You mean you’ll put down your rock and I put down my sword, and we’ll try to kill each other like civilized people?
– The Princess Bride
War is an ugly business, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be civilized. At least in the past, when people had to kill each other face-to-face, and not through the air at the press of a button.
First way to go about it is to reach with your army and face your enemy. At that point, each side chooses one person (sometimes called a champion), and they alone fight. Winner takes all. The losing side can sometimes even keep their heads, as they are sometimes taken for ransoms, not to mention the thousands or tens of thousands of ordinary foot soldiers that are spared. Such fights were more common in ancient times, and include, for example the epic battle between Achilles and Hector in Homer’s Illiad.
But say you already raised an army and marched it a long way, maybe you want to get your money’s worth and have it fight (not to mention the wages you don’t have to pay dead soldiers) — it’s really unnecessary to kill civilians and destroy cities while you’re at it. In somewhat similar fashion to what later be dubbed “a quick draw duel” in the Wild West, both armies set a time and a place for the battle in advance. An additional improvement on this scheme is the army’s option to withdraw prior to the battle (or shortly after it began) without the second army pursing and destroying it. This type of battle was part of the chivalry code and practiced during the middle ages. One such battles took time during the first English Civil War in 1642.
I’ll be remiss in my geekiness if I don’t mention in that context the classic Star Trek episode “A Taste of Armageddon“, in which two powers are fighting each other through computer-simulated bombardments in order to avoid the collateral damage to their society and environment.
Nowadays, the term “pitched battle” is used to describe a conflict which its place and time were anticipated.