Population Dynamics and Internal Warfare: A Reconsideration

Peter Turchin, Andrey Korotayev
Social Evolution and History September 2, 2006 PDF


The hypothesis that population pressure causes increased warfare has been recently criticized on the empirical grounds. Both studies focusing on specific historical societies and analyses of cross-cultural data fail to find positive correlation between population density and incidence of warfare. In this paper we argue that such negative results do not falsify the population-warfare hypothesis. Population and warfare are dynamical variables, and if their interaction causes sustained oscillations, then we do not in general expect to find strong correlation between the two variables measured at the same time (that is, unlagged). We explore mathematically what the dynamical patterns of interaction between population and warfare (focusing on internal warfare) might be in both stateless and state societies. Next, we test the model predictions in several empirical case studies: early modern England, Han and Tang China, and the Roman Empire. Our empirical results support the population-warfare theory: we find that there is a tendency for population numbers and internal warfare intensity to oscillate with the same period but shifted in phase (with warfare peaks following population peaks). Furthermore, the rates of change of the two variables behave precisely as predicted by the theory: population rate of change is negatively affected by warfare intensity, while warfare rate of change is positively affected by population density
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