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The plundering of the Frankfurter Judengasse, 22 August 1614

Looting is the act of stealing, or the taking of goods by force, typically in the midst of a military, political, or other social crisis, such as war,[1] natural disasters (where law and civil enforcement are temporarily ineffective),[2] or rioting.[3] The proceeds of all these activities can be described as booty, loot, plunder, spoils, or pillage.[4][5]

During modern-day armed conflicts, looting is prohibited by international law, and constitutes a war crime.[6][7]

After disasters[edit]

During a disaster, police and military forces are sometimes unable to prevent looting when they are overwhelmed by humanitarian or combat concerns, or they cannot be summoned because of damaged communications infrastructure. Especially during natural disasters, many civilians may find themselves forced to take what does not belong to them in order to survive.[8] How to respond to that and where the line between unnecessary "looting" and necessary "scavenging" lies are often dilemmas for governments.[9][10] In other cases, looting may be tolerated or even encouraged by governments for political or other reasons, including religious, social or economic ones.


In armed conflict[edit]

The sacking and looting of Mechelen by Spanish troops led by the Duke of Alba, 2 October 1572

Looting by a victorious army during war has been a common practice throughout recorded history.[11] Foot soldiers viewed plunder as a way to supplement an often-meagre income[12] and transferred wealth became part of the celebration of victory. In the wake of the Napoleonic Wars and particularly after World War II, norms against wartime plunder became widely accepted.[11]

In the upper ranks, the proud exhibition of the loot plundered formed an integral part of the typical Roman triumph, and Genghis Khan was not unusual in proclaiming that the greatest happiness was "to vanquish your enemies... to rob them of their wealth".[13]

In ancient times, looting was sometimes prohibited due to religious concerns. For example, King Clovis I of the Franks, forbade his soldiers to loot when they campaigned near St Martin's shrine in Tours, for fear of offending the saint.[14] Moses, Joshua and Samuel at various points ordered the Israelites not to take loot from their enemies due to God's commandment.

In warfare in ancient times, the spoils of war included the defeated populations, which were often enslaved. Women and children might become absorbed into the victorious country's population, as concubines, eunuchs and slaves.[15][16] In other pre-modern societies, objects made of precious metals were the preferred target of war looting, largely because of their ease of portability. In many cases, looting offered an opportunity to obtain treasures and works of art that otherwise would not have been obtainable. Beginning in the early modern period and reaching its peak in the New Imperialism era, European colonial powers frequently looted areas they captured during military campaigns against non-European states.[17] In the 1930s, and even more so during the Second World War, Nazi Germany engaged in large-scale and organized looting of art and property, particularly in Nazi-occupied Poland.[18][19]

Looting, combined with poor military discipline, has occasionally been an army's downfall[citation needed] since troops who have dispersed to ransack an area may become vulnerable to counter-attack, a good example being during the 1967 First Invasion of Onitsha, where the victorious Nigerian troops were encircled and annihilated while looting. In other cases, for example, the Wahhabi sack of Karbala in 1801 or 1802, loot has contributed to further victories for an army.[20] Not all looters in wartime are conquerors; the looting of Vistula Land by the retreating Imperial Russian Army in 1915[21] was among the factors sapping the loyalty of Poles to Russia. Local civilians can also take advantage of a breakdown of order to loot public and private property, as took place at the Iraq Museum in the course of the Iraq War in 2003.[22] Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy's novel War and Peace describes widespread looting by Moscow's citizens before Napoleon's troops entered the city in 1812, along with looting by French troops elsewhere.

In 1990 and 1991, during the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein's soldiers caused significant damage to both Kuwaiti and Saudi infrastructure. They also stole from private companies and homes.[23][24] In April 2003, looters broke into the National Museum of Iraq, and thousands of artefacts remain missing.[25][26]

Syrian conservation sites and museums were looted during the Syrian Civil War, with items being sold on the international black market.[27][28] Reports from 2012 suggested that the antiquities were being traded for weapons by the various combatants.[29][30]

Prohibited under international law[edit]

Both customary international law and international treaties prohibit pillage in armed conflict.[6] The Lieber Code, the Brussels Declaration (1874), and the Oxford Manual have recognized the prohibition against pillage.[6] The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 (modified in 1954) obliges military forces not only to avoid the destruction of enemy property but also to provide for its protection.[31] Article 8 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court provides that in international warfare, "pillaging a town or place, even when taken by assault", is a war crime.[6] In the aftermath of World War II, a number of war criminals were prosecuted for pillage. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (1993–2017) brought several prosecutions for pillage.[6]

The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 explicitly prohibits the looting of civilian property during wartime.[6][32]

Theoretically, to prevent such looting, unclaimed property is moved to the custody of the Custodian of Enemy Property, to be handled until returned to its owners.

