Anyone who has grown up with a sibling knows how easily rivalries can develop. The desire of brothers and sisters to outperform each other is a nearly universal emotion, one that transcends social class, culture, and time period. In other words, everyone is prone to this rivalry, even US presidents.
History is chock-full of famous siblings with particularly juicy beefs. If humans are already naturally inclined toward competing with their sibs, adding power, wealth, or fame to the equation only inflames that tendency. In societies with hereditary governments, siblings have done all kinds of terrible things to each other to seize power for themselves. In more modern times, while dynastic political families do still exist, high-stakes sibling squabbling often plays out in corporate boardrooms or lawsuits. But throughout history, one thing is clear: Family is complicated.
Read on for some of the ugliest sibling rivalries across history.
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The Puma and Adidas shoe companies owe their origins to a pair of German brothers, Rudolf "Rudi" and Adolf "Adi" Dassler (pictured). While Rudi was drafted in WWI, Adi began creating shoes in their mother's laundry room, and in the 1920s, the brothers formed the Dassler Brothers Sports Shoe Company. It soon reached success due to Adi's innovative new shoes with spikes on the bottoms. At the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, American sprinter Jesse Owens won four gold medals wearing the shoes.
But success led to tension between the brothers, and WWII brought them into a full-blown feud. After Rudi refused to employ his sister Marie's two sons, hoping to deny other family members control of the company, both sons were drafted into the military and killed. Rudi was himself drafted in 1943, for which he blamed his brother. Adi managed to avoid the draft, as he was deemed essential to running the business. Rudi tried to desert his post, fearing his brother was planning to take over, but the Gestapo caught and imprisoned him for the rest of the war.
Like many Germans at the time, Rudi and Adi were both members of the Nazi party, joining in the 1930s. After WWII, each attempted to paint the other as the bigger Nazi, although Rudi was reportedly the more loyal party member. The denazification panel agreed, and Rudi was again briefly imprisoned.
In 1948, the Dassler brothers finally decided to go their separate ways, splitting their assets and forming competing companies. Adi formed "Adidas" using a shortened combination of his first and last name. Rudi called his company "Ruda," which eventually became "Puma."
At the height of the shoe feud, their German town itself (Herzogenaurach) became divided. Workers for either company didn't dare cross the village river to the side of the other. For the remainder of their lives, the siblings rarely saw each other, but on his deathbed in 1974, Rudi invited Adi to speak to him one last time. His brother declined.
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Before Commodus became Roman Emperor in 176 CE, the rulers had been chosen by merit (or political advantage). Commodus was the first chosen by birthright, inheriting the throne from his father Marcus Aurelius. This was a controversial decision, not least with Commodus's own sister, Lucilla. She was married to Lucius Verus, Aurelius's co-ruler and expected heir.
After Commodus's ascencion, Lucilla plotted with some Roman senators to have her brother assassinated. The attempt failed, and Commodus exiled her and her daughter to the island of Capri. Later, however, the capricious ruler had a change of heart. He decided the punishment was too lenient (or that his sister was too dangerous), and had both Lucilla and her daughter slain.
During the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt (305 BCE to 30 BCE), members of the Macedonian Greek ruling family routinely married their own siblings for both political and symbolic purposes. Often, these siblings/spouses fought bloody conflicts over who would be ruler of Egypt.
When their father Ptolemy XII Auletes passed in 51 BCE, Cleopatra VII and her brother, Ptolemy XIII Philopator became co-rulers. Cleopatra, then 18, was eight years older than her brother, and led the partnership for the next four years. By then, Philopator had come of age, and with the loyalty of the military, took power for himself.
Cleopatra fled to Syria, where she met Julius Caesar, and the two worked together to overthrow Philopator. In a battle against the Romans led by Caesar and Cleopatra, Philopator drowned. Cleopatra's sister Arsinoe also participated in the conflict, taking control of the army and proclaiming herself queen. She was captured and originally granted mercy until Cleopatra reportedly ordered her execution in 41 BCE.
After defeating Philopator, Cleopatra then became co-ruler of Egypt along with another younger brother, Ptolemy XIV Theos Philopator II. She later had him poisoned to make way for her own son to be co-ruler - and eventually the only ruler - Ptolemy XV Caesarion.
According to written sources, the division between 16th-century Japanese warlord Oda Nobunaga and his younger brother, Oda Nobuyuki, originated in their childhood. Nobunaga was the second son of their father, Oda Nobuhide, but he was technically Nobuhide's heir because his older brother, Nobuhiro, was illegitimate. Nobuhide apparently preferred Nobunaga's illegitimate older brother; making matters worse, Nobuhide and Nobunaga disliked each other, and Nobunaga was openly disrespectful of tradition.
By the time Nobuhide passed in 1551, the Oda clan had split into factions. Some were loyal to Nobunaga, while others were loyal to Nobuyuki, who was considered more soft-spoken and respectful. In 1556, Nobuyuki led a rebellion against Nobunaga while his older brother was away assisting his father-in-law in a war. Nobunaga put down the rebellion and pardoned his brother.
But the next year, when Nobuyuki again tried to rebel, Nobunaga decided to get rid of him once and for all. He faked an illness, invited his brother to visit, and had him slain. This allowed Nobunaga to unite the Owari Province, which would eventually allow him to become daimyo (a powerful feudal lord) and go to be one of Japan's most feared warlords.