The History of the Culture of War
Religion and the origin of the state 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 account of the origin of the state by Leslie A. White (1959) in The Evolution of Culture, considers that the state and the church were one and the same at the time that the state emerged. White provides abundant historical examples:

"Originally, i.e., with the advent of civil society, the church and the state were one, as Herbert Spencer astutely observed many years ago [1896].

". . In ancient Peru, the head of the state and the head of the church were brothers, or uncle and nephew; and the former was a god, or descended from the sun god. In Egypt, the pharaoh was for ages god, priest, and king, at least in theory. In practice, the pharaoh had of necessity to delegate the worship of the gods to priests, who acquired thereby so much autonomy as virtually to constitute a church structurally distinct from the state."

In the early urban cultures of Mesopotamia, "priestly and secular functions no doubt rested in one and the same person." [Jastrow, 1915] In ancient Sumer, "church and state were so bound together that those exercising authority formed a theocracy, functioning on the one hand religiously and on the other secularly." (Turner 1941] The kings of Assyria were priests originally, and they "retain their priestly functions through all periods of the kingdom." [Jastrow, 1915] "Church and State are one in India." [Hocart, 1950]. In Greece during the Iron Age the king was also a priest. Many pagan ruling families of Scandinavia reckoned their descent from Nordic deities, even as the modern Japanese trace their Emperor to divine ancestry. Caesar was Pontifex maximus as well as emperor in imperial Rome; Augustus likewise served as the head of the state religion."

The church was responsible for providing legitimacy to the state and for keeping the citizenry in line by using theology and ritual to install obedience, docility and loyalty to the state. As described by White:

"The military force of the state was not enough to cope with the chronic and ever-recurring threat of insurrection, civil war, and anarchy; the resources of the church must be employed to this end also. So it was that the priests taught the masses, and validated these teachings with the wonders and mysteries of religion, that they should accept, and even defend the established order. For the Egyptians, the universe was a moral order established by the sun god, Re, and their social ideal involved 'a full acceptance of class status, the inferiority of labor, and poverty as the ordinary condition of common men; these, indeed, were aspects of the divine moral order.' [Turner, 1941]. Buddhism taught men and women to be content with their lot and station in life. The teaching of Confusius 'devoted its whole attention to making people recognize their betters with distinction,' according to Ku Chieh-kang, 'and that is certainly a most advantageous theory to an autocratic despot.' More recently, the Roman Catholic Church has recognized the utility and function of religion as means of preventing insurrection by 'subduing the souls of men:'"

White provides the following excerpt from the Encyclical of Pope Benedict XV, explaining that the role of religion is to "subdue the souls of men":

"Only too well does experience show that when religion is banished, human authority totters to its fall . . when the rulers of the people disdain the authority of God, the people in turn despise the authority of men. There remains, it is true the usual expedient of suppressing rebellion by force; but to what effect? Force subdues the bodies of men, not their souls."

The relation of religions to the state is very contradictory when seen in historical perspective. While state religions were being used to support the state's culture of war, other religions arose in opposition to the state's culture of war. Their prophets spoke of non-violence and brotherhood instead of violence and enemy images, and they gave rise to the great religions of later history. In the period around 800-400 BC, called the "Axial Age" by the philosopher Karl Jaspers (1953), Confucius taught in China, the Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) taught in India, Zoroastrianism arose in Persia and Jainism in India, the Upanishads were written in India, Elijah, Isaiah and Jeremiah prophesied in Israel, foreshadowing the life and teachings of Jesus and Mohammad at a later time.

. Once again, however, over the course of history, the major religions that had arisen in opposition to the state were, in many cases, co-opted by the state to provide legitimacy to state power and to keep the people in line. As a result, the major religions are complex, containing at the same time both a "peaceable garden culture" as well as a "holy war culture." in the words of Elise Boulding (2000).

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?