Single combats between commanders of armies

MAGolding

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,967
Chalfont, Pennsylvania
How many single combats between commanders of armies have there been in history?

I have read of a few examples.

In Shri Lanka, King Ellalan mounted on his war elephant Maha Pabbatha was defeated and killed in battle in 161 BCE by Prince Dutugamunu mounted on his war elephant Kandula.

At the Battle of Ninevah 12 December 627 Emperor Heraclius allegedly killed two or three Persian officers in personal combat, including the Persian commander Rhahzadh.

In 1022 Prince Mstislav of Tmutarakan in Kievian Rus invaded the lands of the Circassians or Kassogians. Prince Rededia of the Kassogians suggested they fight a duel to avoid bloodshed. Prince Rededia began to win and Prince Mstislav cheated by pulling out a hidden knife and killed Rededia and made the Kassogians pay tribute and serve him.

Theodore Laskaris I, Emperor of the Romans, is said to have personally killed Sultan Kaykhusrow I of Rum at the Battle of Antioch on the Meander about 17 June 1211.

At the Battle of Gollheim 2 July 1298 the armies of the two rival Kings of the Romans fought. Adolf of Nassau sought out his enemy Albert of Austria and attacked him, but Albert killed Adolf.

According to Thai legend, King Naresuan of Ayutthaya killed crown Prince Mingyi Swa of Burma in an elephant back fight in battle on 8 January 1593.

The Crows and Shoshone are said to have fought a five day battle for control of the Wind River region of Wyoming in 1866. Legend tells that Chief Washakie of the Shoshone and Chief Big Robber of the Crows then agreed to fight a duel for possession of the region. Washakie won, but was so impressed by Big Robber's bravery that instead of scalping him he cut out his heart and put it on the end of his lance. And that is how Crowheart Butte got its name.

At the Battle of Infernal Caverns 26 to 28 September 1867, the US commander, Lt. Colonel George Crook, is said to have shot one of the "Snake" leaders, Chief Sieto.

No doubt there are other examples of the commanders of opposing armies allegedly fighting each other.

The latest battles I have heard of where two monarchs commanded their forces against each other were in 1899 and 1900. Sultan or Mbang Abd ar-Rahman Gaourang II of Bagimi lead his forces as an ally of the French against Rabih az-Zubayr of Bornu. They fought at Togbao July 17, 1899, where the French commander Bretonnet was killed and Gaourang was wounded, and at Kousseri April 22 1900 where Rabih and the French commander Lamy were killed. But I never read that Gaourang and Rabih personally fought each other.

So are there other examples of single combats between commanders of armies in history?
 

Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
35,366
T'Republic of Yorkshire
4th Battle of Kawanakajima.

Supposedly, Uesugi Kenshin broke into the camp of opposing dainyo Takeda Shingen and struck him a blow which Shingen fended off with his iron war fan (gunsen). Kenshin was then driven off.

The story is probably apocryphal, but the fight may have occurred between the respective daimyos' doubles (kagemusha).
 
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Oct 2015
926
Virginia
In 222 BC Marcus Claudius Marcellus (cos 222, 215, 214, 210, 208) killed Viridumarus, king of the Insubrian Gauls in single combat, winning the spolia opimia.

In 29 BC Marcus Licinius Crassus (grandson of the triumvir, cos 30) killed Deldo king of the Bastarnae in single combat, but was was denied the spolia opimia as he commanded under the auspices of Caesar Augustus.
 
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Oct 2018
1,692
Sydney
For ancient Roman history Marcellus and Crassus (noted by Dentatus) are classic examples, but there are questionable examples from the third century:

In 271 the emperor Aurelian supposedly killed the Gothic king Cannabas/Cannabaudes in single combat (Historia Augusta, Aurelian 22.2).

Dio 78.13.1 claims that the emperor Caracalla challenged an enemy chieftain to one-on-one combat.

Peter the Patrician, fragment 182 (Banchich = Anon. Cont. fragm. 6 (FHG 4, pp. 194-195)) claims that the emperor Gallienus did the same to the rival emperor Postumus. Drinkwater 1987, The Gallic Empire, p. 84 argues that the story may be true, since Gallienus was an admirer of Caracalla.

Incidentally, the emperor Maximinus Thrax had a reputation for personally fighting in battles. Herodian emphasizes the emperor’s battlefield heroism, and yet despises him as a low-born tyrant (7.2.6-8; see also 6.8.2, 4).

Going further back in time, King Pyrrhus of Epirus wounded the Macedonian general Pantauchus in single combat (Plutarch, Pyrrhus 7.4-8.1):

'There was a sharp and terrible conflict between the soldiers who engaged, and especially also between the leaders. For Pantauchus, who was confessedly the best of the generals of Demetrius for bravery, dexterity, and vigour of body, and had both courage and a lofty spirit, challenged Pyrrhus to a hand-to‑hand combat; and Pyrrhus, who yielded to none of the kings in daring and prowess, and wished that the glory of Achilles should belong to him by right of valour rather than of blood alone, advanced through the foremost fighters to confront Pantauchus. At first they hurled their spears, then, coming to close quarters, they plied their swords with might and skill. Pyrrhus got one wound, but gave Pantauchus two, one in the thigh, and one along the neck, and put him to flight and overthrew him; he did not kill him, however, for his friends haled him away. Then the Epeirots, exalted by the victory of their king and admiring his valour, overwhelmed and cut to pieces the phalanx of the Macedonians, pursued them as they fled, slew many of them, and took five thousand of them alive.
This conflict did not fill the Macedonians with wrath and hate towards Pyrrhus for their losses, rather it led those who beheld his exploits p367 and engaged him in the battle to esteem him highly and admire his bravery and talk much about him. For they likened his aspect and his swiftness and all his motions to those of the great Alexander, and thought they saw in him shadows, as it were, and intimations of that leader's impetuosity and might in conflicts. The other kings, they said, represented Alexander with their purple robes, their body-guards, the inclination of their necks, and their louder tones in conversation; but Pyrrhus, and Pyrrhus alone, in arms and action.'
 
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Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,894
Australia
It was a common way of resolving a battle in Russia. They called it bash na bash (one on one). If the two enemy leaders fought before combat commenced then the victor would be declared the winner of the entire battle and the rest of the army never had to fight. The most famous example is the above-mentioned fight in 1022 between Prince Mstislav of Tmutarakan and the Kasog Prince Rededia.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
5,184
Sydney
On the first day of the battle of Bannockburn
Robert the Bruce engaging in a mounted duel with Henry de Bohun ,
the Bruce smashed him on the first pass with a battle axe , thus much cheering his troops
 
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sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
5,184
Sydney
there is definitely some merit in having the heads of state going toes to toes
just think of the TV ratings
 
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