an accounting 


For a monarch whose rule is injurious, and who is deaf to remonstrance and counsel, killing is no murder.   

~  Mencius (c. 300 b.c.)


No offering is more agreeable to God than the blood of a tyrant.   

~  Seneca (c. 50 a.d.)


It is because tyrannicide is closely connected with the legitimate principles of killing in self-defense, war, and revolution, that it has been the refuge of every self-seeking scoundrel in history, that it has been claimed as a defense by religious zealots, Jacobins, and fascists.    

~  Saul S. Friedman  (c. 1976)





Failed attempts

Borderline cases





                 When John Wilkes Booth shouted, "Sic Semper Tyrannis!" ("Thus always to tyrants!"), he conflated the heroic act of tyrannicide with the colossal crime of assassination. Similarly, the relentless procession of assassinations in late Czarist Russia, some of monsters and some of reformers, and that spawned the ultimate in tyrannical regimes, has further blurred what is properly a sharp distinction.

                  In the five years of 1963-68 - pivotal years of my youth - the United States and its most sacred democratic ideals were traumatically damaged by the (arguably unsolved) murders of a complete set of its most promising and idealistic leaders: John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy. It is presumed that an unbalanced individual judged each to be tyrannical, and each was struck down at the top of his powers, his gifts snatched away, and the ship of the public weal turned over to crooks, weaklings, and idiots. The myths of tyrannicide were then used to sweep it all under one very big rug.

                 Tyrannicides and their sympathizers wonder why is it always the great souls who are murdered in their prime, and not the sadistic power-addicts and brutes. One of the Soviet camp-survivors reported a barracks-mate in the 1950's who cried himself to sleep every night. Asked the source of his grief, he replies, "In 1926 I rode down in an elevator alone with Comrade Stalin - with a loaded revolver in my pocket!"

                 The act's extraordinary rarity testifies to the diligence with which despots keep clear-thinking idealists at arm's length.

                What follows is a short survey of a few of the great tyrannicides. Details are sketchy in the majority of cases, but each is a great story of heroism and resurgent justice. In addition, there is a partial catalogue of failed attempts and borderline cases, and a guide to sources.    


Elements of a proper and healthy tyrannicide:

A) The tyrant in question is a real wholesale butcher of innocents, not merely a brute, bully, or manipulator.

B) The killer has clearly unselfish motives.

C) General conditions (beyond short-term reprisals) show a marked turn for the better.

(Note: A couple of these cases are weak or murky regarding conditions (B) or (C), but the strength of the other two criteria prompts inclusion.)


        date            killer                                        tyrant                            location

  1) 1200 BC     Ehud (Aoth)                             Eglon                             Moab

  2) 1100           Jael                                          Sisara                             Israel

  3) 1100           (a woman)                               Abimelech                      Israel

  4)   554           Telemachus                             Phalaris                          Acragas

  5)   514           Harmodius & Aristogeiton      Hipparchus                     Athens

  6)   350           Judith                                       Holophernes                    Judea

  7)     41 AD     Clemens, Sabinus, et al            Caligula                          Rome

  8)     96            Stephanus                               Domitian                         Rome

  9)   217            Macrinus, Martialis                 Caracalla                         Edessa, Mesopotamia

10)   455            (Aetius' retainers)                    Valentinian III                 Rome

11) 1100            Walter Tyrell                           William II                       New Forest

12) 1252            Carino of Balsamo                   Peter of Verona              Barlassina

13) 1291            William Tell                             Gessler                           Kuessnacht

14) 1476            Lampugnani & Olgiati              Galeazzo Sforza             Milan

15) 1793            Charlotte Corday                      Jean Paul Marat              Paris

16) 1878            Sergei Kravchinsky                   Mezentsov                      St. Petersburg

17) 1890            Padlewski                                 Seliverstov                      Paris

18) 1918            (Kronstadt SR sailor)                von Eichhorn                   Kiev

19) 1918            Leonid Kannegeisser                 Moisey Uritsky               Petrograd

20) 1920            Salomon Teilirian                     Talaat Pasha                    Berlin

21) 1922           (3 Armenians)                           Djemal Pasha                   Tiflis, Georgia

22) 1926            Sholom Schwartzbard               Simon Petlura                  Paris

23) 1942           (partisans)                                 Franz Stahlecker               Estonia

24) 1942           Gabcik & Kubis                        Reinhard Heydrich            Prague

25) 1943           Bronek Pietruszkiewicz              Franz Kutschera               Warsaw

26) 1966           Demitrios Tsafendas                  Henrik Verwoerd              Pretoria

27) 1989           (5 activists)                                Álvarez Martinez              Tegucigalpa

28) 1997           ("a gunman")                             Radovan Stojicic              Belgrade


1)    In 1200 b.c., Ehud, a.k.a. Aoth, the Benjamite, slew Eglon, the very fat king of Moab who had kept Israel in bondage 18 years, with a 21-inch (one cubit) double-edged left-handed sword, speaking the words, "I have a message for you - from God."

