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Martyrdom Culture

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"Oh what a day, WHAT A LOVELY DAY! (cuts open tube of gas in his car) I am the man... (cuts open second tube) ... who grabs the Sun... (opens a whole pipe full of gas) ... RIDING TO VALHALLA! WITNESS ME, BLOOD-BAG! WITNESS!... (lights a flame) I LIVE, I DIE, I LIVE AGAIN!"
Nux preparing for a suicide attack, Mad Max: Fury Road

In today's prosperous developed countries where personal happiness is espoused as one of the highest goals in life, most ordinary people want to live a long time so they can enjoy life to the fullest, and then have a peaceful death surrounded by their family. A brave few in the military and emergency services might be called on to make a Heroic Sacrifice if the greater good requires it, but even then the goal is to accomplish their mission with as few losses as possible, and those who die in such a way are solemnly honored by their comrades and loved ones who wish they could have made it back alive. However, there are other cultures who see choosing death as a way to prove your commitment to some ideal, which is not merely a regrettable sacrifice, but a chance that any self-respecting person would seize upon.

In extreme cases, to die for one's beliefs is seen as the only truly worthwhile thing one can do with their life, and living a long, happy, and healthy life to a ripe old age and dying peacefully is seen as disappointing or shameful. Children are encouraged to grow up to be a Doomed Moral Victor. Soldiers who died in suicidal attacks, victims of cannibalism or Human Sacrifice practices, women who suffered Death by Childbirth, and sometimes even executed prisoners, are remembered as heroes. If they're asked to give a Rousing Speech, it will be "Go, Ye Heroes, Go and Die".

In some cases, the optimum death is an Obi-Wan Moment on a battlefield, while for others it is a long and painful death, so one can not merely die, but suffer for one's beliefs. This can sometimes lead to a culture of Nightmare Fetishists which may appear to be Always Chaotic Evil to outsiders squicked by their rituals; but who aren't necessarily evil in their own values system.

In fiction, if members of this culture are antagonists, often expect the leadership of this culture to be revealed as Hypocrites, who refuse to sacrifice himself because he's "too important to the cause". Alternately, the leader may be a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds or Omnicidal Maniac. If members of this culture are protagonists then the leaders are more likely to be generals fighting against an evil empire who encourage their men to give it their all and not fear the possibility of death.

A protagonist example may be a Byronic Hero or Dark Messiah who is willing to endure intense suffering and pain for his beliefs and may well be expecting to die by the end of his mission.

Other characters who might find the ideals of such a culture to their liking, are: The Atoner, Blood Knight, Death Equals Redemption, Death Seeker, Glorious Death, Glory Seeker, Honor Before Reason, Martyr Without a Cause, Proud Warrior Race Guy, Who Wants to Live Forever?, and Doomed Moral Victor.

For those who might find the idea abhorrent, see Living Forever Is Awesome, Lovable Coward, Brilliant, but Lazy, and Immortality Seeker.

According to Science magazine, being willing to die in battle for ones country, or comrades, is a form of in-group Martyrdom Culture known as Parochial Altruism and is regulated by hormone-inducing stressful situations.

Please exercise caution in writing examples, especially in the Real Life section, as it has the potential to develop into edit wars.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Attack on Titan:
    • The military does not focus upon victory but encourages soldiers to die as bravely and in as useful a fashion as possible. Many of the characters, similarly, seem obsessed with finding a way to die in as useful and meaningful way as possible. Eren goes out of his way to call bullshit on this as often as he can.
    • Because the antagonists are similar, this occurs in the Warriors' side as well. Eldians are subjected to propaganda that frames military service as "redemption" for the sins of their ancestors, encouraging them to sacrifice themselves fighting for their oppressors. The Warrior Program in particular involves children as young as 5 years old enduring brutal training in hopes of receiving the greatest "honor" of being selected as a Warrior. Warrior candidate Falco Grice points out that becoming a Warrior really just means being cursed to die after 13 years....if being put on the front lines of every battle doesn't kill them first. His opinion is considered heresy, and potentially punishable by his entire family being executed for Treason.
  • In Double Arts, the Sisters are an order of teenaged girls trained as sympathetic healers of a deadly disease. They have a heightened resistance to the disease, but because they absorb the symptoms of their patients, they are shunned by society and few of them live to be twenty years old...and yet they go about their work cheerfully and willingly, and many of them openly consider it to be an honor. This freaks the male lead out severely, particularly as he gets to know and love one of the Sisters.

    Comic Books 
  • This developed more accidentally over time than being the premeditated intention of the writers, but the mainstream superhero communities in both the Marvel and DC universes is this. Heroes are expected to do anything and everything to save a civilian — not civilians in general, a civilian — before themselves, even when the civilian is not innocent or even evil. Particularly true in the Marvel universe, as threats tend to be more personal, less apocalyptic, and rarely result in mass civilian deaths there, so letting civilians die is usually cause for great personal shame rather than being seen as an unavoidable tragedy. (And yet Marvel civilians are far bigger nasty suspicious Ungrateful Bastards than DC civilians. Go figure.)
  • In the DC Universe, the denizens of Apokalips all ultimately desire to die for the glory of Darkseid. Though it's made clear that life under Darkseid is so miserable, that their deaths would be just as meaningless as their lives.

