The history of terrorism is not straightforward at all. As we will discover in the next section, many issues arise from the ambiguity around the definition of terrorism. This affects the history of terrorism as at times it makes it unclear whether an event was in fact an act of terrorism. Regardless of this, we can still explore the subject from a historical viewpoint.

The actual term ‘terrorism’ was first used in the 1790s to refer to the terror of the French Revolution. The mass execution of political opponents by the revolutionaries, through the use of the infamous guillotine was carried out by the Jacobian Party of Maximilien Robespierre. However, with the French Revolution occurring in 1789, these acts of terror were undertaken by the state, since the Jacobian party were heading up the First French Republic.

It seems interesting now that terrorism was used as a way of describing acts of the state and not those of individuals or small groups. In the modern day we instead define terrorism as violent acts committed directly or indirectly against a Government or regime in the hope of influencing or toppling them. These acts intend to create fear, both amongst the victims and the wider audience.

Under these parameters, the first act of terrorism, whilst at the time it was never called that, was the assassinations of Roman collaborators by Sicarii Zealots. This group were dagger carrying Jews who opposed the Roman rule of Judea, and often attacked Romans and their collaborators when in large crowds, before blending in with said crowds to escape.

Acts officially described as terrorism after the French Revolution did start to transition to being acts of smaller groups, often anarchists, anti-monarchists or nationalists. For instance, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was a terrorist act, committed by the Black hand gang as a means of making a political statement. However, you’ll struggle to find a textbook that labels it as such.

The first acts of terrorism conspired in Britain are remarkably well known, however again never seem to be described as acts of terror. Guy Fawkes plot to blow up the houses of Parliament would have killed the King, all of Parliament and possibly hundreds of Londoners. This act was conspired to remove Protestant rule in England and re-establish a Catholic monarchy. The parallels between this and a modern Islamic extremist bombing are remarkable. The use of explosives to kill and create fear are the same. The motivations, to change a religious and political regime, are identical.  

Now we have established a general overview on terrorism, it’s time to delve into creating our own definitions.

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