The Deadliest Battle In History By Fatality Rate

And not a modern weapon in sight

Grant Piper
5 min readMay 17


(Public domain)

Over two thousand years ago, the armies of Carthage dealt Rome a devastating military blow. The victory was so complete that some modern military historians have deemed it the perfect defeat. On the fields of Cannae, the legendary general Hanibal orchestrated a masterclass on battlefield tactics and secured the deadliest battle in all of human history.

There are many bloody battles littered throughout the eras, but none of them come close to matching Cannae in terms of fatality rate. Modern armies are extremely efficient and lethal, but there are so many people deployed and such good medical care that raw fatality rates are actually rather low.

For comparison purposes, the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the bloodiest events in US history, had a fatality rate of 4.75%.

The Battle of Okinawa, where thousands of Japanese soldiers infamously killed themselves along with swaths of the local civilian population rather than surrender, had a fatality rate of 35%.

The Battle of Cannae, fought in 216 BCE, long before the rifle was even an idea in the realm of science fiction, had a fatality rate of 52.5%.

Over half of everyone who participated in the Battle of Cannae died in the engagement. And most of the losses were Roman.


Hanibal’s path to the Alps and Cannae (Wikipedia)

In the year 218 BCE, the Carthaginian general Hanibal pulled off one of the most stunning feats in military history. The Romans were expecting to fight the Second Punic War in Southern Italy and North Africa and had positioned themselves in such a way to fight on their terms. Hanibal flipped that notion on its head by marching an army from southern Iberia (Spain) up the coastline and over the Alps into Northern Italy. The move caught everyone by surprise, and the image of Hanibal driving elephants over the snowy Alps has captured the imagination ever since.

After crossing the Alps, Hanibal led a devastating campaign down the spine of Italy, eventually ending up at the village of Cannae in 216…



Grant Piper

Professional writer. Amateur historian. Husband, father, Christian.