Joshua J. Mark
published on 02 September 2009
The word 'war' comes to English by the old High German language word 'Werran’ (to confuse or to cause confusion) through the Old English 'Werre' (meaning the same), and is a state of open and usually declared armed conflict between political entities such as sovereign states or between rival political or social factions within the same state. The Prussian military analyst Carl Von Clausewitz, in his book On War, calls it, “continuation of politics carried on by other means.”
The first war in recorded history took place in Mesopotamia in 2700 BCE between Sumer and Elam. The Sumerians, under command of the King of Kish, Enembaragesi, defeated the Elamites in this war and, it is recorded, “carried away as spoils the weapons of Elam.” At approximately the same time as this campaign, King Gilgamesh of Uruk marched on his neighbors in order to procure cedar for construction of a temple (while it has been argued that Gilgamesh is a mythological character, the archaeological evidence of a historical King Enembaragesi, who is mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh, lends weight to the claim that the latter was also a real historical figure).
Warfare certainly did not begin in 2700 BCE, however. The earliest pictographs of armies at war come from the kingdom of Kish, dated to about 3500 BCE. Jericho, claimed as the world’s oldest city, has provided archaeologists with solid evidence that a fortified city stood on the site before 7000 BCE. The walls of the fortress were ten feet thick and thirteen feet high surrounded by a moat thirty feet wide and ten feet deep. The bow was in use in Mesopotamia as early as 10,000 BCE and cemeteries from northern Mesopotamia to Egypt attest to early warfare on a fairly significant scale (the best known being Jebel Sahaba, Egypt and the so-called Site 117 where 59 skeletons were uncovered, all of whom show clear evidence of violent death at about the same time).
War has been an important factor in creating states and empires throughout history and, equally so, in destroying them. Major advances in science, technology, and engineering have been brought about through necessity during times of war. It is written that the army of King Croesus of Lydia was once stopped by the Halys River which seemed impossible to cross. The philosopher Thales of Miletus, a member of Croesus’ army, had a crew of engineers dig a channel upstream, giving it a crescent shape, “so that it should flow round the back of where the army was encamped, being diverted in this way from its old course and passing the camp, should flow into its old course once more.” Once the river was made shallow in both channels it was, of course, easy to cross.
Even so, with advancements in technology, war has increasingly wreaked chaos and destruction upon the lives and cities of combatants and non-combatants and, true to the origins of the name, has sown confusion throughout time.
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