Why Are We Fascinated by Historical Battles ?

I have always been fascinated by historical battles, especially the way historical fiction books and movies depict them. There are many fans of historical battles walking among us, but why are we hypnotized by them?

Why Are We Mesmerized by Past Battles from History?

Humans have been fascinated with past battles and warfare throughout history for a variety of reasons. Having lived through a Revolution and the fall of the Eastern Bloc, I can see that the power of historical knowledge. Here are some possible explanations I wrestled with (pun intended) as to why we are mesmerized by historical battles.

Silent Heroes of war

Competition is part of human nature

Warfare and conflict have been a part of human history since ancient times, and as such it have become deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness. The desire to understand and analyze past battles and wars may simply be a natural human inclination.

Also the life of a solder, often perceived as a life sentence of an unpredictable time, was indeed seen as a right of passage, as important as birth, marriage, and death. And thus it was reflected by the cultural heritage.

National identity and pride lead to wars, and become evident during war

Many people identify strongly with their national or cultural heritage, and studying past battles and wars can be a way to connect with and feel proud of their heritage. It can also be a way to understand the struggles and sacrifices of one’s ancestors.

#poetry written by @PatFurstenberg

Strategy and tactics are the bread and butter of leaders

Military history is also studied for its strategic and tactical lessons. By analyzing the successes and failures of past battles, military leaders learn valuable lessons that can be applied to future conflicts – and hopefully shorten them if not render them unnecessary.

Entertainment is part of our daily lives

Past battles and wars are often depicted in popular culture, such as movies, books, and TV shows – watching historical documentaries and reenactments are some of my favorite past times. These illustrations are both entertaining and educational especially since women and men often present war from different perspectives, and can spark an interest in learning more about history.

Lessons for the present – History should be remembered

Studying past battles can also help us understand the present. By looking at how past conflicts were resolved or how they escalated, we can gain insights into current events and potential future conflicts.

on this may day poem by Patricia Furstenberg

Hypnotized by war & gore – at least some of us, I know I am

As a specie, humans have an evolutionary instinct that makes us curious and fascinated by violence and danger as a way to survive in dangerous environments. Our ancestors who were more alert to potential threats may have been more likely to survive and pass on their genes. It is also an intellectual curiosity, wanting to understand the causes and effects of violence on individuals and societies.

It’s important to approach these topics with sensitivity and care, and to remember that the reality of war and violence is often much different than their fictionalized or romanticized portrayals in media.

Military dogs in Iraq war, Afghanistan War, Gulf War
Military dogs in Iraq war, Afghanistan War, Gulf War – and their human handlers

Writing about battles

I do have a few historical battles in my books and I’ve read many historical novels written my a variety of authors and authoresses with epic battle scenes. Often, a battle scene moves the plot forward and shades a spotlight on characters, bringing out their strengths and, sometimes, even their weaknesses.

Women writing war fiction is a controversial topic and one close to my heart and I wrote about it here.

On my blog I wrote a small scene about one of the Roman invasions of Dacia, a Mongol invasion of Sibiu, about hope, about the power of love during the Revolution of 1848, a poem about revolution, one about the consequences of war, about a soldier and his dog, and a series of blog posts about dogs in the trenches of history, among others.


Historical battles from Romania’s past in my books

In my historical fiction Transylvania’s History A to Z the 100-word stories “A Paleolithic Murder”, “Echoes of Battle, the Getae”, “Falx vs Gladius, Daoi vs Roman”, “New Footprints on Old Land”, “Wars with Ottomans”deal with wars.

In Dreamland: “Girl Warrior”, “War Science”, “Glaring and Grabbing”, “Kronstadt, the Crown Burg”, “Victoriuos Escape”, “Soimos Fortress, a Hawk’s Nest”,”Witchcraft or Death Organ”, “Grind and Grime of a Janissary”, “Withstand in Faith”, “The Hajduk” are stories depicting scenes from battles from Romania’s past or deal with the consequences of war.

