Pistols at Dawn: A History of Dueling

By | March 16, 2019

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Duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Source: (commons.wikimedia.org)

These days getting into a fight because someone got their feelings hurt is considered the height of immaturity. A fight to the death could likely result in criminal charges. However, for centuries, that was the accepted way of dealing with an insult. In fact, defending one’s honor through dueling was one of the many characteristics of a gentleman.

The practice likely evolved from the ancient tradition of single combat during which each army in a battle would select a champion. The champions would then fight until one of them was dead. In some cases, this would end the battle without further loss of life. This style of fighting appears in Greek mythology as well as in the biblical narrative of David and Goliath. Eventually, single combat gave way to other forms of battle; however, the spirit lived on in the custom of dueling.

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David and Goliath. Source: (bible.wikia.com)

The duel began in ancient Europe as an alternative to the modern day courtroom proceeding. Rather than a trial by jury, the two involved parties would fight and the loser was deemed to be guilty. During the Middle Ages, duels could be seen in the form of tournaments between knights. However, it was merely a spectator sport at this time. Dueling didn’t become the go-to solution for resolving a conflict until 1526 when King Frances I of France challenged King Charles V of Spain to a duel after the dissolution of the treaty between their respective countries.