  • In What Might Have Been, one of the reasons why Pink Diamond was so reluctant to reveal herself was because she knew that her court would mindlessly throw themselves against Homeworld's forces out of blind loyalty as their Diamond, something that drastically contradicts the Crystal Gems' philosophy of free will and independence. This is something Garnet (being half Ruby, who were created to be nothing but disposable red shirts) could relate with.

    Film — Animated 
  • The Sea Beast: To the hunters, a glorious death is the most desirable state of affairs, for the sake of their mission to protect people from the sea beasts. Maisie's rejection of this ideal in favor of a long life is thus made all the more meaningful.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • 300: When Leonidas was a young boy, he was "taught that death on the battlefield in service to Sparta was the greatest glory he could achieve in his life." It was the same for every boy raised to be a male citizen.
  • In Conan the Barbarian (1982), Thulsa Doom demonstrates his power by calmly ordering one of his worshippers to leap to her death. "Come to me, my child."
  • An old martial arts movie where a student at a martial arts school bows before the masters and a visiting champion. The champion proceeds to kill the student, and two younger students silently remove the body. It is explained that to die in the process of creating such a great master is an honor that students would compete to obtain.
  • In Monty Python's Life of Brian: the Judean People's Front "crack suicide squad." They attack by killing themselves.
    Otto: That showed them, huh?
    Brian: You silly sods!
  • Indirectly inverted in the famous (and debatably fictitiousnote ) opening speech of Patton:
    Patton: I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor, dumb bastard die for his country.
  • The War Boys in Mad Max: Fury Road. Most of them appear to be dying of radiation poisoning anyway, and are convinced that their leader, Immortan Joe, will give them immortality in Valhalla. Several are shown launching suicide attacks.
    Nux: I live, I die, I live again!
  • The Avengers (2012): Implied with the Chitauri in a deleted scene.
    Loki: Your force lacks... finesse.
    Other: Our warriors are fearless! They welcome a glorious death.
    Loki: That may actually be the problem.
  • Played with in Inglorious Basterds. It's not really made clear that the captured Nazis seek martyrdom (as opposed to being unwilling to betray their comrades), but the Basterds don't show much respect for the concept either way.
    Aldo Raines: We got us a German here, wants to die for his country. Oblige him.
  • Desconstructed in Silence with the Jesuit priests who are tortured by the Japanese into renouncing their faith. Since they were raised to believe martyrdom is the highest honor a Christian can aspire to, they are prepared to die rather than commit apostasy. However, martyrdom is intended to be done on behalf of others and the priests have to confront the fact their flock is suffering when they are martyring themselves on their shepherd's behalf, something they cannot bear.
  • Paradise Now: It plays a major role in the willingness of Palestinians in the West Bank to become suicide bombers. Said and Khaled, preparing to blow themselves up amongst a bunch of Israelis the next day, sincerely believe that after they do so, they'll be welcomed into Paradise. Their handlers at least profess to believe that, although it's hinted that they're more cynical. Sufa, a young lady who's taken a fancy to Said, openly scoffs at the idea of "paradise", much to the devout Khaled's horror.