Modern conflicts[edit]

Vandalized and looted Aldi Store during the George Floyd protests in Minneapolis , May 28 2020 .

Despite international prohibitions against the practice of looting, the ease with which it can be done means that it remains relatively common, particularly during outbreaks of civil unrest during which rules of war may not yet apply. The 2011 Egyptian Revolution, for example, caused a significant increase in the looting of antiquities from archaeological sites in Egypt, as the government lost the ability to protect the sites.[33] Other acts of modern looting, such as the looting and destruction of artifacts from the National Museum of Iraq by Islamic State militants, can be used as an easy way to express contempt for the concept of rules of war altogether.[34]

In the case of a sudden change in a country or region's government, it can be difficult to determine what constitutes looting as opposed to a new government taking custody of the property in question. This can be especially difficult if the new government is only partially recognized at the time the property is moved, as was the case during the 2021 Taliban offensive, during which a number of artifacts and a large amount of property of former government officials who had fled the country fell into the hands of the Taliban before they were recognized as the legitimate government of Afghanistan by other countries. Further looting and burning of civilian homes and villages has been defended by the Taliban as within their right as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.[35]

Looting can also be common in cases where civil unrest is contained largely within the borders of a country or during peacetime. Riots in the wake of the 2020 George Floyd protests in numerous American cities led to increased amounts of looting, as looters took advantage of the delicate political situation and civil unrest surrounding the riots themselves.[36][37][38] Up to 175 Target stores closed Nationwide during the disturbances.[39][40]

During the ongoing Kashmir conflict, looting of Kashmiris trapped between the Indian and Pakistani militarized zones is common and widespread.[41]

In 2022, international observers accused Russia of engaging in large scale looting during the Russo-Ukrainian War, reporting the widespread looting of everything from food to industrial equipment.[42] Despite the publication of numerous photos and videos by Ukrainian journalists and civilians, numerous Russian commanders have denied these claims. International observers have theorized that this looting is either the result of direct orders, despite to Russia's claims to the contrary, or due to Russian soldiers not being issued with adequate food and other resources by their commanders.[43]

Archaeological removals[edit]

The term "looting" is also sometimes used to refer to antiquities being removed from countries by unauthorized people, either domestic people breaking the law seeking monetary gain or foreign nations, which are usually more interested in prestige or previously, "scientific discovery". An example might be the removal of the contents of Egyptian tombs that were transported to museums across the West.[44]

Looting of industry[edit]

As part of World War II reparations, Soviet forces systematically plundered the Soviet occupation zone of Germany, including the Recovered Territories, which later transferred to Poland. The Soviets sent valuable industrial equipment, infrastructure and whole factories to the Soviet Union.[45][46]

