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) 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.
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.
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. 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.
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 Biobío 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.