Here is a great article titled Man Knowledge: An Affair of Honor-The Duel which is actually done in two parts on the origins and history of dueling.
In the ancient tradition of single combat, each side would send out their “champion” as the representative of their respective armies, and the two men would fight to the death. This contest would sometimes settle the matter, or would serve only as a prelude to the ensuing battle, a sign to which side the gods favored. Prominent single combat battles have made their way into the records of history and legend, such as the battle between David and Goliath in the Valley of Elah and Achilles’ clashes with both Ajax and Hector in Homer’s Iliad. As warfare evolved, single combat became increasingly less prevalent, but the ethos of the contest would lend inspiration to the gentlemen’s duel.
The topic of the duel also gets you to thinking about whether or not in our quest to rid the world of violence (still not done as of yet, nor likely ever to be) have we by attempting to preventing violence through anti bullying laws and zero tolerance policies created and atmosphere of high anxiety that actually leads to more violence?
To us, duels seem like a pointlessly barbaric way to settle disputes; going into a duel the odds were nearly 100% that one man or both would be wounded or killed. And, adding insult to injury, it could very well be the innocent party who was slain.
Even at the time, there were many critics that argued that dueling was unnecessarily violent and contrary to morality, religion, common sense, and indeed, antithetical to the very concept of honor itself. But there were also those who argued that dueling actually prevented violence.
The idea was that single combat warriors averted endless bloody feuds between groups and families ala the Hatfields and McCoys. The duels nipped these potential feuds in the bud as insults were given immediate redress, with satisfaction given to both parties.
Be sure to check out part two as well.