Many factories in the rebels' zone of Aleppo during the Syrian Civil War were reported as being plundered and their assets transferred abroad.[47][48] Agricultural production and electronic power plants were also seized, to be sold elsewhere.[49][50]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Baghdad protests over looting". BBC News. BBC. 2003-04-12. Retrieved 2010-10-22.
  2. ^ "World: Americas Looting frenzy in quake city". BBC News. 1999-01-28. Retrieved 2010-10-22.
  3. ^ "Argentine president resigns". BBC News. 2001-12-21. Retrieved 2010-10-22.
  4. ^ "the definition of looting". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 2016-12-12.
  5. ^ "Booty – Define Booty at Dictionary.com".
  6. ^ a b c d e f Rule 52. Pillage is prohibited., Customary IHL Database, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)/Cambridge University Press.
  7. ^ Hague Convention on the Law and Customs of War on Land (Hague II), article 28.
  8. ^ Sawer, Philip Sherwell and Patrick (2010-01-16). "Haiti earthquake: looting and gun-fights break out". The Daily Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Archived from the original on 2022-01-12. Retrieved 2020-07-13.
  9. ^ "Indonesian food minister tolerates looting". BBC News. July 21, 1998. Retrieved May 11, 2010.
  10. ^ Jacob, Binu; Mawson, Anthony R.; Payton, Marinelle; Guignard, John C. (2008). "Disaster Mythology and Fact: Hurricane Katrina and Social Attachment". Public Health Reports. 123 (5): 555–566. doi:10.1177/003335490812300505. ISSN 0033-3549. PMC 2496928. PMID 18828410.
  11. ^ a b Sandholtz, Wayne (2008). "Dynamics of International Norm Change: Rules against Wartime Plunder". European Journal of International Relations. 14 (1): 101–131. doi:10.1177/1354066107087766. ISSN 1354-0661. S2CID 143721778.
  12. ^ Hsi-sheng Chi, Warlord politics in China, 1916–1928, Stanford University Press, 1976, ISBN 0804708940, str. 93
  13. ^ Henry Hoyle Howorth History of the Mongols from the 9th to the 19th Century: Part 1 the Mongols Proper and the Kalmyks, Cosimo Inc. 2008.
  14. ^ A History of the Franks, Gregory of Tours. Pantianos classics, 1916
  15. ^ John K. Thorton, African Background in American Colonization, in The Cambridge economic history of the United States, Stanley L. Engerman, Robert E. Gallman (ed.), Cambridge University Press, 1996, ISBN 0521394422, p. 87. "African states waged war to acquire slaves [...] raids that appear to have been more concerned with obtaining loot (including slaves) than other objectives."
  16. ^ Sir John Bagot Glubb, The Empire of the Arabs, Hodder and Stoughton, 1963, p. 283. "...thousand Christian captives formed part of the loot and were subsequently sold as slaves in the markets of Syria".
  17. ^ Cuno, James (2002). Whose Culture?: The Promise of Museums and the Debate over Antiquities. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691154435.
  18. ^ (in Polish) J. R. Kudelski, Tajemnice nazistowskiej grabieży polskich zbiorów sztuki, Warszawa 2004.
  19. ^ "Nazi loot claim 'compelling'". BBC News. October 2, 2002. Retrieved May 11, 2010.
  20. ^ Wayne H. Bowen, The History of Saudi Arabia, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2008, p. 73. ISBN 0313340129
  21. ^ (in Polish) Andrzej Garlicki, Z dziejów Drugiej Rzeczypospolitej, Wydawnictwa Szkolne i Pedagogiczne, 1986, ISBN 8302022454, p. 147
  22. ^ Myers, Steven Lee, Iraq Museum Reopens Six Years After Looting, New York Times, February 23, 2009
  23. ^ Kelly, Michael (1991-03-24). "The Rape and Rescue of Kuwaiti City". The New Republic. ISSN 0028-6583. Retrieved 2020-06-10.
  24. ^ "Oil Fires in Iraq". earthobservatory.nasa.gov. 2016-09-02. Retrieved 2020-06-10.
  25. ^ Barker, Craig. "Fifteen years after looting, thousands of artefacts are still missing from Iraq's national museum". The Conversation. Retrieved 2020-07-13.
  26. ^ Samuel, Sigal (2018-03-19). "It's Disturbingly Easy to Buy Iraq's Archeological Treasures". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2020-07-13.
  27. ^ Swann, Steve (2019-05-02). "'Loot-to-order' antiquities sold on Facebook". BBC News. Retrieved 2020-07-10.
  28. ^ Harkin, James. "The Race to Save Syria's Archaeological Treasures". Smithsonian. Retrieved 2020-07-10.
