Throughout human history, conflicts driven by territorial disputes, resource acquisition, and ideological differences have spurred the quest for military advantage. This pursuit has led to the development of increasingly deadly technologies, often disregarding the horrifying consequences of these new weapons. As a result, military technology has evolved over millennia, yielding instruments of destruction with astonishing effectiveness. Many modern weapons leverage the power of terror itself—exploiting the psychological impact on enemies—to achieve victory. (also read: The Future Weapons the US is Spending Billions in R&D On.)
To identify history’s deadliest weapons, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed a report called “Quantification Related to Weapon Lethality,” originally issued in 1964 by the Historical Evaluation and Research Organization for the U.S. Army Combat Developments Command. It rates the lethal potential of various weapons on such quantifiable measures as number of potential targets per strike, relative effect, effective range, accuracy, reliability, and mobility.(Also see: 17 prototype guns rejected by the US military.) It’s important to acknowledge that this list is meant to be a sample of some of the deadliest weapons — there are, for example, other highly-deadly nuclear weapons besides those listed here.
Some entries on this list underscore the rapid technological evolution since the Industrial Revolution. Take the sword, a tool used across cultures and eras, which retains ceremonial significance in military contexts. In contrast, the weapons employed in World War I were rendered obsolete at the outset of World War II.
Click here to see history’s deadliest weapons
The progression of military technology often originates from scientific advancements in unrelated fields. For instance, the airplane, initially conceived as a rapid mode of transportation, swiftly found application in warfare. This relationship is reciprocal; gunpowder, employed in Chinese warfare as early as the 10th century, serves not only as a tool for destruction but also as a means to excavate tunnels and provide entertainment through fireworks. (Here are some examples of World War II Weapons That Didn’t Work.)
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