Homo Erectus is one of the oldest of the Homo species that went extinct 100,000 years ago. Let's say that Homo Erectus made it to Australia and was isolated on that continent until British colonization. Let's also say that the Homo Erectus were able to quickly copy the military technology of the British. What advantages would a Homo Erectus have also a Homo Sapiens in warfare?

Homo Erectus were generally taller than the average person today which would lead to a reach advantage in melee combat. They also had thicker skulls than humans which would mean head injuries are less debilitating. On the other hand, their brains were generally smaller than humans which could mean they aren't as effective at war strategy.

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    $\begingroup$ "were able to quickly copy the military technology" I'd say that right there puts them at the advantage by showing what they are capable of. If you can catch up to someone that quickly you can outpace them as well. One doesn't just copy military technology...to do that you also need to copy all the infrastructure supporting it which means you need to copy the technology supporting that infrastructure. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Jul 5, 2022 at 19:25
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    $\begingroup$ They might not even be able to operate any kind of sophisticated tools. There is debate if they used fire. They likely would be unable to maintain sophisticated social structures (like towns, factories or military units much larger than a squad). They wouldn't have the intelligence to mass-produce something like a musket (if at all). $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Jul 5, 2022 at 19:30
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    $\begingroup$ Coming up with the idea is very different than copying and learning the technique. The indigenous peoples of what is now America learned very quickly how to use European weapons and tools, even though they could not manufacture them. And they certainly did not copy the European military strategies, they developed their own. $\endgroup$ Jul 5, 2022 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ The 180 centimeters appear to be more of the upper margin of Homo Erectus body sizes: "Like modern humans, H. erectus varied widely in size, ranging from 146–185 cm (4 ft 9 in – 6 ft 1 in) in height and 40–68 kg (88–150 lb) in weight, thought to be due to regional differences in climate, mortality rates, or nutrition." (Wikipedia) $\endgroup$
    – Schmuddi
    Jul 6, 2022 at 5:59
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    $\begingroup$ given the extreme and shockingly recent history of dehumanisation of Aboriginal Australians in the pursuit of their genocide, it may be worth thinking very carefully about the implications of replacing them with a species of early hominid in your world, and whether it may be better served by using a different (or entirely fictional) landmass $\endgroup$
    – Tristan
    Jul 6, 2022 at 10:05

5 Answers 5


Advantage: H. Sapiens

Seems crazy, but consider that weapons are a force multiplier which lets the basically unarmored person contend with lions and tigers, which are some of the best killing machines made by mother nature. The differences are not extreme enough in comparison to things like logistics, fighting techniques, and overall strategy to matter.

I bet similar wounds bring them down as easily as us. They have no horns, no meaningfully thicker skin, no bone plates... Nothing in the h. erectus body screams "major advantage" over your average h. sapiens and reduced mental capacity is too much a disadvantage.

Reach and Strength Helps Only a Little

As a HEMA practitioner and mostly average man, I have literally crossed swords with people larger and smaller than myself. Advantages in size and strength matter most for grappling, but can be counteracted by technique and speed. The extra height (if any- see question's linked wiki page) and strength may result in stronger blows, but not that much stronger. Some h. sapiens skilled in fighting, either as a unit or individually, can use their weapon(s) just as easily against a h. erectus as a h. sapiens.

Strength, of course, becomes nearly negligible when talking about firearms. Guns and cannon are just so strong and damaging that all members of the homo family would die equally well from these. That's the advantage of not using muscle to power your weapons.

Brains Help A Lot

Using the assumption they are worse at tactics than humans, but not overall strategy and logistics, this gives the advantage to a unit of h.sapiens over h.erectus. Things change when fighting as a unit, which requires discipline and coordination. You need to recognize when your buddy's man is open and strike them when they are preoccupied. Alternatively, knowing when to stand ground and defend the musketeers is more important than making a hole in your line looking for a kill. Ultimately, coordination is more important on the unit level than individual capability.

Assuming h. etectus is worse at logistics and strategy, then they will generally lose to h. sapiens in war. The capacity to stay organized, fed, clothed, and armed does more to ensure victory than individual efforts or a big battle. Being at the right place and time to cut off and weaken an opposing army is why you get generals! This has (and may always) be true throughout human history. Hungry, cold, and/or outnumbered solders don't fight well in spite of their peak ability for violence.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't think you can say Homo Erectus would be inherently worse at logistics if they were able to copy the technology. Lack of experience with battlefield logistics maybe but that's not really a brain issue, and by the time they copied the technology they would have lots of experience with backend logistics. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Jul 5, 2022 at 22:14
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    $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen the counter argument, which I am not totally dedicated to, goes something like... They're worse at war strategy and supply lines/logistics is part of war strategy. I tried to cover my bases with speculating on both cases. This is the internet, and someone would point out one or the other if I didn't do both. $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    Jul 5, 2022 at 22:45

Copying the military technology of the British is insufficient. The British had thousands of years of evolving military strategy and weren't hunter gatherers. They'd just do what they did everywhere and arm one group of natives to kill the others.

The other problem is natural resources, Australia is poor in natural resources. Knowing how to make a gun is useless without the materials to make it with, or the gunpowder to power it. Or even the material to make the tools to begin making the gun with. So in terms of science everything from geology to advanced metal working, to chemistry is needed.