  • The Sword Cult/Cult of Steel in Richard Adams' Horseclans novels has this attitude as part of its code of honor.
  • In Clan of the Cave Bear, at the once-every-seven-years Clan Meeting, the young hunters attack a tamed Cave Bear, which fights back. (Think bear baiting but with people instead of dogs.) To be selected to participate in the ritual is an honor, to be wounded by the bear is a greater honor, and to die at the paws of the bear the greatest honor of all.
  • In the Forgotten Realms novels this became a big problem for new god of the dead Kelemvor when he tried to be more rewarding of heroism as people starting committing heroic suicide with alarming regularity and effective death cults started popping up. The experience was sufficiently troubling that Kelemvor eventually changed his alignment from Neutral Good to Lawful Neutral and after he couldn't be bothered to really care.
  • Averted, strangely enough, with the Mandalorians. They're fine with dying in battle, but are rather pragmatic about it. They revere those who live long enough to raise families and pass on their ways. Their Battle Cry translates to "Today is a good day for someone else to die!"
  • The vampires of The Saga of Darren Shan. They have a hand gesture called the Death's Touch, and a saying, "Even in death, may you be triumphant!", that they use to salute members of the clan who are facing death, and those who have died. They believe that the vampire gods bless the whole clan when a vampire can Face Death with Dignity, and curse them if one dies poorly. They also overuse execution as a punishment — if a vampire fails the Trials of Initiation, the penalty is death, even for a character who is credited with saving the entire clan from a treasonous plot, and who wasn't a full vampire (and therefore almost as weak as a human) in the first place.
  • In The Lost Fleet series, after spending a century locked in a Forever War, both sides are churning through troops so fast that they actively promote Honor Before Reason mindsets, lacking the time and will for any proper military training. Human Popsicle turned extremely Reluctant Hero Captain John "Black Jack" Geary eventually manages to instill some discipline and tactical sense into his subordinates, and ends up being almost solely responsible for ending the war.
  • The Kandilkari in Star Trek: Stargazer are an extreme example. Picard is rather disconcerted by the one under his command, and his desperation to sacrifice himself for the good of the ship, even if such a sacrifice is not remotely warranted.
  • To a lesser extent, the Race in Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series. While they don't actively seek to die, they will gladly do so, as they believe that, after death, they will eternally serve the spirits of the past emperors. That's the only thing they find in common with the Japanese (or Nipponese, as they call them). However, they have no problem surrendering to the enemy in battle if surrounded, as dying needlessly serves no purpose. Not only do they not go the name-rank-serial-number route, they will often actively assist the captors to the detriment of the Race. This is because anyone who has captured them is automatically their "Superior Sir" and thus must be obeyed.
  • The Yuuzhan Vong of the New Jedi Order combine this with the Combat Sadomasochist for a truly terrifying result; culturally obsessed with pain and death, the highest honor they can imagine is to suffer and die nobly- and they want to make sure everybody else does too. Needless to say, there's more than a bit of ritualized Body Horror, Blood Knight tendencies and sacrifice of sentient beings going around here. According to their religion, the gods gave mortals three great gifts- life, pain, and death. Three guesses as to which of these is the most valued, and which the least.
    • It's implied/stated that this is a result of their loss of the Force- without it they can't sense that they're alive, so the only way to validate their lives is with horrific pain and death. Fun guys.
  • Most of the Boarderlanders in The Wheel of Time seem to take this mentality,particularly those living in Shienar and the few remaining Malkeri.
  • The Discworld franchise gives us Cohen the Barbarian, an uncharacteristically unsubtle parody of Heroic Fantasy in general and Conan the Barbarian in particular. Apparently his tribe believed something very like this, but he didn't buy into it and came to much the same conclusion as George Patton did in the quote a bit further up the page. This informed his entire approach to the adventuring business, and is precisely why he's one of the very, very few examples of the Barbarian Hero archetype on the Discworld to still be at it in his eighties.
