A code duello is a set of rules for a one-on-one combat, or duel.
Codes duello regulate dueling and thus help prevent vendettas between families and other social factions. They assure that non-violent means of reaching agreement be exhausted and that harm be reduced, both by limiting the terms of engagement and by providing medical care. Finally, they assure that the proceedings have a number of witnesses. The witnesses assure grieving members of factions of the fairness of the duel, and help provide testimony if legal authorities become involved.
From the Roman Empire to Middle Ages
In Rome, the most famous duel was fought between three Horatii brothers and three Curiatii brothers and respecting precise rules during the 7th century BC. Mark Antony and Octavian also challenged each other to a personal duel, but this suggestion never came to fruition. The Lombards had dueling rituals too, often controlled by local judges. The Norse sagas give accounts of the rules of dueling in the Viking Age holmganga. The 1409 Flos Duellatorum of Italy is the earliest example of an actual code duello in Europe. Fechtbücher of Hans Talhoffer and other fifteenth century masters give rules for judicial duels and "tournament rules" with varying degrees of detail.
A morally-acceptable duel would start with the challenger issuing a traditional, public, personal grievance, based on an insult, directly to the single person who offended the challenger.
The challenged person had the choice of a public apology or other restitution, or choosing the weapons for the duel. The challenger would then propose a place for the "field of honour". The challenged man had to either accept the site or propose an alternative. The location had to be a place where the opponents could duel without being arrested. It was common for the constables to set aside such places and times and spread the information, so "honest people can avoid unpatrolled places."
At the field of honor, each side would bring a doctor and seconds. The seconds would try to reconcile the parties by acting as go-betweens to attempt to settle the dispute with an apology or restitution. If reconciliation succeeded, all parties considered the dispute to be honorably settled, and went home.
Each side would have at least one second; three was the traditional number.
If one party failed to appear, he was accounted a coward. The appearing party would win by default. The seconds and sometimes the doctor would bear witness of the cowardice.
Swords were the typical weapon of the time; it was not until the 17th century when pistols became readily available.
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