The bright side of the coin is that Australia is not particularly hospitable. The English would go no further than the coasts for a while. Going inland is only worth doing if you have a bunch of convicts to unload.

Physically I would expect them to be stronger and fitter than humans. That may not save them from wholesale destruction due to introduced diseases. That happened to many Pacific Islands who were in a position to resist colonisation before disease wiped out most of their populations.

Socially they don't stand a chance. Hunter gatherers have never won long term. Their social structure makes them more likely to move into marginal areas and self terminate slowly rather than fight to the death. They have no overriding stake in the land they happen to be standing on. No crops in the ground to tend. Their lifestyle precludes maintaining large forces, especially in Australia. They'd just run out of food. Groups would be forced into other groups creating conflict over resources and it would be bloody chaos.

If you want them to win, give them a disease which is relatively harmless to them but deadly to humans. Europeans depopulated whole Islands with the measles. So it could work the other way around as well. Your homo erectus could then just enslave the survivors and take all their technology. Any armies sent in would meet the same fate.

This could even end with the homo erectus farming and shipbuilding and then taking over the World from homo sapiens through invasion.

  • $\begingroup$ Since Homo Erectus are an entirely different species from Homo Sapiens, I don't think they would be as vulnerable to disease as other aboriginal groups were. $\endgroup$
    – ITM_Coder
    Jul 6, 2022 at 16:52
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    $\begingroup$ Counter-point: when humans start spending too much time too close to another species, they catch all sorts of diseases $\endgroup$
    – njzk2
    Jul 6, 2022 at 19:58
  • $\begingroup$ @ITM_Coder I'm unconvinced that homo erectus is a different species. Homo sapiens interbred with Neandertal and Denisovans, and it's conjectured that Denisovans interbred with Homo Erectus. But we get deadly diseases from birds and rats so it's possible. $\endgroup$
    – Kilisi
    Jul 6, 2022 at 20:29

Little difference

While H. erectus typically lived under primitive circumstances, the same is true of H. sapiens. The average difference in brain size proves very little. I'm in no mood to follow the footsteps of those who argued for differences between races and sexes based on brain size numbers; the facts didn't bear them out. Conceivably the reduced cerebral cortex, which provides a sort of map of the world of motion and sensation, might mean they had less ability to speak or manipulate objects in their fingers, but I don't know that. If our sort of humans lost books, oral stories and culture and were 'rebooted' from some machine-isolated children, I think we'd be worse off than H. erectus.

The genome of H. erectus isn't known, but I'd wager it explains the reason for the lack of substantial hybridization with humans: there are random genetic features, such as inversions or differences in chromosome number, that simply stop two populations from being able to produce many fertile offspring. A handful of genes might get across through the rare exceptions, but the populations can simply be forced apart this way, perhaps in response to selective pressures ("sympatric speciation").

We have reason to believe H. erectus used fire, wore clothes, even crossed between islands by boat. While models vary, I think most say H. erectus lived along more "modern" species of human for a VERY long time, something like half a million years! It's hard to believe that competing species could live side by side that long if either had any meaningful advantage at all. They would be natives of Australia and know the ecosystem. That isn't sufficient if invaders come with guns, germs, and steel; but the premise in the question is that they copy the invaders quickly. I'm thinking they can hold on pretty well.


I'm not sure you quite understand the colonization of Australia by the British. Don't think US/South Africa where there were troops stationed all over the place conquering vast swaths of native populations. As is well known, Australia started as a penal colony, meaning it was mainly full of convicts plus a few soldiers to keep the peace. The first 4 years were dedicated fully to staving off starvation, as the "colonists" included hardly anybody with practical skills surviving such as farming.

If your homo erectus attacked during this time frame, they might be able to overpower the British, but it mainly depends on the erectus population size. Additionally, as seen in the Americas and Australia itself, the main threat to the natives is disease. European diseases ravished native populations leaving them at partial strength. An estimated 70% of native populations died of smallpox in Australia. Maybe homo erectus could be immune to the diseases to help your story.

If there was no major offensive until after the Napoleonic Wars, it's probably too late for native populations to hold off the British in the (modern day) Sydney region, but Australia is a big continent. There are plenty of areas in Australia still barely settled, and going back 200 years that's obviously even more the case. Maybe they could have blocked European settlement in far-flung areas such as the Adelaide, Perth, or Darwin.

The most likely outcome for homo-erectus is the same fate as Indigenous Australians. Killed mainly by disease, slowly pushed out of their territory by the British, killed for sport because they were seen as sub-human, and kidnapped from their parents. I don't see any big advantage homo erectus would have over Indigenous Australians.


Homo erectus may have looked like humans, but they had only half our brain size. Their intellectual capabilities can be assumed to be halfway between chimpanzees and us.

They could only make simple tools and probably could not talk. They certainly used sounds for communication, but more like other primates do, not in the sense that they could relate thoughts or plans. They used fire, but it is not known if they could make fire. They did not leave behind any signs of art or anything you could call culture.

In other words, they did not yet display what paleanthropologists call "behavioral modernity". Their life style was in many respect that of a very smart animal.

They could neither copy military technology nor strategy. They could survive if the British (or any other society of homo sapiens) allowed them to survive.


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