A warlord is a person with power who has both military and civil[1] control over a subnational area due to armed forces loyal to the warlord and not to a central authority. The term can also mean one who espouses the ideal that war is necessary, and has the means and authority to engage in war. Today, the word has a strong connotation that the person exercises far more power than his official title or rank (if any) legitimately permits. Under feudalism, by contrast, the local military leader may enjoy great autonomy and a personal army, and still derive legitimacy from formal fealty to a central authority.

Warlordism was coined to describe chaos at the end of the Qing Dynasty and the birth of the Republic of China, especially after the death of Yuan Shikai, as the warlord era of China. It can however be used to describe similar periods in other countries or epochs such as in Japan during the Sengoku period, or in China during the Three Kingdoms, or in Somalia during the Somali Civil War.

The word "warlord" entered English as a translation from the German word "Kriegsherr", which was an official title of the German Emperor. Its use for Chinese military commanders who had a regional power base and ruled independently of the central government dates from the early 1920s, with Bertram Lenox Simpson being one source, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Today the Germans use both, the English word, and the old "Kriegsherr" in their language.[citation needed]


Current situtation

Warlordism appears in so-called failed states: states in which central government and nationwide authorities have collapsed or exist merely formally without actual control over the state territory. They are usually defined by a high level of clientelism, low bureaucratic control and a high motivation in prolonging war for the maintenance of their economic system, mainly based on the extraction of natural resources.



Warlords exercised widespread rule in China several times in Chinese history — notably in the period starting from the Xinhai Revolution, when numerous provinces rebelled and declared their independence from the Qing Dynasty in 1911, and especially after Yuan Shikai's death, until the Northern Expedition in 1927. This was a period known as the Warlord era. Despite the superficial unification of China in 1927 under the rule of the Kuomintang (KMT) under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, warlordism remained a problem until the victory of the Communist Party of China in 1949.



The Tang Dynasty had the highest number of warlords in Chinese history, and in turn has become known as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period.




Republic of China

There were twelve warlords who served as Area Commanders officially:

  • Zhang Zuolin (Chang Tso-lin) — "Old Marshal", "Rain Marshal" or "Mukden Tiger".
  • Zhang Xueliang (Chang Hsüeh-liang) — "Young Marshal".
  • Zhang Zongchang (Chang Tsung-ch'ang) — "The Dogmeat General".
  • Feng Yuxiang (Feng Yü-hsiang) — "The Christian General".
  • Bai Chongxi (Pai Ch'ung-hsi) — "The Muslim General".
  • Yan Xishan (Yen Hsi-shan) — "The Model Governor".
  • Wu Peifu — "The Jade Marshal".


Warlordism in Europe is usually connected to various mercenary companies and their chieftains, which often were de facto power-holders in the areas where they resided. Such free companies would arise in a situation when the recognized central power had collapsed, such as in the Great Interregnum in Germany (1254–1278) or in France during the Hundred Years' War after the Battle of Poitiers.

Free company mercenary captains, such as Sir John Hawkwood, Roger de Flor of Catalan Company or Hugh Calveley could be considered as warlords. Several condottieri in Italy can also be classified as warlords.

Ygo Gales Galama was a famous Frisian warlord, and so was his cousin Pier Gerlofs Donia, who was the leader of the Arumer Black Heap.

The Imperial commanders-in-chief during the reign of Emperor Maximilian I did hold the title Kriegsherr of which the direct translation was "warlord", but they were not warlords in sense of the word defined.

Russian Civil War

Warlordism was widespread in Civil War-era Russia (1918–1922). Many territories weren't under control of either Red government in Petrograd (later in Moscow) or White governments in Omsk and Rostov. These territories were controlled by warlords of various political colors. Anarchist warlords Nestor Makhno, leader of Free Territory, and his ally Maria Nikiforova operated in Ukraine. The Cossack ataman Semyonov held territories in Transbaikalia region, and the Bloody Baron Ungern von Sternberg was the dictator of Mongolia for a short time.

Note that the White generals such as Kolchak or Denikin are not considered warlords, because they created a legitimate, though ramshackle government and military command.


During most of the 16th century, before the Tokugawa era, Japan was tormented by repeated wars among rival warlords (see Sengoku Era). Each warlord had several castles, neighbouring land with peasants and a private army of samurai.


During the last years of the Kingdom of Silla, also known as the Later Three Kingdoms, various warlords rebelled against the government and were in de facto control of the Korean Peninsula. The warlordism in Korea plagued the nation until Goryeo Dynasty finally defeated and merged all the warlords and united the country once again.


Twelve warlords war

A historical era between 945 AD to 967 AD ended by Đinh Bộ Lĩnh, a retainer of the warlord Trần Lãm.

  • Ngô Xương Xí (吳昌熾) held Bình Kiều, now Khoái Châu, Hung Yen Province.
  • Đỗ Cảnh Thạc (杜景碩) referred himself as the Duke Đỗ Cảnh, held Đỗ Động Giang, now Thanh Oai, Ha Tay Province.
  • Trần Lãm (陳覽) referred himself as the Duke Trần Minh, held Bố Hải Khấu, Kỳ Bố, Thai Binh Province.
  • Kiều Công Hãn (矯公罕) referred himself as Kiều Tam Chế, held Phong Châu – Bạch Hạc, Phu Tho Province
  • Nguyễn Khoan (阮寬) referred himself as Nguyễn Thái Bình, held Tam Đái - Vĩnh Tường, Vinh Phuc Province
  • Ngô Nhật Khánh (吳日慶) referred himself as the Duke Ngô Lãm, held Đường Lâm , Ha Tay Province
  • Lý Khuê (李奎) referred himself as Lý Lãng, held Siêu Loại - Thuận Thành, Bac Ninh Province.
  • Nguyễn Thủ Tiệp (阮守捷) referred himself as Duke Nguyễn Lệnh, held Tiên Du, Bac Ninh Province
  • Lã Đường (呂唐) referred himself as the Duke Lã Tá, held Tế Giang - Văn Giang, Hung Yen Province
  • Nguyễn Siêu (阮超) referred himself as the Duke Nguyễn Hữu, held Tây Phù Liệt - Thanh Trì, Hà Nội
  • Kiều Thuận (矯順) referred himself as the Duke Kiều Lệnh, held Hồi Hồ - Cẩm Khê, Ha Tay Province
  • Phạm Bạch Hổ (範白虎) referred himself as Phạm Phòng Át, held Đằng Châu, Hung Yen Province.

