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Duel in the Bois de Boulogne of Paris - drawing by Durand 1874

A duel ( lat. Duellum 'duel') is a voluntary duel with the same, potentially deadly weapons , which is agreed by the opponents in order to fight an honor dispute. The duel is subject to traditionally established rules. Duels are banned in most countries today.


Antiquity and the Middle Ages

"Better to be dead than wet" - Paul-François Dubois vs. Sainte-Beuve near Paris 1830

The oldest literary works from many cultures already report battles between military and political leaders. It is important in each case that the protagonists legitimize their leadership position vis-à-vis their own followers by demonstrating physical strength. One of the oldest examples is the duel between the Egyptian court official Sinuhe and the "strong man of Retjenu ", a prince from the Middle East, about whom an extremely popular story in ancient Egypt tells. The Old Testament tells of David's fight against the Philistine Goliath . In the Iliad , Paris , the Trojan son of the king, meets with the Greek king Menelaus in a duel for the beautiful Helena . At the beginning of Old High German literature is the Hildebrand song , which tells of the duel between Hildebrand and his son Hadubrand in the context of the armed conflicts during the migration period . After decades of separation, both meet as leaders of opposing armies and cannot avoid a duel.

Early modern age

The roots of the modern duel go back to the judicial duel among the Teutons and the medieval judgment of God . After both the court battle and the knightly feud had become meaningless at the end of the Middle Ages , the modern duel, which took over and developed essential elements of both forms of conflict, began to spread from the end of the 15th century, initially in Spain , Italy and France and then throughout the whole of Europe. As the duel was shifted from legal life to the private sphere, the fateful- religious dimension of decision-making was increasingly lost and was replaced by the corporate concept of honor . In France , the duel was almost a fad from the end of the 16th to the middle of the 17th century: between 1594 and 1610 alone, eight thousand nobles and officers are said to have been killed in duels in France, and François (who, however, was notorious for his frequent duels) de Montmorency is said to have killed 22 (according to other sources even more than 40) opponents in a single year in a duel. The legal framework was already in place in Germany against the duel even before the clarification, as the Lübeck chief pastor to St. Marien Michael Siricius reported in 1645 on the then prevailing view in northern Germany , especially in the Hanseatic cities, due to a duel with a fatal outcome for both parties .

Ideological background

As the purpose of the duel, it was necessary for a real or perceived insult satisfaction ( satisfaction ) to obtain or to give. It was not about who “won” in the duel, but rather that both duelists should prove their personal honesty through the sheer willingness to fight for the sake of their “male honor” and risk injury or death restored or restored. Regardless of its outcome, the result of the duel was that the insult was deemed to be “atoned for” and that both parties involved were (again) regarded as “men of honor” in their eyes and in the judgment of society.

Georg Mühlberg : Student saber duel around 1900

Not everyone was entitled to participate in this social ritual . Originally, only those who had the right to carry arms were considered “satisfactory”, i.e. H. Nobles , officers and students . The growing political, economic and social importance of the bourgeoisie in the 19th century resulted in the bourgeoisie being regarded as capable of satisfaction, provided they belonged to the “better” society and were willing to take its “ comment ”, ie. H. to submit to their unwritten rules of conduct. The objective criteria for this membership were not clearly delineated, but were in any case met by an academic degree or the acquisition of a reserve officer degree . Dueling was always an expression of elitist class thinking, which tried to delimit itself "downwards" by attributing the necessary "finer sense of honor" to members of the "higher social circles".

The ideological basis of dueling was the adherence to the notion of a " chivalrous " class of free, weapon-bearing men who can and must defend themselves and their honor without resorting to government authority , which at least in the 19th century had long since become anachronistic . The honor at issue here was therefore not just a personal honor, but also a class honor: Whoever wanted to belong to this class (as a nobleman, officer, student or a member of the bourgeoisie socially accepted by these groups) was not only entitled, but socially obliged to fend off attacks on his honor by either obtaining retraction and apology, or - if that was refused or the insult was too serious - calling the offender to a duel. Anyone who escaped this obligation or refused to comply with a duel demand ran the risk of being socially ostracized and viewed as dishonorable by his peers. Conversely, behaviors viewed as dishonorable also lead to a loss of the ability to be satisfied.