2)    Undone by the inspired generalship of the Joan of Arc-like matriarch Deborah, the forces of Caananite General Sisara, who'd tyrannized Israel 20 years, were in full retreat when the general was recognized behind Israeli lines by the virtuous matron Jael, wife of Abner (or Heber), of whom the Bible says, "Blessed be she in her tent". She offered him milk - laced with soporific herbs - and killed him when he passed out. With a hammer and a tent-peg, to the temple, while he slept. Subject of a painting by Artemesia Gentileschi (see #6 below).

3)    Abimelech, one of the many sons of Gideon, killed 68 of his brothers to set himself up as king, and was finally himself killed by a woman who dropped a millstone on his head off a rampart. While he was staggering around, he got one of his flunkies to run him through so it couldn't be said he was slain by a woman.

4)    Phalaris, despot of ancient Sicily, had a great hollow bronze bull, and would roast various of his subjects in it, for the fun and pleasure of hearing the brazen bull bellow. Telemachus roasted him in it.

5)   Aristotle, Herodotus, and Thucydides tell contrasting versions of this story. Hipparchus was the son of the celebrated tyrant Pisistratus. And while some reports say it was Hipparchus' brother, Hippias, who was killed, possibly as the result of a gay love-triangle gone wrong, in the aftermath, the two perpetrators were tortured to death, draconian reprisals were instituted, an incipient revolt crushed, and the oppressive nature of the regime intensified. Nevertheless, these two, Harmodius and Aristogeiton, were celebrated for 2000 years as the classic tyrannicides.

6) She, a virgin, made an assignation with the invading general, lulled him, in one way or another, to sleep, then beheaded him with his own sword, gave the head to her maid to carry, and returned home to great rejoicing. The story is possibly apocryphal, in fact, comes from one of the 14 unsanctioned books of the Old Testament, the Apocrypha. It is also the subject of several famous paintings by Artemisia Gentileschi, proto-feminist Rennaisance painter, and Caravaggio, among others.

7)  When Caligula, by every account an utter monster who took special delight in torturing people to death, was finally killed by members of his bodyguard (on January 21st, AD 41), they also killed the rest of his family, including his infant daughter. They were obviously extra peeved, and a couple had personal axes to grind. Cornelius Sabinus' wife had been raped by the emperor, and Cassius Chaerea had been teased within an inch of his life for his high, effeminate voice.

8) This one is by some assumed to have been committed on behalf of the emperor's wife Flavia Domitilla, so purity of motive may be compromised. On the other hand, the Chinese sage Mencius maintains it is most appropriate that a tyrant be dispatched by a member of his own suite (cf. Caracalla, the Stauffenberg attempt on Hitler, and what is rumored to be the case with Stalin). Also, the situation in the country is said to have greatly improved by Domitian's removal.

9)  Caracalla had his brother killed, plus 20,000 of his brother's supporters and friends. Later he killed thousands of Alexandrians when there were demonstrations against his visit. He was also known to have had people executed for urininating in the vicinity of statues of himself, and, like Stalin, for making witticisms about him. On the other hand, he was to some degree a reformer, promulgating, for instance, the law that all free residents of the Roman empire were to be considered citizens. Marcus Opellius Macrinus was a prefect in the Praetorian Guards, and became emperor himself, briefly and fairly harmlessly, upon the completion of his deed. Macrinus apparently had one of Caracalla's own bodyguards, Centurian Martialis (whose brother had been a victim) kill him on April 4th, 207, and to add insult to injury, did so on the emperor's birthday, and while the emperor was on the "throne". Juan de Mariana cited this case and the preceding one in his famous 1598 defense of tyrannicide that was to fall into discredit (and to cast odium upon his fellow Jesuits as a whole) in 1610, with the assassination of French King Henry IV by a lone nut.

10) Aetius was a Roman general whose success at keeping Attila the Hun at bay made him too popular for the emperor's taste, and so was "purged". His "barbarian" associates took umbrage.

