Evidence #213 | July 12, 2021

War Deaths

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Scripture Central


Book of Mormon descriptions of war deaths, including the reported numbers of fatalities in battle, are consistent with other historical accounts of pre-Columbian warfare.

In a separate evidence summary, consistencies have been identified between the sizes of army units reported in the Book of Mormon and those discussed in Mesoamerican historical sources on pre-Columbian armies. This evidence summary involves a related correspondence: reports of deaths inflicted during military conflicts.

General References to Significant Battle Deaths

Rather than providing specific numbers of military combatants or casualties, the Nephite writers often used general descriptions, such as  a “tremendous battle” (Alma 28:2), a “great and tremendous battle” (Mormon 8:2), a “tremendous slaughter” (Alma 28:3), a “great and terrible slaughter” (3 Nephi 4:11), or “the greatness of the number” of people killed (Helaman 1:25). The gory particulars of these horrific conflicts are rarely given, but the text occasionally mentions some details of the carnage, such as severed limbs (Alma 43:44), unburied bodies (Ether 14:22), and the discarded remains of “flesh and bones and blood” (Mormon 6:15). In one offensive against a fortified Nephite city, a Lamanite army suffered so many casualties that the ditches surrounding the city “were filled up in a measure with their dead and wounded bodies” (Alma 49:22).

Illustration of Nephite Fortifications, by Jody Livingston.

Histories describing battles among the pre-Columbian Maya use language which is similarly suggestive of tremendous bloodshed and death. According to one report, “a contest so desperate and bloody never before happened in this country: the field of battle was so deeply inundated with blood, that not a blade of grass could be seen.”1 Another describes a battle as being “terrible, and the numbers slain on each side immense.”2 According to yet another description, “the number killed on both sides was so great, that the bodies impeded the movements of those who escaped the slaughter.”3

An account from Central Mexico describes the defeat of Huexotzinco and its allies at the hands of the Tlaxcalans in a major battle in 1384: “And it seems to be the case that never had such a thing been heard nor seen in the world, and in such great excess was this loss of life and ridding of enemies, that it is recounted, in truth, that the ravines and great gorges that were in the regions of the mountain range were full of dead bodies.”4

Reported Numbers of Deaths

In their first battle with the Lamanites, the people of Zeniff killed 3,043 and lost 279 (Mosiah 9:18–19). Years later at the battle of Amnihu, 12,530 Amlicites and 6,562 Nephites were slain, totaling 19,092 (Alma 2:19). Subsequent references in the Nephite texts rarely provide exact fatality numbers but speak of the battle deaths in the “thousands” (Alma 3:26; 49:23; 51:19; 57:14; 57:26; 60:22; Mormon 2:15; 4:9), “many thousands” (Alma 28:10–11; Ether 14:4), or “tens of thousands” (Alma 3:26; 28:2). The final conflict at the hill Cumorah involved the destruction of twenty-three units of ten thousand Nephites, or 230,000 Nephite dead (Mormon 6:10–15).

These numbers are generally consistent with figures reported in Mesoamerican sources which provide data on fatalities. The Annals of the Cakchiquels describes one battle in which more than 16,000 were killed.5 Francisco Antonio de Fuentes y Guzman reported battles among the Postclassic Maya of Guatemala in which 1,500,6 3000,7 6,000,8 8,000,9 and 14,00010 were killed. Diego Duran reports Aztec battles in which 8,20011 and 20,00012 were killed. A central Mexican account reports that during one battle, “it is said that twenty-four thousand Mexica nobles and uncounted commoners died.”13

Prisoners of war being brought before the Maya ruler of Bonampak and his court. Image and caption info via tarlton.law.utexas.edu.

The book of Ether indicates that over a period of nine years of warfare, over two million men, women, and children were killed (Ether 15:2). While this number may seem unusual, being so much higher than other numbers given in the Book of Mormon, it does find support in the account of Ixtlilxochitl who reported that during a period of three years and two months of warfare among his Toltec ancestors, more than 5,600,000 men and women were killed.14

Could Not Be Numbered

At other times, the Nephite writers indicated that the number of dead was so great that it was impossible or impractical for the survivors to count them:

  • We slew them with a great slaughter, even so many that we did not number them (Mosiah 10:20).
  • Now the number of the slain were not numbered, because of the greatness of their number (Alma 3:1).
  • Now their dead were not numbered because of the greatness of their numbers; neither were the dead of the Nephites numbered (Alma 30:2).
  • Now the number of their dead was not numbered because of the greatness of their number; yea, the number of their dead was exceedingly great, both on the Nephites and on the Lamanites (Alma 44:21).

It is interesting to look at the reports of the dead after the Nephites fought a two-day battle with Amlicite and Lamanite armies. There were over 19,000 deaths after the first day. The following day, in a second engagement, the Nephites were again victorious, but at a terrible cost. Although the dead had been numbered the previous day, they were not numbered after the second day “because of the greatness of their number” (Alma 3:1).

The Annals of the Cakchiquels reports that after one significant battle the Quiche armies were defeated. The Quiche dead, “could not be estimated at eight thousand nor at sixteen thousand” and in fact “it was impossible to count the dead.”15 That is, although the dead from the battle exceeded 16,000, it was impossible or impractical to get an accurate count due to the greatness of the number.

