I would like to know the German word for a suicide committed by a knight or warrior when he failed at his duties or wanted to avoid being captured, with the suicide motivation being to restore honor for himself and his family.

I do not know much about Teutonic knights, but I recall reading about Erwin Rommel, who failed to inform his master about a plot against him and then committed a suicide for the sake of honor for himself and his family.

I know that there are general German words for a suicide such as Selbstmord and Selbsttötung, but I want to learn a more specific term reflecting what I described above. I was unable to find any such German word on my own.

  • 1
    Google has quite a few hits for Ehrensuizid; it's also a redirect in Wikipedia: de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ehrensuizid (though they then use ehrenhafter Selbstmord). Might be something worth exploring :).
    – johnl
    Jul 6, 2019 at 19:41
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    @johnl : Yes I do. My own language. We call it seppuku, and although it implies cutting the belly, it is performed to restore honour. What I am looking for is a German analogue of seppuku, albeit not necessarily referring to cutting the belly. I am aware that Europeans opt for easier ways such as a gunshot or cyanide. The key thing is the motivation: to restore the honour.
    – Mitsuko
    Jul 6, 2019 at 19:42
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    Suicide is a sin in Christian faith, which most Germans are still brought up with. Most Germans know this Japanese custom however, as the most typical Japanese thing.
    – Janka
    Jul 6, 2019 at 20:05
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    As a side note, Erwin Rommel might be a bad example for what you're looking for. He didn't commit suicide because he "failed his master". In late 1944, Rommel was accused of being a part of the 20th July plot, or at least that he knew about the plans. Two high ranking generals gave him the choice to either kill himself or be tried publicly. A public trial would have been considered to be shameful for his family at the time. So Rommel chose the cyanide capsule the generals had brought with them. That notion, to escape a shameful public trial by suicide, is much more "European" than Seppuku is. Jul 6, 2019 at 22:21
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    I can't think of one. The whole idea of restoring one's honor by committing suicide is very foreign to the German mind. Previously, it was thought that some 18th century noblemen thought like that. But some years ago historians found out that this was mostly rethorical and bragging. If they actually did commit suicide, it was typically because they feared the repercussions the future might bring. They, and their peers, viewed the suicide as a grave sin. Jul 7, 2019 at 20:16

3 Answers 3


German language knows the foreign words Seppuku and Harakiri, but German culture doesn't know this kind of ritual suicide nor does it encourage it or has a certain word for a sucide covering all these aspects you are mentioning.

The only word combinations I can think of are

Ehrenrettung durch Selbsttötung

Selbstmord als Ehrenrettung

regarding to restore or save ones honour by committing suicide.


As I don't want to encourage suicide by giving it nice names. Dear future reader, please follow this link or this one if you think you are in a hopeless situation.

  • Selbstmord als/zur Ehrenrettung also seems preferable to Ehrensuizid/ehrenhafter Selbstmord (as used on Wikipedia) in that it unambiguously refers to the intent of the individual who killed himself. I'm not sure if it is some term of art in the historical studies, but a layperson like me might be tempted to interpret Ehrensuizid/ehrenhafter Selbstmord as implying that the speaker herself considers the suicide honourable.
    – johnl
    Jul 6, 2019 at 20:02
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    +1 for adding the links offering help for people thinking about suicide
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Jul 6, 2019 at 20:51
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    Es gibt zwar kein eigenes Wort dafür und Ritual wäre auch der falsche Begriff dafür, aber Du wirst unzählige Filme finden, in denen Formulierungen auftauchen wie "Lösen Sie das Problem wie ein Offizier/Ehrenmann", d.h. diese Reaktionsweise ist in unserer Kultur sehr wohl bekannt. Jul 7, 2019 at 13:56
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    @userunknown Die Frage ist eher wie oft das vorkam. Filme und Bücher neigen dazu die Wirklichkeit nicht genau abzubilden. Dass das Prinzip dieser Art "Ehrenrettung" bekannt ist bestreite ich auch nicht. Fälle gibt es bestimmt. Aber alleine weil der Selbstmord nach katholischer Lehre lange Zeit als Todsünde galt (mit allen fatalen Folgen für das Nachleben) kann man nicht sagen, dass dieser als "gute Lösung" angesehen wird oder wurde. Bringt sich wer um sagt man heute als Grund manchmal noch "er konnte mit der Schande nicht leben", sieht darin aber eher Verzweiflung statt Ehrenrettung
    – mtwde
    Jul 7, 2019 at 21:44
  • @mtwde: 1. Romane gehören nun mal zur Kultur, völlig unabhängig davon, ob diese die Realität wiedergeben. 2. War die kath. Kirche schon immer groß darin zu predigen und klein darin, den Worten Taten folgen zu lassen. 3. War, als die Kirche noch prägend war, die Hälfte der Bevölkerung nicht katholisch. 4. Ist mir nicht bekannt, dass in katholischen Gegenden die Selbstmordrate signifikant niedriger ist, schon ganz unabhängig von als ehrenhaft oder nicht geltenden Motiven. 5. Unterstellt der Terminus Selbstmord niedere Absicht und Heimtücke. ... Jul 9, 2019 at 5:56

