History 10 Times Someone Killed Their Sibling To Take Power  

Peter Dugre
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Royal parents were so naive. Leaving the nation or empire for a family of heirs to fight over has never ended well, unless the parents considered deadly sibling rivalries to be the best way to cement their legacy. Historical sibling rivalries had a way of sorting themselves out following a pretty predictable formula - one body gets buried, the other gets a crown. It was so commonplace for the offspring of a sultan, king, or emperor to kill each other, that Sultan Mehmet III had 19 of his brothers killed because his grandfather had legislated it so. The following list of siblings murdering one another for power is as chilling in its contents as it is in its acceptability by historical peoples. 

Sultan Mehmet III Killed All Of His 19 Brothers


Sultan Mehmet III Killed All O... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 10 Times Someone Killed Their Sibling To Take Power
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

In perhaps the largest serial fratricide in human history, the killing of all Mehmet III’s brothers in 1595 was actually mandated by a national policy. The Ottoman Empire had been brought to its knees by brotherly wars for the throne when Mehmet II was sultan. Henceforth, according to a mandate that Mehmet II instated upon his succession of power, all brothers to the Sultan were locked up. Then, as soon as the Sultan produced his first male heir, the siblings were strangled with a silk cord and buried with their father. Mehmet III’s successor Ahmed I, a much sweeter fellow, did away with this practice of brotherly mass slaying in favor of life imprisonment for his masculine siblings.


Cleopatra is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 10 Times Someone Killed Their Sibling To Take Power
Photo: Ángel M. Felicísimo/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

Although Cleopatra didn't actually bloody her own hands, she did concoct the deadly machinations that resulted in the offing of her siblings. When her father, Egypt’s King Ptolemy XII, died, he named Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy XIII co-rulers, but, unsurprisingly, their two heads can't share a single crown. Their rivalry was hardly unique in the Ptolemaic Dynasty of Egypt.

After a period of sibling-spouse rivalry (they were also husband and wife), the co-rulers found themselves on opposite sides of an Egyptian civil war. Cleopatra picked the winning side - her lover Julius Caesar's team. Ptolemy XIII drowned in the Nile River during battle.

Cleopatra then married her other younger brother Ptolemy XIV but likely had a hand in his murder, a power move to pave the way to the thrown for her son, Caesarion, the offspring of Julius Caesar.

Cleopatra also felt so threatened by half-sister Arsinoe, who seemed destined to gain a share of power, that she had her executed. Cunning Cleopatra also had a way of getting her lovers to do her bidding, as Mark Antony was deployed in the murder of Arsinoe.

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Caracalla Murdered His Brother Greta To Avoid Being Co-Roman Emperors


Caracalla Murdered His Brother... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 10 Times Someone Killed Their Sibling To Take Power
Photo: Sailko/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

The joint rule of Roman Emperors Carcalla and his younger brother Geta lasted less than a year from the time their father Septimus Severus died in 211 CE. Rumor has it, the two even considered splitting the country in two in order to avoid civil war. Several attempts to reconcile the brothers failed until their mother, Julia Domna, was enlisted as peacemaker. The boys gathered at her apartment in Rome for a meeting designed to let the water flow under the bridge and bring unity to the sibling rulers. Instead, Carcalla had Geta slain by guards and left to die in his mother’s arms. Carcalla continued his rampage, killing an estimated 20,000 people he claimed were co-conspirators in a rival power play Geta had attempted to stage before his political assassination. 

Artaxerxes II And Cyrus The Younger Hashed It Out On The Battlefield


Artaxerxes II And Cyrus The Yo... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 10 Times Someone Killed Their Sibling To Take Power
Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Common/CC BY 2.5

Persian brothers Artaxerxes II and Cyrus the Younger actually faced off on the battlefield in their quest for rule of Persia in 404 BCE. Artaxerxes II had inherited the crown but was quickly advised that Cyrus planned an uprising against him. Cyrus brought a force of 30,000 men who waged battle against Artaxerxes's army of 60,000, and, somehow, the two fierce rivals found each other amid the brutal chaos of the battlefield. Cyrus gashed Artaxerxes II with his spear, but Cyrus suffered more greatly and succumbed to dart wounds. Game over - Cyrus the Younger lost.