10 Deeply Personal Historical Rivalries




Humans are social creatures. We have a need to involve others in our lives, to spread ideas and work with our fellow man. Sometimes this social requirement works in our favor – we worked together to get to the moon, and we invented pie! But occasionally our need for social interaction means we come across someone that we wish would just… catch on fire.

There is sometimes a logical origin to a feud. When two people of differing beliefs are in a similar position, it’s entirely understandable that they may butt heads. This tends to be why organised sports produces the best rivalries, each side wants to win and by winning can prove their superiority. Outside of sports, though, people have found some ridiculous reasons to battle, both physically and mentally.

Many of the following entries need a lot of historical context to truly understand why these people fought, and unfortunately this context is sometimes lost within the fog of time or hearsay. It’s difficult to say who was right and who was wrong – this is subjective – but what is fair to say is that the inevitable feud that followed, although predicated on logic, became something far more venomous as time went on.

There are two sides to every argument and it’s up to the judge to decide who wins; in this context, you are the judge.

10. Cato Vs. Caesar: Keep The Rome Fires Burning

Jean-Léon Gérôme [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Cato and Caesar’s relationship was already pretty strained by the time Julius became consul (the highest office in Rome). He was forced to choose between a parade in his honour and running for consul, because Cato filibustered the senate so he couldn’t do both.

Caesar’s time in the senate was marked by a large amount of legislation used to provide land and wealth to the poor, Cato attempted to block most of these acts as he viewed them as politically motivated and an attempt to curry favour amongst the people.

Cato took any opportunity he could to talk about how Caesar was plotting to take over and destroy the republic; and he was kind of right.

When Caesar marched his troops across the Rubicon, eyes fell on Cato who promptly informed the men who had ignored his warnings: ‘called it’ (or something to that effect).

In 46 BC Cato, in Africa, his troops destroyed from the drawn out Roman Civil War and without hope of defeating Caesar, was offered a pardon by the new tyrant (at the time, the word had fewer terrible connotations).

Rather than admitting Caesar’s claim as the one true leader of Rome, Cato committed suicide via a dagger to the stomach. Caesar would eventually get his by means of a dagger too… or several daggers rather.

9. Leonardo Da Vinci Vs. Michelangelo: Pain(ts) In Each Other’s Side


Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were automatically rivals through living at the same time and competing for acclaim during the renaissance. These two though, they really got personal.

Da Vinci, the elder of the two, thought Michelangelo was an arrogant upstart who didn’t show enough respect to his forebears. Michelangelo meanwhile considered da Vinci stuffy and out of touch.

The feud really began in 1503, when they were both commissioned to paint massive battle scenes opposite each other in the town hall of Florence. Both artists were told by the commissioner of this work, the mayor of Florence, that they were in direct competition with each other.

According to a Florentine chronicler, during a debate concerning Dante (fan theories, one supposes), da Vinci asked Michelangelo if he could explain the passage under discussion. Michelangelo supposedly flipped out and taunted da Vinci over his inability to finish his pieces.

Meanwhile, in transcripts from a meeting to decide where Michelangelo’s David was to be displayed, da Vinci says that the statue needed to be placed ‘behind the low wall where the soldiers line up. It should be put there… in such a way that it does not interfere with the ceremonies of state.’

There are even references in Leonardo’s notebooks where he refers to Michelangelo’s paintings as ‘wooden’. Neither party would be pleased to know they are considered equals today.

8. John Adams Vs. Thomas Jefferson: First Frenemies

John Trumbull [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Many historic feuds are long running rivalries. Sometimes, though, they are confined into a very small period of time and allow for an exceptional amount of hot goss to occur.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were buddies, and that friendship may have stayed intact if not for the fact they ran in what is considered one of the dirtiest elections in the history of democracy.

The election of 1800 was a rematch of the election from four years previous, but the actions between the two friends are what give the election the distinction of being one of the first negative campaigns ever waged.

Mostly done through proxies and supporters, with Jefferson-aligned news editor James Callender once called Adams a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”

In response to the gender-bending statement the Adams camp published leaflets calling Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”

Jefferson ended up tying with Aaron Burr (more on him in a bit), but would eventually come out as the definitive winner. Adams and Jefferson became friends again in later life through correspondence and even died on the same day. Sweet.

