Even the shortest of wars can seem agonizingly long for those parties involved. Unfortunately for those engaged in the conflicts listed below, they had to endure such turmoil for decades or even centuries. In some, soldiers fought their whole lives in a war that they would never see decided, even when it had started prior to their very births!
10. Karen Conflict (1949-Present; 67 years ongoing)
The Karen Conflict is the longest civil war in the world, having had started in 1949 and is still ongoing. The Karen Conflict involves the Karen people, one of the largest ethnic groups in Southeast Asia, who have been fighting since ages long past for a separate Karen nation of their own in Myanmar (Burma). The two main participants in this civil war are the Karen National Union and the Burmese Tatmadaw. The former is a political organization of the Karen people, equipped with an armed wing (the Karen National Liberation Army), and the Tatmadaw to the official military organization of Myanmar. The conflict is being primarily fought in the Karen state of Myanmar, which was established by the Burmese government in 1952. The conflict has resulted in thousands of casualties over the years and has caused many Karen to flee into countries neighboring from their own.
9. Dutch War for Independence (1568-1648; 80 years)
The Eighty Years' War, also known as the Dutch Revolt, spanned a period of 80 years between 1568 and 1648. The period was marked by the revolt of the Seventeen Provinces in the Netherlands against the Spanish King. Towards the beginning of the Revolt, the king’s forces managed to subdue the rebels and suppress the rebellion. However, the rebellion grew stronger and, in 1572, the rebels conquered Brielle, proving a major defeat to Spain. Finally, in 1648, the Seventeen Provinces achieved independence as the United Provinces of the Netherlands, otherwise known as the Dutch Republic.
8. Seleucid-Parthia War (238 BCE-129 BCE; 109 years)
The Seleucid-Parthia War involved a series of conflicts between the Seleucid Empire of Persia and the state of Parthia, resulting in the ultimate expulsion of the former from its base into Persia and the establishment of a Parthian Empire. In the beginning, the Seleucid Empire stretched from Syria to the Indus River. Maintaining such an extended kingdom was not easy, and the Seleucids constantly faced troubles from both the Hellenistic states in the west and Iranian people in the east. Taking advantage of the unrest, two Seleucid Satraps, those of Bactria and Parthia, declared their remote provinces as independent states. However, Parthia was in turn invaded by the Iranian Parni tribes from Central Asia in 238 BCE, who then took over control of the land and named themselves as the Parthians. The Seleucids, too busy fighting against Ptolemaic Egypt at the time, lost large tracts of their territories east of Persia and Media at the hands of the Parthians. Antiochus III, an ambitious Seleucid king was, however, ready to reclaim the lost territories of his ancestral empire and, in 209 BCE, started a campaign against the Parthians. Therein, Antiochus III managed to defeat them, reducing them to a vassal status within their original conquered province of Parthia. However, the Seleucids began to lose control over the land when Antiochus was defeated by the Romans in the Battle of Magnesia. Parthia now came under the power of the Arsacids, and the new Parthian king now started capturing Seleucid lands. In 139 BCE, the Seleucids were defeated in a major battle by the Parthians, ending with the capture of the Seleucid King Demetrius II, and thus establishing the Parthians as the new rulers of the region.
7. Plantagenet-Valois/Hundred Years' War (1337-1453; 116 years)
The Hundred Years’ War was a prolonged conflict that was fought between two royal houses who claimed to be the rightful contenders for the French throne. The war was triggered by the extinction of the senior Capetian line of French kings, effectively leaving the French throne vacant. The two main contenders for the throne included the House of Plantagenet (or House of Anjou) and the rival House of Valois. The former were the rulers of 12th century England and had originally belonged to French regions in Anjou and Normandy. While the Plantagenets claimed to be the combined rulers of England and France, the House of Valois also claimed to be the rulers of the Kingdom of France. Five generations of kings from these two rival dynasties fought for the French throne between 1337 and 1453, with both sides exhibiting heights of victory and chivalry. At the end of this war, Joan of Arc played an important role in reinvigorating the Valois dynasty. She inspired a fighting spirit in Charles, the disinherited Valois prince, and made way for him to be crowned after her efforts helped lift the English siege of Orleans, the traditional site of coronations of the Valois dynasty. Seized by the English, Joan was held and deemed guilty of witchcraft, and subsequently burned at the stake in 1431. However, Joan’s efforts did not go to waste, and Charles was able to withhold his kingdom. Then, by 1453, the English forces had been forced to withdraw from France.