11) Like Eglon, William the Conqueror's corrupt and incompetent son and successor, William II, was extremely corpulent. William, called "Rufus" for his red hair, was killed with a cross-bow in a hunting "accident" on August 2nd, 1100, by one Walter Tyrrell, who quickly fled abroad, and from there protested his innocence. There was rejoicing throughout England.

12) Carino of Balsamo split the the head of Pope Innocent's chief Inquisitor with a heavy blade on April 4th, 1252. For over 20 years, Peter of Verona was the scourge of the Cathars, the gnostic sect that dominated Southern France and Northern Italy in the Middle Ages, precursors of Protestantism and the wellspring of romantic poetry - the troubadors. Central to their beliefs was the complete incompatibility of love and power, hence, as Christians, they opposed the Catholic Church. Peter was a sort of mix of Senator Bilbo, Heinrich Himmler, Joe McCarthy, and Rush Limbaugh: a rabble-rousing apparatchik who presided over the torture-deaths of tens of thousands of the devout - when a Cathar refused to convert, he was "relaxed", i.e., burned alive. Within a year of Peter's excision, he was canonized, the quickest in history, was named the Patron Saint of inquisitors, and thereafter referred to as Peter Martyr and immortalized in scads of devotional art by, among others, Fillipo Lippi, Fra Angelico, and Piero della Francesca. Part of the evidence of Peter's saintliness lay in Church history's claim that Carino, in remorse, converted, and through endless penance became somewhat saintly himself.

13) Gessler was the cruel Austrian governor of Switzerland, who'd heard of Tell's skill with a crossbow, and so had Tell and his young son delivered to him, and, by threats, made Tell shoot an apple off the boy's head. Tell, howevver, failed the attitude test, for when Gessler asked why he'd drawn two bolts from his quiver, he replied, "The other one was for you if I missed." Until then, Gessler had claimed to have been going to let him go, but now clapped him in chains and bundled him aboard ship to sail the length of one of those long Swiss lakes to where Gessler's castle was. Mid-voyage, a sudden gale blew up, and as Tell was the only experienced pilot aboard, was allowed free of his chains so he could save them. Whereupon he steered close by some rocks, leapt nimbly ashore, and vanished. Later that day, as Gessler's party arrived at the gates of their castle, Tell appeared from behind a tree and shot Gessler dead. Since these events set in motion the founding of the Swiss Confederation, William Tell is the long-time national hero of Switzerland, but his story is now thought by scholars to be apocryphal and derived from earlier Skandinavian traditions. There's a nifty children's book by Mary & Conrad Buff, The Apple and the Arrow.            

14) The two students' accomplice was Carlo Visconti, from whose family Sforza had wrested Milan. He and Gian Andrea Lampugnini were killed by the Duke's bodyguards later that same day, December 26th. Girolamo Olgiati was tortured to death, and is quoted as saying, "My death is untimely, my fame eternal." Which suggests at least a partially selfish motive in addition to serene confidence in the righteousness of his act. Galeazzo Sforza, incidently, was the father of proto-feminist warlord Caterina Sforza (cf. Joan Kelly essay, "Did Women Have a Renaissance?").

15) Marat was a revolutionary theoretician and implacable denouncer of authority. Goethe and Ben Franklin both endorsed his critiques of scientific authorities (like Newton). He went from a medical practice in London's Soho to one in the court of the French king, to inflammatory journalist, to supreme arbiter of revolutionary purity. To where, when young Charlotte Corday d'Armont came to his door, purportedly to rat out some of her home-town (Caen) Girondists (constitutional moderates), he assured her, "They will soon be guillotined." When the judge of the revolutionary tribunal that condemned her asked if she had anything to say, she replied, "Nothing. Except that I have succeeded." While awaiting execution, she commissioned her portrait, and was heard to remark, "I long to be with Brutus in Elysian Fields." She was 24 years old and 5' 1'' tall, stabbed Marat in his bath. This is also the subject of a very famous painting, Jacques Louis David's Death of Marat (1793), and a somewhat less famous painting by Edvard Munch.

16) On August 16th, 1878, Kravchinsky shot and killed the head of the Russian political police, General Mezentsov, marking, more or less, the beginning of overtly violent opposition to the czar, the first of about eight (out of dozens) of killings by radicals that have elements of tyrannicide, and which, in in this case, spawned a formal underground organization of intended tyrannicides led, interestingly enough, by notorious czarist double agent, Evno Azev, who made a career of plotting assassinations, then betraying the perpetrators. This extended orgy of tyrannicides and assassinations, with the full connivance of police agents, was the Russian Empire's death-blow, turning everything to chaos and moral murkiness, and leading quickly, clearly, and directly to the even more egregious Soviet Empire.

