Prisoner of war

American prisoners captured by the Wehrmacht in the Ardennes in December 1944

A prisoner of war (POW) is a person, whether a combatant or a non-combatant, who is held captive by a belligerent power during or immediately after an armed conflict. The earliest recorded usage of the phrase "prisoner of war" dates back to 1610.[1]

Belligerents hold prisoners of war in custody for a range of legitimate and illegitimate reasons, such as isolating them from enemy combatants still in the field (releasing and repatriating them in an orderly manner after hostilities), demonstrating military victory, punishing them, prosecuting them for war crimes, exploiting them for their labour, recruiting or even conscripting them as their own combatants, collecting military and political intelligence from them, or indoctrinating them in new political or religious beliefs.[2]

Ancient times

Engraving of Nubian prisoners, Abu Simbel, Egypt, 13th century BC

For most of human history, depending on the culture of the victors, enemy combatants on the losing side in a battle who had surrendered and been taken as prisoners of war could expect to be either slaughtered or enslaved.[3] Early Roman gladiators could be prisoners of war, categorised according to their ethnic roots as Samnites, Thracians, and Gauls (Galli).[4] Homer's Iliad describes Greek and Trojan soldiers offering rewards of wealth to opposing forces who have defeated them on the battlefield in exchange for mercy, but their offers are not always accepted; see Lycaon for example.

Typically, victors made little distinction between enemy combatants and enemy civilians, although they were more likely to spare women and children. Sometimes the purpose of a battle, if not of a war, was to capture women, a practice known as raptio; the Rape of the Sabines involved, according to tradition, a large mass-abduction by the founders of Rome. Typically women had no rights, and were held legally as chattels.[citation needed][5][need quotation to verify]

In the fourth century AD, Bishop Acacius of Amida, touched by the plight of Persian prisoners captured in a recent war with the Roman Empire, who were held in his town under appalling conditions and destined for a life of slavery, took the initiative in ransoming them by selling his church's precious gold and silver vessels and letting them return to their country. For this he was eventually canonized.[6]

Other Languages
Ænglisc: Herenuma
العربية: أسير
Bân-lâm-gú: Hu-ló͘
беларуская: Ваеннапалонныя
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Ваеннапалонны
Чӑвашла: Тыткăн
dansk: Krigsfange
Diné bizaad: Yiisnááh
eesti: Sõjavang
Esperanto: Militkaptito
euskara: Gerra-preso
فارسی: اسیر
한국어: 포로
հայերեն: Ռազմագերիներ
Bahasa Indonesia: Tahanan perang
עברית: שבוי
lietuvių: Nelaisvė
magyar: Hadifogoly
Bahasa Melayu: Tawanan perang
Nederlands: Krijgsgevangene
日本語: 捕虜
norsk: Krigsfange
norsk nynorsk: Krigsfange
русский: Плен
shqip: Rob lufte
Simple English: Prisoner of war
slovenčina: Vojnový zajatec
slovenščina: Vojni ujetnik
српски / srpski: Ратни заробљеници
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Ratni zarobljenici
suomi: Sotavanki
татарча/tatarça: Әсир
Tiếng Việt: Tù binh
Zazaki: Tepışte
中文: 战俘