6. Byzantine-Ottoman (1265-1479; 214 years)
The Byzantine-Ottoman Wars were a decisive series of battles stretching for a long period of 214 years between 1265 and 1479. This war ultimately saw to the downfall of the Byzantine Empire and the rise of the Ottoman Empire in the Byzantine's former territories in turn. By 1204, the Byzantine capital of Constantinople had been occupied by the Fourth Crusaders. The Sultanate of Rum took this opportunity to seize Byzantine territory in Western Asia Minor. In 1261, however, Constantinople was retaken by the Nicaean Empire from the Latin Empire. The Byzantine Empire continued to face threats from a number of enemies during this period, and one of the greatest threats was posed by a Turkish Bey named Osman I, who would himself go down in history as the founder of the Ottoman Empire. Osman I first declared himself Sultan of the Ottoman Beylik, and by 1380 had captured Thrace from the Byzantines. By 1400, the Byzantine Empire was reduced to extremely small territories of the original vast kingdom of the Byzantines and, by 1479, with the conclusion of the Byzantine-Ottoman wars, the Ottoman supremacy had become well established throughout the Eastern Mediterranean.
5. Byzantine-Seljuq (1048-1308; 260 years)
The Byzantine-Seljuk Wars included a series of battles over a period of 260 years that led to a shift of powers from the Byzantine Empire to the Seljuk Turks in the regions of Asia Minor and Syria, and the rise of an era of the Crusades. After the conquest of Baghdad in 1055, the Turks expanded their kingdom westwards and, in 1064, the Seljuk Sultan, Alp Arslan, captured Armenia from the Byzantines. In 1067, when the Turks attempted to invade Asia Minor, they were pushed back by a Byzantine counterattack. However, the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 proved to be a major victory for the Seljuk Turks, as there they managed to defeat the Byzantine forces and capture the Byzantine Emperor himself. Despite this major win, the Byzantine rule over Asia Minor continued, and it took another 20 years for the Turks to achieve complete control over the Anatolian Peninsula. The call for the First Crusade was made when the Seljuk Turks went on to capture Jerusalem. Within a hundred years after the Battle of Manzikert, the First Crusades had driven out the Seljuks from the coasts of Asia Minor, and the Byzantines successfully regained some form of control over parts of their lost territories. However, the subsequent Crusades did more harm than good to the Byzantines, as the Crusaders, often ignoring or disrespecting their allies, also often looted Byzantine towns and villages along the way.
4. Arauco War (1536-1818; 282 years)
The Arauco War was one of the longest wars in the history of the world, lasting for 282 years from 1536 to 1818. In their attempts to dominate South America, the Spanish tried to repeatedly colonize the Mapuche people, the indigenous inhabitants of the region. In 1536, while the Spaniards were exploring the Strait of Magellan in depth, the Mapuche refused to allow them to continue onward and attacked the small Spanish Army. The Spaniards, though outnumbered, were well equipped with more advanced weapons that allowed them to kill large numbers of the Mapuche and force the survivors to retreat. Battles continued into the future, and the Mapuche managed to maintain their independence, mainly due to the natural barriers proffered by the region. However, despite the battles, trade exchanges were also established between the two sides. During the Chilean War of Independence, the Spaniards were defeated by the Chileans, and the Spanish rule in Chile was completely expelled, effectively ending the war between the Mapuches and the Spaniards. The Mapuches, however, were against this transition of power, and their worst fears were proved true when the new nation of Chile also used force and diplomacy to drive out the Mapuches from their territories, leading to many deaths by starvation and disease, and crippling economic losses.