17) Seliverstov was head of the czar's secret police, the Okhrana.

18) Field Marshall von Eichhorn was commander of the German occupation of Ukraine. Until July 30th, 1918.

19) The same day as an attempt on Lenin, August 30th, 1918, another SR student killed his secret police (Cheka) commander, triggering extensive reprisals. The name is also rendered as Kunnegisser and Kennegeisser.

20) Talaat Pasha, the former Turkish Grand Vizier and Interior Minister who presided over the Armenian genocide, was shot in the head in a public crowd by Salomon Teilirian (Soghomon Tehlirian), a member of a clandestine wing of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, called Nemesis (based in the U.S.), on March 15th, 1921. Like Sisara, Petlura, and Somoza, Jr., Talaat was out of power when he was killed, by which time he and his accomplices had been sentenced to death in absentia for war crimes by a Turkish court, but under the protection of the same German authorities who had materially aided in the liquidation of 1,500,000 Armenians. On the other hand, he was wealthy and his allies in the German Foreign Ministry were aiding his plans to regain power in Turkey. A German jury acquitted Teilirian, conferring legal sanction upon his tyrannicide. There's an excellent book on this story by Edward Alexander, A Crime of Vengeance.

21) Djemal Pasha, the second member of the three so-called Young Turks who had ruled the now-dissolved Ottoman Empire, and whose mission was to rid Turkey of all non-Moslems, was also gunned down by members of Nemesis (Stepan Dzaghikian, Bedros Der Boghosian, and Ardashes Kevorkian), on July 22nd, 1922.(The third member of the ruling clique, Enver Pasha, was killed 2 weeks later fighting with Afghani guerillas against the Russians. Legend has it that the Russian soldier who dispatched him also was an Armenian.)

22) Petlura was President of the Ukraine 1918-20, hero of the "White" armies in the civil war against the "Red" Bolsheviks, and presided over extensive pogroms against Ukrainian Jews in which as many as a hundred thousand died. Like Teilirian, Schwartzbard was essentially acquitted by a sympathetic jury - they judged him technically guilty and sentenced him to a fine of two francs. In two ways this was not a pure tyrannicide. First, Petlura apparently did not direct the pogroms, merely did nothing to stop them. And second, when Schwartzbard struck, Petlura was well out of power, living in penury and exile, with no chance of a return. There is a thorough book about the trial and its background by Saul Friedman, Pogromchik; and the broader political context, including the central role of Standard Oil, is lucidly covered in the Imontis' Violent Justice, which also treats the Grynszpan and Frankfurter cases (see Afterword).

23) Franz Walther Stahlecker was shot March 24th, 1942 by Estonian partisans near Leningrad. He was commandant and founder of Einsatzgruppen A, the northernmost of 3 "mopping-up" brigades that followed the German Army on the Eastern Front, whose unit alone was credited with the liquidation of over 200,000, mostly Jews, and was the first wholesale effort at extermination. There is a famous letter he wrote apologizing for killing "only" 47,000 Jews at one point.

24) Heydrich's killing, on May 27th, 1942, was orchestrated by the British to provoke stern reprisals on what they considered the complacent Czechs - to "stiffen" Czech resistance. Josef Gabcik and Jan Kubis were young Czech paratroops who, following their successful ambush of Heydrich, tangled up a full division of German soldiers in the course of their extended attempts to evade capture. Heydrich, one of the central architects of the Holocaust, and dubbed "The Butcher of Czechoslovakia" for his "pacification" (he was partial to beheadings) of that country's resistance forces, had just been appointed to "pacify" France when he was killed. France's good fortune, however, was counterbalanced by the expected harsh Nazi reprisals in Czechoslovakia. The village of Lidice (population 2000), Gabcik and Kubis' home town, was completely exterminated, except for the young women, who were sent to brothels.

25) A lieutenant in the Polish resistance, Pietruszkiewicz, 20, code-named "Lot", shot and killed Kutschera, 30, SS commandant of Warsaw who specialized in public mass-executions of civilians, on February 1st, 1944.

26) Following by 6 years the failed attempt by David Pratt, Demitrios Tsafendas, a "mulatto passing as white", dispatched the so-called Architect of Apartheid, Henrik "The Doctor" Verwoerd, with a knife, on the floor of Parliament in Pretoria, September 6th, 1966. Tsafendas was acquitted of capital murder by reason of insanity, legendarily having claimed that his "tapeworm" had told him to do the deed. He died in the asylum, age 81, in 1999. There is a masterful biography by his friend, the Dutch historian Henk van Woerden, Een mond vol glas (Mouthful of Glass in England, The Assassin in the U.S.)