Battles from the War in Afghanistan

My contemporary fiction novel Silent Heroes, When Love and Values are Worth Fighting for was chosen as one of “5 Books Everyone Should Read in Their Lifetime”. I will include here a snippet from a battle scene between the American soldiers and the Taliban. The lat battle, the ned of an war:

“In one great eruption, the earth was hurled high into the air by the explosion, tumbling with a thunderous din on the roof of the hut, on top of the white Taliban flag. Both Marines were thrown against the adjacent trees. Stinging dirt cut their faces and hands, hot, dry air burned their nostrils and their lungs while the blast punched the back of their heads with big, strong fists.

Seb felt something wet in his right boot and he hoped it was blood, he hoped he wasn’t dead and that he hadn’t pissed himself. He looked, never being happier to see himself bleed. Grenade pellets must have got in there, he thought.

Marcos remembered the time a huge wave caught him by surprise and it took him with, rolling him over and over until he felt each bone in his body crushed while the roaring of an express train resonated through his ears.”

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
5 books everyone should read in their lifetime
5 books everyone should read in their lifetime, Jodi Picoult, Ken Follett, Patricia Furstenberg, Victor Hugo, Shantaram

It’s worth noting that while war and gore can be intriguing to some, they are also deeply disturbing. My heart goes out to the soldiers and the loyal companions who have populated the battle lines. Wars have everlasting effects on humankind, psychological, material, social, to name but a few. It’s important to approach these topics with sensitivity and care, and to remember that the reality of war and violence is often much different than their fictionalized or romanticized portrayals in media, war propaganda, or in books.

17 Replies to “Why Are We Fascinated by Historical Battles ?”

  1. It may be that we’re trained to think like that. Hopefully it’s different now but when I went to school, history was all about one war after the other. It went from the revolution to the Civil War then jumped right ahead to the world wars.

  2. Well said, Ken! This is also what I remember from the history class. Besides a long row of dates.
    I believe you have a good point there.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Fascinating post. I immediately thought of Michael Sahaara’s Killer Angels and the books his son continued writing. Or Daphne Du Maurier’s superb book, The King’s General. They pull us in–we experience “battle” [but if course we don’t] and we build empathy for the men and women of today who fight. I wonder who will write the definitive books of the Ukraine tragedy –the war most Americans ignore or have forgotten?

    1. I am so happy that you chose to share your literary likes here. Yes, so many great novels contain defining scenes that are a page of war. “Gone With the Wind” also comes to mind.
      Sadly, war is still a contemporary episemic. Your last question is poignant and I appreciate it.

  4. When I started reading this excellent post, I was watching “Air Warriors” a documentary series on the Smithsonian Channel. I read and watch historic fiction, and I read non-fiction and watch documentaries. I am fascinated, and I identify with many of the reasons you mentioned. I also think that it’s important to remember these battles and the reasons they were fought. In the US, May is National Military Appreciation Month.

    I enjoyed this post very much.

    1. The need to remember is also why we write about battles and wars, I suppose. Why we write about anything that draws from reality and we invested in. Why we create art. So the memory won’t be wiped out when all the witnesses are gone from this world.

      Documentaries are fascinating to watch. And lately some take the shape of movies, I see. “The Rise and Fall of the Ottoman Empire” is impressive, although it’s equally captivating and entertaining to pay attention to the point of view presented.
      I’ll look up “Air Warriors”. ☺️
      Thanks, Dan.

  5. I identify with most of the reasons you mention. I also think that in addition to the battles and intrigues we are attracted by its aesthetics.
    Excellent post! Thank you, Pat

    1. Hi Úrsula, what a great point. I haven’t considered anesthetics but, yes, like any work of art the battles presented in movies and books will hold us under a visual spell. Like any good scene for that reason. We’ll said. Thank you ✨️

  6. I enjoy reading about battles because there are a lot of details to get into, such as individual stories, culture, and identity. We also learn about the present because how we see the past has much to do with our current views.

  7. Dear Vanya, it is so, yes, how we understand the past influences the way we see the present. There are so many clues in a battle scene, I agree, it is often a key moment in the storyline.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts here

    1. Oh, yes, thank you for sharing. WWII is still raw, it’s memories often relieved. My grandfather fought in it.

      I am currently looking into the Ottoman wars, especially those wedged against Wallachia and the Hungarian Kingdom – during the middle of the 15th century.

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