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A History of the Laws of War: Volume 1

The Customs and Laws of War with Regards to Combatants and Captives

By: Alexander Gillespie
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Published: 06-09-2011
Format: PDF eBook (?)
Edition: 1st
Extent: 278
ISBN: 9781847318367
Imprint: Hart Publishing
RRP: £63.00
Online price : £37.80
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About A History of the Laws of War: Volume 1

This unique new work of reference traces the origins of the modern laws of warfare from the earliest times to the present day. Relying on written records from as far back as 2400 BCE, and using sources ranging from the Bible to Security Council Resolutions, the author pieces together the history of a subject which is almost as old as civilisation itself. The author shows that as long as humanity has been waging wars it has also been trying to find ways of legitimising different forms of combatants and regulating the treatment of captives.

This first book on warfare deals with the broad question of whether the patterns of dealing with combatants and captives have changed over the last 5,000 years, and if so, how? In terms of context, the first part of the book is about combatants and those who can 'lawfully' take part in combat. In many regards, this part of the first volume is a series of 'less than ideal' pathways. This is because in an ideal world there would be no combatants because there would be no fighting. Yet as a species we do not live in such a place or even anywhere near it, either historically or in contemporary times. This being so, a second-best alternative has been to attempt to control the size of military forces and, therefore, the bloodshed. This is also not the case by which humanity has worked over the previous centuries. Rather, the clear assumption for thousands of years has been that authorities are allowed to build the size of their armed forces as large as they wish. The restraints that have been applied are in terms of the quality and methods by which combatants are taken. The considerations pertain to questions of biology such as age and sex, geographical considerations such as nationality, and the multiple nuances of informal or formal combatants. These questions have also overlapped with ones of compulsion and whether citizens within a country can be compelled to fight without their consent. Accordingly, for the previous 3,000 years, the question has not been whether there should be a limit on the number of soldiers, but rather who is or is not a lawful combatant. It has rarely been a question of numbers. It has been, and remains, one of type. The second part of this book is about people, typically combatants, captured in battle. It is about what happens to their status as prisoners, about the possibilities of torture, assistance if they are wounded and what happens to their remains should they be killed and their bodies fall into enemy hands. The theme that ties all of these considerations together is that all of the acts befall those who are, to one degree or another, captives of their enemies. As such, they are no longer masters of their own fate.

As a work of reference this first volume, as part of a set of three, is unrivalled, and will be of immense benefit to scholars and practitioners researching and advising on the laws of warfare. It also tells a story which throws fascinating new light on the history of international law and on the history of warfare itself.

Table Of Contents

I. Combatants
1. In an Ideal World
2. In the Real World
3. Building Armed Forces
4. The First Armed Forces
5. Rome
6. T he Dark Ages
7. T he Feudal Age
8. T he Renaissance and Reformation
9. T he Enlightenment
10. Between 1860 and 1945
11. From the Cold War to the Twenty-first Century
II. Captives
1. Beginnings
2. The Greeks
3. The Romans
4. The Early Middle Ages
5. The Crusades 127
6. The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries
7. The Eighteenth Century
8. The Wars of the French Revolution
9. Between 1815 and 1861
10. T he American Civil War
11. From 1863 to 1914
12. T he First World War
13. Between the Wars
14. The Second World War
15. After the Second World War
16. Between 1949 and 1977
17. The 1977 Additional Protocols
18. Towards the End of the Cold War
19. The 1984 Convention Against Torture
20. From the 1990s into the Twenty-first Century
21. The Developments in the Twenty-first Century


“These three slim volumes are a labour of love. They are the result of prodigious research into the history of many wars fought from ancient times…It is a work that is easy to read because it is written with great clarity and personal idealism. It will remain an important resource for researchers in this field of the law.” –  M. Sornarajah, Singapore Journal of Legal Studies

“The wealth of materials compiled and reviewed by Alexander Gillespie for the purpose of this book is breath-taking and one can suspect that Alexander Gillespie's books will become the mandatory starting point for anyone wishing to study the history of the laws of war in the future.” –  Vincent Roobaert, NATO Legal Gazette, Issue 27

“...libraries and professors who focus on the many elements of the [law of war] would be wise to have all three volumes at hand. Together, they provide a vivid, detailed, and especially readable account of the [law of war]. This set is destined to be described by all holders as a richly adorned, and affordable, research treasure trove.” –  American Society of International Law Newsletter, Issue #43

“Review of A History of the Laws of War and The Causes of War, Volume 1
…unique and of unquestionable relevance… both works are appreciable for the impressive quantity of the historical and legally pertinent materials gathered by the author. This is useful from the perspective of understanding the background of today's rules on the recourse to armed force and international humanitarian law.
” –  Carlo Focarelli, Italian Yearbook of International Law, Volume 23, 2013

“The scourge of war never ends. If we are ever to be rid of it we need to understand the warlike history of homo sapiens. Professor Gillespie in his unique work tells us what we need to know. Will we heed it?” –  Sir Geoffrey Palmer, former, Prime Minister of New Zealand, President of the New Zealand Law Commission, and chair of the UN Inquiry Panel into the Gaza Bound Flotilla of 2010,

“The law impacts on modern military operations at all levels. The importance of understanding the influence of international law, and the constraints, which it places upon the conduct of armed conflict, is an essential area of study. Dr Alexander Gillespie's three volume work traces the development and scope of this law from the earliest times through the modern day. In doing so he identifies constant themes and common principles in the law, as well, unfortunately, as all too common breaches. Commanders and historians, as well as lawyers, will find this book of great value. It is written in a practical and useful style and brings to light many fascinating examples of the law at work in times of war from which contemporary lessons can be learned.” –  Brigadier Kevin Riordan, Director General of Defence Legal Services for the New Zealand Defence Forces,

“The span of scholarship on offer in these volumes is astonishing…an extraordinary gathering of historical and legal materials many of which record the most sombre and tragic events of human history - war in all its terrible forms.” –  Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Palmer, Former Prime Minister of New Zealand,

“At a time of real challenge, Alexander Gillespie is to be commended for his monumental and significant contribution to our understanding of the context, practice and principles that govern war and armed conflict. This vital book is an indispensable part of any library, and will be a necessary resource for governments, NGOs, international organisers, academics and lawyers involved in the issues.” –  Professor Philippe Sands QC, University College London,

“This is a comprehensive and comprehensible account of the laws of, against and about war. It is both authoritative and accessible - Alexander Gillespie's great achievement is to provide a map for a better future, in which the inevitable horrors of armed conflict are recognised and minimised, and those who instigate them unlawfully are punished by international courts. This is a must-read for all concerned to ensure that war laws do not end up in the graveyard of good words.” –  Geoffrey Robertson QC, founder and head of Doughty Street Chambers, author of Crimes Against Humanity (Penguin and The New Press),

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