Formal combat with weapons fought between two persons in the presence of witnesses. Intended to settle a quarrel or point of honour, it represented an alternative to the usual process of justice. The judicial duel, or trial by battle, is reported in ancient sources and was prevalent in medieval Europe. A judge could order two parties to meet in a duel to settle a matter. It was believed that through such an appeal to the “judgment of God” the righteous would emerge victorious; the loser, if still alive, was dealt with according to the law. Duels of honour were private encounters over real or imagined slights or insults. Eventually fought with pistols, duels were frequent in France and Germany in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and they were legal or encouraged by the fascist regimes in Italy and Germany. By the late 20th century they were prohibited; the last duel recorded in France occurred in 1967. The most famous duel in the U.S. was that between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr (1804). See also ordeal.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
For the full entry on duel, visit Britannica.com.

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