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The earliest recorded usage of the phrase «prisoner of war» dates to 1660. For most of human history, depending on the culture of the victors, enemy combatants robert Maschke Model Release the losing side in a battle who had surrendered and been taken as a prisoner of war could expect to be either slaughtered or enslaved.
Typically, little distinction was made between enemy combatants and enemy civilians, although women and children were more likely to be spared. Rape of the Sabines was a large mass abduction by the founders of Rome.
Typically women had no rights, and were held legally as chattel. In the fourth century AD, Bishop Acacius of Amida, touched by the plight of Persian prisoners captured in a recent war with the Roman Empire, who were held in his town under appalling conditions and destined for a life of slavery, took the initiative of ransoming them, by selling his church’s precious gold and silver vessels, and letting them return to their country. For this he was eventually canonized.
Frankish king for the welfare of prisoners of war and met with a favourable response. Later, Clovis I liberated captives after Genevieve urged him to do so. Many French prisoners of war were killed during the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. This was done in retaliation for the French killing of the boys and other non-combatants handling the baggage and equipment of the army, and because the French were attacking again and Henry was afraid that they would break through and free the prisoners to fight again.
In the later Middle Ages, a number of religious wars aimed to not only defeat but eliminate their enemies. In Christian Europe, the extermination of heretics was considered desirable. Examples include the 13th century Albigensian Crusade and the Northern Crusades.
When asked by a Crusader how to distinguish between the Catholics and Cathars once they’d taken the city of Béziers, the Papal Legate Arnaud Amalric famously replied, «Kill them all, God will know His own». Likewise, the inhabitants of conquered cities were frequently massacred during the Crusades against the Muslims in the 11th and 12th centuries. In feudal Japan there was no custom of ransoming prisoners of war, who were for the most part summarily executed.
The expanding Mongol Empire was famous for distinguishing between cities or towns that surrendered, where the population were spared but required to support the conquering Mongol army, and those that resisted, where their city was ransacked and destroyed, and all the population killed. In Termez, on the Oxus: «all the people, both men and women, were driven out onto the plain, and divided in accordance with their usual custom, then they were all slain».
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- The Aztecs were constantly at war with neighbouring tribes and groups, with the goal of this constant warfare being to collect live prisoners for sacrifice.
- For the re-consecration of Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487, «between 10,000 and 80,400 persons» were sacrificed.
- During the early Muslim conquests, Muslims routinely captured large number of prisoners.
- Aside from those who converted, most were ransomed or enslaved.
- Christians who were captured during the Crusades, were usually either killed or sold into slavery if they could not pay a ransom.
- The freeing of prisoners was highly recommended as a charitable act.
- Russian and Japanese prisoners being interrogated by Chinese officials during the Boxer Rebellion.
The 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years’ War, established the rule that prisoners of war should be released without ransom at the end of hostilities and that they should be allowed to return to their homelands. Union Army soldier on his release from Andersonville prison in May 1865. There also evolved the right of parole, French for «discourse», in which a captured officer surrendered his sword and gave his word as a gentleman in exchange for privileges. If he swore not to escape, he could gain better accommodations and the freedom of the prison.
If he swore to cease hostilities against the nation who held him captive, he could be repatriated or exchanged but could not serve against his former captors in a military capacity. Early historical narratives of captured colonial Europeans, including perspectives of literate women captured by the indigenous peoples of North America, exist in some number. The writings of Mary Rowlandson, captured in the brutal fighting of King Philip’s War, are an example. Such narratives enjoyed some popularity, spawning a genre of the captivity narrative, and had lasting influence on the body of early American literature, most notably through the legacy of James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans.
The earliest known purposely built prisoner-of-war camp was established at Norman Cross, England in 1797 to house the increasing number of prisoners from the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. The average prison population was about 5,500 men. The lowest number recorded was 3,300 in October 1804 and 6,272 on 10 April 1810 was the highest number of prisoners recorded in any official document.
Norman Cross was intended to be a model depot providing the most humane treatment of prisoners of war. The British government went to great lengths to provide food of a quality at least equal to that available to locals. The senior officer from each quadrangle was permitted to inspect the food as it was delivered to the prison to ensure it was of sufficient quality.
Despite the generous supply and quality of food, some prisoners died of starvation after gambling away their rations. Most of the men held in the prison were low-ranking soldiers and sailors, including midshipmen and junior officers, with a small number of privateers. About 100 senior officers and some civilians «of good social standing», mainly passengers on captured ships and the wives of some officers, were given parole d’honneur outside the prison, mainly in Peterborough although some further afield in Northampton, Plymouth, Melrose and Abergavenny.
They were afforded the courtesy of their rank within English society. The Leipzig citizen Rochlitz remarked in his account about the Battle of Leipzig, that large crowds of French POWs were held on fields outside the town, begged passersby for food, and that most of them didn’t survive this ordeal.
Anglo-American War of 1812, led to the emergence of a cartel system for the exchange of prisoners, even while the belligerents were at war. A cartel was usually arranged by the respective armed service for the exchange of like-ranked personnel. The aim was to achieve a reduction in the number of prisoners held, while at the same time alleviating shortages of skilled personnel in the home country.
At the start of the civil war a system of paroles operated. Captives agreed not to fight until they were officially exchanged. Meanwhile, they were held in camps run by their own army where they were paid but not allowed to perform any military duties.
The system of exchanges collapsed in 1863 when the Confederacy refused to exchange black prisoners. Confederate officials approached Union General Benjamin Butler, Union Commissioner of Exchange, about resuming the cartel and including the black prisoners. Butler contacted Grant for guidance on the issue, and Grant responded to Butler on August 18, 1864 with his now famous statement. He rejected the offer, stating in essence, that the Union could afford to leave their men in captivity, the Confederacy could not.
During the 19th century, there were increased efforts to improve the treatment and processing of prisoners. As a result of these emerging conventions, a number of international conferences were held, starting with the Brussels Conference of 1874, with nations agreeing that it was necessary to prevent inhumane treatment of prisoners and the use of weapons causing unnecessary harm. Although no agreements were immediately ratified by the participating nations, work was continued that resulted in new conventions being adopted and becoming recognized as international law that specified that prisoners of war be treated humanely and diplomatically.
The Laws and Customs of War on Land covered the treatment of prisoners of war in detail. These provisions were further expanded in the 1929 Geneva Convention on the Prisoners of War and were largely revised in the Third Geneva Convention in 1949. Article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention protects captured military personnel, some guerrilla fighters, and certain civilians.
It applies from the moment a prisoner is captured until he or she is released or repatriated. 71 and GC IV, art. However, nations vary in their dedication to following these laws, and historically the treatment of POWs has varied greatly.
Soviets similarly killed Axis prisoners or used them as slave labour. The Germans also routinely executed Western Allied commandos captured behind German lines per the Commando Order. North Korean and North and South Vietnamese forces routinely killed or mistreated prisoners taken during those conflicts.