I would like to follow the good example of mtwde and say: Dear future reader, please follow one of these links if you think you are in a hopeless situation: https://www.spiegel.de/gesundheit/diagnose/suizid-hilfe-und-selbsthilfe-bei-gedanken-um-tod-auch-anonym-a-919068.html or https://faq.whatsapp.com/android/28030010/?lang=en

I think, you would use the loanword Harakiri from Japanese.

In some contexts, this might be an anachronism, for instance it might sound strange to use it to describe the concept in ancient Germanic cultures (if it existed there), because the loanword would be younger than the concept then. But I know of no word of Germanic origin for this concept.

This might or might not be the correct Japanese word for describing the phenomenon, but as a loanword in German it has exactly the meaning of what you mean.


As mtwde said, German culture does not know ritual suicide as in Japan. Concerning Erwin Rommel I recommend you to read the section "Death" in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erwin_Rommel. His suicide was related to the "20 July plot" in 1944 which was an attempt by German officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler (and which unfortunately failed). See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/20_July_plot. Although it is not clear whether Rommel was involved, he was suspected to be a "traitor". The consequence would have been to be brought to the Volksgerichtshof (People's Court), an institution which was an instrument of injustice and Nazi ideology and will be a dishonour for Germany forever. Hitler himself offered Rommel to commit suicide instead of being brought to the Volksgerichtshof. Rommel accepted to protect his family. But the point is that Rommel was something like a national hero and bringing him to the Volksgerichtshof would have been disavowing for the Nazi regime. His suicide was hushed and it was claimed he had died of either a heart attack or a cerebral embolism. He was given a state funeral and Hitler ordered an official day of mourning in commemoration.


Concerning suicide: Modern European history started some centuries after the final fall of the western part of the Roman empire in 476. In the middle ages more or less all European countries were Christian kingdoms. The personal identity of a knight was that of a Christian knight (although not all of them always acted in a Christian way). The church condemned suicide as a severe sin. In fact, the fifth of the Ten Commandments of the bible says "Thou shalt not kill" (here "kill" means "murder", not for example to kill in war), and suicide was viewed as murdering oneself. This is reflected in the German word "Selbstmord" for suicide - its meaning is precisely to murder oneself. Thus suicide was no option for a Christian knight (though it certainly happened). The time of knights is long gone, but also in modern German armies suicide was not really common (with the remarkable exception of the German defeat in 1945). In fact, the trial to commit suicide (if the soldier surived) was prosecuted as "subversion of national defense".


You may be interested in the codex of honour in the early middle ages. A famous example is the Hildebrandslied (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hildebrandslied) which reflects old traditions before the Christianization of the Germanic tribes.

  • Thanks a lot for the explanation about Rommel. Do you know any example of a suicide by a German/Prussian/Teutonic warrior/knight/soldier/officer/general for a motivation related to the sense of honor/duty/obligation? Something like what General Nogi did.
    – Mitsuko
    Jul 7, 2019 at 17:58
  • I edited my post. I didn't know the case of General Nogi, but I consulted Wikipedia. I do not think that many German generals commited suicide because of mistakes in their military career (as I understand it mainly because of the loss of regimental banner to the enemy in 1877)..
    – Paul Frost
    Jul 7, 2019 at 21:56
  • Woher stammt der Eindruck, Suizid sei in der Armee unüblich? sciencefiles.org/2019/02/19/… Jul 9, 2019 at 6:12
  • @userunknown So traurig diese Statistik auch ist - zu den Gründen für den Selbstmord von Bundeswehrsoldaten dürfte nicht die "Wiederherstellung verlorener soldatischer Ehre" gehören, worum es in dieser Frage ging.
    – Paul Frost
    Jul 9, 2019 at 8:03
  • @PaulFrost: Wieso bringst Du es dann ins Spiel? Gab es jetzt in der jüngeren Vergangenheit, etwa auf dem Balkan oder in Afghanistan Ereignisse, die sich bei Vorliegen einer entsprechenden Ehrenkultur in Suiziden geäußert hätte? Wenn es diese Vorfälle nämlich nicht gegeben hat, dann unterstützt das Ausbleiben solcher Suizide auch nicht die These, dass es im dt. Militär keine derartige Kultur gibt. Ungeachtet dessen scheint mir, dass soldatische Ehre als Motiv überhaupt nicht untersucht wurde, so dass der Schluss, da seien keine solchen Selbsttötungen dabei, Spekulation ist. Jul 10, 2019 at 0:31

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