In reviewing the Wiki topic on War of annihilation it is clear that there have been several examples (many of them in recent history) wherein the goal of a war was to utterly destroy an enemy by eradicating them from existence. But has any such war, at any time in recorded history, ever succeeded in that goal? Has a complete civilization ever been utterly destroyed to the last person through warfare?


The Wiki article mentions the Herero uprising, Nazi warfare, and other examples as extreme cases of total war wherein it could be argued that complete and utter eradication of a people was the goal, rather than conventional socio-polictical reasons or economical or territorial pursuits or natural resources were the stakes. But none of the examples given succeeded in their radical goals of completely killing everyone.

I have performed several additional Google searches looking for cases where the utter destruction of an enemy was either the goal or the outcome, but have not yet found a case where a war did not end in capitulation of some sort by the losing side in the conflict, or some survivors escaped destruction. So far I have not found a case where everyone was killed, but I think there may be one or more to be found (I have no reason to believe this other than as an observation of our human nature - it seems inevitable that this has occurred at some point in human history).


Destroying a government or empire or kingdom and its cities and infrastructure would not meet the requirements I am seeking, unless also the entire civil population was slain, instead of taken captive or sold into slavery or left to suffer in a devastated wasteland. What I'm looking for is an example where not just the empire or the military or the cities and resources of an enemy were destroyed, but also every many woman and child slain - not taken captive or sold into slavery or otherwise dominated by the victor - but totally annihilated - slain - killed.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Dec 17, 2018 at 18:57
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    I would say a 100% extermination in a war could not have been possible to groups of a reasonable size due to the impossibility of preventing escapes - long term oppression leading to a smaller sized culture dissolving is possible, but that's hardly a war and usually individuals would survive by "defecting" in the process. If near complete or localised extermination is allowable, I can think of one example: the Qing Chinese genocide of Dzungars during the conquest of Xinjiang. Sources claim none were left alive in Chinese territory, although groups escaped to Russia etc.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 7:49
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    It seems to me that this is inherently impossible to answer since there's rarely any way to be sure that remnants did not escape or survive in other ways. Sources that say the enemy was completely annihilated are unavoidably overstating what they actually know -- assuming it wasn't propaganda to begin with.
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 17:28
  • @MarkOlson, I think it is trivial to answer; the answer is "no" because it rests on the assumption that a human institution is 100% effective, which qualifies it as alternate history/fantasy/fiction. 100% effective genocide is prima facia absurd.
    – MCW
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 19:38
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    @MCW Agreed. I would have done better to say that it is inherently impossible to answer 'yes' for the reasons given. The question is flawed by asking for an absolute which, as you note, doesn't happen in history.
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 19:44

6 Answers 6


Many of the settlers in California during the Gold Rush were extremely hostile towards Indians and the California government adopted anti-Indian policies. In fact some people write about the "California Genocide" in that era.


A number of California tribal groups suffered large population decreases from attacks by the immigrants to California, in addition to losses from diseases.

Some of the tribes may have become split up and/or joined with other tribes, but as far as I know most of the pre-Gold Rush tribes still have their tribal governments.

The Yana people in California had about 1,500 to 3,000 people in four subgroups before the Gold Rush. The southernmost subgroup, the Yahi, numbered about about 400 before the Gold Rush and are now extinct. Many starved when the Gold Rush destroyed their food sources and many were killed by the settlers. Over a hundred Yahis were massacred in 6 separate incidents in 1865, 1866, 1867, and 1871 and they were believed extinct. But a small group survived and slowly died off until the last survivor revealed himself in 1911.

Tasmania was inhabited by thousands, not to be too specific, of Aboriginals before the first European settlement in 1803. Decades of disease and conflicts with Europeans reduced their population to about 200 in 1833 who were moved to a camp on Flinders island, in 1847 the 47 survivors were moved to another camp. The last pure blood Tasmanian is considered to have been either Truganini (1812-1876) or Fanny Cochrane Smith (1834-1905).

So H.G. Wells, in The War of the Worlds (1897) Chapter 1, "The Eve of the War", wrote:

And before we judge of them too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?


However, in 2016 the number of people of partial Tasmanian Aboriginal descent is estimated to be about 6,000 to 23,000.


Even though the total extermination of an enemy population has rarely been achieved, many enemy states have been totally destroyed. For example, the Confederate States of America never surrendered but instead was totally conquered by United States forces.

During the Beaver Wars of the 17th Century the Iroquois totally destroyed a number of tribes, reducing their populations to three classes:

  1. the dead.
  2. fugitives seeking asylum with other tribes and gradually assimilating into them.
  3. captives of the Iroquois who gradually became assimilated into Iroquois society.

By 1652 the Iroquois had wiped out the Huron, Petun, Erie, and Neutral Nations.

Added 12-19-2018:

Among recognized modern independent nations with diplomatic relations with other countries the highest fatality rate was suffered by Paraguay in the War of the Triple Alliance from 1864–1870, with allegedly over 50 percent of its prewar population including civilian men, women, and children, killed.

Thus it seems likely that any possible examples of totally exterminated groups are likely to have been small tribes with much smaller populations than Paraguay.

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    This is the closest to what I am looking for thus far - thanks
    – Kerry L
    Commented Dec 17, 2018 at 17:39
  • @ Kerry L I have added something on 12-19-18.
    – MAGolding
    Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 20:20
  • Of doubtful qualification for this category of events, the Crow Creek Massacre comes to mind. There probably were survivors (there were no women of child-bearing years found among the dead), but the site was never occupied again.
    – EvilSnack
    Commented Apr 4, 2020 at 20:12

The criteria set forth in the question are quite difficult to satisfy. If you go back far enough certain tribes would have been so small that any warlike confrontation would ensure that the group could not survive as such. But then again, "everyone killed" is not really likely in those conditions, as most of the time the women were treated as spoils of war. That is, not killed but taken.

