A Brief History
On May 19, 1643, French Bourbon forces beat Spanish forces allied with the Habsburgs at the battle of Rocroi during the 30 Years War. This French victory for practical purposes ended Spain’s time as a land power. As the name implies, the war went on for a long time, just as several other notable wars have. Some of them were actually a series of wars with brief lulls between major campaigns, and some of the longest “wars” were long lived only on paper, with no formal peace signed for many years after the fighting stopped. The Korean War, fought from 1950 to 1953 is a good example of that, with no peace treaty ever signed the 2 Koreas (North and South) are still technically at war. World War II ended in 1990 when a reunified Germany signed the peace treaty. (Did you know that?) Here we list 10 of the longest fighting types of wars and leave the technicalities to trivia masters. A note to keep in mind is that not all historians agree on starting and ending dates for wars, so you may well find some discrepancies if you research this topic.
10. Peloponnesian War, Sparta Vs. Athens, 431-404 BC.
For the people that invented democracy, the Greeks sure fought among themselves a lot. In those days there was no unified Greece and the various city states often fought among each other, only uniting every so often against the Persians or Trojans or whatever other opponent was handy.
9. War of the Roses, House of Lancaster Vs. House of York Vs House (2 rival versions) of Plantagenet, 1455-1487.
This conflict was another one of the on again off again wars, which is why it ranks just under the 30 Years War. Related fighting could be dated even earlier and later than the dates listed. The fighting was about control of the English throne, making it a civil war.
8. 30 Years War, Most of Europe, 1618-1648.
Starting out as a war between Protestant and Catholic German city states, the war ended up including most of Europe at various times and ended up as the Bourbons Vs. Habsburgs. Participants and alliances changed often making this one of history’s most convoluted wars. A costly war, 8 million lives were lost, including 20% of the population of Germany!
7. Achinese War, Netherlands Vs. Aceh, 1873-1904.
The Netherlands (Holland) had taken over Indonesia as a colony and in 1873 the Aceh people revolted, and kept up the struggle until 1904. The Dutch were permanently thrown out of Indonesia by the Japanese in World War II.
6. Guatemalan Civil War, Government Vs. Rebels, 1960-1996.
An insurgency of various, mostly leftist, rebels, the fighting dragged on and on, until finally a peace was arranged after the communist world mostly disappeared.
5. Punic Wars, Rome Vs. Carthage, 264-146 BC.
By doing some quick math, you will notice that the period listed is over 100 years. That is because the wars were on again, off again during this time frame, with about 43 years of fighting taking place.
4. Wars of the Diadochi, Alexander’s Generals, 323-275 BC.
When Alexander the Great died abruptly in 323 BC his empire had no clear cut heir strong enough to keep it together, and the generals that had done the conquering went to war with each other in an effort to seize power for themselves.
3. Greco-Persian Wars, Greek City States Vs. Persia, 499-449 BC.
Please do not think of the modern films 300 (2007) and its sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire (2014) as documentaries! For some reason the Persians just kept trying to take over and control Greece, and the Greeks kept fighting back. (Then Alexander took over Persia a hundred years later, so apparently these wars did not really solve everything.)
2. The Hundred Years War, England Vs. France, 1337-1453.
An incredible 116 years of the 2 main European powers at war. These nations would continue to clash over the years until their alliance during World War I and World War II, and their current membership in NATO make any resumption of hostilities unlikely. (Although there was some nastiness in WWII when the English sunk the French Fleet to keep it out of German hands.)
1. Arauco War, Spain Vs. Mapuche Tribe, 1536-1825.
Spanish invaders fought the local Native Americans in Chile and Argentina and never conquered them due to the remoteness of the territory. The war finally ended when Chile won its independence from Spain.
Question for students (and subscribers): Do we count the Viet Nam War from when the French were fighting or when the US assumed responsibility for South Viet Nam in 1956 or do we consider the start 1964 when regular US ground forces were committed? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Bergen, Peter L. The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaeda. Free Press, 2011.
Herring, George C. America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975 with Poster (4th Edition). McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages, 2001.
Hiro, Dilip. The Longest War: The Iran-Iraq Military Conflict. Routledge, 1990.