These numbers are comparable to those described in the Amlicite conflict where, after the deaths of over 19,000 on the first day, the additional dead from the second day were not counted because at that point it was too difficult to get or provide exact numbers because there were so many. This correspondence between a given army size and the point at which a precise count of the dead could no longer be made, adds a subtle hint of authenticity to the account of the Amlicite conflict.


Reports of war deaths in the Nephite record correspond well with those in historical texts that describe Mesoamerican fatalities in pre-Columbian warfare. These include general descriptions that point to significant war deaths, examples where battle deaths could not be numbered, and a tendency for reported fatality numbers to range in the thousands and tens of thousands. Even the reference to two million Jaredite deaths over nearly a decade of warfare finds rare support in accounts of pre-Columbian warfare. In summary, the available evidence suggests that the descriptions of battle deaths and fatality numbers in the Book of Mormon are historically plausible.

Book of Mormon Central, “How Could So Many People Have Died at the Battle of Cumorah? (Mormon 6:14),” KnoWhy 231 (November 15, 2016).

Stephen Smoot, “Why the Book of Mormon’s Battle Numbers Don’t Add Up (And Why That’s Evidence for Its Authenticity,” Ploni Almoni, May 9, 2016, online at plonialmonimormon.com.

John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2013), 110, 394–399.

Morgan Deane, “Military Participation Ratio and Wrong Numbers,” Warfare and the Book of Mormon, May 25, 2013, online at mormonwar.blogspot.com.

Morgan Deane, “‘Millions’ in the Book of Mormon,” Warfare in the Book of Mormon, December 8, 2009, online at mormonwar.blogspot.com

John E. Clark, “Archaeological Trends and Book of Mormon Origins,” in The Worlds of Joseph Smith: A Bicentennial Conference at the Library of Congress, ed. John W. Welch (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2006), 93.

James E. Smith, “How Many Nephites? The Book of Mormon at the Bar of Demography,” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1997), 255–293.

1 Nephi 12:2Mosiah 9:18Mosiah 9:19Mosiah 10:20Alma 2:19Alma 3:1Alma 3:26Alma 28:2Alma 28:3Alma 28:10–11Alma 30:2Alma 43:44Alma 44:21Alma 49:23Alma 51:19Alma 57:14Alma 57:26Alma 60:22Helaman 1:253 Nephi 4:11Mormon 2:15Mormon 4:9Mormon 6:10–15Mormon 8:2Ether 14:4Ether 14:22Ether 15:2

1 Nephi 12:2

Mosiah 9:18

Mosiah 9:19

Mosiah 10:20

Alma 2:19

Alma 3:1

Alma 3:26

Alma 28:2

Alma 28:3

Alma 28:10–11

Alma 30:2

Alma 43:44

Alma 44:21

Alma 49:23

Alma 51:19

Alma 57:14

Alma 57:26

Alma 60:22

Helaman 1:25

3 Nephi 4:11

Mormon 2:15

Mormon 4:9

Mormon 6:10–15

Mormon 8:2

Ether 14:4

Ether 14:22

Ether 15:2

  • 1 Don Domingo Juarros, A Statistical and Commercial History of the Kingdom of Guatemala, trans. J. Baily (London: John Hearne, 1823), 175.
  • 2 Juarros, A Statistical and Commercial History of the Kingdom of Guatemala, 186.
  • 3 Juarros, A Statistical and Commercial History of the Kingdom of Guatemala, 176.
  • 4 Juan de Torquemada, Monarquia Indiana, 3 vols (Mexico: Editorial Salvador Chavez Hayhoe, 1943), 1:268. See also Richley H. Crapo and Bonnie Glass-Coffin, Anonimo Mexicano (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 2005), 41–42, 91n.507.
  • 5 Adrian Recinos and Delia Goetz, The Annals of the Cakchiquels (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1953), 58.
  • 6 Carmelo Saenz de Santa Maria, ed., Obras Historicas de Don Francisco Antonio de Fuentes y Guzman (Madrid: Real Academia Espanola, 1972), 2:28.
  • 7 Saenz de Santa Maria, ed., Obras Historicas de Don Francisco Antonio de Fuentes y Guzman, 2:32.
  • 8 Saenz de Santa Maria, ed., Obras Historicas de Don Francisco Antonio de Fuentes y Guzman, 2:26.
  • 9 Saenz de Santa Maria, ed., Obras Historicas de Don Francisco Antonio de Fuentes y Guzman, 2:35.
  • 10 Saenz de Santa Maria, ed., Obras Historicas de Don Francisco Antonio de Fuentes y Guzman, 2:30.
  • 11 Diego Duran, The History of the Indies of New Spain, trans. Doris Heyden (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994), 439.
  • 12 Duran, The History of the Indies of New Spain, 282.
  • 13 Richley Crapo and Bonnie Glass-Coffin, eds., Anonimo Mexicano (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 2005), 30.
  • 14 Don Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, Obras Historicas, 2 vols., ed. Alfredo Chavero (Mexico: Editora Nacional, 1952), 1:58–59.
  • 15 Adrian Recinos and Delia Goetz, The Annals of the Cakchiquels, 57–58.
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