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Duel: how the Russians defended their honor
Duel: how the Russians defended their honor

On the verge of rationality and cruelty (in the sense of the outcome of the battle), a duel existed in Russia in the 18th century. Although officially banned since the time of Peter I, it nevertheless remained a part of Russian noble culture for many decades. She was not encouraged, punished for her, but at the same time they often turned a blind eye to her. The noble community, in spite of all the prohibitions, would not understand and certainly would not accept back a nobleman who would refuse to defend his honor in a duel. Let's figure out why not a single self-respecting nobleman could leave an insult without attention and what distinguished a duel from a murder.

For a nobleman of the named era, honor was never an ephemeral concept: along with the special rights assigned to him by status, he also had special duties to the state, but most importantly, to his ancestors. The nobleman had no moral right not to correspond to his origin, and since the social component of his life was extremely important, he was constantly under the "supervision" of society, the judgment of which was extremely important. For example, according to the unwritten code of honor, deceitfulness, cowardice, as well as unfaithfulness to an oath or a given word were unacceptable traits for a nobleman.

Honor was a symbol of nobility, and the hurt honor of one person was perceived not just as a humiliation of personal dignity, but as an indication that a person was not worthy of belonging to a particular genus as a whole. Roughly speaking, an insult to honor was an insult to the memory of ancestors, which cannot be ignored. Initially, duels were intended to restore honor, but over time, as Yu.M. Lotman, in his book "Conversations about Russian Culture", turned into a real "ritualized murder".

Thus, the Russian duel is a ritual for resolving conflicts that existed in a fairly limited segment of Russian history, from the middle of the 18th century to the middle of the 19th century.

Initially, the duel was viewed as a violation of public peace and order, lynching and an insult to the authorities, but by the 19th century it had turned into a private crime, that is, an attempt on the life and health of a particular person. In society, the attitude towards her was different. Most of the nobility took the duel for granted, a kind of legacy that does not depend on personal opinion and will. She allowed the nobles to almost physically feel their honor, besides, up to a certain time, she maintained in them a sense of responsibility for their actions. Well, and the bloodthirstiness of a duel, as a rule, was condemned only by old people and women, that is, those who did not take direct part in it.

Duel reasons

It was up to the offended one to decide how much honor was hurt and whether the insult was worth killing, but society identified the main causes of the conflict, which could escalate into a duel.

  • Divergence of political views is the least common cause of the conflict in Russia, nevertheless, political clashes periodically occurred with foreigners, however, the state monitored "international" duels at times more strictly, so they did not happen so often.

  • Service conflicts, which began on the basis of service, were of a more serious nature, since almost every nobleman served in Russia. For many, the service became an end in itself, therefore, humiliating service achievements or doubting them meant offending honor. Such duels, however, were not particularly widespread.

  • The defense of the regimental honor can be taken as a separate reason for the duel: it meant too much to the officers, so the slightest ridicule demanded a response. Moreover, it was an honor to defend the honor of the regiment.

  • Family honor protection - any insult to a person belonging to a particular family was regarded by members of the clan as a personal insult. The insults inflicted on deceased relatives, women and old people, that is, those who cannot stand up for themselves, were especially acutely perceived.

  • On a separate step was the protection of a woman's honor. And if unmarried girls tried to protect themselves from duels associated with their name (a stain on their reputation), then many married women did not mind being in the epicenter of attention, sometimes deliberately provoking their husbands and lovers into clashes. To insult a woman's honor did not necessarily need specific actions - a hint was enough, especially if it hinted at an unacceptable relationship of a married woman, which naturally cast a shadow on her husband. It was impossible to ignore this.

  • The rivalry of men over a woman is also a separate story: the conflict usually flared up over an unmarried girl, who, however, already had applicants for the groom. If both men had plans for the same woman, a clash between them was inevitable.

