What were the causes of the first world war?

by Edward
(Homa Bay)

Four main causes of WW1. The direct cause of WWI was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. However historians feel that a number of factors contributed to the rivalry between the Great powers that allowed war on such a wide-scale to break out.


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On 28 June 1914, a Serbian shot an Austrian. Within six weeks, many of the countries of Europe had become involved in a war that was to cause the deaths of 10 million soldiers, but was the assassination the only cause of war?
Four underlying causes of war

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand signalled the rapid slide into world war, but this wasn't the only cause. There were underlying causes in the run-up to the First World War.
In the 1930s, historians argued that there were four underlying long-term causes of the First World War:

Nationalism - the belief that your country is better than others. This made nations assertive and aggressive.

Imperialism - the desire to conquer colonies, especially in Africa. This brought the powers into conflict - Germany wanted an empire. France and Britain already had empires.

Militarism (Arms Race) - the attempt to build up a strong army and navy gave nations the means and will to make war.

Alliances - in 1882, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy formed the Triple Alliance. This alarmed, France, Britain and Russia. By 1907, they had all joined the Triple Entente. Europe was divided into two armed camps, to help each other if there was a war.

Revision tip and answer preparation

Revision tip

Make a spidergram of the four underlying causes of the First World War.

Use the information from the interactive map to find examples of nationalism, imperialism, militarism and alliances in each country and add them to the spidergram.

Answer preparation

Make a note of the facts and arguments that explain:

1. Why the countries of Europe formed two alliance blocs.

2. How the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 affected the relationship between France and Germany.

3. How each of the four long-term causes helped to increase the likelihood of war.

4. Which of the four long-term causes was the greatest threat to peace.

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