21 Betrayals That Changed the Course of History

One man’s betrayer is another man’s hero. Look at Saruman from The Lord of The Rings. He betrayed Middle Earth, but in turn created jobs (and created the plot for one of the greatest fantasy novels of all times, not to mentioned three awesome movies).

No matter how you see it, a betrayal always makes for an interesting story.

Over the course of recorded human history, there have been a number of betrayals that changed the course of history. Some betrayers did it all for the money. Other did it for the good of their own cause.

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There is a famous saying in the East that translates, “if you die on this side of the border you are martyr, if you die on that side of the border you are enemy casualty”. A betrayal doesn’t necessarily mean backstabbing. Perspective, motive, circumstances have to be taken into account.

The betrayals focused in this list are monumental. They are not the “I made a plan to have drinks with my friends and didn’t show up”. These betrayals are made up of savage greed, noble motives, helplessness, personal rivalry and even ‘doing the right thing’ was a motive to some of these betrayers.

No matter what side came out on top, these 21 betrayals changed the course of history.

21. Benedict Arnold

This first example is the original American traitor. Like most betrayers, Benedict Arnold is also considered to be hero.

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After receiving poor appreciation for his efforts during the American Revolutionary War, Arnold decided to jump ship. He began spying for the British. Eventually, he became a general in the British Army. While the Americans don’t speak highly of him, he is considered a respectable soldier in British history books.

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Benedict Arnold oath of allegiance (PHOTO: Wikipedia)


20. Judas

“You betray your master with a kiss?” – Judas Escariot has almost become synonymous with betrayal. There were many backstabbers in biblical times but none achieved the notoriety Judas did.

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The story is well known. Jesus of Nazareth was a wanted man. Judas sold Jesus out for a few pieces of silver. He kissed Jesus on the cheek and he is taken away. In his disgust, Judas then hangs himself as punishment.

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19. Stalin v. Hitler

No bigger betrayal shaped World War Two quite like Hilter’s betrayal against Stalin.

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Joseph Stalin (PHOTO: Wikipedia)


In 1939, Joseph Stalin was in charge of the Soviet Union and Adolf Hitler was waging war on the world. In order to protect the Soviet Union, Stalin wanted to protect his country’s interests. Hitler saw the Soviet Union as a key player if he wanted to expand into Poland. After expanding into Poland, Hitler betrayed the Soviet Union and expanded into their territory. Like Napoleon and Alexander the Great before him, Hitler failed to take the Soviet Union. It critically wounded the German forces.

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18. Marcus Brutus

Like the popular 303H song cautions, “Never Trust a Hoe”. Never trust a hoe and never trust your nephew, especially if your name is Cesar.

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The famous Shakespearean line, “Et tu, Brute?” comes from this classic Roman betrayal. Marcus Brutus was not a fictional character. He was a real person and a dear friend of Julius Caesar. It is said that Caesar was attacked by some of his senators including Marcus Junius Brutus. Caesar started resisting but when he saw Brutus, he was shocked and heartbroken. He uttered his last words, “Et tu, Brute?” which means “you too Brutus?” and stopped resisting, resigning to his fate.

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17. Guy Fawkes

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November. Guy Fawkes Day/ Bonfire night celebrates the face of anarchy.

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Guy Fawkes was a leader in the attempt to overthrow the Protestant monarchy in favor of a Catholic one. The plot included an attempt to blow up Parliament. It was eventually foiled, and Fawkes was killed for his involvement. Guy Fawkes is now a staple in modern protests and anarchy attempts.

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16. The Rosenbergs

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg started out like any other American couple, but their betrayal made history.

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The Rosenbergs were implicated by Ethel’s brother in a double betrayal. He testified against them in court and was offered a ten year prison sentence in return. Despite public outcry, the Rosenbergs were sentenced to die by electrocution.

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15. Julian Assange

Julian Assange is not so much the betrayer, but the vessel for betrayers. Assange is an Australian computer programmer, a journalist, writer and publisher.