  • Protection of the weak. A particularly heightened sense of honor forced the nobleman to suppress any attempts to humiliate the nobility in general. If a nobleman allowed himself to offend a "weak" (for example, a person standing at a lower level of the social hierarchy), another could act as a noble defender and punish the offender for unworthy behavior.

  • However, domestic quarrels remained the most common. Since in the noble environment, the ability to behave appropriately was considered one of the fundamental features of noble education, a nobleman who dared to behave unworthily, as it were, insulted the honor of the entire nobility in general and each nobleman individually. Hunting, theater, running, gambling and other activities that presuppose a competitive spirit were special spheres of life that predispose to duels.

Duel participants

The main and indisputable condition for participation in a duel is the equality of opponents.

Firstly, only nobles could fight in a duel, since, in the understanding of the people of that time, although the other estates could have personal dignity, the concept of honor was inherent only to the nobility. A commoner could not offend or offend a nobleman: in this case, the insult was perceived not as a humiliation of dignity, but as a rebellion against a superior. Conflicts of the nobility with the bourgeoisie, merchants and other estates, the border of communication with which was more blurred, were resolved exclusively through the courts, and noble honor did not suffer.

Secondly, only men could fight in a duel - a woman was considered incapable of insults, and her words were rarely taken seriously. Nevertheless, the woman could be the initiator of the conflict.

Thirdly, only honest and noble people could fight, those who had not previously tarnished their reputation in any way. For example, cheating when playing cards was considered a dishonest act (since the very fact of lying and cheating abhorred the nobility's self-awareness), as well as the previous refusal of a person from a duel: in this case, the “guilty” was accused of cowardice. Fighting duels with liars and cowards was beneath nobility.

Fourthly, a minor could not fight in a duel, and it was not about age, but about the worldview and demeanor of a person. So, even a person mature by years, distinguished by infantilism and childishness, could pass for a “minor”.

Fifthly, duels between relatives were strictly prohibited, since they belonged to the same clan and, therefore, had to jointly defend a single idea, and not fight each other.Finally, in addition to all of the above, it was forbidden to fight sick people in a duel, and the debtor could not fight against his creditor.

In an ideal situation before the duel, all participants were equal, but in practice it was quite difficult to achieve complete equality.

Thus, inequality in marital status became an obstacle to a duel, since in a duel between a married man and a single, in the event of the death of the first, a widow will remain. But the age difference practically did not interfere, while the elderly men had several options: either try to settle the conflict peacefully, or shake off the old days and go to the barrier, or send a son, brother, and fellow soldier instead of themselves. Duels and national differences almost never interfered.

Dueling ritual

A duel always implied the presence of a strict and carefully performed ritual, the adherence to which in the noble coordinate system distinguished a noble duel from a banal murder. As a rule, a duel began with a challenge, which, in turn, was preceded by conflict and an insult to honor.

Traditionally, there are two types of abuse: verbal and action. The most common and most painful verbal abuse is "scoundrel", since it not only accuses of dishonor, but also equates a nobleman with a person of "vile", lower origin. Also, insults such as "coward" or "liar" were very common, which questioned whether a person had qualities so important to a nobleman.

The insult by action was more severe, since it boiled down to treating a nobleman as a commoner who was allowed to be hit. In this case, it was not at all necessary to inflict bodily harm - it was enough just to swing. However, the most common offensive action was a slap in the face or a blow with a glove, which at all symbolized the unwillingness to “get your hands dirty”.

The offended side demanded satisfaction, or satisfaction, and any communication between the duelists at that moment ceased - all responsibilities were shifted to the shoulders of seconds, who took on two functions, organizational and “lawyer's”. From the position of the organizers, the seconds were engaged in the arrangement of the duel, agreed on weapons, time and place for the duel, were intermediaries in the communication of their principals and sent a written challenge, or cartel, to the enemy.

The second was also obliged to try to reconcile the warring parties and be ready at any moment to act as a substitute for his principal, therefore, people who were close - relatives, but more often friends - were chosen as seconds. However, one should not forget that the duel was a crime and the seconds were punished for their participation no less severely than the duelists themselves.

