Was it common for rulers to declare war on other nations for no reason?

Mar 2016
1,091
Australia
#1
One thing that's always fascinated me about military history is the motivations for the wars and conquests countries embark on. There seems to be a prevailing misconception that the nations of old (e.g. pre-20th century) just waged war and stomped all over whatever nation they wanted for no reason, solely because they could, but a bit of reading will show you that's not the case.

I thought it was interesting reading about Alexander's conquest of Persia that even in 340 BC he had to give a reason for continuing the conquest every step of the way. First the reason was "Darius killed my father and he wants to invade Greece", then when Darius was defeated in battle it was "We need to overthrow Darius so Macedonia and Greece are safe", then when Darius was killed it was "We need to consolidate our control over the Persian Empire otherwise it will all go to hell when we leave", but then when Bessus was killed and all of Persia submissive to Alexander, he decided to invade India.... and there he had no reason, and the troops finally had enough and did not take it well at all. The famous mutiny after defeating Porus is quite the memorable historical moment, and it goes to show that even thousands of years ago soldiers wouldn't just obey a ruler's whims on invading other countries for no good reason.

So my question is, are there actually other cases where rulers did invade countries and didn't even bother giving a reason for why (however unbelievable and flimsy that reason is)?
 

macon

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
3,879
Slovenia, EU
#2
In my opinion nomads were often having no other reason than a will to plunder. Sometimes they used a lame excuse of being insulted by someone of settled nations for their full invasion.
 
Jan 2016
1,637
India
#3
It was quite normal in the Indian sub-continent for rulers to declare war on each other just for the sake of it. There are innumerable instances where Indian rulers went about campaigning in their neighbouring kingdoms, immediately after their accession, for no particular reason. These campaigns were not for land or territory, as the conquered kings were usually reinstated. Apparently, the only significant benefit they received out of it was their enhanced prestige, and of course, plunder. Due to the constant state of war in India, the armies of Indian kingdoms, especially North Indian ones, did not have citizens or peasants in them. They were made up of small units of professional soldiers belonging to certain Kshatriya communities.
 
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Scaeva

Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
5,522
#5
It was quite normal in the Indian sub-continent for rulers to declare war on each other just for the sake of it. There are innumerable instances where Indian rulers went about campaigning in their neighbouring kingdoms, immediately after their accession, for no particular reason. These campaigns were not for land or territory, as the conquered kings were usually reinstated. Apparently, the only significant benefit they received out of it was their enhanced prestige, and of course, plunder. Due to the constant state of war in India, the armies of Indian kingdoms, especially North Indian ones, did not have citizens or peasants in them. They were made up of small units of professional soldiers belonging to certain Kshatriya communities.
Plunder and prestige are reasons for war however, just not ones we find acceptable in the 21st Century.
 
Apr 2011
3,075
New Jersey
#6
One thing that's always fascinated me about military history is the motivations for the wars and conquests countries embark on. There seems to be a prevailing misconception that the nations of old (e.g. pre-20th century) just waged war and stomped all over whatever nation they wanted for no reason, solely because they could, but a bit of reading will show you that's not the case.

I thought it was interesting reading about Alexander's conquest of Persia that even in 340 BC he had to give a reason for continuing the conquest every step of the way. First the reason was "Darius killed my father and he wants to invade Greece", then when Darius was defeated in battle it was "We need to overthrow Darius so Macedonia and Greece are safe", then when Darius was killed it was "We need to consolidate our control over the Persian Empire otherwise it will all go to hell when we leave", but then when Bessus was killed and all of Persia submissive to Alexander, he decided to invade India.... and there he had no reason, and the troops finally had enough and did not take it well at all. The famous mutiny after defeating Porus is quite the memorable historical moment, and it goes to show that even thousands of years ago soldiers wouldn't just obey a ruler's whims on invading other countries for no good reason.

So my question is, are there actually other cases where rulers did invade countries and didn't even bother giving a reason for why (however unbelievable and flimsy that reason is)?
There was justification for war in antiquity. However, your example presents a misleading picture. The soldiers did not merely mutiny because they did not hold Alexander's justifications in high regard, they mutinied because they'd already been on a campaign for such a long time.

No one fights for no reason. There is at least some glory or plunder to be had. Such a justification could be enough.
Plunder and prestige are reasons for war however, just not ones we find acceptable in the 21st Century.
If only I had hit submit about three minutes earlier!

A bigger misconception is probably what "good" reasoning for war could be.
 
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Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,257
#7
In western tradition, not really. The Romans were VERY careful to have a "casus bellum" at all instances. They did go through some extraordinary contortions to come up with one at times, but it couldn't just be skipped.

Christian tradition has very consistently insisted wars must be "just", and beginning with Augustine gone through what that might entail. Most importantly defensive wars are always justified. But then tremendous ingenuity has been expended on what might constitute "aggression" allowing warmaking in defense.
 
Apr 2011
3,075
New Jersey
#8
In western tradition, not really. The Romans were VERY careful to have a "casus bellum" at all instances. They did go through some extraordinary contortions to come up with one at times, but it couldn't just be skipped.
I have actually not run into this misconception mentioned in the OP that people fight for "no reason".
 
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Jan 2015
5,440
Ontario, Canada
#9
I think the OP means a pretext. To that I say no, all wars and by extension the people engaging in them, need a pretext or a "reason" for fighting.
It can be a flimsy pretext but so long as the means are there and the victory is comparatively easy then I don't see why the pretext has to be all that good. You win and everyone else can fight you if they disagree. Of course this is a bit dangerous since angering all your neighbors is a bad idea.
 
Nov 2011
4,699
Ohio, USA
#10
Lol, how about like Total War. 'I need that region as one of my conditions for victory. I'll politely ask for a deal of some kind with the nation owning it, and if they refuse the deal, it's war.'

If only things worked exactly like that in real life.
 

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