The 10 Worst Medieval Battles

The Middle Ages are often thought of as the Dark Ages, especially when it comes to battles.

The armies and warriors of this period were among the most brutal in history, and they were capable of such horrific acts that even the worst battles of antiquity seem tame in comparison.

Medieval Knights Warfare 1

Here’s a look at 10 of the bloodiest medieval battles ever fought in Europe, from the English invasion of Scotland to the Ottoman siege of Vienna, along with reasons why these battles were so notorious for bloodshed and gore.

1. Battle of Manzikert (1071)

In 1071 AD, the Byzantine Empire was at war with Seljuk Turks on the eastern frontier. The Seljuk general Alp Arslan led an army of more than 50,000 men in a march south to meet Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes’ smaller force of 30,000.

The battle took place near Manzikert. The Byzantines were routed by the more mobile Seljuks who used their cavalry to great effect.

Medieval Lancers - Byzantne Lancers
Medieval Lancers from the Byzantine empire, these medieval Lancers take on the Muslim troops

“Manzikert was a turning point in medieval history, a battle that not only decided the fate of the Byzantine Empire but also opened the door for the rise of the Seljuk Turks and ultimately the Ottoman Empire.”

“Manzikert was a turning point in medieval history, a battle that not only decided the fate of the Byzantine Empire but also opened the door for the rise of the Seljuk Turks and ultimately the Ottoman Empire.”

2. Battle of Bannockburn (1314)

In 1314, the Scottish army led by Robert the Bruce defeated an English army led by Edward II of England. It was one of the bloodiest battles in medieval history, with an estimated 15,000 to 25,000 casualties.

The battle took place near Stirling Castle in Bannockburn and lasted for three days. On the first day of battle (June 24), the Scots lured a contingent of English soldiers into marshland which had been set aflame before attacking them with arrows and spears.

Battle of Bannockburn
The Battle of Bannockburn

“The Battle of Bannockburn was a landmark moment in Scottish history, a resounding victory for Robert the Bruce and a turning point in the Wars of Scottish Independence.”

Fiona Watson, Professor of History at the University of Stirling and author of “Scotland: From Prehistory to the Present.”

3. Battle of Kalka River (1223)

One of the worst battles in medieval history was the Battle of Kalka River in 1223. The battle was part of a larger conflict between two rival branches of the Mongolian dynasty.

This battle is historically significant because it is often considered to be the first battle where firearms played a major role.


“The Battle of Kalka River was a catastrophic defeat for the Rus’ forces and a major turning point in the Mongol conquest of Eastern Europe.”

Donald Ostrowski, Professor of History at Harvard University and author of “Muscovy and the Mongols: Cross-Cultural Influences on the Steppe Frontier, 1304-1589.”

4. Second Arab Siege of Constantinople (674–678)

In 672, Arab armies began to besiege Constantinople. The siege lasted for three years before the Arab forces withdrew without achieving their goal of conquering the city.

They did however succeed in cutting off all trade routes to Constantinople which helped weaken the empire’s economy. The Byzantine Empire would never be able to completely recover from this siege.

Battle during Siege of Constantinople Theodosian Walls Golden Horn harbour

“The Second Arab Siege of Constantinople was a critical moment in the history of the Byzantine Empire, a siege that not only saved the city from Arab conquest but also marked a turning point in the Byzantine-Muslim Wars.”

John Haldon, Professor of Byzantine History and Hellenic Studies at Princeton University and author of “The Byzantine Wars.”

5. Battle of Legnano (1176)

The Battle of Legnano (1176) is one of the bloodiest battles in medieval history. In the 11th century the territories of Northern Italy were divided between Lombardy-Liguria and Tuscany.

The Guelph faction had strong ties to Germany while the Ghibellines were supported by France. In 1176 Emperor Frederick Barbarossa invaded Italy with a huge army to put an end to this situation.

“The Battle of Legnano was a pivotal moment in Italian history, a victory for the Lombard League that established the independence of northern Italian city-states and paved the way for the Renaissance.”

John Jeffries Martin, Professor Emeritus of History at Trinity University and author of “Venice’s Hidden Enemies: Italian Heretics in a Renaissance City.”

6. Battle of Roncevaux Pass (778)

In one of the bloodiest battles in medieval history, Roncevaux Pass attempted to take on the Muslims at Roncevaux Pass. He was trying to get back an important relic that had been stolen by the Muslims.

The battle began with a group of 200 or 300 Franks attacking a much larger Muslim force. Both sides were armed with swords and axes but this didn’t stop the violence from being gruesome.

The Franks were quickly overpowered by the sheer number of Muslims in their way and those who survived were captured or killed.


8. Third Battle Of Kosovo Polje (1389)

Third Battle Of Kosovo Polje (1389) The battle that’s commonly cited as the most devastating in medieval history, the Third Battle of Kosovo Polje lasted for three days. It pitted the Ottoman Empire against a Serbian coalition led by Prince Lazar Hrebeljanovic.

It was during this battle that Lazar was killed and decapitated by an Ottoman soldier. His head was then paraded around Istanbul on a stick before being returned to Serbia where it was mocked with insults written in Turkish.

Murad I

9. Battle Of Mohi (1241)

While the Battle of Mohi was not one of the most significant battles in the Middle Ages, it is memorable for the sheer amount of blood that was shed.

It was a pivotal battle in history because it essentially ended Western Christianity’s struggle against Eastern Christianity during the Mongol invasion.

Eighth Crusade Mongol Army

10. Second battle at Aleppo (1260)

In the year 1260, Aleppo was the second largest city in the world. It was also a major trading hub with goods originating from Persia, China, and Europe being traded there.

When Mongols attacked Aleppo they were successful at defeating many of the Syrian troops. They conquered Aleppo on March 11th 1260 after a grueling 3-month siege.

The battle left 70% of the population dead as well as destroyed much of the city’s buildings.

Medieval Mamluk Soldier
Picture of a Medieval Mamluk Soldier from Aleppo