War of conquest

Human sacrifice

Despot or tyrant

Dynastic dispute

Religious conflict

War of domination

Collapsed state

Ethnic cleansing

Colonial exploitation

Internal clash

Colonial revolt

Brutal events often have myriad, overlapping causes. Here, up to three drivers of

violence (organized by color) have been selected for each incident depicted below.

War of domination

War of conquest

Colonial exploitation

Despot or tyrant

Colonial revolt

Ethnic cleansing

Religious conflict

Human sacrifice

Internal clash

Dynastic dispute

Collapsed state

PEAKS OF BRUTALITY

This rendering of history’s most lethal periods highlights the

100 deadliest events of the past 2,500 years, based on work by researcher and author Matthew White. In 1945 WWII became the bloodiest war in recorded history. Death tolls, especially those further back in time, are best estimates. Statistics can’t fully reflect the devastation and suffering of war. But they illustrate how humankind has been prone to surges of violence throughout the ages, motivated by many of the same

timeless drivers.

BY ALBERTO LUCAS LÓPEZ

AND KAYA LEE BERNE

ROOTS OF VIOLENCE

Brutal events often have myriad, overlapping

causes. Here, up to three drivers of violence

(organized by color) have been selected for

each incident depicted below.

War of conquest

Human sacrifice

Despot or tyrant

Dynastic dispute

Religious conflict

War of domination

Collapsed state

Ethnic cleansing

Colonial exploitation

Internal clash

Colonial revolt

Diamond

size shows scale of deaths

17 M

9. Timur

(1370-1405)

Date

Rank out of 100 in death tolls

Estimated deaths in millions

ancient world

500 B.C.–A.D. 476

Wealth was agricultural or took the form of tangible goods, making war an efficient way to acquire resources. War could drain agrarian workforces and hamper cultivation, causing massive death tolls.

46

40

47

28

25

83

71

61

58

19

96

84

97

94

INDEX OF THE ATROCITIES

(with deaths under 7 million) Incidents with

the same estimated death toll are listed in

order by date of occurrence.

19. Decline and Fall of the Western

Roman Empire 7 M (395 B.C.-476 B.C.)

25. Three Kingdoms of China 4.1 M (189-280 B.C.)

28. Gladiatorial Games 3.5 M (264 B.C.-435 B.C.)

40. Age of Warring States 1.5 M (475 B.C.-221 B.C.)

46. Qin Shi Huang Di 1 M (221 B.C.-210 B.C.)

47. Roman slave wars 1 M (134 B.C.-71 B.C.)

58. Second Punic War 0.77 M (218 B.C.-202 B.C.)

61. Gallic War 0.7 M (58 B.C.-51 B.C.)

71. Alexander the Great 0.5 M (336 B.C.-325 B.C.)

83. First Punic War 0.4 M (264 B.C.-241 B.C.)

84. Third Mithridatic War 0.4 M (73 B.C.-63 B.C.)

94. Roman-Jewish Wars 0.35 M (66-74, 132-135)

96. Second Persian War 0.3 M (480 B.C.-479 B.C.)

97. War of the Allies 0.3 M (91 B.C.-88 B.C.)

MEDIEVAL AGE

476–1450

Guns, gunpowder, and artillery

transformed warfare by the 1300s. The

“gunpowder age” began in East Asia

and spread to Europe, drastically

changing military technology and

political structures.

2. Genghis Khan

40 M (1206-1227)

The charismatic leader united Mongol

tribes of nomadic horsemen and brutally

conquered nations all across Central Asia,

founding the Mongol Empire in 1206.

It’s estimated that over 10 percent

of the world’s population

was annihilated.

48

30

29

17. Fall of the Yuan

Dynasty 7.5 M

(1340-1370)

49

8. Mideast

Slave Trade 18.5 M

(7th-19th centuries)

Demand for labor escalated the slave trade along Africa’s east coast and in

the Sahara.

37

55

9. Timur

17 M (1370-1405)

The last of the Mongol conquerors violently swept through Central Asia, killing

millions.

