This paper revisits the rationalist conceptions of warlordism in civil wars, which has amounted into the greed hypothesis as opposed to grievance. This argument states that rebels are not motivated to generate public goods – the betterment of society – but seek private gain. Violence becomes a function to generate wealth. While initial studies focused on explaining why civil war breaks out in the first instance, there is now increasing interest in modelling violence and warlordism in ongoing civil war. In this paper, I sketch out and critically discuss the rationalist approaches in this so-called greed–grievance debate and will then concentrate on one particular aspect in the broader greed–grievance literature: the modelling of warlordism in ongoing civil warfare. A contextual model is suggested to explain the dynamics of violence in the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict, which distinguishes extrinsic (‘greed’) and intrinsic (‘pride’) motivations.