The 10 Weirdest Wars in History

War is a noble and heroic undertaking. That’s what we tell ourselves, anyway. When we think of events like the Civil War or World War II, we look back on the “good guys” fighting against evil forces and vanquishing them in the hopes of making the world a better place. Even with wars that are less cut-and-dry like that, as in Vietnam or Iraq, we hopefully are at least to a point where we can honor and thank the soldiers who fight in those awful conditions even if we are a little less charitable with the governments involved in the battles and their motives.

But what happens when a war is just plain weird? Or fought over remarkably stupid and hilarious reasons? In this list, we’ll take a look at ten wars that prove not every fight is undertaken with such lofty goals in mind. In truth, some wars bubble up over really, really stupid inciting events. Here are ten of ’em that will make you think twice about some of the not-so-heroic battles and near-battles that have taken place throughout history!

Related: 10 of the Most Ingenious Deception Tactics Used in War

10 The War of the Bucket

The War of the Bucket (sometimes called the War of the Oaken Bucket) was a very bizarre fight that played out between two Italian city-states in 1325. The rival city-states of Bologna and Modena had been fighting each other for hundreds of years, so the enmity wasn’t new. For more than three centuries, the Guelphs (and their stronghold in Bologna) and the Ghibellines (and their stronghold in Modena) were at each other’s throats over the region of Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy. And in 1325, it all came to a head over a bucket…sort of.

As legend holds, the fight started over a bucket that the Modenese took from a well in Bologna. What (probably) actually happened is that the bucket was taken as a trophy after the war. If you ask us, that sounds like a pretty pathetic trophy, but whatever. Times were simpler in 1325! The two city-states had hated each other for so long that when issues over a land border came up in Emilia-Romagna, they didn’t need much of a reason to spark a war.

In November of 1325, that’s exactly what happened. They met at Zappolino, a city in Bolognese territory, and fought the war’s single battle that month. Unfortunately for the Bolognese, despite outnumbering the Modenese, they were routed. About 1,500 Bolognese soldiers were killed, which was more than three times as many as the losses Modena took.

Then, as the Bolognese fled back into the walls of their fortified city, the Modenese allegedly did the thing that gave the war its name: they took the well bucket. The well was supposedly just outside the city gate, and with nothing else to swipe, the bucket must have seemed like a decent trophy.

That only served to make the Bolognese even more angry, though. For the next two hundred years, the two city-states kept fighting! While the War of the Bucket was the most violent and deadliest battle they engaged in, the hatred never stopped. Until 1529, that is.

That year, during the so-called Italian Wars, King Charles I of Spain seized imperial power over much of Italy. Neither the Guelphs nor the Ghibellines liked that very much. Faced with the threat of the Spaniards coming over and taking complete control, Bologna and Modena decided to lay down their arms against each other, make peace, and prepare to battle the Spanish. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, as it were.

Things mostly petered out from there, and five centuries of fighting died down. But the peak of the 500-year-long problem centered on an old well bucket stolen in battle![1]

9 The War of Jenkins’s Ear

Would you go to war over a severed ear? Vincent Van Gogh is stirring in his grave at that question. But this isn’t about him! It’s about… Jenkins. That would be Robert Jenkins, to be exact. He was the captain of a British brig ship known as the Rebecca in the middle of the 18th century.

One day in 1731, Jenkins’s ship was boarded by Spanish privateers in the Caribbean Sea. The British saw the Spaniards as pirates who were there to loot private ships hailing from other nations. The Spaniards saw their men as a coast guard of sorts who were tasked with searching British ships for contraband and illegally acquired trade goods from the New World.

Either way, the Spaniards supposedly severed Jenkins’s ear while they were searching the ship, and that led to a decade-long war between the two maritime powers. Most of the actual fighting in the war took place in points along the Caribbean Sea, including New Granada. The British wanted to improve their trading opportunities in the Western Hemisphere and, in turn, curtail Spanish piracy.

But weirdly, for the first seven years after Jenkins’s ear was severed, British politicians back home mostly ignored shipping companies’ requests to wage war. Finally, in 1738, the British went all in after deciding they wanted to be able to sell slaves in the Americas. By 1739, the war was on, and over the next couple of years, it simmered across the Caribbean.

