his party defeated, Chiang Kai-Shek and most of his Nationalist officials and sympathizers fled the mainland to Taiwan to establish their party there. This would lead to the development of the Chinese and Taiwanese nations as they are known today.

Echoes of these landmark historical conflicts still reverberate today, particularly in middle-eastern regions where cultural and religious ideologies have clashed for centuries. By looking back on the violent history exemplified in these battles, our society can develop a more holistic understanding of the nature of the conflict.

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Battle of Cajamarca: Pizarro's Conquistadores Ambush, Capture Incan Emperor, Burn Pit

Battle of Tarain (1191 & 1192),

Second Battle of Tarain,

War of the Triple Alliance, Encyclopedia Britannica

The Battle of Adwa and the Victory of Adwa Centenary Medal,

First Italo-Abyssinian War: Battle of Adowa,

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