This obligation was most pronounced among officers who, for example, B. in the German Reich and in Austria-Hungary had to expect their dismissal if they refused a duel. The reason was that “he did not have the right sense of honor and therefore violated his duty as an officer.” This was reflected in the fact that the Prussian and Austrian officer corps were dominated to a particularly high degree by the aristocracy and therefore in the strictness of its terms of honor tried to stand out clearly from the bourgeois civilians, sometimes so much that officers generally did not see them as satisfactory.

Legal prohibition

This social code of honor was stronger than the legal prohibitions on duels that applied everywhere, albeit with varying degrees of severity. For example, in the German Reich Criminal Code of 1871, the duel with lethal weapons was defined from the outset as a special offense with a lesser threat of punishment, namely with fortress detention (a special form of imprisonment that, in contrast to prison or penal sentences, was not considered dishonorable) between three months and five years (Section 15, §§ 201–210). In the practical enforcement of these bans, however, it became apparent that the members of the (military) jurisdiction and the governments felt themselves committed to the underlying code of honor: duelists were often not prosecuted at all, or, if at all, only very mildly punished or punished short sentence pardoned. In the criminal law reform of 1969, the relevant paragraphs were repealed, so that the duel is no longer treated separately in today's German criminal law , but is subject to general criminal provisions such as dangerous or serious bodily harm and manslaughter .

19th century

Duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr (1804)

Duels were not uncommon in the 19th century. According to modern estimates, around 25% of nobles fought a duel at least once in their lives. Often, however, the form was more satisfied by z. B. agreed conditions in pistol duels that made a wound rather improbable, or even tried not to hit the opponent. It is estimated that only one out of six duels resulted in serious injuries and only one out of fourteen duels killed an opponent. Famous duel victims were z. For example, the American politician Alexander Hamilton (1804), the French mathematician Évariste Galois (1832), the Russian poets Alexander Pushkin (1837) and Lermontow (1841) and the labor leader Ferdinand Lassalle (1864). A notorious duelist in 19th century Russia was Count Fyodor Ivanovich Tolstoy , who killed a total of eleven opponents in a duel.

Criticism of dueling

While the duel in England went out of use around the middle of the 19th century, it lasted in continental Europe until the beginning of the 20th century, but here too it was highly controversial in public since the end of the 19th century at the latest. In keeping with its class anchoring, rejection and criticism came mainly from liberal and socialist sides, but the Catholic Church also rejected the duel. In 1891 Pope Leo XIII spoke . in his encyclical Pastoralis officii an official condemnation of the duel. In the German Empire in the 1890s, right up to the plenary session of the Reichstag, there was a fierce, but inconclusive political discussion following the spectacular duels Vering vs. Salomon , Baron Leberecht von Kotze vs. Karl Ernst Adolf von Schrader and Ketelhodt vs. Zenker (1896). In the latter case, the imperial naval lieutenant Baron Hans von Ketelhodt (1871-1948) shot the lawyer Zenker. The demand came from the husband Zenker, who was injured in his honor. The national liberal politician and President of the Province of Hanover Rudolf von Bennigsen had already had in 1896 in the case of the duel Ketelhodt vs. Zenker pointed out in a political declaration that the restoration of injured honor in such a way is highly questionable and that such cases should only be brought before the courts of honor. After 1902, as an irony of fate, the family of the well-known politician through the duel of his son Adolf von Bennigsen vs. Falkenhagen himself was affected, resistance to this form of satisfaction was formed on a broader front in Germany with the German Anti-Duel League founded in Kassel in 1902 . Although the nobility and officer corps stuck to the idea of ​​duels, the number of duels actually fought steadily declined until the beginning of the First World War . One of the last duels with the participation of members of the high nobility in Europe took place in 1908 in what was then the realm of Alsace-Lorraine ; Duke Karl Borwin zu Mecklenburg from the House of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was killed.

