Holy wars have been some of the most devastating and ruinous wars in history. A holy war is a war caused or driven by partly by religion. This is normally due to religious differences, and tension which eventually boil over into all out war. Thousands or even millions of people will give their lives in wars based around ideology. This is a list of the 10 most devastating holy wars.


French Wars of Religion

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French Catholics and Protestants fought many battles, from the years of 1562 to 1598. The flames of war were lit in 1562 after the Massacre of Valley. Armed troops of Francais, Duke of Guise massacred protestant worshippers and citizens. The massacre started when the Duke was travelling and encountered a large group of protestants outside of a church. He tried to push his way through the crowd and a conflict began. A stone was thrown and hit him in the head. This pushed him over the edge and he gave orders for the whole town to be fortified and the church to be burnt to the ground. The massacre killed 63 people, injured over a 100, and led to a series of bloody French holy wars.


Thirty Years War


It started when Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, attempted to force everyone under his rule to conform to one religion, which was Roman Catholicism. Northern protestants were outraged by this and banded together to defend their religious rights. This snowballed into a giant war involving many huge countries with powerful militaries. It was the one of the longest holy wars in history, and few holy wars have caused as much death and devastation as this one. Up to 4 million people died in the series of battles, and conflicts but eventually the war that started in 1618 ended in 1648.


First Sudanese Civil War

In 1955 a war broke out between the North and South of Sudan. Southern Sudan were adamant in their demands for representation and regional autonomy. It ended in a bloody conflict which resulted in the deaths of over half a million people. The war lasted 17 years, ending in 1972. The started off with only guerilla warfare and mutinies which didn’t have much chance of success. Overtime they grew and became a significant group of secessionists. A long, and complex war followed which eventually ended with the Establishment of the Southern Sudan Autonomous Region, however it didn’t bring peace, and a second civil war broke out soon after.


Second Sudanese Civil War


This one was worse than the first, and one of the bloodiest holy wars in history. Over 2 million people died in this war, over a 22 year span. This time the war even spread to regions outside of Southern Sudan, including Blue Nile, and the Nuba Mountains. The war started in 1983 and ended in 2005, this time the result was 2011 referendum, independence from the Republic of South Sudan, and a comprehensives peace agreement. The war was rife with death and disease, caused by the fighting. Over 4 million people were displaced, and it had one of the largest civilian casualties of any war since world war two, and any holy wars from history.



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The Crusades were a long series of Holy wars that began for a large variety of reasons. Three of the main reasons were the recapture of Jerusalem, recapture of Christian territory, and to protect Christians being attacked in land outside of Christian territory. It started when Pope Urban II issued a call to arms to support the Byzantine empire who were facing off with Turks in Anatolia, who would later establish the Ottoman Empire. This is one of the most famous and controversial holy wars in history. The Crusades shaped the west in a significant way, it reopened the Mediterranean to commerce and travel, allowed many European cities to flourish, and changed the way we view medieval Europe.


Lebanese War


The Lebanese civil war was a 15 year war fought between the Sunni and Shiite Muslims. There was a mass of casualties including 250,000 deaths, and the exodus of 1 million people out of Lebanon. They fought for government control of Lebanon. As the war progressed alliances shifted quickly, and without warning. The war grew as new factions joined such as Israel, and Syria. Eventually the war ended not long after the Taif agreement in 1989. A law passed which pardoned all political crimes before the but not after the law was passed. All the militias were dissolved apart from the infamous Hezbollah. Although the war had ended, tensions between the Sunni and the Shia remained.


Eighty Years War


This one of the bloodiest, and longest holy wars in history. It lasted for eighty years between the the Seventeen Provinces and Philip II of Spain. The war started when the Seventeen Provinces revolted because of the religious uniformity demanded by Philip II. The rebellion was unsuccessful at first, and Philiip managed to regain most of the rebelling provinces, however the northern provinces fought valiantly and he could defeat them as quickly as the others. Under the brilliant leadership of William the Silent they managed to oust Philip’s armies, and established the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. The fighting continued for a while but after starting in 1568 they eventually established peace in 1648.


Second War Of Kappel


In 1531, Switzerland Protestant States end up in an armed conflict with the several Roman Catholic states. The war started because of tensions that carried over from the last war only two years priot between the forces. The protestant forces were greatly outnumbered, their 2,000 against the enemies 7,000. The protestant army were already exhausted from the forced march on the way there, and it wasn’t long before they were defeated by the overwhelming enemy force. A quarter of the protestant army was killed including their leader. Their numbers were small because other protestant states refused to back them up, leaving them for dead.


The Great Peasants’ Revolt


It was the largest revolt in European history, and one of the most widespread holy wars of all time. The war started because of religious controversy on Luther, but other contributing factors may have been potential loss of rights, and centralising nation state. Over 300,000 peasants revolted but the rebellion was quickly destroyed by the aristocracy who mercilessly killed over 100,000 of the peasants. After that several other revolts would continue to break out lead by farmers and peasants. It started in 1524, lasted for 1 year, and finally ended with the suppression of the rebelling peasants in 1525.


Nigerian Civil War


The Nigerian Civil War started when Biafra wanted to secede from Nigeria. There was a lot of religious, and cultural tension which eventually caused a civil war to break out in 1970 in response to Biafra wanting to secede. A year into the war a famine ensued because of a stalemate between the forces. The famine caught global attention, and several western countries became involved in the war because of this. England, and the Soviet Union backed the federal state, where as France backed Biafra. Biafra lost the war and the majority of their troops. They rejoined Nigeria as a result of the loss.

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