Civil wars have been a familiar and persistent feature of human civilisation. Although origins of civil war go back to the days of antiquity1 – since the time humanity organised itself into settled societies with clear rules and laws – it has defied easy generalisations. The complex nature of civil war makes it necessary to inquire not only into its general characteristics but also into the circumstances behind its emergence and prevalence. Civil wars must be treated as an organism capable of going through the cycle of development, decay and eventual demise. To understand this organism first we need to situate it within a clear framework of interpretation.