As a rule, the duel was held the day after the insult was inflicted, since the duel on the very day of the insult turned a noble duel into a vulgar skirmish and all the significance of the ritual disappeared.

However, there was an opportunity to postpone the fight for a longer period - for example, if the duelist needed to put his affairs in order or serve a military campaign. On a case-by-case basis, opponents and seconds decided whether the reason for the postponement was valid enough, since the demand to postpone the duel for a markedly disrespectful reason was considered an additional insult.

The duel was held most often outside the city, if possible in a deserted place

Naturally, special requirements were imposed on the clothes of duelists during the battle (decent clothes, without any protection) and for weapons (they had to be the same and had not been previously used by duelists).

Any disregard for the rules of dueling etiquette in the first place humiliated the duelist himself, but there were ways to humiliate the enemy: for example, being late for a duel was perceived as disrespect and contempt for the enemy.

At the same time, the unspoken rules of a duel in Russia were extremely cruel. The duelists often fired from a very close distance, and the etiquette of a truce during a duel, although it existed, did not always come into force. In addition, in pistols, the charge was usually reduced, thereby reducing the chances of those who were shot to survive. If the duelist did not die, but was wounded, the bullet was firmly stuck in his body, which made treatment difficult and often led to a long and painful death.

Duel in literature: Pechorin and Grushnitsky


Duel of Pechorin and Grushnitsky, the heroes of the work of M.Yu. Lermontov's "A Hero of Our Time" is indicative of the influence of tradition on a person. Pechorin summons Grushnitsky to a duel, and he accepts the challenge incited by his comrades - that is, he agrees to a duel, since he does not want to be considered a coward in the company of his acquaintances and friends.

The conditions of the duel were very tough, the duelists fought on the edge of the abyss - usually the cruelty of the conditions implied a certain death.

In addition, resolving the conflict, Pechorin and Grushnitsky violated many rules in the ritual of the duel. Firstly, Pechorin is slightly late for the duel, wanting to show his true attitude towards the duel as a meaningless action, but his act, on the contrary, is regarded as cowardice and a deliberate desire to disrupt the duel.

Secondly, Grushnitsky, succumbing to emotions, shoots at an unarmed opponent - a gross violation, since he does not give the enemy a chance and contradicts the dueling code, according to which a duel is not a murder, but an equal duel. Finally, Pechorin is ready to forgive Grushnitsky, despite the violations and injury inflicted on him, and according to the rules, Grushnitsky is obliged to accept such a truce, but instead he pushes Pechorin to a return shot and dies. The duel between Pechorin and Grushnitsky does not follow tradition, and therefore had no right to take place.

Duel in life: Griboyedov and Yakubovich

A classic example of brether behavior is the duel of the staff captain V.V. Sheremetev and the chamberlain of Count A.P. Zavadovsky, who played an important role in the fate of Alexander Griboyedov. The name "quadruple duel" was firmly entrenched behind this duel.

The impetus for the duel was the conflict between Sheremetev and Zavadovsky over the ballerina Istomina, with whom Sheremetev had a relationship. Being familiar with the ballerina, Griboyedov brought her to Zavadovsky's house, thereby inadvertently dragging himself into the conflict. Sheremetev, who did not know whom to shoot with, went for advice to the famous breeder and officer A.I. Yakubovich, who took over the duel with Griboyedov.

The first duel between Sheremetev and Zavadovsky took place on November 12, 1817: Sheremetev received a serious wound in the stomach, from which he later died at the age of 23. The duel between Griboyedov and Yakubovich took place a year later, on October 23, in Tiflis. It is believed that Griboyedov tried to evade the duel, but he nevertheless took place - in a duel the poet was wounded by a bullet in his left hand and lost one finger. It was for this detail that, many years later, his torn corpse was identified in Tehran.

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