duel, prearranged armed fight with deadly weapons, usually swords or pistols, between two persons concerned with a point of honor. The duel may have originated in the wager of battle, an early mode of trial in which an accused person fought with his accuser under judicial supervision (see ordeal). In 887, Pope Stephen VI prohibited the judicial duel and all forms of ordeal. Wager of battle was abolished in France in the mid-16th cent., and the duel of honor in part took its place. This institution, which emerged in the Italian Renaissance, spread to France and then to Great Britain and other European countries. It evolved in the 16th cent. and was very closely linked with the code of chivalry). Codified in various countries in the late 18th and early 19th cents., the duel of honor became a rare practice after World War I.
To initiate a duel the offended party would present a challenge to fight, which had to be accepted or the person challenged would be dishonored. Negotiations were conducted by seconds, who also observed the combat to see that all agreements of the complex ceremony were observed. The object of a duel was not necessarily to kill, and in most cases after the firing of a prescribed number of shots or drawing blood the fight would be stopped. Although dueling was opposed by the rulers and churches of various countries, it long persisted among aristocrats, army officers, and others. German students were especially noted for their duels. Duels were quite common in the United States, some fought by prominent Americans. For example, Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr, and Andrew Jackson took part in several duels. In the United States, dueling persisted longest in the Southern states and on the Western frontier. Dueling today has been made illegal by statute in most countries. Killing in the course of a duel is usually considered willful murder, and all persons aiding the principals are guilty with them.
See studies by J. Atkinson (1964), R. Baldrick (1965), V. G. Kiernan (1986), K. McAleer (1994), J. B. Freeman (2001), B. Holland (2003), and J. Landale (2006).
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