27) After graduating from the infamous School of the Americas in 1976, Gustavo Alvarez Martinez returned to Honduras and established Battalion 316, the most deadly of the government-sanctioned death squads, that specialized in mass-kidnappings, torture, and murder. He was eventually relieved of his command (at gunpoint) for malfeasance, and moved to the U.S. where he was awarded a Legion of Merit by the Reagan administration. Soon after his return to Honduras, in January of1989, he was shot by five members of the "Popular Liberation Movement".

28) Radovan "Big Man" Stojicic, 46, was commander of Milosevic's security police and, among other things, was in charge of arming Croatian and Bosnian Serbs. He was shot while having coffee in a cafe with his 16-year-old son on April 11th, 1997.


Failed attempts:

  1. 1604       Catesby, Fawkes, et al                James II                                   London

  2. 1658       Edward Sexby                           Oliver Cromwell                       London

  3. 1809       Friedrich Staps                          Napoleon                                  Vienna

  4. 1835       Richard Lawrence                     Andrew Jackson                       Washington D.C.

 5. 1938        Hans Oster                                 Hitler                                         Berlin

  6. 1938       Maurice Bavaud                         Hitler                                         Augsburg

  7. 1939       Johann Georg Elser                    Hitler                                         Munich   

  8. 1944       Claus von Stauffenberg              Hitler                                        Rastenburg

  9. 1960       David Pratt                                  Henrik Verwoerd                     Johannesburg

10. 1950's     25 Hungarian teenagers              Nikita Khrushchev                   Moscow

11. 1972       (anonymous artist)                      Robert McNamara                    Martha's Vineyard

12. 1975       Michel Goldberg                         Klaus Barbie                            Lima

13. 2003       Ahmed Omar Ali                         George W. Bush                      Arabia       


  1.   Authors of the "Gunpowder Plot", Guy Fawkes (the one assigned to set off the powder) and 4 other conspiritors were caught on November 4th, 1604, before they could blow up Parliament in protest of the brutal suppression of Catholics.

  2.   Sexby was arrested and tortured to death for publishing Killing No Murder, an argument for tyrannicide that included a specific call for the assassination of Cromwell, his former commander, who had ruthlessly suppressed the "Leveller" movement, activists for communal ownership of agricultural land.

  3.   Staps (or Statz) was 18 years old and was executed in secret.

  4.   Lawrence thought he was Richard III, and even the D.A. at his trial, Francis Scott Key (author of the Star Spangled Banner), agreed with his acquittal due to incapacity. He died in D.C. General Hospital (where the present author was once incarcerated) after being imprisoned there 25 years. When Jackson set out to exterminate the Cherokee (among others), the Supreme Court endeavored to restrain him. His response: "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it." Jackson, our first genocidal president, invented the strategem of arduous deportation as a tool of mass murder, setting a precedent for the 20th century's perfection of the technique under the Young Turks, Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot.

5.     Oster was deputy director of german military intelligence, developed sophisticated conspiracy. See Terry Parssinen's 2003 "The Oster Conspiracy of 1938.

  6.   On April 11th, 1938, devout young Swiss theology student Bavaud was apprehended in an attempt to kill Hitler, who had him beheaded and, for good measure, banned Schiller's opera about the legendary tyrannicide William Tell. There's a good book about Bavaud by Rolf Hochhuth (author of a famous play about the Pope's accomodations to Hitler) called Tell '38.

  7.   Elser was a German carpenter and pacifist who built a bomb hooked up to a clock into a pillar in a beer-cellar where Hitler was due to appear. It went off, killing seven people, but after Hitler had already left. Like Bavaud, he was was extensively tortured before being executed, and subjected to intense scrutiny by "psychiatrists" in a vain attempt to establish that he was deranged.

  8.   This was the famous attempt on Hitler, and failed because von Stauffenberg's war injuries prevented him from being able to arm both of the bombs he had in the brief amount of time available to him.

  9.   Pratt was a farmer. It was determined that he was mentally unfit for trial on the basis of statements on the order of, "I was shooting at the epitome of apartheid."

 10.   (I wish I had more data about this incident. Anyone?)

11.    On September 29th, 1972, at night and under the pretext of taking him to a telephone, a 27-year-old artist from Vermont had Defense Secretary McNamara, architect of 2,000,000 Southeast Asian deaths, halfway over the side of the ferry from the mainland to the Vineyard, when he had second thoughts. Recounted in Hendrickson.

