I've read of instances where historians suggest that single combat of champions has been used to preempt wholesale slaughter on the battlefield; and I think I've read instances where blood relatives inherited a throne by killing under the excuse of a formal duel.

But has there ever been a documented or strongly probable instance of an enemy who - with no legal claim to the kingdom and no army or peasant uprising to back them up - won a kingdom, duchy or similarly significant territory in single combat against some representative or the sovereign of that kingdom?

Or has source amnesia resulted in me mixing up Greek poems with (semi-objective) reality again? ;-)

  • Sounds more like Narnia than greek poems, but... The main problem with this is that it's only answerable if somebody did do this. Otherwise you can't answer. And since I can't imagine this actually happened, it means you can't really answer it except with "Not as far as I know", which isn't much of an answer. Sep 9, 2013 at 7:03
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    I see. But "No known historical record" should be a perfectly suitable answer in that case. Otherwise people would be voting down all questions where the current members don't recall a historical document, ephemera or folio. For example, if I asked whether Norwegian Vikings knew from returning colonists about North America; the legit answer might be "no known historical record" instead of a down vote. Sep 9, 2013 at 8:34
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    @Voitcus Actually no. After David dispatched Goliath, the latter's compatriots refused to accept the verdict of the single combat and a regular pitched battle was fought. Sep 9, 2013 at 10:20
  • @LateralFractal: OK, answer added. I look forward to seeing if somebody comes up with an example. :-) Sep 9, 2013 at 10:48
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    How believable the historical document should be? For example, Oedipus upon approaching Thebes didn't have an army or a known claim to the throne. Does Oedipus killing Laius in a single combat and becoming the king of Thebes qualify as a historical document? At the time it was written it may have been regarded as a poetical restatement of historical events. Or the historical document should be reasonably believable for modern historians?
    – Michael
    Dec 4, 2013 at 23:07

2 Answers 2


There is as far as I know no known historical record of anyone with no legal claim to a kingdom or other significant administrative territory (ie not just a farm or manor or other owned area) winning that territory in one-on-one combat with the sovereign of that territory or his representative, without having an army to back him up.

And why would there be? Why would the sovereign accept single combat as an option unless the claimant had an army that was clearly outnumbering the sovereigns army?

If some random guy with no claim and no popular or military support shows up and claims a kingdom, he would either be ignored, or more likely, executed.

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    I think you've hit the nail on the head; most theories of governance include "legitimacy" - and while I won't categorically state that it is impossible for single combat to demonstrate legitimacy, I cannot imagine any situation in which single combat could demonstrate the ability to govern.
    – MCW
    Sep 9, 2013 at 10:50
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    @LateralFractal OK, I'm not going to go into a wordfight. It's just pretty obvious that in a culture that decides leaders by one-on-one combat, the combatants can not be reasonably described as "enemies with no legal claim to the throne". Sep 9, 2013 at 21:22
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    @LateralFractal I'm not sure such cultures ever existed, and as you say, if they did exist, they didn't leave much in the way of records. Except perhaps for the Society for Creative Anachronism, where this phenomenon can happen.
    – MCW
    Sep 10, 2013 at 12:16
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    @Gangnus then there's nobody to battle with, and if there is there's an army, and if two claimants both without armies are dueling, a third one with an army will kill them both anyway.
    – o0'.
    Dec 4, 2013 at 14:32
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    @Gangnus: OK, maybe not outnumbering but having the larger military power, which was the case in both these cases. None of the cases was single combat. Dec 4, 2013 at 20:13

The kingdom of Sarawak, 500 000 pop., won by Sir Charles Vyner Brooke, later "white Raja of Sarawak"

"With little more than his 140-ton sloop and a bit of help from a British warship, he made himself Rajah of Sarawak, a kingdom of deep jungle and broad rivers on the island of Borneo."


And earlier it happened sometimes, when the kingdom mentioned was in the inner conflict. Such as Pisarro's conquest of Incs with 200 men.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Combat "The term combat ...typically refers to armed conflict between military forces in warfare" So, single combat=single battle. And NOT a battle of singles.

If you really mean the personal fight, any case when a pretender killed a ruler personally and openly, fits for the question. And there were HEAPS of such cases in history of archaic "kingdoms"- power meant more, than the law. Or, rather, he, who has the power, sets the law. Of course, the pretender said that he is the lost son/nephew/grandson of the previous ruler, and if he did win, it WAS taken as the truth.

Don't forget, that there are other sources of power than army, too.

We don't need to go far ago - in Russia in 1999 it was Jeltsin, who had the army and was the president, but Putin made him to claim Pitin for the next president. Without even a single combat.

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    This doesn't answer the question. You claim that there are heaps of cases when a pretender killed a ruler in single combat, and yet your answer doesn't mention a single case. "Without even a single combat." Well, then, so that's not relevant, since it wasn't single combat. Dec 4, 2013 at 22:37
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    The last paragraph is irrelevant: barely alive Yeltsin just made a deal with Putin by trading the throne he couldn't maintain anymore for the amnesty for himself, family, and cronies from the prosecution for the 7 years of outrageous abuse of power and unheard of corruption.
    – Michael
    Dec 4, 2013 at 22:40

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