The Longest Wars in History

Some conflicts are passed down from generation to generation, either because of their size, or because they simmer at a low boil with little violence. Others were ostensibly declared wars that never ended due to various diplomatic irregularities or political quirks. In either case, the wars listed here are the longest wars in history.

In fact, the longest war in history, the Punic Wars, lasted over two thousand years – but only had 80 years of combat. Another incredibly long war, the 335 Years War, never had a shot fired and had been forgotten about until a ceremonial treaty was signed ending it.

At the same time, some conflicts that have lasted for decades have seen incredible violence, massacres and bloodshed – often between countrymen. There’s nothing fun about the longest war, and these wars all long wars all lasted longer than 30 years, either because they just dragged on for a long time or there was never an official peace treaty. Read on to learn more about the longest wars ever, some of which are still being fought today.

Three brutal wars between Rome and Carthage between 264 BCE and 146 BCE ended with Carthage destroyed, conquered and the city itself sacked and burned. That would seem to be the end of it, except for the fact that due to the destroying, sacking, and burning, Carthage never actually signed a peace treaty that ended the war with Rome.

This wasn’t rectified until 1985, when the mayor of Rome and the mayor of modern Carthage (now a suburb of Tunis with about 16,000 residents) signed a ceremonial peace treaty as a sign the past had been put to bed.

While it makes for a good story, most historical scholars don’t accept this diplomatic irregularity, and have the Punic Wars lasting about 45 years – still an extremely long time for two nations to be killing each other.

Taiwan vs. the Netherlands (359 years)

The Dutch arrived on Taiwan in 1623, and within a year tried to Christianize the native tribes. Some converted willingly, but others resisted. The Dutch response was decidedly un-Christian: they burned their villages. In 1651, the Taromak tribe took up arms against their oppressors and the Dutch declared war. The Dutch were defeated and expelled from the island in 1662 by a Ming Dynasty loyalist named Koxinga, but no official peace was ever declared.

In 2010, Dutch diplomat Menno Goedhart sought out the tribe’s current leader for an official end to the conflict. The peace process was simple: Goedhart went to the village’s spirit hut and asked for forgiveness and understanding from the tribe’s ancestors. Thus ended one of the longest declared wars in history.

335 Years War

Three centuries is a long time to be at war, but it’s more or less okay if nobody actually shoots at each other. This was the quirk of the war between the Scilly Islands and the Netherlands.

The Isles of Scilly are a small archipelago off the southwest corner of Britain, currently part of the county of Cornwall, with 2,200 residents. During the English Civil War, they were a royalist naval stronghold, nobly resisting the republican onslaught. In 1651, the Dutch, (taking a break from their 359 year war with Taiwan), who were supporting Oliver Cromwell’s forces, declared war on the tiny island group – mostly to protect their fleet, which was taking heavy losses from royalist ships berthed at Scilly. Cromwell’s forces finished off the loyalists soon after, and the entire thing was forgotten about – with nobody ever having raised a finger in anger against each other.

In 1985 (a good year for symbolic peace treaties, apparently), historian and Chairman of the Isles of Scilly Council Roy Duncan wrote to the Dutch Embassy in London to clear up what actually happened between the two countries. After some research, it was determined that the war was actually real, and technically still going on. The next year the Dutch ambassador to the United Kingdom came to the islands and ended the conflict for good.

Arauco Wars (around 290 years)

A series of irregular conflicts, the Arauco Wars began in 1536 when the Spanish tried to colonize the Mapuche tribe in what’s now Chile. Spain met a strong army in the course of exploring the Strait of Magellan, and though outnumbered, killed thousands of Mapuches with their superior firepower, and forced them to retreat.

Despite multiple attempts to break the tribe, the Mapuche remained independent from Spanish rule, thanks in part to the natural boundary of the Bio Bio River. Battles were common during the 300 years of Spanish presence, until 1609, when a maintenance treaty was signed between the Spanish-appointed governor of Chile and the Mapuche chiefs. Spain was later expelled from Chile in the War of Chilean Independence, beginning in 1810, and Mapuche tribesmen fought on both sides of the conflict.

Peace was established on January 7, 1825 – but even then, the fiercely independent Mapuches weren’t integrated into Chilean society until their land was conquered in 1883 – and some are still protesting Chilean rule.

Kuril Islands Dispute (160 years and counting)

Japan and Russia have been feuding over the small island chain of the Kurils, located between Hokkaido in the south and Kamchatka in the north, since relations were established between the two nations in 1855. Various occupations of the islands came and went, until August 1945, when Russian forces invaded and captured the islands as part of their Manchurian Strategic Operation against Japan.

