Here’s a look at some of the toughest fighting machines humankind ever produced. Good guys, bad guys, somewhere in between, these manly men all had one thing in common: if you were on the other side of them, you’d almost certainly end up dead.
Vespasian was a god, though he wasn’t born one. He was a legendary Roman soldier and commander. Born into a low-status patrician family, Vespasian didn’t have much hope of a political career, so he went hardcore into the Legions, and proved to be awesome at it. He played a huge part in the invasion of Britain, personally capturing at least 20 towns. His no-nonsense attitude had the Emperor Nero almost put him to death, but his life was saved when the Jewish Revolt broke out in 66 AD. Vespasian tore through the revolutionary Zealots, personally laying waste to the city of Jericho, and eventually taking Jerusalem itself.
Meanwhile, Nero was deposed. Civil war broke out in Rome, with four different contenders declared Emperor; Vespasian was one of them. In under a year, the other three were dead, and Vespasian was ruler of the world.
Then he did the most amazing thing of his entire career: he declared peace. The Pax Vespasiana lasted ten years, and would be the longest period in Roman history without any wars. It was something only one of the greatest Roman military men could have gotten away with.
You can tell Vespasian was a really great emperor because no one murdered him. He was one of a tiny handful of Emperors to die of old age. He realized that when he died, the Senate would deify him, so his now famous last words were “Vae! Puto deus fio”; in English: “Crap! I think I’m becoming a God”.
Roland was one of the greatest Knights of King Charlemagne, elevated by legend to be considered the greatest of his peers. He was probably Charlemagne’s nephew, and his skill at arms was said to be unmatched. Of course, it helped that he had a magic sword, named Durendal.
Roland’s death was the thing of legend. When Charlemagne was seeking to liberate the lands of Spain from Muslim rule, his forces were ambushed by a massive (some accounts say 100000) force of Muslims and their Basque allies (and maybe Basque monsters).
While the King retreated, Roland, his sword, and a small group of knights held off the entire army at the pass. Roland was the last one to fall, having killed untold numbers of his foes, and finally thrusting his magic sword into a mountain so that the heathens wouldn’t get it.
3. Yue Fei
The greatest soldier-general in Chinese history. He was born in the 12th century, in the Song Dynasty (the peak of Chinese Civilization). Unfortunately, the great Song were in huge trouble, being invaded by ruthless barbarians called the Jurchen, who took their capital. The son of a poor farmer, he worked his way up the regular army showing incredible combat skills and tactical knowledge. By the time he was 30 he was commander of the largest remaining Song army. He reformed the army into a more disciplined fighting force, and trained them in styles of Kung Fu and secret Qi Gong practices he’d mastered and redesigned. He was said to have won 126 battles and lost none.
Fei was so good, he pushed the Jurchen back and was about to reconquer the Song capital. Unfortunately, there were elements of the Song court that wanted to make a deal with the Jurchen instead. The Emperor was nervous that the former emperor, a prisoner of the Jurchen, might be liberated by Yue Fei and dethrone him. So they called Yue Fei back, imprisoned him, and strangled him to death in jail. The Song never would reconquer their old lands, and survived in diminished form for another 140 years before being wiped out by the Mongols. Fei’s legacy is that he’s remembered as one of China’s greatest folk heroes.
4. Audie Murphy
Born into a poor family in Texas, abandoned by his father, and his mother having died when he was still a teenager, Audie Murphy was the most unlikely super-soldier of WWII. He entered the army with fake papers after Pearl Harbor. But by the end of the War he’d be granted every single award for valor the army had to give as well as a few medals from the French and Belgians!
He took down a German tank with a rifle grenade. When his best friend was shot dead, Murphy charged at a group of Germans behind cover and somehow managed to kill 6 of them and capture 11. When Germans blew up a tank his unit was with, Murphy jumped on the burning tank and used its machine gun to hold the Germans off for an hour, killing 50 of them (which won him the Medal of Honor).
After the war, he went into movies, starring in a number of westerns and of course a couple of war movies too. He also suffered terribly from PTSD, and campaigned to raise awareness of the suffering of veterans returning from war. He died at the age of 45 in a plane crash.