Origins of the just war: military ethics and culture in the ancient Near East

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Origins of the Just War reveals the incredible richness and complexity of ethical thought about war in the three millennia preceding the Greco-Roman period, establishing the extent to which ancient just war thought prefigured much of what we now consider to be the building blocks of the Western just war tradition.

In this incisive and elegantly written book, Rory Cox traces the earliest ideas concerning the complex relationship between war, ethics and justice. Excavating the ethical thought of three ancient Near Eastern cultures—Egyptian, Hittite and Israelite—he demonstrates that the history of the just war is considerably more ancient and geographically diffuse than previously assumed. Cox shows how the emergence of just war thought was grounded in a desire to rationalise, sacralise and ultimately to legitimise the violence of war. Rather than restraining or condemning warfare, the earliest ethical thought about war reflected an urge to justify state violence. Cox terms this presumption in favour of war ius pro bello—the “right for war”—characterizing it as a meeting point of both abstract and pragmatic concerns.

Drawing on a diverse range of ancient sources, Origins of the Just War argues that the same imperative still underlies many of the assumptions of contemporary just war thought and highlights the risks of applying moral absolutism to the fraught ethical arena of war.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationPrinceton, NJ
PublisherPrinceton University Press
Number of pages506
ISBN (Electronic)9780691253619
ISBN (Print)9780691171890
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2024


  • War
  • Ethics
  • Just war
  • Ancient history
  • Ancient Near East
  • Violence
  • Law


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