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Julian Assange started the non-profit organization Wikileaks to showcase stolen secret documents mostly related to United States government. Through hacking, Wikileaks have managed to publish more than 10 million classified documents. He has currently been given asylum in Ecuador. Assange is wanted for treason and espionage in United States.

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14. Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden is now exiled in Russia without any hope to return home. Why? His betrayal pissed off the entire American government.

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Edward Snowden was working for the Central Intelligence Agency. He came across sensitive and top secret information. It was revealed that the NSA had been accessing phones, computers, and private information without permission of the owners. His betrayal made these programs known to the world and forever changed American history.

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13. Pennsylvania Purchase

Pennsylvania would have not been what it is today without good ‘ole Colonial betrayal and exploitation.

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Back in the early days of America, the Colonists were constantly at odds with the Native American tribes – to say the least. William Penn’s family made what is known as The Walking Treaty with the Lenape tribe. The Lenape agreed to vacate as much land as one man could walk in a day. Using three fast runners, the Penn family swindled more than one million acres of land from the Lenape.

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12. Paul/Harold Cole

Harold or Harry Cole was a former British soldier who betrayed his country at a very crucial time during the World War II. According to some analysts, his “double-agenting” caused significant damage to the Allied forces.

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During World War II, Cole who was also known as Paul Cole, assisted the French resistance. Ironically he was later betrayed by the same assistance and was killed resisting arrest from the French military.

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11. Dona Marina

Dona Marina betrayal shaped Southern American history. Without it, who knows what would have happened?

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Dona Marina was enslaved by her own Mayan people and offered to the infamous conquistador, Cortes. She served as a translator between the Mayans and the Spanish. If it wasn’t for her translations, Cortes would not have been able to conquer modern day Mexico.

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10. Philippe Petain

Philippe Petain’s betrayal of his native land landed France in enemy hands during World War II.

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Petain originally rose to influence during World War I. During the outbreak of WWII, Petain was appointed vice premier then head of state. During an armistice agreement with Germany, Petain negotiated with Germany to split France in two. Petain was permitted to rule over Southern France and Paris fell to the Germans. For his treason, he was given a life sentence in prison.

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9. Tokyo Rose

Tokyo Rose was a named given to a series of female voices that we played in Japan to taunt Allied forces in World War Two.

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It is amazing how many betrayals and double crosses happened during World War II. One woman, Ikuko Toguri, was a Japanese American woman who was in Japan during the Pearl Harbor Attack. She stayed on and joined Radio Tokyo. A radio show, The Zero Hour, played anti-Allied forces rhetoric. Allied Forces came to call the taunting female voice, Tokyo Rose. After the war, she was found guilty of treason. Her sentence was later commuted by President Gerald Ford.

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8. Christopher John Boyce

Christopher John Boyce was an American Defense contractor during the Cold War when he decided to betray United States. He instead went onto sell US spy satellite to the Russians in 1970s.

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Boyce discovered some illegal and unethical practices from the CIA in Australia and other countries. He claims that he uncovered some documents as a result of misrouted cables from CIA head office. In the documents CIA wanted to remove Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. Instead of going to the press, Boyce decided to gather these misrouted cables.

Once he had spy satellite development plans, ciphers, codes and other stuff he could sell, he decided to give it to Soviet Union in exchange for money.

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PHOTO: media.oregonlive.com


7. Aldrich Ames

Aldrich Ames is considered to be a true villain because he is believed to have compromised hundreds of CIA agents. Ames was a CIA analyst who decided to jump ships and become a soviet spy instead.

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Aldrich Ames’ House | PHOTO: Flickr/howderfamily.com


In April 1985, Ames told the Soviets that he had become a trusted member of the CIA and nothing stands between him and a series of documents the Soviets wanted. Soviets paid him an upfront fee of $50,000. Ultimately Ames received $4.6 million from the Soviets over the course of a decade. His betrayal caused many CIA operatives in Russia to be killed or captured.

