Medieval History/motive of war


Hi, I'm interested in the motives of wars during the medieval era. I've read somewhere that the motive of most wars was food. Was food that hard to come by? Were any wars started by personal whims of lords or kings? What exactly was gained by winning a war? Any incite on this will be appreciated. Thank you for taking the time to look at this question.

Hi Satoshi,
I hope you are asking about Medieval Europe, not Medieval Japan, because I can only talk about Europe. I've never read anything about competition for food, but it does make sense. The Dark Ages, from the fall of Rome to about 1066 CE or so, and also the Late Medieval Period, from 1300 to 1500 CE or so, both occurred during periods of global cooling. At these times, growing seasons were getting shorter and certain crops, like wheat, were more difficult to grow. This resulted in food shortages, famines, and drastically decreasing population.

In the Dark Ages, the former Roman Empire was occupied by various barbarian tribes. Most of these tribes held their annual warrior assemblies on the vernal equinox, March 21. Theoretically, these assemblies could discuss any political issue, but almost always, the only issue was war. This occurred eight or nine months after the previous harvest, at a time when food supplies were starting to run short. So a war for food was certainly possible. A foreign war in the spring did two things food-wise: it took the men away from home, leaving more food for the women and children. While away at war, the men ate at enemy expense on food they seized in enemy territory.

The Hundred Years War, in the 1300s CE, worked pretty much the same way: The English armies fought in France, so they were not eating food that was grown in England. Most of the fighting in the Hundred Years War was a series of plundering raids where the armies just devastated the countryside taking anything of value including food.

During the High Middle Ages, in the 1100s and 1200s CE, warfare was dominated by knights. Knights were professional warriors who saw war as the natural and unending state of man. Knights rarely thought about winning wars. Warfare was a permanent thing to them. War was sport. It was an opportunity for wealth (plunder, ransom collected on prisoners captured) and also for prestige (military glory). To the extent that these motives were whims (and they frequently were) wars were usually started by personal whim. The permanent state of war in Europe was so devastating that the church started the crusades as a way to get the knights out of Europe. The High Middle Ages occurred during a period of global warming, so growing seasons were longer and food was plentiful.

Hope this answers your question,    C.M.

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C.M. Aaron


I've been studying the early medieval period for almost 20 years. In particular, I've studied the fall of the Roman Empire, the barbarian invasions/migrations, early barbarian law codes, the early medieval church, technology of the period, military campaigns and tactics, and some of the early barbarian dynasties, especially the Merovingians in Gaul (France).


Twenty years of self study. I also write historical fiction of this era.

Bachelor's degree.

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