The number of males in the ancient world has been on a decline in recent decades. This is because of the rapid increase of male infants being born dead. The resulting gender imbalance as led to females far exceeding males within society, which has caused a shift in the power dynamic and has forced it to rethink many of its internal structures for how society is run. Due to a lack of biological knowledge, this has been rationalized in terms of the accepted religion. A man's strength and fortitude is tested even before birth, and only the strongest of will survive the process and earn the right to be born into the world. The disease has stabilized at the present time, infant males have a 20% percent chance of being stillborn.

One of the institutions that has changed radically is the concept of warfare. Because of the difficulty in producing males for the future generation, many societies have decided that they cannot risk sacrificing too many of them in long running wars of conquest. Due to this, they have adopted a system of conflict which is less costly known as "flower wars". Armies would meet on the field of battle whenever a war was declared, with the goal of capturing as many enemy troops as possible without killing them. These captured soldiers would then be ransomed back to the opposing tribe instead of being murdered. This would bring honor to the soldiers and prestige to the winning nation, as well as prevent large scale conflicts that would reduce males on both sides.

However, rules of engagement are murky at best, even in the modern world, and are rarely if ever followed. The ancient world was even more brutal and indiscriminate. Once the fighting starts, all concepts like honor go out the window as each side does whatever it takes to win. A nation that is desperate will simply see it as in their best interest to kill as many men as possible, kill all the women to curtail future heirs, and take over their territory. Even powerful nations will pursue this form of dominance to prevent weaker rivals from rising in power. There needs to be a system in place to ensure or at least encourages the gentler form of warfare that becomes widely dominant over the brutal fighting that naturally stems out of conflicts.

How can this shift in mindset take place within civilization?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Battle of Anghiari, 1440. Milan was waging war against the League, an alliance of the Papal States, Florence and Venice. About 16,000 men were present on the battlefield. One man died, by accident; he drowned in a foot-deep creek. The League won; I don't know exactly how they determined who won. This kind of pseudo-military choreography was quite normal in the so-called wars fought in Italy during the Renaissance. Basically, everybody was using mercenaries, and mercenaries, being mercenary, had no intention of putting their lives on the line. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Feb 12, 2022 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ ... P.S. The downside is that when the French came down over the mountains and actually fought, the Italian ballet troops did not stand a chance. Fortunately, the Empire came to the rescue with real soldiers. For a hundred years Italy became the venue of war between the French and the Empire, complete with all the horrors of war, including a famous sack of Rome in 1527; which shows the dangers of confusing wars and parades. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Feb 12, 2022 at 17:03
  • $\begingroup$ FC: I think if in your world, "war" is a men's affair, there may be no issue at all, because if you have less men, you'll have less wars. The shift in mindset will be toward more cooperation or competition.. war on paper.. or.. you'd get more women participating in war. But there would be an extra reason/condition needed, that i women would become interested to do that, why would that be ? In short: I think you'll have less wars anyway, no mind shift is needed. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Commented Feb 12, 2022 at 19:19
  • $\begingroup$ This society would just send women to war. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 13, 2022 at 18:16

5 Answers 5


Because of the difficulty in producing males for the future generation, many societies have decided that they cannot risk sacrificing too many of them in long running wars of conquest.

This is a perfectly sensible thing.

Due to this, they have adopted a system of conflict which is less costly and leans more heavily into competition.

...aaaaand this is just kinda weird.

If you don't want to risk your men, then don't send them into combat. I answered a similar question involving gender imbalances of a sort where there were few fertile males. I suggested they'd all be cloistered away, and this same approach seems like it would apply to your setting, too.

After a generation or two of significant gender imbalances you'll find that quite a lot of traditional "men's work" has now become "women's work", because that work still gotta be done, and there aren't enough men to be doing it.

One of these bits of "men's work" is going to be the business of visiting the neighbours with pointy objects and taking stuff they'd rather you didn't take and maybe stabbing a few people whilst you're there. What's most valuable in this case? Why, the men, of course.

a nation that is desperate will simply see it as in their best interest to kill as many men as possible

Maybe if they were truly desperate, but really that's bit of a societal death-gurgle. What will happen before that is that the enemy's men, who will be non-combatants because they're too valuable to waste getting stabbed to death, will be kidnapped. They won't be ransomed back, they'll be kept.