12.   Goldberg recounts his plot to kill Barbie in his book Namesake.

13.   Ali indicted 2/22/05 for conversations in Saudi Arabia. Very dubious, as a judge found his claims of torture credible and evidence against him was largely redacted or anonymous. Presumably still being held ('07).



Borderline cases:

(the cases below are borderline either due to straying too far from the above conditions, or because the available records are sparse, ambiguous, or unreliable.)


  1 1080 BC   Samson                                        (The Philistine elite)                          Canaan

  2   353         Chion and Leonidas                      Clearchus                                          Heraclea

  3   222 AD  (Praetorian Guards)                       Heliogabalus                                     Rome

  4 1875          Cornejo, Rayo, Andrade              Gabriel Garcia Morena                     Quito, Ecuador

  5 1901          Leon Czolgosz                             William Mckinley                              Buffalo

  6 1902          S.P. Balmashev                             Dmitri S. Sipiagin                             St. Petersburg

  7 1904          Eugen Shauman                            N.I. Bobrikov                                   Finland

  8 1904          (separatists)                                   Bogoslavsky                                     Caucasus

  9 1904          E.S. Sazanov                                 V.K. Plehve                                      St. Petersburg

10 1905         (Socialist Revolutionaries)              P.P. Shuvalov                                   Moscow

11 1905         Ivan Kalayev                                  Grand Duke Sergei                           Moscow

12 1907         Ragozinikova                                 Maximovsky                                     St. Petersburg

13 1911         Mordka Bogroff                             P.A. Stolypin                                    Kiev

14 1916         Friedrich Adler                               Count Sturgkh (Austria)                   Vienna

15 1922         Dunne & O'Sullivan                       Henry Wilson                                   London     

16 1945         Walter Audisio                               Benito Mussolini                              Como

17 1956         Rigoberto Lopez Perez                   Anastacio Somoza Garcia                 Leon, Nicaragua                               

18 1961         Pedro Cedeño/Amado Garcia         Rafael Trujillo                                   Dominican Republic

19 1963         Minh, Don, Kim                             Diem                                                  Saigon

20 1979         Kim Jae Kyu                                  Park Chung Hee                                South Korea

21 1980         (Argentine terrorists ERP)              Anastacio Somoza Debayle               Asuncion, Paraguay


  1.  Presumably, when he brought the palace down, the Philistine leaders perished with him, but how much more barbaric they were than he is hard to judge. It has also been argued that their ill-treatment of him was to some degree a consequence of his "foolish weakness for Philistine women".

  2.  Clearchus was the murderous tyrant of Heraclea, and was brought down by a coalition of 50 of his "allies" and relatives, including his cousin Chion. Chion and Leonidas, the leaders of the coalition, had studied under Plato and learned that philosophers may not just speculate, but must act. Unfortunately, Clearchus' allies caught all the conspirators, tortured them all to death, and put all their relatives to the sword. It's reported that Chion and Leonidas bore their torture with great stoicism. It's also reported that Clearchus didn't die for 24 hours after he was struck down, during which period he was tormented by apparitions of many of those he had murdered. 

  3.  The Emperor of Rome Heliogabalus (a.k.a. Elagabalus), who seized the empire in a coup from the tyrannicide Macrinus, was by all accounts Syrian, fanatically Baal-worshiping, and insane. He was said to have collected all the children of noble birth and beautiful appearance in Italy for the purpose of torture and human sacrifice, but there is reason to doubt the story. There is no doubt, on the other hand, that he was an extreme party animal, perhaps the most extreme of all time. Antonin Artaud created an incredible short story, and Louis Couperus an incredible novel, about him. There is also a short piece on him (as Elagabalus) in The Big Book of Weirdos by graphic novelist Randy DuBurke, and an extensive Wikipedia entry.

  4.  Garcia Moreno ruthlessly suppressed liberals and democrats and gave the Catholic Church extraordinary powers. On August 6th,1875 he was killed by Faustino Rayo and accomplices, but journalist Juan Montalvo was heard to remark, "My pen killed him."

  5.  President McKinley was certainly a monster: his crushing of the Phillipine resistance to U.S. hegemony killed 200,000 civilians, but Czolgosz (who was 28, and apparently idealistic) didn't kill him for that so much as for general anarchist principles and for the insanely misplaced theory that his act would a) put all ruthless capitalist leaders on the defensive, and b) provide some good press for anarchists (more like the opposite). Besides, McKinley was more befuddled than ruthless, and his grip on the wheel of the ship of state not exactly firm.

