Over the course of history most bloody wars were caused by big Kingdoms and Empires, or so it seems? I know a lot of history, especially European and it appears to me that most bloody and horrible wars were fought between (and caused by) big nations such as England, France, Prussia, Sweden, Spain, etc. while it appears that small nation often rather stayed peaceful / on the defensive, such as Switzerland, Bavaria, Austria, Bohemia, Croatia, etc.

I can see some logic to this because, the bigger your state, the more likely you are to want even more. Also, the more people your state has the less you are attached to them and the more likely you treat your soldiers just like toys, rather than actual human beings?

The question is, are these assumptions true? Is there a correlation between the size of the state and the devastation they caused? Or do we simply just hear more about big wars such as the Punic, English-French and Roman-Anybody wars?

Bonus: I am playing games like EUIV or CKII. When I first start out as small state, I'm scared to attack my neighbors, try to care about my soldiers and be a crafty diplomat. Later on when I'm a strong country I just stomp everybody and expand as fast as I can. 10K soldiers perished in that battle? Oh well, I still have another 40K laying around somewhere. This makes me believe that it wouldn't have been much different for a ruler back in the day.

Edit: After people asked for clarification, the question is if there is historical evidence for the hypothesis that rulers are going more "mad with power", the bigger of a country (by population) they rule. By that I mean, are they more likely to engage in more wars and are more likely to make them bloodier than they need to be?

Edit2: I am aware that there are a few examples which show that a small state attacks a big one and wins, but what I want to know is the average.

Edit3: Definition of "big nation" in this context: Nation which is bigger by population than most of their neighbors.

  • I think you're ignoring a simpler hypothesis. you're measuring wars by casualty rating. If France launches a war and suffers 10% casualties, it is memorable. If Liechtenstein launches a war and suffers 10% casualties, it is just as painful for Liechtenstein, but will never make the history books. You're not asking whether they are more likely to start wars, you're asking if their wars are more likely to be documented.
    – MCW
    Jun 8, 2016 at 17:59
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    @MarkC.Wallace: I did not ignore that, that is exactly what I meant by "Or do we simly just hear more about big wars". What I wanted to know is exactly that, is it just because it's more "interesting" or because it simply didn't happen as often between smaller states. Jun 8, 2016 at 18:04
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    Isn't early Prussia rather a counter example? When it started the first Silesian War in 1740 it was such a small country that challenged the bigger Austria. Prussia at that time was small, but ambitious.
    – gdir
    Jun 9, 2016 at 3:09
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    Why do you think bigger states "want even more"? Isn't it more likely that smaller states don't have as many options for expansion? Jun 9, 2016 at 4:15
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is probably a better fit for Politics SE.Or possibly even world building.
    – Tom Au
    Jun 10, 2016 at 0:04

2 Answers 2


Yes weaker powers rarely attack their much stronger neighbors.

A wise general never starts a war he can't win.

But if there are many small states then they will fight each other a lot, think medieval Europe.

There are a few cases where weak powers attack stronger foes.

One is a rising or falling power A weak power is growing quickly in strength think Germany after it unification by Bismarck. It wants to gain resources and worries that it will soon be attacked by the current great powers to keep it from growing to much, and being a threat. Since it thinks it will be attacked it attacks first to gain tactical surprise in the "inevitable" upcoming war. But even with surprise Germany was unable to overcome its stronger neighbors Russia France England and the US, in WWI, though they did beat Russia. Also a weakening state might fear it would soon be attacked so it might choose to fight now when it has slightly better odds

The other is crazy leadership Think Kim Jong ill North Korea routinely threatens war against their military more powerful Sothern neighbor, and antagonizes the military powerhouse that is China. Foolish generals might do anything.

Also yes bigger nations can field bigger armies for bigger and bloodier battles, even if they work harder to prevent war and casualties then their smaller neighbors.

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    ...because one would imagine that most states, like most people, aren't actively suicidal.
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 8, 2016 at 20:59
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    Who says national leaders are wise generals? Consider over the past 100 years just the obvious examples of Mussolini; Hitler; Tsar Nicholas III; and Emperor Franz Josef II; and possibly Kaiser Wilhem II. Further back countless incompetent Consuls of the Roman Republic deliberately chosen because of their military ineptitude. History is positively rife with national leaders who regarded their country as much stronger as it turned out to be. Jun 9, 2016 at 1:16
  • @PieterGeerkens that is why I included the section on "crazy leadership" Jun 9, 2016 at 16:01
  • You confuse "crazy" and "incompetent". Nov 28, 2016 at 10:42

No, there is at best a weak correlation between national size and tendency for belligerence. Some examples of "small" states that started significant wars:

  • Recent declaration of statehood by I.S.I.L.

  • North Vietnam attacking the U.S. ally South Vietnam

  • Italy (very definitely the junior partner of Germany and Italy) invading Greece in 1940.

  • Nazi Germany invading U.S.S.R. in 1941

  • Prussia under Frederick invading Silesia to start War of Austrian Succession

  • United Provinces rebelling against Spain (1588, beginning of Eighty-Years War)

  • Sweden under Gustav Adolphus invading Germany in 1630

  • Macedonia under Philip V declaring war on the Roman Republic (215 B.C. - First Macedonian War)

  • Macedonia Under Alexander invading the Persian Empire

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