Honor killing, most often, the murder of a woman or girl by male family members. The killers justify their actions by claiming that the victim has brought dishonor upon the family name or prestige. Britanica


An honour killing or shame killing is the murder of a member of a family, due to the perpetrators' belief that the victim has brought shame or dishonour upon the family, or has violated the principles of a community or a religion, usually for reasons such as divorcing or separating from their spouse, refusing to enter an arranged, child, or forced marriage, being in a relationship or having associations with social groups outside the family that is strongly disapproved by one's family, having premarital or extramarital sex, becoming the victim of rape or sexual assault, dressing in clothing, jewelry and accessories which are deemed inappropriate, engaging in non-heterosexual relations or renouncing a faith Wikipedia:Honor killing

Honor killing is not death to preserve honor, but rather inflicting death on another to preserve familial honor.

I thought I had found two examples of honor killing in ancient literature, although people online have disagreed with me.

  1. In Livy, the killing of Verginia by her father Verginius in ancient Rome might have been fictional, but was probably at least based on events that had actually occurred. So the issue would be whether when something like the Verginius episode did happen, it fits the modern definition of honor killing.

  2. Whether or not the Odyssey is fictional, would an event like Telemachus's killing of the woman slaves who were disloyal to Odysseus be considered an honor killing? (Telemachus does give his "honor" as a reason for hanging them rather than killing them with a sword).

Also, there's at least one other kind of honor killing in modern times: the killing of a family member who rejects the family religion. Is there any example of this in ancient history as well?

Wikipedia gives some background, saying, for one thing, that the killing is a protection of the honor of a family. But if there are historians who have made a special study of honor killing and know whether or not the concept and practice have or have not changed over the centuries, I would prefer to go by their definitions.

  • 2
    I think there is a serious chance that many honor killings would not be recorded in history; there is no incentive for the perpetrator to record actions taken to remove dishonor, and there is no way for the victim to record the crime. I think OP's approach of looking at historical literature to infer historical behavior is interesting and the question is both more interesting and more subtle than it initially appears.
    – MCW
    Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 10:59

2 Answers 2


1) Yes, history has documented honor killings back to ancient times.

Honour killings have been known since ancient Roman times, when the pater familias, or senior male within a household, retained the right to kill an unmarried but sexually active daughter or an adulterous wife.Footnote39 Honour-based crimes were known in medieval Europe where early Jewish law mandated death by stoning for an adulterous wife and her partner.Footnote40 Today the practice is most commonly associated with regions in North Africa and the Middle East. History of honor killing in Canada

2) Has anyone has made a study of honor killings - the same article provides

Sharif Kanaana, professor of anthropology at Birzeit University states that honour killing is "a complicated issue that cuts deep into the history of Arab society." He further observes:

What the men of the family, clan, or tribe seek control of in a patrilineal society is reproductive power. Women for the tribe were considered a factory for making men. The honor killing is not a means to control sexual power or behavior. What's behind it is the issue of fertility, or reproductive power. Commodifying Honor in Female Sexuality: Honor Killings in Palestine

Each of those two sources provide citations to other sources and extensive scholarship about honor killings.

  • This says there's a lot known about it, but not a single example is given. Commented Jan 8 at 17:43

Honor killings??? Greek mythology/history is full of killings for honor.

  • Odysseus killing the Suitors of Penelope
  • Orestes killing his uncle Aegisthus and his mother (though unknowingly) Clytemnestra for killing his father Agamemnon
  • Ajax killing himself because of the dishonoring madness which caught him after losing the verbal fight between the Greeks for the ownership of dead Achilles' weapons
  • Many more...

The events described above are not based in historic sources, but lore and myths from each era shows a lot about the morals and ethics of that era.

  • 5
    This site is history.stackexchange.com not mythology.stackexchange.com. Please restrict your examples to historical ones and provide sources for all non-trivial assertions of such. Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 16:47
  • 1
    Sorry, I will be more careful. Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 16:58
  • 1
    But still... All myths are from this ancient era. So we can safely assume that these myths shows the historical morals of humans of this period. Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 21:01
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    While I concur with Mr. Geerkens point, as noted above, I wonder if this is a case where the actual events are unlikely to be recorded, leaving the historian to infer the behavior from fictional/literary sources. This approach would need to be clearly described to avoid confusion. I'm working off the hypothesis that there are disincentives to recording honor killings - is there evidence to support that hypothesis?
    – MCW
    Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 11:01
  • I have contended that Verginius's murder of his daughter in ancient Rome told by Livy, was an honor killing, and Telemachus's even more disgusting killing of the unfaithful female slaves in the Odyssey was also an honor killing. My point is it doesn't have in ancient times anything to do with being Arabic. Commented Jan 8 at 17:51

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