One thing that will probably seen as very contentious is the sometimes so-called genocide of the native Americans. Obviously, some "Indians" are still around, so the American Indian Wars would not satisfy the criteria – either for the purposes of this question or a scholarly definition of genocide?

Apart from "Indians" being a really big heading to classify "500 Nations" there are a few examples very worth noting and considering in that regard.

One of these would the Beothuk, although with some caveats:

Scholars disagree in their definition of genocide in relation to the Beothuk, and the parties have differing political agendas. While some scholars believe that the Beothuk died out due to the elements noted above, another theory is that Europeans conducted a sustained campaign of genocide against them.

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    This is the best answer. Commented Nov 10, 2019 at 4:50

53BC, Caesar launches a campaign of annihilation against the Eburones (De Bello Gallico book VI) in revenge for their part in destroying a Roman garrison. Regardless of the outcome, the stated intent was to wipe out the people and their name from history. Ironically they survive in his writings.

All the local animals were killed, all crops harvested and carried off, neighbouring tribes encouraged to plunder, every village, dwelling, town destroyed - no prisoners.

Whether you call them states or not, several cities were wiped out by the Mongols under Genghis and their entire populations killed. The city of Merv is an example. Destroyed by Tolui in 1221.


The war of the Qing dynasty against the Dzunghars (an Oirat Mongol tribe) during the era of the Qianlong Emperor resulted in the complete extinction of the Dzunghars.


The Qianlong Emperor then ordered the genocide of the Dzungars, moving the remaining Dzungar people to the mainland and ordering the generals to kill all the men in Barkol or Suzhou, and divided their wives and children to Qing forces (...)

In his account of the war, Qing scholar Wei Yuan, wrote that about 50% of the Dzungar households were killed by smallpox, 20% fled to Russia or the Kazakh Khanate, and 30% were killed by the army, leaving no yurts in an area for several thousand li, except those of the surrendered. Clarke wrote 80%, or between 480,000 and 600,000 people, were killed between 1755 and 1758 in what "amounted to the complete destruction of not only the Dzungar state but of the Dzungars as a people." 80% of the Dzungars died in the genocide.

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    This would be improved with some expansion upon the war and the subsequent extinction (with some source references).
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 14:38
  • Welcome to History.SE and thanks for mentioning this 18th century genocide I hadn't heard about. Since we prefer more detailed documented answers, I have edited Wiki's article in. Feel free to rollback in necessary, and to expand to explain how it matches the question. (whether it fulfills the OP's "annihilation" definition is probably a bit subjective...)
    – Evargalo
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 15:20

History is full of those too...

The Punic war for example...


There are many more. .but this one jumps right out.

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    was there genocide? against a region that vast? or just the destruction of the government and the pro-regime forces? if the destruction of government and regime forces count then... virtually every other war in the last century would qualify. Commented Dec 17, 2018 at 16:41
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    @sofageneral how could the Punic wars qualify, since the Wiki article demonstrates that not all Carthaginians were destroyed (it say after the third Punic war 50,000 Carthaginians were sold into slavery - thus at least 50,000 survived the Punic wars. I'm not downvoting because there may be more to this story than Wiki indicates - but at first glance this is not a valid answer.
    – Kerry L
    Commented Dec 17, 2018 at 16:53
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    @Kerry L: 50,000 people may have survived, but they and their descendents were no longer Carthaginians. I think you could find many similar examples, but few if any of total extermination. If nothing else, the soldiers of the winning side are likely to keep attractive women as concubines.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Dec 17, 2018 at 18:48
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    ` 50,000 people may have survived, but they and their descendents were no longer Carthaginians` - that would then be the case with many Roman conquests.
    – user8690
    Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 9:44
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    History is full of those too... There are many more. . Then please give an exact answer instead of writing evasive "..."
    – Bregalad
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 15:40

There is the [Amalek]s1 that there was religious order to kill everywhere.

From man unto woman, from infant unto suckling, from ox unto sheep, so that the name of Amalek not be mentioned even with reference to an animal by saying "This animal belonged to Amalek".

Judges 20:48

And the men of Israel turned again upon the children of Benjamin, and smote them with the edge of the sword, as well the men of every city, as the beast, and all that came to hand: also they set on fire all the cities that they came to.

Jeremiah 18:21

Therefore deliver up their children to the famine, and pour out their blood by the force of the sword; and let their wives be bereaved of their children, and be widows; and let their men be put to death; let their young men be slain by the sword in battle.

Numbers 31

"Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves"

So it seems that total annihilation (with the possible exception of virgins taken as slaves) was the standard procedure.

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    Nice, I was also thinking the old testament. Excellent answer.
    – user27618
    Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 10:00
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    You've got four quotes with three references, each to a different book of the Bible. The third and fourth quotes don't indicate total extermination. Are these references all related? Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 21:13
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    Did these religious orders get enforced ? Were the Amalek annihilated ?
    – Evargalo
    Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 10:29
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    There is 0 non-scriptural evidence about Amalek. There is plenty scriptural evidence that they have not been exterminated.
    – sds
    Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 17:47
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    @sofageneral In a strict patriarchal society it's pretty much the same. There is no male lineage. There is no one who can claim the role as ruler.
    – liftarn
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 7:42

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