  6.  Flamboyantly reactionary Interior Minister Sipiagin was shot by Balmashev, a student. It was plotted by double-agent Azev, as were all the major assassinations of Russian officials (of which there was a total of more than 1500, including low-ranking soldiers and policemen) between 1902 and 1908, when he was finally found out. There's a marvellous novel about him by Rebecca West, The Birds Fall Down.

  7.  Nikolai Bobrikov was the Russian Governor-General of Finland, in charge of Russification. Shauman was not a radical, but a relative of Bobrikov's victims, and committed suicide before he could be taken into custody.

  8.  Bogoslavsky was the ruthless Russian governor of the Caucasus.

  9.  On the 4th of July, 1904, the vicious reactionary Interior Minister of Russia, Count Viacheslav Von Plehve, instigator of the notorious Kishinev pogrom among other outrages, was exploded by a bomb as his carriage rushed through St. Petersburg, by Yegor Sazonov (a.k.a. Suzasnoff and other variants), a 25-year-old radical activist, who survived 6 years of beatings in the Tsar's prisons until committing suicide November 28th, 1910, but not before lamenting that his act had inspired far less justifiable assassinations. Von Plehve was succeeded by the Liberal statesman Prince Svyatopolk-Mirsky, who quickly instituted progressive reforms and relaxed the censorship.

10.  On June 28th, two weeks after the Battleship Potemkin mutinied at St. Petersburg, members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party killed the military governor of Moscow, making a bad situation for the czar worse, and, in historian Michael Florinsky's words, inviting retaliation.

11.  Sergei was Czar Nicholas II's uncle, and well unloved. He was killed February 17th, 1905, and Kaleyev got away but was immediately betrayed to the authorities by Azev (who had planned the attack).

12.  Maximovsky, commandant of the central prison, practiced a policy of regular beatings of political prisoners. Ragozinikova was 20, and she was later to inspireWhittaker Chambers.

13.  Dmitri Bogroff, who was a member of a revolutionary group and also a sometime police spy, killed Prime Minister Stolypin September 14th, at the opera. Bogroff had been assigned to protect Stolypin, and when the opera-goers apprehended him, he cried, laughing maniacally, "Look - I've done my job. I've found the assassin!" Stolypin's main claims to fame were the "Stolypin Necklace" - a hangman's noose - and the railway boxcars used to transport troublemakers en mass to Siberia (used considerably more extensively by the regime that succeeded his, but they kept the name, "Stolypin Cars"). By the time he was killed, his ruthless policies toward the radicals had largely succeeded and he was then under attack by the right wingers for being too lenient. Many consider him to have been a great, if failed, reformer.

14. Count Karl von Sturgkh was Prime Minister of Austria, and an extreme war hawk, and was shot on October 21st, 1916, by Dr. Friedrich (Fritz) Adler, a renowned writer and editor and son of psychiatrist and leader of the Austrian Social Democratic Party Victor Adler, yelling, as he did so, "We want peace!". Trotsky considered Sturgkh more a bureaucrat than a tyrant, even though he had, in the course of the war, abolished the constitution, set himself up as dictator, and liberally employed terror tactics against opposition parties. Adler, a pacifist theoretician increasingly frustrated by the bloody juggernaut of the Count's prosecution of the war, astonished all who knew him by his sudden recourse to action. He was amnestied after 2 years in prison and died in 1960 after a distinguished career in politics and letters.

15. Wilson was a Member of Parliament and military advisor to the Ulster government, and promoted flogging and the judicial murder of 500 during the Orange Terror. He was killed June 22nd by IRA regulars, who were caught and hung. Two weeks later, the IRA assassinated the Prime Minister of Ireland, Michael Collins, no monster.

16. Communist partisans killed Mussolini on April 28th, 1945, in order to forestall any war crimes trial or other accompanying interference on the part of the allies.

17. Somoza was director of the U.S.-installed National Guard when he organized the assassination of resistance leader Augusto Cesar Sandino, and swept himself into power, whereupon he seized most of the country's land and industry for himself and members of his family and instituted draconian suppression of any criticism. He was killed at a union hall dance by a 27-year-old poet on September 21st, 1956, but his killing achieved nothing but the smooth accession of his tyrannical sons. Perez, on the other hand, went on to win a newspaper contest for the best poem eulogizing the dead dictator. As in the cases of Trujillo and Diem, there are reports of CIA involvement.

