Here is the video of and my own personal outline for the class I just taught through RUM (Royal University of the Midrealm). They pull largely from Tom Leoni’s chapter on dueling in “In the Service of Mars Part I” and Ann Tlusty’s book “The Martial Ethic in Early Modern Germany”. I highly recommend checking both of these books out. In the meantime, hopefully this will serve as a handy resource for anyone interested in the history of dueling. Also, if you want a more in depth dive into Italian dueling, check out my article on the subject here.
Italian Aristocratic Duel
Honor based society
Honor code: scienza cavalleresca (the chivalrous science)
“honor is the prize of virtue and is paid to none but the good.” – Aristotle
honor was based on the virtues of valor and justice
Honor was not considered to be an entirely isolated attribute. It was instead something that was defined and given by those around you.
honor was, “preferred to one’s father, one’s ruler, one’s country, and life itself. ” Thus your duty to preserve honor superseded your duty to obey your lord’s wishes
Reality differed, though. Marozzo says “although many knights professed to prefer death with honor rather than life with shame, the number who had acted in accordance with this assertion was small”
Certain groups were inherently dishonorable (those of lowly professions, Jews, people with dishonorable ancestors)
Other groups were considered without honor (women, children, etc.)
Duels are seen as higher than battles since there’s less luck involved and there’s more risk
Medieval battles tended to end after one side lost 10% of their forces
Duels are more interested in “justice” than “truth”
Marozzo’s five required justifications for a duel:
- You suffered an injury
- Hard to prove via credible witnesses
- You have to be of equal or higher status than the person you’re accusing
- The cause needs to be personal
- This can’t have previously been tried in court (with or without a verdict)
- Defendant has to say “you lie” thereby issues the mentita
This puts the burden of proof on the accuser to dissuade frivolous suits and false accusations.
The injury can be either an action (i.e. a slap) or words (talking trash)
The accuser has to claim not only that this event happened, but that it happened unjustly. So if you kiss my sister on the street, other people could reliably say whether or not that happened. If you kiss her unjustly, that is not only harder to prove, but also gives me license to pursue justice. Alternatively, if you say something bad about my business/family, I don’t just have to prove that you said it, but that you said it unjustly.
Five kinds of mentita:
- Mentita certa – You said X of me, I tell you now that you lied
- Mentita condizionale – If you said X, you have lied
- Mentita generale – (in regards to a person )Whosever said X of me lies OR (in regards to an injury) You have spoken ill of me, thereby lying
- Mentita speciale – You, on X day said Y of me, and by saying so lied
- Mentita sciocca (silly/abusive) – If you ever say X of me, you lie/ If you wish to say X, you lie/ If you have said X or haven’t said X of me, you lie/ you are lying through your teeth (via farting)
Instead of calling someone a liar, you can say “Things aren’t as you say” in order to diffuse the situation.
The one issuing the mentita gets to choose weapons. The accuser chooses time and place.
Weapons had to be matched and made easily available. You also couldn’t force a right handed person to use a left handed sword to your advantage.
Location couldn’t be seen as too advantageous.
Terms included weapons, defensive secondaries, whether armor was worn, and whether it was on horseback.
Seeing as a bigger risk was seen as more honorable, Dall’Agocchie notes how going without armor was the more
Accuser issues a cartello which is a binding document, prompting a riposta from the defendant (issuing the mentita)
Three kinds of cartelli
- Rogito – signed by a notary
- Manifesto – pasted on walls instead of delivered
When legal, these all had to go through the proper judicial channels.
Having to sit down and write this out gave people time to cool off and reconsider.
40 days to train and get your affairs in order
Right to a speedy trial
Once again gave time for people to consider if this is what they wanted to do.
Location was the campo franco
If you picked a place that was too advantageous, or too hard to get to you would be disqualified and found the loser
If you couldn’t find a lord to host it, it would be alla machia (on public land) away from towns and villages
This specific tradition begins in Naples
The fight happened inside a steccato
Looked like a boxing ring
Generally began a few hours before sunset
Given every chance to confess and thus avoid going through with the fight up until stepping into the steccato
Accuser had to deliver an initial committed blow (attore)
Throwing the pommel
Winning poorly was worse than outright losing. So hidden weapons, vigorous punching and kicking, not allowing an opponent to replace a broken blade, killing their horse (unless that condition was explicitly allowed), digging a trap beforehand, etc. were looked down upon.
Herald announced that audience must be silent upon penalty of death
- No show/late arrival (*glares at Musashi*)
- Defendant confesses
- Defendant successfully defends until sundown (again, this benefits the defendant)
- Either person touches the ropes with their back
- Either person is incapacitated
- One person dies
- They both die
If one party was clearly injured past the point of being able to fight but continued attempting to do so, the judge could declare the fight over.
These were not to first blood
German Middle Class Dueling
No Jews, women, etc.
Required to own arms
Men often carried arms with them outside the house
A common punishment was removing this right outside, but not inside, the house
One man was forced to wear a bread knife with a broken tip for a year
Local lords wanted both a populous that could defend itself, but also didn’t want to be overthrown
Very few lights
No other police or firefighters
Interfering in fights was technically the duty of all citizens
Rising tension between state’s expanding their powers and having to defend your home
As we shift to households, women’s rights begin to be curtailed
Stabbing through a doorway was a particularly pointed gesture
A public verbal insult was much easier to diffuse/apologize for
Declining power of the guilds
Sumptuary laws restricted ornamentation, but not wearing of the sword itself
Fashion was set by soldiers first and then worked its way up to the aristocracy
Convince people to go over the trench
Women would threaten to leave if a man didn’t stand up for himself
It was important to be seen as having died a good death when dueling
A good death would also lean towards more lenient sentencing for the killer
Duels were banned in the military, but were culturally strongly encouraged
Church officials threatened excommunication or refusal of burial in churchyards, but this didn’t help
States made duelling illegal but let it slide by as to prevent even larger acts of risk taking
The state would step in if it was found to be an unfair fight
By making it illegal, participating now came with increased social capital
Officials at the University of Gottingen noted that permitting bloodless duels would have only encouraged bloody ones
Restoring your honor required a certain level of risk/putting things on the line
These duels could be impromptu (often as a result of long-lasting tensions) or pre-arranged
They required a certain degree of fair warning
Surprise attacks were universally considered to be dishonorable
Punishment was either death or a life sentence of fighting the Turks
Parties had to be equally armed
This included not only the weapons, but also whether or not the combatants were on horseback
Observers might step in if it’s an unfair fight, but were less likely to otherwise
Chivalric idea of the strong protecting the weak
You generally had to stop if your opponent fell or lost their weapon
Officers had to explicitly ban soldiers from using magical salves
Seconds in aristocratic duels would often check for magical charms
All magic was illegal after the Reformation
Thrusting with a sword was generally looked down upon (Joachim Meyer)
Thrusts were associated with unexpected attacks with hidden knives or stilletos
Sources at the time would often use “brawl” or “fight” instead of “duel” to describe the same behavior in lower social classes
Schlag means to “strike” with either the sword or the fist, making differentiating harder for historians
State officials cared more about whether drawing a weapon was justified as opposed to who attacked first. These officials were hardly separate from the same culture of dueling as everyone else.
Universities were a hotbed for duels
Students from all over
Students generally didn’t identify with the town where they were studying
Universities often employed fencing masters, even when they tried to ban students from dueling or even carrying swords
While not written into law, the social around the lead up to duels were socially enforced and clear to everyone at the time
Every step leading up provided a chance for de-escalation