The History of the Culture of War
War and the culture of war at the dawn of history:
Ancient Egypt
5,000 years of increasing 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


The descriptions of ancient Egypt in the UNESCO history are less detailed than those of ancient Mesopotamia, but its culture of war appears to have developed in very similar fashion. For example, the chapter From State to Empire, describes as follows how the country was unified through warfare and ruled by the victors in a vast bureaucratic system considered to be divine:

"In Egypt the state developed independently. . the wars that ineluctably arose with the beginning of civilization were bound to lead very rapidly to the unification of the entire Nile Valley under a single power . . The exact manner in which a single ruling power arose in Egypt remains unknown, since it took place before 'recorded' history, that is, prior even to the most ancient extant writings. Because autocracy arose so early in such a vast and rich country, the state sector of the economy absorbed virtually all the other sectors . . The Egyptian pharaohs stood at the apex of a vast, ramified and well-organized bureaucratic system that embraced all areas of social life. Their power and ideological roles were so great that they were regarded as rulers by divine right from a very early stage until the end of the existence of ancient Egypt as an independent state."

A visit to the great Cairo museum provides abundant images of the warfare in ancient Egypt, including images of the Pharaoh crushing his enemies underfoot, images of battle, models of military forces marching in formation, and images of lines of prisoners of war chained together presumably on their way to slavery. Some of these are illustrated in the plates of Volume II of the UNESCO history. For example, Plate 22 shows the Narmer Palette, one of the most ancient documents of ancient Egypt dating from around 3000 BC, in which the king is shown holding a mace and striking an enemy whom he holds by the hair. Also shown are stylized figures of enemies decapitated with their heads put between their legs. The treasures of Tutankhamum, dating from about 1340 BC, include remarkable painted scenes that glorify the king as warrior and hunter. On one side of a painted chest the king is shown on his horse-drawn chariot, much larger than any other figure, shooting arrows at enemies who litter the ground in disorder. On the other side a similar design shows the king shooting at wild animals that are wounded and dying.

One of the battles during the reign of the pharaoh Ramsses (1304-1237 BC) is recorded in scenes on temples erected at the time as well as in several papyrus manuscripts, now housed at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The manuscripts describe not only details of the military campaign, but also the importance of spies, military reconnaissance and a peace treaty at the end.

The extent to which ancient Egypt was a class-structured society is debated by experts. There is no doubt that ancient Egypt employed prisoners of wars as slaves; for example, the enslavement of the Israelite people as recorded in the Hebrew Bible. However, it is thought that the construction of the pyramids and other great public works was based on a system of serfdom.

Male domination was not as extreme in Egypt as in most other ancient empires. For example, although most of the pharaohs were men, there were a few exceptions, the most notable being Hatshepsut, who led successful military campaigns but later reigned for many years in a time of relative peace. Some Egyptologists believe that the fact that she was a woman was controversial at the time and was connected to the systematic destruction of her monuments and records by succeeding pharaohs. According to an article on the Internet about the status of women in ancient Europe (Johnson 2002), the legal status of women was equal to that of men in ancient Egypt, although their social status was inferior.

"From our earliest preserved records in the Old Kingdom on, the formal legal status of Egyptian women (whether unmarried, married, divorced or widowed) was nearly identical with that of Egyptian men. Differences in social status between individuals are evident in almost all products of this ancient culture: its art, its texts, its archaeological record. In the textual record, men were distinguished by the type of job they held, and from which they derived status, "clout," and income. But most women did not hold jobs outside the home . . But in the legal arena both women and men could act on their own and were responsible for their own actions. This is in sharp contrast with some other ancient societies, e.g., ancient Greece, where women did not have their own legal identity, were not allowed to own (real) property and, in order to participate in the legal system, always had to work through a male, usually their closest male relative (father, brother, husband, son) who was called their "lord." Egyptian women were able to acquire, to own, and to dispose of property (both real and personal) in their own name. They could enter into contracts in their own name; they could initiate civil court cases and could, likewise, be sued; they could serve as witnesses in court cases; they could serve on juries; and they could witness legal documents. That women very rarely did serve on juries or as witnesses to legal documents is a result of social factors, not legal ones."

The art works of ancient Egypt include victory stela that were made to mark military victories. The victory stela of Merenptah (1237-1226 BC) was made to commemorate his victory over the Libyan and Proto-Hellenic invaders, whom they called the 'sea people'. On the same stela is also commemorated the Egyptian invasion and destruction of Israel, including the lines, 'Israel is laid waste, its seed exists no more'.

There are extensive records on papyrus from ancient Egypt, including poetry, biography, novels and moral doctrine, as described in the UNESCO history (the Nile Valley (3000-1780 BC) - The riches of the intellect). These include pedagogical texts which are not devoted to military education; but place an emphasis instead on moral education. There are some accounts of victorious military expeditions, and they seem intended to glorify the generals and pharaohs involved.

To take part in a discussion about this page, click below on the Culture of Peace Dialogues:

discussion board

World Peace through the Town Hall


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 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?