Armies Killing Innocents

Jan 2016
393
Ohio
Maybe innocents isan't the right word, but bear with me.

Hollywood does a good job at showing some ancient armies killing whole cities, including unarmed women and children. One that comes to mind heavily would be Vikings. Ive got to ask, why would this be?

I'm sure the moral standards are much different, but is there a reason besides tv "blood-lust savages" that these peoples killed innocents?

Is there armies throughout history (even modern) that outright refused to murder innocents or for a better term, the non-solider populace?

could you maybe name some that didn't seem to have a care in the world who they killed?
 

johnincornwall

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,806
Cornwall
Some people enjoyed it for sure.

General practice has always been that if a town surrenders after not much more than a token resistance, they can be treated well, sometimes keep their goods and homes, just change ruler. If a town resisted strongly, cost the lives of many soldiers and then eventually got taken, they were in trouble. The sheer frustration of the invading troops was often beyond any control and indeed, if troops were not allowed loot it could lead to serious problems.

That basic tactic was used by the Romans, Alexander the Great, Ferdinand El Catolico and many others.

In the Las Navas campaign in Spain (1212) king Alfonso VIII had appealed for international help to beef up his army against the Almohad Empire, who had thrashed him 14 years earlier and kept him under treaty ever since. This attracted a lot of French crusaders, fresh from the Albigensian crusade, slaughtering the inhabitants of Cathar towns. The first fallout was at Toledo, when these poeple got drunk and attacked the juderia. The second was over the harsh summer heat and lack of food and water in the vast Spanish plain on the way to battle. The final straw was when Alfonso forbade them to slaughter the inhabitants of 2 muslim towns captured on the march. In Spain, at the time and before, such things merely meant the villages/lands changed king, irrespective of religion. The French however were used to a cosy life slaughtering innocent civilians in the Languedoc and had an utterly different philosophy.

So in the end they upped and left back for France whilst Alfonso's army continued south, and only 1 contingent of about 200 knights/soldiers from 'ultramar' fought - with some distinction - at Las Navas.
 

Scaeva

Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
5,630
For the ancient
Some people enjoyed it for sure.

General practice has always been that if a town surrenders after not much more than a token resistance, they can be treated well, sometimes keep their goods and homes, just change ruler. If a town resisted strongly, cost the lives of many soldiers and then eventually got taken, they were in trouble. The sheer frustration of the invading troops was often beyond any control and indeed, if troops were not allowed loot it could lead to serious problems.

That basic tactic was used by the Romans, Alexander the Great, Ferdinand El Catolico and many others.

.
Very true. The Roman even had an idiom derived from that policy, "the ram has touched the wall." It was the equivalent of saying something was at a point of no return.

An enemy city could negotiate quite favorable terms if it surrendered before it's walls were assaulted, but there was no possibility of leniency once the "ram has touched the wall." At the point the city was subject entirely to the whims of the Roman commander and all the horrors that accompanied the sack of a city in antiquity.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,623
Dispargum
Slaughtering a city's population after a prolonged siege not only punished that city, it also sent a message to every other city - surrender quickly or else. And it generally worked. But I'm hard pressed to think of anyone who killed everyone just for the heck of it, or even as policy. Most conquerors wanted to capture the defeated population alive so that they could be enslaved, forced to pay tribute, or incorporated into the conqueror's base population.
 

Linschoten

Ad Honoris
Aug 2010
16,214
Welsh Marches
Indeed, I fear that it was standard practice. Encouraged people in besieged cities not to fight to the bitter end, and provided the prospect perks to console and encourage besieging soldiers if they did hold out. The ancient world was much nastier in many ways than we like to like to imagine.
 

Willempie

Ad Honorem
Jul 2015
5,510
Netherlands
Slaughtering a city's population after a prolonged siege not only punished that city, it also sent a message to every other city - surrender quickly or else. And it generally worked. But I'm hard pressed to think of anyone who killed everyone just for the heck of it, or even as policy. Most conquerors wanted to capture the defeated population alive so that they could be enslaved, forced to pay tribute, or incorporated into the conqueror's base population.
It often was policy when a revolt (or heresy) was involved. In that case the city wasn't just the enemy, but also a traitor. See the Albigensian crusade, Dutch revolt and 30-year-war for some examples.
 

Linschoten

Ad Honoris
Aug 2010
16,214
Welsh Marches
This went on until the 17th Century, is anything of the kind recorded from the 18th?
 

Linschoten

Ad Honoris
Aug 2010
16,214
Welsh Marches
Things got bad after the fall of Badajoz, for instance, but officers did try to put a brake on it (some losing their lives as a result I believe).