  • Chronicles of the Kencyrath: The Kencyrath are a warrior people who have spent the past thirty millennia fighting a losing war against Perimal Darkling, falling back to a new world after each one is inevitably lost. They have come to deeply resent the god that first altered them to better fight this war, then abandoned them to do so without its aid—but, due to their strict code of honor, they are obligated to keep fighting. Kencyrs have come to believe that death followed by cremation to free the soul is the only way to escape their despised god with honor intact. Additionally, with their traditional judges separated from the rest of the Kencyrath, there is often no way to resolve situations where both options are somewhat dishonorable. For most Kencyrs, the only available solution is to chose the lesser evil and then commit suicide. "An honorable death wipes away all stains."
  • In The Machineries of Empire, the Kel culture values total obedience, even if this obedience gets them killed. They're perfectly willing - even encouraged to - throw their lives away for the Hexarchate, their symbol is sometimes called the "suicide hawk" and the first formation they discovered was the one that causes self-immolation.
  • The Outrider series by Richard Harding. Although a Follow the Leader inspired by the Mad Max films, this 80's pulp series ironically had it's own version of the War Boys, with a Big Bad served by a Praetorian Guard of young soldiers dying of radiation poisoning, who served him with fanatical loyalty because he gave them pride in themselves.
  • Skyward: The Defiants glorify soldiers and honorable death to an absurd degree. The reasons are obvious, of course, considering they are constantly under threat from the Krell, but there is a counter-cultural revolution brewing that is very worried about the fact that they are basically a military dictatorship.
  • In The Divine Cities, every Voortyashtani's life goal was to fight glorious wars and die in battle, then to wait in the afterlife until the day when their god led them to fight the last war on the living. The fact that Voortya died before gifting her warriors this last war is the underlying problem in the second book, City of Blades.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Babylon 5, it is revealed that a traditional way to resolve political disputes in Minbari culture is for the leader of one of the factions to burn themselves alive to show how convinced they are of their own righteousness. (As this is traditionally done using an energy beam from the ceiling, it provides a Cerebus Retcon explanation for the many previous scenes involving Minbari standing in shafts of light.)
  • Doctor Who: The Sontarans are a clone race of trigger-happy alien soldiers who consider death in battle the highest honour imaginable ("Wonderful..."). This is so ingrained in them that when the Tenth Doctor gives General Staal his Don't Make Me Destroy You bit, Staal refuses to surrender and dares him to blow them all up.
    Staal: A warrior doesn't talk, he acts!
    The Doctor: I am giving you the chance to leave.
    Staal: And miss the glory of this moment?
  • Parodied in "A Good Day to Die" in Galavant. It's a good day to die - as good as any other day, that is, and if we could postpone the battle to another day, that'd work out all right too.
  • In Lexx, the League of 20,000 Planets is a martyrdom culture revolving around His Divine Shadow. His Divine Shadow has spent generations to make humans worship him to the point that they will kill themselves on his orders. This is because he's actually an Insect who realized the best way to defeat humanity was to have them defeat themselves.
  • Klingons from Star Trek. They're essentially Vikings IN SPACE, with glorious death in battle being their aspiration. Their battle cry "Today is a good day to die!" reflects this.
  • The (admittedly heterogeneous) hunter subculture in Supernatural seems to have elements of this—it's rarely good that people die in the line of duty, but winding up in a sanitarium like Travis is apparently worse, providing the 'sad' of Dean's "it always ends bloody or sad." This also means that the better class of hunters are outrageously willing to sacrifice their lives, and contributes heavily to the show's high mortality rate.
    • Examples being the Harvelles' self-immolation delaying tactic and Bobby's choice to, when choosing what part of himself to stab with a demon-killing knife in the one second he had control, go right through the gut into his spine, instead of the thigh like a sane person. He spent the rest of the season paraplegic.
    • The Winchesters are apparently especially firm in this belief, as well as prone to martyrdom, but in addition to that the show has a whole subtextual line looking back to Sam's first death, which was being stabbed In the Back by a man whose life he had just spared. It was stupid and achieved nothing as such, but he died honorably in the context of living on his own terms, and compared to all the other deaths in his family it was, in retrospect, a pretty good one. No being a ghost, no being dragged or jumping into Hell, no compromise with evil or loss of self...

