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The Chios massacre, 1822
Mass grave of 26 republicans in Estépar, Northern Spain

A massacre can be a specific incident which involves the indiscriminate killing of a large number of people,[1] although it is not necessarily a crime against humanity.[2]


The modern definition of massacre as "indiscriminate slaughter, carnage", and the subsequent verb of this form, derive from late 16th century Middle French, evolved from Middle French "macacre, macecle" meaning "slaughterhouse, butchery." Further origins are dubious, though may be related to Latin macellum "provisions store, butcher shop."[3][4][5]

The term is also used metaphorically for events that do not involve deaths, such as the Saturday Night Massacre—the dismissals and resignations of political appointees during Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal.


Robert Melson's "basic working definition," reads, "by massacre we shall mean the intentional killing by political actors of a significant number of relatively defenseless people... the motives for massacre need not be rational in order for the killings to be intentional... Mass killings can be carried out for various reasons, including a response to false rumors... political massacre... should be distinguished from criminal or pathological mass killings... as political bodies we of course include the state and its agencies, but also nonstate actors..."[6]

Mark Levene defines a massacre as historically involving the murder of more than one individual, within an outrageous moral deficiency: "Although it is not possible to set unalterable rules about when multiple murders become massacres. Equally important is the fact that massacres are not carried out by individuals, instead they are carried out by groups... the use of superior, even overwhelming force..." Levene excludes "legal, or even some quasi-legal, mass executions." He also points out that it is "...most often ... when the act is outside the normal moral bounds of the society witnessing it... In any war ... this killing is often acceptable."[7]


The Chios massacre was an incident during the Greek War of Independence in 1822.[8]

Twenty-six republicans were assassinated by Franco's Nationalists at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, between August and September 1936. This mass grave is located at the small town of Estépar, in Northern Spain. The excavation occurred in July–August 2014.[citation needed]

The El Mozote massacre, occurred in El Salvador in 1981.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "the definition of massacre". Archived from the original on November 23, 2016. Retrieved November 24, 2017. 
  2. ^ Gallant, Thomas W. (2001). "review of Levene, Roberts The Massacre in History". Crime, History & Societies. 5 (1). 
  3. ^ "(Archived) Merriam-Webster: Massacre". Archived from the original on January 8, 2017. Retrieved January 8, 2017. 
  4. ^ "(Archived) Etymonline: Massacre". Archived from the original on January 8, 2017. Retrieved January 8, 2017. 
  5. ^ "(Archived) Oxford: Massacre". Oxford Online Dictionary. Archived from the original on January 8, 2017. Retrieved January 8, 2017. 
  6. ^ Melson, Robert (July 1982). "Theoretical Inquiry into the Armenian Massacres of 1894–1896". Comparative Studies in Society and History. 24 (3): 482–3. doi:10.1017/s0010417500010100. 
  7. ^ Levene, Mark; Roberts, Penny (January 1, 1999). The Massacre in History. Berghahn Books. p. 90. ISBN 978-1-57181-934-5. Archived from the original on May 10, 2016. 
  8. ^ Dadrian, Vahakn N. (1999). Warrant for Genocide: Key Elements of Turko-Armenian Conflict. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers. p. 153. ISBN 1-56000-389-8. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Kenz, David El. "GLOSSARY TERM: Massacre". Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence. Retrieved November 22, 2013. 
  • Levene, Mark; Roberts, Penny, eds. (1999). The massacre in history (1. publ. ed.). Providence: Berghahn Book. ISBN 978-1-57181-934-5.