The Bloody Ground: The Death and Destruction of 12 Civil Wars

Civil wars challenge cultural norms, government, and military tactics. Defined as war within the same nation, civil wars rarely occur in isolation. Most of the time there is an aspect of outside influence that leads to war and influences its outcome. This is the case with the 12 world civil wars outlined below. Atrocities are numerous and committed by all sides involved in the conflict. While civil war battlefield injury and death is usually high, the civilian population suffers the most. As armies move through villages, towns, and cities, they leave a path of destruction.

Food crops and livestock are taken to feed the armies, leaving women, children, and the aged without food. The wounded and dead remain on the battlefield, forcing residents to bury the dead before the bodies rot and to care for the injured in their homes, barns, and farm fields. Diseases are prevalent and kill more than the actual battles. Cultural taboos are often broken as military leaders attempt to achieve victory. And in some cases, those on the losing side of a battle or war are simply slaughtered or forced into slavery.

1. Peloponnesian War 431-404 BCE

The ancient Greek war occurred between the Delian League led by Athens and the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta. The two city-states of Athens and Sparta vied for power of the Aegean Sea located between present-day Turkey and Greece. Strategically located in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea, the Aegean was an important waterway for trade. The city-state that controlled the Sea would control trade and benefit economically from connections with Asia, Europe, and Africa. The Peloponnesian War began in 431 BCE and concluded in 413 BCE. The war is generally viewed in three phases.

Painting of Athenian naval forces. Public Domain

The first phase occurred from 431 to 421 BCE. Sparta repeatedly invaded Attica. Athens defeated Sparta’s invasions with its superior naval forces and military tactics while conducing raids along the coast of Sparta-controlled Peloponnese. When the first phase of the war ended in 421, peace was short lived. Beginning in 415 BCE, Athens sent a massive force to attack Syracuse in Sicily. This was a disaster and the entire force was destroyed in 413 BCE. The final stage, often called the Decelean or Ionian War saw Sparta with support from Persia, successfully undermine the Athens Empire by destroying its fleet at Aegospotami, which ended the war.

This was a disaster and the entire force was destroyed in 413 BCE. The final stage, often called the Decelean or Ionian War saw Sparta with support from Persia, successfully undermine the Athens Empire by destroying its fleet at Aegospotami, which ended the war.

This was a disaster and the entire force was destroyed in 413 BCE. The final stage, often called the Decelean or Ionian War saw Sparta with support from Persia, successfully undermine the Athens Empire by destroying its fleet at Aegospotami, which ended the war.

The Peloponnesian War was about territorial control as well as ideologies. Athens was a democracy and Sparta was an oligarch. When Sparta won the war in 413, Athens became part of the oligarch. Both sides committed atrocities upon each other and civilians. Soldiers on the losing sides of battle were taken captive and placed into slavery or killed while women and children were forced to move and become slaves. Lands were burned making farming impossible and starvation probable. Each army engaged in brutal war tactics that upended cultural and religious taboos concerning acceptable ways to wage war.