Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Duels Work


Dueling represents the masculine instinct to compete. See more pictures of guns.
Photo courtesy JRTC and Fort Polk

"Pistols at dawn!" The challenge is issued. To turn it down would leave you marked as a coward for life. You meet at the chosen spot, facing your opponent at a distance of 20 paces. Your dueling pistols are loaded. One or both of you could be severely wounded or killed today. Doctors are standing by to mend the damage if possible, while your friends eye each other warily. Why is all this happening?

Because you made fun of his hat.

Dueling, a one-on-one showdown typically with swords or guns, was a major part of many societies, shaping the lives (and deaths) of tens of thousands of rich nobles, crusading knights, prominent politicians and dusty Wild West cowboys. But for all its importance, dueling also represents the masculine instinct to compete and defeat others driven to an absurd extreme -- men willing to kill or die for the most inconsequential reasons, all at the drop of a glove.

In this article, we'll learn the rules of dueling, examine the reasons people dueled and see how dueling hasn't really disappeared at all -- it has merely evolved into other forms of combat.


More to Explore