The Laws of Yesterday’s Wars

From Indigenous Australians to the American Civil War


This book offers a culture-by-culture account of various unique restrictions placed on warfare over time, in a bid to demonstrate the underlying humanity often accompanying the horrors of war. It offers the first systematic exploration of Indigenous Australian laws of war, relaying decades of experience in communities. Containing essays by a range of laws of war academics and practitioners, this volume is a starting point in a new debate on the question: how international is international humanitarian law?
See also its companion volume The Laws of Yesterday's Wars 2: From Ancient India to East Africa

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Samuel White has served as a Royal Australian Infantry Corps and Australian Army Legal Corps officer. He has published many articles on international and domestic military law and international humanitarian law.
This well written and researched book is a timely and important contribution to the literature of international humanitarian law, and our understanding of the fundamental importance of its principles for humanity from the dawn of history.
Matthew E.K. Neuhaus, Australian Ambassador to the Netherlands, in The Law & Practice of International Courts and Tribunals, Vol. 22, No. 1 (2023).

This book makes a strong case for its premise that restraint in warfare is a universal phenomenon. The prohibitions were minimal in some cases and still allowed for great cruelty, with genocidal action in particular seeming to have been widely practised. […] This is an original insight and a somewhat heartening one for those who support an international legal order.
Cameron Moore, Associate Professor, UNELaw, in The Military Law and the Law of War Review, Vol. 60 No.2, 2022, pp.255–259.


List of Illustrations

Notes on Contributors

  Samuel White

1 Indigenous Australians
  Ray Kerkhove & Samuel White

2 Māori Warfare and the New Zealand Wars – Atrocities, Chivalry and Apologies
  Alexander Gillespie

3 The Aztecs
  Samuel White & Ray Kerkhove

4 The Late Middle Ages
  Samuel White

5 The Renaissance
  Kyle Walker

6 The Viking Age
  Andrew D. Butler

7 Pirates and Privateers in Elizabethan England
  Andrew Read

8 Code of Necessity – Lawfare During the United States Civil War
  Christopher M. Bailey

  Samuel White


All interested in the history of war, the history of the law of armed conflict, and anyone concerned with comparative historical restrictions and customs.
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