‘Protecting the non-combatant’: Chivalry, Codes and the Just War Theory

Medieval War - Royal 16 G VI f. 427v Civil war in England - image courtesy British Library

Medieval War - Royal 16 G VI f. 427v Civil war in England - image courtesy British Library‘Protecting the non-combatant’: Chivalry, Codes and the Just War Theory

By Lucy Lynch

Ex Historia, Vol.6 (2014)

Introduction: Over the centuries historians and scholars have documented the devastating effects that war has upon society; yet whilst it is known how destructive warfare can be, wars continue to be waged. There have, however, been attempts to provide rules and regulations to limit the damaging effects of conflict. The Greeks attempted to place restraints on the recourse and conduct of war, whilst the Romans developed a more comprehensive account of the laws of war, suggesting the possibility of universal legal restraints. The aftermath of the Peloponnesian war (431-404 BC) brought new forms of philosophy to Ancient Greece, prompting news ways of thinking about war.

Plato directly addressed the question of war, suggesting that the aim of the state was to establish peace and that war should only be waged for this reason. Aristotle continued this idea and according to him, justice depended on human relations and that all humans had their own position within nature. From this perspective he formulated the first ideas about legitimate causes of war and even used the term ‘just war’. Antiquity saw further thought on the subject expressed by the likes of Cicero, who argued that war may only be fought to protect the safety or honour of the state.


He also went on to echo Plato and say that the ‘only excuse for going to war is that we may live in peace.’ However, it was St Augustine of Hippo, writing in the later part of the fourth century, who then connected it to Christian doctrine in his work The City of God against the Pagans. For Augustine, it was ‘clear that peace is the desired end of war’. This idea not only continued to be the over-riding theme in his work relating to just war, but it remained a constant as the theory developed further. The modern theory of Just War is presented under two major headings: first, jus ad bellum or ‘the right to war’, which seeks to specify principles that define the right of one sovereign power to engage in violent action against another; and second, jus in bello or ‘right in war’, which specifies the limits of morally acceptable conduct in the actual prosecution of a war.

Click here to read this article from Ex Historia