7. Aaron Burr Vs. Alexander Hamilton: No One Wins

By Illustrator not identified. From a painting by J. Mund. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s hard to say who the winner is here. Hamilton does get his face on the 10 dollar bill… then again, Aaron Burr does shoot Hamilton to death.

The rivalry was a many-chaptered affair: Burr had once taken Hamilton’s father-in-law’s seat in the US senate, the two had different ideas on governing, and the election of 1800 (AKA the friend killer) didn’t help.

Hamilton used what influence he possessed to push Charles C Pinckney as president. When the race become a two-man affair Hamilton pushed for Jefferson to win over Burr, which Jefferson did.

In 1804 Burr ran for Governor of New York where, once again, Hamilton used what influence he had to support Burr’s opponent.

The feud came to a head when Burr caught references to some less than kind words Hamilton had said about him in correspondence. The fact that Hamilton had been trying to keep Burr out of any office wasn’t enough of a hint supposedly.

Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel, Hamilton begrudgingly accepted (the practice of duelling at this point is a long and complicated affair in itself). They met and Burr came out the winner.

In an act of spite from beyond the grave, Hamilton had written several letters to be published in the event of his death, basically calling Burr a massive tool for duelling.

6. Nikola Tesla Vs. Thomas Edison: The Most Electrifying Men In History


People argue over Edison and Tesla so much it’s exhausting.

The crux of the feud was over alternating current (Tesla) and direct current (Edison), with each side claiming their method was the more efficient. Without going into the science of it all, AC is generally better for longer, wider grids of power; while DC is better for shorter, lower uses of power.

We use a combination of both today. Both men’s ideas are valid, neither one is an idiot, stop fighting.

The feud however was not only focused on their differences of current events (get it?), but also their differences in scientific methodology. Edison was a much more ‘trial and error’ sort of guy and Tesla was more ‘think before you act’.

Edison, and experts who allied with the DC system, held public executions of animals to demonstrate how Tesla’s alternating current was the most dangerous thing imaginable, most notably killing an elephant (there’s video of this, find it yourself though).

Tesla didn’t have many nice things to say about Edison either, claiming in so many words that Edison’s successes were down more to luck than any actual system of logic.

5. William Gladstone Vs. Benjamin Disraeli: Prime Cuts


The hatred, buried beneath several layers of starch and Victorian self loathing, between William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli has become the stuff of Parliamentary legend. Though they began their careers in the same party, events would lead to them being on opposite sides of the Commons and trading government positions several times.

In 1852 Disraeli, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, presented his budget to parliament. After his speech, Gladstone spent some two hours verbally eviscerating Disraeli. The budget failed, the Tory government collapsed and the Peelites (later the Liberals) took over with Gladstone as Chancellor.

There was a tradition that the incoming chancellor would pay the outgoing one a large sum of money to cover the cost of furniture used in 11 Downing Street. Gladstone refused to do this and told Disraeli if he didn’t like it he should talk to someone who gave a damn. But more politely.

Annoyed over the ignored tradition Disraeli refused to hand over the ceremonial robes of the chancellor: this caused a great deal of distress for Gladstone. He took his robes, guys.

Disraeli bastardised Gladstone’s nickname of the Grand Old Man (GOM), referring to him as God’s only mistake, and saying that Gladstone had not a single redeeming defect. Translation: pompous ass.

4. Hatfields Vs. McCoys: Family Feud, Literally


The mountainous Tug River Valley, on the border of Kentucky and West Virginia, played host to a family rivalry that played out like a real life Montagues and Capulets. Except instead of Italian nobility the main parties were American hill folk.

The feud between the Hatfields and McCoys is really just a two-man rivalry between the family patriarchs; William ‘Devil Anse’ Hatfield and Randolph ‘Ole Ran’l’ McCoy, with family members, friends and employees being dragged into their several decade long pissing match.

Though the affair had already lead to several skirmishes and at least one death, the real turning point of the feud was the debate over a pig, in 1878 Ole Ran’l accused Floyd Hatfield, cousin of Devil Anse, of stealing one of their pigs.

