Issues remain at the core of armed conflict. Territory, in particular, appears to increase substantially the probability of inter-state violence and is concluded by many to be one of the most critical correlates of war onset. While scholars have called for an issue-based approach to the study of international relations for some time, recent data collection efforts allow the emergence and management of contentious issues over time to be studied more directly. Our argument and evidence suggest that territory is not necessarily contentious by itself, but is contentious in dyadic contexts characterized by rivalry. Using data from the Issue Correlates of War project, which codes specific government assertions of ownership to territory, river, and maritime locations, we find strategic rivalry, coupled with territorial claims, produces some of the most conflict-prone dyads. Further, jointly democratic domestic institutions do not appear to reduce the hazard of violent conflict over territorial issues within the context of rivalry, although they substantially reduce the hazard of violent conflict among states outside the context of rivalry.