Unfortunately for the British, a big attack they planned at Cartagena de Indias failed miserably in 1741. After that, their navy pulled back a bit. Minor fighting happened over the next few years in Florida, Georgia, and around Havana on the island of Cuba. But by the mid-1740s, every European power was dealing with another issue on their own continent: the War of the Austrian Succession.

That was a real, large-scale war across Europe that involved nearly every nation until 1748. Both Great Britain and Spain thus pulled back from some of their Caribbean pursuits, and the War of Jenkins’s Ear was mostly forgotten. It probably wasn’t forgotten by Jenkins, though, who was earless for the rest of his life![2]

8 The Pastry War

In 1838, during the early years of the Republic of Mexico, lawlessness abounded as various factions competed for power within the country. Many times, that fighting resulted in the destruction of private property. And since the Mexican government was relatively weak and unable to do much to prevent it, private citizens were often very frustrated by it.

Foreigners were in particular trouble. Should bandits rob them, steal their stuff, or destroy their property, they had little recourse with the Mexican government to be compensated for it. A French pastry chef known only as Monsieur Remontel learned that the hard way in 1832. Remontel had a pastry shop on the outskirts of Mexico City in a place called Tacubaya.

According to him, Mexican officers looted his shop and stole all his delicious pastries. He appealed to the Mexican government for compensation, and when none came, he called on the powers in his homeland to do something about it. Citing Remontel’s issues and those of many other French nationals living in Mexico, the government of France decided to fight a whole war over it.

In 1838, the French Prime Minister demanded that the Mexican government pay them 600,000 pesos in order to compensate for the loss of Remontel’s pastry shop and a variety of other French businesses in Mexico. The Mexicans balked at the exorbitant sum; at the time, the average daily wage in Mexico was only about one peso. So, the French attacked.

The French navy immediately set up a blockade of all Mexican port cities in the Gulf of Mexico. From the Yucatan peninsula clear out to the Republic of Texas’s port of Corpus Christi, the French shut down trading options for Mexican coastal towns. The United States even sent out a schooner at one point to assist the French in their blockade.

The battle eventually took to solid ground, too, where the French made landfall. They stormed a Mexican fort and eventually took it. Famed Mexican general Santa Anna fought back, and during the Battle of Veracruz, he was shot in the leg. That leg was amputated, and his heroic effort there catapulted him back into political power in Mexico.

Aside from him, though, the war itself mostly sputtered. Each side lost a couple hundred men before a treaty was eventually signed. Mexico agreed to pay the 600,000 peso penalty as part of the peace agreement. They never did, though, and that non-payment eventually led to the second (and far more intense) French assault on Mexico that lasted nearly a full decade, beginning in 1861. And to think it all started with a pastry chef and his delicious wares…[3]

7 The Toledo War

Would you ever think of fighting a war over the city of Toledo, Ohio? No offense to all those Toledoans out there, but we’re not exactly talking about some world-class place here. Nevertheless, in 1835, the states of Ohio and Michigan (sort of) went to war over Toledo and a long, fertile, important strip of land running across their border. It all started with the area now known as the “Toledo Strip.”

The city itself was included, along with the mouth of the Maumee River leading into Lake Erie. The farmland around there was seen as being particularly fertile and possibly financially important. Plus, the river and the Toledo port were major economic assets. So the lands of Ohio and Michigan both desperately wanted to have access to all that.

Without very clear boundaries having been marked out in the prior century, both territories thought they were the ones with rightful access to and dominion over Toledo. The whole thing came to a head in 1835 when Michigan petitioned the federal government for statehood. In doing so, they included Toledo and the entire Toledo Strip within their borders. That pissed off Ohio, as they didn’t want to give up what they felt was theirs.

Quickly, each state’s governor passed legislation making it illegal for residents of the Toledo Strip to submit to the authority of the other state. Both states then sent militia members to their respective sides of the Toledo Strip. Thankfully, no militiamen actually fought each other, and nobody died. They mostly just taunted each other for a while from across (disputed) state lines, only once ever firing shots, which all missed their targets.

