15 Historical Brother vs. Brother Matchups

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On Sunday, Jim and John Harbaugh will become the first siblings to square off from opposite sidelines when their teams take the field for Super Bowl XLVII. That two brothers should both reach the Super Bowl as head coaches is remarkable, and a feat worthy of celebration. But for as long as there have been brothers, brothers have been competing, fighting, betraying, and even killing each other. In honor of the Harbowl (Superbaugh?), here's our brief and incomplete guide to battling brothers.

1. Cain vs. Abel

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The Book of Genesis says that Cain, the first son of Adam and Eve, killed his brother Abel, the second son. Cain was likely motivated by jealousy: He murdered his brother after Abel's offering was looked upon favorably by God, while Cain's was not.

2. Cyrus the Younger vs. Artaxerxes II

When Plutarch wrote about the childhood of the sons of Darius II of Persia, Artaxerxes and Cyrus the Younger, he said that "Cyrus, from his earliest youth, showed something of a headstrong and vehement character; Artaxerxes, on the other side, was gentler in everything, and of a nature more yielding and soft in its action." Artaxerxes ascended the throne to become King of Persia in 404 BC, and Cyrus began plotting his brother's assassination soon after. Three years later, Cyrus was killed in battle during a failed attempt to oust his brother.

3. Pērōz vs. Hormīzd III

In 457, Pērōz became involved in a bitter two year battle against his brother, Hormīzd III, emperor of the Sassanid Dynasty (think pre-Islamic Persia). Ultimately, Pērōz killed Hormīzd and took the throne.

4. Mahmud of Ghazni vs. Ismail

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In 998, Mahmud of Ghazni (above), founder of the Ghaznavid Empire—a vast swath that included present-day Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgystan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northern India—became the first man in history to assume the title of “Sultan.” But that power wasn't given to him; Mahmud had to take it ... from this brother. His father, the great ruler Sabuktegin, passed over Mahmud and granted dominion to his brother, Ismail. Upon hearing about the appointment, Mahmud challenged his brother’s power, overcoming Ismail’s supporters, taking control of Ghazni, and condemning his brother to house arrest for the rest of his life.

5. Henry I vs. Robert, Duke of Normandy

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Henry the First of England (right), the fourth son of William the Conqueror, ascended to the throne after the death of his older brother, William II, and before his other brother, Robert—who was next in line for the throne—could return from the First Crusade. A few years later, Henry defeated his Robert’s army and imprisioned his brother, first in the Tower of London and eventually in Cardiff, Wales; Henry also stripped Robert of his title of Duke of Normandy.

6. King Richard vs. John

If you're familiar with Robin Hood, you know this one: In 1192, King Richard of England was imprisoned by Duke Leopold of Austria as he returned home from the Crusades. While Richard was imprisoned, his brother John seized the throne. Two years later, when Richard returned home, he forgave his brother—but took away all of this lands, with the exception of Ireland.

7. Dara vs. Shuja vs. Aurangzeb vs. Murad

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In 1658, the four sons of Shah Jahan, the Mughal Emperor, all laid claim to the throne when Jahan fell ill. All four sons were formidable men. Dara, the eldest, was the designated heir; Shuja was the Governor of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa; Aurangzeb covered the provence of Deccan; and Murad oversaw Gujarat and Malwa. All hell broke loose. Aurangzeb defeated Dara and occupied the imperial capital of Agra; he took his own dad captive. Shuja was defeated. Murad was taken prisoner. Dara rose again—but Aurazngzeb defeated him again. Eventually Dara was sentenced to death for idolatry and apostasy from Islam. Aurangzeb took over as king—ruling for 49 years—and delivered the decapitated head of his brother Dara to their father.

8. James Campbell vs. Alexander Campbell

James and Alexander Campbell, immigrant brothers from Scotland, fought on opposing sides during the American Civil War. Alexander had settled in New York City; James in Charleston. In the lead up to the war, each man took up the side of the place he’d settled in. During the Battle of Secessionville, the first major attempt by the federals to regain Charleston, Alexander and James were within yards of each other, but were unaware of that fact until near the end of the battle.

9. Leo Gallagher vs. Ron Gallagher

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In the early 1990s, Leo Gallagher's younger brother, Ron, asked for permission to perform shows using Gallagher's signature produce-destroying Sledge-O-Matic. Leo consented on the condition that Ron made it clear in promotional materials that Leo Gallagher was not performing. After several years, Ron began promoting his act as "Gallagher Too" and sometimes even promoted his routine in a way that provided no indication that they weren’t seeing Leo perform. In August 2000, Leo sued Ron for trademark violations and false advertising. The courts sided with Leo, granting an injunction that prohibits Ron from performing any act that impersonates Leo.

10. Christopher Hitchens vs. Peter Hitchens

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Christopher Hitchens and his brother fell out over a joke about Stalinism, but instead of just doing what we'd all do and ignoring one another, they debated on TV and in print. After the birth of Peter's third child, the brothers reconciled—kind of. "There is no longer any official froideur," Christopher told The Guardian in 2006. "But there's no official—what's the word?—chaleur, either."

11. Joe Niekro vs. Phil Niekro

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Baseball-playing brothers Phil (above) and Joe Niekro faced off against each other more than once. As a pitcher for the Houston Astros, Joe went 5-4 against Phil. Joe even hit his first major league homer off Phil, who was a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves at the time.

12. Dom DiMaggio vs. Joe DiMaggio

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Dom DiMaggio, little brother of Yankee great Joe (above), played for a long and productive career with his brother’s hated rival, the Boston Red Sox. Joe spent his entire 13-year career with the Yankees. That must have made for some interesting family dinners.

13. John McEnroe vs. Patrick McEnroe

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In August of 1985, John McEnroe, at the time the world’s number one tennis player, unmercifully defeated his younger brother Patrick in straight sets (6-1, 6-2) at the Volvo tournament in Stratton, Vermont. "I can win a few points from him in practice, but today he was putting a lot of pressure on me," Patrick told reporters after the match. "The shots were coming back so fast."

14. Randy Poffo vs. Lanny Poffo

Nowhere is sibling rivalry more heated than professional wrestling. In 1979, Randy Poffo (a.k.a. Macho Man Randy Savage) defeated his brother Lanny (known as The Genius of Leaping Lanny Poffo) to become the ICW World Champions. And they're not the only brothers in the professional wrestling world to fight: For a spell, the Steiner Brothers hated each other. So did the Harts: Bret and Owen.

15. Adi Dassler vs. Rudi Dassler

In 1924, brothers Adi (above) and Rudi Dassler formed the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory. After World War II, however, the brothers' relationship deteriorated. Neither would say what caused the rift, but in 1948, Adi formed Adidas, while Rudi moved to the opposite side of town to form his own company, Puma. Their rivalry grew increasingly hostile as the years passed, and they never reconciled.

BONUS: Pop Culture's Brother Battles

Pop culture is rife with brother on brother hatred—and violence. On ABC’s vampire drama Dark Shadows, the vampire Barnabas killed his brother in a duel. So did Atilla on HBO’s Rome. Fredo Corleone of The Godfather betrayed Michael, so Michael had Fredo shot during a fishing trip on Lake Tahoe. Game of Thrones gave us Stannis Baratheon smiting his brother Renly with the help of sorcery. Some of Shakespeare's characters had brother issues (cough, cough, LEAR). Thor will forever be throwing his hammer at Loki.

It’s a messy business, brotherhood. Perhaps Mrs. Harbaugh wishes she’d had girls.

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February 1, 2013 - 3:56pm
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