Deadliest Weapons in History

The Maxim gun, developed around 1884, was a recoil-operated, belt-fed, water-cooled machine gun that fired more than 500 rounds per minute at an effective range of more than 2,000 yards (1,830 meters). Maxim was an outspoken and effective advocate for his weapon, and armies across Europe adopted some version of the Maxim in the years before World War I.

Maxim machine gun

Nuclear weapons are the elephant in the room when the deadliest weapons in history are being discussed. The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, killed 70,000 people initially, with tens of thousands more succumbing to radiation sickness over subsequent months and years. The explosive yield of Little Boy, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, was equivalent to about 15 kilotons of TNTt

Nuclear weapon

Few military advances fundamentally altered European society more than the rise of shock cavalry. The ascendancy of the mounted knight was the result of an accumulation of technological innovations over hundreds of years. The war saddle had been introduced by the 6th century, and the iron stirrup (often mistakenly credited as the single invention that enabled heavy mounted warfare) was common by the 7th. The curb bit, necessary for controlling a warhorse, probably dates from about the same time.

Shock cavalry

the Byzantine Greeks, who created a composition known to history as Greek fire. The composition of Greek fire was such a closely guarded secret that its exact formula remains unknown, but its effectiveness in combat likely prolonged the life of the Byzantine Empire. A modern version of Greek fire, napalm, first saw use during World War II. 

Greek fire/napalm

The adoption of rifled bores in field artillery pieces greatly increased the range, accuracy, and lethality of big guns. The development of the assault rifle during World War II transformed infantry combat as volume of fire and rapid maneuver by small units eclipsed precision marksmanship as a measure of effectiveness (an evolution that, ironically, minimized the accuracy issues that rifling was supposed to address). The AK-47 assault rifle is perhaps the defining piece of military hardware of the 20th century.


the destructive power of attack submarines pales when compared with ballistic missile subs. The U.S. Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine was equipped to carry up to 24 Trident missiles (although this number was reduced by treaty), each missile MIRVed to deliver as many as 10 nuclear warheads, and each of those individual warheads was designed to generate a 475-kiloton blast.


biological weapons tend to be even more capricious than chemical weapons. Viruses and bacteria do not discriminate on the basis of uniform, insignia, or allegiance. Beginning in 1346, Genoese defenders at Kaffa (now Feodosiya, Ukraine) withstood a Mongol siege that lasted for more than a year. When disease began to ravage the besieging forces, the Mongols responded by catapulting plague-ridden corpses over the city walls.

Biological weapons

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