    Tabletop Games 
  • Not by default, but several Traditions in Mage: The Ascension quickly turn into this when The End of the World as We Know It swings around, the Order of Hermes in particular making a Tradition-wide Heroic Sacrifice.
  • The Khanate of Orion in Task Force Games' Starfire game.
    • Also the Rigellians, who regard ramming their ships into enemies as a perfectly valid combat tactic.
  • As the Quotes Page will attest, the Imperium of Man is one of the darker, more borderline-Nihilistic examples of this in fiction.
    • By attest, we mean it has its own section that takes up half the page.
    • Exaggerated with the Death Korps of Krieg- because the autocrats of Krieg betrayed the Imperium and instigated a brutal centuries-long civil war, its people are now fanatically devoted to making war in the harshest conditions possible to atone for it. In fact, where commissars are usually around to instil confidence and valor by shooting the cowards, Krieger commissars need to prevent their charges from committing a Senseless Sacrifice at the first opportunity.
  • Warhammer Fantasy:
    • Whilst the Empire's cult of Sigmar is not as martyrdom-obsessed as the Imperial Cult of its related setting, they do have the Flagellants; Sigmar-worshipping fanatics who are obsessed with dying gloriously in battle to find divine favor for their souls and/or the souls of all humanity. When not in battle, they inflict terrible punishments on themselves to prove their devotion. When actually engaged in battle, they throw themselves to their doom with joyous prayers on their lips, fighting harder the more of them have been killed. Zigzagged slightly in that other Sigmarites think Flagellants are crazy and find them almost as unnerving as the monsters they battle. Ironically, in Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, the Flagellants are more respected; their intense faith means that blood they shed during their penitent rituals can actually burn The Corruption away, so a major part of reconquering lands that suffered under Chaos rule is having huge armies of Flagellants whip, scourge and torture themselves to shed their blessed cleansing blood across the land.
    • Dwarf Slayers are dwarves who've committed some unforgivable sin (usually slight by human standards, but dwarves take their honor way too very seriously) and leave everything behind to find the biggest, ugliest monster they can find and get into a Mutual Kill with it. Dwarves being tough little bastards, it's not uncommon for them to survive, and the greater their skill grows (reflected by their evolving titles: from Troll and Giant Slayer to Dragon and Daemon Slayer), the more dishonored they consider themselves.
    • Skaven Plague Priests worship an aspect of their racial god, the Great Horned Rat, as a god of disease, and in his honor they infect themselves with as many diseases as possible. Unlike the worshippers of Nurgle, they rarely if ever are spared the effects of their diseases, but they don't care because they view dying with faith a surefire way to earn divine favor in the afterlife. As a result, they are some of the few Skaven who can't be frightened away on the field of battle, as they gladly throw themselves at a martyr's death. Taken to the extreme by the Plague Censer Bearers; plague-worshipping Skaven who wield flail-like censers filled with a noxious cocktail of diseased matter and poisonous gas that they know will kill them as well as their enemies, simply because dying in such a way is seen as so prestigious.
  • BattleTech's Clan Warriors who live past 35 are considered to be cowards. Also dying in glorious battle is the easiest way for a warrior's genes to be passed onto the next generation with how their Designer Baby eugenics program is set up.
    • Averted with those who have proven they're too badass to die and manage to win a Bloodname, however. At that point it's possible to keep going as long as you're able to fight, with a few noteworthy examples managing to survive into their 80s and 90s.
  • On the plane of Amonkhet in Magic: The Gathering, the denizens of Naktamun believe that, as everyone who dies on their world rises as a mindless zombie, their only hope for salvation is to train ceaselessly and undergo five deadly trials — Solidarity, Knowledge, Strength, Ambition and Zeal — with the final trial ending in the deaths of all who partake. The worthies who reach the final trial become Exalted, and it is believed they will rise again to a new paradise of a world when the God-Pharaoh returns. Unfortunately, they learn the hard way that their faith is a Path of Inspiration.


