Ancient States vs. Non-State Societies’ Warfare


Development of civilization or states requires an understanding of the conditions of people’s life at the period when this process takes place as well as varying physical abilities and limitations of human beings and the climatic conditions surrounding the ancient world. The ancient non-states changed gradually from hunters to large empires and then to the advanced government like communism and democratic states.

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The development of the states or civilization is a result of the need of a human being to interact with other men to survive since he cannot survive on his own. This trend of civilization was well witnessed in Asia, the Middle East, and some parts of southern Europe during the ancient times when men realized that for them to survive they required working together. (Terry, 2004 pp47-48)

Many villagers preferred staying together because they had abilities to farm and keep livestock ensuring that there was food whenever they needed it and lessened the daily routine of hunting and gathering spending most of their time in fieldwork. Most people became agriculturists and built semi-permanent houses which could be occupied for a whole year several of which formed permanent villages and this is primarily the main cause of the rise of warfare with the development of civilization. (Terry, 2004 pp45-46)

Warfare became more frequent and more severe when states developed

When the non-states developed into states, warfare became a daily part of human life and their attitude reflected their war-like behavior by forming new alliances every time and every group had a dislike of the other. The spirit of warfare was seen to be embedded in the members of the states even though it was not natural. Development of the states especially in African regions was accompanied by the organization of villages to start the long-distance trade which provoked warfare and it became the bane of human survival and every war led to economic and social advancement and human rights gained more strength laying the groundwork for the future societies. (Haarmann, 1996 pp12 par3-5)

When states developed, there was a need for slaves, and resistance to this warfare became more frequently involving the use of advanced weaponry. However, the warfare that occurred in the developed states was very much similar to those that occurred in the non-states but the difference was that in the civilized societies it was more severe and frequent because they had owned properties and therefore they fought over them.

In cases where empires were existing the leaders were given unlimited powers like a pharaoh in Egypt and such leaders organized for destructive and traumatic warfare compared with the warfare in the non-states which was ritualized and stylized. Primitive war in the non-states had fewer raids, fewer surprise attacks, fewer ambushes, and was characterized by less frequent and less deadly compared with specialized sophisticated wars in modern civilized states which are terrible. (Haarmann, 1996 pp13 par3-4)

The emergence of civilization also saw the creation of a positive attitude towards war in that it became more of fun and this increased the frequency of war in parts of the world that were capitalist and controlled by organized states because these states had enough facilities. For example, in every ancient empire like Mesopotamia, China, Central America, India as well as Europe they set aside a substantial portion of their resources to supplement the warfare and they always engaged in military activities.

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This led the majority of the people who have an interest in military activities to identify their states with warfare and this identification became a normal activity in people’s lives for many state communities. War became fun for people living in the states that experienced war at one time and men enjoyed being soldiers and especially when the dangers associated with soldering were exaggerated.

When they saw photos of military Lorries carrying loads of armed men and sometimes young women the impression created was that these men were enjoying the best fun of their life and it became more of an athletic than military activity. In the non-state societies the primitive fighters were looking forward to killing and warfare was very risky but this always added fun and spice to the warfare in the civilized states and especially when the risk appeared greater than it was. (Haarmann, 1996 pp14-15)

The value of society in warfare increases with an increase in its efficiency in organizing itself and therefore true and more frequent warfare can only be established through the development of the states where there are disciplined formations in use under-trained officers and the focus not being merely to defeat the opponent but instead to destroy the will and ability he has to fight as well as engaging in campaigns as opposed to isolated battles. An example in Africa is Zulu during the time of Chaka where they had strict rules that resembled a civilized state who engaged in warfare that was hard to differentiate from a true war which became a deadly matter. (Haarmann, 1996 pp16 par1-2)

civilized war, as well as primitive wars in the non-states, requires the use of weapons that can be crude or sophisticated and well designed to kill other human beings who are the opponent and therefore it is clear that with the development of states there is a good organization in designing these tools resulting to a lot of confidence which consequently gives rise to frequent warfare between the enemy states. Some archeologists claim that there were weapons during ancient times but these reports have been condemned as extremely civilian and very doubtful that there existed any weapon.

Even when non-states like Eskimos engaged in war, they used sophisticated hunting equipment which was initially meant for hunting but never designed a purpose-made tool as a weapon which implied that these societies were not ready to engage in any warfare unless the situation called for it. Developments of states led to these civilized societies looking for better places to settle and if possible control the residents of the non-state communities and resulted in to rise in warfare especially where there was resistance between the state societies who wanted to control the non-state communities. (Sammis, 2002 pp24-25)

Another issue that characterized the increased warfare with civilization is the women factor whereby women provided a stimulus for young men to prove their fighting ability and also went an extra mile to accompany men at the war in taking care of the supplies of food and other important materials. American Indian women in the established ancient states were depended upon in deciding what should be done to the captives as well as declaring wars and leading the victory dances. They also had a role to offer first aid to the wounded soldiers while others were used to torture prisoners to death. (Sammis, 2002 pp26 -28)

Civilized states in Africa experienced high-casualty warfare especially when they came into contact with western settlers and tribal warfare intensified making the violence between the various states extreme due to access to European weapons and external influences. In the majority of fighters from ancient American Indians, the warfare was disorderly and the command did not go beyond advising those who engaged in the war resulting in the men in warfare to withdraw and retire from war activities whenever they wished as opposed to organized states.

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An example is the Omar war warriors who had no organized formations and none of the warriors could wait for an order to attack or even withdraw and each warrior used to fight independently and make the fighting appear as fun to them. This even encouraged most young men to become warriors because to them it was not a serious activity and if a warrior felt like not fighting, he could just remain in the tent without any authority questioning him or ordering him out and this reduced the willingness for these non-state to engage in wars and thus resulted in reduced frequency in warfare in contrast with civilized states because primitive warriors cannot fight back civilized forces. (Kruger, 2007 pp60-65)


Civilized states experienced more frequency in warfare because of their resistance to external forces that tried to control them as it happened in most ancient African states where hierarchy developed more than American plains. This is because in Africa the civilized states had kings, generals, and chiefs even though these titles were not fitting into the African societies. The states, therefore, had more effective command making it more difficult to fight them and also engaging in frequent warfare to develop a self-defense. (Bailey, 2005 pp13-16)


Terry J. (2004): The development of early civilization: cengage learning, pp. 45-48.

Bailey G. (2005): Early Civilizations: Windows Books, pp. 13-16.

Kruger F. (2007): The discovery of America and Its early civilizations: Lighting Source Inc, pp. 60-65.

Sammis K. (2002): Focus on world history; The Era of early civilizations, Weston Walch pp. 24-28.

Haarmann H. (1996): Early civilization and Warfare: Language arts and disciplines pp. 12-16.

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