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Forced suicide

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Forced suicide is a method of execution where the victim is given the choice of committing suicide or facing an alternative they perceive as worse, such as suffering torture; having friends or family members imprisoned, tortured or killed; or losing honor, position or means.

Forced suicide was a common means of execution in ancient Greece and Rome. As a mark of respect it was generally reserved for aristocrats sentenced to death; the victims would either drink hemlock or fall on their swords. Probably the most famous forced suicide is that of the philosopher Socrates, who drank hemlock after being found guilty of corrupting the youth of [Athens. Seneca the Younger also killed himself in response to a request by the Roman Emperor Nero, who was also forced to perform the suicide at a later date.

Economic motivations promoted some suicides in ancient Rome. A person who was condemned to death would forfeit property to the government. People could evade that provision and let the property pass to their heirs by committing suicide prior to arrest.

Forced suicides have occurred in ancient China, where generals who were responsible for major debacles that seriously brought a downfall in the course of a state's history would be held liable and were given orders to commit suicide.

Another famous example is the forced suicide of Erwin Rommel, a field marshal in the Second World War German army. After Rommel lost faith in Germany's ability to win the war, and came under suspicion for having taken part in the July 20, 1944 plot to kill Adolf Hitler, he was forced to commit suicide. Due to Rommel's popularity with the German people, Hitler gave him an option to commit suicide with cyanide or face dishonour and retaliation against his family and staff. Since the guilty verdict had already been entered, the option of facing trial was hopeless, and thus, in order to save his family and his honour, he was forced to take cyanide.


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