59

62

13. An Lushan

Rebellion 13 M

(755-763)

67

72

29. Hundred Years’ War 3.5 M (1337-1453)

30. Crusades 3 M (1095-1291)

37. Fang La Rebellion 2 M (1095-1291)

48. Maya Collapse 1 M (790-909)

49. Albigensian Crusade 1 M (1208-1229)

55. Hulagu Khan's campaign 0.8 M (1255-1260)

59. Justinian’s Western Wars 0.75 M (527-565)

62. Chinese conquest of Vietnam 0.7 M (1407-1428)

67. Goguryeo-Sui Wars 0.6 M (598, 612)

72. Bahmani-Vijayanagara War 0.5 M (1366)

 

RENAISSANCE

AND EXPLORATION

1450–1650

Advanced shipbuilding techniques and the creation of large standing armies contributed to western Europe’s rise as a world power as it sought fortune in the New World.

5. Fall of the

Ming Dynasty

25 M (1635-1662)

A cultural peak of Chinese civilization, this dynasty was also beset by corruption and lawlessness, opening China to conquest by neighboring

Manchu.

31

18. Thirty Years’ War 7.5 M

(1618-1648)

10. Atlantic

Slave Trade 16 M

(1452-1807)

Deaths occurred in Africa, at sea, and during the slaves’ first year in the Americas.

45

11. Conquest of

the Americas

15 M (beginning

1492)

54

22

73

22. The Time of Troubles 5 M (1598-1613)

31. French Wars of Religion 3 M (1562-1598)

45. Aztec human sacrifice 1.2 M (1440-1521)

54. Burma-Siam Wars 0.9 M (1550-1605)

73. Russo-Tatar War 0.5 M (1570-1572)

Rise of nation-states

and colonialism

1650–1914

In an era of industrial development

and the rise of nation-states, it was Europeans, predominantly the British with their strong army and navy, who were able to expand their political control across the globe.

4. Famines in

British India 27 M

(1769-1770, 1876-1879,

1896-1900)

Repeated droughts and famines were intensified by

laissez-faire economics

and colonial exploitation

by the British

government.

65

41

32

63

15. Congo Free

State 10 M

(1885-1908)

21. Mahdi

Revolt 5.5 M

(1881-1898)

66

57

42

50

68

6. Taiping

Rebellion 20 M

(1850-1864)

85

75

82

74

86

81

87

26

23

90

92

91

98

23. Aurangzeb 4.6 M (1658-1707)

26. Napoleonic Wars 4 M (1792-1815)

32. Peter the Great 3 M (1682-1725)

41. Seven Years War 1.5 M (1756-1763)

42. Shaka 1.5 M (1816-1828)

50. Panthay Rebellion 1 M (1855-1873)

57. French conquest of Algeria 0.78 M (1830-1847)

63. War of the Spanish Succession 0.7 M (1701-1713)

65. American Civil War 0.69 M (1861-1865)

66. Hui Rebellion 0.64 M (1862-1873)

68. Sino-Dzungar War 0.6 M (1755-1757)

74. War of the Austrian Succession 0.5 M (1740-1748)

75. Russo-Turkish War 0.5 M (1877-1878)

81. War of the Triple Alliance 0.48 M (1864-1870)

82. Franco-Prussian War 0.43 M (1870-1871)

85. Cromwell's invasion of lreland 0.4 M (1649-1652)

86. Haitian Slave Revolt 0.4 M (1791-1803)

87. Mexican War of Independence 0.4 M (1810-1821)

90. Great Turkish War 0.38 M (1682-1699)

91. Great Northern War 0.37 M (1700-1721)

92. Cuban Revolution 0.36 M (1895-1898)

98. Crimean War 0.3 M (1854-1856)

MODERN AGE

1914–today

After some of the largest battles of all time, a rise in smaller conflicts played out by paramilitary groups using guerrilla and counterinsurgency tactics ensues. Information becomes a weapon.

1. World War II 66 M

(1939-1945)

53

36

33

1a

20. Chinese

Civil War 7 M

(1927-1937,

1945-1949)

16. Russian Civil War 9 M

(1918-1920)

34

35

3. Mao Zedong

40 M (1949-1976)

The Communist regime tried to remake the oldest and largest society on Earth. Millions died in political purges, and tens of millions died in famines caused by mismanaged

agricultural reforms.