3. Dutch-Scilly War (1651-1986; 335 years)
One of the longest, and even strangest, wars in our world's history, characterized by a complete absence of battles and bloodshed, is known as the Three Hundred and Thirty-Five Years’ war. The conflict began on March 30, 1651, as a by-product of the English Civil War. The Dutch, long-time allies of England, decided to take the side of the Parliamentarians. The Royalists, with whom the Dutch had formerly had friendly relations, took this as a betrayal, and in their anger raided Dutch shipping vessels as a punishment to their betraying friends. However, by 1651 the Royalists had been chased away from the entirety of England except for a tiny group of islands, namely the ‘Isles of Scilly’. The Dutch, who had suffered commerce losses at the hands of the Royalists, decided to teach them a lesson themselves by sending their naval troops to the area to threaten the Royalists. Orders were also given to the Dutch commander, Tromp, to declare war if the Royalists did not cough up money. Then, according to the most common story, the Royalists refused the money, forcing Tromp to declare war. However, the highly reduced Royalist forces and the chances of poor gains from them made Tromp withdraw his pursuit of engagement and return without any fighting haven taken place. Soon the Royalists surrendered to the Parliamentarians, and the Dutch had essentially forgotten that they had declared a war. More than 3 centuries later, a local historian, Roy Duncan, accidentally stumbled upon a historical footnote in Scilly regarding the war, and he invited the Dutch ambassador to Great Britain to visit Scilly and negotiate an armistice. The peace treaty was signed on April 17, 1986, thus ending the ‘phony war’ between the Dutch and the Scilly Isles.
2. Persian-Roman Wars (92 BCE-629 CE; 721 years)
The Roman Persian Wars were a series of wars that took place over a period of 721 years between the Roman world and two successive Iranian empires, namely the Parthians and the Sassanids. The first battle of this war brew up in 92 BCE when the Roman Republic battled with the Parthians. After the cessation of hostilities with the Parthians, the Romans continued their battles against the next Iranian empire to face them, that of the Sassanids. The war was brought to an end by the Arab Muslim invasions in 629 CE, which devastated both the Byzantine Eastern Roman Empire and the Sassanid Empire alike. Throughout the extended war between the Persians and Romans, the frontier remained largely stable, while towns, fortifications, and provinces near the borders were continuously being captured and re-captured by these two sets of battling rival empires. The war, however, had devastating economic impacts on both the Romans and the Persians (both Parthian and then Sassanids), and as such rendered them each extremely vulnerable to the sudden attacks to come at the hands of the Arab Muslims.
1. Iberian Religious Wars (711-1492; 781 years)
The Iberian Religious Wars, or the ‘Reconquista’, was a period in the history of the Iberian Peninsula (including modern Spain and Portugal) spanning around 781 years, from 711 to 1492. The period marked by a long series of battles between the Christian kingdoms and the Muslim Moors for control over the Peninsula. In 711, the Moors, Muslims living in the northern African region which is now part of Morocco and Algeria, crossed the Mediterranean Sea and gradually made their advances into Europe, establishing their own territories whenever and wherever possible. The true beginning of the Reconquista in full force was marked by the Battle of Covadonga in 718 when the Christian King Pelayo of the Visigoths defeated the advancing Muslim army in Alcama. Over the next several centuries, a series of battles were fought between the Christians and the Moors, with victories and losses on both sides. In the latter years of the Reconquista, the Catholic Church recognized the war as a 'holy war' similar to the Crusades, and several military orders of the Church also participated in the war. Finally, by the 1400’s, the Moors had only a few territories remaining under their rule. In 1469, a historic marriage between King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castille marked the end of the Muslim invasion into the Iberian Peninsula when the united forces of Ferdinand and Isabella fought against the Moors. They were successful in recapturing Grenada from them in 1492, and thus ending the Reconquista.
What Was the Longest War in Human History?
The Iberian Religious Wars, which lasted 781 years, was the longest war in history.
About the Author
Oishimaya is an Indian native, currently residing in Kolkata. She has earned her Ph.D. degree and is presently engaged in full-time freelance writing and editing. She is an avid reader and travel enthusiast and is sensitively aware of her surroundings, both locally and globally. She loves mingling with people of eclectic cultures and also participates in activities concerning wildlife conservation.
Your MLA Citation
Your APA Citation
Your Chicago Citation
Your Harvard CitationRemember to italicize the title of this article in your Harvard citation.