AskDefine | Define looting

Dictionary Definition

looting n : plundering during riots or in wartime [syn: robbery]

User Contributed Dictionary



looting (Plural: lootings)
  1. The act of looting, the act of stealing during a general disturbance.
    During the looting the looters stole everything they could and then set fire to the buildings.


act of looting

Verb form

  1. Present participle of loot.
    While looting the stores the looters took the opportunity for revenge by destroying what they didn't steal.

Extensive Definition

Looting (Hindi lūṭ, akin to Sanskrit luṇṭhati, [he] steals; also Latin latro, latronis [Sp. ladrón], "thief"), to rob, sacking, plundering, despoiling, or pillaging is the indiscriminate taking of goods by force as part of a military or political victory, or during a catastrophe or riot, such as during war, natural disaster, or rioting. The term is also used in a broader (some would argue metaphorical) sense, to describe egregious instances of theft and embezzlement, such as the "plundering" of private or public assets by corrupt or overly greedy corporate executives or government authorities. The proceeds of all these activities can be described as loot, plunder, or pillage.
Looting originally referred primarily to the plundering of villages and cities not only by victorious troops during warfare, but also by civilian members of the community (for example, see War and Peace, which describes widespread looting by Moscow's citizens before Napoleon's troops enter the town, and looting by French troops elsewhere; also note the looting of art treasures by the Nazis during WWII). Piracy is form of looting organized by ships on the high seas outside the control of a sovereign government. With the enactment of the Hague Convention of 1907 and the Geneva Convention of 1949, it is a crime to take or destroy real or personal property during an occupation unless it is "absolutely necessary".
During a disaster, police and military authorities are sometimes unable to prevent looting when they are overwhelmed by humanitarian or combat concerns, or cannot be summoned due to damaged communications infrastructure. Especially during natural disasters, some people find themselves forced to take what is not theirs in order to survive. How to respond to this is often a dilemma for the authorities. In other cases, looting may be tolerated or even encouraged by authorities for political or other reasons.

Reasons behind looting during disasters

Looting is often opportunistic, the apparent lapse in authority enabling willing persons to thieve with impunity. Looting also cascades through a group of people as one person believes that his contribution to the crime is lessened because someone else is looting (Diffusion of responsibility). People may also believe that if the goods are not stolen, then they will simply be wasted, and see their act as a lesser of two evils. Finally, a looter may believe that if he doesn't steal the property, it will simply be stolen by someone else and there will therefore be no benefit from his obedience. Looters are usually locals of the site of the disaster, and as such, may have lost a lot of their own property. This further encourages them to steal as it is reducing the negative impact of the disaster.
In extreme circumstances, looting may be the only way for a person to procure necessities for themselves and their loved ones. Many see this as an act of survival, rather than taking advantage of unfortunate events. Looting can be carried out by many individuals for essentials for survivals, as well as those who exploit the emergency to get free luxuries. In some circumstances, the maintaining of essential services requires "looting": for example, during the Hurricane Katrina disaster, police were required to "loot" gasoline out of "abandoned" cars in order to continue to operate their squad cars, and doctors had to obtain medical supplies from abandoned drugstores under armed police guard:

Measures against looting

In many countries, even in Western democracies that otherwise ban the death penalty, extraordinary measures may be taken against looters, during times of crisis. Looters may be summarily shot by the police, army, or property owners. Extraordinary measures, combined with an impressive show of force, help to discourage looting and to disperse crowds that would otherwise find a normal show of force non-threatening. This is also common police practice in discouraging potential riots – which are often associated with looting – from escalating.
The shooting of looters may also prevent further damage to the economy. One perspective is that this also shows the relative value of economy vs. "human life" in some societies.

Looting around the world

  • Following the death of Valentinian III in 455, the Vandals invaded and extensively looted the city of Rome.
  • After the fall of Constantinople in 1204, the crusaders have looted the city and transferred its richness to Italy.
  • In 1664 the Maratha leader Shivaji sacked and looted Surat. Surat was under sack for nearly three weeks, in which the army looted all possible wealth from Mughal and Portuguese trading centers.
  • During the American Civil War, the New York Draft Riots (July 13-17, 1863) began as protests against President Abraham Lincoln's Enrollment Act of Conscription drafting men to fight in the ongoing war. Considered by some to be the worst civil unrest in American history, the riots included 50,000 participants and lasted several days, claiming hundreds of lives and destroying millions of dollars in property. The violent demonstration could not be contained by the civil police force, and required the intervention of regiments of the New York State Militia, who marched back to New York from the battlefield of Gettysburg, to restore civil order.
  • During World War II, both Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan engaged in massive and systematic looting of valuables worth tens of billions of dollars. See:
  • In occupied Germany after World War II the allies looted massive amounts of German intellectual property, without even crediting it as "reparations"., (See also Operation Paperclip)
  • In 1977 the New York Blackout resulted in massive rioting and looting throughout the city of New York.
  • In 1992, during the Rodney King riots, widespread looting occurred in Los Angeles, California. Some store owners guarded their stores with personal firearms.
  • During the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997-98, lootings occurred in many parts of Indonesia.
  • After the United States occupied Iraq, the absence of Iraqi police and the reluctance of the US to act as a police force enabled looters to raid homes and businesses, especially in Baghdad, most notably the Iraqi National Museum. During the looting, many hospitals were stripped of nearly all supplies. However, upon investigation many of the looting claims were in fact exaggerated. Most notably the Iraqi National Museum in which many curators had stored important artifacts in in the vaults of Iraq's central bank. Looting also occurred on a grand scale at a number of archaeological sites across Iraq. Sites were allegedly being destroyed and objects removed numbering in the tens or hundreds of thousands.

