The “Why” of War

For my initial Byzantine project, I decide to focus on their military. And in doing so, I came across a book that was written by General Maurice that was titled The Strategikon. This book is a military hand guide for generals about the tactics and stratagems of war that allowed the Byzantines to learn from their enemies and failures. Through reading The Strategikon I learned a lot about how they conducted their wars and battles. But for this paper I decided to look at it different direction, similar to my original topic. Instead of how people conduct war, why do they conduct war? And for this question, I have 3 civilizations in mind that I would like to use for examples.

The first civilization I want to look at is the Aztec tribe who inhabited current day Mexico. The Aztecs are commonly thought of and referred to as warlike tribe that made its living out of waging war with neighboring tribes. The source of the need for war for the Aztec Empire came from a constant demand for human sacrifices. They believed that God’s fed upon and were nourished by human hearts. This was especially true to them when I came to the God of the Sun. There was also the belief that the bodies of certain victims they sacrificed where the embodiments of gods. So the Aztec empire had the idea of taking these practices of human sacrifices and conducting them on a large scale so that the Gods that they worship would have an endless supply of energy coming to them so that they may remain full and full of vigor. And to do this, the sacrifices needed to be made regularly. And to do this, the Aztec would wage a form of controlled wars or battle in predetermined battlefields with opponents for the purpose of gathering healthy prisoners for them to use.

The second civilization hat I wanted to look at for this comparison was the Ottoman Empire. There are a few reasons I wanted to look into the Ottomans, the main reason being is because they were the next focus for the semester. Their ideas of wars came from passed on traditions of pre-Islamic Arab and Turco-Mongol. These ideas were recorded with writings that were based on the Koran and further explained and incorporated into their Sharia, the holy law of Islam. So with this in mind, we can see how the two forms of war arose and were constantly in action throughout the history of the Ottoman Empire. The first was an endless conflict that consisted of raids and retaliations that happened between the undefined borders of tribes, but also all along the frontier borders of the Ottoman Empire. The other were Imperial Campaigns that had to be religiously approved.

For the third and final civilizations, I thought I would return to back to the source of our current studies, the Byzantines. After the loss of Rome, the Byzantines began campaigns to reclaim lands that they had lost prior to Justinian I becoming the Emperor. The Reclamation conquests began in 553 as general Belisarius was sent out toward the provinces of Africa that had been captured by the Vandals in 429. There was also another conquest that went towards Italy with the goal of attempting to reclaim Rome. Around the same time was also when the Byzantines were at war with the Persians which they eventually turned the tides in and came out on top after a number of desperate moves.

And with that we have our three civilizations and who they went to war. At first they all seem quite diverse in just the methods alone as to how they went to war made it seem unlikely that there was any sort of pattern between them, but I saw one. I believe that why they go to war has a direct influence on how they conduct war. For the Aztec’s, they were after sacrifices to keep their gods healthy and full of energy. And to do this, they focused on taking prisoners rather than outright killing. In the Ottoman case it was more of a tradition as to why they go to war. Their high held religious beliefs of Islam combined with the nomadic heritage helps explain both of their forms of war. And then we have the Byzantines who sought to reclaim their lost lands. They took their defeats very seriously and would study the enemy tactics and weapons to modify them for their own use so that they may have better success in the future in defending their homelands. All these examples show the same idea, that why a civilization conducts war has an impact on how they conduct war.

6 thoughts on “The “Why” of War

  1. Maxwell Quinn

    This is a fascinating subject Caleb. I rarely think about why people go to war, and instead look at what they are fighting about. I think that you touched upon a topic that could help people realize different ways to avoid going to war rather than fighting with people to gain something that might be gained through peaceful means. In the case of the Aztecs it may not be the case, seeing as they are looking for human sacrifice. As for the reclaiming of land that also is not really something that can be avoided peacefully. I feel that the only wars that could be avoided would be for non-human resources.

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  2. john baglivi

    The idea that a civilization conducts war based on why they went to war is certainly interesting. Your post made me think of the Russian-Circassian war and the reason behind the Circassians genocide. During the mid 18th century, the Circassian region was a key strategic location for trade and war, therefore Russia naturally set its sights on expansion along the Black Sea. The Russians wanted nothing more than the territory that the Circassians inhabited, conquering land was their ‘why’. The Circassian people were simply in the way of that goal, which tragically lead to their mass expulsion and genocide.

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  3. Andrew Poirier

    Interesting how the Aztecs had their own sort of military-industrial complex in a way, needing sacrifices to constantly energize the gods. The motives of both the Ottomans and the Byzantines sound like they are both revenge/reclamation based: taking back what they believe to be theirs or striking back after a previous loss. Do you think most wars are repetitions of revenge cycles? Or are there specific instances that started these cycles for both the Ottomans and the Byzantines?

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  4. Jillian Crawford

    I find this very interesting because of the religious aspect of war that was present for the Ottoman Empire. I find it interesting that there is war advice in the Koran and that the campaigns had to be religiously approved. This sort of related to my research on the Mongolians in China. Mongols from Inner Mongolia are really attached to Chinggis Khan and are very Buddhist. Chinggis Khan ended up leading the Mongols in war and was a great leader, and he made a book filled with his war tactics that was kept in his shrine which was in a Buddhist temple. When the Chinese took the black book, they moved it, along with his shrine, to a Taoist temple and that caused a lot of turmoil because of the religious implications. Interesting how many religions preach about peace and kindness and also include tactics for war.

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  5. Matthew Malandro

    I find it interesting how religion is used throughout the world to influence conflicts. It is hard to deny that the major religions have shaped the world as we know it.

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  6. Sydney Weber

    Not many people would think about why civilization would go to war as we tend to be more focused on what they are at war over, which is why I liked your project. War, as such a destructive and violent act, would take a strong reason for people to proceed with it. I feel like with many wars we only learn about the bad that occurs instead of the bad that caused it. During my research on the Uyghurs in China I found much of their identity comes from their conflicts with the Hans trying to assimilate them. They fought against their culture being forcibly altered. This causes major conflicts in Ürümqi, including terrorist attacks, and up to 200 deaths just to keep their culture untouched.

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