The Stories Behind 9 Of History’s Deadliest Family Feuds

Published December 1, 2023
Updated December 8, 2023

The Genpei War That Pitted The Taira And Minamoto Clans Against Each Other

Genpei War

Wikimedia CommonsA scene from the Genpei War.

For decades during Heian-period Japan, the Taira and Minamoto clans had clashed over which family would control the imperial throne — a matter complicated by the fact that each had a legitimate claim to it.

According to the World History Encyclopedia, because Japanese emperors had many, many children — sometimes as many as 50 — a process known as “dynastic shedding” began sometime around the 9th century C.E. This process removed individuals from the dynastic lineage due to the size of the royal family and the costs it took to maintain.

From this process, two families emerged: the Minamoto and the Taira. Both clans held a strong military presence in Japan, and with each having some rightful inheritance to the throne, a bitter rivalry formed between them.

This rivalry broke out into armed conflict in 1156 after the death of the retired Emperor Toba left the throne vacant. Known as the Hogen Disturbance, this conflict pitted the supporters of retired emperor Sutoku, supported by Tameyoshi, head of the Minamoto clan, and supporters of then-emperor Go-Shirakawa, who was supported by Tameyoshi’s eldest son and the Taira.

The rebellion from Sutoku’s supporters was quickly crushed by Go-Shirakawa’s forces, largely thanks to support from military commander Taira no Kiyomori. The incident ended with the execution of Tameyoshi.

Just three years later, however, the clans would clash once again. This incident, known as the Heiji Disturbance, saw Minamoto no Yoshitomo seize the throne in 1159 while his rival was away. Once again, Taira no Kiyomori restored order, killing Yoshimoto. The Taira clan had once again emerged victorious — and proven themselves as the most powerful family in Japan.

But in 1180, Kiyomori made a fatal decision when he put his two-year-old grandson Antoku on the throne in Kyoto. This audacious act was the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Minamoto clan, and once again, they revolted.

This culminated in the Genpei War, with several conflicts across Japan seeing Taira authority overthrown. The Taira court eventually sent an army of 70,000 to meet Minamoto no Yoritomo’s rebel army near Mt. Fuji — a rebel army of roughly 200,000 men who had grown tired of Taira rule.

For the next nine years, the forces of the Taira clan would battle against the forces of Minamoto and their allies, ending with Taira’s defeat at the Battle of Dan-no-ura. Then, in 1189, Minamoto no Yoritomo completed his nationwide domination of Japan at the decisive Battle of Ōshū.

Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
Cara Johnson
A writer and editor based in Charleston, South Carolina and an assistant editor at All That's Interesting, Cara Johnson holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Washington & Lee University and an M.A. in English from College of Charleston and has written for various publications in her six-year career.