  29. ^ Baker, Aryn (2012-09-12). "Syria's Looted Past: How Ancient Artifacts Are Being Traded for Guns". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 2020-07-10.
  30. ^ Arbuthnott, Hala Jaber, Lebanon, and George. "Syrians loot Roman treasures to buy guns". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 2020-07-10.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  31. ^ Barbara T. Hoffman, Art and Cultural Heritage: Law, Policy, and Practice, Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 57. ISBN 0521857643
  32. ^ E. Lauterpacht, C. J. Greenwood, Marc Weller, The Kuwait Crisis: Basic Documents, Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 154. ISBN 0521463084
  33. ^ Gannon,LiveScience, Megan. ""Space Archaeologists" Show Spike in Looting at Egypt's Ancient Sites". Scientific American. Retrieved 2022-09-20.
  34. ^ "'Cultural War': Iraq Mourns Relics Destroyed by ISIS". NBC News. 29 June 2015. Retrieved 2022-09-20.
  35. ^ "Taliban looted, torched Afghan homes after evicting residents -Human Rights Watch". Reuters. 2021-07-07. Retrieved 2022-09-20.
  36. ^ Wagner, Dennis. "'Peaceful protests got hijacked': Some criminals used George Floyd protests as cover for looting, police say". USA Today. Retrieved 2022-09-20.
  37. ^ Tingston, Nhx (June 6, 2020). "Looter from BLM and George Floyd Protest Bragged About Theft on Facebook While Offering Stolen Goods for Sale". Techtimes. Retrieved March 5, 2024.
  38. ^ "List: Austin businesses looted during protests". kvue.com. 2020-06-01. Retrieved 2024-03-05.
  39. ^ Voytko, Lisette. "Target Closes 175 Stores Nationwide In Wake Of George Floyd Protests, Looting". Forbes. Retrieved 2024-03-05.
  40. ^ "VIDEO: People loot Minneapolis Target in wake of George Floyd protests". KRON4. 2020-05-28. Retrieved 2024-03-05.
  41. ^ "Two arrested for beating, looting homeless man in Srinagar: Police". The Kashmir Walla. 2022-09-12. Retrieved 2022-09-20.
  42. ^ Fylyppov, Olexsandr; Lister, Tim (May 2, 2022). "Russians plunder $5M farm vehicles from Ukraine – to find they've been remotely disabled". CNN. Retrieved 21 June 2022.
  43. ^ "'Hungry' Russian Soldiers Loot Ukrainian Shops". rferl. Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty. 2 March 2022. Retrieved 21 June 2022.
  44. ^ "Egypt's Antiquities Chief Combines Passion, Clout to Protect Artifacts". National Geographic News. October 24, 2006. Archived from the original on November 6, 2006.
  45. ^ "Między Modernizacja a Marnotrawstwem" (in Polish). Institute of National Remembrance. Archived from the original on 2005-03-21. See also other copy online Archived 2007-04-26 at the Wayback Machine
  46. ^ "Armia Czerwona na Dolnym Śląski" (in Polish). Institute of National Remembrance. Archived from the original on 2005-03-21.
  47. ^ "Turkey looted Syria factory: Damascus – World News". Hürriyet Daily News. 10 January 2013. Retrieved 2020-07-10.
  48. ^ Webel, Charles; Tomass, Mark (2017). Assessing the War on Terror: Western and Middle Eastern Perspectives. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-1315469164.
  49. ^ Aljaleel, Alaa; Darke, Diana (2019). The Last Sanctuary in Aleppo: A remarkable true story of courage, hope and survival. Headline. ISBN 978-1472260550.
  50. ^ Badcock, James (2019-01-14). "Turkey accused of plundering olive oil from Syria to sell in the EU". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Archived from the original on 2022-01-12. Retrieved 2020-07-13.


  • Abudu, Margaret, et al., "Black Ghetto Violence: A Case Study Inquiry into the Spatial Pattern of Four Los Angeles Riot Event-Types", 44 Social Problems 483 (1997)
  • Curvin, Robert and Bruce Porter (1979), Blackout Looting
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  • Kończal, Kornelia (2017), The Quest for German Property in East Central Europe after 1945: The Semantics of Plunder and the Sense of Reconstruction, in: Yvonne Kleinmann among others (ed.): Imaginations and Configurations of Polish Society. From the Middle Ages through the Twentieth Century, Göttingen: Wallstein, p. 291–312.
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External links[edit]

  • Media related to Looting at Wikimedia Commons