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This (replacement) mailbox is identical to the one, and in the same location that convicted spy Aldrich Ames used to signal his Russian counterparts. Ames would place a horizontal chalk mark about 3″ long above the USPS logo to let his Russian handlers know he needed a meeting. (PHOTO: Wikipedia)


6. Simon Bolivar

Simon Bolivar is one of the few noble men in this list. He is considered to be a legend in Venezuelan history. He fought against the Spanish empire and in the process liberating Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Panama.

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The Birthplace of Simón Bolívar in Caracas, Venezuela (now a museum). (PHOTO: Wikipedia)


Bolivar turned on the very people that groomed and educated him. He was born into a wealthy aristocratic family and went to Spain like most rich youth. There he received education that liberated his mind. He decided to forsake his comfortable lifestyle and help people of Venezuela get independence from the Spaniards. Bolivar is considered to be one of the greatest figures of Hispanic independence movement.

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5. James Armistead

James Armistead was an African American slave. His is known for his brilliant spy work during the American Revolution. Slavery was at its peak in those days and it was unusual for slaves to entrusted upon such an important roles.

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Armistead was born into slavery. His master gave him permission to work as a spy for the US. He fed false information to General Cornwallis and Benedict Arnold. His trickery allowed the American forces to win the crucial battle of Yorktown.

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4. Theodore Hall

Why do all these US officials with high security clearance spy for Soviet Union? – Here is another such entry.

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Theodore Alvin Hall was an American physicist. He played crucial part in developing atomic bombs during the Manhattan Project. He not only gave the “Fat Man” plutonium bomb’s blueprints to the Soviets, he also taught them plutonium purifying processes.

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3. Mir Jafar

Mir Jafar is considered to be the Judas of Indo-Pak civilization that was overrun by the British in the 18th century. He was the Nawab of Bengal and openly supported East India Trading Company. Many historians consider him to be the “start of British imperialism in India”.

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Mir Jafar betrayed Siraj ud Daulah to become Nawab. Jafar betrayed Siraj in the Battle of Plassey and was rewarded by the British by being crowned as the new Nawaz of Bengal. History tells us that after this the British were unstoppable and took control of India with ease.

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2. Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje

Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje is another gentlemen who betrayed the right side and deserves to be deemed as a hero. He was a Dutch scholar of oriental languages and religion of Islam.

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Hurgronje went to Mecca in 1884 after being in consultancy with the Ottoman governor in Jeddah. He quickly embraced the Arabian culture and many believed him to be a Muslim. In his letter to a friend back home he confessed that “he was only pretending to be a Muslim”.

Hurgronje took active part in the Aceh War. Using his fluent Arabic and deep understanding of Arabian ways, he helped the Dutch crush the Aceh revolution – a conflict that had claimed lives of 50,000 people.

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1. Ephialtes of Trachis

Ephialtes of Trachis betrayed his own people. His motive was simple: greed. In exchange for gold, he sold out the Greeks to the Persians. He gave Persians detailed route and formations of the Greek army positioned at Thermopylae. The Persians won that battle quite easily in 480 BC.

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Ephialtes betrayal is recorded in the accounts of Greek historian Herodotus:

Xerxes was pleased by what Ephialtes promised to accomplish. He immediately became overjoyed and sent out Hydarnes and the men under Hydarnes’ command, who set out from the camp at about lamp-lighting time. This path had been discovered by the native Malians, who used it to guide the Thessalians into Phocis when the Phocians had fenced off the pass with a wall and were sheltered from the war. So long ago the Malians had discovered that the pass was in no way a good thing.

The course of the path is as follows: it begins at the river Asopus as it flows through the ravine, and this mountain and the path have the same name, Anopaea. This Anopaea stretches along the ridge of the mountain and ends at Alpenus, the Locrian city nearest to Malis, near the rock called Blackbuttock and the seats of the Cercopes, where it is narrowest.

This, then, was the nature of the pass. The Persians crossed the Asopus and travelled all night along this path, with the Oetaean mountains on their right and the Trachinian on their left. At dawn they came to the summit of the pass.

There is a comical end to the story; Epilates didn’t receive any reward from the Persians as they were defeated in the Battle of Salamis shortly afterwards.

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