Exploration 2B: Codes over Time


Exploration 2B is designed to illustrate the universality of the effort to limit the devastation caused by war. In every period of history, and throughout the world, people have sought to impose restraints on the way war may be waged, by creating codes and applying certain traditions. Students study these historical examples after they have examined the need for rules to regulate war and looked at the basic rules of modern international humanitarian law (IHL) in Exploration 2A.

This course is one 45-minute session.


  • To become aware that, in many places and during many periods, people have created codes and applied traditions to limit the devastation caused by war
  • To learn of some written and unwritten examples of historical prohibitions and requirements to show the relationship between the realities of war and the evolution of humanitarian norms

Key Ideas

  • People’s efforts to limit the brutality of war are universal.
  • History contains numerous examples of rules that aim to restrain the use of violence in order to reduce unnecessary suffering and destruction.


Choose which codes and traditions (from “Codes and traditions of warfare”) to use in step 2.



What is the Earliest Evidence of Rules for Armed Conflict?

(10 minutes)

Encourage students to speculate on this question and discuss their ideas. (There is no one right answer; the point to stress is that attempts to lay down such rules go far back in time.)

Remind them that rules need not be written down; an unwritten practice of which everyone is aware is also a rule if everyone is expected to follow it.


Make the Basic Rules of IHL Memorable

(10 minutes)

Have students in small groups develop short phrases or slogans to summarize each of the basic rules of IHL and make the rules memorable.

[For example, "Spare surrendering soldiers," "Care for the sick and wounded," "Respect the emblem."]

Present “Codes and traditions of warfare.”

Possible questions:

  • What rules do you see appearing more than once?
  • [For example: people who are not involved in the fighting or are no longer involved in the fighting – 'non-combatants' – are protected; the use of some weapons is regulated]

  • Which codes and traditions give explanations for their rules? What are these explanations?
  • [For example: codes that reflect warriors' honour]

  • Do you see any rules that are like the ones you proposed?
  • Compare these historical rules with the basic rules of modern IHL.


    Note the Diverse Origins of the Rules

    (10 minutes)

    On a map of the world, have students locate the areas these historical rules come from.