Humans have been at war with each other for virtually all of history. At least one armed conflict has raged for more than 90% of the 3,400 years for which there are records. War is believed to have claimed as many as 1 billion lives all time.
Many of these deaths occurred during enormous, globe-spanning wars between rival kingdoms or even entire continents. As populations grew and technology improved, the scope and destruction of war increased. From as far back as the third century all the way to the 21st century, there have been more than 20 wars that killed over 1 million people.
To determine the wars in which over 1 million people died, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed historical accounts of the largest military engagements in world history using sources such as the Historical Atlas of the 20th Century, History Collection, and Encyclopedia Britannica. We included major military engagements in which at least 1 million people were killed primarily in battle. For many of these wars, particularly earlier ones, many of the death counts are estimates. Mass casualty events like genocides were also not considered. Wars are listed in chronological order.
History has seen many conflicts that spanned generations, like the Punic Wars or the Crusades. Though these conflicts featured the same groups and nations going to battle, the wars stopped and started multiple times. In these and other cases, over 1 million combatants died throughout the courses of these conflicts but not in any single war, so they were not included. (These are the 20 longest wars in history.)
War can be messy, and it can be difficult to get an accurate count of how many people died in a given conflict or the actual causes of death. In addition to violence, war can kill via starvation or lack of other basic necessities like shelter and health care. The death tolls listed are estimates, and may include many non-combatants who died as a result of the conflicts.
Civilians have often suffered the most during armed conflicts. Invading nations may have easily overpowered local forces before turning their weapons on non-combatants. As a result, civilians have been killed by the millions, maimed, and forced to leave their homes seeking safety. To this day, thousands of refugees flood into the U.S. each year, often fleeing violence in their home lands. This is where most refugees arriving in the U.S. come from.
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