Political and media controversy about looting

The issue of Nazi plunder still causes controversy in modern Europe, with various countries (ex. Poland) demanding return of certain collections, and Germany itself demanding return of collections looted by Soviet Union and other Allies in exchange. The issue periodically surfaces in various European media.
The media in Hurricane Katrina have been accused of portraying identical acts as justifiable "finding" or deplorable "looting" depending on the race of the perpetrator. However the reports have been defended as simply factual and coincidental based on an interpretation of "looting" as personally removing goods from a business versus "finding" defined as collecting goods floating in the street.

Looting by type

Archaeological removals

Looting can also refer to antiquities formerly removed from countries by outsiders, such as some of the contents of Egyptian tombs which were transported to museums in Europe. Other examples include the obelisks of Pharaoh Amenhotep II, in the (Oriental Museum, University of Durham, United Kingdom), Pharaoh Ptolemy IX, (Philae Obelisk, in Wimborne, Dorset, United Kingdom) Recent controversies include the Elgin Marbles, presently in the collection of the British Museum and the claim by Greece that they should be returned.

Looting of Native American archaeological sites

Throughout the history of the United States Native American archaeological sites have been looted, destroying religious sites and relics that date back several hundred years. Many Indian burial sites and sacred grounds have been systematically plundered and destroyed until the 1957 dispute about the Gasquet-Orleans Road. The GO road in what is now the Six Rivers National Forest in the Siskyou Mountain Range was the first logging project that raised public Indian opposition. After several legal disputes and lawsuits, including the 1978 Indian Religious Freedom Act, the case was decided at the Supreme Court.
in 1990, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) became the primary federal legislation pertaining to graves and human remains in archaeological contexts. The act "establishes definitions of burial sites, cultural affiliation, cultural items, associated and unassociated funerary objects, sacred objects, cultural patrimony, Indian tribes, museums, Native Americans and Native Hawaiians, right of possession and tribal land."
In 2002 Federal grand jurors have accused two men, Steven Scott Tripp, 40, of Farmington, and William Thomas Cooksey, 53, of Union, of looting and violating the integrity of an American Indian burial site at southeast Missouri's Wappapello Lake. The looters "illegally excavated, removed, damaged and defaced archaeological resources, and that by doing so they caused at least $1,000 in damage. Gary Stilts, the Army Corps' operations manager there, estimated the damage to be about $14,000". Stilts said about the looting:
In 1995, authorities were informed about the looting of Elephant Mountain Cave, located on government property in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Jack Lee Harelson, a former insurance agent, looted the site for years, uncovering two burial sites, grave goods, obsidian blades and deer-hoof rattles. Harelson decapitated the two 2000 year old corpses and buried the heads in plastic garbage bags in his backyard. In 1996 a federal court in Oregon found Harelson guilty of corpse abuse and possession of stolen property, resulting in a $20,000 fine and 30 days in jail. (The conviction of corpse abuse was later revoked because the statute of limitations had expired.) In 2002 a federal administrative judge issued a civil penalty of $2.5 million for Harelson for destruction of archaeological resources.
James Patrick Barker, a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) archaeologist for the state of Nevada, describes the Elephant Mountain Cave as one of the most significant sites of the Great Basin. One pair of sandals plundered by Harelson was later estimated to be 10.000 years old, making them one of the oldest pieces of footwear worldwide.
On December 5, 2005 six Ohio residents, Daniel Fisher, 41, and Thomas J. Luecke, 40, of Cincinnati; Richard Kirk, 56, of Stout; Joseph M. Mercurio, 44, and Tanya C. Mercurio, 43, of Manchester; and David Whitling, 47, of Bellefontaine, entered federal ground to dig for artifacts, using "rakes and digging implements to disturb the surface of the ground, creating holes and displacing archaeological sediment in violation of the federal Archaeological Resources Protection Act". The looted site at Barren River Lake includes Early Woodlands ceramics dating back roughly to 1500 to 300 B.C. They looters were sentenced to probation by Judge Thomas B. Russell in federal court after pleading guilty.

Looting of art

Looting of art, archaeology and other cultural property may be an opportunistic criminal act, or may be a more organized case of unlawful or unethical pillage by the victor of a conflict. It has been prelevant throughout the history.

Looting of industry

In the aftermath of the Second World War Soviet forces had engaged in systematic plunder of Germany, including the Recovered Territories which were to be transferred to Poland, stripping it of valuable industrial equipment, infrastructure and factories and sending them to the Soviet Union.



  • Abudu, Margaret, et al., "Black Ghetto Violence: A Case Study Inquiry into the Spatial Pattern of Four Los Angeles Riot Event-Types," 44 Social Problems 483 (1997)
  • Curvin, Robert and Bruce Porter, Blackout Looting (1979)
  • Dynes, Russell & Enrico L. Quarantelli, "What Looting in Civil Disturbances Really Means," in Modern Criminals 177 (James F. Short, Jr. ed. 1970)
  • Green, Stuart P., "Looting, Law, and Lawlessness," 81 Tulane Law Review 1129 (2007)
  • Mac Ginty, "Looting in the Context of Violent Conflict: A Conceptualisation and Typology," 25 Third World Quarterly 857 (2004)
looting in Czech: Rabování
looting in Welsh: Anrhaith
looting in German: Plünderung
looting in Modern Greek (1453-): Λάφυρο
looting in Spanish: Saqueo
looting in French: Pillage
looting in Hebrew: ביזה
looting in Latvian: Marodierisms
looting in Dutch: Plundering
looting in Japanese: 鹵獲
looting in Russian: Мародёрство
looting in Finnish: Sotasaalis
looting in Swedish: Plundring
looting in Ukrainian: Мародерство

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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