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For other uses, see civil war (disambiguation). See list of civil wars for individual examples. A civil war is a war in which parties within the same culture, society or nationality fight for political power or control of an area. Some civil wars are also categorized as revolutions when major societal restructuring is a possible outcome of the conflict. An insurgency, whether successful or not, is likely to be classified as a civil war by some historians if, and only if, organized armies fight conventional battles. Other historians state the criteria for a civil war is that there must be prolonged violence between organized factions or defined regions of a country (conventionally fought or not). Ultimately the distinction between a "civil war" and a "revolution" or other name is arbitrary, and determined by usage. The successful revolution of the 1640s in England which led to the (temporary) overthrow of the monarchy became known as the English Civil War. The successful insurgency of the 1770s in British colonies in America, with organized armies fighting battles, came to be known as the American Revolution. In the United States, and in American-dominated sources, the term 'the civil war' almost always means the American Civil War, with other civil wars noted or inferred from context. Factors such as nationalism, religion, and ideology played little role in pre-modern civil wars. Modern nationalists have commonly read past revolts (such as Scotland against England or Catalonia against Spain) as early stirrings of nationalism, the truth is that these conflicts were in fact feudal or dynastic rather than national. There are some pre-modern civil wars that can be seen as fueled by religion (the Jewish Revolts against Rome), but these can also be seen as revolts by a servile people against their oppressors or uprisings by local notables in an attempt to gain independence.
Premodern Civil Wars
Civil wars fought over religion have tended to occur more frequently in monotheistic societies than in polytheistic societies; one explanation is that the latter tend to be more "flexible" in terms of dogma, allowing for some latitude in belief. In Europe through the Middle Ages, the Christianity of the great bulk of the population was influenced by pagan tradition. With the great majority of the population illiterate, access to the Bible was limited and led to a significant amount of syncretism between Christian and pagan elements. With religion so loosely applied, it was rare for people to feel particularly oppressed by it. There were periodic appearances of heresies, such as that of the Albigensians, which led to violence, but historians tend to view these to be the product of peasant revolts rather than themselves motivators of a civil war. As religions tended to become more rigidly defined and understood by their followers, inter-religious tensions generally increased. The rise of Islam witnessed a rash of uprisings against non-Islamic rulers soon after its appearance. Subsequent Islamic history has been marked by repeated civil conflicts, mostly stemming out of the Shi'ite-Sunni divide. In Europe the Protestant Reformation had a similar effect, sparking years of both civil and international wars of religion. Civil wars between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism consumed France in the Wars of Religion, the Netherlands during the Eighty Years' War, Germany during the Thirty Years' War, and more recently, The Troubles of Northern Ireland. Religious disputes among Protestant sects also played a role in the English Civil Wars, while official persecution of Catholics during the French Revolution spurred the Revolt in the Vendée.
A revolution is generally seen as a civil war fought over issues of ideology, over how power should be organized and distributed, not merely over which individuals hold it. The classic...
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