In the end, only one person was injured at all—a law enforcement officer who was stabbed during a minor dust-up as part of the land dispute. Thankfully, he survived. By the summer of 1836, the U.S. Congress wanted the whole thing to end. So they brokered a compromise: Ohio would get to claim the entirety of the Toledo Strip, and in exchange, Michigan got three-quarters of the Upper Peninsula for themselves.

At the time, Michigan felt that they got the raw end of the deal. However, as it turned out, the UP was very rich in minerals, and it ended up working out okay for them. They didn’t think it would at the time, but Michigan was in dire financial straits as they entered the Union. So they didn’t have much sway to be able to turn down Congress’s compromise demand. So one of the strangest “wars” in American history was fought (well, “fought”) over Toledo. Who knew?![4]

6 The War of the Stray Dog

On October 18, 1925, a war very nearly broke out between Greece and Bulgaria after a stray dog reportedly crossed the border and set off an international incident. As the story goes, Greek soldiers supposedly invaded the Bulgarian border town of Petrich and had to be repelled back. So a Bulgarian force killed a Greek captain, as well as a sentry who had crossed the border without authorization. Or something like that.

See, Greece and Bulgaria had been involved in a long-simmering dispute over their border. So each side already had soldiers and sentries placed along the border at and around the village of Petrich. As such, it only took a very small thing—in this case, supposedly a stray dog—to set off a firefight. One version of the story claims that the incident began after a dog ran across the border from Greece into Bulgaria at Demir Kapia Pass.

The dog belonged to a Greek soldier, who raced across the border to grab the stray pup and get him back on their side. The Bulgarians didn’t like that, though, and shot the soldier. The other Bulgarian version of the story claims there was no dog involved at all. Rather, the Bulgarians supposedly crossed the Greek border from their side and killed a Greek captain and a sentry in an aggressive move indicating battle.

The dog story stuck in the public consciousness, though, and this spat came to be known as the War of the Stray Dog. However it actually began, Bulgaria moved quickly to apologize for the incident. They claimed the firing upon Greek soldiers had been a misunderstanding, and they expressed regret. The Bulgarians also offered to take part in a mixed investigation into the incident—both Greek and Bulgarian officers could look into what happened.

The Greeks didn’t care for that, though, and wanted no Bulgarians in their territory at all. In turn, Greece issued an ultimatum to Bulgaria: punish those responsible within 48 hours or else and pay out two million French francs as compensation to the families of the victims. That got the attention of the League of Nations, which was at that time a precursor of sorts to the United Nations.

The League of Nations very much did not want a full-scale war to bubble up between Greece and Bulgaria. After all, it had only been a precious few years prior that World War I had ended. The Greeks sent soldiers into Bulgaria and occupied the town of Petrich. Fearing a violent outburst, the League of Nations moved quickly to mediate things. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed, and a full war was avoided. In the end, the War of the Stray Dog became a mostly forgotten and very bizarre skirmish that didn’t lead anywhere.[5]

5 The War of the Golden Stool

In 1900, the United Kingdom waged a very bizarre war with the Ashanti Empire in what is now known as the West African nation of Ghana. The entire war was fought over the so-called “Golden Stool,” which was a long-standing sacred symbol of power that was held in great reverence by the Ashanti people. Basically, the British wanted to colonize that entire coastal region of Africa for themselves, and the Ashanti weren’t down to be colonized.

Tensions first flamed up in 1896 when the British sent in troops to occupy the region. Then, in 1900, the Ashanti staged an uprising. They wanted the British off their land and for the European power to give up their colonial dreams in West Africa. The British quickly suppressed the revolt, though, and then fully captured the Ashanti city of Kumasi.

After capturing Kumasi, the British deported the Ashanti’s traditional king, the Asantehene, as well as all of his counselors. In turn, the Ashanti was fully annexed and became part of the United Kingdom’s overseas controlled lands as a British Crown Colony. Sir Frederick Hodgson, who was the British administrator in charge of the entire newly-formed colony there, went to the Ashanti people and demanded to be allowed to sit on the Golden Stool.

