July 3, 2022

A duel is a formalized fight between two people. In the ways in which it was practiced from the fifteenth century onwards in Western societies, a duel falls under a precise definition: consensual and pre-established combat that arises for the defense of honor, justice and respectability and which takes place according to accepted rules in explicitly or implicitly between men of the same social class and armed in the same way.


The primary objective of the duel is never the physical extinction of the opponent but to obtain satisfaction, or to restore honor and respectability by demonstrating the firm will to put one's own safety on the line for them. The duels thus delineated are quite distinct from the medieval practice of the trial by combat, since dueling is not a legally accepted procedure. In fact, the modern duel is an action that is opposed to the monopoly of force claimed by the modern state: this is why its performance was illegal or at the most tolerated by the law. This was the case of the first Italian criminal codes, which, while sanctioning it, always provided specific articles regarding the duel, so that those who chivalrously resorted to it - in the event of overt offenses - did not run the risk of being assimilated to vulgar criminals. The duel described above is generally typical of the upper classes, since for more popular classes there is the rustic duel, usually carried out with daggers and with less strict rules. The duel is in fact by definition carried out between people of the same social class (not economic). In fact, it makes no sense that people of different social classes, and therefore of profoundly different sensitivities, clash for reasons of integrity that are inevitably different between the two. Indeed, if a gentleman had been insulted by an individual of a lower class, it is more correct for the former to have him scolded or beaten by his servants.

History of the duel

In the West

The duel in the Iliad

The Iliad contains numerous duels, including, for example, the clash between Paris and Menelaus and that between Hector and Achilles.

The Middle Ages and the judicial combat

The duel, as a means of reparation for injuries, was unknown in antiquity, except to draw auspice, a practice that was used above all by the Germans: they were used, in fact, to kidnap a soldier of an enemy people before a battle and to do it challenge from one of their fighters, trying to predict the course of the fight from the outcome of the duel. Judicial combat, otherwise called trial by combat, or the practice of resolving legal disputes through a challenge to the death, was instead widely applied in a number of Germanic populations, so much so that it is applied in the systems of laws of Franks, Thuringians, Frisians, Saxons and Lombards. The rapid spread of the judicial duel was favored by the combative character of those peoples who, moreover, coming into contact with the teachings of Christianity, strengthened themselves in their institution, rather than abandon it. In fact, if it was true, as he taught the new religion, that God was truth and justice itself, he could not have allowed the unjust to prevail in the duel. If the Salic law of the sixth century prohibited the use of the trial by combat, the restriction was soon a dead letter, if it is true that in the ninth century Charlemagne stated that in the trials melius visum est ut in campo cum fustibus pariter contendant, quam periurium perpetrent in absconso (it seems better that they face each other armed on the field, rather than continually perjuring in secret) The Catholic Church, on the other hand, tried to resist the spread of the trial by combat, not only stigmatizing it, but penalizing its participants: at the Third Council of Valenza