There's some precedent for this sort of thing when you look at the warfare practised by less- or non-agrarian societies which didn't have large population bases and high birth rates to sustain them and so couldn't wield huge armies and the loss of people in conflict was a serious thing. Taking enemies captive with the intent to make them part of your group/tribe/whatever might not have been common, but it was not unheard of. The nature of that captivity is up to you as the author, of course. But you should consider that these particular captives could have a greater value as captives or even as citizens than as things to sell back to their previous owners, or to use as menial slave labor.

  • $\begingroup$ I like this answer, and if folks want to read a book set in a world with this type of dynamic, I recommend "A Brother's Price". $\endgroup$
    – Daniel B
    Commented Feb 13, 2022 at 18:52

If you have so little men and so many women, and there are many wives to a single husband like you have described before, what makes more sense is to send the women into war, ensuring that at least one is left at home with the husband in each family, to ensure that the blood line is not broken.

In a situation where there are no automatic weapons and the fights happen at close quarter, number is a very significant advantage.


All laws need an enforcement mechanism; I would use religion in this circumstance.

In the ancient world, there simply was not many atheists. And even if there were, only a few percent of them were sociopaths.

So let us posit a true and deep belief that killing another person permanently condemns one to endless misery in life and eternal hell after life, and that knowingly being friendly or loving a murderer also condemns one along with them.

Thus killers are ostracized. It is not killing to brand them, or scarify them, and that is what happens when they get caught. Heck, maybe we even blind them. This is not killing.

It is not killing to incarcerate them and treat them like crap, that is for the safety of the rest of humanity; there jailors are not friendly or loving to them.

Thus their belief is a self-fulfilling prophecy; murderers do indeed suffer misery in life; their scars, brands and/or blindness give them away no matter where they go. Make it visible on their face; so they cannot cut that off or hide it.

How do you fight a war if everybody is terrified of killing? Exactly as you describe; people may fight like hell but the last thing they will do is kill somebody; their own fellow soldiers will shun them.

I suppose you might have a sociopath atheist in the mix somewhere, that kills people covertly and never gets caught. A nice little sub-plot with people hunting them.

But no wars, even today the vast majority of soldiers are religious.


Have an order of money lending nuns organize all battles.

In the chaos that followed the death of many men, these nuns became a dominant and potent political power in most areas, offering administration, money lending, and logistical support for places which were failing. They are well trusted by most, and have excellent connections with most lords.

They manage any larger wars. If you want to go to war you tend to need lots of money, and the nuns control most of the major money lenders. Unless you agree to their terms you can't borrow, and so you can't do larger scale wars.

People would of course take their money and break agreements, and seize convents. The nuns would then hire mercenaries and fund rival lords to overthrow such people.

The nuns favor duels, competitions, and martial displays.

They are happy to organize festivals and competitions for lords over small bits of land or disputes over some territory. This earns them a lot of money as everyone comes, and lets them minimize the casualties.

For moral reasons, they see the deaths of men as a terrible wrongness, and so they'll make a big effort to avoid any large scale slaughters. Each of them is trained in weapons and has guards willing to deal death to support this. They will slaughter anyone who challenges their pacifism.


If this is more of a fantasy setting, the gods have decreed that warfare should kill or maim as few soldiers as possible. If this is ignored, let the gods openly express their displeasure at those mortals who dare to defy them. Divine punishment for this type of disobedience can come in many forms. Here are a few that should go a long way towards discouraging this kind of bad behavior:

Offenders temporarily or permanently rendered sterile or unable to sire sons. This could be accompanied by an obvious mark on the face, so all will know this person offended the gods.

A whole kingdom where no new pregnancies happen for several years.

Terrible, incurable itching in sensitive spots until proper sacrifices of atonement have been performed.

For more dramatic effect, small (and oh-so-precise) bolts from the blue aimed where it will hurt the offender the most each time someone breaks the rules during a large battle.

Even if divine punishment isn't an actual option, the religious leaders could always spread stories of this sort of thing happening elsewhere. Keep disobeying and you could be next!


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .