Primitive war still occurs in isolated tribes, such as the Marings of Papua New Guinea. Maring wars occur every ten or twelve years (the time it takes pigs to mature and fatten for sacrifices and feasts) and involve hundreds of people equipped with simple bows and arrows, spears, and clubs. The intent is to re-establish power and influence and re-allocate resources, women, and sometimes land. Killing people is not a goal, and in fact, apparently the weapons are less lethal than those used to hunt animals for food, and the wars are often interrupted to work on gardens, or simply rest. If someone is killed, the war may be halted, and the warriors seldom end up in hand- to -hand fighting.
Many primitive wars were more lethal, such as those involving the Maoris and the Aztecs, but were also limited as the Maoris developed fortifications that would withstand attack, and the Aztecs fought to capture people to be sacrificed to their gods, rather than for spoils. Such wars did not imperil the existence of the people fighting them— no weapons of mass destruction.
But even though our wars are now “modern” and involve nations, many more people, and tremendously sophisticated and destructive weapons that can be used over huge distances, we still fight in more primitive ways. If you are interested in more about this type of fighting, or the history of war in general, read “A History of Warfare”, by John Keegan, a terrific writer and senior lecturer in military history at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, England, described in recommended readings at the right. For more on the Marings, click here.
A good example of primitive fighting with few weapons and no major casualties were the predictable large inter school fights after football games in my high school, which became so wide spread that my friends started a so-called car club to proclaim our toughness (complete with jackets proclaiming ourselves Sultans of Berdoo) as a defensive mechanism to escape them. In fact American football might be considered a ceremonial type of warfare. The photo at the left shows a modern gladiator (www.reddit.com). Sports often have many elements of ceremonial warfare, and even though they may be highly regulated, the fans are not always so. The photo at the right is a shot of the start of a riot at a Birmingham United soccer match. For more on this topic see Football Hooliganism here.
But in the third millennium B.C.E., “modern” war began with the coming of states such as Egypt and Sumer and took the direction of acquiring, land, wealth, and power. The same weapons were used as in primitive war (bows and arrows, spears, clubs, axes, knives, swords) but the materials and designs continued to improve. More people were involved and wars ranged more widely. About 2340 B.C.E., Sargon become ruler of Mesopotania, and with an army of over 5000 and bronze weapons, conquered an empire roughly the size of present day Iraq. Modern war had arrived , and increasingly sophisticated technology was to cause casualties to mount.