Confusingly, the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951, which formally ended the war with Japan, ordered Japan to give up all claims to the Kuril Islands, but didn’t recognize the Soviet Union’s sovereignty over them. They fell into a quasi-legal zone, but Russia still had physical control over them. Both nations claim dominion, with Japan calling them the “Northern Territories” and Russia calling them the “South Kuril District.” Two nations are still squabbling over who has claim to what.

Huéscar vs. Denmark (142 years)

In 1809, the Spanish municipality of Huéscar declared war on Denmark, which was itself at war with Napoleonic France. Spanish troops had been cut off in French-occupied Denmark during the war against France, and the Danish were forcing them to swear loyalty oaths to Napoleon’s brother. Despite the patriotic outburst, war fever apparently wasn’t all that contagious, as the people promptly forgot about it and went on with their lives.

Long a local legend, it wasn’t until 1981 that a Spanish historian discovered the original declaration of war. A ceremony was arranged and on November 11 of that year the mayor of Huéscar and the Ambassador of Denmark officially ended their bloodless, forgotten war.

Hundred Years War (116 years)

The 100 Years War was so long that there’s actually an extra 16 years that just got rounded off. In fact, the “war” was actually three wars, separated by fairly long periods of peace: the Edwardian Era War (1337–1360); the Caroline War (1369–1389); and the Lancastrian War (1415–1453).

In 1337, a long squabble over recognition and title broke out in war between France and England. Three years later, King Edward III of England crossed the English Channel and destroyed the French fleet – with a full scale invasion happening six years later. England won the Edwardian phase and took possession of France, France pushed the English out in the second phase, then disintegrated into internal conflict, but pulled it together to win the third phase of the war – generations after everyone who fought the first phase was dead. A broke and defeated England soon fell apart into the Wars of the Roses and relinquished their claim on the French throne.

Montenegro vs. Japan (101 years)

A diplomatic irregularity of the Russo-Japanese War, the “conflict” between Montenegro and Japan existed on paper only, with virtually no military effort expended on either side. Montenegro declared war on Japan in support of Russia, but provided only a few volunteers to fight, having no navy or standing army. When the war ended in 1905, Montenegro was rudely left out of the peace treaty. However, this was only an issue for 14 years, since Montenegro was absorbed by Serbia in 1919 and stopped being a country.

In 2006, Montenegro again established itself as an autonomous country, and when a Japanese envoy arrived in the country, he also carried a letter from the Japanese Prime Minister declaring the century-long state of war finally over.

Town Line, NY vs. the United States (84 years)

For some reason that’s been lost to history, when the Confederate States of America left the US in 1861, a tiny town in upstate New York voted to join them. With a small population and no military significance, along with being a thousand miles from the Confederacy, the Union wasn’t particularly worried about Town Line fomenting a behind-the-lines rebellion. Taxes were still paid, mail was still delivered, and a few local men even joined the Union.

Nevertheless, many locals felt the town was the last stronghold of the Confederacy; others were embarrassed about the whole thing. It went on until the symbolic act of a peace treaty signing was held in the post-war afterglow of 1946. Even then, the vote was closer than one would think, going 90-23 for the town to “rejoin” the Union and end this bloodless, bizarre “conflict.”

Kashmir Conflict (67 years and counting)

India and Pakistan have fought three violent wars in their dispute over who has possession of the Kashmir territory. As soon as British rule of India ended in 1947, Pakistan attempted to annex Kashmir, which had a predominately Muslim population. But the Maharaja of the region didn’t want to join either country, and India took the opportunity of a revolution in the area to move troops in.

The first war lasted about a year from 1947 to 1948 and the second ended after just a few weeks in 1965. Both conflicts were bloody and caused high casualties on both sides, and the conflict remained at various intensities until peace talks took place in 2008. Even then, no real solution has been found to the problem, and since then, Al-Qaeda has moved into the area.

Burmese Civil War (67 years and counting)

Another internal conflict that sprung up in the wake of independence from Britain, Burma (now called Myanmar) has been engulfed in civil war since 1948. A long series of governments and rulers have dealt with organized insurgency, uprisings by various armed ethnic groups and squabbles over natural resources and mining rights.

As many as 210,000 people have been killed on both the government and anti-government sides, in battles, ambushes and massacres. Hundreds are still being killed every year, making Burma/Myanmar a dangerous place to visit to this day.

