rules of war

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These, like much other international law (see law, international), depended on custom and showed a constant conflict between the higher standards of optimistic theory and the harsher measures permitted by actual usage, while passion and expediency often caused the most fundamental rules to be violated. Thus, the temptation to profit from a surprise at times led to the opening of hostilities without a declaration of war. Probably the law most generally observed was that of the sanctity of heralds, for heralds were essential to communications between belligerents. Nor did Greeks often refuse a defeated army a truce for burying its dead, for the request of such a truce meant an admission of defeat and was usually followed by retreat. Beyond this there were few restraints except humanitarian considerations and the universal condemnation of excessive harshness. Plundering and the destruction of crops and property were legitimate, and were carried on both by regular armies and fleets, and by informal raiding‐parties and privateers, and even the sanctity of temples was not always respected. Prisoners, if not protected by special terms of surrender, were at the mercy of their captors, who could execute them or sell them into slavery or exact ransoms for them (see booty). The warfare of the Hellenistic age was somewhat more humane. Roman warfare at its worst was extremely cruel and sometimes went to the length of killing all living things, even animals, in cities taken by storm, but it was often tempered by mercy. Though surrender gave full power to the captors, it was unusual to take extreme measures against a city that had surrendered and entrusted themselves to Rome. The protection of the rules of war was not extended to pirates (see piracy) and not always to barbarians.

Subjects: Classical Studies — Politics.

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