    Video Games 
  • Dragalia Lost has Tartarus, the Shadow Agito and a former member of King Alberius's court, view his Heroic Sacrifice to contain The Other not as a Heroic Sacrifice, but as this by the rest of the world to the point that he had rampaged to the point the Five Greatwyrms had to come together and tear him apart. Hundreds of years later, Alberius's descendant Prince Euden now has to deal with him.
  • The Covenant in Halo as a whole display this at times, complete with hypocritical leadership. However, their main military caste species, the Elites, can take it to ridiculous levels:
    • It's mentioned in Halo: The Cole Protocol that when one of Thel 'Vadam's ancestors finally reclaimed his keep from usurpers, he didn't free his jailed loyalists, but executed them for the crime of not committing suicide.
    • There is the position of Arbiter, a rank given to disgraced Elite commanders so that they can go on suicide missions and die as the will of the Covenant's Prophets. The irony should not be lost that the last Arbiter appointed ended up leading the Elites in rebellion against the Prophets. And is still alive and kickin'.
  • The Shofixti from Star Control. Each of their ships is described as having a "Glory Device" strapped onto it. At the beginning of Star Control II, you are told that rather than be enslaved by the Ur-Quan they blew up their sun, wiping out their entire planet, race, and a good chunk of the Ur-Quan fleet. Then it turns out those were the nicer Ur-Quan they just killed, and their less pleasant cousins no longer have obstacles in the way.
    • The only Shofixti you can find in the game are Captain Tanaka (or his brother Captain Katana if you kill Tanaka), who broke the activation switch for the Glory Device in his excitement, and a dozen Shofixti females in Human Popsicle state. In the Ur-Quan Masters version, the Shofixti have a clear Japanese accent, which only serves to reinforce their kamikaze status.
  • A strange and vaguely disturbing example from early Command & Conquer games; when the AI was losing, it would often sell off all it's buildings because sold buildings would generate handful of soldiers (Presumably the guards), and have the massed infantry charge your base. These charges were not usually effective, but it's disturbing to watch the GDI hand everyone a gun, sell their infrastructure, and order an ineffective last-ditch charge rather than retreat or surrender. This made more sense out of NOD, being fanatics and all.
  • The Qunari of Dragon Age seem to have this as part of their hats due to their devotion to The Qun. It's stated by Sten that the one of the few things that they do celebrate is when one of them dies a "heroic" death. This applies especially to mages, who they treat with more suspicion than any other faction. A qunari mage who gets even a taste of freedom is considered "corrupted", and must die by their master's hand or their own. The Arishok treats a mage's ritual suicide as the only choice, and the suggestion that it may have been difficult as an insult.
    Hawke: So after all this, now you want to die?
    Saarebas / Ketojan: I do not want to die. I want to live by the Qun.
  • The name of the Warrior Caste segment of the Polaris, in Escape Velocity Nova, translates to "Fallen Leaves". They are taught to consider themselves already dead in the service of their people. They seek no personal glory in death, instead they dedicate their lives to protecting the lives and values of their people.
  • In Final Fantasy X, the summoners and guardians who give their lives to destroy Sin and bring about the Calm (an era of peace) are lauded as heroes; in fact, the pilgrimages that the summoners and their parties take are practically treated as races. Too bad the whole process only perpetuates a cycle; the Calm doesn't last for very long until Sin returns again as Yu Yevon simply uses the guardian who was sacrificed for the destruction ritual to recreate the beast, who is an armour of sorts for Yu Yevon himself. Only the Al Bhed seem to oppose this culture, and are ostracised from society as a result.
  • The game Asura's Wrath acts as a Deconstruction of this. By the time 12,000 years have passed since Asura's death, his former comrades have turned their world of Gaea into this, with simple townsfolk praying to the Mantra-collecting devices and begging to be slain by the Seven Deities in their everlasting fight against the Gohma. It's not just the townsfolk, however; aside from one little girl that befriends Asura who shares his vengeful viewpoint on the whole situation, the entire human race wants this to happen to them. After enforcing this culture on their world for many millienia, the Seven Deities (with the exception of Yasha) have become completely Drunk with Power and gone mad, sadistically asserting their supposed "godhood" by subjugating their world's people.
  • Humanity, according to the Tarka, suffers from this in Sword of the Stars.
    The Tarka are degenerate and laugh at war, but the humans are sick and laugh at death.
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • The Nords, a Proud Warrior Race native to the harsh northern clime of Skyrim who seek to enter Sovngarde, a Valhalla expy, when they die. It should tell you something about any culture when "May you die with a sword in your hands" is a perfectly normal way to say goodbye to someone.
    • The other Proud Warrior Race of the series, the Orcs, are even worse about it. For Nords, dying in battle is simply a nice thing to have happen to you, maybe even preferable to other forms of death. For Orcs, it's the only acceptable form of death and all others are endlessly shameful, especially in the eyes of their deity, the Daedric Prince Malacath. One random encounter in Skyrim is the "Old Orc", who says he is too old to rule a clan or marry and have children, so he is wandering around actively looking for someone strong enough to kill him in a real fight. Sometimes you can find him near two dead sabre cats, who are no pushovers themselves, but evidently still weren't strong enough to take him down.
      Old Orc: One should find his death while he can still call himself a proper man. We Orc men are not like these Nords and Imperials who carry on until they are grey and feeble and their hair falls out. To cling to something past its usefulness is unseemly, how much more so when that thing is you?
  • In the Warcraft universe, the Orcs are this to a tee. And it's starting to rub off on the other races of the Horde as well. LOK'TAR OGAR! ("Victory or death!")
  • In Blasphemous, the people of the land of Cvstodia are defined by two things: their unwavering faith in their Crystal Dragon Jesus religion, and their obsession with expressing that faith through physical and spiritual suffering. Nearly every living soul in Cvstodia is engaged in some form of penitent behavior, ranging from vows of silence and barefoot pilgrimages all the way up to extreme self-mutilation. Unfortunately for the faithful of Cvstodia, the current era, known as the Age of Corruption, began with the release of a genuine entity of divine power, and those who pray fervently enough will often find their prayers granted. And if one's prayers are for eternal torment as punishment for one's sins, well, Be Careful What You Wish For... This entity is known as "The Grievous Miracle", and it's a name that it earns quite well. The entire game is essentially an homage to the more morbid elements of Christianity. The thing is, the entire thing is basically a scam run by the High Wills - they feed upon the pain and devotion, and have no other interest in Cvstodia other than what they get out of it.
  • Starbound: The Avian Rite of Ascension, whereby an Avian tries to prove their devotion to Kluex and reclaim their wings by leaping from the temple's summit, is the greatest mark of faith a devotee can earn, and their remains will be interred with the highest honors. Also, being chosen as a live sacrifice to stem Kluex's wrath is considered another great honor. (Interestingly, the chosen have the option to refuse, though at the cost of being banished and declared no longer an Avian.)
  • Final Fantasy Brave Exvius: Levonia, the setting of the 4th season, has developed this mentality. All started when the Omega, an otherworldly entity, fell into the continent and began mutating the local flora and fauna, granting them unparalleled powers and the ability to regenerate from any injury. Omega's onslaught was only stopped by the actions of Snovlinka, a hero who sacrificed themselves to vanquish the Omega for good. From here on, their Heroic Sacrifice was hammered into the psyches of all Levonians, eventually morphing into the belief that "self-sacrifice is the noblest act".

