This section spans a wide field in space and time, nevertheless covering the same subject, namely the relationship of warfare to the state. It ranges from Europe to Africa and the Pacific. Claessen’s article (chapter 15) serves as introduction with its general theoretical discussion of one of the main issues of the War & Society project. War as part of the state concept is a commonly accepted idea. Indeed it has been maintained time and again that the logistics and organisation of warfare were crucial elements in the rise of states, the question being the identity of the prime mover. War in pre-state or non-state societies was sometimes even seen as a methodological misunderstanding.
We still grapple with the proper way of distinguishing war from other organised forms of violence. Several definitions have been suggested (Turney-High 1971; Keegan 1996: 89ff). For archaeologists these are somewhat academic discussions. We only have scarce and sometimes (most often) very particular evidence of the scale of violence in prehistoric societies. The evidence needed to define the level of violence as one proper for war – in Claessen’s definition (chapter 15): ‘legitimised and organised deadly violence between centralised polities (states and paramount chiefdoms)’ – is hardly ever conclusive before we reach proto-history. While legitimisation is not accessible in archaeological evidence, the deadly consequences sometimes are – cp. the section ‘Warfare, Rituals and Mass Graves’. Considering the difficulties we have in defining when chiefdoms arose and what kind they were – not to mention paramount chiefdoms or early states – we are left with general statements based upon precisely such deliberations as those presented in this section. We have to take our clues from the ethnographical and historical interpretations of, to us very late, phenomena such as the (early) states and similar advanced social systems. This leaves out 99% of the history of mankind. Our difficulties as prehistorians transpire from several sections in this book.