Top 10 Longest Wars

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Throughout the history of humans on earth, war has been a seemingly inevitable consequence. Sometimes these wars are extremely brief, but a number of wars have lasted for years – even decades. What makes this list a bit different is that there is a lack of agreement as to how long some of these wars really lasted (fights over wars – told you it sounded stupid). We’ve done our best to do the math for you and come up with the most accurate list of the longest wars.

10. Vietnam War

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If you start the calculation from the time that the United States began assisting the South Vietnamese government in 1956 and go through to the American departure in 1975, you’ve got a 19-year armed conflict. Once the French departed in 1954-55, the United States took up the responsibility of training the South Vietnamese army to assist it to repel the North Vietnamese (who were receiving aid from the Soviet Union). The Vietnam War was part of a larger regional conflict that involved the neighboring countries of Cambodia and Laos (collectively, this was called the “Second Indochina War”). After years of increased combat (in which 58,000 Americans died), the United States began to slowly decrease its role in the early 1970s. In early 1975, the North invaded the South and quickly consolidated the country, with Saigon falling in April 1975. In July 1976, North and South Vietnam were joined as the “Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”

9. Second Northern War (a.k.a. “The Great Northern War”)

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This 21-year battle (1700-1721) was sort of like a war over the North Pole. Russia, Denmark-Norway, and Saxony-Poland challenged Sweden’s supremacy of Sweden in the areas surrounding the Baltic Sea (where Sweden had spent the 17th Century taking over much of that area, right on Russia’s doorstep). Peter the Great decided it was time to send the Swedes packing, and he found allies who were also tired of Sweden’s minor version of empire-building. The end result of the Second Northern War? Sweden lost (hey – they were facing a lot of countries) and was forcibly evicted from all of its Baltic lands, which went to the possession of Russia.

8. Greco-Persian Wars

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These were, as with so many on this list, a series of wars fought over a number of years. Essentially, he Greco-Persian Wars were conflicts between several Greek city-states and the Persian Empire that started in 499 B.C. and – off and on – lasted until 448 B.C. The name comes from the fact that the Persians invaded the Greek mainland. To the Greeks’ credit, they repelled the Persians both times they invaded. Not every Greek city-state fought against the Persians, though – some were neutral and others allied with Persia (if you think you can’t beat them with their ginormous army, you might as well join them).

7. Achinese War

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The Achinese War (also called the Aceh War) took place in Dutch Indonesia in the late 19th Century. In this conflict, the Dutch colonial government declared war on Aceh (a colony on what is now Sumatra) in March 1873, apparently because Aceh was speaking to the United States about possible trade. Although the Aceh people fought back the Dutch for many years, by 1904 most of Aceh was under Dutch control. The fighting is generally agreed to have occurred for at least 25 of those 31 years, but exact conclusions are difficult to reach. The estimated total casualties on the Aceh side are also a bit vague, but it is believed they were somewhere between 50,000 to 100,000 dead, with a million wounded.

6. Peloponnesian War

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The Peloponnesian War, lasting from 431-404 B.C., was fought between the city-state of Athens and its allies against the Peloponnesian League, led by the city-state of Sparta. It is generally accepted that there are three phases to this war: (1) the Archidamian War, from 431 B.C. to 421 B.C., in which Sparta kept invading Attica, while Athens raided the Peloponnesian coast — ended with the signing of the Peace of Nicias; (2) 415 B.C. to 413 B.C., in which Athens dispatched a huge army to attack Syracuse (unsuccessfully); and (3) the Decelean War or Ionian War; from 413 B.C. to 404 B.C., in which Sparta, receiving help from Persia, undermined Athens’ leadership in the Greek city-states. When Sparta destroyed Athens’ navy, that ended the war.

5. Wars of the Roses

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The Wars of the Roses was actually a series of civil wars that fought in medieval England from 1455 to 1487. The Wars were between the House of Lancaster and the House of York, with the prize sought being nothing less than the English throne – both Houses appeared to have a claim. The “Roses” name comes from the fact that each side had roses on their badges: a red rose for the Lancastrians, and a white rose for the Yorkists. Like many of the wars on this list, there is dispute as to the actual duration. In this case, many historians put the beginnings of the Wars with the first official battle at St. Albans in 1455. Others consider it to be when Henry IV usurped the throne of Richard II in 1399. Even going off of the later point (which seems to be the consensus), you’re looking at 30 years of off-and-on armed conflict.

4. Thirty Years’ War

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This was a series of wars (they all seem to be a “series,” don’t they?) that began in 1618 and lasted through 1648. This is a hard one to put into a nice quick synopsis, as the cause of the war and the reasons it lasted so long really evolved over time. The easiest way to state it: it began as a war between Protestants and Catholics in the Holy Roman Empire. However, disputes over the internal politics and balance of power within the Empire began to play an ever-growing role, and the war developed into a more general conflict involving most of the European powers in place at the time, with the rivalry between the Bourbons and Habsburgs for political preeminence taking center stage. The Thirty Years’ War ended up being the last major religious war in Europe, which was a welcome end to the frequent religious bloodshed that accompanied the Reformation.

3. Guatemalan Civil War

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Beginning in 1960 and ending in 1996, the civil war in Guatemala lasted 36 years. A group of junior military officers revolted in 1960 in response to the autocratic rule of the government; this faction served as the basis for the groups who remained in armed combat against the Guatemalan government for the next 36 years. Throughout the course of this conflict, several left-wing guerilla groups fought both the government the right-wing vigilantes who terrorized leftist groups (or those merely suspected of that). Underscoring the conflict were centuries-old issues between the native Maya people and the descendants of the colonial explorers from Spain, particularly with respect to land use and rights. The protracted struggle officially ended when the Guatemalan government and the leftist guerrilla groups signed a peace accord, which served to protect the rights of the 23 different Native American groups in the country.

2. Punic Wars

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Here is another of these possible controversies. The war between of Rome and Carthage began in 264 B.C. at the inception of the Punic Wars. However, the formal peace treaty that ended the war came in 1985 A.D. That’s right, under one calculation, this war lasted 2,248 years! However, Carthage was completely destroyed by the Romans by 146 B.C., with Rome taking over all of Carthage’s territories. Thus, Carthage’s existence as an independent state was over at that time, which makes it hard to see how that was not the actual end of the war. Total years actually at war under the more conservative approach? 43 years for the First, Second, and Third Punic Wars — which is still a heck of a long time.

1. Hundred Years’ War

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Although the name is not technically accurate (as this one lasted 116 years). The Hundred Years War consisted of a series of battles between England and France, beginning in 1337 and going to 1453. It began when King Edward III of England invaded France, claiming the throne of France for himself. His successors all kept the fight going (and kept ruling France), with fans of Shakespeare knowing that Henry V defeated the French at the Battle of Agincourt. However, the Scots then helped the French, and a woman by the name of Joan of Arc led the French to several successes in 1429. Paris was finally liberated from English rule in 1436, and the French finally sent the English out of France completely in 1453. Now they just tell dirty jokes about each other, which is much more civilized.

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