Hodgson reasoned that since he was in charge now, he wanted to have the benefits of his rule include the traditional Golden Stool seat given to all Ashanti kings. Not surprisingly, the Ashanti rejected this request and rushed the Golden Stool into hiding. What followed was the War of the Golden Stool between British forces and Ashanti rebels. The battles lasted from March 1900 through September of that year.

In total, just over a thousand British soldiers were killed in various skirmishes, while more than 2,000 Ashanti men died in the conflict. However, the Golden Stool wasn’t brought out of hiding—even after the war ended in September. Then, in 1921, a group of African road workers discovered the stool while out on a construction project. They stripped much of the gold from it.

Ashanti leaders called for their execution, but the British took the road workers into custody and eventually negotiated that they would merely be banished rather than killed. Then, the Golden Stool was finally brought out of hiding and returned to its rightful Ashanti owners.[6]

4 The Football War

The World Cup is one of the most serious (and seriously-watched) soccer events in the world whenever it comes up every four years. And while most of the time, the controversy remains on the pitch, sometimes, things get a little hectic. Nowhere was this more apparent than in 1969, when long-simmering tensions between Honduras and El Salvador bubbled up while they were playing a match against each other.

The occasion was a competitive game with a shot to go to the 1970 World Cup. In the first game, on June 8 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras won 1-0. Then, in the second game on June 15 in San Salvador, the host team from El Salvador won 3-0. So the teams played a final playoff match in Mexico City on June 26. In that one, El Salvador won a nail-biter in a 3-2 finish. During and after each of those matches, riots broke out. The largest riot occurred after the playoff match in Mexico City, and it necessitated swift governmental response.

See, at issue was the fact that Salvadorans had been migrating to Honduras for decades by that point. Their migration began in the early 20th century, and by 1969, more than 300,000 Salvadorans were living in Honduras. In fact, at that time, Salvadorans accounted for more than ten percent of the Honduran population.

Local people in Honduras did not like that at all. They felt the Salvadorans were taking jobs and resources meant for Honduran natives. So, through each football match between the two countries, violence against Salvadorans in Tegucigalpa and elsewhere ramped up. In return, on the same day as the third football match, El Salvador severed all diplomatic ties with Honduras. Then, they started attacking.

The Salvadoran Air Force attacked Honduran military targets inside Honduras’s borders. That caught the Honduras Air Force off guard, even though it was the better equipped of the two countries in terms of military provisions. Over the next four days, fighting occurred in skirmishes and battles across Honduras. About 900 Salvadoran troops and civilians and over 2,100 Honduran troops and civilians were killed before the Organization of American States rushed in and begged for a ceasefire.

El Salvador eventually withdrew its troops, and the war ended less than a week after it began. Lots of lives were lost, though. And it all bubbled up because of (and during) a football match.[7]

3 The Cod Wars

The Cod Wars were a series of disputes through the middle of the 20th century between Iceland and the United Kingdom over cod fishing lanes and areas in the North Atlantic Ocean. While they weren’t traditional “wars,” as you might think of a battle in history, they were very intense, vicious, and even deadly. In all of the disputes, Iceland walked away victorious and was able to maintain its cod fishing channels and historic territorial waters.

The idea of British fishing boats sailing into Icelandic waters to fish for cod is not new. In fact, boats leaving Britain and its islands have been sailing north toward Iceland to fish since at least the 14th century. And things really perked up in the 15th century when a long-standing series of fishing rights disputes bubbled up.

However, in recent years, things got really testy after the International Court of Justice allowed Ireland to expand its territorial waters from three nautical miles to four nautical miles in 1952. That enraged British fishermen, who claimed the expansion would hurt their industry. In response, the United Kingdom then banned Icelandic fishing boats from landing in any British port to offload their catch.

Six years later, in 1958, Iceland expanded its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles. They banned all foreign fleets from fishing within those waters. Britain refused to accept the decision. So, over nearly two full decades from 1958 through 1976, British fishing boats were escorted directly to those lucrative fishing grounds by their Royal Navy while the Icelandic Coast Guard spent its time trying to push British boats out of their waters.

