Genocide in the Ancient World (Documentary)


Jan van der Crabben
by The Study of Antiquity and the Middle Ages
published on 05 May 2020

Genocide is often viewed as a particular feature of our own current age. This perception largely stems from the terrible events which took place during World War Two in the 20th century CE in the parts of Europe occupied by the Nazis. However, there are certain occasions in the ancient world which could also be possibly considered as genocide. In considering genocide from an historical perspective, it is necessary to firstly ask what exactly is genocide? The concept is one which most people can agree did happen but which remains very hard to define precisely.

The word itself was first coined in 1944 CE by the Polish writer Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959) who constructed the word by combining ‘geno-’, from the Greek word for race or tribe, with ‘-cide’, from the Latin word for killing. The modern notion of genocide owes a great deal to Lemkin’s work who developed his ideas during his youth in Eastern Europe and as a resistance fighter against the German army during World War Two (Elder 2005; McDonnell and Moses 2005). In his key work published in 1944 CE, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, Lemkin described genocide as signifying ‘a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves’ (Jones 2006: 10-11). The second most influential document in laying out the modern legal notion of genocide was the 1948 United Nations adoption of the ‘Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide’ wherein Article II of the convention defined genocide as the ‘intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group’.

The exact explanation of what constitutes genocide resulting from these two landmark works has been extensively debated by academics ever since. However, it can be observed that there are two main elements needed for an event to be considered as genocide, namely: there is a clear intent on the behalf of the perpetrators to carry out the action and the resulting annihilation of a particular political, social or cultural group. Keeping this in mind, it may be possible to identify two possible cases of genocide in the ancient world: the Roman destruction of Carthage in 146 BCE and the Athenian massacre at Melos in 416 BCE.

Check out the original article by Gerard Mulligan titled Genocide in the Ancient World.

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Cite This Work

APA Style

Ages, T. S. o. A. a. t. M. (2020, May 05). Genocide in the Ancient World (Documentary). World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Chicago Style

Ages, The Study of Antiquity and the Middle. "Genocide in the Ancient World (Documentary)." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified May 05, 2020.

MLA Style

Ages, The Study of Antiquity and the Middle. "Genocide in the Ancient World (Documentary)." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 05 May 2020. Web. 16 May 2024.