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Cain kills Abel, a fratricide illustrated by Gustave Doré ("And Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and slew him.")[1]

Fratricide (from Latin fratricidium; from frater 'brother', and -cīdium 'killing' – the assimilated root of caedere 'to kill, cut down') is the act of killing one's own brother.

It can either be done directly or via the use of either a hired or an indoctrinated intermediary (an assassin). The victim need not be the perpetrator's biological brother. In a military context, fratricide refers to a service member killing a comrade.

The term is often used metaphorically to refer to civil wars.[2][3]

Religion and mythology

The Abrahamic religions recognize the biblical account of Cain and Abel as the first fratricidal murder to be committed. In the mythology of ancient Rome, the city is founded as the result of a fratricide, with the twins Romulus and Remus quarreling over who has the favour of the gods and over each other's plans to build Rome, with Romulus becoming Rome's first king and namesake after killing his brother.[4]

In Greek mythology, Cassiphone, the daughter of Odysseus and Circe, killed her half-brother and husband Telemachus in revenge after he killed her mother Circe following a quarrell between the two.[5]

Osiris Myth

Main article: Osiris myth

In ancient Egyptian mythology, the god Osiris is murdered by his brother Set who usurps the throne.

The Mahabharata and the Ramayana

In the Hindu epic Mahābhārata, Karna was killed by Arjuna who was unaware that Karna was his eldest brother. However, the context of the crime becomes markedly different when seen from the following angle:

1. Arjuna was oath-bound to avenge the death of his only son and heir apparent Abhimanyu who had been mercilessly slaughtered by a group of bloodthirsty warriors which included Karna.

2. While Arjuna was unaware that Karna was his own biological brother, the latter was apprised of the same by their common mother Kunti. And hence, even though he was privy to the bond of brotherhood, Karna still wholeheartedly (due to his allegiance to prince Duryodana) and readily elected to indulge in fratricide.

The 13th century poet, Kavi Kabila, while commenting broadly on the Ramayana and on Rama's killing of Raavan with the active support of the latter's estranged younger brother Vibhisan – upon whom Raavan had vowed black vengeance and on the killing of Bali (again by Rama) with the ready contrivance of his younger, disgruntled and banished, sibling Sugreev, has succinctly expressed this in a couplet:

"Irony? What Irony?! If not that the seed of destruction carried in the heart of one brother was sowed and reaped to the full by the hand of another!"

Roman Empire

The only known fratricides in the Roman Empire are Romulus killing Remus and the reasonably well-known murder of Geta on the orders of his brother Caracalla in 211. The brothers had a fraught relationship enduring many years; upon their father Septimius Severus's death in February 211, they succeeded him as co-emperors. Their joint rule was embittered and unsuccessful, with each of them conspiring to have the other one murdered. In December of that year, Caracalla pretended to be holding a reconciliation in their mother Julia Domna's apartment when Geta was lured to come unarmed and unguarded. A group of Centurions loyal to Caracalla ambushed him upon Geta's arrival, with Geta dying in his mother's arms.[6] It is said that the fratricide would often come back to haunt Caracalla.

Persian Empire

There are many recorded fratricides in Persia, the most famous of which involving Cyrus the Great's sons Cambyses II and Bardiya, the former killing the latter. There are also stories about the sons of Artaxerxes I, Xerxes II, Sogdianus, and Darius II, all of which concern competition for the throne. In addition, there were many fratricides recorded during the Parthian and Sassanid Empires.

Tang Empire

Main article: Xuanwu Gate Incident

Prince Li Shimin (Prince of Qin), the second son of Emperor Gaozu, was in an intense rivalry with his elder brother Crown Prince Li Jiancheng and younger brother Prince Li Yuanji (Prince of Qi). He took control and set up an ambush at Xuanwu Gate, the northern gate leading to the Palace City of the imperial capital Chang'an. There, Li Jiancheng and Li Yuanji were murdered by Li Shimin and his men. Within three days after the coup, Li Shimin was installed as the crown prince. Emperor Gaozu abdicated another sixty days later and passed the throne to Li Shimin, who would become known as Emperor Taizong.