70

60

56

51

76

38

24

77

27

52

7. Joseph Stalin

20 M (1928-1953)

69

78

64

Punitive famine accounted for at least six million deaths. Over four million died in forced labor

camps.

80

93

88

95

79

89

99

100

39

43

12. World War I

15 M (1914-1918)

44

12a

24. Vietnam War 4.2 M (1959-1975)

27. Second Congo War 3.8 M (1998-2002)

33. North Korea 3 M (since 1948)

34. Korean War 3 M (1950-1953)

35. Sudan War 2.6 M (since 1955)

36. Expulsion of Germans from

Eastern Europe 2.1 M (1945-1947)

38. Mengistu Haile 2 M (1974-1991)

39. Democratic Kampuchea 1.67 M (1975-1979)

43. Bangladesh Genocide 1.5 M (1971)

44. Soviet-Afghan War 1.5 M (1979-1992)

51. Mexican Revolution 1 M (1910-1920)

52. Biafran War 1 M (1966-1970)

53. Rwandan Genocide 0.94 M (1994)

56. Mozambican Civil War 0.8 M (1975-1992)

60. Italo-Ethiopian War 0.75 M (1935-1941)

64. Iran-Iraq War 0.7 M (1980-1988)

69. Algerian War 0.52 M (1954-1962)

70. Syrian Civil War 0.51 M* (2011-today)

76. Partition of lndia 0.5 M (1947)

77. Indonesian Purge 0.5 M** (1965-1966)

78. Angolan Civil War 0.5 M (1975-1994)

79. Ugandan Bush War 0.5 M (1979-1986)

80. Somalian chaos 0.5 M (1991-today)

88. Greco-Turkish War 0.4 M (1919-1922)

89. French Indochina War 0.39 M (1945-1954)

93. Spanish Civil War 0.36 M (1936-1939)

95. Sanctions against Iraq 0.35 M (1990-2003)

99. Idi Amin 0.3 M (1971-1979)

100. Saddam Hussein 0.3 M (1979-2003)

1a. The Holocaust killed six million Jews and

several million other minorities.

12a. About a million Armenian Christians were

killed by the Young Turk regime.

*NOT INCLUDED IN ORIGINAL SOURCE DATA

**DEATH TOLL UPDATED WITH MOST

RECENT ESTIMATE

KATIE ARMSTRONG, NGM STAFF. SOURCES: MATTHEW WHITE, THE GREAT BIG BOOK OF HORRIBLE THINGS; BEN KIERNAN, YALE UNIVERSITY; PETER BRECKE, GEORGIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY

PEAKS OF BRUTALITY

This rendering of history’s most lethal periods highlights the

100 deadliest events of the past 2,500 years, based on work by researcher and author Matthew White. In 1945 WWII became the bloodiest war in recorded history. Death tolls, especially those further back in time, are best estimates. Statistics can’t fully reflect the devastation and suffering of war. But they illustrate how humankind has been prone to surges of violence throughout the ages, motivated by many of the same timeless drivers.

BY ALBERTO LUCAS LÓPEZ

AND KAYA LEE BERNE

ROOTS OF VIOLENCE

Brutal events often have myriad, overlapping causes. Here, up to three drivers of

violence (organized by color) have been selected for each incident depicted below.

War of domination

War of conquest

Colonial exploitation

Despot or tyrant

Colonial revolt

Ethnic cleansing

Religious conflict

Human sacrifice

Internal clash

Dynastic dispute

Collapsed state

Diamond

size shows scale of deaths

17 M

9. Timur

(1370-1405)

Date

Rank out of 100 in death tolls

Estimated deaths in millions

ancient world

500 B.C.–A.D. 476

Wealth was agricultural or took the form of tangible goods, making war an efficient way to acquire resources. War could drain agrarian workforces and hamper cultivation, causing massive death tolls.

25

19

46

71

40

28

47

83

84

61

58

94

96

97

INDEX OF THE ATROCITIES (with deaths under 7 million) Incidents with the same estimated

death toll are listed in order by date of occurrence.

