"Plunder" redirects here. For other uses, see Plunder (disambiguation).
"Ransack" redirects here. For the Transformers character, see Ransack (Transformers).
"Spoils of war" redirects here. For sexual violence in conflict, see war rape.
The plundering of the Frankfurter Judengasse, 22 August 1614

Looting, also referred to as sacking, ransacking, plundering, despoiling, despoliation, and pillaging, is the indiscriminate taking of goods by force as part of a military or political victory, or during a catastrophe, such as war,[1] natural disaster,[2] or rioting.[3] The term is also used in a broader sense to describe egregious instances of theft and embezzlement, such as the "plundering" of private or public assets by governments.[4] Looting is loosely distinguished from scavenging in terms of objects taken: scavenging implies taking of essential items such as food, water, shelter, or other material needed for survival while looting implies items not necessary for survival such as luxury goods, art work, precious metals or other assorted items of value to the looters. The proceeds of all these activities can be described as loot, plunder, spoils, or pillage.

Looters attempting to enter a cycle shop in North London during the 2011 England riots

Looting by type

War looting

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

Looting by a victorious army during war has been common practice throughout recorded history. For foot soldiers, it was viewed as a way to supplement their often meagre income[5] and was part of the celebration of victory. On higher levels, the proud exhibition of loot was 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..."[6]

In warfare in ancient times, the spoils of war included the defeated populations, which were often enslaved, and the women and children, who were often absorbed into the victorious country's population.[7][8] In other pre-modern societies, objects made of precious metals were the preferred target of war looting, largely because of their easy portability. In many cases looting was an opportunity to obtain treasures that otherwise would not have been obtainable. Since the 18th century, works of art have increasingly become a popular target. In the 1930s and even more so during World War II, Nazi Germany engaged in large scale and organized looting of art and property.[9][10]

Looting, combined with poor military discipline, has occasionally been an army's downfall. In other cases, for example the Wahhabi sack of Karbala, loot has financed further victories.[11] Not all looters in wartime are conquerors; the looting of Vistula Land by its retreating defenders in 1915[12] was among the factors sapping the loyalty of Poland in World War I. Local civilians can also take advantage of a breakdown of order to loot public and private property, such as took place at the National Museum of Iraq in the course of the Iraq War in 2003.[13] The novel War and Peace describes widespread looting by Moscow's citizens before Napoleon's troops enter the town, and looting by French troops elsewhere.

Archaeological removals

Further information: Grave robbery

Looting can also refer to antiquities formerly removed from countries by outsiders, such as some of the contents of Egyptian tombs which were transported to museums in Europe.[14] Other examples include the obelisks of Pharaoh Amenhotep II, in the (Oriental Museum, University of Durham, United Kingdom), Pharaoh Ptolemy IX, (Philae Obelisk, in Wimborne, Dorset, United Kingdom).

Looting of industry

In the aftermath of the Second World War Soviet forces systematically plundered the Soviet occupation zone of Germany, including the Recovered Territories which were to be transferred to Poland. They sent valuable industrial equipment, infrastructure and whole factories to the Soviet Union.[15][16]

Measures against looting

FAFN soldier has been caught by French Foreign Legion troops.

During a disaster, police and military are sometimes unable to prevent looting when they are overwhelmed by humanitarian or combat concerns, or cannot be summoned due to damaged communications infrastructure. Especially during natural disasters, some people find themselves forced to take what is not theirs in order to survive. How to respond to this, and where the line between unnecessary "looting" and necessary "scavenging" lies, is often a dilemma for governments.[17] In other cases, looting may be tolerated or even encouraged by governments for political or other reasons.

The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 explicitly prohibits the looting of civilian property during wartime.[18] The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 (modified in 1954) obliges military forces not only to avoid destruction of enemy property, but to provide protection to it.[19] Theoretically, to prevent such looting, unclaimed property is moved to the custody of the Custodian of Enemy Property, to be handled until the return to its owner.

