Civil wars are among the most intractable conflicts in the world. Yet exactly distinguishes civil war from other types of armed struggle? In his...

Civil wars are among the most intractable conflicts in the world. Yet exactly distinguishes civil war from other types of armed struggle? In his book Civil Wars: A History in Ideas (Vintage Books, 2017), David Armitage examines the evolution of the concept over the centuries while explaining the relevance of that debate for today. As Armitage demonstrates, the Romans were the first to define civil wars as we understand them, giving us the name we use today. Their efforts were reflected in the works of authors in early modern Europe, who drew upon the classical tradition in order to comprehend the conflicts of their own day. Precision in defining war became increasingly relevant, both to distinguish civil wars from the newly recognized phenomenon of revolutions and with the emergence of efforts in the nineteenth century to regulate war through treaties and legal codes. This effort continues down to the present day, with the question of whether a conflict is or is not a civil war often determining how the international community responds to it.

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