Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Top Ten: Duels

10. Benito Mussolini vs. Francisco Ciccotti: During Il Duce’s rise to power in 1921, an editor in Rome published criticism of the man who would pioneer Italian fascism. Benito challenged Francisco to a duel of swords that lasted an hour and fifteen minutes, ending with Francisco conceding after suffering several wounds from the physically formidable man who made the trains run on time.

9. King Naresuan vs. Prince Minshit Sra: In 1593 in what is now modern day Thailand, an invading force of Burmese soldiers, led by Minshit Sra, was repelled when the Siamese King Naresuan engaged and defeated Sra in one-on-one combat atop war elephants. Running Sra through with a lance, the invaders recovered the body of the fallen royal and promptly retreated. The event is still celebrated in Thailand as a national holiday.

8. Inigo Montoya vs. Count Rugen: My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die

7. Aaron Burr vs. Alexander Hamilton: While Vice President of the US, Aaron Burr challenged former Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton to a duel. Hamilton had participated in 10 shotless duels up to this point, including one with future president James Monroe. Hamilton fired first, harmlessly into the air. Burr took aim and hit Hamilton in the abdomen, killing the man who is now depicted on the ten dollar bill. The political blowback resulted in Burr’s self-imposed exile and strong support for the outlawing of duels.

6. David vs. Goliath: Perhaps the most widely known duel, thanks to the Biblical depiction. Few are aware of the grisly details following the felling of the Philistine whose very name came to signify both enormous size and humiliating defeat. Upon bashing in his brains with a sling-launched stone, young David decapitates Goliath and carries the head to Jerusalem.

5. Marcus Claudius Marcellus vs. Viridomarus: At the Battle of Clastidium in 222 BCE, the Roman general Marcellus engaged King Viridomarus in single combat, killing him. As per custom, Marcellus took the spolia opima (the fallen leader’s armor and weapons) back to Rome. Marcellus is regarded by most historians as the only non-fictional Roman to achieve such a feat (an act purportedly first achieved by Romulus, the mythological founder of Rome).

4. Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader: This father and son rivalry resulted in two fabled duels, the first in Cloud City during The Empire Strikes Back, and then again on the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi. Both resulted in the loss of the loser’s hand.

3. Andrew Jackson vs. Charles Dickinson: Future president Jackson challenged Dickinson to a duel over insults made towards his wife and gambling debts. During the duel, Jackson waited for Dickinson to fire first, and he was struck soundly in the ribcage. The bullet was lodged close to his heart and would remain there the rest of his life. After this shot, Jackson carefully aimed his gun and pulled the trigger, only to have the gun fail to fire. Jackson reloaded, aimed again, and this time shot his opponent dead.

2. Achilles vs. Hector: One of the most dramatic fights in mythology is the battle between the Myrmidon Greek hero, Achilles, and the Trojan champion and son of King Priam, Hector. After several years of siege upon the walled city of Troy and numerous disputes with his commander, Agamemnon, Achilles refuses to fight. His shield bearer and homosexual lover, Patroclus, dons the armor of Achilles and engages Hector on the battlefield. Hector kills Patroclus, believing him to be Achilles, and strips the body of his armor and arms. Achilles becomes enraged, and the blacksmith god Hephaestus forges new equipment for Achilles, who then duels and defeats Hector. After his victory, Achilles drags Hector’s body behind his chariot and back to his camp, preventing a proper burial. The King himself, guided by Hermes, enters the enemy camp at night and successfully pleads for the return of his son’s body. The Iliad ends shortly after, picked up by the Odyssey shortly before the construction of the Trojan Horse.

1. Jean de Carrouges vs. Jacques Le Gris: In 14th century France, the last legal trial-by-combat played out like a Hollywood movie (and the story is reputedly being considered for a project by Martin Scorsese). The wife of Carrouges accused Le Gris of rape, but there were insufficient witnesses to testify on the matter. Carrouages’ last hope was to appeal to the king for a trial-by-combat, which was a right that had not been granted for some time and seen by many as antiquated. After lengthy proceedings, the trial-by-combat was granted.

Le Gris was knighted so as to be of equal social stature, and the two mounted horses to joust in front of a crowd of thousands. After three passes, both men’s lances shattered. Each drew his axe and continued mounted combat until the stronger Le Gris decapitated his opponent’s horse, forcing Carrouges to fight from the ground. Carrouges managed to disembowel his opponent’s steed, and the action continued with both men dismounted.

The two threw down their axes and drew swords. After several minutes of armored combat, Carrouges slipped and Le Gris stabbed his accuser in the right thigh. As he stepped back to survey the damage, Le Gris was caught off-guard by his oppnent's desperate scramble and was tackled to the ground. Weighed down by his heavy armor, Le Gris remained floored and was stabbed repeatedly by Carrouges, whose sword was only able to dent the metal plates of his opponent.

Using the handle of his dagger, Carrouges knocked open his opponent’s faceplate and demanded he admit his guilt. Le Gris refused, and Carrouges promptly stabbed him in the throat, thus “proving” his opponent’s guilt by demonstration of the will of God. His wife ran onto the field and embraced her husband to the cheers of thousands in attendance, including the King. The stakes were high for the wife, for if her husband lost, she would be executed for making false accusations.

Award for Best Duel That Almost Was goes to…

Abraham Lincoln vs. James Shields: Lincoln was at the time an Illinois state legislator and publisher of the Sangamon Journal, which printed a mocking letter that infuriated Shields, the state auditor. Shields “demanded satisfaction,” and the two left Illinois (where dueling was illegal at the time) for Missouri. Just prior to counting paces, the two principals’ seconds (or witness representatives) convinced the two to call it off, supposedly on the grounds that Lincoln had not even written the letter himself; he merely published it.


  1. Wow, I never knew Mussolini was a swordsman, excellent article!

  2. I would have included King Arthur vs. Mordred in the list, father in son, united in agony on the field of battle, pretty dramatic.

    The conflict between Arthur and Mordred was actually was one of George Lucas's inspiration for the duel between Vader and Luke.

    What! No mention of Myamoto Musashi vs. Sasaki Kojiro???

    Or the sniper duel between Zaitsev and Koenig/Thorwald during the siege of Stalingrad? Even if that was only a piece of Soviet propaganda, it's still a pretty awesome story.


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