Examples of looting

By conquerors

The iconic bust of Nefertiti, claimed by some to be illegally obtained by the Germans during the customary excavations at Tell el-Amarna in 1912.[20][21]
Iraqi looters in the archaeological site of Isin

By others

See also


  1. "Baghdad protests over looting". BBC News. BBC. 2003-04-12. Retrieved 2010-10-22.
  2. "World: Americas Looting frenzy in quake city". BBC Online Network. BBC. 1999-01-28. Retrieved 2010-10-22.
  3. "Argentine president resigns". BBC News. BBC. 2001-12-21. Retrieved 2010-10-22.
  4. "Definition of the word loot". Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, LLC. 2010.
  5. Hsi-sheng Chi, Warlord politics in China, 1916–1928, Stanford University Press, 1976, ISBN 0-8047-0894-0, str. 93
  6. 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.
  7. 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 0-521-39442-2, 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."
  8. 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".
  9. (Polish) J. R. Kudelski, Tajemnice nazistowskiej grabieży polskich zbiorów sztuki, Warszawa 2004.
  10. "Nazi loot claim 'compelling'". BBC News. October 2, 2002. Retrieved May 11, 2010.
  11. Wayne H. Bowen, The History of Saudi Arabia, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2008, p. 73. ISBN 0-313-34012-9
  12. (Polish) Andrzej Garlicki, Z dziejów Drugiej Rzeczypospolitej, Wydawnictwa Szkolne i Pedagogiczne, 1986, ISBN 83-02-02245-4, p. 147
  13. STEVEN LEE MYERS, Iraq Museum Reopens Six Years After Looting, New York Times, February 23, 2009
  14. "Egypt's Antiquities Chief Combines Passion, Clout to Protect Artifacts". National Geographic News. October 24, 2006.
  15. "MIĘDZY MODERNIZACJĄ A MARNOTRAWSTWEM" (in Polish). Institute of National Remembrance. Archived from the original on 2005-03-21. See also other copy online
  16. "ARMIA CZERWONA NA DOLNYM ŚLĄSKU" (in Polish). Institute of National Remembrance. Archived from the original on 2005-03-21.
  17. "Indonesian food minister tolerates looting". BBC News. July 21, 1998. Retrieved May 11, 2010.
  18. E. Lauterpacht, C. J. Greenwood, Marc Weller, The Kuwait Crisis: Basic Documents, Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 154. ISBN 0-521-46308-4
  19. Barbara T. Hoffman, Art and cultural heritage: law, policy, and practice, Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 57. ISBN 0-521-85764-3
  20. (English) "Top 10 Plundered Artifacts - Nefertiti's Bust". www.time.com. March 5, 2009. Retrieved 2009-08-27. "German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt (...) claimed to have an agreement with the Egyptian government that included rights to half his finds (...). But a new document suggests Borchardt intentionally misled the Egyptian government about Nefertiti."
  21. Will Nefertiti Return to Egypt for a Brief Visit? Egypt Asks Germany for a Majestic Loan by Stan Parchin (June 17, 2006) about.com
  22. Joel Stevens Allen, The Despoliation of Egypt: In Pre-Rabbinic, Rabbinic and Patristic Traditions, pg. 128, 2008, Brill Academic Pub, ISBN 90-04-16745-5.
  23. Brincat, Joseph M. "New Light on the Darkest Age in Malta's History". melitensiawth.com. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 June 2015.
  24. Hevia, James Louis (2003). English Lessons: The Pedagogy of Imperialism in Nineteenth-Century China. Durham; Hong Kong: Duke University Press; Hong Kong University Press. ISBN 0-8223-3151-9..
  25. Du Boulay, F.R.H. (2011). Servants of Empire: An Imperial Memoir of a British Family. London; New York: I.B Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84885-571-7..
  26. "On This Day: August 1, 1863". The New York Times.
  27. "A nation of looters: it even happened in the Blitz". The Week UK.
  28. "Penn Museum - University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology". upenn.edu.
  29. "Mob justice in Haiti". thestar.com. Toronto. 17 January 2010.
  30. "Looting Flares Where Authority Breaks Down"
  31. "Further riots in London as violence spreads across England". BBC News. August 9, 2011.
  32. Lewis, Paul; Taylor, Matthew; Quinn, Ben (August 8, 2011). "Second night of violence in London – and this time it was organised". The Guardian. London.
  33. MacKay, Robert (2002). Half the Battle: Civilian Morale in Britain During the Second World War. Manchester University Press. p. 84. ISBN 0-7190-5894-5.
  34. "UK riots: Trouble erupts in English cities". BBC News. August 10, 2011.
  35. "Baltimore Enlists National Guard and a Curfew to Fight Riots and Looting". The New York Times. April 27, 2015.


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