The Killing Game: A Theory of Non-Democratic Succession

14 Pages Posted: 4 May 2005 Last revised: 3 Feb 2023

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: May 1, 2015


The winner of a battle for a throne can either execute or spare the loser; if the loser is spared, he contends the throne in the next period. Executing the losing contender gives the winner an additional quiet period, but then his life is at risk if he loses to some future contender who might be, in equilibrium, too frightened to spare him. The trade-off is analyzed within a dynamic complete information game, with, potentially, an infinite number of long-term players. In an equilibrium, decisions to execute predecessors are history-dependent. With a dynastic rule in place, incentives to kill the predecessor are much higher than in non-hereditary dictatorships. The historical part of our analytic narrative contains a detailed analysis of two types of non-democratic succession: hereditary rule of the Osmanli dynasty in the Ottoman Empire in 1281-1922, and non-hereditary military dictatorships in Venezuela in 1830-1964.

Keywords: Positive political theory, succession, dictatorship

JEL Classification: D72, C73, N40

Suggested Citation

Egorov, Georgy and Sonin, Konstantin, The Killing Game: A Theory of Non-Democratic Succession (May 1, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Georgy Egorov

Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

NBER ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Konstantin Sonin (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy ( email )

1155 East 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States