Wars have been waged ever since humans developed the first tools and built weapons. While some have defined our immediate existence—both World Wars, for instance—they are in actuality a blip in the annals of military history. In fact, there are dozens of wars that have been fought over decades or even centuries. Starting with the Reconquista and ending with the Mexican Indian Wars, this article will examine the eight longest conflicts in human history.
8. The Mexican Indian Wars
The Mexican Indian Wars were largely fought between the Spanish colonizers and the indigenous peoples of Mexico. The conflict began with the conquest of the Aztec Empire in 1519. After settling in the Caribbean in the late 1400s, the Spanish formed an alliance with the Aztec’s indigenous enemies to help defeat them in battle.
Violent uprisings occurred over the following several centuries, resulting in years of bloodshed. One such example is the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 in which the Spanish were driven out of modern day New Mexico, only to return twelve years later.
The Mexican Indian Wars finally concluded with the Caste War of Yucatán. The native Maya people took a defiant stance against the Yucatecos, European descendants who held political power. Even though the war officially ended in 1901, small skirmishes continued to break out until 1933, ending the 414-year long conflict.
7. The Arab-Byzantine Wars
The Arab-Byzantine Wars began in the 7th century with the Arab conquests under the Rashidun and Umayyad Islamic states. The Byzantine Empire lost territory very fast, including Syria and Egypt. At first, they stayed on the defensive, frequently avoiding battle on open fields. It would take over a hundred years before they began launching their own counterattacks.
In 718, the Arab forces failed to capture the Byzantine capital of Constantinople for the second time. After that, the border between both empires remained relatively stable, despite the fact that raids continued to be a common occurrence.
By the mid-11th century, after approximately 421 years of war, the conflict shifted in another direction when the Turks became a new threat to both forces. In the end, the Byzantine Empire suffered greatly, having lost a lot of territory, while the Arabs increased their presence in parts of the Middle East and Africa.
6. The Ottoman Wars in Europe
The Ottoman Wars—also known as the Turkish Wars—were fought between the Ottoman Empire and various European powers over the course of 653 years. The conflict began in 1265 with the Byzantine-Ottoman Wars, which led to the ultimate downfall of the Byzantine Empire.
War continued to ravage the continent. Between the 14th and 16th centuries, the Ottomans managed to conquer the Balkans and much of Central Europe, subjugating people like the Serbs, Bosnians, and Hungarians.
Continued war with the Russians in the 18th century and two Serbian uprisings and the Greek Wars of Independence in the 19th century marked the beginning of the Ottoman Empire’s decline. During World War I, they prevented the British Royal Navy from attacking Istanbul, but besides that, they lost most of their European territory. They were ultimately defeated in 1918, bringing an end to their dominance.
5. The Germanic Wars
The Germanic Wars were waged between the Romans and the early Germanic peoples. The violence began in 113 BCE when the Cimbri and Teuton tribes migrated into territory controlled by the Roman Republic. Despite the fact that Rome experienced heavy losses, they emerged victorious.
For years, the Romans demonstrated their military might, but by the 5th century, that prestige had begun to waver. While the Vandals were causing mayhem beyond the Alps, King Alaric and his Visigoth “barbarians” were laying siege to Rome. They offered to spare the city in exchange for annual payment and a place in the military hierarchy, but Emperor Honorius refused.
In 410, rebel slaves and gladiators discretely opened the gates for the Visigoths, who proceeded to sack the city over the course of three days. Similar violence continued into the 6th century through various raids and battles. After 681 years of war, the conflict finally came to an end in the year 569.
4. The Roman-Persian Wars
Spanning 681 years, the Roman-Persian Wars were a series of battles fought between the Roman Empire and the Persian Empire from 54 BCE to 628. Similar to Reconquista, religious differences did play a minor role, but with each empire determined to expand their borders, the dispute was largely territorial.
The Mithridatic Wars marked the beginning of the conflict. Both sides experienced several victories and defeats, gaining and losing territory over the course of the 681 years. Regardless, the borders between both empires remained largely unchanged.
Such a period of violence left both sides exhausted and weakened, leaving them vulnerable to the newly united Arab army. The Persian Empire crumbled quickly and completely collapsed. During the ensuing Byzantine-Arab Wars, most of the Roman Empire’s territories were lost, leaving them Anatolia, parts of the Balkans, and Italy.
3. The Byzantine-Bulgarian Wars
When the First Bulgarian Empire formed in 681, it sparked 715 years of war with the Byzantine Empire, also known as the Eastern Roman Empire. Interested in territorial expansion toward the southwest, the Bulgarians experienced early victories.
By the 10th century, the Bulgarian Empire was weak because it was engaged in multiple wars, including one with Russia. In 1018, it fell to the Byzantine Empire. After a series of failed rebellions, however, they were able to succeed in reclaiming most of their territory as the Byzantine Empire was having internal troubles.
Despite the signing of an eventual treaty recognizing the Second Bulgarian Empire, the violence did not stop. The conflict continued until 1396 when Bulgaria was defeated by the Ottoman Turks. Fifty-seven years later, the Byzantine capital of Constantinople also fell to the Ottomans.
2. The Anglo-French Wars
The Anglo-French Wars were a series of clashes between England and France that began in 1066 when William, the Duke of Normandy, and 7,000 French soldiers invaded England. A distant cousin to the previous king, William believed he had a legitimate claim to the English throne. This skirmish resulted in a violent feud that lasted just under 750 years.
Perhaps the most famous conflict between these two rivals is the part of the Seven Years’ War known as the French and Indian War. The bloodshed resulted in an English victory, removing France as a threat from their westward expansion into North America.
The conflict finally drew to an end in 1815 with the Hundred Days War. Napoleon Bonaparte, having recently been sent into exile, returned to France to reclaim Paris. England and several other countries formed a coalition to engage against the Frenchman in the Battle of Waterloo, ultimately bringing an end to his reign. Napoleon was sent into exile again, this time to the island of Saint Helena where he died six years later.
The Reconquista—also known as the Iberian Crusades—was a series of military campaigns that lasted 781 years. The conflict began in 711 when North African Muslims captured the Iberian Peninsula from the Visigoths. In the 11th century, Christian knights from across Europe attempted to reclaim the Spanish and Portuguese territories. The resulting war gained much support from the various popes throughout the years.
In 1085, the Christians experienced their first major victory when King Alfonso VI captured Toledo, the capital of Spanish Christendom. Over a century later, the Muslim Moors lost the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, a stunning defeat from which they would never recover. By 1252, only Granada remained in their control. When the city fell in 1492, the centuries-long conflict was finally brought to an end.
Religion did play a role in the Iberian Crusades, but for a long time, it was mostly about land gains and financial rewards. Under Christian rule, many mosques were converted into churches, but several were left alone to allow the Muslims that remained to continue practising their religion. The violence that defined the Reconquista would later inspire the Spanish and Portuguese conquest of the New World.