The History of the Culture of War
The culture of war in prehistory 5,000 years of monopolization of the culture of war by the state

The History of the Culture of War

What is culture and how does it evolve?

Warfare in prehistory and its usefulness

The culture of war in prehistory

Data from prehistory before the Neolithic

Enemy images: culture or biology

War and the culture of war at the dawn of history

--Ancient Mesopotamia

--Ancient Egypt

--Ancient China

--Ancient Greece and Rome

--Ancient Crete

--Ancient Indus civilizations

--Ancient Hebrew civilization

--Ancient Central American civilization

Warfare and the origin of the State

Religion and the origin of the State

A summary of the culture of war at the dawn of history

The internal culture of war: a taboo topic

The evolution of the culture of war over the past 5,000 years: its increasing monopolization by the state

--1.Armies and armaments

--2.External conquest and exploitation: Colonialism and Neocolonialism

--3.The internal culture of war and economies based on exploitation of workers and the environment

--4.Prisons and penal systems

--5.The military-industrial complex

--6.The drugs-for-guns trade

--7.Authoritarian control

--8.Control of information

--9.Identification of an "enemy"

--10.Education for the culture of war

--11.Male domination

--12.Religion and the culture of war

--13.The arts and the culture of war



Summary of the history of the culture of war


Continued from previous page

Once the culture of war was established, it had a profound influence on the nature of marriage, which is described above in the excerpt from Why There Are So Few Women Warriors. As the frequency of warfare increased during the course of prehistory, it transformed earlier marriage arrangements that had not rigorously specified marital residency (agamous) or had allowed both alternatives (bilocal). At first, when cultural units were small and warfare took place against more distant groups with which there was no inter-marriage (called "external warfare"), there was probably a tendency toward matrilocality. According to the reasoning of Divale in his 1974 paper in Behavior Science Research, Migration, External Warfare, and Matrilocal Residence:

"In the face of severe external warfare, the chances of successful adaptation would be increased if these societies could cease their feuding and internal war and instead concentrate all their resources against the other society. Matrilocal residence accomplishes this, because the dispersal of males from their natal villages upon marriage results in the breakup of fraternal interest groups."

Patrilocality became the rule when societies became larger and more complex and warfare took place between groups that also inter-married ("internal warfare"). Under patrilocal exogamy, the marriage partner always came from outside the home village and the couple always took up residence in the village of the man. Based on data from cross-cultural analysis of the ethnographic data from many cultures, Mel and Carol Ember (1971), The Conditions Favoring Matrilocal versus Patrilocal Residence, come to the conclusion that patrilocality came into favor because it allowed communities to retain their trained warriors:

"In short, it appears that whether a society has prevailingly matrilocal or patrilocal residence can be predicted quite handily and reliably from whether it has a pattern of purely external warfare . . "

" . . judging from our data, the fact that warfare is at least sometimes internal appears to require patrilineally related males to be localized after their marriages. Or, in other words, if fighting occurs between neighboring communities, families would want to keep their fighters at home for protection."

An overall survey of the ethnographic literature indicates that marital residency is patrilocal in about 67% of all described societies, reflecting the fact that internal warfare is the more common situation, while it is matrilocal in about 15%, which reflects societies with external warfare. Note that the terms external and internal warfare in the case of anthropological analysis are different from the terms used in contemporary political science, as will be explained later. Most of the remaining 18% of societies have variable arrangements regarding where the newly married couple goes to live, as well as neolocal, living in a new location, and avunculolocal, going to live with the husband's mother's brother.

The culture of war may also have facilitated the prevalence of polygyny, the taking of multiple wives. According to a recent cross-cultural study of this subject, high male mortality in war is the best predictor of polygyny in non-state societies (Ember, Ember and Low 2007). As the authors describe, this confirms and updates an old theory:

"The 'high male mortality' explanation, first suggested by Herbert Spencer (1876; cf. Carneiro, 1967, p. xliii), is that polygyny develops when there is an excess of females because of high mortality in war . . Consistent with modern theory, we suggest that polygyny is likely to become prevalent if there are more females than males because men who might otherwise not be competitive when women are a scarce resource may be able to marry, and some to marry polygynously."

The correlation of polygyny and warfare does not hold for state societies. The authors suggest that this is because "in nonstate societies most if not all able-bodied men participate in the warfare; [while] in state societies only some men fight because there usually is a specialized or standing army. So high male mortality in war should imbalance the sex ratio more in nonstate societies."

Male dominance has always extended beyond the monopolization of warfare. As mentioned above, it came to include the monopolization of big-game hunting (presumably to preclude the use of weapons by women) and the initiation rites of the young (male) warriors. According to the authoritative survey of Murdock (1937), there are only three exclusively male occupations: warfare, big-game hunting and metal-working. One can make the argument that metal-working was not allowed to women because metal was used primarily to fashion weapons. In contrast, Murdock's survey could not find any occupation that is exclusively female.

Once human societies developed private property, male dominance was extended to property relations. A particularly well-known example is illustrated in the final commandment of the Biblical "Ten Commandments" (note also the mention of slavery as well in this context):

"Though shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbour's."

In fact, the consequences of the male monopolization of war were so great that one should probably describe prehistoric culture as a culture of war and male domination. Here it is described by Divale and Harris (1976) in their American Anthropologist paper, Population, Warfare, and the Male Supremacist Complex:

"Male dominance is also implicit in the widespread asymmetry of the sexual division of labor. Women in band and village societies are usually burdened with drudge work, such as seed grinding and pounding, fetching water and firewood, and carrying infants and household possessions. Hunting with weapons is a virtually universal male specialty.

Male supremacy is even more directly displayed in the asymmetry of political institutions. Headmanship occurs widely in band and village societies; headwomanship, in a strictly analogous sense, is no more common than polyandry, if it exists at all. Control over redistributive systems in pre-state societies is seldom if ever vested in women . . "

"Central to the sexual distribution of power is the fact that almost everywhere men monopolize the weapons of war as well as weapons of the hunt . . In many band and village cultures women are not even permitted to handle the weapons which males employ in combat . . the combat effectiveness of males is enhanced through their participation in competitive sports such as wrestling, racing, dueling, and many forms of individual and mock combat. Women seldom participate in such sports and to the best of our knowledge, almost never compete with men.

The material, domestic, political and military subordination of women is matched in the ritual and ideological spheres by pervasive beliefs and practices that emphasize the inferiority of females . . "

End of section

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1) The difference between "peace" and "culture of peace" and a brief history of the culture of war

2) The role of the individual in culture of war and culture of peace

3) Why the nation-state cannot create a culture of peace

4) The important role of civil society in creating a culture of peace

--Peace and disarmament movements

--Ecology movement

--Movements for human rights

--Democracy movements

--Women's movement

--International understanding, tolerance and solidarity

--Movements for free flow of information

--The strengths and weaknesses of civil society

5) The basic and essential role of local government in culture of peace

--Sustainable development

--Human rights

--Democratic participation

--Women's equality


--Transparency and the free flow of information

--Education for a culture of peace

--Security and public safety

--Some ongoing initiatives

6) Assessing progress toward a culture of peace at the local level

--Culture of peace measurement at the level of the state

7) Going global: networking of city culture of peace commissions

8) The future transition of the United Nations from control by states to popular control through local governmental representatives

9) What would a culture of peace be like?