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During the 17th and 18th centuries (and earlier), duels were mostly fought with swords (the rapier, and later the smallsword), but beginning in the late 18th century in England, duels were more commonly fought using pistols.

Fencing and pistol duels continued to co-exist throughout the 19th century. Duels were fought not so much to kill the opponent as to gain "satisfaction", that is, to restore one's honor by demonstrating a willingness to risk one's life for it, and as such the tradition of dueling was originally reserved for the male members of nobility; however, in the modern era it extended to those of the upper classes generally.

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On rare occasions, duels with pistols or swords were fought between women; these were sometimes known as petticoat duels.

From the early 17th century, duels became illegal in the countries where they were practiced.

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