19. Decline and Fall of the Western

Roman Empire 7 M (395 B.C.-476 B.C.)

25. Three Kingdoms of China 4.1 M (189-280 B.C.)

28. Gladiatorial Games 3.5 M (264 B.C.-435 B.C.)

40. Age of Warring States 1.5 M (475 B.C.-221 B.C.)

46. Qin Shi Huang Di 1 M (221 B.C.-210 B.C.)

47. Roman slave wars 1 M (134 B.C.-71 B.C.)

58. Second Punic War 0.77 M (218 B.C.-202 B.C.)

61. Gallic War 0.7 M (58 B.C.-51 B.C.)

71. Alexander the Great 0.5 M (336 B.C.-325 B.C.)

83. First Punic War 0.4 M (264 B.C.-241 B.C.)

84. Third Mithridatic War 0.4 M (73 B.C.-63 B.C.)

94. Roman-Jewish Wars 0.35 M (66-74, 132-135)

96. Second Persian War 0.3 M (480 B.C.-479 B.C.)

97. War of the Allies 0.3 M (91 B.C.-88 B.C.)

MEDIEVAL AGE

476–1450

Guns, gunpowder, and artillery transformed warfare by the 1300s. The “gunpowder age” began in East Asia and spread to Europe, drastically changing military technology and political structures.

2. Genghis Khan 40 M

(1206-1227)

8. Mideast Slave

Trade 18.5 M

(7th-19th centuries)

9. Timur 17 M

(1370-1405)

30

29

17. Fall of the Yuan Dynasty 7.5 M

(1340-1370)

55

37

13. An Lushan

Rebellion 13 M

(755-763)

62

59

49

67

48

72

55. Hulagu Khan's campaign 0.8 M (1255-1260)

59. Justinian’s Western Wars 0.75 M (527-565)

62. Chinese conquest of Vietnam 0.7 M (1407-1428)

67. Goguryeo-Sui Wars 0.6 M (598, 612)

72. Bahmani-Vijayanagara War 0.5 M (1366)

29. Hundred Years’ War 3.5 M (1337-1453)

30. Crusades 3 M (1095-1291)

37. Fang La Rebellion 2 M (1095-1291)

48. Maya Collapse 1 M (790-909)

49. Albigensian Crusade 1 M (1208-1229)

 

 

RENAISSANCE AND EXPLORATION

1450–1650

Advanced shipbuilding techniques and the creation of large standing armies contributed to western Europe’s rise as a world power as it sought fortune in the New World.

5. Fall of the Ming

Dynasty 25 M

(1635-1662)

11. Conquest of the Americas 15 M

(beginning 1492)

10. Atlantic Slave Trade 16 M

(1452-1807)

45

54

18. Thirty

Years’ War 7.5 M

(1618-1648)

22

73

31

22. The Time of Troubles 5 M (1598-1613)

31. French Wars of Religion 3 M (1562-1598)

45. Aztec human sacrifice 1.2 M (1440-1521)

54. Burma-Siam Wars 0.9 M (1550-1605)

73. Russo-Tatar War 0.5 M (1570-1572)

Rise of nation-states and colonialism

1650–1914

In an era of industrial development and the rise of nation-states, it was Europeans, predominantly the British with their strong army and navy, who were able to expand their political control across the globe.

4. Famines in

British India 27 M

(1769-1770, 1876-1879,

1896-1900)

15. Congo Free

State 10 M

(1885-1908)

6. Taiping

Rebellion 20 M

(1850-1864)

21. Mahdi

Revolt 5.5 M

(1881-1898)