Arthur Schopenhauer was a sharp critic of dueling . In his Aphorisms zur Lebensweisheit (1851) he analyzes the injured "honor" as a time-bound and prejudiced term and counteracts the ideas of his contemporaries with the convictions of Greek philosophers: Honor is or is not, it cannot be enforced by force. However: "If I consider myself morally justified to take one's life; it is stupid to let it now depend on whether he can shoot or fight a little better than I; in which case he then, the other way around, me that he has already impaired, and is supposed to take his life on top of that. "

20th century

During the First World War, duels were postponed until the peace agreement. In Austria-Hungary, Emperor Karl I finally banned the duel with an army and naval order of November 4, 1917.

As a result of the tremendous social upheaval after the First World War (collapse of the monarchies, implementation of democratic ideas, loss of the social significance of the nobility, demilitarization), the duel disappeared very quickly. In Germany, the ban on duels was temporarily relaxed during the National Socialist era . In 1937 the duel between Horst Krutschinna and Roland Strunk led to a renewed ban on duels by Adolf Hitler . This last duel on German soil was held within the Hohenlychen sanatorium . In France, Italy and South America, duels were still fought in isolated cases after the Second World War, but they mostly had more of a show character. For example, in 1967 there was a sword duel between the socialist mayor of Marseille , Gaston Defferre , and the Gaullist member of parliament René Ribière in the presence of a photographer and a camera team, and in the early 1970s the Uruguayan interior minister Danilo Sena and the former minister of industry fought Enrique Erro a pistol duel, in which none of the opponents was harmed.

Procedure and rules

Dueling pistols
Philadelphia Museum of Art

In the course of the 18th and especially the 19th century, more and more detailed rules for conducting a duel gradually emerged, which were initially handed down orally, but finally also set down in writing. The best-known codifications of the rules of duels are the Irish code Duello of 1777, the "Essai sur le duel" of the Comte de Chateauvillard of 1836, "The rules of the duel" of the Hungarian Franz von Bolgár (Budapest 1880, 7th edition Vienna 1903) and the 1891 (2nd edition 1897, 3rd edition 1912) "Duell-Codex" of the Austrian fencing master and officer Gustav Hergsell . There was also the "Knightly Honor Protection" (1907) from the Graz weapons student Felix Busson .


The duel was always triggered by an insult to male honor. Any public disdain was considered such, e.g. B. through direct verbal insult or degradation, indirect defamation, physical assault, but also violation of the honor or sexual integrity of women who were in the care of the offended (especially the wife, but also sister, daughter, fiancé).

A distinction was made between light, medium and severe insults; In the case of a slight (e.g. a careless, impolite remark that could be perceived as offensive), an apology was usually sufficient, while in the case of serious insults (e.g. a slap in the face) a duel was inevitable.

Duel between Paul Déroulède and Georges Clemenceau on December 21, 1892


The offender challenged the offender to a duel, not personally, but through one or two cartel holders whom he chose from among his peers. Officers and students had to call an "honorary council" or an "honorary court" beforehand, which examined the "honorary trade", sought to bring about an amicable settlement and only gave consent to the duel and the agreed conditions in serious cases. The claim had to be made within 24 hours of the insult or after the insulted person learned about it. The cartel holders, who usually also acted as seconds in the duel, negotiated with the offender's seconds about the possibility of a peaceful settlement or, if that was not possible, about the details of how the duel should be conducted. Common dueling weapons were saber and pistol . Unusual weapons or conditions required the consent of both sides, otherwise the offender could determine the weapons and the conditions. In the middle / end of the 19th century, duels with the Canne also took place in France , a walking stick - usually weighted down with lead .


Because of the official ban on duels, the preparations were kept as secret as possible and duels were usually carried out in the early hours of the morning in remote, lonely places. In addition to the duelists, a doctor and the mutual seconds, possibly also a referee, were present, who, together with the seconds, watched over the proper execution. The weapons had to be exactly the same for both fighters. The pistols used were exclusively single-shot muzzle - loading weapons , which were loaded with black powder and lead round bullets in caliber 12 to 17 mm. The accuracy of these weapons, which often had smooth, not rifled barrels, was poor at long range; on the other hand, injuries from the large-caliber projectiles were severe and often resulted in death days after the actual duel.