Ottoman Empire

Fratricide was not originally legal in the Ottoman Empire. The practice of fratricide was legalized by Mehmed II. His grandfather, Mehmed I, struggled over the throne with his brothers Süleyman, İsa, and Musa during the Ottoman Interregnum. This civil war lasted eight years and weakened the empire due to the casualties it inflicted and the division it sowed in Ottoman society. As a result, Mehmed II formally legalized the practice of fratricide in order to preserve the state and not further place strain on the unity as previous civil wars did. Mehmed II stated, "Of any of my sons that ascends the throne, it is acceptable for him to kill his brothers for the common benefit of the people (nizam-i alem). The majority of the ulama (Muslim scholars) have approved this; let action be taken accordingly."[7]

When Mehmed's son, Bayezid II died, his son Selim I immediately assumed the throne and proceeded to execute his two brothers Ahmed and Korkut. The largest practice of fratricide was committed by Mehmed III when he had 19 of his brothers and half-brothers murdered and buried alongside their father. His successor Ahmed I, when faced with public disapproval for the practice of fratricide, decided to outlaw the practice and replace it with seniority ascension system along with imprisonment in the Kafes of any prince who would be a possible threat to the throne.[citation needed]

Mughal Empire

In the Mughal Empire, fratricides often occurred as a result of wars of succession. Shah Jahan had his eldest brother Khusrau Mirza killed in 1622.[8] Shah Jahan also had his brother Shahriyar killed in 1628. Shah Jahan's son, Dara Shikoh was assassinated by four of his brother Aurangzeb's henchmen in front of his terrified son on the night of 30 August 1659 (9 September Gregorian).


The events in the Greek tragedy Antigone unfold due to the previous war between the princely brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices, who killed each other in combat. Polyneices had challenged his brother's claim to the throne of the city Thebes, and attacked the city with an army from Argos. Eteocles fought for Thebes to defend the city against Polyneices and his army. The two killed each other by stabbing in the heart.

Ashoka's Empire

Ashoka, also known as Chand-Ashoka (Cruel Ashoka), killed his brothers as punishment for the king's (his father) death and quarrel for the kingdom (war of succession). Later on, Ashoka conquered Greater India entire, before he adopted Buddhism and forsook war.

Zulu Kingdom

Shaka, the Zulu king, was killed by his half-brother Dingane and his brother Mhlangana in 1828. Dingane became the Zulu leader until he was assassinated in 1840 in the Hlatikhulu Forest.

In fiction

The Fratricide (1897) by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, illustrating the poem The Brother Murderer from Kanteletar

Main article: List of fratricides in fiction




See also


  1. ^ "Genesis 4:48". 21st Century King James Version. Retrieved 2009-04-07 – via BibleGateway.
  2. ^ Murrell Taylor, Amy (2009). The Divided Family in Civil War America. University of Carolina Press. p. 71.
  3. ^ McNelis, Charles (2007). Statius' Thebaid and the Poetics of Civil War. Cambridge University Press. p. 4.
  4. ^ The political significance of the founding fratricide is discussed at length by T.P. Wiseman, Remus: A Roman Myth (Cambridge University Press, 1995) passim.
  5. ^ Visser, Edzard (2006). "Cassiphone". In Cancik, Hubert; Schneider, Helmuth (eds.). Brill's New Pauly. Translated by Christine F. Salazar. Basle: Brill Reference Online. doi:10.1163/1574-9347_bnp_e610200. Retrieved November 19, 2023.
  6. ^ Wikipedia, "Caracalla"
  7. ^ Ekinci, Ekrem (7 August 2015). "The history of fratricide in the Ottoman Empire – Part 1". Daily Sabah. Retrieved November 2, 2020.
  8. ^ Mahajan, V.D. (2007). History of Medieval India. New Delhi. pp. 126–7. ISBN 978-81-219-0364-6.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  9. ^ Rubinstein, Carin (July 14, 1994). "PARENT & CHILD; Debating the Violence in 'Lion King'". The New York Times. p. 8.
  10. ^ White, Armond (December 4, 2020). "The Godfather Coda Mixes Crime, Politics, and Religion". National Review. National Review, Inc.
  11. ^ Pugliese, Stanislao (August 13, 2019). "Chris Cuomo's 'Fredo' slur rant is about more than race or the brother in 'The Godfather'". NBC News. NBCUniversal Media.
  12. ^ Fennessey, Sean (February 16, 2018). "'Black Panther' Is the First Time History Has Mattered in a Marvel Movie". The Ringer. Spotify.
  13. ^ Franich, Darren (April 24, 2019). "In praise of Marvel's destructive Phase 3 films". Entertainment Weekly. Meredith Corporation.
  14. ^ Knight, Chris (April 3, 2019). "Shazam!, DC's latest, is what happens when Superman meets Big". National Post. Postmedia Network Inc.