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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 the Latin words frater "brother" and cida "killer," or cidum "a killing," both from caedere "to kill, to cut down") is the act of a person, directly or via use of either a hired or an indoctrinated intermediary (an assassin) that ultimately results in the killing of their brother. The victim need not be the perpetrator's biological brother. In a military context, fratricide refers to a service member killing a comrade.

Religion and mythology[edit]

Judeo-Christian religion recognizes the biblical account of Cain and Abel, this fratricide was the first type of murder to be committed. In the mythology of ancient Rome, the city is founded as the result of a fratricide, when the twins Romulus and Remus quarrel over who has the favor of the gods, and Romulus becomes Rome's first king and namesake after killing his brother.[2]

The Mahabharata And The Ramayana[edit]

In the Hindu epic Mahābhārata, Karna was killed by Arjuna who didn't know that Karna was his eldest brother. Though not exactly fratricide the otherwise meticulously pious Arjuna's actions - where he pitilessly and against the rules of honorable warfare slayed an unarmed Karna - are nevertheless considered utterly deplorable and heinous. 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 gang of bloodthirsty warriors which included Karna. 2. While Arjuna was blissfully unaware that Karna was his own blood-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) 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 - on 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[edit]

The only known fratricide in the Roman Empire is the fairly well known murder of Geta on the orders of his brother Caracalla in 211. The brothers had a longtime fraught relationship, and upon their father Septimius Severus's death in February 211, they succeeded him as co-emperors. Their joint rule was very unsuccessful, and each of them kept conspiring to have the other one murdered. And in December of that year, Caracalla successfully had his brother murdered. He pretended to be holding a reconciliation in their mother Julia Domna's apartment, and Geta was lured to come unarmed and unguarded. Upon Geta's arrival, a group of Praetorian Guards loyal to Caracalla murdered him, Geta dying in his mother's arms.[3] It is said that the fratricide would often come back to haunt Caracalla.

Ottoman Empire[edit]

In the Ottoman Empire a policy of judicial royal fratricide was introduced by Sultan Mehmet II whose grandfather Mehmet I had to fight a long and bloody civil war against his brothers (which brought the empire near to destruction) to take the throne. When a new Sultan ascended to the throne he would imprison all of his surviving brothers and kill them by strangulation with a silk cord as soon as he had produced his first male heir. The largest killing took place on the succession of Mehmet III when 19 of his brothers were killed and buried with their father. The aim was to prevent civil war. Reflecting public disapproval, his successor Ahmed I abandoned the practice, replacing it with life imprisonment in the Kafes, a section of the Ottoman palace.

Mughal Empire[edit]

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. [4] Shah Jahan also had his brother Shahriyar killed in 1628. Shah Jahan's son, Dara Shikho 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 one another by each stabbing the other in the heart.

Ashoka's Empire[edit]

Ashoka, also known as Chand-Ashoka (Cruel Ashoka), killed his real brothers as punishment for the kings'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.

See also[edit]

Familial killing terms:

Non-familial killing terms from the same root:

  • Deicide is the killing of a god
  • Ecocide is the killing of the ecology of planet Earth
  • Genocide is the killing of a large group of people, usually a specific and entire ethnic, racial, religious or national group
  • Genucide is the killing of the human species by the human species
  • Homicide is the killing of any human
  • Infanticide, the killing of an infant from birth to 12 months
  • Regicide is the killing of a monarch (king or ruler)
  • Speciacide is a term for the potential mass suicide of the human species by overpopulation or global warming
  • Tyrannicide is the killing of a tyrant


  1. ^ "Holy Bible 21st Century King James Version -". Retrieved 2009-04-07. 
  2. ^ The political significance of the founding fratricide is discussed at length by T.P. Wiseman, Remus: A Roman Myth (Cambridge University Press, 1995) passim.
  3. ^ Wikipedia, "Caracalla"
  4. ^ Mahajan, V.D. (2007). History of Medieval India,. New Delhi. pp. 126–7. ISBN 81-219-0364-5. 

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