74

23

92

63

50

26

90

85

41

65

82

87

32

57

86

75

66

98

91

42

81

68

74. War of the Austrian Succession 0.5 M (1740-1748)

75. Russo-Turkish War 0.5 M (1877-1878)

81. War of the Triple Alliance 0.48 M (1864-1870)

82. Franco-Prussian War 0.43 M (1870-1871)

85. Cromwell's invasion of lreland 0.4 M (1649-1652)

86. Haitian Slave Revolt 0.4 M (1791-1803)

87. Mexican War of Independence 0.4 M (1810-1821)

90. Great Turkish War 0.38 M (1682-1699)

91. Great Northern War 0.37 M (1700-1721)

92. Cuban Revolution 0.36 M (1895-1898)

98. Crimean War 0.3 M (1854-1856)

23. Aurangzeb 4.6 M (1658-1707)

26. Napoleonic Wars 4 M (1792-1815)

32. Peter the Great 3 M (1682-1725)

41. Seven Years War 1.5 M (1756-1763)

42. Shaka 1.5 M (1816-1828)

50. Panthay Rebellion 1 M (1855-1873)

57. French conquest of Algeria 0.78 M (1830-1847)

63. War of the Spanish Succession 0.7 M (1701-1713)

65. American Civil War 0.69 M (1861-1865)

66. Hui Rebellion 0.64 M (1862-1873)

68. Sino-Dzungar War 0.6 M (1755-1757)

MODERN AGE

1914–today

After some of the largest battles of all time, a rise in smaller conflicts played out by paramilitary groups using guerrilla and counter- insurgency tactics ensues. Information becomes a weapon.

7. Joseph Stalin 20 M

(1928-1953)

1a

3. Mao Zedong 40 M

(1949-1976)

16. Russian Civil War 9 M

(1918-1920)

88

20. Chinese

Civil War 7 M

(1927-1937,

1945-1949)

24

89

36

51

33

43

27

35

52

38

93

76

99

12a

56

53

95

44

100

79

77

70

39

64

34

69

80

78

60

24. Vietnam War 4.2 M (1959-1975)

27. Second Congo War 3.8 M (1998-2002)

33. North Korea 3 M (since 1948)

34. Korean War 3 M (1950-1953)

35. Sudan War 2.6 M (since 1955)

36. Expulsion of Germans from

Eastern Europe 2.1 M (1945-1947)

38. Mengistu Haile 2 M (1974-1991)

39. Democratic Kampuchea 1.67 M (1975-1979)

43. Bangladesh Genocide 1.5 M (1971)

44. Soviet-Afghan War 1.5 M (1979-1992)

51. Mexican Revolution 1 M (1910-1920)

52. Biafran War 1 M (1966-1970)

53. Rwandan Genocide 0.94 M (1994)

56. Mozambican Civil War 0.8 M (1975-1992)

60. Italo-Ethiopian War 0.75 M (1935-1941)

64. Iran-Iraq War 0.7 M (1980-1988)

69. Algerian War 0.52 M (1954-1962)

70. Syrian Civil War 0.51 M* (2011-today)

76. Partition of lndia 0.5 M (1947)

77. Indonesian Purge 0.5 M** (1965-1966)

78. Angolan Civil War 0.5 M (1975-1994)

79. Ugandan Bush War 0.5 M (1979-1986)

80. Somalian chaos 0.5 M (1991-today)

88. Greco-Turkish War 0.4 M (1919-1922)

89. French Indochina War 0.39 M (1945-1954)

93. Spanish Civil War 0.36 M (1936-1939)

95. Sanctions against Iraq 0.35 M (1990-2003)

99. Idi Amin 0.3 M (1971-1979)

100. Saddam Hussein 0.3 M (1979-2003)

1a. The Holocaust killed six million Jews and

several million other minorities.

12a. About a million Armenian Christians were

killed by the Young Turk regime.

*NOT INCLUDED IN ORIGINAL SOURCE DATA

**DEATH TOLL UPDATED WITH MOST RECENT ESTIMATE

KATIE ARMSTRONG, NGM STAFF. SOURCES: MATTHEW WHITE, THE GREAT BIG BOOK OF HORRIBLE THINGS;

BEN KIERNAN, YALE UNIVERSITY; PETER BRECKE, GEORGIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY

7. Joseph Stalin 20 M

(1928-1953)

3. Mao Zedong 40 M

(1949-1976)

16. Russian Civil War 9 M

(1918-1920)

20. Chinese

Civil War 7 M

(1927-1937,

1945-1949)