North Korea vs. South Korea (65 years and counting)

The state of war that’s existed between the two Koreas since 1950 might have gone to a low-intensity since the end of the Korean War in 1953, but it’s never officially ended. North and South have clashed repeatedly in the last six decades, and the North has announced on six different occasions that wouldn’t abide by the terms of the armistice that both nations signed, though little happened in the wake of these declarations.

Both sides keep substantial military forces in the Demilitarized Zone, and there have been dozens of violent incursions, incidents and shootouts between North Korean forces and South Korean and UN troops. The risk of the two Koreas going back to a full-scale war is still high.

Allies of World War II vs. Germany (51 years)

While Nazi Germany signed the Instrument of Surrender and ended their war with the Western Allies in 1945, Germany itself was divided between the victorious powers. So no single state existed that had authority to sign a final peace treaty and the war technically continued well into the Cold War. The US needed a legal pretext to keep troops in West Germany, and only ended their state of war with Germany in 1951.

Though the political landscape had completely changed, it wasn’t until German reunification in 1990 that the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany could be signed.

Traditionally lasting from 499 BCE to 449 BCE, the Greco-Persian Wars began with a Persian-backed revolt in the Greek islands, involved two Persian invasions against the unified Greek city-states and finally saw the Greeks go on a counterattack that beat the Persians and conquered their capitol of Byzantium. The war continued when Sparta left the Greek alliance, and the Dalian League of Athens and her allies fought Persia up and down Asia Minor.

Athens finally beat Persia again, gobbled up most of her territory and the war ended with the mythical Peace of Callias.

The Netherlands pulled out of administering New Guinea in 1962, recognizing Indonesia’s administration of the island. Seven years later, Indonesia held a vote (now generally regarded as a sham) and the indigenous people on the western part of the island, known as West Papua “agreed” to live under Indonesian control. A low-intensity conflict broke out soon after, and the Free Papua Movement has been at war with the Indonesian authorities on the island ever since.

A number of atrocities took place as the start of the war, and the conflict has continued at a low boil ever since.

Moro Insurgency (46 years and counting)

The predominately Muslim Moro residents of the southern Philippines have engaged in armed resistance against Spanish, Japanese and American colonial forces for over 400 years.

This latest engagement began with the massacre of Muslim Moro soldiers by Filipino troops in 1968,  and has continued as a low-level insurgency ever since. A number of engagements between Moro rebels and Filipino army forces have resulted in over 6,000 casualties, and the conflict has since drawn in elements of Al-Qaeda and ISIS on the side of the rebels.

Though it was never a declared war, the state of tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, and ostensibly between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, existed for over four decades. It formally begin in 1947, when the Truman Doctrine codified the idea of containing communist expansion, and ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Both sides fought proxy wars against each other in Korea, Vietnam and a variety of other countries, funded insurgencies and revolutions, researched ever more powerful weapons, and the two superpowers nearly went to war multiple times.

Guatemalan Civil War (36 years)

Beginning in 1960 and ending in 1996 after 36 brutal years, the Guatemalan Civil War involved both pitched battles between the government and rebel troops and an organized campaign of terror against civilians by the government. It began when a group of junior military officers revolted in response to the autocratic rule of the government. The rebellion was put down, but the survivors created an organized insurgency called MR-13.

Later on, left-wing guerrilla groups fought both the government (who were being assisted by the US government) and right-wing vigilantes. The protracted struggle officially ended when the Guatemalan government and the leftist guerrillas signed a peace accord – bringing to light a number of massacres committed against various rebel factions.

Banana Wars (36 years)

A long-running series of conflicts in a variety of Latin American countries, the so-called “Banana Wars” began in 1898 with US intervention in Cuba as part of the Spanish-American War, and only ended in 1934 with President Roosevelt pulling troops out of Haiti.

In between, US forces (primarily the Marines) fought a number of counterinsurgencies and police actions to protect US interests in Cuba, Honduras, Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic. Most of the conflicts took place to protect American commercial and economic interests – particularly fruit exports.

Wars of the Roses (32 Years)

One of the after-effects of the Hundred Years War were the Wars of the Roses, a civil war that raged in Northern England from 1455 until 1487 – with the throne of England at stake. King Henry VI was a weak and unhealthy ruler who had ascended to the throne as a baby, leaving a huge power vacuum as various officials fought to temporarily rule the island.

As an adult, Henry had a mental breakdown and his rule was challenged by Richard, Duke of York. Henry’s House of Lancaster and Richard’s House of York fought for three decades and over the reigns of five kings until the Lancastrians won and united the two factions as the Tudor dynasty – which still rules over England today.

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