The cat-and-mouse game went on again and again and again. The Icelandic Coast Guard would use long hawsers to cut away nets from British boats and ruin their catch. Both sides routinely rammed their ships into boats from the other side, damaging them and heightening tensions. Thankfully, there was only one confirmed death from all four of the so-called Cod Wars. It was an Icelandic engineer who was killed during the Second Cod War in the early 1960s while he was repairing damage on a patrol boat that had gotten into a collision with the British frigate Apollo.

Besides him, no other deaths were reported—just decades of anger and enmity between the two nations and their respective fishing industries. Eventually, the Cod Wars ended in 1976 when Britain finally gave up and agreed to recognize Iceland’s rightful sea limits and sovereign fishing territory.[8]

2 The War of the Two Jeannes

The Breton Civil War was a long-standing conflict that popped up in 1379 as part of the great Hundred Years’ War around it. But in Brittany specifically, the sub-battle is remembered as being the so-called War of the Two Jeannes—because both lead combatants were named Jeanne!

Basically, the Breton Civil War first broke out in 1341. King Philip VI of France sent his son John of Normandy (who would become Jean II) to capture John of Montfort, who was the rebel claimant to Brittany’s duchy. The first John defeated the second John by December, but then the second John’s wife, Jeanne of Montfort, directed rebel forces to swoop in. From there, the war dragged on for six years.

In 1347, King Edward III of England captured King Philip’s then-choice for the duchy, Charles of Blois. With Charles captured, his wife named—get ready for it—Jeanne of Penthièvre took over his forces and led Charles’s men in much the same way as Jeanne of Montfort was doing. Confused yet?

This was then dragged out for nearly 20 more years, until 1364, with both women named Jeanne fighting each other in a sort of de facto broader battle between England and France. Of course, the French supported the Blois line, while the English backed the Montforts. In the end, Montfort was ultimately successful by the end of 1364. But then a switch-up occurred: the winners pledged their loyalty not to the Plantagenet king of England, who had supported them, but to the King of France.

Casting aside the much larger Hundred Years’ War and all its drama, though, let’s just focus on the so-called War of the Two Jeannes. With it, we got it all: two identically named women leading men into battle to fight a proxy war for two major powers who had been locked in a struggle for a century. If that’s not the Middle Ages in a nutshell, we don’t know what is.[9]

1 The War of the Three Sanchos

If two Jeannes aren’t enough for you, how about three Sanchos? The War of the Three Sanchos was a succession crisis in the Kingdom of Leon and Castile in what is now present-day Spain. From 1065 through 1067, three different Spanish kingdoms led by three men named Sancho fought a war to see who would take control of power in their region.

All three Sancho men were first cousins, so things got very messy very quickly. There was Sancho II of Castile, Sancho IV of Navarre, and Sancho Ramirez of Aragon—all of whom were grandsons of Sancho the Great. In fact, it was Sancho the Great’s death way back in 1035 that first kicked off the strife created in the division of the kingdom.

At first, Navarre had been given supremacy over the so-called “petty kingdoms” of Castile and Aragon. But over the first 30 years since Sancho the Great’s death, until 1065, Navarre was very much a vassal state of Castile—which had since joined up in alliance with the Kingdom of Leon. In 1065, then, the Castilian monarch Ferdinand the Great died.

His kingdom was then divided among his three sons, with his eldest (Sancho) taking over Castile. Sancho wanted the lands of Bureba and Alta Rioja as part of his new kingdom, too. Ferdinand had conquered them during his lifetime, only to cede them to his older brother in Navarre. Well, the Sancho from Navarre didn’t want to give those lands up so easily. So the path to conflict was laid out.

Later, in 1065, Castile successfully reconquered Bureba, Alta Rioja, and several other lands in that area. However, Ferdinand’s widow died in 1067, and that led to a stalemate in the War of the Three Sanchos because Ferdinand’s three sons started fighting over other parts of his kingdom. Eventually, with all those border territories still in dispute for nearly a decade, Sancho IV of Navarre was eventually assassinated by his own brother in 1076.

When that happened, his kingdom was split between Sancho Ramirez of Aragon, who was ushered into becoming ruler of the holdings of Navarre as Sancho V, and Alfonso VI of Leon and Castile. The disputed lands drama pulled back from there, and the brief (and extremely confusing) War of the Three Sanchos was over.[10]

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