Lý dynasty

Toward the end of the Lý dynasty, the central government failed to execute its legitimate authority, giving rise to many local warlords, later conquered by chancellor Trần Thủ Độ of the Trần clan.

Lê dynasty

Years of unrest and civil war between Lê and Mạc courts saw many warlords' rise and fall. The Vũ clan in Tuyên Quang enjoyed their autonomy for 200 years before subdued by Lê force.


After the fall of the Mongol Empire, Mongolia was divided between the Eastern[disambiguation needed ] and Western Mongols. At the time of disintegration, many warlords tried to enthrone themselves or rule the khanate jointly, however, there had been powerful de factos in all parts of the Mongol Empire before.

Mongol Empire

Yuan Dynasty

Golden Horde


Chagatai Khanate

  • Qazaghan
  • Amir Bulaji of the Dughlat, who raised Tughlugh Timur Khan.
  • Timur, who would become great Tamerlane

Northern Yuan Dynasty

  • Toghan of the Oirats
  • Arughtai, taishi of the Asud
  • Esyn Tayshi, the Oirat leader who enthrone himself the Khan of the Mongols and captured the Emperor of Ming China.
  • Iburai Taishi of the Kharchin or Uyghurstan.
  • Bekersen of the Monggoljin

Bogd Khanate Mongolia

  • Dambijaa
  • Baron Ungern von Sternberg

Further reading

  • Sasha Lezhnev: Crafting Peace: Strategies to Deal with Warlords in Collapsing States. Plymouth 2005, ISBN 978-0-7391-1765-1.

See also


  1. ^ "warlord - definition of warlord by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia". Thefreedictionary.com. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/warlord. Retrieved 2010-06-25. 
  2. ^ Grono, Nick; Rondeaux, Candace (2010-01-17). "Dealing with brutal Afghan warlords is a mistake". Boston.com. http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2010/01/17/dealing_with_brutal_afghan_warlords_is_a_mistake/. Retrieved 2010-06-25. 
  3. ^ Malalai Joya "The big lie of Afghanistan - My country hasn't been liberated: it's still under the warlords' control, and Nato occupation only reinforces their power"

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Warlord — (Englisch, so viel wie Kriegsherr) ist der Anführer eines Heeres, siehe Kriegsherr. der Name einer 1981 gegründeten Heavy Metal Band, in welcher zuletzt Hammerfall Sänger Joachim Cans gesungen hat, siehe Warlord (Band) der Name einer zwischen… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • warlord — (n.) 1856, from WAR (Cf. war) (n.) + LORD (Cf. lord) (n.). Often a translation of Ger. Kriegsherr or Chinese junfa …   Etymology dictionary

  • warlord — ► NOUN ▪ a military commander, especially one who autonomously commands a region …   English terms dictionary

  • warlord — [wôr′lôrd΄] n. 1. a high military officer in a warlike nation 2. an aggressive tyrant 3. a local ruler or bandit leader, as formerly in China, with some sort of military following in a district where the established government is weak warlordism… …   English World dictionary

  • Warlord UK — Infobox musical artist Name = Warlord Img capt = Warlord Img size = 200 Landscape = Background = group or band Alias = Origin = Birmingham, United Kingdom Genre = Death metal Thrash metal Years active = 1992 – 1998 REFORMED AUGUST 2008 Label =… …   Wikipedia

  • warlord — warlordism, n. /wawr lawrd /, n. 1. a military leader, esp. of a warlike nation. 2. a military commander who has seized power, esp. in one section of a country. 3. tuchun. [1855 60; WAR1 + LORD] * * * In China, an independent military commander… …   Universalium

  • warlord — [[t]wɔ͟ː(r)lɔː(r)d[/t]] warlords N COUNT (disapproval) If you describe a leader of a country or organization as a warlord, you are critical of them because they have achieved power by behaving in an aggressive and violent way. He had been a… …   English dictionary

  • warlord — UK [ˈwɔː(r)ˌlɔː(r)d] / US [ˈwɔrˌlɔrd] noun [countable] Word forms warlord : singular warlord plural warlords a) a military leader b) the leader of any group involved in fighting …   English dictionary

  • Warlord — War|lord 〈[wɔ:lɔ:d] m. 6〉 militärischer Machthaber, der (bes. in einem Bürger od. Guerillakrieg) außerhalb der offiziellen Regierungsmacht agiert ● er lebt wie ein Warlord im tiefsten Dschungel [engl.] * * * War|lord [ wɔ:lɔ:d ], der; s, s [engl …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Warlord — War|lord 〈[wɔ:lɔ:d] m.; Gen.: s, Pl.: s〉 militärischer Machthaber, der (bes. in einem Bürger od. Guerillakrieg) außerhalb der offiziellen Regierungsmacht agiert; er lebt wie ein Warlord im Dschungel [Etym.: engl.] …   Lexikalische Deutsches Wörterbuch

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”