533 professional bullfighters killed in the ring since 1700

The Dead Toreador by Edouard Manet (c.1864)

Given the large number of people who have wandered to this blog in search of answers about the so-called ‘conversion’ photograph of Álvaro Munera from bullfighter to animal rights activist – which is actually not of him at all – I thought that I would set another record straight that has been bothering me for a while.

When the philosopher of animal rights, Mark Rowlands, was mistakenly commissioned by The Times Literary Supplement to review my book Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight, one of the multitude of mistakes he made, both logical and empirical, was his statement that there have been only fifty-two bullfighters killed or fatally injured in the ring since 1700.

(Ironically, he also said that my friend and former teacher, the matador Juan José Padilla, was more likely to die on the way to the bullring than within it. This was published eight days before Padilla had the side of his face destroyed, skull multiply fractured, and eye removed from behind, as the other recent posts on this blog show.)

Juan José Padilla teaches me the ‘banderillas’ at his home in ’09 (Photo: Nicolás Haro)

However, since I had never been macabre enough to try to add up the exact number of bullfighters killed in the ring, I did not have a statistic to hand to counter his general claim. I did, however, know the origin of Rowlands’  statement.

The American author on bullfighting Barnaby Conrad wrote in The People’s Almanac, No.2, Issue 2 (1978):

While hundreds of bullfighters have died in the arena, of the approximately 325 major matadors since 1700, only 52 have been killed in the arena.

I picked Rowlands up on his misleading misquotation in our exchange on the letters’ page of the TLS here (along with a few of his many other errors.) In his reply, he seemed not to have even understood that he was misquoting someone else’s statistic:

I say fifty-two in the last 300 years, Fiske-Harrison says (vaguely) “hundreds”… Fiske-Harrison’s language gives a false impression of the dangers to bullfighters.

Personally, I suspect that his intial error was actually to go on Google and take the first result he could find – Wikipedia – and, when challenged, he realised that this is absolutely no excuse for a tenured professor writing in a respected literary magazine which at one time took its reviews from the likes of T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf and Henry James.

Whilst I still do not know exactly how many bullfighters have died in the past three hundred years, I do now know what the minimum number is: it is 533.

That, by the way, is just the professionals notable enough to report on. The figure does not include amateurs killed in plazas and on ranches. And we can safely assume - looking that the documentary history of Spain and Latin America in the past three hundred years - that there were plenty of professionals whose deaths went unreported, especially in pre–antibiotic era when death would have come later from gangrene, tentanus and the other terrible routes which Hemingway described with such grim accuracy in Death In The Afternoon However, I think that speculating on figures without evidence is an excuse for bad scholarship.

In terms of evidence, every one of these 533 is described in detail in a four volume Spanish work entitled “Victims of Bullfighting.” All four volumes are available online here, and the numbers easily verifiable via the contents’ pages even for non-Spanish speakers.


Alexander Fiske-Harrison

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  1. professor rowlands may be someone who feels that lying is acceptable to right a wrong, achieve a noble end, defeat the dark lord whatever. he might be a really lazy and slapdash professional,. academe is littered with this kind of person. even more likely he is a combination of both. does he read here? is the “times” aware of his mistake and/or deliberate plant of misinformation? he should respond here. or someone from the paper. perhaps the “fact-checker”

  2. Koleman, sadly the notion of fact-checker in British newspapers is restricted only to potentially litigious articles. As for the TLS, it is run on am entirely different basis than its parent paper The Times. The editors of each subject, who often work part-time, are amongst the better practitioners in their field and simply commission those they think suitable for the job and leave them to it. So, despite the philosophy editor – who did not commission this article – saying “it does seem an unfortunate choice of reviewer” – in a personal communication after the event – no correction was printed (even though various people highlight Rowland’s piece as the review of choice on sites around the web). It is left to the letters’ page to address this. On which I did so. AFH

  3. ah. our domestic fact checkers are actually quite good. i have to deal with them frequently. the new york times magazine, also a quasi-autonomous supplement employs a cadre of maniacally obsessive fact checkers. even a frat boy sports outfit (no names) will have them and they are good.

    i think professor rowlands should respond.

  4. It’s truly a shame that only this little matadors have died. If only they could fight fairly against the bull and die humiliating deaths then maybe this gruesome, pointless, barbaric tradition would stop.

  5. The only research required is to watch a bull fight. Culture is no defense. It’s a miracle any matadors die given the state of the bull by the time he starts his ridiculous effeminate strutting

    Its time for Spain to respect the views of the majority of its population and outlaw this barbaric, archaic rubbish.


  6. I totally agree with your first statement. People should see a bullfight before they make any judgment on it.

    However, as for the majority of Spain being against it, this is a lie, pure and simple. In all the polls ever done – see my blog post on Gallup polls in the menu on the right – a majority of Spaniards have only ever been against a ban on bullfighting. What is more, there democratic representatives in the Congress of Deputies – the Spanish House of Commons – have just voted to make it a protected “cultural interest” by a landslide: 180 votes to 40 against (with 107 abstentions).

    Please, get your facts right before you right on the internet, and refrain from dishonesty in open debate, which is actually an attempt to corrupt the democratic process.


  1. [...] statistic that is true. 533 professional bullfighters have died in the ring since 1700. See my blog post here for [...]

  2. [...] 533 professional bullfighters killed in the ring since 1700 – The Last …533 professional bullfighters killed in the ring since 1700. May 13, 2012 By fiskeharrison 3 Comments. The Dead Toreador by Edouard Manet (c.1864) … [...]

  3. [...] Modern medicine being as astonishingly advanced as it is, both survived. However, it was not always thus. Should you have the stomach for it, you can easily find on the internet the film of the death of Paquirri in 1984, his last words being to tell the panicked surgeons, tranquillo, ‘calm down’. Or, from an earlier era, you can read the theatre critic Kenneth Tynan on the death of Manolete, or the poet Federico García Lorca’s lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejías, or Ernest Hemingway on his friend Gitanillo de Triana, or the great matador Juan Belmonte on the death of his friend and rival Joselito in his autiobiography… the list goes on and on. Since 1700 533 professional bullfighters have died in the ring, as the blog post after this one here details. [...]

  4. [...] the research myself: 533 professional bullfighters have died in the ring since 1700. See my blog post here for [...]

  5. [...] Why do the Spanish- and I with them – say this? Because the purpose of the corrida de los toros, the reason that hundreds of millions of people (that is no exageration) have paid tens of billions of Euros to watch hundreds of thousands of corridas over the past three centuries is to be emotionally moved. (For more on its ongoing popularity in Spain see my blog post here.) [...]

  6. [...] the popularity of bullfighting in Spain and the often quoted ‘Gallup’ polls, and also this one on the 533 famous professional bullfighters killed in the ring in the past three [...]

  7. […] has been reduced by the intervention of the matador’s team, yes, but it is there nonetheless, as 533 dead bullfighters in three centuries can attest […]

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