What are some historical examples, if any, of large-scale (say > 100 square kilometers) "no-man's lands" between states in perpetual conflict? These states would be mutually hostile, firmly divided perhaps by ideology or religion, but would not be engaged in an active war. The land in question might see some use by the native population for hunting or similar purposes but is effectively devoid of any settlement, any preexisting ones having been abandoned or destroyed.

The best example would remain depopulated for at least several decades, and be established on otherwise perfectly habitable territory.


5 Answers 5


I believe one of the most interesting examples is Varosha in Cyprus. It's an abandoned city in the UN buffer zone that was abandoned quite suddenly (I believe people intend to return, so all their things are still there) in 1974 during the Turkish invasion.

In fact there are many examples of UN buffer zones. I don't know whether this is quite "No-mans land" but there are ones on the Israeli borders with both Syria and Lebanon.

  • This is pretty much exactly what I was looking for. It would be perfect if there was no man made fence around the area coupled with a UN prohibition, but I think it gets across the idea that this happens, as sad as that is. Jan 7, 2013 at 21:49
  • You might be interested in Involuntary Parks and the Chinese Frontier Closed Area, which isn't a no-mans land but interesting none the less in that it forms a buffer between two differently administered parts of china.
    – Nathan
    Jan 7, 2013 at 22:38

The best current example is Kashmir a large part of which is disputed territory, claimed both by India and Pakistan. My understanding is that the Siachen Glacier would match your description of a no-mans land, where what population existed has been run out by the active attempts at enforcement of the claims across the valley -- however being a primarily a glacier is it hard to believe that many people actively lived there before the conflict.

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    This is almost exactly what I'm after - the only negative as you pointed out being the miserable conditions on the Glacier. Ideally, the no-man's land would be at least somewhat fertile land. Jan 7, 2013 at 21:36

Historically, the borders between states were not as well-demarcated as they are today, and the regions that comprised the de facto border between two states (hostile or not) are a popular area of study for academic historians.

If you search journals for the words 'frontier' or 'borderlands', you can find many articles on the subject. These areas are of interest because they were an area of contact between peoples, even if the states were technically at war, and it was the location of exchange (linguistic, cultural, religious, economic).

Getting to your question. I think it is almost impossible to answer which of these areas of no definite control was the largest as there was no clear definition of where one state ended and the other began. Imagine the boundary between the Roman and the Sassanid Empires. It was a huge frontier, ever changing over the centuries as the two traded territory.

On an even larger scale, think of the Chinese frontiers to the north and west, and the territory that shifted between them and the Mongols.

  • I'm glad you mentioned the Chinese / Mongol boundary since that was one of the areas I thought might serve as an example. Jan 7, 2013 at 21:54

Do the Senkaku/Diaoyutai count? What about the islands in the Kuril island chain that were disputed by Russia and Japan until the last part of the last millenium? None of these are intrinsically large enough to fit your criteria, but the Senkaku's are an example of a small fragment of disputed land that controls thousands of kilometers of ocean rights.

Waht about Isla Aves?

There are a number of disputes on the borders of Saudi Arabia - I think they fall beneath your size requirements, but they seem to fulfill your geopolitical constraints.

  • And the geopolitical constraints are far more important - so thank you for pointing me in that direction. Jan 7, 2013 at 21:51
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    If we're doing islands like Isla Aves, I'll submit Rockall
    – Nathan
    Jan 8, 2013 at 2:17

"The Wild Field", or the steppe betweeen Danube to the West, Poland and Russia to the North and Crimea to the South in 16th Cent. The eastern border of that place changed. The area was 0.5-1 million km2. Crimea and christian states were not in prepetual war de jure, but de facto conflicts were so often, that normal life in this area was absolutely impossible.

Even the southern regions of Russia and Poland were almost every year robbed off. The amount of slaves from the North was so huge, that one of the slavetraders seeing crowds of prisoners exclaimed: "Do there remain some people in these lands?". The numbers of slaves taken by Crimean Tartars without any doubt was much greater than the meager million of the african slaves.

There were some safer points in the area that were used as a continious living places. Khortica island on the Dnepr river, for example. But that didn't change the whole situation.

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    +1 - Yeah, The Wild Fields is what I thought of immediately when this question was posted, though english-language information on that time and place is tough to come by. (There's a book on the conquest of the Asian steppe by Russia called "Taming The Wild Field" which is different than the actual Wild Fields and complicates web and book searches.) Jan 9, 2013 at 21:36
  • @RISwampYankee try to look for the info on Ivan the Terrible and Crimean Tartars - you will get the info on these conflicts. The Wild Fields themselves were empty these times and so there are no much information on them
    – Gangnus
    Jan 9, 2013 at 21:52

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