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5 wars you’ve never heard of

In school, you probably learned about a dozen or so military conflicts. That leaves thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of other conflicts left behind to be forgotten. There have been so many wars throughout history that it’s hard to get a straight number. Here are five wars that you’ve probably never heard of.

Third Punic War

Archaeological site at the ancient city of Carthage, seen on a clear day
Credit: Michal Hlavica/ Shutterstock

The Punic Wars were a series of three separate conflicts between Rome and Carthage that took place between 264 and 201 B.C. Carthage was a powerful city state in Northern Africa that also controlled the island of Sicily. When a conflict broke out on the island, the nearby Roman Empire decided to intervene. The military leaders of Carthage saw that as a declaration of war, and so the Punic Wars began.

Rome gained control of Sicily in the First Punic War. Carthage hit back in the Second Punic War, earning the Carthaginian general Hannibal a spot in the history books for his impressive strategic attacks on Rome.

In 149 B.C., Carthage declared war on a neighboring state called Numidia, which broke its treaty with Rome. Although the city of Carthage was in a weakened state after years of fighting, the Roman leadership decided that it was still a threat and decided to attack once again. This time, they went straight for the city itself. Roman soldiers destroyed Carthage, sold the 50,000 surviving Carthaginian citizens into slavery, and declared the region a province of the Roman Empire.

Since the Third Punic War was so devastating, no declaration of the winner was ever drafted. In 1985, the mayors of Rome and Carthage met and signed a treaty to officially end the longest war in history after 2,134 years.

Sonderbund War

Aerial view of scenic waterways and buildings at the Zurich city center, Switzerland
Credit: Rastislav Sedlak SK/ Shutterstock

Switzerland has earned itself a reputation for being neutral when it comes to armed conflict, but in 1847, a civil war erupted between the conservative Catholic Sonderbund and the progressives looking to unify the country.

Prior to the Sonderbund War, Switzerland was made up of several independent regions called cantons. Each canton had its own currency, units of measurement, and laws, which made it virtually impossible for the country to act as a whole and grow its economy.

There was a growing movement in more progressive cantons for centralizing the government, which was called the Federal Pact. Seven cantons, however, enjoyed their power and wanted to keep the fragmented government as it was. They called themselves the Sonderbund. Tensions grew, and eventually the Sonderbund decided to take up arms for their cause. They were quickly defeated, and Switzerland became a unified state by the end of 1847.

Anglo-Zanzibar War

The Anglo-Zanzibar War took place in 1896 and is considered to be the shortest war in history. In 1890, Britain and Germany signed the Heligoland-Zanzibar treaty that drew up two spheres of influence in Eastern Africa. Germany gained control of mainland Tanzania, and Britain was given Zanzibar.

The British appointed their own “puppet” Sultan to govern the region. After three years of peace, the Sultan was suddenly found dead in the palace, and his cousin, who is believed to be behind the Sultan’s death, took control of the throne without British approval. The new ruler called all his men to fortify the palace in case of British action.

Of course, the British weren’t going to let this slide. Military leaders in the area issued a number of ultimatums asking for the new Sultan to step down and abdicate the throne by 9:00 a.m. on August 27, 1896. The Sultan, believing that the British would never fire on their own land, chose to disregard the threats, despite the overwhelming firepower of the British warships in the harbor.

At 9:00 a.m. 2sharp, every nearby British warship opened fire on the palace. By 9:02, most of the Sultan’s artillery were destroyed, and the palace began to collapse.

War of Jenkins’ Ear

Old stone ruins of ancient Spanish city and crumbled walls, seen during the evening
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There are plenty of conflicts that have silly names, but the War of Jenkins’ Ear might take the crown. In 1731, the Spanish coast guard boarded a ship that they believed to be run by pirates; at least, that’s what they claimed. The punishment for piracy was the amputation of the captain’s ear.

Unfortunately for the Spanish, the captain, Robert Jenkins, was a British naval captain working for the powerful East India Company, and the ship was a merchant ship carrying sugar from Jamaica. Jenkins took his severed ear straight to the British House of Commons and presented it as evidence of a Spanish attack. Relations between Spain and Great Britain weren’t wonderful to begin with, and this new “evidence” was just what Britain needed to declare war. The War of Jenkins’ Ear began in 1739 and eventually merged into the War of the Austrian Succession.

First Barbary War

Prior to the 1800s, it was customary for nations to pay tribute to the piratical rulers of Northern Africa to use their waters for trade. In 1801, the ruler of Tripoli demanded a higher payment for safe passage through his waters. When the United States refused, Tripoli declared war.

For the next few years, the United States sent warships to fight in the waters around Tripoli. After four years of heavy blockades and one overland expedition from Egypt, the ruler of Tripoli surrendered and signed a peace treaty in 1805.

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