Four Wars You May Never Have Heard Of

Chances are you’ve never come across these conflicts, but three of them had world-changing consequences, and one has the distinction of being the shortest war ever waged…

Cēsis Castle, Latvia

Cēsis Castle, in modern day Latvia, was built by the Brothers of the Sword in 13th Century.

The Northern Crusades

Think "Crusades" and images of medieval knights riding into the Middle East will spring to mind. It was a bloody struggle between Christians and Muslims for supremacy in the Holy Land, which still arouses controversy today. But did you know there was an off-shoot of the Crusades which took place in Europe? These were the Northern Crusades, which unfolded in the 12th and 13th Centuries, and saw major powers like Denmark, Sweden and Germany take on the scattered pagan tribes who lived in modern-day Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.

With Tolkien-esque names like the Semigallians, the Selonians and the Livonians, these ancient peoples put up stiff resistance against the Catholic forces who wanted to convert them and dominate their lands. Over time, thanks to the might of invading knights like the order of the Brothers of the Sword, the tribes fell into line, and the shape and culture of Europe was changed forever.

The Statue of Liberty was a gift to the US from the people of France - soon after they would be at the brink of war.

The Statue of Liberty was a gift to the US from the people of France - soon after they would be at the brink of war.

The Quasi War

It was never formally "declared" - hence the name Quasi War - but the United States and France were in a potentially catastrophic state of conflict between 1798 and 1800. The two nations had once been allies, back when France had supported the US in its war of independence against the British. However, by 1798 things had gone sour. France had had its own violent revolution by that time, and the US was refusing to repay debts to France, claiming the money was owed to the massacred monarchy rather than the new French republic.

Matters were made worse by the growing closeness between the US and Britain - France's great enemy at the time. France retaliated by attacking and seizing hundreds of American ships in the Atlantic, and soon the US was doing the same right back. A cat and mouse game on the high seas ensued, and this naval conflict actually inspired the creation of the US Marine Corps. Luckily, a full-blown war was averted in 1800, but it did play a big part in the election of Thomas Jefferson as US president that year.

The Anglo-Zanzibar War

On 27 August 1896, war broke out between the United Kingdom and Zanzibar. On 27 August 1896, war also ended between the United Kingdom and Zanzibar. This was the shortest war in history, lasting a little under 40 minutes. It was no petty skirmish, however, with around 500 casualties on the Zanzibar side.

It was all down to a disagreement about who would be leader of Zanzibar, which at that time was under British control. Following the death of a British-sanctioned sultan, the rebellious Khalid bin Barghash seized the throne against British wishes. Defiant in the face of an ultimatum to surrender, Khalid bin Barghash barricaded himself in his palace with an army of citizens rounded up to defend him as the British began a bombardment. Within minutes, the palace was shelled to pieces, and before long a new UK-approved sultan was in charge. The sum-total of British casualties was one injured soldier.

Francisco Solano López the

Francisco Solano López the "Latin American Napoleon".

The War of the Triple Alliance

It was the single most devastating conflict in South American history, and it almost wiped an entire nation off the map. This was the War of the Triple Alliance, which exploded in the 1860s. On one side was the triple alliance of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Their enemy was Paraguay, led by the power-hungry Francisco Solano López, who saw himself as a Latin American Napoleon, and whose ambitions led to almost total destruction of his country.

There is still disagreement about exact losses, but some experts believe that warfare and disease led to around 60% of Paraguay's population perishing, including a staggering 90% of Paraguay males. In fact, so few men were left that women and child soldiers were sent into battle, armed with sticks painted to look like guns. Francisco Solano López was himself killed in action, and Paraguayans still disagree about whether he was a hero and a patriot, or a disastrous war-monger.