The dispute went to court and was presided over by another Hatfield. Guess how the trial went?

Several years, more deaths, and cross-clan relationships later, on New Year’s Day 1888 an all out fight broke out between the families leading to several deaths, arrests and at least one eventual execution.

The rivalry has become something of a folk legend, and descendants of both Hatfield and McCoy seem to have cleaned up well from the publicity, including a frankly baffling series of episodes of Hatfield/McCoy Family Feud (American Family Fortunes).

3. Joseph Stalin Vs. Leon Trotsky: Stop Russian’, Start Stalin’


The feud between Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky began in earnest with the death of Lenin, having led the revolution and turned Russia into a communist nation; his death brought up a question that often tends to splinter groups: ‘who is the successor?’

Many in Russia believed Trotsky should be the next leader; far more academically intelligent than Stalin, he was seen as the party’s natural second-in-command. But by political sabotage and manoeuvring Stalin was able to place people who supported him into important roles, guaranteeing his inevitable success.

Stalin gave Trotsky the incorrect day of Lenin’s funeral, mostly so he could go on about how he loved Lenin and the person who should take over would be here, by the way where’s Trotsky?

Stalin also carried on with one of the most famous photo editing campaigns ever, removing key figures, including Trotsky, from photographs in a literal and figurative attempt to take them out of the picture.

Trotsky would continue to criticise Stalin’s ideas, specifically his assertion that Stalin was removing the democratic elements from the Socialist order.

Trotsky was exiled from Russia and eventually found his way to Mexico, where he was assassinated in 1940 with an ice pick to the head by a communist agent (most likely ordered by Stalin).

Joe just wanted it more.

2. Adi Dassler Vs. Rudi Dassler: Sole Brothers No More.


There are a few explanations as to what caused the shoemaking brothers Adi and Rudi Dassler to become enemies.

It might have been the fact that their wives hated each other, or they debated who was the better Nazi, but the most widely acknowledged reason comes down to a simple misunderstanding.

During World War II Herzogenaurach (their home town) was being bombed by the Allies, Adi and his wife went to seek refuge in a bomb shelter where Rudi and his wife were already hiding. As Adi entered the shelter Rudi exclaimed: “the dirty bastards are back again.”

Adi believed he was referring to him and his wife and not, you know, the dudes that were bombing the hell out of them. Combine this with the fact that Rudi believed Adi and his wife had plotted to get him called up for service to the front and the brothers’ relationship became irrevocably frayed.

In 1949 the brothers split the company (and the allegiances of Herzogenaurach) and formed two companies. Adi Dassler created Adidas (Adi-das – see what he did there?) and Rudi formed Ruda, which would later change its name to the more familiar Puma.

Herzogenaurach, where both Puma and Adidas are headquartered today, became known as ‘the town of bent necks’, since you would know which brother someone sided with by first checking their footwear.

1. Edward Cope Vs. Charles Marsh: A Bone To Pick


The feud between Edward Cope and Charles Marsh was so hot it even has its own popular subtitle: The Bone Wars. Palaeontologists, right?

The late 1800s marked a huge spike in interest and funding for the search for giant dead lizard bones, with Edward Cope and Charles Marsh at the forefront of this movement. The two men were friends, or at least cordial, but their friendship declined due to their differences of opinion on scientific theory and the fact they were competing for who could discover the most dinosaurs.

Feelings may have been hurt when Marsh informed Cope that he had incorrectly reconstructed an Elasmosaurus skeleton, with the skull on the tail rather than the neck. Marsh also paid excavators to bring him undiscovered samples from Cope’s dig sites. Never dig in another man’s pit.

What followed were years of oneupmanship and sabotage, with workers at different dig sites openly pelting each other with rocks. Cope dragooned many of Marsh’s former employees into testifying against their former boss, and made public a diary Cope had kept recording every known crime and scientific mistake Marsh had committed.

Cope even challenged Marsh to a brain-sizing competition (seriously WTF?) upon both their deaths to decide who had the biggest brain. Marsh declined the opportunity to find out.

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