The severity of the conditions (and thus the danger of the duel) depended on the severity of the offense. In pistol duels, the number of exchanges of fire (1, 2 or 3) and the specified distance, which could be between 15 and 100 paces (approx. 11–74 m), varied. Saber duels were fought either to the first bleeding wound or to the point of incapacity to fight. With mutual consent, stricter exceptional conditions could also be agreed, right up to the extreme case of the proverbial “shoot yourself over the sackcloth (or: handkerchief)”. The duelists held a handkerchief at the diagonally opposite ends and shot at the same time, but only one pistol was loaded.

Duels in literature

Because of their dramatic and fateful character, duels were a popular literary motif, especially in the literature of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Some works in which the duel plays a central role are:

But duels also appeared earlier in famous literary works:

Duels in painting

Jean-Léon Gérôme : The duel after the masked ball

The motif is well known in medieval frescoes by Westerwijtwerd and Woldendorp . Jean-Léon Gérôme's duel after the masked ball shows the fatal outcome of a fictional duel at dawn in the Bois de Boulogne after a masked ball. Gérôme executed the painting twice between 1857 and 1859, the two versions are now in the Hermitage and in the Walters Art Museum .

See also


Historical rules of dueling

  • L. Barbasetti : Code of Honor. 3rd edition, completely reworked by Bernhard Dimand after the 2nd edition of the Italian original. Braumüller, Vienna a. a. 1908 (Reprint: WJK-Verlag, Hilden 2008, ISBN 978-3-940891-00-6 )
  • Franz von Bolgár (ed.): The rules of the duel. 8th edition. Seidel, Vienna 1908 (reprint. WJK-Verlag, Hilden 2008, ISBN 978-3-933892-93-5 ).
  • Felix Busson : Knightly honor protection. Pechel, Graz 1907 (reprint. WJK-Verlag, Hilden 2007, ISBN 978-3-933892-10-2 )
  • Alfred Comte de Chatauvillard: Duel Codex. Geiger, Lahr 1864 (reprint. WJK-Verlag, Hilden 2007, ISBN 978-3-933892-12-6 ), (The original edition in French was published in 1836).
  • Peter Hauser (Ed.): Rules of two combat for the officer. WJK-Verlag, Hilden 2006, ISBN 3-933892-15-5 .
  • Peter Hauser (Ed.): Saber, sword and pistol. Two combat rules for the Austro-Hungarian officer. WJK-Verlag, Hilden 2006, ISBN 3-933892-19-8 .
  • Kurt von Rathen: Duel rules. Schnurpfeil, Leipzig 1914 (reprint. WJK-Verlag, Hilden 2006, ISBN 3-933892-16-3 ).
  • Josef Schmied-Kowarzik , Hans Kufahl: Fechtbüchlein. Reclam, Leipzig 1894 ( Universal Library 3301/3303).