    Web Comics 
  • The Dwarves in The Order of the Stick are eventually revealed to be this. Thor and Hel made an arrangement that Hel gets the soul of any dwarf who doesn't die an "honorable death", and Thor gets those that do (including any who die from alcohol abuse, to honor the battle fought by the brave dwarven liver). Thor, patron god of the dwarves, then goes and tells the dwarves about this agreement, and they all become a martyrdom culture. Hel is understandably not happy about this considering herself to have been tricked into a terrible deal that denies her both the souls and worship she needs to sustain herself.

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied in one episode of Rick and Morty. Rick introduces Morty to an alien member of one such culture, who has requested for Rick to kill him in an honorable manner so that he might go to their heaven. While at lunch before the deed is done, Morty comments that it must be nice to have proof of an afterlife. The alien, who has never received such proof, is freaked out and runs out into the street shouting that he doesn’t want to die. He is then hit by a car and taken to hell, while screaming about how they were right all along and blaming Morty for making him question it.

    Real Life 
  • Probably every religion you've heard of contains radicals who believe this. Those which didn't have this, you haven't heard of, because they were successfully converted by Antiochus IV Epiphanes or his local counterpart. Fundamentalist Islam is notorious these days, but the ancient Romans had their own variety of suicide bombing.
    • There were always two varieties of martyrdom in Christianity: the type in which one didn't resist the enemies of the Faith, and the type in which one did. Most of the controversy about this course of action in the modern English-speaking world derives from a translation in the King James Version which was correct in its day, but is less so now.
      • On the other hand, "true-church" Protestants who took the New Testament at its word were especially eager to give up their lives in the service of pacifism, and "martyrdom stories" would be the primary accounts of their church's development, with each church leader seeking to outdo the last in outrageous acts of asceticism.
      • Of course, the people torturing them were other Protestants and The Spanish Inquisition who claimed, in turn, that torture would have a cleansing effect if they recanted, not a punitive one.
      • Protestants as well as Catholics got in on this, especially but not exclusively during the Wars of Religion in the 16th and 17th centuries. Some Protestant clergy in 17th-century England taught that any soldier who died in battle was assured of Heaven — a doctrine rather evocative of our next example.
      • There is a saying, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church," and it originates from the fact that the intense persecution at the hands of the Romans only made the Church grow faster. Considering the fact that Christian martyrs were often tortured and given several chances to recant their testimony, it's no surprise that they'd win many converts— you have to be thoroughly convinced that you're right in order to choose death rather than recanting, despite excruciating pain. There are some historians who even argue that the Catholic Church has historically exaggerated its history of martyrs to at least some degree, since stories of martyrs were also a major conversion/recruiting tool.
      • In the third and fourth centuries after Constantine I changed the Christians from the fringe to the mainstream and consequently lost their traditional means of displaying the extent of their faith, there was some difficulty. The response included statements like, "let no man say, brethren, that in our times there are no combats for martyrs. For our peace has its martyrs also." Referring to the invention of ascetic monasticism as a major religious practice. (Which required a kick in the pants every few centuries on the whole 'ascetic' thing, because a counterculture subsides into an institution every time it survives long enough.)
      • Probably the most curious case (at least according to some sources) of early Christian Martyrdom Culture was the small African sect called the circumcellions. These guys figured that a martyr's death is the best thing that can happen to them, so they attacked travellers with clubs in hope they'll get pissed and kill them.
    • The Vikings famously believed that the only way into the Warrior's Heaven of Valhalla was to die in combat. (An honorable execution would do in a pinch.) If you died in bed, of age or illness, you went straight to Hel.
      • This created occasional problems for those heroes of legend who were just too damn good to die, no matter how many battles they charged into screaming their heads off. For example, the Saga of Starkodder, takes him through many a battle, and he always somehow manages to survive. Eventually, when he's getting old and infirm, he starts to be afraid that he'll die in bed and thus make his lifetime of heroism moot. So he tracks down a worthy youth - the Prince of Sweden, as I recall - and offers him a little 'deal'... he'll let the prince behead him, so he can have a worthy death, and if the prince can leap between his head and his body before either hit the ground, Starkodder's legendary invincibility will be transferred to him. The prince takes him up on the offer, but after cutting off the head, he recants in the last second and leaps back instead, realizing that Starkodder's hugely muscular body would crush him if it fell on him - and that Starkodder had thus aimed to murder his executioner post-mortem. Sure enough, when the headless corpse falls over, it leaves a crater of impact - and the head, filled with bloodthirst even in its last seconds, bites the grass as it lands.
      • Actually, this was a problem in Real Life as well. Charging the enemy lines stark naked with a giant axe screaming bloody murder was a surprisingly safe and reliable profession in Viking times; when the Norse civil wars ended in the 10th century AD, one of the challenges Scandinavian society faced was what to do with all those unemployed berserkers. And that's all you need to know about early medieval Europe.
      • In order to deal with this problem, some Vikings interpreted the conditions for entering Valhalla simply as dying with your sword. Therefore, handing an aged hero a sword in his deathbed was seen as an acceptable solution to this dilemma. On the other hand, throught the evidence are uncertain, it's told that the elderly would commit suicide by jumping off cliffs to show the Gods they did not fear death.
      • It should be noted though that this wasn't a universal belief among all followers of the Norse religions, but an aspect of the specific beliefs popular among those taking up the Viking profession (or other martial pursuits). The average Norse farmer wouldn't be all that worried about not getting into Valhalla.
    • To straighten the record about martyrdom in Islam, those who died in battle in service of God is automatically granted a place at the third highest level of heaven. The problem is deciding whether suicide bombers are considered martyrs (contrary to popular perception, the majority of Muslims doesn't approve suicide bombing) as well those who blindly charge towards the enemy.