18. Trujillo was a beast, hated all over Latin America because of his clumsy attempt to have President Betancourt of Venezuela killed. The members of the faction that killed him on May 5th, 1961, seven leftists with machine-guns whose aim was to seize power for themselves, were quickly arrested and executed. Although the CIA took partial credit, always a bad sign, "For once an assassination presaged a long-overdue period of reform." (McConnell)

19. President Kennedy implied CIA involvement when he quoted Henry II of England's comment about Thomas a Beckett (right before his flunkies killed him), "Will no-one free me of this low-born priest?" The 3 generals who engineered the coup did so in order to open peace negotiations, but the hawks in Washington and Hanoi weren't having any, and they were soon deposed.

20. Park was killed October 26th, 1979, by the head of Korean intelligence (KCIA). Conditions in the country improved dramatically.

21. Somoza Debayle was Somoza Garcia's son, and carried on his father's work, having the National Guard thoroughly loot Managua after the catastrophic earthquake there, embezzling the bulk of the international relief provided to the earthquake victims, and killing perhaps 50,000 in the course of surpressing democrats. He was shot September 17th, 1980, by members of the Argentinian Revolutionary Workers' party. Having fled Nicaragua in the wake of a mass uprising, he was a considerable embarassment to Paraguay, and it's widely believed that the authorities there were complicit in his death.




          In wartime, as with the case of suicide, tyrannicide is considered no big thing. Of course Bob jumped on that grenade - that's the kind of guy he was. Of course we fragged the mickey-mouse "lieutenant" - he was gonna get our asses killed for nothin.

          There are numerous notable instances of idealists violently assaulting minor functionaries of tyrannical regimes, with consciously symbolic flourishes and sometimes substantial repercussions. John Brown is a case in point, as are the notorious cases of Herschel Grynszpan and David Frankfurter, both of whom shot Nazi bureaucrats (see bibliography).

         There have been countless cases of non-violent tyrannicides, where some civic David has legally brought down some despotic Goliath. 3 examples from our own era: The lawyer Joseph Welch bringing down Senator Joe McCarthy in celebrated Congressional hearings (1954). Senator Sam Ervin bringing down Richard Nixon in celebrated Senate hearings (1974). And lawyer (later Federal Judge) William Dwyer bringing down the rabid right-wing witch-hunters Ashley Holden and Al Canwell of Washinton State in a celebrated trial (1964) and a riveting book recounting the trial, The Goldmark Case (1984). 

         Finally, there are the wholly non-violent tyrannicides (legal sanctions are maybe only partly non-violent?), whose compassion compels them to murder institutions rather than individuals: Rosa Parks, Gandhi, Jesus. And, if truth be known, many tens of thousands more, of similar legacy, if lesser fame.




Hugh Chisholm, Ed.             Encyclopedia Britannica                     1911

Edward Alexander                A Crime of Vengeance                        1991    (Teilirian)

J. Bowyer Bell                      Assassin                                               1979     

Mary & Conrad Buff           The Apple and the Arrow                     1951      (Tell)

H.H.A. Cooper                     On Assassination                                 1984  

Louis Couperus                    Mountain of Light                                 1905     (Heliogabalus)                

Michael T. Florinsky            Russia                                                   1953

Franklin L. Ford                   Political Murder                                   1985

Saul S. Friedman                   Pogromchik                                          1976      (Schwartzbard)

Michel Goldberg                   Namesake                                             1982      (Barbie)

Harlan Greene                       The German Officer's Boy                    2005      (Grynszpan)

Paul Hendrickson                  The Living and the Dead                      1996      (McNamara)

Rolf Hochhuth                       Tell '38                                                 1984      (Bavaud & Elser)

Edward Hyams                       Killing No Murder                               1969

Felix & Miyoko Imonti          Violent Justice                                       1994      (Schwartzbard, Frankfurter, Grynszpan)

Miroslav Ivanov                      Target: Heydrich                                 1972       (Gabcik & Kubis)

Jaszi & Lewis                         Against the Tyrant                                1957

Francis Johnson                     Famous Assassinations                        1903       (Tell, Marat, McKinley)

Kirkham, Levy, Grotty            Assassination and Political Violence    1970

Walter Laqueur, Ed.               The Terrorism Reader                           1978

Emil Ludwig                           The Davos Murder                               1936       (Frankfurter)

Brian McConnell                    The History of Assassination                1970

Terry Parssinen                       The Oster Conspiracy of 1938             2003       (Oster)

David C. Rapoport                  Assassination and Terrorism               1971

Scott, Hoch, Stetler                  The Assassinations                               1976

Gerald Sparrow                       The Great Assassins                             1969

Rebecca West                          The Birds Fall Down                            1963       (Azev et al)

Henk van Woerden                  The Assassin                                         2001      (Tsafendas)



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