Secondary literature

  • Martin Biastoch: Duel and scale in the empire. Using the example of the Tübingen Corps Franconia, Rhenania, Suevia and Borussia between 1871 and 1895. SH-Verlag, Vierow 1995, ISBN 3-89498-020-6 ( GDS archive for university and student history. Supplement 4).
  • Tobias Bringmann: Reichstag and duel. The duel question as an internal political conflict in the German Empire 1871–1918. Hochschul-Verlag, Freiburg (Breisgau) 1997, ISBN 3-8107-2249-9 ( University Collection Philosophy. History 10), (At the same time: Freiburg (Breisgau), Univ., Diss., 1996).
  • Dagmar Burkhart: A story of honor. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2006, ISBN 3-534-18304-5 (therein: defamation and restoration of honor in duels ; duel criticism ; legalization of the protection of honor and combat against duels ).
  • Peter Dieners: The duel and the special role of the military. On the Prussian-German development of military and civil violence in the 19th century. Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1992, ISBN 3-428-07298-7 ( writings on legal history 52), (also: Bonn, Univ., Diss., 1991)
  • Ute Frevert : Men of honor. The duel in civil society. Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, Munich 1995, ISBN 3-423-04646-5 ( dtv 4646 science ).
  • Friedhelm Guttandin: The Paradoxical Fate of Honor. On the change in noble honor and the importance of duel and honor for the monarchical central state. Reimer, Berlin 1993, ISBN 3-496-00443-6 ( writings on cultural sociology 13), (also: Hagen, Univ., Habil.-Schr.).
  • Adolph Kohut : The Book of Famous Duels. 2nd Edition. Alfred Sg. Fried, Berlin 1888 (reprint. Reprint-Verlag-Leipzig, Holzminden 1995, ISBN 3-8262-1101-4 ).
  • Dietmar Kügler: The Duel Stuttgart 1986.
  • Hans Kufahl, Josef Schmied-Kowarzik : Duel book. History of the duel. In addition to an appendix containing the rules of dueling and a Paukcomment. Weber, Leipzig 1896 (reprint. WJK-Verlag, Hilden 2006, ISBN 3-933892-17-1 under the title: The duel at the universities: history of the duel with an appendix containing duel laws and Paukcomment. ).
  • Hubert Mader: Duels and the old Austrian officer ethos. Biblio Verlag, Osnabrück 1983, ISBN 3-7648-1290-7 ( Studies on military history, military science and conflict research 31), (At the same time: Vienna, Diss., 1980).
  • Heinz Marzulla: a matter of honor! The pistol duel. History, rules and weapons. Ares-Verlag , Graz 2005, ISBN 3-902475-12-9 .
  • Kevin McAleer: Dueling. The Cult of Honor in Fin-de-Siècle Germany. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ u. a. 1994, ISBN 0-691-03462-1 .
  • Sarah Neumann: The judicial duel: God's judgment - competition - a matter of honor (Medieval research 31), Ostfildern 2010, ISBN 978-3-7995-4284-5 .
  • Markku Peltonen: The Duel in Early Modern England. Civility, politics and honor. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge u. a. 2003, ISBN 0-521-82062-6 ( Ideas in Context 65).
  • Helga Schmiedel: Notorious duels. Koehler & Amelang, Munich a. a. 2002, ISBN 3-7338-0238-1 .
  • Winfried Speitkamp: Slap in the face, duel and honor killing. A story of honor. Reclam, Stuttgart 2010, ISBN 978-3-15-010780-5 .

Web links

Commons : Duel  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Duel  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. M. Michael Sircks Past: Lüb: Warning Sermon / Darinnen / how by a divine chain and thunder strael / all death thugs / duelists and Balger are withdrawn and deterred from their inhuman murderous deeds: Sampt Römischer Käyserl: Mayest: Königs in Franckreich / König in Dennemarck Mayest: also FG von Holstein and the Käyserl: Frey Stadt Lübeck mandates and edicts; Kept out of the 7th cap: Echez. in the parish church of S. Marien in Lübeck in Anno 1645. June 13th / as shortly before June 2nd two noble people got at odds in a duel / and both remained on the election. Lübeck: Volck, 1645
    Digital copy of the copy in the Herzog August Library
  2. Herbert Kater: The duel between the district administrator Adolf von Bennigsen and the domain tenant Oswald Falkenhagen in Saupark / Springe 1902. In: Einst und Jetzt Volume 37 (1992), pp. 215-227 (pp. 222ff.)
  3. Philipp Schnee: Hewing and stabbing for fame and honor. Spiegel Online, October 2, 2009, accessed December 11, 2019
  4. Gustav Hergsell: Duel Codex . Digitized at Phaidra (University of Vienna)
  5. Literarily used, for example, in Friedrich Schiller's drama “ Kabale und Liebe ”, IV. Act, 3rd scene.
  6. On pages 335–344 of the 1972 edition of Manesse, the eponymous hero gives a biting criticism of the duel before confronting one himself.
  7. ^ Fyodor Dostoyevsky: The Karamazov brothers . 2nd Edition. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2010, ISBN 978-3-10-015405-7 , chap. 6.2c, p. 475-485 .