      • Also, Islam condemns suicide and murder, so the only death in service of God is likely to be one purely in defense. Including defense of one's property and country, obviously, given Muhammad actively prosecuted such a war in his lifetime.
      • The additional problem with Islamic suicide bombings being that while the majority of all the world's Muslims don't support them, localized regional majorities do. So while Muslims everywhere might think suicide bombers are terrorists, various Muslim groups, mostly in regions like the Middle East and the parts of Western Europe affected by Mid-Eastern religious geopolitics, actively consider the bombers to be freedom fighters.
  • Traditional Japanese culture idolizes martyred heroes who were ready to strive for their goal, regardless of the cost. In fact, when Japanese commanders in World War II resorted to the Kamikaze suicide attacks to inflict some meaningful damage against the Allies, even they were surprised at how many eager volunteers they had.
    • This also made them especially nasty on the defensive. In several of the island campaigns Japanese garrisons would launch massive bayonet charges when defeat seemed certain, and very few Japanese soldiers surrendered.
    • Though he was never in the military, famed author Yukio Mishima sought to uphold this as he committed Harakiri after failing to overthrow the government and restore Imperial rule. His personal adherence to this aspect of Japanese culture was no doubt in part because of his Samurai ancestry.
    • " . . . be resolved that duty is heavier than a mountain, while death is lighter than a feather." — First Precept of the Imperial Rescript to Japanese Soldiers and Sailors.
  • The "It is a good day to die" motto associated with Klingons actually comes from a Native American tribe. They, or possibly a different tribe, also had a custom of nailing down their capes to the ground so as to be literally incapable of running from the enemy. And in the North-Eastern tribes, it was apparently an honor to be captured by your enemies, so as to show off your capacity for resisting torture. (In fact, the Iroquois started to convert to Catholicism after they captured a number of Jesuit priests when they overran the Hurons, and were very impressed with how uncomplainingly they endured being tortured to death.)
    • Lakota Dog Soldiers pinned the ends of their breechclouts to the ground and faced their enemies. Given that the average Native American combat was not about fighting to the death, someone who did that was supremely badass.
  • In Maya religion, the sun was escorted through the sky by soldiers who died in battle, mothers who died in childbirth, and sacrificial victims.
  • Tezcatlipoca's year-kings are especially noteworthy; it was all about the honor with sacrifice. Even war captives were considered honorable martyrs, especially the ones who contributed to the sun not dying. Of course, once they got the empire it became a lot about politics and the honor thing became probably, in some cases, half lip-service because what they were primarily doing was asserting dominance via human tithe.
  • The only Spartans who were given tombstones were men who died in battle, and women who died in childbirth.
    • Which, you know, is kind of progressive, in a way. At least they acknowledged that child birth is less than fun and honored those who were just trying to bring more little warriors into their supermuscled culture.
    • Eugenics program. They also gave women athletic training so they'd have better babies and survive more of them. Of course, none of that is going to help in the long run if you have limited sexual opportunities even after marriage, high mortality, and a dozen ways to lose your citizenship and not one to gain it.
  • In Irish culture, fasting and hunger striking has used as a tool of political redress since the time of the Brehon Laws in the 7th-8th century. The most famous recent example is the 1981 deaths by starvation of Bobby Sands and nine other prison inmates, in protest of British abuses in Northern Ireland.note  W.B. Yeats describes it thus:
    For there is a custom,
    An old and foolish custom, that if a man
    Be wronged, or think that he is wronged, and starve
    Upon another's threshold till he die,
    The Common People, for all time to come,
    Will raise a heavy cry against that threshold,
    Even though it be the King's.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche offered the existence of these types of culture as evidence that "the will to power" was stronger than "the will to live". In death martyrs gain more respect and status than they could in life.
  • Richard Dawkins suggested that martyrdom was a highly effective means to spread memetic viruses. To be more specific, while a willingness to die is obviously bad for an individual, a group that can convince it's members to give their lives to advance the interests of the group is more likely to survive as a group than groups that can't muster the same kind of fervor.
  • The Roman empire, or at least one of its more famous poets, had a bit of this going on as well. The Patton quote alludes to the Latin phrase "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori", which translates loosely to "It is sweet and right to die for your country" and comes from one of Horace's more famous works.
    • The poem as a whole is about how any sane young man would rather die fighting than spend the morning in bed with his girlfriend (or do other assorted fun stuff). Many scholars suspect Horace was not being entirely serious.
  • Due to fascism and related philosophies being based around the idea that War Is Glorious to such an extent that a Forever War is their utopian ideal, fascist societies tend to end up as this. Umberto Eco puts it thusly:
    "In every mythology the hero is an exceptional being, but in Ur-Fascist ideology heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death. It is not by chance that a motto of the Spanish Falangists was Viva la Muerte ("Long Live Death!"). In nonfascist societies, the lay public is told that death is unpleasant but must be faced with dignity; believers are told that it is the painful way to reach a supernatural happiness. By contrast, the Ur-Fascist hero craves heroic death, advertised as the best reward for a heroic life. The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death."
    • Francoist Spain fit this trope to a T: school textbooks abounded in "uplifting" tales of martyrdom and sacrifice, both religious and military. Every piece of patriotic fiction produced under the regime -most famously Raza, scripted by Franco himself- ended with the hero laying down his life for God and Country: that was the Generalissimo's idea of a happy ending. Some have suggested that Franco must have had some serious death wish issues.note 
  • There was a story on the History Channel about the way a number of ancient cultures saw it as an honor to be chosen as a human sacrifice, as in many cases the victim was seen as the earthly representative of a Physical God, a person whose suffering would be highly regarded by the gods, and it was pretty much guaranteed that the gods would take measures to make sure you got a Died Happily Ever After ending.


Video Example(s):


Monty Python's Life of Brian

Judean People's Front Crack Suicide Squad

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Example of:

Main / MartyrdomCulture

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